“The Elizabethan man feared powerful and rebellious women.” Discuss this statement in reference to the presentation of Katherina Minola in ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’

The patriarchal society of Elizabethan times meant there was a certain expectation for women to be submissive and conform. In The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare creates the opposite to this ideology in Katherina Minola. This controversially challenges attitudes of the time through a comedic take, placing emphasis on the themes of disguise and mistaken identity, two common and key features within Shakespearean comedy. Though these themes are central to the play, The Taming of the Shrew focuses on the themes of love and marriage, and as a result of this, the play is widely concerned to be a romantic comedy. Maddy Costa of The Guardian states it to be “a subtle critique of society's attitudes to women, already changing in Shakespeare's time.” as it hints at Shakespeare’s own personal attitudes to the gender roles of Elizabethan society.

Shakespeare confronts the issue regarding the role of women initially in Act 1 Scene 1, when the character Gremio states: “To cart her rather, she’s too rough for me.” This is in reference to Katherina, after Baptista (her father) offers her hand in marriage to him and Hortensio, and the response highlights the specific standards within the period of the play. It is an accurate demonstration of the boundaries of Elizabethan society and how Katherina contradicts them with her attitude and presentation, described as ‘rough’, an adjective which opposes ideas and attitudes towards femininity. Katherina’s response is witty and completely bold: “To comb your noddle with a three-legged stool,/ And paint your face, and use you like a fool.” Her challenging, aggressive and insulting attitude clashes with the social norms of female subservience at the time, hence the blatant disregard for Baptista’s offer from both Gremio and Hortensio.

Shakespeare further develops this idea of a fearful response through use of diabolic language towards Katherina from the two potential suitors, as Hortensio responds: “From all such devils, good Lord deliver us!” This provides a clear representation of how powerful and rebellious women such as Katherina were feared by Elizabethan men due to the hyperbolic comparison of her to the Devil, a theme repeated in this scene, as Gremio states: “A husband? A devil.” This suggests that any man willing to be with a woman so non-conforming would have to be equally outrageous. Such language portrays Katherina as sinful for breaking free from the well-marked boundaries of society, and as the Christianity of Elizabethan times was held in high regard, in context this would be viewed as a very insulting accusation. This response to her domineering presence emphasises how Shakespeare’s presentation of Katherina Minola and the response to this from Gremio and Hortensio conveys that men feared women who defied the usual expectations of female obedience.

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