Comparing the Role of Women in Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night

Comparing the Role of Women in Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night

Length: 1146 words (3.3 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
The Role of Women in Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night

   Many critics have lambasted the female characters in Shakespeare's plays as two-dimensional and unrealistic portrayals of subservient women.  Others have asserted that the roles of women in his plays were prominent for the time and culture that he lived in.  Two works, Taming of the Shrew, and Twelfth Night, stand out particularly well in regards to Shakespeare's use of female characters.  After examining these two plays, one will see that Shakespeare, though conforming to contemporary attitudes of women, circumvented them by creating resolute female characters with a strong sense of self. 


            The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare's most famous plays, and has weathered well into our modern era with adaptations into popular television series such as Moonlighting.  For all the praises it has garnered throughout the centuries, it is curious to note that many have considered it to be one of his most controversial in his treatment of women.   The "taming" of Katherine has been contended as being excessively cruel by many writers and critics of the modern era.  George Bernard Shaw himself pressed for its banning during the 19th century (Peralta).  The subservience of Katherine has been labeled as barbaric, antiquated, and generally demeaning.   The play centers on her and her lack of suitors.  It establishes in the first act her shrewish demeanor and its repercussions on her family.  It is only with the introduction of the witty Petruchio as her suitor, that one begins to see an evolution in her character.   Through an elaborate charade of humiliating behavior, Petruchio humbles her and by the end of the play, she will instruct other women on the nature of being a good and dutiful wife.


            In direct contrast to Shrew, is Twelfth Night, whose main female protagonist is by far the strongest character in the play.  The main character Viola, has been stranded in a foreign land and adopts the identity of her brother so that she might live independently without a husband or guardian.  She serves as a courtier to a young, lovesick nobleman named Orsino.  Throughout the play she plays as a go-between for him to the woman he loves.  In the course of her service, she falls in love with him.  Only at the end, does she renounce her male identity and declares her love for him.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Comparing the Role of Women in Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night." 13 Nov 2019

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Essay about Twelfth Night By William Shakespeare

- Like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night revolves around the central theme of love by focusing on the interactions between characters. Two characters, Orsino and Olivia, are self-indulgent people too busy living in the melodrama of their emotions to relate to those around them. They become inconsiderate of the feelings of others. Orsino is so lovesick that he can think of nothing but Olivia while Olivia is so fixed upon grieving for her brother that nothing else matters to her. It is only when Viola, as Cesario, becomes part of their lives that they change....   [tags: Love, Twelfth Night, Andrew Aguecheek, Emotion]

Research Papers
1227 words (3.5 pages)

Twelfth Night By William Shakespeare Essay

- William Shakespeare’s early play, Twelfth Night, or What You Will is a classic romantic comedy placed in a Christian-Pagan environment. By comparing and contrasting Twelfth Night with the movie She’s the Man, I am arguing that discrimination of the female gender in Twelfth Night is still relevant today. Shakespeare plays are known as being universal; his plots and characters are just as alive as they were in the late sixteenth centuries. By 1601, Shakespeare had already written A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and As You Like It....   [tags: Gender, Woman, Gender role, Boy]

Research Papers
1236 words (3.5 pages)

"Twelfth Night" - A Tragic Comedy Essay

- Shakespeare’s comedies have always had a distinct subtext of tragedy as shown in Twelfth Night. It teeters on the brink of tragedian literature similar to his tragedies, such as Hamlet, through the ambiguity of the main characters and unfinished resolutions. Comedies are generally morally clear- the villains and heroes are clearly defined. Twelfth Night’s characters have a layer of ambiguity stemming from their use of illusion in the form of mistaken identity. A central theme of the play is the contrast between illusion and reality and how the characters in the play manipulate their various roles for their own benefit and against each other....   [tags: Shakespearean Literature]

Research Papers
1154 words (3.3 pages)

