William Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew:petruchio's Sin Concerning Dante's Inferno

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Tamed in the Inferno

In William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Katherine is believed to be the shrew within the play. Kate behaves aggressively to all and mocks other characters no matter what they say or how nicely they treat her. However, there is another character with flaws just as bad as Kate’s—Petruchio. He is a wealthy man that is looking for a wife, however, he only desires a wife for a large dowry. His greed comes before love and Petruchio jumps at the chance to woo Kate, who is known for her wealthy family. He is warned about her hot temper but decides that her wealth is worth the chance of a lifetime of misery married to a shrew. Even though Petruchio states he falls in love with Kate later on, his first perspective of her is just her money. This portrays shamelessness, pride, and greed. He also marries her in attempts to tame her, which is potentially an act of deception. His flaws and faults that will be assessed by “The Golden Mean” then henceforth placed into a circle of hell according to Dante’s Inferno.

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Using Aristotle’s “The Golden Mean” from Nicomachean Ethics, one can discern the character of an individual. This is used to see what exactly a person’s character consists of and what state it is in. Many are considered to be virtuous because of their internal goodness, but others have an implication of badness among them such as envy or spite. “…the virtue of man also will be the state of character which makes a man good and which makes him do his own work well,” (Aristotle, 1220). In Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio is first introduced as a greedy man who is simply trying to marry for money. Aristotle states, “…in these actions people exceed and fall short in contrary ways; the prodigal exceeds in spending and falls short in taking, while the mean man exceeds in taking and falls short in spending,” (1222). There is a strong emphasis on exceeding one’s limits or falling short. These are the two ways that a person can lose their virtue. Petruchio exceeds these limits by action on his desires to have copious amounts of wealth, more than he already owns.

Petruchio is also described as prideful by Shakespeare. “For it is possible to desire honor as one ought, and more than one ought, and less, and the man who exceeds in his desires is called ambitious, the man who falls short unambitious, while the intermediate person has no name” (Aristotle, 1222). Aristotle describes how people are either too prideful which would be unvirtuous, have just the correct amount of pride which is virtuous, or have no pride at all which would be unvirtuous. Petruchio considers himself above others and worthy of winning Kate over as a bride. He is also prideful enough to marry simply for money. His pride is evident in the way he speaks to and treats fellow characters, even those he should regard with great respect. Petruchio considers himself above many because of his father’s inheritance and namesake. Nevertheless, there is no circle in hell for just the prideful. Other sins define a person more thoroughly than just pride. Petruchio would be placed in a circle based upon his greed or deception instead.

In The Divine Comedy, Dante travels through three worlds—inferno, purgatorio, and paradiso. The inferno is Dante’s impression of hell and sinners or nonbelievers are placed in circles according to their defining sins. Shakespeare’s characters all have some sort of flaws and Petruchio has been defined as greedy and prideful. Petruchio would be placed into the fourth circle of Dante’s Inferno based off of his greed. This circle is created for the sinners who are either avarice or spend their money thoughtlessly. Dante describes this circle in canto seven what these sinners are forced to do. “So here the folk must dance their roundelay. Here saw I people, more than elsewhere, many, On one side and the other, with great howls, Rolling weights forward by main force of chest. They clashed together, and then at that point, Each one turned backward, rolling retrograde, Crying, “Why keepest?” and, “Why squanderest thou?” (VII,24-30). Dante describes the toil these sinners must face, with a punishment to fit the sin. They will constantly walk in circles and never go anywhere since their time on earth was spent either trying to make as much money as possible or spend everything they received. Shakespeare creates a character in his play using a flaw of greediness. Within the first act Petruchio is already labeled as greedy. Shakespeare writes:

Petruchio: Signior Hortensio, ’twixt such friends as we

Few words suffice. And therefore, if thou know

One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife,

As wealth is burden of my wooing dance,

Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love,

As old as Sibyl and as curst and shrewd

As Socrates’ Xanthippe, or a worse,

She moves me not, or not removes at least

Affection’s edge in me, were she as rough

As are the swelling Adriatic seas.

I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;

If wealthily, then happily in Padua (I,ii,51-62).

