Study Guide

The Taming of the Shrew Gender

By William Shakespeare


Induction, Scene 1
The Lord

LORD, to Servingman
Sirrah, go you to Bartholomew my page,
And see him dressed in all suits like a lady.
That done, conduct him to the drunkard's chamber,
And call him 'Madam,' do him obeisance. (Induction.1.110-113)

Bart plays a very brief but important role in Shrew. The fact that it's so easy for him to pass as a woman suggests the fluidity of gender ("femininity" and "masculinity"), especially on stage.

Act 1, Scene 1

LUCENTIO, aside to Tranio
But in the other's silence do I see
Maid's mild behavior and sobriety.
Peace, Tranio. (1.1.71-73)

When Tranio sees Bianca for the very first time, he gives voice to the reason why men find Bianca so attractive and suitable for marriage – silence and obedience to her father make her an ideal woman and an attractive candidate for wifehood. Too bad for Lucentio that Bianca turns out to be none of these things.

Act 1, Scene 2

"Katharine the curst,"
A title for a maid of all titles the worst. (1.2.130-131)

Grumio's insistence that being labeled a shrew is the "worst" fate a woman can suffer is odd – we're used to hearing that being labeled a "whore" is the worst reputation for a woman in Elizabethan comedy.


Why came I hither but to that intent?
Think you a little din can daunt mine ears?
Have I not in my time heard lions roar?
Have I not heard the sea, puffed up with winds,
Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?
Have I not heard great ordnance in the field
And heaven's artillery thunder in the skies?
Have I not in a pitchèd battle heard
Loud 'larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets clang?
And do you tell me of a woman's tongue,
That gives not half so great a blow to hear
As will a chestnut in a farmer's fire?
Tush, tush, fear boys with bugs! (1.2.201-213)

Just one of many speeches Petruchio gives to assert his shrew-taming skills, this passage reflects the way Petruchio and the other men measure their masculinity by assessing their hierarchical relationships with women. The implication: if a man can't control his woman, he's effeminate rather than masculine.

Act 4, Scene 1

By this reck'ning, he is more shrew than she. (4.1.79).

The term "shrew" is often reserved for railing women. Here, Curtis learns of Petruchio's behavior and calls him a bigger "shrew" than Kate. We know that this is Petruchio's plan. But, Curtis's choice of words raises the question of whether or not Petruchio's masculinity is compromised in any way when he rails like a woman, so to speak.

Act 5, Scene 2

Now, for my life, Hortensio fears his widow! (5.2.16)

Petruchio's comment about his friend Hortensio says a lot about the way men interact and give each other a hard time in the play. The comment is made in good fun but there's also a lot of truth in the statement, which suggests that Petruchio enjoys dominating his male friends just as much as he enjoys ruling over his wife.

Well, I say no. And therefore, for assurance
Let's each one send unto his wife,
And he whose wife is most obedient
To come at first when he doth send for her
Shall win the wager which we will propose. (5.2.67-71)

Hefty dowries aren't the only systems in which wives can be little money machines. Petruchio's wager on his wife's obedience suggests that women are always seen as cash cows.

To her, Kate!
To her, widow! (5.2.35-36)

The behavior of Petruchio and Hortensio says a great deal about the way men use women as a means to interact and compete with other men in the play. The fact that Kate and the Widow fight in the last scene is also typical of the fact that there is no such thing as female companionship in the play, suggesting that women are incapable of friendship.

Katherine Minola

Such duty as the subject owes the prince
Even 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 rebel (5.2.171-175)

Kate compares husbands and wives to princes and subjects to assert the hierarchical power structure in marriage. Here, she implies that the home is like a mini-kingdom, which gives credence to the idea that unruly wives/subjects threaten the very fabric of the family structure and are a kind of danger to the public.

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labor both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe, (5.2.162-167)

Critics point out that Kate's allusion to the male body's "painful labor" is an unusual subversion of the Genesis story, where women's bodies are subject to painful childbirth. The emphasis in this part of Kate's speech is on mutual obligation in marriage, not just one partner's obedience. On the other hand, the allusion to Eve's fall in and of itself can be seen as a reminder of women's "frailty."