Original Enthymeme: Research Paper

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Women, Society, Shakespeare, Family, Actions, Elizabethan, Men, Role

Pages: 9

Words: 2475

Published: 2020/12/06

English 302

Shakespeare displays this typical role of the men as the dominant species in his play “The Taming of the Shrew” as Petruchio reminds Katherine of the submissive role of women in the society.

Claim: Women are submissive to males because the society sets standards that one must follow

Stated Reason(s): If one does not follow the social dictates of the society there is social imbalance.
Grounds: Katherine’s disruption in the social balance of the society would prevent Bianca from getting married and the order or marriage in the society ranged from the oldest starting a family before the youngest child


Katherine’s reputation goes wide into the neighboring society. No one wants to marry her. She is outspoken and will not be subdued by any man. Her character is a reflection of

The many ways, the women in the Elizabethan era were suppressed in their thoughts and actions despite their social positions.

Petruchio attempts to make her submissive by depriving her of food and clothes. He treats her cruelly and a number of feminist theorist suggest that Shakespeare attempt to teach the lesson that social order must be maintained in the society as women accept their roles of being submissive to the males.

Evidence from the play, Taming of the Shrew;

The banquet scene proves that every woman must submit to the fact that males are the dominant species in the society.

Petruchio’s causes much emotional and physical turmoil for Katherine as he attempts to curb her actions.

Conditions of Rebuttal: Women are created equal and despite their reputations they should be treated as equals as not as some property. Shakespeare attempts to show that one’s behavior is subjective to the norms of the society. Still, he shows that the society regulates the actions that define the character and uses Petruchio show that one must regulate one’s behavior in order to project a moral and ethical standard.

Qualifier: One’s reputation must be protected and valued despite the circumstances or dictates of the society

