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The Taming of the Shrew & Renaissance Culture

This study will discuss how Shakespeare's play The Taming of the Shrew reflects the values and concerns of the Renaissance period and culture of which it is a part. The study will focus on the contrast between the Renaissance view that women are inferior to men, and the attitude and behavior of Kate which fly in the face of that view.

The Renaissance social structure was in part based on a philosophy of male superiority: "The tripartite ideal of women's chastity, silence, and obedience was proclaimed far and wide in early modern England" (229). Kate utterly shuns such ideals. She refuses to submit, believing herself to be equal or superior to any man. Her behavior puts her in disfavor with men, who call her a "devil," indicating the severity of her unorthodox ways.

The play establishes the Renaissance conviction with respect to the inferiority of women by showing that men reject the rambunctious Kate while they swarm all over her younger sister Bianca, who is the stereotypically submissive Renaissance woman.

In a complicated set of pretense, illusion and mistaken identity, Shakespeare advances his plot, but the major aim of the play remains the portrayal of the fate of this decidedly anti-Renaissance woman. If "Renaissance man" is a term for a man who is expert and creative in many fields, a "Renaissance woman" could be used to refer to a woman who quietly obeyed her man and remained thoroughly subservient to him. In most cultures the family is the basic building block of society, and this was true for the Renaissance period. To maintain social structure meant maintaining family structure, which depended on the submission of the woman to the man. We see, then, that the type of defiant and independent woman Kate symbolized was a serious threat to the Renaissance culture.

Shakespeare, for all his genius, was not a revolutionary. It is not surprising, then, to find that Kate is severely punished for her defiance and in...

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