Comparing Shakespeare’s Katharina, of The Taming of the Shrew and Beatrice, of Much Ado About Nothing
Shakespeare’s Katharina, of The Taming of the Shrew and Beatrice, of Much Ado About Nothing, are very similar characters. Each is plagued with unrequited love, and depressed by their inability to woo the suitor of their choosing. Neither will accept the passive female role expected by society. Yet, both women seem to accept their role as wife by the conclusion. Upon further examination, one will find that Beatrice is a much more complex character. One would have to agree with the critic who said, "Katharina is a character sketched in bold, rapid stokes, with none of Beatrice's sophistication, verbal brilliance, or emotional depth."
In Taming of the Shrew, the first introduction to Katharina, by Gremio and Hortensio, tells that she is a shrew, (1.I .54-60) and that she will never find a groom. When she first speaks we see her responding to these insults, but she was provoked so her words seem appropriate. Yet as the play continues we see Katharina tying up Bianca, (2.I.29) and hitting her. This can be rejected as sibling rivalry, but later Katharina slaps Petruchio when he is trying to woo her (2.I.214). Katharina seems to have a physically violent side that isn't present in Beatrice. She also does not seem to have as strong as a character as Beatrice, especially when one considers that Petruchio was able to tame her in a very short time.
In the opening scene of Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice says some harsh things about Benedick (1.I.37-43). She seems to be unprovoked but very rigid in her opinion of him. In Leonato's house, the discussion of Beatrice and marriage leads her uncle to conclude that, "Thou will never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue."(2.I.18-19) Beatrice will participate in a verbal game of wit by exchanging words with Benedick but she is more sophisticated than to just slap him for no apparent reason. Beatrice is also very sociable with other people and seems to be a shrew just when talking about Benedick and other males. Not unlike Katharina, who was told she would marry Petruchio (2.I.260-268), Beatrice does not consent to marry Benedick directly. Beatrice has to be entrapped with the love sonnets that Hero stole from her pocket (5.IV.88-90). Even at the conclusion of the play, it seems as though Beatrice will not change her attitudes, just her status as an unmarried woman.
Both Beatrice and Katharina participate in stichomythia, a kind of verbal Ping-Pong match, with their suitors. Katharina seems to go for the vulgar and obscene insults like, "No cock of mine. You crow too like a craven." (2.I.222) Most of Katharina's lines are short, two or three lines at a time, and she does not use very many complicated analogies. Beatrice is not obscene in her exchange of words with Benedick, but she seems to have more to say and does more than just respond to insults. ...