The Kindling of Collective Kindness
There is an element of superfluity in Kate’s final speech of The Taming of the Shrew. As a simple demonstration of her having been tamed and transformed, the speech is nearly overdone: earlier in the scene, after all, Baptista readily acknowledges that Petruchio has presented him with “another daughter,” “changed as she had never been,” in effect suggesting that Kate’s final speech serves a different purpose (5.2.119-120). Rather than adding an exclamation point to whether Kate has indeed been “disfigured,” which would thereby merely confirm the prediction made by the bellyaching Grumio, Shakespeare mobilizes her last speech to elaborate in what way and on what terms Kate has become a new Kate. Through her pronominal shifts and the sore but spirited self-castigation in her tone, Shakespeare presents Kate as a disempowered agent forced to face the failures of her erstwhile practices of resistance while negotiating the possibilities of her imposed re-presentation.
While undoubtedly the happenstance of Petruchio’s brutal impositions and restrictions, consenting to this new representation does not amount to a “simple” submission: Shakespeare signals a trace of a still headstrong element of resistance in Kate’s very first injunction to Bianca and the Widow: “Fie, fie, unknit that threat’ning unkind brow” (5.2.166, 141). “Unkind” does more than restate and disavow the character of Kate’s former disposition: its surreptitious insinuations, along with its placement within an impassioned imperative construction, set the tone of the speech. In addition to reactivating under a new guise a semantic strain operative throughout the play (beginning with the Lord instructing his huntsmen to dupe Sly “kindly”), the usage also tellingly answers to a comment Petruchio makes while complaining of the boredoms of banqueting: “Padua affords nothing but what is kind” (Ind.1.64, 5.1.14). Kate’s use of “unkind” suggests her having realized not only something that rattles Petruchio’s cage, but the very disposition that informs why he chose her as his wifely chattel: she unwittingly provided him with a means by which to escape the strictures of tedium; to enliven and affirm his own vitality. Mindful of this weakness, Kate directs the women to cease being “unkind” in order to appropriate some of the power yielded by men through the alibi of kindness.
Kate’s call for kindness, however, is not entirely euphemistic or ironic. While this might seem the case from the joshing approval her speech wins from Petruchio, her novel and...