Shakespeare – a well known playwright throughout the 16th Century – wrote many comedies and tragedy plays to entertain Elizabethan audiences. The plays were aimed at all classes and ages, after being performed in front of Queen Elizabeth, and approved of. Queen Elizabeth was very feministic and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ faired well with the monarch. One of the leading characters, Katherina, is very feisty and classes herself as better or at least equal to men, something unheard of in Elizabethan society. Men were seen as the superior sex, where as women were expected to be sub-dominant and weak.
Their role was not to challenge the husband, but to support him; also women were seen as an asset to a married man. Reasons for this philosophy perhaps resided in The Great Chain of Being, a concept accepted and followed by society at the time. These stereotypical views of women were challenged by ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. The play revolves around four main characters and a whole host of involved background characters. There are two love stories running through-out, which become tangled and more complicated as the plot thickens and emotions run wild.
One of the most complicated aspects of the play is that characters repeatedly dress up as each other – a concept taken from Commedia dell’Arte. Amusement is also due to the dramatic irony because the audience know of the costume capers, where as the characters in the play do not. Modern audiences might not find some of the disguise antics comedic as they might see them as foolish and stupid. However Elizabethan audiences would have found this confusion amongst characters and visual antics amusing as most of the audience would not have been well educated.
The more sophisticated wordplay and punning would also rely on exaggerated actions and the slapstick humour so often seen in Shakespearian plays – something else taken from Commedia dell’Arte. This would help to explain why there are so many scenes involving exaggerated movements, and farcical actions – such as when Katherina is fighting with Petruchio. Katherina is the plays antagonist. Widely reputed throughout Padua to be a shrew, Katherine is foul-tempered and sharp-tongued at the start of the play.
She constantly insults and degrades the people around her, and often resorts to violence and wild displays of aggression. It is generally perceived that her erratic behaviour is genetic, however we sometimes see the real Katherina – which could lead us to believe that her behaviour is the result of many different factors; one being her jealousy for the way Baptista treats Bianca. She may act like a shrew because she is miserable and desperate. However, she is still a very fiery character, a feminist.
Katherina’s character challenged the stereotypes withheld at the time, which women were nothing more than housewives, possessions to be owned by their husbands. This stereotype partly came about through The Great Chain of Being, which states that women are below men. However the monarch at the time – Queen Elizabeth I – was a very feministic queen. Katherina’s independant stance would have faired well with the Queen as they followed the same principles. Katherina’s behaviour would also startle Elizabethan audiences as it was unheard of at the time – this could provide humour.