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Katherine Taming Of The Shrew Essay Format

English 335
10/13/04

This essay provides successful examples of the use of topic sentences, the continual developmentof the argument, and the detailed and rich use of textual support.--rm

 

Masters and Husbands/ Wives and Servants: The Ideals of Renaissance Relationships in The Taming of the Shrew

 

The relationships between servants and masters closely reflect the gender relationships in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Lucentio and Tranio's relationship as master and servant is an ideal of the Renaissance era according to "An Homily on the State of Matrimony."  Tranio risks taking the place of his master because of his love for him and Lucentio always treats him with kindness and respect, almost like an equal. Though they are not involved romantically, Lucentio and Tranio fulfill these ideals better than any marriage in The Taming of the Shrew.  Lucentio's relationship with Bianca reflects his role with Tranio: Bianca shows respect for Lucentio as he cherishes her and treats her with kindness, however Bianca fails to complete her role as an ideal wife by obeying her husband. Petruchio and his servant, Grumio, have a much different relationship, however. Grumio often disobeys his master, while Petruchio insults and even beats him. These roles are echoed in Petruchio's relationship with Katherine.

Shakespeare uses Lucentio and Tranio's relationship in the play as an ideal for both the master and servant relationship as well as gender relationships. Though Lucentio is the master, he always treats Tranio with respect and kind words. When the pair arrives in Padua, Lucentio tells Tranio that he his happy that he is with him: "And by my father's love and leave am arm'd with his good will and thy good company, my trusty servant well approv'd in all." Rather than abusing his power over Tranio, he is grateful for him. In return Tranio refers to Lucentio as "gentle master mine" and "good master."  

Tranio demonstrates his obedience in part because he is a good servant, but mostly due to the fact that Lucentio treats him so kindly. Though Tranio takes great risk in putting on the apparel of his master, he takes it in order to please Lucentio: "In brief, sir, sith it your pleasure is, and I am tied to be obedient- for so your father charg'd me at our parting: ÔBe serviceable to my son' quoth he, although I think Ôtwas in another sense- I am content to be Lucentio. Because so well I love Lucentio." Though it is partly due to his obedience to Lucentio's father that he serves Lucentio, Tranio knows that Vicentio did not mean for him to switch places with his son, but he does anyway due to the respect he holds for him.

It could be that Tranio is just taking on this disguise in order to have the chance to play the part of a master and noble. However, Shakespeare constantly reminds the audience that Tranio's intentions are pure and all for the love of his master. When Biondello exclaims how he wish he could play the master, Lucentio replies: "So could I, faith boy, to have the next wish after, that Lucentio indeed had Baptista's youngest daughter. But, sirrah, not for my sake but your master's, I advise you use your manners discreetly in all kind of companies. When I am alone, why, then I am Tranio; but in all places else your master Lucentio." Tranio wishes not to be master, rather to have his master's wish for Bianca to be granted. He does not abuse his temporary power as master with the other servants and continues to treat them as his equals except when he must keep up his pretense around the public. Tranio even goes as far to have Vicentio imprisoned in order to do as Lucentio told him. Tranio's obedience goes first and foremost to Lucentio even above his higher master. He does not obey Vicentio who is shown beating Biondello, rather than treating him or Tranio with respect. This supports the idea that Tranio does this because of Lucentio's kindness for him. 

Lucentio, in turn for his servant's obedience, takes the blame for all the lies told and role reversals, begging his father not to harm his faithful servant, Tranio. "What Tranio did, myself enforc'd him to; then pardon him, sweet father, for my sake." In An Homily of the State of Matrimony, it says: "É I signified that she is under covert [the protection] and obedience of her husband." This is echoed in the master and servant relationship that Lucentio and Tranio have, as Lucentio, in return for his servant's obedience, protects him from his father's wrath.

Lucentio's treatment of Tranio is reflected in his treatment of Bianca and their role as man and woman. Lucentio never hits Bianca or mistreats her in anyway, but spends the play wooing her and showing her his love. However, Bianca does not completely mimic Tranio's obedience in her role as wife to Lucentio. Though Bianca is not as stubborn willed and shrewish as her sister, Katherine, she does not obey her husband when he calls her to him. Biondello comes back to Lucentio to report: "Sir, my mistress sends you word that she is busy and she cannot come." This action is in direct contradiction with An Homily on the State of Matrimony which states: "Let not therefore the woman be too busy to call for the duty of her husband where she should be ready to perform her own, for that is not worthy any great commendation." Though Lucentio is consistent with his role as master and husband. His relationship with Tranio differs slightly from Bianca, Tranio's servant hood more apparent and selfless.

Petruchio, though rightfully attempting to stand as a master and man according to the homily, does not do so with his servant, Grumio, or wife, Katherine, with love and respect as it suggests. The scenes that introduce Petruchio and Lucentio begin by depicting their relationships with their servants, as if foreshadowing the way that they will treat their respective wives. Grumio misunderstands his master when he asks him to knock on Hortensio's gate, after asking just one question Petruchio already loses his temper, responding: "Villain, I say, knock me here soundly." There are no words from Petruchio like Lucentio's Ôtrusted servant' or Ôgood company.' After arguing for a while, Petruchio even rings him by the ear. Later in the play, Petruchio also strikes Grumio and his other servants. His bad attitude is addressed in the homily: "Wherefore, if it be a great shame for a man to beat his bound servant, much more rebuke it is to lay violent hands upon his free-woman." Though he never physically strikes Katherine, he starves her, doesn't let her sleep, and mortifies her in public, all various degrees of abuse. Petruchio's role with her and Grumio are sadly similar.

