The Taming of the Shrew
What’s Up With the Ending?
Kate's final speech (the longest one in the play) at the end of Shrew has perplexed critics, audiences, and students for centuries. We know that Kate has outwardly transformed by the time she finishes her lengthy monologue about a wife's duty to her husband. Even the wedding guests can't believe how much her behavior has changed. We can also break the speech down into a nice little close reading. The problem is that it's not entirely clear what we're supposed to make of Kate's complete turnaround.
Does Kate really believe that wives should submit to their husband like subjects submit to rulers? Is she sincere when she kneels and fondles Petruchio's feet?Or, is Kate being ironic and disingenuous?
We've seen the ending played both ways (and then some) on stage and there's plenty of evidence to support both interpretations. We tend to lean toward the side of irony but we'll show you how you might argue the point from either side.
Option 1: Kate believes every word she says.
Like we said, we don't necessarily agree with this but plenty of people do. A lot of conservative criticism sees Kate's transformation as a genuine enlightenment. Petruchio has given Kate a dose of her own medicine, forcing Kate to look in the mirror, so to speak, and recognize the ugliness of her behavior. Overcoming her shrewishness, according to this idea, is a triumph for Kate because it allows her to be happy. (This seems to imply that happiness means blissful obedience to men.)
More provocative critics also argue that Kate believes every word she utters. These critics point to how Petruchio's shrew-taming tactics (as we've noted before) are basically torture devices – sleep deprivation, starvation, intimidation, manipulation, shaming, etc. Kate, according to some, has been totally brainwashed by the end of the play and identifies with her abuser. The idea is that Katherine suffers from "Stockholm syndrome" (a term used to describe the psychological state of victims of domestic abuse or kidnapping who become loyal to their abusers and /or abductors).
Option 2: Kate doesn't really believe what she's saying – she's just telling her husband what he wants to hear.
The most significant evidence to support this theory comes from the scene where Kate finally breaks and agrees to play along with Petruchio's game of make-believe, even though she knows that what Petruchio says isn't true. The final speech, then, can be seen as an extension of Kate's newfound ability to "role-play," or act. This theory is particularly appealing because the entire play is very much interested in the theatricality of everyday life and the performative aspects of gender roles.
(Remember when Bartholomew plays the part of an obedient nobleman's wife in the Induction? Bart, who is really a boy in women's clothing, says all the right things and is so convincing that Sly actually believes he's a dominant and powerful husband. We can also think of the way Bianca pretends to be an obedient daughter by saying everything her father and suitors want to hear – or, by not saying what they don't want to hear. She is so convincing that her dad and Lucentio believe she's a good girl – the perfect daughter and also perfect wife material.)
The next question, then, is whether or not Kate enjoys her new skills and whether or not she derives any power from her new relationship with Petruchio. What do you think?