Many lives are ruled by a need to fit in and conform to the ideals of society. William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew centers around the two sisters, Bianca and Katherine and their marriages. Kate, an unpleasant and undesirable woman, unwillingly marries Petruchio who attempts to tame her. Bianca is the ideal woman who is pursued by many men. The play was written in 1590 and set in Italy, when submission and obedience were expected of women while men took powerful positions. Societal expectations motivate men and women. Women were motivated by societal expectations.
A valued woman was obedient, passive and sweet. Bianca epitomizes these qualities and shapes her behavior around them. She exchanges vicious words with her sister in private, but while in the company of suitors she turns mild. Bianca’s father and her suitors determine who she marries, showing her surrender to men’s power and acceptance of obedience. In Kate’s concluding speech, she says, “A woman moved is like a fountain troubled, muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty, and while it is so, none…will deign to sip or touch one drop of it. (5. 2. 151) Kate admits that an unpleasant, angry wife is undesirable and useless. Certainly no man will consider an ugly, rude woman worthy of his company. She finally relents to Petruchio’s taming and takes a woman’s normal place in the social hierarchy. Women conform to society’s strict expectations. The expectation that men are powerful and all-knowing influences men’s behavior. A man’s masculinity and power was dependent on his control over his wife.
Petruchio, Hortensio and Lucentio make a bet, “And he whose wife is most obedient…shall win the wager. ” (5. 2. 15) This shows how much men value an obedient wife, which demonstrates their power. Each man hopes that he wins because a powerful man is valued. Baptista, the father of Kate and Bianca, arranges his daughters’ marriages and marries Kate off even though she is unwilling. Society’s standards permit this destructive and inconsiderate behavior. In their patriarchal society, women can’t show much preference in their suitors.
Men are expected to make the best decision, and Baptista goes along with this standard. Wife taming was a common idea in this time and many men attempted it. Petruchio tries to tame Kate by starving, embarrassing, overruling and insulting her. Kate comments on the sun, but Petruchio contradicts her and says “Now, by my mother’s son, and that’s myself, it shall be the moon or star or what I list. ”(4. 5. 6) Petruchio says anything he says is correct, enforcing the idea that women should surrender to a man’s authority.
Petruchio tames Kate because of the social belief that men should be more powerful than their wives, therefore social expectations motivate him. Society’s standards motivate men’s behavior. Men and women modify their behavior to meet the ideals of society. Katherine transforms herself into a submissive wife and Bianca maintains her behavior as an obedient, charming woman. Petruchio tames Kate to show his masculinity and Baptista controls his daughters lives without regard for their feelings. In conclusion, societal expectations motivate characters in The Taming of the Shrew.