Gender Roles As A Game In Taming Of The Shew

'Women must learn to play the game as men do.' (Eleanor Roosevelt) This statement was written by Eleanor Roosevelt in RedBook Magazine. Roosevelt explored the expansion of women's roles and the positions of men and women in society. The general public holds a belief and expectation upon men and women regarding how one should conduct their total existence based on their assigned sex. Gender roles hold the idea that women are the weaker vessel and are the property of the male society. This idea translates itself into William Shakespeare’s play Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare furthers this idea by literally having people take up these roles in a play, within his play. Taming of the Shew shows that gender roles are just a game that society says we must play. In Taming of the Shrew, this concept is challenged by Katherine Minola and grasped by Bianca Minola, though their adoptions of the role later reverse.

Gender roles during the Elizabethan era were very strong and had little flexibility as women were essentially slaves and property of the male society. During this time women were highly expected to be sweet-tempered, obedient, and submissive. Bianca Minola demonstrated this when responding to her father, Baptista Minola, and her sister Katherine:

Sister, content you in my discontent.—

Sir, to your pleasure humbly I subscribe.

My books and instruments shall be my company,

On them to look and practice by myself.

This quote demonstrates to the level in which Bianca is obedient and respectful to her father and sister. This shows how well Bianca plays the game because she simply obeys and responds to her father’s demand and does not snap back to Katherine after she shamed her. Bianca’s respect and obedience to her family shows the men in the play how superior of a wife she will. Numerous men fall in love with Bianca due to her living up to her expectations of a woman. Bianca’s wealth and beauty also draws the men and are strong factors in having the men desire marriage with her. The men speak regarding how suitable she is for marriage: “But in the other's silence do I see / Maid's mild behavior and sobriety. / Peace, Tranio”. This quote is spoken by Lucentio is an aside as he only says it to Tranio. Lucentio is one of Bianca’s suitors and her eventual husband. He speaks to Tranio after seeing Bianca for the first time and falls in love with her at first sight. Lucentio says how Katherine’s sister seems so quiet and well behaved as they think a young girl should be. This indicates that she is the ideal woman and a very attractive candidate for wifehood. Bianca’s manners demonstrate how well she plays the gender role game by showing that she follows the roles that society has structured and how well she lives up to her role because multiple men want to marry her.

The treatment of women during the sixteenth century was significantly worse than it is today. Though modern feminism did not exist during this time period, many women exposed their conditions, and some even disobeyed the expectations held to their role of a woman which unfortunately resulted in them being seen as a ‘shrew’. In Taming of the Shrew, Katherine Minola did not appreciate the expectations that men had of her and she expresses that and is very disobedient towards them. She did not play the gender role game very well and it displayed itself through the significant amount of criticism that Kate receives from the men in the play including her own father. Baptista Minola, Katherine’s father, shows that he favors Bianca over Katherina and she does not appreciate that:

What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see

She is your treasure, she must have a husband,

I must dance barefoot on her wedding day

And for your love to her lead apes in hell.

Talk not to me. I will go sit and weep

Till I can find occasion of revenge. 

Kate accuses her father of loving Bianca more than her though it is not unreasonable as he does treat Bianca as his treasure like Katherine said. The reader is obviously aware that Katherine has the emotions and beliefs against who a woman should be in society but the fact that she expresses them and the way she expresses them leaves the characters in the play to perceive her as a ‘shrew’, proving that Katherine does not play the gender role game well whatsoever. Though she is beautiful, characters in the play have a hatred for Katherine because of her deep-seated sense of jealousy and insecurity toward Bianca causing her to be a shrew as well as her constant insults and degradation toward the men. When Petruchio, Katherine’s eventual husband, came to Padua to look for a wealthy wife, Hortensio was sure to warn him of that: “Her only fault, and that is faults enough, / Is that she is intolerable curst, / And shrewd and froward, so beyond all measure”. This quote shows hows Kate’s jealousy and insecurity towards her sister have an impact on everyone around her as the men feel the need to warn each other about her. Kate’s unnecessary happiness could have easily been avoided by expressing her feelings differently from the beginning demonstrating that Katherine does not play the game well because she is in constant rage and unsatisfaction.

Shakespeare’s Taming of the shrew challenges the stereotypes of the Elizabethan era. Society has structured gender roles that we are expected to follow making it essentially a game. Taming of the Shrew demonstrated this idea through Bianca’s adoption of these gender roles and Katherine’s rejection of them. Throughout the events of the play, Shakespeare taught the reader a valuable lesson regarding the ideas of gender and hierarchy during the sixteenth century as it demonstrates the sexist assumptions of the time regarding a woman’s spot in marriage and society. The play’s themes relate to society today because even though stereotypes are strongly diluted since the sixteenth century, they still hold a significant place in people’s beliefs.

16 August 2021
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