Women’s roles have changed these past four hundred or so years – it’s a fact. Women can now vote in an election; own their own land; marry whomever they wish (depending on religion); eat, drink and sleep when they wish; go out when they wish; they can be educated in the same subjects as boys; they can wear what they like, and even have sex with who they like (again – depending on religion). In Elizabethan times, when Shakespeare put pen to paper to write The Taming of the Shrew, women were forbidden to do most, if not all these things. From birth, they didn’t have a ‘father’ so much, but an ‘owner’, and when it was time for the ‘father’ to marry off his daughter, she then became the ‘property’ of the husband. The woman forfeited all dowries unto her husband, and she would never have been allowed to own anything.
Although we in modern society like to imagine equality in life, there is always the hidden truth. There are many critics who say that life is not equal amongst the sexes, but more of an inequality now – against the men. There is the ever-so repeated story of the males being deprived of their rights when, for example women seem to get priority in court during divorce cases when it comes to custody.
Although granted the majority of child killers and paedophiles are male, this does not mean that all men are guilty. A more recent example of this is with Millie (Amanda) Dowler’ s father, who was accused of her murder almost immediately after the discovery of her body. I think these changes of the position of males in the modern day way of life, have come about more frequently in this post 9/11 society, because we have had to become so cautious – but this does not mean that either sex has to suffer as a result. This is why I also think that The Taming of the Shrew is still dramatically interesting to a modern audience.
I think that The Taming of the Shrew wasn’t meant to just describe the facts about the heavily patriarchal Elizabethan society, but was meant more to exploit those facts, and really exaggerate them to question the true meaning and way of life for women in the 1600s. The comical factor, which was included where Petruchio turned up not only late, but also very drunk to his wedding, is a way this exploitation and highlighting of the way the women were treated is communicated. I think this play is still dramatically interesting to a modern audience, as the themes and story lines that Shakespeare wrote, are still relevant to today’s society. I think that this play is also a representation of life for women in many parts of the world, where even in this current day civilisation, women can even be executed for standing up for themselves.
Although Kate physically appears to be subjugated by Petruchio, mentally, I think she retains her headstrong will to fight, and she also appears sometimes to be of higher status than others, especially the men. This appears so in Zefirelli’ s version of the play, where Kate leads the way, dragging Petruchio behind her as they exit at the end of the play.
Zefirelli changed many aspects of the play, in order to get his desired interpretation across to the audience. Firstly, the ‘wedding’ scene was changed dramatically. Shakespeare wrote the ‘wedding’ scene [Act III, Scene II] so that the audience never saw inside the church. Zefirelli changed that, by ‘improvising’ this scene. His ‘improvisation’ included Petruchio pushing the presiding priest away, causing him to drop the communion brandy; Petruchio giving a delayed ‘I do’ – almost humiliating Kate as an effect on the viewers, and making Petruchio kiss Kate in the middle of her response, when the audience expects her to say ‘I do not’. This adds to the audience’s hatred of Petruchio, for humiliating the poor woman until she is deprived of her solemnity, and for taking away the right of speech – something that a modern audience is so accustomed to.
Throughout his interpretation, Zefirelli makes Petruchio out to be an evil, greedy, egotistical, and dominating man, who married Kate for her dowry. He cares not for her feelings, rights, or needs – but more for his standing in society, what his comrades think of him. This, sadly, is how I read him to be in Shakespeare’s original. The language he uses, such as:
PETRUCHIO … One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife – As wealth is burden of my wooing dance – But she as foul as was Florentuis’ love, As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewed As Socrates’ Xanthippe, or a worse, She moves me not, or not removes, at least, Affection’s edge in me, were she as rough As are the swelling Adriatic seas. I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua [Act I, Scene II, Lines 65 – 74] This is a prime example of how Petruchio ‘waltzes’ in from Verona to “wive it wealthily in Padua”.
Basically, Petruchio has come to Padua to find a rich wife. His sexist remarks are evident with the similes “were she as rough as are the swelling Adriatic seas”, “as old as Sibyl”, and “as foul as was Florentuis’ love”. These classical allusions help the audience compare the type of woman Petruchio would be willing to court and marry. Sibyl was a Greek prophetess (obviously very old); Xanthippe was a renowned scold – she was the wife of the Greek philosopher Socrates, and from another story, Florentius was a man who was forced to marry an old hag, who was then transformed into a beautiful woman. These three state Petruchio’s desire for a rich woman, be she very old, forceful, foul, or shrewed ~ showing his deep interest in wealth.