Twelfth Night Essays

- In Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night or What you Will, the characters are involved in a plot complete with trickery, disguise, and love. Each character is defined not by his or her gender or true identity, but by the role they are forced to take because of the complicated situation that arises. Unlike their gender, the speech the characters give an insight to their true personalities. In the Twelfth Night, the character Duke Orsino uses flowery and over-dramatic language, long poetic sentence structure, and melodramatic metaphors to display his overemotional romantic nature despite the different emotions in his various speeches....   [tags: Literary Analysis, Shakespeare]

Research Papers
967 words (2.8 pages)

The Purpose of Disguise in Twelfth Night Essay

- Theme of Disguise in Twelfth Night The notion of disguise is very important theme within Twelfth Night.  From my point of view I feel that the crux of the play is primarily based on this concept.  Indeed "there's something in it that is deceivable" summarizes this point precisely.  Disguise runs like a thread through the play from start to end and holds it all together just as tightly as thread would fabric.  Yet, paradoxically as the plot progresses there are many problems, deceptions and illusions, which provide a comment on human behavior and creating the needed escape of comedy....   [tags: Twelfth Night essays]

Research Papers
1145 words (3.3 pages)

Use of Disguise in Twelfth Night Essay

- Twelfth Night, "there's something in it that is deceivable". Disguise is very important as a theme in the Twelfth Night.  In fact, disguise is a crucial plot to the play.  It is the thread which runs through the play from start to end and holds it all together.  Yet, paradoxically along the way there are many problems, deceptions and illusions, providing a comment on human behavior and creating comedy. Women's parts were played by boy actors in Shakespeare's day, so the audience would have found special sophistication in Viola's part:  a boy dressing up as a woman who, in the play disguises herself as a man....   [tags: Twelfth Night Essays]

Research Papers
1063 words (3 pages)

Plethora of Fools in Twelfth Night Essay

- Plethora of Fools in Twelfth Night Folly is one of the main weaknesses in Twelfth Night with a number of characters portraying their own strange foolish ways. Feste is the professional fool; he is the most noticeable fool and is very quickly recognised by the audience as an intelligent man. Orsino and Olivia are really foolish because of the decisions they make but they are regarded as intelligent. The biggest fool of all is Olivia's steward, Malvolio.   Feste was obviously the most noticeable fool....   [tags: Twelfth Night essays]

Research Papers
703 words (2 pages)

The Fools in Twelfth Night Essay

- The Fools of Twelfth Night         It is not unusual that the fool should be a prominent figure and make an important contribution in forming the confusion and the humor in an Elizabethan drama. In William Shakespeare's comedy, Twelfth Night, Feste the clown is not the only fool who is subject to foolery. He and many other characters combine their silly acts and wits to invade other characters that either escape reality or live a dream. In Twelfth Night, Feste, Maria and Sir Toby are the fools that make the comedy work in many senses....   [tags: Twelfth Night Essays]

Research Papers
1086 words (3.1 pages)

Gender Roles in Twelfth Night Essay

- Born on approximately April 23, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, William Shakespeare is considered by many to have been the greatest writer the English language has ever known. His literary legacy included 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and five major poems. Among his many plays is the notable, Twelfth Night, a romantic comedy, placed in a festive atmosphere in which three couples are brought together happily. The play opens with Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, expressing his deep love for the Countess Olivia....   [tags: William Shakespeare Twelfth Night]

Research Papers
2141 words (6.1 pages)

Essay on Wisdom in Twelfth Night

- Beyond Seriousness to Wisdom in Twelfth Night         Shakespeare seems preoccupied with madness and folly in Twelfth Night. The word "fool" and its variants ("foolery," "foolish," and so forth) appear eighty times in the play, and the word "folly" occurs seven times. There are, in addition, other means of indicating foolishness such as Maria's "Now, sir, thought is free" (1.3.67). As Feste suggests, "Foolery ... does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere" (3.1.39-40). Robert Armin, who originated the role of Feste, was fascinated by fools and wrote Foole upon Foole, a book which treated this subject....   [tags: Twelfth Night essays]

