The Taming of the Shrew: Stand by Your Man - The Psychotherapist Perspective
The universal nature of the themes in The Taming of the Shrew, beg analysis and social critique. This comedic farce, by William Shakespeare, creates an elegant depiction of a modern life and romantic love with all of its masks and pretensions. It is easy to assume the perspective of a psychotherapist while witnessing the drama of Katherine and Petruchio’s love affair unfolding. Concepts like “emotional repression” and “therapeutic catharsis” neatly fit the “taming” scenario. In fact, this play offers many new insights into what it takes to create an enduring, viable marriage—if one understands it from a very contemporary, psychotherapeutic or even spiritual point of view. If one is distracted by the recent feminist perspectives of this play, it is easy to miss the integrity and practicality expressed in Katherine’s final exhortation to women on how to love their men:
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for the maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
…….I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace…..
(Act V, ii, (150-153), (165-166)
Viewed through the lens of a one kind of feminist critic, we could ask: wasn’t Kate’s “taming” the result of a brutal conditioning by a manipulative Petruchio who was a kind of shrewd “behavioral psychologist?” For at the close of the play, in this passage especially, Kate appears to have metamorphosed from an intractable, ill-tempered woman into a subdued, submissive “Stepford Wife” for Petruchio. And wasn’t her final speech a humiliating capitulation of herself (and all women) to patriarchal rule?
However, upon focusing the lens further, I see more clearly something much more subtle and poignant and will argue: didn’t Kate instead go through a tacit epiphany, a healing or an awakening? Hadn’t she arrived at a splendid state transcendent of societal concepts like “patriarchy” and “matriarchy?”
In Act IV, scene 3, there is evidence that Kate knew her “shrewishness” as a kind of disease:
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. (lines, 77-80)
She is a “shrew” because a snarl of anger and perhaps jealousy had twisted itself deep inside her and sought occasional release. We gradually learn that her father had favored his younger and perhaps more attractive daughter, Bianca. Kate had continually been placed second in her father’s affections and perhaps had felt forced to take on this “shrewish” persona in order to shield her hurt and neglect. So, is “shrewishness” her character or is it a protective, strategy of survival? If it’s indeed a defense mechanism, we can feel sympathy for her...