Although Katherina's final speech in The Taming of the Shrew may sound subservient on the surface, it actually reflects her growth and development into a stronger and more complex character. Without losing the forcefulness that she displayed earlier in the play, the delivery of her final speech exhibits the cleverness and deceptiveness that she has learned from Petruchio throughout the "taming" process.
At the beginning of the play, Katherina is seen as the forceful sister and Bianca as the clever one. Katherina is described by Grumio as the "fiend of hell" (I.i.88) and by Tranio as "curst and shrewd" (I.i.180). In contrast, Lucentio sees in Bianca's silence "mild behavior and sobriety" (I.i.71). Early in the play, Katherina forcefully binds Bianca's hands and beats her and a weeping Bianca resorts to her father to get away from Katherina (II.i.1-25). Bianca does not use force but instead relies on cleverness to get her way. As part of her cleverness, Bianca displays a gentle and subservient nature that she knows is pleasing to her father. For example, even though Baptista tells Bianca that she cannot marry until Katherina has taken a husband, he asks that she let this "not displease [her]" (I.i.77) and tells her to go inside. Bianca willingly obeys her father's wishes, telling him: "Sir, to your pleasure humbly I subscribe;/My books and instruments shall be my company" (I.i.81-82). Conversely, when Baptista then tells Katherina to stay, she forcefully ignores his wishes and leaves after responding: "What, shall I be appointed hours, as though (belike)/I knew not what to take and what to leave? Ha!" (I.i.103-04).
Lucentio is very much like Bianca. He uses clever dis...
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...ee our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are. (V.ii.170-75)
Katherina's final speech may be ironical but it is exactly what society expects to hear. The tone of her speech is dignified and aristocratic and it is delivered with style and persuasion. It is by far the most noble and eloquent speech included in the play. Katherina's ability to effectively deliver this speech exhibits her growth into a stronger character--one that now possesses both forcefulness and cleverness. Compared with Bianca and Lucentio, who remain one-sided (clever-only) characters, Katherina and Petruchio together form a formidable pair--as characters that are bothclever and forceful.
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Ed. David Bevington. New York: Longman, 1997.
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