[…] I buy more things than I make. I used to think it was a sign of some kind of capitalistic progress to be able to buy food and gifts instead of making them myself, but I’m not sure anymore. When it comes to difference making there is a different trend line. Money can come and go, but my time on this planet is finite. How I spend my time, or who I spend it with means more than anything else in my universe. From at least the selfish view, giving my time is the most valuable gift I can give. Scott Berkun, essay #49 – How to make a difference […]
So, what about this whole "taming" thing? How does it work, exactly? First, Petruchio acts like a "shrew" on his wedding day and throughout the honeymoon so that Kate can see what her bad behavior looks like in another person. This involves a lot of yelling, swearing, the abuse of hapless servants, and erratic and cruel behavior toward Kate. Basically, Petruchio deploys some tried and true torture techniques – starvation, sleep deprivation, psychological manipulation, and good old fashioned humiliation – to get Kate to behave the way he wants.
One of the manipulative techniques Petruchio likes to use is a little game called "let's pretend everything I say is true, even when it's not." How does this work? Well, if the sun is shining in the middle of the afternoon and Petruchio says the moon is very pretty this evening, everybody has to agree that yes, the moon is very pretty indeed. Same goes for when Petruchio pretends an old man is really a "budding" virgin . What happens when Kate doesn't play along? Well, she's punished. Notice how getting his way involves controlling the names of things?
OK, so what do we make of this? Aside from the fact that Petruchio is a jerk, we should think about how his character speaks to the idea that social roles are performative – that is, the idea that getting along in the world requires one to do a lot of acting. Many critics point out that Petruchio teaches Kate how to play-act, to perform a role other than "shrew." This would make his "taming school" more of a nightmare theater boot camp than anything else. Are we letting Petruchio off the hook? Absolutely not. He's utterly abusive toward his wife and revels in his power over Kate.
At the same time that the play portrays domestic violence on stage, Big Willy Shakespeare leaves open the possibility that anyone who tries to follow Petruchio's advice and behavior is a total idiot. Hortensio, who spends a lot of his valuable time at Petruchio's so-called "taming school," winds up having absolutely no control over his wife, the Widow. In fact, she ends up humiliating him when she disses him in public and causes him to lose a bet. Also, while it appears that Kate has been tamed, her final speech is so over the top that we wonder if Petruchio has trained an obedient wife or just a woman who has learned how to pretend to be obedient. If the latter is true, is this what Petruchio intended?
Either way, we appreciate the way the characters' obsession with acting and performing allows the play to acknowledge that social stereotypes (shrews, good girls, manly men, etc.) are not innate characteristics and are perhaps best left on the stage.