During the the Elizabethan Era in the late 15th century, William Shakespeare debuted The Taming of the Shrew. One of Shakespeare’s multiple comedies in which a headstrong and bratty shrew known as Katharina is courted by a wealthy gentleman of Varona, Petruchio. Who mimics her maniacal tantrums in order to “tame” the shrew and convert her into a compliant bride. Two main cultural topics in this play are courtship and weddings. In this time period courtship was seen as a romantic time period in which ladies of the court would be wood and won over. The man interested in the young woman would ask for her father’s permission to court his daughter, which would imply that the man was serious about the relationship with future plans to marry her. During this time a dowry would be discussed and set by the father. Being that the woman had to bring a monetary portion of wealth to the marriage, for her husband to have and to help prosper the newlywed. After the man had the father’s permission and a dowry was decided upon he would then proceed towards visiting and bringing gifts to his future wife, if the union was rushed they would also proceed to getting married.
In the play Petruchio wants to marry the shrew Katharina because of the wealth of her family, also knowing that her dowry will be high. In the article “Household Kates: domesticating commodities in The Taming of the Shrew” by Natasha Korda. Korda explains how “The Taming of the Shrew” can be analyzed through household economics and consumption. In the text she analyzes “Petruchio’s fortune-hunting bombast, together with his claim to have “better’d” his inheritance, marks him as one of the new gentry, who continually sought to improve their estates through commerce, forays into business or overseas trade, or by contracting wealthy marriages.” Which it is, settling with her father Babtista for “After my death, the one half of my lands, And, in possession, twenty thousand crowns.” Petruchio then arranges that on his side “And for that dowry, Ill assure her of Her widowhood, be in that she survives me, In all my lands and leases whatsoever, Let specialties be therefore drawn between us, That covenants may be kept on either hand.” The arrangement of the union is treated as a business transaction, so much that “specialties” or contracts have to be drawn on both sides. Now that the arrangement has been fulfilled Petruchio moves towards courting Kate which is found to be rather uninvited by the shrew. He does his very best to woo her, unsuccessfully they end up bickering back and forth and Katharina throws a fit. Which is uncommon of ladies to do during this time period, her doing this was a demonstration of her shrewdness. During this time period woman had no say in who they were going to marry, so they would not oppose the union.
Now the actual wedding in the play is depicted differently than custom during this time period. During this time, it was custom for the wedding ceremony to occur in church. The wealthy would dress in their best attire, to show their respect and class. Something that Petruchio refuses to do arriving to his wedding in tattered apparel. Making the statement “To me she’s married, not unto my clothes. Could I repair what she will wear in me As I can change these poor accoutrements, ‘Twere well for Kate and better for myself” Again this type of behavior was not traditional of this time, it was extremely contemporary, the time period gives this scene more power being that those ideologies were not accepted yet. In the church everyone would be respectful towards the priest. First when Petruchio and Katharina are getting married, Petruchio shows no sign of respect for the ceremony, so much that he has a drink of wine before the ceremony finishes. “But that his beard grew thin and hungerly And seemed to ask him sops as he was drinking. This done, he took the bride about the neck And kissed her lips with such a clamorous smack. Such a mad marriage never was before.” Petruchio uses such foul behavior in effort to give Kate a taste of her own medicine as a tactic to tame her. The play then proceeds to a feast which is tradition of the Elizabethan era, the feast wished the couple a long and happy life. The Taming of the Shrew again breaks the tradition of the feast, Petruchio refuses to attend the wedding feast and takes his new bride with him. Refusing the feast was actually very controversial because planning the wedding feast took a lot of work and had to be carefully planned. Petruchio then moves towards making the bold statement “will be master of what is mine own. She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house, My household stuff, my field, my barn, My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing, And here she stands”. Korda believes “Petruchio’s blunt assertion of property rights over Kate performs the very act of domestication it declares; reduced to an object of exchange (“goods” and “chattels”), Kate is abruptly yanked out of circulation and sequestered within the home, literally turned into a piece of furniture or “household stuff.””
By: Erika Hernandez
Korda, Natasha. “Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.” Shakespeare Quarterly, 47.2 (1996): 109.