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The Taming of the Shrew
      The Taming Of The Shrew by William Shakespeare is 
probably one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies.  Its plot 
is derived from the popular 'war of the sexes' theme in 
which males and females are pitted against one another for 
dominance in marriage.  The play begins with an induction in 
which a drunkard, Christopher Sly, is fooled into believing 
he is a king and has a play performed for him.  The play he 
watches is what constitutes the main body of The Taming Of 
The Shrew.  In it, a wealthy land owner, Baptista Minola, 
attempts to have his two daughters married.  One is very 
shrewish, Katherine, while the other is the beautiful and 
gentle Bianca.  In order to ensure Katherine is married, 
Baptista disallows Bianca to be espoused until Katherine is 
wed, forcing the many suitors to Bianca to find a mate for 
Katherine in order for them to vie for Bianca's love.  Many 
critics of the play condemn it for the blatant sexist 
attitude it has toward women but closer examination of the 
play and the intricacies of its structure reveal that it is 
not merely a story of how men should 'put women in their 
place'.  The play is, in fact, a comedy about an assertive 
woman coping with how she is expected to act in the society 
of the late sixteenth century and of how one must obey the 
unwritten rules of a society to be accepted in it.  Although 
the play ends with her outwardly conforming to the norms of 
society, this is in action only, not in mind.  Although she 
assumes the role of the obedient wife, inwardly she still 
retains her assertiveness.

        Most of the play's humour comes from the way in 
which characters create false realities by disguising 
themselves as other people, a device first introduced in the 
induction.  Initially this is accomplished by having 
Christopher Sly believe he is someone he is not and then by 
having the main play performed for him.  By putting The 
Taming Of The Shrew in a 'play within a play' structure, 
Shakespeare immediately lets the audience know that the play 
is not real thus making all events in the play false 
realities.  Almost all characters in the play take on 
identities other than their own at some point of time during 
the play.  Sly as a king, Tranio as Lucentio, Lucentio as 
Cambio, Hortensio as Litio and the pedant as Vicentio are 
all examples of this.  Another example of this is Katherine 
as an obedient wife.

        In The Taming Of The Shrew, courtship and marriage 
are not so much the result of love but rather an institution 
of society that people are expected to take part in.  As a 
result of the removal of romance from marriage, suitors are 
judged, not by their love for a woman, but by how well they 
can provide for her.  All suitors compare the dowry each can 
bring to the marriage and the one with the most to offer 
'wins' the woman's hand in marriage.  This competition for 
marriage is like a game to the characters of the play.  
While discussing the courtship of Bianca with Gremio, 
Hortensio says "He that runs fastest gets\ The ring" (Act I, 
scene i, l. 140-141) likening receiving permission to wed 
Bianca to winning a race.  In the game, however, women are 
treated like objects that can be bought and sold rather than 
as human beings.  This is expected since the society is a 
patriarchal one.  For example, Lucentio, Tranio and 
Petruchio are all defined with reference to their fathers 
and all the elderly authority figures, like Baptista and 
Vicentio, are men.  The taming of Katherine is not a women's 
shrewishness being cured as much as it is a woman being 
taught the rules of the 'patriarchal game'.  Katherine has 
learned how to be assertive and with this knowledge is able 
to control men, and a woman controlling a man is considered 
'against the rules' of the game.

        The play ends with Katherine proving that she is 
truly cured of her 'shrewishness' and is the most obedient 
of the three newlywed wives at the end of the play.  This is 
demonstrated in her soliloquy when she lectures the other 
wives on the proper way in which a woman should behave:

             I am ashamed that women are so simple
             To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
             Or seek rule, supremacy, and sway,
             When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
(Act V, scene ii, l. 161 - 164)

        Although most critics interpret the play as being 
that of a woman finally acting the way in which she is 
supposed to act, it is difficult to believe that a character 
as vibrant and strong-willed as Katherine is changed so 
easily.  Following with the device of false realities that 
Shakespeare set in place so early in the play, it would seem 
more logical that Katherine would simply be acting the part 
of 'the obedient wife' in order to be accepted in the 
society in which she lives.  Katherine can 'play a part' 
very well and can even enjoy doing it.  This is shown on the 
road to Padua from Petruchio's house when Kate is forced to 
address Vincentio as a woman and says, "Young budding 
virgin, fair and fresh and sweet" (Act IV, scene v, l. 37).

        The Taming Of The Shrew is a light-hearted comedy 
that is better seen than read.  This is especially true 
since a lot of the humour in it is physical or 'slapstick' 
humour which is possible only on stage.  The complexity of 
the play is refreshing, as many of the modern plays of today 
are quite linear and do little to keep a reader's attention. 
 Another favourable aspect of it is the subplot involving 
Lucentio and Bianca which lends itself as the basis for many 
humourous moments, most notably between Lucentio, Hortensio 
and Bianca.  The obvious sexist attitude of the play does 
not hinder it because of the reasons stated above.  One must 
also take into account the attitudes of sixteenth century 
England and the fact that the play is a comedy and is not 
meant to be taken seriously.

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