William Shakespeare was respected for constantly pushing the boundaries of what a typical play would look like and express. He was the king of captivating audiences; time and time again, he created pieces that left people in awe which is part of the reason that his name has lived on for as long as it has. “The Taming of the Shrew,” is no exception to his magnificent work. It lies mostly under the genre of a Romantic Comedy. Though, sometimes, you have to look deeply to find the elements that make this true.
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Many scholars over the years have debated when Shakespeare actually wrote this play. Most believe that the truth rests somewhere around 1590 because the finished piece was submitted into the Stationer’s Register on May 2, 1594. Notably, this was a time that religion was being disputed. May 14, 1592 was the day that King Henry VI fought in the Battle of Irvy. He defeated the Catholic League to ensue the Protestant ideas and customs which included the thought that women should remain silent and be submissive to superior figures also known as, men. The Englishers were his allies during this time, and, “The Taming of the Shrew,” centers around the submission and oppression of women, both of which connect this war to our timeline. This is said to be the time when Shakespeare visited London, but no one really knows. Our target date lies between 1585 and 1592, the Lost Years of Shakespeare. Theories have been constructed to try to explain why William went to London, but the facts have yet to be proven. The concept that many leans toward is he joined a traveling acting company.
These traveling acts were very popular in the theater world during this time period. Stemming from the Italian tradition, commedia dell’arte, semi-improvised productions were performed by troupes around Europe beginning in the sixteenth century. In the 1570’s these performances came to London where they acted out traditional scenarios or other shows that the actors had previously seen.This idea commenced due to the London theaters closing in 1592 because of a plague outbreak. This was also a time that Romantic Comedy was popular among the Londoners giving us more confidence that, “The Taming of the Shrew,” was created at this moment in time.
“The Taming of the Shrew,” is primarily set in the Italian town, Padua, consistent with the time period called the Renaissance. Padua was where wealthy merchants went to live a good life with various opportunities that would help them be successful. This was also the home of a very famous university that several well-known brainiacs derived from such as Copernicus and Galileo. There is a very small portion of the play that takes place in Verona Italy as well, but probably the most notable concept behind this production is at the very beginning, we can perceive a play within another play. There is a drunken man named Sly that is about to watch, “The Taming of the Shrew,” from a little country home based in England.
We’ve discussed the setting and historical context of, “The Taming of the Shrew,” but what exactly makes this story a Romantic Comedy? This genre has several notions that must be met to consider a play within its region. It begins with a humorous plot aligned around romantic viewpoints. Two lovers typically fall in love and wind up living happily ever after. The humor is definitely not hard to find within, “The Taming of the Shrew.” The battle between the sexes can be addressed as a little bit of comic relief. Petruchio dresses in ridiculous attire to make a point to Katherine. Kate also is quick to give witty comebacks to men she believes is trying to take advantage of her. There are numerous occasions where servants are taking part in buffoonery. Take the very beginning of the play. The drunk Sly is dressed up, tricked with lies, and made fun of. He is living inside of a delusion that is the entertainment of the aristocrats.
The entirety of the play consists of Petruchio pining for the love of Kate while Traino as Lucentio, Gremio, and Hortensio pine for the love of Bianca. These actions do not result in just one wedding, but two. Bianca and Lucentio are head over heels for one another and run away to escape their parents’ authority. Lucentio finds out that Bianca is not quite the individual he made her out to be, but they still love one another which is enough for these two characters to coexist in contentment. Petruchio and Katherine are similarly married, but it is only out of Petruchio’s schemes that this occurs. Where is the happily ever after you say? Upon first glance, one might argue that this a tragedy based on the fact that Katherine’s spirit perishes when she decides to obey Petruchio. However, I judge it through the impression that she has discovered the key to a blissful life in the end. She recognizes that the customs and sexist principles are bigger than she is. She must resort to what society expects of her. Therefore, she gives in and surrenders to the will of Petruchio to live a happier life. Yes, it may not be the exact happy ending you want or anticipate, but the objective of a romantic comedy if for the two lovers to find the key to a life of joy. Both Petruchio and Kate do indeed find this key which lines up with the Shakespearean way of crossing boundaries.
Aristotle outlined some characteristics of comedy that pertain to, “The Taming of the Shrew.” First, a rise in fortune. I could argue that there are at least two instances of this. Petruchio is in search of a wealthy wife. When he comes to Padua and hears about Katherine, he sees that as an opportunity to marry rich. He really doesn’t mind that she is hated throughout the entire town for being a, “Shrew.” As we all know he winds up marrying her and tames her quickly after. Accomplishing both of these goals could be considered a rise in fortune. Also, the couple is highly esteemed in the end because Katherine turns out to be the most submissive wife of all the marriages. They go from being a couple that breaks normality to a couple that is the epitome of the societal expectations of that time period. Another characteristic that is achieved within this literary work is the protagonist, Katherine, doing mischief without knowing who she is doing harm to which results in a punishment. Kate is a hateful woman, but this originates from her unwilling desire to remain her own woman free from the influence of a man. Her defense mechanism is what ultimately leads to her punishment. Petruchio breaks this will and Kate eventually falls into submission, yet another characteristic of a comedy. The error of Kate being hard headed to Petruchio is eventually realized by Kate herself. She knows that she will not win, so she gives her husband what he wants. An internal recognition and external reversal from Kate are a necessity in the plot when trying to deem the entire piece a romantic comedy.
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The last characteristic of comedy from Aristotle, lies in how Katherine of Padua is a comic individual. Kate is not a royal figure, but she is wealthy. Comic characters tend to be plain or everyday figures with typical problems that an individual would encounter. She is a victim of Petruchio’s deception. In the midst of pursing one external appearance from the pits of her own mind, she winds up completely changing routes and exuding a contrastive persona but within reason to find fulfillment. Her will was thwarted along with her plans as they were faced with opposition from Petruchio who bestowed punishment based upon Kate’s actions.
Katherine is not the only comic individual that can be found in, “The Taming of the Shrew.” Several of the common characters that are found within the commedia genre are molded into the characters of this play. The pantaloon is a charisma that refers to a standard old man which can be described as Gremio and Baptista. Innamorati is often used to describe young lovers such as Bianca and Lucentio. Petruchio is a complex character that falls within at least two categories. One is the capitano or boastful swaggerer that is known for wearing theatrical outfits for a provocative performance. This becomes evident through the clothes that Petruchio shows up to his wedding in. The other one is the cavaliere which is regarded as a successful wooer of women. The comedic or clowning servants have already been mentioned, but they are vital for the success of the comedy. They depend more on the physical comedy aspect and work to break up the seriousness of the rest of the play. We readily see them showing facility in quick situations where they are trying to get out of with fantastical excuses.
Overall, there is extensive evidence that proves, “The Taming of the Shrew,” to be a romantic comedy. From Aristotle’s characteristics of comedy being met to the characters fitting into the appropriate comedic categories, one could almost not say that this production can fit into any other genre. I will leave you with the wise words from ???, “The true hallmark of comedy isn’t always laughter. More often, it’s the simple satisfaction we feel when we witness deserving people succeed.”
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