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How effective are Shakespeare’s linguistic choices in conveying the power struggle between Katherine and Petruchio? This essay will study the text ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ by William Shakespeare. It is a play written in London in 1592 and published in 1623. The play is set during the Jacobean era (1420-1600). The purpose of the play is to entertain an audience. The secondary purpose may be to inform a modern audience about power and roles of men and women in the Jacobean era. During this period of time, a person’s power was shown by the language they used, so the more quick-witted and articulate a person was in conversation the more social power they held. Shakespeare uses various linguistic features in conveying the power struggle between Katherine and Petruchio.
Throughout the play Petruchio belittles Katherine and damages the face she presents of herself in an effort to ‘tame the shrew’. ‘Kath. A joint-stool. Pet. Thou hast hit it. Come, sit on me.’ The face that Katherine presents is not that of a typical woman. She is very vituperative and unwilling to conform to society’s expectations of marriage. And by using this sexual innuendo to counter her insult, Petruchio performs a face threatening act. He reminds her of his intent to marry her and the fact that to him, she is just another woman. The utterance ‘Come, sit on me,’ is an imperative. By using this Petruchio is suggesting that he feels he has enough power over her to be able to order her around.
This damages her positive face of self-image, but she counters this insult in an effort to preserve her face. ‘Kath. No such jade as you, if me you mean.’ The noun ‘jade’ refers to a worn out horse. This connotes he is infertile and thus insulting his manhood. This insult is also a face-threatening act as it damages Petruchio’s positive face. He thinks he is man enough to be the one to ‘tame the shrew’ but by saying this Katherine is telling him he is not.
Both characters use face threatening acts to attempt to gain power of the exchange. Petruchio also uses connotation to damage Katherine’s face. ‘Pet. Alas, good Kate, I will not burden thee! For, knowing thee to be but young and light.’ The adjective ‘light’ connotes sexual promiscuity again reminding her that he sees her as a woman he can easily woo contrasting with the strong women she sees herself as. The adjective ‘young’ connotes that she is naï¿½ve and therefore not able to match his wit, allowing Petruchio power over the exchange.
Petruchio uses a pun to make fun of Katherine. ‘Pet. For dainties are all Kates.’ The pun is on the word ‘cates.’ These are a form of delicate food. This connotes the idea that Kate is delicate and lady-like. This riles Katherine as, as well as using the name that she does not like he is seeing her as the opposite she sees herself and by seeing through her faï¿½ade he knows how to gain power over her. The repetition of her name also serves to make fun of her. ‘Pet.
You lie in faith, for you are call’d plain Kate, And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;’ By repeating her name in these noun phrases he is showing he doesn’t care that she does not like the name, and shows that her sharp tongue has no affect on him, allowing him to maintain the power between them, and eventually to ‘tame the shrew.’ The repetition of her name also gives the utterance a steady rhythm which serves to make Petruchio seem more intelligent as he seems to have control of his speech and words.
Katherine uses metaphor to insult Petruchio’s intelligence. ‘Kath. Asses are made to bear and so are you.’ The ass is typically seen as a stupid animal so this noun is suggesting that he is stupid. The verb phrase ‘to bear’ which means to carry something, connotes the idea that Petruchio is little more than muscle. This gives Katherine the power of the exchange as it is in fact Petruchio’s intelligence that makes them equal and by insulting this she is suggesting that he is inferior. She also reminds him of the fact that she is equal to him in intelligence and power. ‘Kath. Too light for such a swain as you to catch.’
Katherine turns the adjective ‘light’ around to connote that she is more quick-witted than Petruchio, whereas he had used it to say she was sexually promiscuous. This shows that they are of equal power and are able to feed off of each other to maintain the power balance. In contrast Petruchio tries to use compliments to break Katherine down. ‘Pet. Say that she frown, I’ll say she looks as clear as morning roses newly wash’d with dew. Say she be mute and will not speak a word, then I’ll commend her volubility.’ The lexical fields of nature give the play a lexical cohesion. The noun ‘nightingale’ and the phrase ‘roses newly wash’d with dew’ are things that are generally seen as beautiful and by comparing Katherine to them, Petruchio is suggesting that she is also beautiful.
This makes it seem as though he sees in her, things that nobody else can see and as he can see through her he can stay on her conversational level and maintain the power balance. The use of the infinitive verb in these sentences is a form of ellipsis. ‘Say she be mute.’ This is another form of covert prestige as Petruchio uses non-standard forms whereas Katherina is expected to use standard forms and correct tenses. This again shows, according to Jacobean society men were more dominant than women and suggests Petruchio is confident that he will have power in the exchange.