Assess the Treatment of women in the Elizabethan Era to present day
The Elizabethan era was marked by the unconventional ascension of Queen Elizabeth to the English throne. Although Elizabeth was not married, there was still a clear limit to the roles of women in the British society. There was a clear expectation of women and men in the society as it was expected that the men would support the financial needs of the family, while the women served as housewives and caregivers. This expectation spanned many centuries and it was only during the last two decades or so that the world began to embrace the changing roles of women in the society. The Elizabethan society was largely a patriarchal one where men were the leaders and women followed the dictates of their male counterparts. In fact, males on the whole believed that women were emotionally and physically weaker than their male counterparts. Of course, the women grew to accept their status because it was the accepted way of life in the British society. Conversely, males took care of their wives and fathers, brother took care of their unmarried females. Shakespeare displays this typical role of the men as the dominant species in the society when he shows that women are subservient to men the society.
One can easily refute this idea as the women were treated as ‘chattel’ that could be bought and sold on a whim and were not given the opportunity to show that they were highly educated and organized in their way of thinking. In many ways, the women in the Elizabethan era were suppressed in their thoughts and actions despite their social positions. Papp and Kirkland suggests that the social conditions of the Elizabethan era limited the role of women in the society. In fact is that the educational opportunities and work status of women were a part of the control that men had over these women. Unlike in the present era, women in Shakespeare’s era had numerous restraints that placed them at the mercy of their male counterparts. Queen Elizabeth fell victim of the society when she took control of the society. “The biggest riddle of all, in a society that was riddled with riddles, was how a woman could rule the nation while all other women held such a low status,” (The Women in Shakespeare Time, par. 2). In contrast to the women today, the women in Shakespeare’s time could not vote, had few legal rights, and a limited chance of ever getting an education, much less a job,” (The Women in Shakespeare Time, par. 2). Of course, in these societies there was little or no room for women who were single of independent. The society expected that women should be married and their husbands should take care of them. In return, the women were expected to be loyal and subservient to their male counterparts.
The very thought of subservience to any species is ridiculous and one can easily refute such an idea. But, the church and the society in the Elizabethan era promoted the oppression of women. The physical look of many individuals forced women into loveless marriages. But these marriages women suffer at the hand of the society and the men they marry. The fact is that the society embraced women who were flawless and faultless. Women often build a sense of security in the harsh words they spoke, and suggest that they had built a defense against the treatment of women in the society. Despite these limitations, women were allowed some amount of freedom in the Elizabethan period than they were allowed in previous times. One could argue that a woman’s freedom reflected the impending changes in the society, but Shakespeare puts a leash on the amount of freedom that a woman could have and the length of time that women remained free of a man’s control. Furstnau refers to Dorothea Kehler presentation of the play as she postulates that males maintain their roles as an authority in shaping the women of their choice into submissive and obedient females which touched the lives of everyone in Shakespeare’s audiences, (as cited by Furstnau, par. 4). Modern critics of the play would suggest that it is a comedy of game-playing, but the harsh treatment that Katherine receives in order to get her to obey her husband leaves much to be desired in today’s society where women are given more freedom to govern their lives.
The cruelty continues and Shakespeare deliberately draws on the image that women who are not submissive to their male counterparts will suffer the consequences that Katherine describes: “But I, who never knew how to entreat,/ Nor never needed that I should entreat,/Am starved for meat, giddy for lack of sleep,” (The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, Scene iii). Still, Shakespeare uses the motif of domestication of women in the title “taming” to show Petrucchio’s attempt to change the antisocial domesticity that is constant in Katherine’s actions. The taming of an animal is likened to Katherine and her actions and suggests that women were merely pawns in the lives of these males. Petruchio believes that he is the perfect tamer for the “shrew” and to a large extent he surprises everyone when at the wedding.
Shakespeare’s treatment of women in the play is questionable at best as the readers analyze the connection between Petruchio’s actions and that of Katherine. Could it be that Petruchio is not cruel, but acts the way he does because of Katherine unkind actions? The question would serve to justify Petruchio’s actions, but it also goes against the society’s rules that govern the treatment of women in general. Therefore, one wonders: what is the purpose of Shakespeare’s depiction Katherine’s treatment at the hands of Petruchio. Clearly, the feminist theorists are correct when they postulate that “men have a right to reject or “tame” qualities in a woman that they find unattractive,” (Furstnau, par. 10). The stark reminder is that women should be silent and obedient to the males. Smith suggests that “beyond any other work in the canon, has value as a tensely poised paradigm of subversion's power and its suppression,” (Smith p. 1) and shows that as an aggressive and vocal woman, Katherine had no place in the society. Of course, her actions would allow her to integrate well in the modern society. But, the truth is that there was really no place for Katherine in the patriarchal Elizabethan society that sought to disempowered women.
When one looks closely at the play, one realizes that the comedic element covers the reality of the events of Shakespeare’s true intentions. He seeks to show Katherine as a shrew who is loud, bitter, and remarkably, unpleasant, but the satire in the play surfaces above the simple comedic elements. The treatment of women and the male attitude towards women in the society comes out through the use of satire in the play. Arguably, there are a number of theories that would speak against the idea that the play is a farce. But, the conflicting treatment of women in the actions of Petruchio and Baptiste suggests that Shakespeare tries to account for the different ways in which women were treated in the society. On the one hand, Shakespeare shows that women should accept their place in the society and allow the men to be in charge of their lives, but on the other hand he gives Katherine a “voice” as she tries to resist the inevitable changes in her life. Either way, Shakespeare shows that despite the resistance that women mount to the patriarchal society, they ultimately succumb to the control of the males.
Many feminists view Katherine as a woman with and identity. These critics ignore her physical handicap and self-expression as they believe that Petruchio’s treatment is not warranted. But, one could argue this idea as one that shows that Petruchio sees past her physical and vocal dislikes and sees the beauty in the woman he shapes into a docile and unrecognizable woman. Similarly to the modern society, there is the strong expectation that women should be “ladylike” and show respect for their partners. Vulgar and unladylike behavior is unbecoming of the female in the society. Still, there are many women who continue to display unladylike actions, but they do not face the harsh consequences that Katherine faces at the hands of Petrucchio. The fact is that the society has changed in many ways and women are no longer seen as “chattel” or properties that can be owned by males. These women now have the right to choose a husband even as they provide the means to take care of selves without the help of their husbands.
Still, the treatment of gender varies according to the society and the geographic locations of these women. In the Muslim and the Indian societies, women still face the issue of a male dominated society. They are compelled to accept the choices of husbands and they are not free tom make decisions concerning their lives. Additionally, these women find that they are not allowed to work to take financial responsibilities for selves. The fact that Shakespeare spoke of similar social injustices to the female gender and that the practice continues in many societies today is a clear indication that male continue to exert authority by way of force and not choice. Baptiste forced Katherine to marry as this would deprive Bianca of finding a husband, despite her beauty and the number of offers she has received. Nonetheless, the comedic element of love in the play surfaces as Petruchio imitates the physical disability that Katherine has and makes light of the situation.
Katherine represents the oppression of these women as despite her obvious intellectual capacity, Petruchio forced her into submission by the end of the play. The society embraced the belief that “a man was considered to be the head of a marriage, and he had the legal right to chastise his wife,” (Elizabethan Women, par. 3). Nonetheless, while the man reserved the right to chastise his wife, he was expected “to take care of her, make sure she had everything she needed, and most importantly to love her and be a good father to any children they had,” (Elizabethan Women, par.3). In other words, men were not allowed to inflict harm to a woman’s body or display acts of cruelty towards his wife. Yet, Petruchio is constant in his role as a bully. In fact, it is this behavior that he uses to control Katherine’s quarrelsome nature and changes her into a mild – tempered and obedient wife. He openly frustrates her and subjects her to an advanced stage of mental distress of his behavior and attire at his wedding.
Biondello describes the horrifying look Petruchio displays at the wedding in Act three. Petruchio appears in a new hat, but he wore

