A shrew was a woman who verbally challenged authority and the “axioms” of male dominance. A shrew was associated with public ridicule and humiliation in the late 16th century. Other ballads depict the shrew’s image as a poor, old and nagging woman. The archetype is altered, though, by Katherine Minola’s portrayal of The Shrew. The Old Widow reinforces it and Bianca Minola blurs it. Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew gave us a shrew who is rich, beautiful and most of all, spirited.
Katharina’s crime against the social hierarchy in The Shrew was her refusal of the dominant male hierarchy. She has an explosive temper which can make men of slow intelligence quake. Act I scene I, she threatens Hortensio, “No mates / Unless You Were of Gentler Milder Mold” (1.1.59-60), with the threat that “To comb Your Noodle With a Three Legged Stool” (1.1.64) is of no use. This brutal treatment raises the question of how much her behavior is due to her surroundings and treatment.
Katharina is not willing to be objectified and sold to anyone. Baptista seems to be a shrewd businessman. He keeps Bianca as his prized possession for the highest-bidder and is eager to rid himself of Katharina. Katharina asks in Act I scene I: “Is it your intention/To turn me into a fool against my friends?” (1.1.57-8). She sees him as a one-minded tyrant.
Katharina’s individuality will never be lost, so she simply started to reject social roles. The stigma of a shrew was attached to her because she refused to accept the role of woman. Her only weapon against insulting indirect remarks were her wittiness and sharp tongue. Katharina shows her vulnerability through Bianca’s interactions. Katharina infuriatedly binds Bianca’s hand and demands to know who she chooses as her preferred suitor. Bianca’s suitors remind Katharina of her demeaning role as the single maid within a marriage culture, and that she will “dance naked on Bianca’s (Bianca) wedding day”, “lead monkeys in hell”, (2.1.33-34)
Katharina thinks of Petruchio in many different ways. He’s her husband, her equal intellectually, and her liberator. Katharina and her tamer begin to develop an unusual relationship when she is brought to a country manor. The deprivation or food is a method of taming.
Petruchio also joins the deprivation. Petruchio is hesitant to call Katharina a tyrant, as she’s not completely beaten. He believes that his behaviour is as ferocious as Katharina and should be softened. Petruchio states “And better that we both fasted / Since by ourselves, ourselves are very choleric” (4.1.161-3). The manor’s strange balance of dominance versus equality is evident. What about Katharina?
She finds some freedom and happiness in the games and exchanges they have, as there is a compromise made between intellectual freedom and obedience. Vincentio, who describes her as “a happy mistress”, says that she is no longer broken. Instead, her spirit has become better suited. Her shrewdness is not who she really was, but an ill-suited phase in her temperament. It’s better to be happy under a king, lord or master than to suffer in misery and despair under a dictator.
The Act V Scene II is a revelation that makes the audience realize who the real shrews are. In a wager over their manhood, men ask their wives to visit them. Bianca, the Old Widow and their husbands refuse to answer the call of their husbands. Bianca’s refusal was shocking. The meek innocent maid had vanished. Lucentio’s money and his manhood were lost, and he was branded a fool. When told about the damage her refusal caused, she replies “The fooler you are, for delaying your duty” (5.2.133). The Old Wife’s refusal could be seen as an example of the conventional shrews in society. Bianca may have been shrewishly warning marriages to balance dominance with equality. Katharina called Petruchio over and spoke to the other ladies about being obedient. She was demonstrating her newly found intellectual freedom and happiness. Never judge a person’s behavior based on the surface.
There is no change in the phrase.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare: Script, Stage, Screen. Ed. Bevington David Anne M. Welsh Michael L. Greenwald Pearson Longman, 2006, published in New York. 83-119