What do you consider to be the main reasons for Kate’s shrewish behaviour at the beginning of the play, and how far do you believe Kate’s position in the family and in her society to be responsible? ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is principally about the power of men over women in Elizabethan society, Kate is a prime example of this. Kate is born of a wealthy family; Baptista her father is a successful merchant. As with most well-off families Kate is totally dependant on her father.
As Kate’s father Baptista also has the legal power to dispose of his daughter how he wishes. This means Baptista has the legal authority to dictate who Kate might marry without taking any of her own opinions into consideration. Although this may appear harsh, there is little Kate can do about it; she is trapped. Kate cannot withdraw from her father’s will as she will have no one to depend on. Kate’s only way of escaping dependency on her father is to marry; her dependency will then be on her husband.
According to Baptista’s legal rights it is then perfectly acceptable for him to decree that Kate must be married as was conventional before Bianca. This way it gets Kate off his hands and out of the house. Secondly it is more likely that those looking to marry Bianca will work to find a partner for Kate. From an Elizabethan view this was quite acceptable to expect the older daughter to be married first. This vunerable position in society is definitely one of the factors for Kate’s fury and scorn.
Society also puts pressure on Kate to marry. In today’s society marriage is often a lifestyle choice, as is having children; many middle class couples would rather not sacrifice their comfortable lifestyle for the pressures and expense of children. In Shakespeare’s society women who did not marry until later were classed as ‘on the shelf’ and eventually, if they remained unmarried, became spinsters. Being a spinster in Elizabethan times meant a miserable, boring life and a bleak future.
They were figures of mockery and fun; too ugly, too disobedient and too unpleasant to find husbands. It was also seen as a women’s fulfilment to bear children, those who did not were often considered to be inadequate. Shakespeare is highlighting the unfairness of social expectations of women throughout the play. Hidden under Kate’s temper and scorn she is very concerned about the prospect of not finding a husband and accomplishing her role as a women.