Animal Images in Taming of the Shrew

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Animal Images in The Taming of the Shrew

Many authors, from Orwell in his famous satirical novel Animal Farm to Shaw in his play Candida, have used images of animals to convey character's or, perhaps more accurately, man's internal ideas, aspirations, goals, and actions. In the same way, William Shakespeare, in his comedy The Taming of the Shrew, uses animal references and images to, mostly, provide insight into the complicated balance created in and through the relationship of Petruccio and Katherine.

From the very first time that Katherine is introduced to Petruccio in the middle of Act II Scene 1 of The Shrew, the use of animal images to show the couple's initial feelings of playful repulsion and capture become apparent. In a continuous one-hundred twenty-five line interaction between the two characters, references to animals are used constantly. Right from the start, Katherine refers to Petruccio as a "buzzard" to which he quickly retorts that as a buzzard, he will carry her away (2.1.204-205). In the same interaction, Katherine warns Petruccio to be wary of her wasp-like sting to which he says he will pluck it out once he finds where it lies (2.1.208-214). This interaction and use of animals in the first scene of act two illustrates the beginning of Petruccio's plan for the taming of his shrew. Petruccio continually opposes Kate in every way and praises her in abundance for the qualities that she is famous for lacking: "With gentle conference, soft, and affable, / Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?" (2.1.244-245). Kate tries out her wit on him, through describing him as a buzzard among other images, but Petruchio always tops her rem...

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...and in A Shrew, tames Katherine by treating her like a crazy wild animal. For instance, he offers her meat impaled on the point of his dagger. This is something that Shakespeare's Petruchio would never have done. For even though Petruccio uses animal references to refer to Kate, he still even admits to trying to "kill a wife with kindness" (4.1.189).

The simple interjections of animal images in a play that is about the conquering of a shrew are transformed into a looking glass that magnifies the relationship of Petruccio and Katherine through the mastery of Shakespeare's poetic hand. As Nietzsche wrote "people are animals" and as Shakespeare proved, those animals are sometimes the best illustration of our actions, our dreams, our aspirations, and most importantly, a reflection of ourselves.
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