Essay on the Character of Katharina in Taming of the Shrew

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The Character of Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew

Michael W. Shurgot has written that The Taming of the Shrew "may never be as intellectually stimulating as reading, say, The Merchant of Venice or Hamlet or The Winter's Tale" and that the characters that seem one-dimensional on the page can only become interesting on the stage (328). Shurgot would seem to imply that Shakespeare did not fully develop his characters, and that the play is only entertaining after a director has taken creative license with the stage directions. A close reading of the play itself will show it to be interesting enough indeed, for it reveals clues to the motivation of both Katharina's shrewishness and later submissiveness, and the manner in which her character is to be portrayed and viewed.

Agnes Mure Mackenzie would have audiences believe that "Katharina's revolt is temperamental apparently: at least we are given no reason for it in its beginnings," (24). Baptista says that his daughters will have "a good bringing up," (1.1.99), implying that he has always tried to raise the girls right. Katharina, he would have us believe, has turned out shrewish despite his best intentions. He also says that he intends to school his daughters. This does not necessarily mean that Katharina is intelligent, but she has probably been encouraged to think. Like it or not, Baptista has reared an independently thinking female.

An audience might assume that Katharina has always been shrewish; her reputation seems to have already been established, as is evidenced by Hortensio and Gremio's heckling in the first scene (1.1.55-61). This does not mean she is a shrew by nature, only that she had been exhibiting this behavior f...

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...hout his even knowing it.

So we see that Katharina is indeed a very complex and interesting character. Generations of readers and performers have misunderstood her character, and probably misrepresented her. Tucking Katharina into the "crazy shrew" package may be very convenient for the director looking for an easy production, but it is probably incorrect. In fact, no production that produces the play as a straightforward farce does the character of Katharina any justice.

Works Cited

MacKenzie, Agnes Mure. The Women in Shakespeare's Plays. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1924.

Ring. "Was shrewish Shakespeare a feminist bard?" from

Shurgot, Michael W. "From Fiction to Reality: Character and Stagecraft in The taming of the shrew." Theatre Journal, October 1981, 327-340.
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