“an old

jerkin, a pair of old breeches thrice turned, a pair
of boots that have been candle-cases, one buckled,
another laced, an old rusty sword ta'en out of the
town-armory, with a broken
hilt, and chapeless, with two broken points: his horse hipped with an
old mothy saddle and stirrups of no kindred,”(The Taming of the Shrew, Act III, Scene
Clearly, Petruchio makes use of any method or means to force Katherine into mental distress. But, Petruchio delights in Katherine’s moment of displeasure. His torment of Katherine does not start with the scene at the wedding, but goes bad to his first encounter. Petruchio’s cruel intentions are questionable as he speaks false flattery when his courting attempts. He asks:
Why does the world report that Kate doth limp? O sland'rous world! Kate like the hazel twig Is straight and slender  
. . . . O let me see thee walk. Thou dost not halt. (Act II, Scene ii)
The ghastly act leaves one to wonder if Petruchio’s action truthfully represents the way women were treated in the era. Clearly, he displays no tact or diplomacy in his action, yet one wonders if Petrucchio’s cruelty stem from his early intentions to break the woman that almost every suitor feared. Hile’s scholarly review of the play suggests that Shakespeare’s reference to Katherine’s limp is a reflection of the society’s views of the importance of marriage for women with disabilities, (Hile, par, 3). Additionally, Hile suggests that “Shakespeare's references to Katherine's limp create the possibility of interpreting her ‘shrewishness’ as a disability-inflected gender performance,” (Hile, par. 3).
Furthermore, the romance in the play comes as the reader sees Katherine's transformation from a cold shrew into an obedient wife who cooperates with her husband. Shakespeare incorporates his oratorical skill in the character of Petruccio who only speaks praises of her. The final banquet scene shows the power of man to control his domain and hints at the reality that despites the apparent uncontrollable nature of a woman, she can be controlled by a man. Still, Katherine shows that she is an equal partner as she becomes overly submissive. It is Katherine who suggests that the taming of a woman doesn’t mean that she becomes silent in her husband’s presence. While the majority of the events in the play centers on Katherine’s body: the physical handicap, the absence or presence of her physical facial beauty, her need for food, and clothing, she develops a strong argument that supports the need for women to be obedient to their husbands. In fact, the reformed Katherine speaks to the ugliness that comes in a woman’s face when she is angry. She points out to Bianca that:
“Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,And in no sense is meet or amiable.A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;” (Act V, Scene ii)

