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Gender Roles and Marriage in The Taming of the Shrew

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The psychology of love describes the process of lovers displaying their emotions through sympathy and compassion for one another. During the 16th century, this concept of love contrast in the social structure of that time, where the notion of relationships and marriages are often in favors of masculinity. During this time period, patriarchal ideas consume and structure most relationships, as men are seen as the dominant role and figure, in areas such as marriages and social status. This notion can be seen in most of William Shakespeare’s plays, regarding to the theme and characterization, as his depictions mostly comes from that time period. In The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare discuss the theme of love and the progression of relationship towards marriage. He also displays characterization through the gender roles of patriarchy, as he explored the stereotypic forms of masculinity. Through this play, Shakespeare demonstrates parody in the unrealistic representation of gender roles, while criticized the hierarchical and patriarchal values towards arrange marriages, and the struggle to stay in power for both men and women.

The Taming of the Shrew revolves around the characters Bianca and Katherine, as they are perceived to be the “shrew” of the play. The title of the play predicts the daughter’s characters development, as each formed a different perception of men and marriages throughout the sequence of the play. In the play, marriage is believed to be primarily about economic advantage, demonstrated by the male characters, in their treatment of marriage as a business transaction, with women being an item to be traded for. “Faith, gentlemen, now I play a merchant’s part/And venture madly on a desperate mart” (The Taming of the Shrew from Folger Digital Texts). This quote is from Baptista, Bianca and Katherine’s father, as he begins negotiating in the exchange of wealth for both of his daughter marriage. This is the custom of an arrange marriage, as most often the father or parent would be the decision-maker in their children marriage, while their children’s opinion is push aside. In the play, Baptista treats his daughter’s marriages like a business, by using them for his personal gain in trying to find the highest bidders. His selfish intention would only come back to bite him, as his daughters undergoes characters development, with Bianca becoming the shrew in the end play, and Katherine being tamed by her abusive husband. “Fie, what a foolish duty call you this?” (The Taming of the Shrew from Folger Digital Texts). This quote is from Bianca showing her resistance toward Lucentio, who’s trying to control her behavior in front her father and sister. In this play, Shakespeare portrayed the cultural expectations of women in the literacy term of reality. This stereotypic ideal of women associates with the patriarchal values of how women supposed to be, in being obedient, humble, and silent.

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The Taming of the Shrew is a play within a play, which focus on the hierarchy of social order. In the beginning of the play, Shakespeare used the scene with the character Sly, to address the hierarchy of social order, by poking fun at the social disparity between the lower class and the nobility. The theme of this play endorses the ambition of wealth and nobleness as the highest achievement to have. This can be seen in the characters of Baptista and Petruchio, as wealth and fortune are the goals that marriages can offered. This ambition, however, would become the drive that ultimately tamed the “shrew” in Katherine, as the disobedient wife becomes the model of kind and tenderness. Katherine’s character development along with her final speech, proposed the submission to the misguided views of the patriarchal society, as a result of her being tamed into a wife.

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,

Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,

But love, fair looks, and true obedience —

Too little payment for so great a debt. (The Taming of the Shrew from Folger Digital Texts)

This is Katherine’s self-persuasion in the recognition of her husband’s hard work, while also wanting to spread her idea to other women to be more submissive at their husband every command. This notion refers to the patriarchal views of the expectation for women from their husband, as they are expected to do things they stereotypically should do. Katherine’s jealously toward her sister, also play a big factor in her transformation after marriage, as she’s no longer lonely, and is with somebody she can depend on. This notion is the opposite of her sister, Bianca, as she has always been the obedient one in the family. However, because of deception and betrayal by her lover, Bianca undergoes her own transformation to become the “shrew” one, at the end of the play. Bianca’s character development depicts her resistance towards the patriarchal views of women, in the way they should speak or act, while being deprived of all of their freedom. Shakespeare used characterization in portraying the bias gender roles during the 16th century, in describing the “shrew” as a feminist role that represents women’s power in the patriarchal society.

In The Taming of the Shrew, arrange marriages become the ultimate theme and issues, as it covers the relationship on a broader social and cultural structure. During the 16th century, marriage isn’t simply about love between two people, as the relationship also affects those on the outside. Marriage is viewed as an economic exchange between the leader of the family, most often the father or parent of both sides. In the play, this notion is viewed through the character of Baptista, negotiating as a businessman in trying to sell his daughters off, for the wealth and fortunes in return. This concept of marriage also can be seen in the character of Petruchio, as his ambitions for wealth is stronger than his love for Katherine. “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;/ If wealthily, then happily in Padua.” (The Taming of the Shrew from Folger Digital Texts). This is a quote from Petruchio being upfronts about his ambition for wealth, as he would get marriage not for love, but in obtaining wealth and fortunes, which, according to him, is his only happiness. This concept of marriage can also be seen through other relationships in the play, including Lucentio and Bianca relationship, as Baptista demand Lucentio to prove his financial status, before he can allow the marriage to continued. In the situation of Hortensio, when he abandons his one-sided love for Bianca, and instead marry the widow, hinting his notion of marriage was because of money in the first place. “See how they kiss and court! Signior Lucentio/ here is my hand, and here I firmly vow/ never to woo her more, but do forswear her/as one unworthy all the former favors/ that I have fondly flattered her withal” (The Taming of the Shrew from Folger Digital Texts). This quote from Hortensio stated how he no longer desired to pursued Bianca’s love, as he witnesses the real Lucentio kissing Bianca. Through this play, Shakespeare address the aspects of marriages as a social structure during the 16th century, with marriage being the settlement in the negotiations for economics success.

During the 16th century, the social order limited women opportunities for involvement in society, as they are expected to focus only on domestic activities in taking care of their families, specifically their husbands. In The Taming of the Shrew, Katherine’s final speech are viewed as a compliance to the patriarchal society, which depicts the abuse in the unjust of her statement. Her viewpoint connects with the patriarchal values, in their stance of men’s domination. Shakespeare categorized this play as a comedy to address and poke fun at the issues of arrange marriages, gender discriminations, and the unjust social hierarchy. All these issues have a connection with it dealing with the discrimination towards women, as it comes from the ambition for power, and the patriarchal view of men being the dominant gender, through their perception of marriages and social order.


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