The Taming Of The Shrew is a Shakespeare play famous for sexism and abusive husbands. Outdated, people say. Offensive, others echo (and then they add on to Shakespeare’s original script to give it a happier ending, something I find offensive. How dare they presume to EDIT and ADD to SHAKESPEARE?!?!).
Shakespeare is not outdated. He was, he IS, a genius.
I propose that The Taming Of The Shrew is not about marriage (although it provides a striking ante-example), but rather about tyranny. You read me right, TYRANNY. Believe me or not, let’s give it a chance and see what we can learn together.
I’ll proceed on the assumption that you are already familiar with the plot. If not, a summary to reference as we continue could be helpful.
For I Am He Am Born To Tame You, Kate
“For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,” Petruchio declares as he courts Katherina (act two, scene one). Uh, yikes. But wow, powerful! Tyrants frequently believe that they were born to rule.
Example: Hitler. He believed he had a mandate from God to do what he did, and after each botched assassination attempt (Hitler survived at least four, more likely dozens, of assassination attempts before – ironically – committing suicide), he emerged with a renewed and deepened belief that God favored him. Sick!
‘Tis Bargain’d ‘Twixt Us Twain…
“’Tis bargain’d ‘twixt us twain, being alone, That she shall still be curst in company,” Petruchio lies as he is convincing Katherina’s father that he and Katherina love each other and should be married (act two, scene one). Oof… He’s backed her into a corner where no matter what Katherina does, it will play right into his hands. Either she continues being sassy and rude (“proving” Petruchio right), or she can be nice (in which case people will likely think that she is so in love that she is unable to keep her side of the “bargain”). This appears to be a favored tactic of tyrants.
Example: the cultural revolution under Mao in China during the 1960s. You could either participate in the heinous “revolution” and thereby live to see (and sin) the next day, or you could resist and end up dead, or worse – and condemn your family to the same. No good options. Desperate times – desperate people – are easy for tyrants to manipulate.
I See A Woman Can Be Made A Fool…
“I see a woman can be made a fool, If she had not a spirit to resist,” Katherina mourns on her wedding day (act three, scene two). Indeed – if we have “not a spirit to resist,” we shall be made foolish puppets. Freedom is won at a great cost – maintained with great effort. If we have “not a spirit to resist,” we will lose it. There is no other reality.
Was Ever Man So Beaten?
“Fie, fie on all tired jades, on all mad masters, and all foul ways! Was ever man so beaten? Was ever man so ray’d? Was ever man so weary?” Grumio cries (act four, scene one). Grumio is the ill-fated servant of Petruchio. His fate is one of the first hints we have at just how bad Katherina’s could be.
In other words: if tyrants take freedom from one, they will end up taking the freedom from all. We can’t sit back and say, “well, my freedoms haven’t been taken away” as we watch the freedom of others be taken away. If they lose their freedoms, inevitably we will lose our freedoms. Free one, free all. Oppress one, oppress all.
Thus Have I Politicly Begun My Reign
“Thus have I politicly begun my reign…” (here Petruchio describes how he will break Katherina by starvation and sleep deprivation) “… Ay, and amid this hurly I intend That all this is done in reverend care of her,” Petruchio says (act four, scene one). In English: I will take away her freedoms under the guise of love.
Does that sound familiar to anyone? How about: we will mandate vaccines so Grandma won’t be killed? Or we’re going to censor people to limit hate speech and white supremacy? Yeah… don’t ever trust a tyrant! Especially when they’re promising to do everything in the name of your safety.
He Does It Under Name Of Perfect Love
“And that which spites me more than all these wants, He does it under name of perfect love,” laments Katherina after being starved and kept from sleep (act four, scene three).
Perhaps worse than our freedoms being destroyed is the danger of being convinced that we want our freedoms to be destroyed. The saddest part of it all isn’t that our Constitution is being systematically demolished, it’s that we’ve been convinced that we want our Constitution demolished.