This shows how Petruchio is simply marrying Kate for her wealth. He does later state that she wins his heart, but he does not seem to accept her for who she is. Instead, Petruchio tries to change Kate’s behavior by taming her. This could also be potentially viewed as a form of deception.

One could argue that Petruchio deceives Katherine before they are married by convincing her agree to a wedding. He shows that he cares enough to deal with her rough attitudes and she obliges. However, Petruchio keeps his real plan a secret. For example, when Baptista, Kate’s father, and Petruchio talk about his potential marriage, Baptista mentions that the most important thing is winning Kate’s love. Petruchio responds like this, “Why, that is nothing. For I tell you, father, / I am as peremptory as she proud-minded” (Shakespeare, II,i,123-124). He responds as if it does not matter how Kate feels and all that matters is the dowry he mentioned in the lines beforehand. This deception is based off of greed, but the actions are still taken to manipulate Katherine. Petruchio is upfront about his intentions to marry and tame her as described in this passage, “For I am he am born to tame you, Kate, / And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate / Conformable as other household Kates,” (Shakespeare, II,i,266-268). Even though he says he will tame her, Petruchio claims these actions are based on love and his deep affection for her. In the previous acts Petruchio has already been illustrated as a greedy young man intending on marrying for money. This is still a character trait even as he goes into his marriage. If Petruchio was marrying Kate for her own person instead of wealth, he would not have wanted to tame her outright and make her into another person. He views her personality as not good enough for a wife and decides to take matters into his own hands and essentially create his own wife. Petruchio hides this well by claiming his love for Katherine.

Eventually Petruchio gives the audience a clear vision of what exactly he had been trying to accomplish. Here Shakespeare writes,

Thus have I politicly begun my reign,

And ’tis my hope to end successfully. . .

Ay, and amid this hurly I intend

That all is done in reverend care of her.

And, in conclusion, she shall watch all night,

And if she chance to nod I’ll rail and brawl,

And with the clamor keep her still awake.

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,

And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humor. (IV,i,124-145)

Petruchio reveals that he has been purposefully starving his wife and keeping Kate from sleeping so that she will bend to his will whenever he wishes in the future. He also treats her nicely in person, stating that all has to be perfect for the woman he loves. Katherine eventually questions his love and starts to think he is making her suffer for different reasons. She is right about the latter—Petruchio already had stated how he is taming her for his own benefit. He is acting in a form of deceit to his wife. Instead of loving Katherine and accepting her as she is in hopes she will change her shrewish nature, he tries to change her outright and does not give her a chance to make these personality changes herself.

This would be the worst of the sins Petruchio commits, placing him in the eighth circle in Dante’s Inferno. This circle, very close to the center of hell where Satan resides, is reserved for those who are involved with fraudulent behavior. Within the circle are certain divisions where the fraudulent are split into groups depending on the subject of their fraud. For example, there are those who seduce others, flatterers, sorcerers, and false prophets. Petruchio is deceiving his wife into believing he truly loves her in return for a large sum of money. He could be placed into the seventh Bolgia for thieves. “So low am I put down because I robbed, The sacristy of the fair ornaments,” (Dante, XXIV, 115-116). As Dante and Virgil, his escort, delve deeper into hell, their trip becomes more and more treacherous. These deep circles of the inferno are surrounded by horrible conditions and punishments for the sinners as well as danger for Dante. There are also even lower Bolgias that Petruchio could be placed in. He could also be considered a counterfeit and placed into the tenth Bolgia for even worse fraudulent actions, such as deceiving his wife whom he claims to love. This deception is obviously worse than mere greed, but his actions of fraud do not ultimately make Petruchio who he is. Shakespeare created this character as a man who is focused on gaining wealth for his own benefits, no matter the cost. Petruchio does commit unforgivable sins, but his greed is what stands out the most.

If Shakespeare’s Petruchio were to stand before King Minos in Dante’s Inferno, King Minos would decide to place Petruchio in the fourth circle of hell because of his defining sin of greed. This love of money is what drives Petruchio to marry Kate and then deceive her into thinking he truly loved her. This sin truly encompasses his life and affects his decisions throughout Taming of the Shrew. Although fraud is a more serious crime according to Dante, greed is what actually defines him. Therefore, Petruchio would be forced to spend his eternity in the fourth circle of hell.

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