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‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is a play written by Shakespeare in Elizabethan times to examine many complex ideas, including those of social roles and marital harmony. These two in particular relate to the character of Kate, and the way her circumstances change and the way she reacts creates the main interest of the play. At the beginning of the play, we meet Katherina, also known as Kate, as a fiery, wilful, aggressive and apathetic young woman of the Italian town of Padua. We learn she is known for these undesirable traits, and laughed at by the men and women of Padua alike, and a common target of hurtful ridicule.
All the strain of this is merely worsened by the apparent perfection of her sister, Bianca. As much as Katherina is rebellious, shrewish and undesired, Bianca is her opposite and has many suitors. Bianca fits the Renaissance female ideal in her unassuming, graceful, intelligent and mild nature. The light in her father, Baptista’s eye, and the heart’s desire of so many, Bianca is a source of much jealousy and insecurity for Kate. Katherina is clearly intelligent and independent, and so refuses to play her social role as the ‘maiden daughter’.
Instead, she would always insult and degrade all men she came across, and fiercely deter all suitors, much to the anguish of her father, determined to have her wed. Kate detests society’s expectations of her, like how she should obey her father and show grace and courtesy to all her suitors. However she must also see that she must eventually conform to a role, and given the inflexibility of her current one, the best hope is to get married. The unhappiness and conflict of desires would only exasperate her poor temper, and this can only alienate her further.
Petruchio, an eccentric, boastful, astute and quick-witted gentleman from Verona on the quest “to wive and thrive” in Verona, has set his mind on marriage to Katherina, with only her enormous dowry in mind. He meets with her, and engages in a barrage of insults. Here he proves himself to be Kate’s intellectual equal, as he quashes every insult laid unto him. She is her usual shrewish self to him, but he resists and tells her he will marry her with or without her consent. Baptista then tells her that Petruchio has claimed he will marry her the next Sunday, and Kate makes no objection, so the wedding goes ahead.