I Trust I May Have Leave To Speak
“Why, sir, I trust I may have leave to speak; And speak I will. I am not child, no babe. Your betters have endured me say my mind, And if you cannot, best you stop your ears. My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, Or else my heart, concealing it, will break; And rather than it shall, I will be free, Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words,” declares Katherina as Petruchio continues his reign (act four, scene three). Alright, this is DEEP.
First of all: there are four fundamental rights. Freedom of speech & press; the right to keep and bear arms; freedom of religion; freedom of assembly. These are the cornerstone, the foundation, the keystone. The right to keep and bear arms is the keystone – that’s how we maintain all of our other rights. But the freedom of speech & press – that is the cornerstone. If we lose that… yikes. That’s when we lose everything. I repeat – if we lose the freedom of speech & press, we lose everything.
Now here’s the cool part: Katherina says, “Your betters have endured me say my mind.” With the understanding that there are two types of leaders, tyrants and statesman (the statesman obviously being better), this phrase takes on a whole new meaning.
A tyrant will abridge, limit, and squash the freedom of speech & press. They understand how crucial it is to freedom. What does a tyrant do as soon as they have power? They take away weapons, they take over the press and limit free speech. It’s so classic that it’s cliché, but it’s POWERFUL. They do that, because it works.
A statesman, on the other hand, will cherish, enrich, and grow the freedom of speech & press. They have nothing to fear from it. This is one way we can differentiate between tyrant and statesman. Do they support the freedom of speech & press?
How Bright And Goodly Shines The Moon!
“Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!” Petruchio exclaims, speaking of the sun.
“The moon! The sun; it is not moonlight now,” Katherina says.
“I say it is the moon that shines so bright,” Petruchio insists.
“I know it is the sun that shines so bright,” Katherina maintains (act four, scene five).
But… oh! By the end of the scene, Katherina agrees that it is the moon… and it’s at this point that Katherina breaks. The play might as well be over – the outcome is certain – Petruchio’s victory is assured.
In George Orwell’s famous classic, 1984, the protagonist, Winston, describes freedom as being able to say that 2+2=4. Big Brother insists that 2+2=5. Winston breaks – Big Brother wins – when he finally admits that 2+2=5.
Freedom is being able to say that 2+2=4, no matter what Big Brother insists. Freedom is being able to say that the sun is, in fact, the sun, no matter what your rulers believe.
The freedom to think and to speak is the fundamental freedom – when Katherina gives it up, when Winston gives it up, they break. They lose everything.
Such Duty As The Subject Owes The Prince
“Such duty as the subject owes the prince,” Katherina explains in her final speech (act five, scene two). She’s been broken. She’s lost all her freedom. Such is the “duty as the subject owes the [tyrant].”
This is the line that really clued me in that The Taming Of The Shrew is about more than marriage. It’s about tyranny. It’s about government. The deepest lessons, the deepest truths can be found in the most unlikely of places.
“Such duty as the subject owes the prince” is not the same as the duty that a subject owes a free government. Remember that.
My Mind Hath Been As Big As One Of Yours
“My mind hath been as big as one of yours,” Katherine tells the other women (act five, scene two).
Ouch. This is the point where I sit down and have a good cry. Katherina has lost everything, including the ability to think, recognize truth, and be free. She let it happen, too. She could have kept resisting. She could have kept fighting.
But she gave it up.
“He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security, and will soon lose both,” Benjamin Franklin said.
The Taming Of The Shrew. I’ve learned a lot about tyranny from it.
But, “to what end are all these words?” (act one, scene two). Indeed, what is the use of all these words, all this knowledge, if we do not then go out and put them to good use?
Knowledge is to know, wisdom is to act upon.
What will we do – what will you do – what will I do? Will we be another Katherina, bowing under the rod of tyrants? Or will we refuse to bend the knee or bow the head – will we be a George Washington? A James Madison? Nathan Hale? Thomas Jefferson? Dwight D. Eisenhower? Winston Churchill?
The choice is up to us.