In addition, she points out that:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,And for thy maintenance commits his bodyTo painful labour both by sea and land,To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;” (Act V, Scene ii)
The soliloquy here suggests that Katherine accepts the moral standards of the society that dictates that women should respect their husbands and the role they play as the breadwinner in the family. Arguably, Shakespeare’s method of presenting this moral is lost on a number of feminist theorists who believe women are not the property of their male counterparts and should not have to suffer the harsh treatment of the males in the society. But, Katherine shows that
“love, fair looks and true obedience;Too little payment for so great a debt.Such duty as the subject owes the princeEven such a woman oweth to her husband;And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,And not obedient to his honest will,What is she but a foul contending rebelAnd graceless traitor to her loving lord? (Act V, Scene ii)
Although Shakespeare shows the women as highly intellectual counterparts to the males, (Diniejko, par. 1), he also shows that male dominance is the accepted way in the society. Katherine agonizes over her new subservient role, but the other characters in the play seek ways to adjust to the role that the society expects them to play. Drury suggests that the Shakespeare places excessive emphasis on the role of males in the family because there was a lack of femininity as women died in numbers from childbirth and illnesses, (Drury, par. 6). Katherine defies the conventions of the society but is unsuccessful as she has no one to compare the role of the assertive female. The contrast in Bianca acceptance of the fact that women are reared to serve their husbands and she eases into her role of finding a suitor without questioning leaves one to question Katherine’s anger to no avail. Still, Stevens postulate that “The Taming of the Shrew” teaches the fascinating “lessons of about relationships, about control, about marriage, about gender,” (Stevens, p, 491) despite the manner in which these lessons were taught.
In concluding, “The Taming of the Shrew is a morality play as it teaches the readers that society has set standards that each individual must adhere to in order to produce the most productive citizens. Still, in the end the happiness of the society depends largely on the ease in which each character plays the designated role. Katherine starts the play as a wild woman who cannot be contained in her speech. There are a number of events that contribute to her actions, but the most-outstanding are the absence of a dominant female in her life and the physical attributes that she lacks. She lashes out at the society that deems to make males superior to women. Nonetheless, Petruchio takes up the challenge of changing her and the readers are left to wonder at his motives for such an act. Still, he is successful in his actions and proves that men are the dominant force in the society. Shakespeare skillfully teaches that women the society expects women to be subservient to their male counterpart and does this through Katherine. While many readers will criticize the methods that the playwright uses to bring the message across, the fact is that Shakespeare teaches that in every society, there are rules that one must follow in order to maintain the balance in the society.
Papp and Kirkland suggest that women needed the permission of their husbands, (Papp &Kirkland, n.p.), but this did not sit well with many of the Elizabethan women such as Katherine. Petruchio was the ‘prince’ who controlled his ‘subject’ Katherine and she gives a stern lecture of the duties of a woman at the banquet scene. The harsh reality is that these women were in no position to resist their roles as the church and the society dictates that should be obedient to their husbands. The moral of the play lies in Saint Paul’s advice that women should not attempt to overthrow men in their role as the authority figure. The lesson Shakespeare teaches reflect the moral of obedience as women should be good and obedient to their husbands.

Works Cited

Diniejko, Andrez (DR) “The New Woman Fiction” D. Litt. in English Literature and Culture,
Warsaw University; Contributing Editor, Poland Viewed at
http://www.victorianweb.org/gender/diniejko1.html Accessed March 2, 2015
Drury, Autumn “The Taming of the Shrew: Power Struggle Through A Family Dynamics
Perspective” Viewed at http://www2.cedarcrest.edu Accessed March 2, 2015
“Elizabethan Women” Viewed at http://www.elizabethi.org Accessed Marc 2, 2015
John Fletcher's Response to The Gender Debate: The Woman's Prize And The Taming Of The
Shrew ,  By: Smith, Molly Easo, Papers On Language & Literature, 00311294, Winter95,
Vol. 31, Issue 1Viewed at http://www.oocities.org Accessed March 2, 2015
Furstnau, Erin “Feminist Themes in and Critiques of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew”
Viewed at http://www2.cedarcrest.edu/academic/eng/lfletcher/shrew/efurstnau.htm Accessed March 2, 2015
Hile, Rachel (2009) Disability and the Characterization of Katherine in The Taming of the
Shrew, Vol 29 No 4, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort WayneDepartment of
English & LinguisticsE-mail:  Accessed March 2, 2015
Papp, Joseph, and Elizabeth Kirkland. "The Status of Women in Shakespeare's
Time." EXPLORING Shakespeare. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resources in Context.
Web. 3 Mar. 2015.
Shakespeare, William, The Taming of the Shrew, Internet Version,
http://shakespeare.mit.edu Accessed March 3, 2015
Stephens Andrea, (2010) “The Taming of the Shrew (review)” From: Shakespeare
Bulletin Volume 28, Number 4, Winter 2010  pp. 491-495 | 10.1353/shb.2010.0019
Accessed March 2, 2015

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