Both Katherine and Grumio, however, do not do their part to be obedient and kind servants to Petruchio. The homily states: "For, if we be bound to hold out our left cheek to strangers which will smite us on the right cheek, how much more ought we to suffer an extreme and unkind husband?" Not until the very end of the play does Katherine finally give in to Petruchio's demands and act kind to him. She constantly lashes out during his wooing, and his proclamations of love to her, though they are shown in an uncaring way. Grumio too, responds to Petruchio's harsh ways by claiming: "Help, masters, help! My master is mad!" rather than trying to understand the miscommunication between them or apologizing to him. Katherine and Grumio for the most part, however, act the way they do because Petruchio treats them how he does.

Shakespeare may have changed Katherine to speak like she has adopted the right traits of a wife by the end of the play, but it is not clear that Petruchio ever changes his attitudes to be a protective and caring leader. It is clear that out of the four relationships, the servant/master relationship of Tranio and Lucentio is closest to that of the ideals of the Christian people in Shakespeare's time. Even though disarray is formed as Lucentio trades roles with Tranio, the audience can still see the humble heart of Tranio and his love for his master:  a relationship that is the ideal for husbands and wives as well.



Witty, Fast-paced, Bawdy

The Taming of the Shrew is famous for its fast-paced and witty dialogue – playful banter between characters is often full of clever punning, plays on words, and a lot of bawdy humor. The clearest example of this is seen in the back and forth battle of wits between Katherine and Petruchio, especially when they first meet in Act 2, Scene 1:

KATHARINA
Where did you study all this goodly speech?
PETRUCHIO
It is extempore, from my mother-wit.
KATHARINA
A witty mother! witless else her son.
PETRUCHIO
Am I not wise?
KATHARINA
Yes; keep you warm.
PETRUCHIO
Marry, so I mean, sweet Katharina, in thy bed:


Mid-fight, Petruchio claims a "mother-wit" (an innate sharpness that allows him to banter off-the-cuff or, "extempore"). The quick and clever Kate retorts with a play on "mother" (a 16th-century "your mama" joke, no less). Basically, she implies that Petruchio's mom gave birth to an idiot, which makes Petruchio's mama an idiot, too. Not to be outdone, Petruchio plays off of Kate's claim that he has enough wit to keep him "warm" (this just means she's calling him stupid). Petruchio puts an end to the stream of word play by alluding to sex – he'll "keep warm" in Katherine's bed. This is pretty typical of the way the whole scene goes down. Kate calls Petruchio an idiot and then he makes a crude reference to bedding her. Game over.

Most critics think that Kate is smart but just not as smart or witty as Petruchio. We disagree. What can she say to such things? Not much unless she wants to look like a "loose woman" who is used to crude talk. Basically, no matter how fast and witty Kate is, she can't win because the dialogue always ends up with an image of her in bed with Petruchio. The structure of the dialogue, then, is not unlike the structure of the whole play. Kat and Petruchio fight. Petruchio wins the fight. They end up in bed – literally.

Witty banter, however, is not limited to conversations loaded with sexual tension:

PETRUCHIO
Here, sirrah Grumio; knock, I say.
GRUMIO
Knock, sir! whom should I knock? is there man has
rebused your worship?
PETRUCHIO
Villain, I say, knock me here soundly.
GRUMIO
Knock you here, sir! why, sir, what am I, sir, that
I should knock you here, sir?
(2.1.5-10)

Even Shakespeare's dim-witted servants are famous for terrific speech moments – the actors that played servants on Shakespeare's stage were skilled in comedic dialogue. Despite Grumio's idiotic literal mindedness, his hilarious response to Petruchio incites some of the best moments in the play.

Not all of the lower-class figures have such a command of language. In fact, plain old prose (how you and I talk every day) was often reserved for low-brow characters like Christopher Sly:

Ye are a baggage: the Slys are no rogues; look
in the chronicles; we came in with Richard Conqueror.
Therefore paucas pallabris; let the world
slide. Sessa!
(Induction.1.3-6)

Here, Sly calls the Hostess a whore ("baggage"), screws up the name of William the Conqueror, and butchers the Spanish phrase pocas palabras ("few words"). Note the difference between this passage and the way Sly speaks in unrhymed iambic pentameter (a style typically reserved for the play's upper-class characters) when he believes he's a nobleman:

I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak;
I smell sweet savours and I feel soft things:
Upon my life, I am a lord indeed
And not a tinker nor Christopher Sly.
(Induction.2.70-73)

The marked difference in the meter of his speech (elevated poetry) underscores the content of what he says here – I'm a lord, not a beggar.

The implications of this? Mastering language, to a degree, involves the ability to imitate figures from all walks of life. We're not saying that the nobility walk around speaking in blank verse. But, we are saying that Shakespeare is totally amazing when it comes to nailing linguistic style.