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Essay on the Character of Katharina in Taming of the Shrew

The Character of Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew

Michael W. Shurgot has written that The Taming of the Shrew “may never be as intellectually stimulating as reading, say, The Merchant of Venice or Hamlet or The Winter’s Tale” and that the characters that seem one-dimensional on the page can only become interesting on the stage (328). Shurgot would seem to imply that Shakespeare did not fully develop his characters, and that the play is only entertaining after a director has taken creative license with the stage directions. A close reading of the play itself will show it to be interesting enough indeed, for it reveals clues to the motivation of both Katharina’s shrewishness and later submissiveness, and the manner in which her character is to be portrayed and viewed.

Agnes Mure Mackenzie would have audiences believe that “Katharina’s revolt is temperamental apparently: at least we are given no reason for it in its beginnings,” (24). Baptista says that his daughters will have “a good bringing up,” (1.1.99), implying that he has always tried to raise the girls right. Katharina, he would have us believe, has turned out shrewish despite his best intentions. He also says that he intends to school his daughters. This does not necessarily mean that Katharina is intelligent, but she has probably been encouraged to think. Like it or not, Baptista has reared an independently thinking female.

An audience might assume that Katharina has always been shrewish; her reputation seems to have already been established, as is evidenced by Hortensio and Gremio’s heckling in the first scene (1.1.55-61). This does not mean she is a shrew by nature, only that she had been exhibiting this behavior f…

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…hout his even knowing it.

So we see that Katharina is indeed a very complex and interesting character. Generations of readers and performers have misunderstood her character, and probably misrepresented her. Tucking Katharina into the “crazy shrew” package may be very convenient for the director looking for an easy production, but it is probably incorrect. In fact, no production that produces the play as a straightforward farce does the character of Katharina any justice.

Works Cited

MacKenzie, Agnes Mure. The Women in Shakespeare’s Plays. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1924.

Ring. “Was shrewish Shakespeare a feminist bard?” from

Shurgot, Michael W. “From Fiction to Reality: Character and Stagecraft in The taming of the shrew.” Theatre Journal, October 1981, 327-340.

Madness and Insanity in Shakespeare’s Hamlet – The Sanity of Ophelia

The Impact of Madness on Ophelia of Hamlet

Without question, the role of madness in Hamlet is as vital to the plot and the play’s success as Hamlet himself; neither the character nor the play would be able to function without the driving (although somewhat sluggish) force that madness represents. The connection of one to the other, of character to condition, is so intertwined and entangled that Hamlet has come to symbolize the particular form of madness (i.e. melancholy brought about by a humoral imbalance) with which he is afflicted. Indeed, any discussion of Hamlet would be grossly incomplete without an examination of the madness (or lack thereof) from which he suffers; similarly, any discussion of melancholy would, perhaps, border on invalid were it to neglect the obvious connection to the world’s most famous literary example. What is overlooked, however, are the effects and the drastically different results of the same condition (or at least, a condition that closely parallels Hamlet’s) on the play’s second most confounding character, Ophelia.

Early in the play (Act 1, Scene 2), during the first of many insightful soliloquies (insightful for us as much for him), Hamlet utters, somewhat offhandedly, a summation of his feelings towards his mother’s “o’erhasty marriage”: “Frailty thy name is woman.” Offensive though the quip may be to women of contemporary society (and any not quite passive women of Shakespeare’s era), Hamlet’s comment was, in many respects, indicative of the prevailing attitude, at least among most men, of the time. Although exceptions to the social system were far from nonexistent (Queen Elizabeth being the most obvious example), women were discriminated against to such an extent…

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… New York: Philosophical Library, 1970.

Emerson, Kathy Lynn. The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England From 1485-1649. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1996.

Heffernan, Carol Falvo. The Melancholy Muse: Chaucer, Shakespeare and Early Medicine. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1995.

Hoeniger, F. David. Medicine and Shakespeare in the English Renaissance. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

Lidz, Theodore. Hamlet’s Enemy: Madness and Myth in Hamlet. Vision Press, 1975.

Lyons, Bridget Gellert. Voices of Melancholy. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971.

Schiesari, Juliana. The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. George Lyman Kittredge. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1939.

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