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‘When Men and Women are Alone’: Framing the Taming in India

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2007

Peter Holland
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Indiana
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Summary

In this chapter, I argue that The Taming of the Shrew shows Kate being tamed not by her husband alone but by society’s active collusion with him. A man and a woman never are truly alone, as Petruccio’s grammatical slippage in the phrase, ‘when men and women are alone’ inadvertently indicates. Through a close study of language, especially pronouns, singulars and plurals, I argue that the play represents and critiques ‘men and women’ – the weight of material conditions that structure gender and the power politics that uphold male domination – as always present in every particular male–female interaction, however private it may seem. I thus differ both from those who read the play as a celebration of a companionate marriage, and also from those who read it as a misogynist reinforcement of patriarchal ideology. Through an examination of Elizabethan marriage manuals, I demonstrate that both Petruccio’s taming methods and Kate’s unquestioning obedience violate contemporaneous ideals of a good Christian marriage.

My reading evolved from a student production that I co-directed at Delhi University, India, in 1992, which cross-dressed the sexes, with women playing male parts and men female parts. In my work on Mariological images in The Winter’s Tale and Henry VIII, I began to notice connections and verbal echoes between Shakespeare’s representations of his first Kate and his last, which I explore at the end of the essay.

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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 84 - 101
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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