The Stupefied Bystander: Complicity in 'The Taming of the Shrew'?

G.A. Wilkes


Various therapies have been applied to Katherina's final speech on the duty of wives to husbands, and especially to its conclusion:

Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot.
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.

According to different stage traditions, the actress may motivate Katherina by showing her falling in love with Petruchio at first sight, or by delivering the speech with a wink to the audience. Other options are to take it as the ritual fulfilment of the 'shrew' plot, conducted in a spirit of farce; or to see Katherina as an example of the battered wife; or to detect a bawdy innuendo in 'My hand is ready, may it do him ease'. The speech can of course be taken 'straight', as endorsing Pauline and Renaissance conceptions of the proper subordination of women. If this is indeed its intent, it is odd that everywhere else in his work Shakespeare's heroines should be so spirited and so enterprising. I incline to the view of those who sense some kind of game going on between Katherina and Petruchio, and I believe the evidence for collusion is stronger than has been recognized.

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