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Katherine and Bianca of The Taming of the Shrew

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Katherine and Bianca of The Taming of the Shrew

 

        The Taming of the Shrew brings out the comedic side of Shakespeare

where irony and puns carry the play throughout.  In my paper, I will

concentrate on one the irony of the play, the introduction of the two

sisters.  These two sisters begin off with the elder, Katherine, viewed as

a shrew, and Bianca as the angelic younger of the two.  However, as the

play proceeds, we begin to see the true sides of the two sisters and their

roles totally turn around.  I will try to analyze the method in which

Shakespeare introduces the two sisters and how he hints their true identity

and the events for the rest of the play during the first two acts.

 

        Although even her father calls her a shrew, Katherine has a deeper

character than the epithet would imply.  From the beginning we see that she

is continually placed second in her father's affections, and despised by

all others.  Bianca on the other hand, is identified as the favorite,

playing the long-suffering angel, increasing Baptisa's distinction between

the two.  As Katherine recognizes her sister's strategy, her reaction is as

one can imagine how another would react suffering this type of bias for so

many years.  She is hurt and she seeks revenge.  This is seen in Act II,

Scene I, when Katherine sums up her own state: "I will go sit and weep/

Till I can find occasion of revenge" (35-36).  It is an immature response,

but the only one she knows, and it serves the dual purpose of cloaking her

hurt.  The transformation, which she undergoes near the end of the play, is

not one of character, but one of attitude.  At the end of the play, we find

out that her negative attitude becomes a positive one.

 

  The shrew is not a shrew at all beneath the surface.

 

        The play begins introducing Katherine with her father's words of

shame towards her when he offers his eldest daughter to the two suitors of

Bianca.  The audience is then given their first impression of Katherine

from the Gremio, a suitor of Bianca, right after her father's words when he

says: "To cart her, rather. She is too rough for me." (Act 1, Scene 1, 55)

From here, Katherine is given the image of a turbulent, "curst and shrewd"

character.  She talks back to her father with total disrespect and shows

her temper to the company around her.  However, understanding her position,

one does begin to sympathize with her as in a public place, where such

passersby as Tranio and Lucentio can easily overhear, Baptisa informs

Bianca's suitors that he will not allow either of them to marry his younger

daughter until a husband is found for Katherine.  In effect, he is

announcing that he wants Katherine off his hands.  He then offers her to

either of Bianca's suitors.  Katherine humiliation at this point mus t be

extreme; she is discussed on a public street like an article of merchandise,

which her father is unable to get rid of, and then offered nonchalantly to

a pair of suitors who have already expressed their preference for her

sister.  Her image as a shrew takes a step back.

 

        Apparently gentle in her behavior, Bianca is an unkind sister and a

disobedient wife.  She fosters her father's attitude of favoritism for

herself and dislike for Katherine by playing the part of a noble victim.

Her disregard for Lucentio's wishes as a newlywed leads to grim speculation

as to what her behavior may be when they have been married longer.

Ironically, as the play ends, she is more of a shrew than her sister.

 

      We first see impressions of Bianca when she 'humbly' takes leave

from the awkward situation of her sister arguing about the preferential

treatment her father gives.  (Act 1, Scene 1 81-84)  She is given this

divine image as bystanders like Lucentio speak words of: "O yes, I saw

sweet beauty in her face, Such as the daughter of Agenor had".  This give

the audience (those that do not know the content of the play) the

misconception that Bianca will be the more glorified of the two and maybe

as an example for he taming of Katherine.  However, as the play evolves, we

begin to see clues to the person under the sheep's clothes as Bianca

constantly takes advantage of her father's favoritism and has no regard to

her sister's feelings and emotions.  She is slowly seen as a witless, yet

cunning person that cares only for herself.  In the first scene of Act 2

where Katherine ties up Bianca, she is oblivious to the intent of

Katherine's anger as she thinks that Katherine rage is due to Katherine's

liking of one of her suitors.  When the flaws begin to appear, the audience

begins to view Bianca differently and slowly their perception of her is

changed.

 

        In Act 2, we begin to see a clearer relationship between the two

sisters and the reasons for such discord.  We are given a slight view of

their relationship in Act 1 where Katherine charges Bianca with the crime

of acting pitiful to gain her father's affection.  In Act 2, the scene with

Katherine tying up her sister, Shakespeare is able to play out the

temperaments of the two sisters more clearly for the audience.  Katherine's

shows her jealousy towards Bianca, as she accuses favoritism with which she

confronts her father, betrays the hurt she feels.  Bianca meanwhile, still

portrays this piteous and innocent character she knows best to attain her

father's liking.  Without much in depth analysis of the situation, it is

easy to tell that the characters of both sisters could very well be

unintentional as they are only molded to that character from the

environment in which they are brought up.  This idea gives the audience the

concept that there is more than meets the eye to the story.  With Baptisa,

the father creating this favoritism between the two sisters, Katherine's

fury and Bianca's 'innocence' is clearly a farce.  When Katherine speaks of

revenge twice in two lines, one can grasp the notion that something

dramatic will emerge to show the true identity of both sisters.

 

        With Bianca's shrew side brought out in the last scene, the play

focuses on how Katherine is slowly transformed back to the virtuous nature

she hinted she had from the beginning.  Petruchio entrance as the main

actor acts as the catalyst to the play's progress and ultimately

Katherine's change.  As Katherine picks up an argument with Petruchio, as

she does with everyone she has spoken to up to this point, Petruchio is

able to voice back at her without having to gang up with someone (Bianca to

Baptisa) or use authority (Baptisa) to put her down.  He counters

everything she says and even when she loses control and hits him (Act 2,

Scene 1, 233), he calmly uses words to check her temper.  The fact that

Katherine from here on down does not use force against anyone she speaks to

anymore, gives a clear indication of the image Shakespeare tries to show in

Katherine. Katherine leaves the scene in pain and frustration as Petruchio

has her tied up and begins the process of controlling her anger.  Although

sh e still has a sharp tongue in every sentence she says, Petruchio has

been able to peer into the rational and composed side of Katherine as she

matures through the play.  This beginning of change starts form the second

act and gives body to the rest of the play as Petruchio attempts to 'tame'

Katherine

 

Conclusion

 

        The contrast of the outcome of the two sisters brings out the humor

of this Shakespearean play.  With so much to detail and scrutinize about

two characters in just two scenes underlines Shakespeare's powerful ability

to bring the characters to life and reality as the audience is caught in a "

Suspension of disbelief".  Although this is a play written in humor,

Shakespeare's imagination is deep and the convincing characters he brings

to the main characters are powerful to show why he has been noted as the

most thorough English play writer of all time.

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