On the surface, one could easily interpret Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew as a sign of his agreement with the idea that women were to be subjected to their husbands and follow their every whim. However, taking a closer look at the dialogue and interactions between characters shows that Shakespeare did not completely adhere to this ideology.
In particular, looking at part of Katharina’s monologue at the end of the play can help reveal this insight. “ But now I see our lances are but straws/ Our strengths as weak, our weakness past compare/ That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.” (V, ii, 173-175). At first glance, these lines would seem to support the idea that Petruchio has successfully tamed a shrew. Instead of showing a wildish woman be tamed though; rereading the lines over and over again shows a darker picture. One were a once strong spirited lady has been broken down to one of conformity. Instead of seeing herself as strong-willed, she instead considers this to be a weakness and something that makes her lesser. Depicting this breaking of spirit stirs sympathy for Katharina which in turn causes us to begin to question whether “taming the shrew” was a noble goal even with the host of characters, including Katharina’s father, supporting it.
Claiming Shakespeare’s support for this kind of idea comes under further scrutiny when one considers for whom his plays were performed. As the majority of his plays were performed for the royal court, Queen Elizabeth would have been a most prominent audience for them. Looking back at other plays, like Richard the III, we know Shakespeare had to tread carefully when depicting certain events. Therefore, it would make little sense for him to turn around and make fun of the very queen who he was so carefully trying not to offend.
Therefore, I think these lines were Shakespeare’s way of showing his disapproval for this idea, especially given that the play ends upon this final scene’s performance and thus leaves the audience feeling sympathy for Katharina. -Justin Kemp