Research Papers
2734 words (7.8 pages)

Related Searches



            Both plays portray female characters unwilling to accept the female role of passivity.  Katherine rebels against this stereotype by becoming a "shrew", a violently tempered and belligerent woman.  Viola disguises herself as a man for most of the play in order to preserve her state of free will.  Katherine endures reprimands, chiding, and humiliation in the course of her chosen rebellion.  Viola enjoys life and position as a man, and does not reveal who she is until the last scene of the play.  Curiously enough, both women voluntarily accept the roles that society would impose on them again at the close of the plays.   It is important to note though, that they freely resume these roles, and that they do so out of their own sense of self.  For each woman, it is a personal choice based on their desires.  In the case of Katherine, she realizes that propriety is as much a signature of self-respect as respect for others, and she has a husband whom she need prove nothing to because he already respects her.  In the case of Viola, she is in love with the young Orsino.  Having found the man she would be willing to wed, the pretense of her male identity is no longer necessary, as she desires to be his wife. 


            Having seen the similarities between Viola and Katherine, one should take notice that they do have different circumstances regarding their behavior.  The reason for Katherine's shrewish demeanor is never given in the play, though many directors have interpreted it as an act to discourage suitors, much like Hamlet's feigned madness.  Others have attributed it to sibling rivalry between Katherine and her sister Bianca.  In any case, no clear rationale is given to the audience as to the reason for Katherine's behavior.  It is enough to say that the actions of her father and sister do not relieve the situation as well. Throughout the whole of the play, her father treats her as a commodity to be bargained away to whoever is willing to take her.  Granted that he doesn't view Bianca as anything more than a commodity as well, but he clearly favors her over Katherine as unspoiled merchandise.  Bianca has a rather small role to play in the whole of things.  She seems to be the archetypal young lady of quality.  Her lack of understanding for her sister causes them to quarrel and results in Bianca taking the physical worst of it, whilst Katherine is blamed for her belligerent nature.  The entire presence of family in the play gives Katherine her motivation and explains much of the whole situation in the dialogue.  Contrast this with the isolated Viola.  She is shipwrecked and has no one to connect with at all.  Her situation is implicitly understood by the Shakespearean audience as being an awkward one for a young woman.  Lacking anyone to provide for her, she is forced to take measures to protect herself and her estate.  The understood reason for her deception is to insure for herself, and it is clearly stated by Viola at the end of Act I .Scene 3.


              Obviously, the two women are very different individuals.  Yet they share the same characteristics that Shakespeare imparted onto many of his heroines.  Each is resolute and knows her own mind.  Though society demands certain behavior from them, they each chose to undertake a different path to deny that behavior.  The self is promoted over the public image.  Yet, each is not averse to returning to society's established roles if it serves their needs and wants.  The entire concept of choice and free-will, of which Shakespeare was so fond of, applies as equally to his feminine characters as to his masculine.  It is this very important point which establishes the conclusion that Shakespeare did indeed create realistic and meaningful female characters.


Works Cited

Barton, Anne. Introduction to Twelfth Night. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974. 403-407.

Barton, Ann.  "The Taming of the Shrew." The Riverside Shakespeare 2nd ed. Ed. Dean Johnson et al. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.  138-141.

Dusinberre, Juliet. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women. London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1975.

Fox, Levi, ed.  The Shakespeare Handbook. Boston:  G.K. Hall & Co., 1987.

Peralta, T.    "The Taming of the Shrew."  English 28: Shakespeare's Plays.  Cerritos College. Norwalk, CA,  Fall semester 1996.  

Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare. Edited Stephen Greenblatt et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Shakespeare, William.  The Taming of the Shrew.  Ed. David Bevington. New York: Longman, 1997.
Return to