William Shakespeare's characterization of women varies immensely from one comedy to another. In his works, Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and Much Ado About Nothing, he portrays both dominant and submissive women. Ultimately, Shakespeare examines the complexity of women by displaying the vast array of attitudes, emotions, and their treatment and reaction to men as well as refuting the typical subservient wife role.
In Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, the difficulties of marriage and submission take center stage. When the determined Petruchio marries the domineering Katherine it sets the scene for a battle of willpower. Eventually, Petruchio successfully 'tames' Kate at the expense of losing a potentially loving and affectionate wife. In fact, Kate behaves more like a fearful puppy dog longing to please her husband than a respectable wife. Though Kate contrasts other female characters in Shakespeare?s comedies by submitting to her husband, her obedience is merely the product of an authoritative husband?s demands and threats. Her submission is merely a façade of obedience. Before marriage, Kate is notorious for her ill temper and resistance towards men. A character named Grumio calls Kate, ? ?Katherine the curst,? a title for a maid, of all the worst? (Shakespeare 57). Men fear Kate because of her violent nature and unstable emotions. But after Kate is subjected to Petruchio?s torments, she relents to him and gives in to his ways for the benefit of sustenance and sanity.
In the end, Petruchio beckons Kate to teach the other wives to be subservient to their husbands. Kate explains, ?Such duty as the subject owes the prince, even such a woman oweth to her husband; and when she is forward, peevish, sullen, sour, and not obedient to his honest will, what is she but a foul contending rebel and graceless traitor to her loving lord? (Shakespeare 171). Although Kate?s words imply compliance, her sarcastic tone invokes an attitude of insubordination lying under the surface of her willful surrender. The words of her mouth do not reflect the desires of her heart. According to Critic Karen Newman?s critique, ?The Taming of the Shrew: A Modern Perspective,? Kate?s speech, ?must be understood ironically as pretense, a strategy for living peaceably in patriarchal culture? (233). In a society dominated and ruled by men it is only natural for a woman to seek a ?survival of the fittest? mentality for the sake of merely living another day, even if it requires giving in to her husband?s humbling requests.
The male and female characters in the two plays, The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing play somewhat reversal roles in that the husband controls the fate of his wife to only a certain extent, because wives can foil the fates of their husbands simply by behaving disloyally. Though The Taming of the Shrew portrays men as a source of embarrassment for women, Much Ado About Nothing contends that...