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Gender Roles

One concept that Shakespeare has used in all the plays we’ve read so far is the concept of gender roles and The Taming of the Shrew is no exception. In The Taming of the Strew though, Shakespeare portrays the gender roles as they were commonly accepted during the time. Rather than empowering women like he did in The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare depicts women as being valued below men and ultimately second class citizens. The one character who looked like she may defy these socially acceptable gender roles was Katherine, however, as the play goes on she yields to her husband Petruchio and falls into role of the proper and obedient wife. Throughout this whole play we see how the men dominate over the women. At one point Petruchio actually refers to Kate as his property as if she were just another piece of the dowry and he treats her like his property when he doesn’t let her eat, sleep, or make any decision of her own. Now, this portrayal of women seems a little odd to me when looking at how there are at least a few women in all of Shakespeare’s plays that do somehow defy the socially accepted few as women being valued below men. So it makes me wonder, why did Shakespeare decided to portray all the women as below men in this play? I personally think it had a little to do with the overall humor of the play but I also think Shakespeare is playing a joke on the audience. When you think about it just about every character in this play is in someway being made a fool of. Hortensio, Lucentio, and Tranio all pretend to be someone they are not in efforts to fool the father and the other suitors to win Bianca. Petruchio pretends to be something he is not in order to tame Kate. Then of course in the introduction Christopher Sly is deceived in thinking that he is a lord. This whole play is filled with deception and trickery, and so maybe Shakespeare is playing a joke on the audience. Rather than just being a light hearted comedy this play could be making fun of society and how they treated women during that time. I feel like Shakespeare could have written this as a parody or a satire to show how ridiculous their society was with the way they treated women. If this were true then the audience would be laughing at themselves without even knowing it. In a sense the audience would be Christopher Sly. But I could be totally wrong about this too because it is very possible that Shakespeare was just trying to be clever by getting a few cheap laughs off of some dirty jokes; who knows?
But then of course we have to look at how this play relates to our current society, and at first glance it would seem that there really isn’t anything in common. Women today, at least in our society, have rights and are seen as equals to men. Women are given the same opportunities as men to attend college, get a job, own property and everything else of the sort. And yet, even though women do have many more rights and opportunities today than they did back in Shakespeare’s time, it is hard to deny that the world we live in today is still a man’s world. Just look at the way we assign genders roles to certain professions. Men are doctors, women are nurses. Men are bosses, women are secretaries. Men are pilots, women are stewardesses, and the list goes on. Now of course there are women doctors and male nurses but society still has these gender roles embedded in the way we think of men and women in the workplace. There hasn’t even been a woman president in our countries’ almost 250 year history. It’s not just the work place though but there are gender roles in our social lives as well. A common gender role has to do with sex. A man who has a lot of sex is often times praised for being a player while a woman who has a lot of sex is labeled as either a slut or a whore neither of which is particularly flattering. And just like Petruchio claimed Kate as his property, it is not uncommon for men to view women in the same way today. A lot of people have made the claim that this is largely due to the internet and the rise of pornography that followed which depicts women as objects rather than people. Others would blame it on TV, movies, and our pop culture in general. Whether or not it is porn, pop culture, or something entirely different, it is hard to deny that men do view women as objects. This of course does not mean that men treat women like property, although some unfortunately do. However, this concept of women as objects and women being valued below men in society is still present in our society today just like it was back in Shakespeare’s time. Now I obviously only see this from the male perspective, which could be completely different from the female perspective, or for that matter another male’s perspective, but that’s what I’ve noticed in society and that’s the connection I’ve made from The Taming of the Shrew and our society today.


From what I have gathered, you seem to think the society we live in today is very unequal. I slightly disagree, because women have more opportunities available than ever before. Women hold high positions in business offices and governmental positions. Even Hillary Clinton is a strong candidate for the 2008 presidency. Even with such extreme changes throughout the past century, women do have a disadvantage compared with men. However, I believe it is due to biological and environmental differences that will probably never be changed. Women are taught to carry feminine characteristics, which means passiveness, while men are taught to have masculine characteristics, which means aggressiveness. In society, aggressiveness often wins control. Therefore, men have more opportunities to lead a company, a military, or a country. In religion, women are taught to be submissive towards men. Even if it does not seem right, some things just cannot be change entirely. Looking at Shakespeare’s plays, women are indeed portrayed as something of trade value. But it was not degrading towards women. That is simply how society was, so we should appreciate the transformation of better equality the world is going through today. If there is a negative feeling towards this statement, there is also a saying which goes, “Men control the world, but women control the men.? The power almost always ultimately comes back to the woman. Women are powerful in a different sense, but most men are never able to realize it.

Katharine is the only one in the play who seems against the grain. She is aggressive and does not succumb to the pressure and falseness of her suitors. These characteristics are not typical of a woman of marrying age. It seems as though the whole process of marriage is a joke to her, and is not meant for her. You mentioned that eventually she does fall into her conventional womanly roles, however.

I think Shakespeare shows this "falling from grace" moment to allow the audience to identify with her. Katharine may have had a plan to behave atypical and rampant, but like all of us who are human our plans change. A curveball is thrown and we have to go with the flow. We have to learn to keep a float, whether it is doing something we do not believe in or something we do not want to do. No matter how Kat acts in the play, like all the other "Stepford Wives", I have to believe that it is not her wish. Maybe her choice is a forced one from her aggressive husband who has control over his "property." Such a strong- headed woman would not normally be okay with such treatment and behavior.

Women today, I believe need to be more like Kat at the beginning of the play. Women should second guess and be aggressive toward what we want. There should be a woman president, and female CEO’s, and it should not be weird or be taken for granted. Women are stronger because the world is forcing us to be stronger. I think the world may be unequal, but it is only that way in the minds of people. The inequality is an ancient thought. Inequality is a thought system where it is easier to keep people in check, than one where it allows them to shine.

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