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What does Shakespeare have to say about the role of women

Shakespeare’s depiction of the role of women in The Taming of the Shrew, seems to seek to question the contemporary view of their position as, “I am your wife in obedience”, (Induction 2, line 103) by showing that marriage can be a more evenly balanced pact. The Taming of the Shrew is complex as it is a play within a play and both are filled with deception. Shakespeare’s ideas about the role of women can be viewed in a number of ways, for whilst he demonstrates that women have a less important role in society – they are seen to be there to serve men – he has made some of the female characters complex, indicating perhaps his own regard towards women, and his appreciation that they can be just as intelligent and quick-witted as men.

There are five female characters in the play all of whom, to a greater or lesser degree, contribute to Shakespeare’s portrayal of women in society. This is borne out by the action and the language of the first eleven lines of the play, in which the Hostess, keeper of an alehouse is called “a baggage” (Induction 1, line 3) and is treated in a derisory fashion by a tinker, a man of lower social position.

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Despite her standing, her only remedy to his drunken insults and the damage he has caused is to find “the thirdborough” (Induction 1, line 9), an officer of the law.

This corresponds with what we know about the powerlessness of women at the time. The indication that she is unmarried, “Go to thy cold bed and warm thee” (Induction 1, lines 7-8) is given as an insult in terms of her status and that she is generally a cold person.

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These two themes, spinsterhood and coldness are two of the elements of the main plot of the play. The second female character introduced, is not actually a woman but a Page, Bartholomew, dressed as such as part of the elaborate prank played by his master upon the tinker, Sly. It is hard to say whether or not the language he is instructed to use is based upon how his master imagines a woman would speak, “With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy, And say.

‘What is’t your honour will command” (Induction 1, Lines 110-111). Or how he would himself like a woman to speak, “Being all this time abandoned from your bed” (Induction 2, Line 111). Does this indicate that a gentlewoman of this time would be so forthright towards her Lord. Are the use of language and the subsequent imagery there for comic effect? Or to indicate that women are not as demure in private as they appear to be in public?

The second female character introduced, is not actually a woman but a Page, Bartholomew, dressed as such as part of the elaborate prank played by his master upon the tinker, Sly. It is hard to say whether or not the language he is instructed to use is based upon how his master imagines a woman would speak, “With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy, And say. ‘What is’t your honour will command” (Induction 1, Lines 110-111). Or how he would himself like a woman to speak, “Being all this time abandoned from your bed” (Induction 2, Line 111). Does this indicate that a gentlewoman of this time would be so forthright towards her Lord. Are the use of language and the subsequent imagery there for comic effect? Or to indicate that women are not as demure in private as they appear to be in public?

In The Taming of the Shrew the “Shrew” is Katherina Minola, the elder of two daughters to a Lord in Padua, Italy. Her temperament, character, and ill manner make it seem as if no man could control her, and it is her lack of willingness to be subservient that makes no man want to try to control her. Her younger sister however, is much sought after. She is docile, virtuous, and described has having “beauteous modesty” (Act 1, Scene 2, Line 248). Their father, Baptista, has forbidden Bianca to marry before Katherina. Bianca already has many suitors, when two strangers, Petruchio and Lucentio arrive in town. Lucentio falls in love with Bianca, while Petruchio seems interested only in money.

In Elizabethan times unmarried women may have been viewed with suspicion, and that a woman still single by a certain age would be imagined to have faults. In the case of Katherina, an unmarried elder daughter would be a burden on her family, an embarrassment to her father, and an obstacle to her sister, Bianca; especially as her situation appears to be self-inflicted, and she is unprepared to modify her behaviour to make her more suitable for marriage.

This can be seen when Baptista is talking about Katherina getting married. He tells Bianca’s suitors “That is, not to bestow my youngest daughter Before I have a husband for the elder.” (Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 50-51), who respond with knowledge of her reputation, making the comments “She’s too rough for me.” (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 55), and “No mates for you Unless you were of a gentler, milder mould.” (Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 59-60). These things are being spoken in front of Katherina although she were not there, and must’ve been humiliating. Perhaps this, along with the obvious inferred preference for her sister, both by her father and suitors, may go some way to explaining why she behaves the way she does. It is easy to empathise with the rejection she must feel, and understand how her anger is fuelled.

For although Shakespeare has used dramatic technique and language to portray Katherina in a bad light, there is also indication that she is a witty woman of high intellect. “A pretty peat! It is best put finger in the eye, and she knew why.” (Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 78-79). Here she openly stated that Bianca may be able to fool others, but she does not fool her. Katherina can see through Bianca’s acting. By using two diverse characters, Shakespeare has demonstrated how although the two women understand their roles; one’s actions are compliant, “Sir, to your pleasure humbly I subscribe” (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 81), and the others are rebellious.

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What does Shakespeare have to say about the role of women. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/shakespeare-say-role-women-3954-new-essay

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