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Modern Audience Essay

“It is impossible for a modern audience to feel comfortable with the Taming of The Shrew” with close reference to Shakespeare’s presentation of Katharina, comic conventions and having the above question in mind, write about your response to the ending of the play…

In my opinion, The Taming of The Shrew tells the story of an abusive marriage and I would agree with the view that it is impossible for a modern audience to feel comfortable with the play, especially the conclusion of the story. Shakespeare’s presentation of Katharina at the end of the play seems to me to be one of a broken person; she is almost robotic in her obedience and without spirit, except for when singing the praises of wifely submission. “Thy husband is thy Lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign” is a prime example of the disturbing brainwashing Petruchio has carried out on her. This humbled ‘Kate’ is a far cry from the feisty Katharina we are first greeted by in Act 2, where she exchanges a vicious battle of words with Petruchio; “Asses are made to bear and so are you”.

This phrase in itself shows that she is fearless, and defies her society’s conventions, cursing at strangers; a sad contrast to the plays ending, where she has totally conformed to what’s expected of her. The ending of the play also contains very little comedy, with the exception of the argument as to who is the real Vincentio, and the fight between Kate and the Widow. This is because the Taming of the shrew defies most Shakespearian comedy conventions, as the marriage takes place midway the play, rather than at then end as was traditional. I believe that this adds to the discomfort of the modern audience, as after the supposed ‘happy ending’ we are faced with the harsh reality of Petruchio’s treatment of Kate.

Shakespeare presents Katharina as completely changed by the end of the play. At first she is wild and seemingly untameable; we see her tie up her sister and argue violently with both Petruchio and her father. “So may you lose you arms, if you strike me, you are no gentleman, and if no gentleman, why then no arms” Here, Shakespeare presents Katharina as highly skilled with word manipulation, generating humour with her insulting play on words with “arms” as she brands Petruchio simply a commoner if he would strike her.

This is in stark contrast to the ending of the play where she seems to have no free will. She is practically enslaved to Petruchio, agreeing with his every thought and whim. An example of this is Act 4, Scene 5, Petruchio and Kate see Vincentio and Petruchio refers to him as a “fair and lovely maid”, instructing Kate to “embrace her for her beauty’s sake”. Shakespeare’s use of a command word clearly shows Petruchio’s power and utter control in their relationship. Vincentio is obviously a man, but despite this, and despite a warning from Hortensio that this pretence will anger Vincentio, “a will make the man mad, to make a woman of him”, Kate does indeed embrace him for his beauty’s sake; “Young budding virgin, fair fresh and sweet”.

This elaborate language with its piling up of adjectives is an example of hyperbole used for comic effect. It is perhaps also, on a less humorous note, an instance of what many feminists would see as the darker side of The Taming of the Shrew, and the destruction of Katherina’s personality; this is a strong interpretation as she could be seen to be using this elaborate language due to her desperation to please Petruchio or her fear of punishment. Petruchio further exerts his power over Kate by then changing his mind and accusing Kate of madness.

“I hope thou art not mad, this is a man” she readily agrees, ignoring the fact that Petruchio has undermined and humiliated her, and begs for his pardon over her stupidity. This scene is a prime example of the change Petruchio has caused from Katharina to Kate. She is not the character we met in Act 2, and this transformation could be said to be uncomfortable for a modern audience to watch. It is unpleasant to see one human being so completely at the hands of another, and whether this total obedience is due to love, fear or desperation is down to the audience to decide. I think this adds a more disquieting edge to the play as Shakespeare seems to condone Petruchio’s taming, or what most modern audiences would see as abuse.

However, some critics, for instance Lucy Bailey, director for the RSC, have stated that the play is a curiously misunderstood love story, not the abusive tale of misogyny some modern audiences would see it as; Bailey says that Petruchio and Kate’s attraction is instant, and that what follows after their first meeting is simply fore-play. Nonetheless, this interpretation is hard to digest in the face of the cruelty Petruchio inflicts on Kate, why would a man in love treat the object of his affections like one of his farm animals? This treatment is particularly shown during Act 4 where Petruchio begins his ‘taming’, he attempts to train Kate as one would train a dog. EXAMPLE. Evaluate language. Other critics have explained this treatment by saying that Petruchio is driven mad by grief after the death of his father he “takes out his disaffection and anger on other people almost as an experiment.” (Director David Farr)

The best example of Shakespeare’s changing presentation of Katharina to Kate can be seen in the final scene, in her speech. She has not spoken for several pages, but then, on Petruchio’s command, launches into the longest speech in the entire play, expelling the virtues of being a good wife. The first reason that most modern audiences would find this scene uncomfortable to watch is the way that Petruchio instructs Kate to “Tell these headstrong women what duty they do owe to their Lords and husbands”.

This phrase itself could be seen to be problematic for modern audiences to digest. In the 21st century, men and women are equal, so the way that Petruchio refers to men as “Lords”, implies a power and control over women that is uncomfortable for most modern audiences to hear. Shakespeare cleverly prioritises the word Lord over Husband in this line emphasising the debt Petruchio feels women owe their husbands, like peasants owe their Lords. In this statement, Petruchio also uses headstrong as an insult, whereas in modern Britain, although it can have negative connotations, headstrong is often a positive personality attribute, implying one knows ones own mind.

The ending of The Taming of the Shrew contains very little comic elements, making it all the more uncomfortable. There is the scene in which Vincentio encounters the pedant impersonating himself .

The audience has not seen Kate as impassioned during her speech since she was Katharina; we see some of her old spark when she refers to Bianca and The Widow as “froward and unable worms”. However, this insult could be seen as a sad reflection of how Petruchio has twisted her feisty nature to suit his own needs. Most modern spectators would see the entire speech as incredibly anti-feminist, and I believe that due to this it is impossible for most modern audiences to feel comfortable with The Taming of The Shrew. Kate suggests women should “kneel for peace” and “place your hands below your husband’s foot”. These phrases evoke feelings of servitude and to most modern audiences are difficult to hear. Kate’s ‘realisation’ that women are weak, their “lances nothing but straws” contrasts to her physical violence at the start of the play where she attacks Petruchio. “That I’ll try (she strikes him)”.

Shakespeare uses regal imagery in this speech to show the total infatuation and obedience Kate feels towards Petruchio. She refers to husbands and ‘Lords’, ‘Sovereigns’, ‘Heads’ and ‘Princes’, and these words show the power Petruchio has over Kate and the power she believes all husbands should have over their wives: one of absolute control, akin to the monarch. Shakespeare’s effective listing of these nouns emphasises Kate’s uncanny passion towards Petruchio and wifely obedience. Similes are also widely used in Kate’s final speech; for example, “to dart a scornful glance” at ones husband “blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads”. Kate now believes that obedience is beauty, and for most modern audiences who live in a society where independence is valued and celebrated, it is impossible to feel comfortable with these ideas.

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