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The Shrew\'s Illusion
March 3, 2000
The Shrew’s Illusion
HORTENSIO: Now go thy ways, thou hast tam’d a curst shrow.
LUCENTIO: ‘Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tam’d so.
Indeed, Hortentio’s assurance in the taming of the “curst shrow” Katerina seems a wonder to all the audience in the final scene of “The Taming of the Shrew.” After hurling furniture, pitching fits and assaulting her sister, Katerina delivers a speech that lauds obedience and censures rough behavior. Allegedly, this speech demonstrates Katerina’s obedience to her husband, Petruchio, who has forced her to realize the error of her former behavior. Genuine submission, however, is an unlikely disposition for Katerina to adopt. A complete reformation becomes more improbable after an examination of the scenes surrounding her “taming.” Several of these episodes attest to excellence of her acting ability. This evidence suggests her ability to impersonate the character of a tamed shrew. Her dialogue during these moments of obedience seems to mirror the language Petruchio uses earlier to tame her, suggesting that Katerina employs Petruchio’s own dissembling devices against him. Even the nuances of her language, filled with double meanings, belie her supposed transformation.
Katerina first reveals her aptitude for deception as she and Petruchio head toward Padua for her sister’s wedding. When her husband falsely labels the daylight as the “bright and goodly shining” of the moon, she immediately protests (4.5.2). However, the moment Petruchio threatens her journey home, she begins to act. In order that she fulfill her desire to return home, she pleads that they continue and vows that “be it moon, or sun, or what you please; / And if you please it be a rush-candle, / Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me” (4.5.13-15). In saying this, Katerina promises to “vow,” or claim to believe, the truth of anything Petruchio alleges. However, she never promises to actually believe him. Instead, she agrees to act according to his game, a game that he himself qualifies. When contented by Katerina’s yielding, Petruchio declares “thus the bowl shall run,” invoking the image of a ball in the game of bowling (4.5.24). This image parallels to the game he stages in which Katerina is played toward at target of a woman tamed. However, she does not submit blindly to his intentions; she plays toward achieving her own goal of returning home.
Continuing to prove her aptitude for dissembling, Katerina plays along with Petruchio’s labeling of Vincentio as a maid in the following scene. Never flinching, she runs to this withered man, praising his “budding beauty” and “sweet virginity.” She not only falls into her part with ease, but lies to the point of unbelievable exaggeration. Her speech characterizes this man as the most wonderful maiden ever seen; one who makes her parents delighted and her suitor thank heaven. By describing this old man in bed beside his adoring young husband, Katerina renders the entire scene ridiculous. She not only demonstrates her ability to deliberately lie, but seems also to enjoy the employment. Did she not enjoy her act, she would not have extolled the old man so fervently, nor would she have excused herself with such eloquent ardor. Rather than admit her mistake to Vincentio, Katerina lies again, claiming she was “so bedazzled by the sun, / That everything [she] looks on is green” (4.5.46-47).
In light of this gross over-embellishment of her part, it remains important that Katerina begins her act in order to fulfill her own aim, in spite of Petruchio’s wishes to tame her. By continuing fill the role her husband desires of her, she is able to appease her own desires and return to Padua. If Katerina continues to focus upon her own wants, she cannot be the tamed shrew Hortensio labels her. Instead, she classifies herself as a manipulator in the same manner as Petruchio.
Considering that Katerina acts upon her own desires, her speeches and her behavior curiously mirror Petruchio’s own behavior earlier in the play. The eloquent language both characters utilize in their moments of deception stands apart from their common dialect. Katerina, who speaks in quick, clever puns through the play’s opening, changes her speech to a more formal tone. During the preceding scene, she drops the colloquial second person “you,” and assumes
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The Taming of the Shrew, Operas, Love stories, English-language films, Petruchio, Katerina, Catharine and Petruchio, The Taming of the Shrew in performance
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