Discuss Shakespeare’s Presentation of Courtship and Marriage in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.
In this comedy about relationships between the sexes, Shakespeare conveys many characters as seeing courtship and marriage as sport and presents a society in which many view marriage as a business transaction for the gain of land or money. The play is also used to create a satire of unacceptable male attitudes in Shakespearian society through themes of kingship, power and supremacy.
A major theme throughout The Taming of the Shrew is that of game playing. One way this is presented is through the rivalry of Bianca’s three suitors, Gremio, Hortensio and Lucentio. This rivalry becomes apparent as they compete for Bianca’s hand in marriage, which they seem to see as a prize which they must win. This is also a source of humour through physical comedy as an audience see two young men competing with an older character for the hand of a beautiful young woman. In act one scene two Hortensio describes Lucentio as “the rival of my love”, the fact that he describes him as a “rival” suggests that he believes that the task of wooing Bianca for his bride is merely a sport, a competition which he must win by facing the other contestants in the game. This could also suggest that he does not see the old Gremio as a threat in his attempt to woo Bianca as he is referring to a single “rival” rather than two rivals. As the rivalry persists Lucentio says that “whate’er I read to her, I’ll plead for you”. Although Lucentio says that he will mention Gremio whilst he uses his disguise to teach Bianca this is a lie as he does not want to undermine his own opportunities for flirtation. He is simply making Gremio believe that he is helping him so that the competition does not become direct between the two too soon, as neither can marry her before Katherina is wed. This also produces comedy through dramatic irony as the audience are away that the supposedly wise Gremio has in fact created his biggest rival by pushing Lucentio and Bianca together.
The idea of courtship as a game is also presented through Petruchio as he sees marriage as a competitive sport in which he must triumph. We see this in the courtship scene as Petruchio pursues Katherina relentlessly, taunting and grinding her down until he has won. This is shown as even when Katherina shows her disgust at the prospect of marriage by saying she would “rather see [him] hanged on Sunday first”, even after this he still regards her as “wife”. The idea of courtship being a game is also seen earlier in the courtship scene as Petruchio and Katherina tease each other. Petruchio’s tactic during this battle of wits is to belittle and to confuse Katherina to aid his attempts to gradually wear her down into submission through humiliation and attracts toward her character. This begins with him showing his disrespectful attitude towards her by using a diminutive and calling her “Kate”. Here Petruchio seems to be attempting to...