English 366C, Section F01: Shakespeare's Comedies and Romances   >   The Taming of the Shrew   >   Quotations on masculinity To the previous page To the next page

The Shrew: Masculine mastery?

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Note: the article by Carol Thomas Neeley, “Feminist Modes of Shakespeare Criticism: Compentatory, Justificatory, Transformational.” is available on reserve in the MacPherson Library.

1. Making Petruchio a man?

It is Kate’s submission to him that makes Petruchio a man, finally and indisputably. This is the action toward which the whole plot drives, and if we consider its significance for Petruchio and his fellows, we realize that the myth of feminine weakness, which prescribes that women ought to or must inevitably submit to man’s superior authority, masks a contrary myth: that only a woman has the power to authenticate a man, by acknowledging him her master. Petruchio’s mind may change even as the moon, but what is important is that Kate confirm those changes; moreover, that she do so willingly and consciously. Such voluntary surrender is, paradoxically, part of the myth of female power, which assigns to woman the crucial responsibility for creating a mature and socially respectable man. In The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare reveals the dependency that underlies mastery, the strength behind submission. Truly, Petruchio is wedded to his Kate.

(From Coppélia Kahn, Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).

2. A proverb

A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree,
The more you beat them the better they be.



3. Official misogyny

The Church’s official attitude to women is best illustrated by St. Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of the creation of woman in Summa Theologica, in which he felt compelled to begin by justifying her existence. Perhaps she should not have been created at all, since according to Aristotle she “is a misbegotten male,” and “nothing misbegotten or defective should have been in the first production of things.” Again, since there was no subjection before sin, how could woman, a natural subject because as the passive sexual partner she had “less strength and dignity than man,” have existed before sin? Thirdly, “occasions of sin should be cut off,” and “God foresaw that woman would be an occasion of sin to man.” It is reassuring to see that St. Thomas found good answers to all three objections. First, woman had to be made as a helper to man—”not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works... since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation.” She is necessary there in order to free the male for a higher aim than generation, namely, “intellectual operation.” Although females are defective and misbegotten when considered from the individual point of view, they are (as Aristotle explained) essential and desirable as part of the human species. Secondly, while servile subjection of women and others came as a result of sin, civil subjection was necessary from the beginning to maintain “the good of order”; by this subjection woman is and always was “naturally subject to man, because in man the discernment of reason predominates.” Thirdly, without “those things which proved an occasion of sin, the universe would have been imperfect.”

(From The Troublesome Helpmate: A History of Misogyny in Literature (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966).


4. Disorder figured

An illustration for a contemporary ballad figures domestic disorder.

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This page last updated on 28 August 2006. © Michael Best, 2002.