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You Are Here: Home > Essay Topics > Shakespeare Essays and Research Papers > The Taming of the Shrew Research Paper Topics  > Essay on Character Analysis of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew

  The Taming of the Shrew Research Paper Topics

Essay on Character Analysis of Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew

The traditional interpretation of the character of Petruchio sees him as a romantic and dashing figure, sweeping Katherine off her feet with his manly energy, intelligence, and determination. His displays of violence and bad temper are presented as merely a ploy, intended either to show Katherine the absurdity of her own violence and bad temper, or to shock her out of her habitual contrariness. While this remains the most common dramatic interpretation of the role, more recently literary critics and some productions of the play have portrayed Petruchio as a less than ideal man. These interpretations present his violent, domineering, and frequently unreasonable behavior as an intrinsic part of his character, rather than as an affectation assumed for Katherine's benefit. They also tend to stress the crudity of many of his comments about marriage and about Katherine.

Petruchio first appears at the beginning of act 1, scene 2. When he tells Hortensio he has come to Padua to seek a wife, Hortensio tells him he knows of a woman who is very wealthy, but shrewish. Despite warnings from both Hortensio and Gremio about Katherine's temperament, Petruchio insists that he will woo her, claiming that wealth is his sole requirement in a wife and that he will not be frightened off by mere noise.

In act 2, Petruchio presents himself to Baptista as a suitor for Katherine and immediately opens negotiations about the amount of money to be settled on Katherine. He and Baptista swiftly reach agreement. When Baptista stipulates that Petruchio must first obtain Katherine's love, Petruchio replies that ''that is nothing,'' adding that he is ''as peremptory as she proud-minded'' and predicting that she will ''yield'' to him.

Petruchio is a bit of a schemer and seems to enjoy engaging his mind in unusual endeavors. In a soliloquy in act 2, scene 1, just before his first meeting with Katherine, Petruchio describes his plan for dealing with her. Whatever she does, he will act as if she has done the opposite: If she is verbally abusive, he will praise her sweet voice; if she refuses to speak, he will applaud her eloquence; if she refuses to marry, he will ask her to set a date. When Katherine enters, they become embroiled in an exchange of insults that soon turns to sexual innuendo. When she strikes him, he threatens to strike her back if she hits him again. Despite Katherine's hostility, when Baptista returns Petruchio says they have agreed to marry. When Katherine protests, Petruchio claims they have agreed that she will continue to behave shrewishly ''in company.'' Baptista agrees to the marriage.

Petruchio's irreverence for authority reaches its height on his wedding day. He arrives late and dressed in rags, defending his inappropriate attire by saying that Katherine is marrying him, not his clothes. His behavior at the ceremony, which takes place offstage, offends Gremio, who subsequently describes it: Petruchio swore in church, struck the priest, guzzled the wine and threw the remainder in the sexton's face, and kissed the bride noisily. After the ceremony, Petruchio insists that he and Katherine must leave immediately. He overrides Katherine's objections by announcing that he ''will be master of what is [his] own'' and pretending to protect her against the others' desire to detain her.

Never hiding his true self, Petruchio shows what kind of master he is as soon as he and Katherine arrive at his country house. He verbally abuses and beats the servants and sends the dinner back uneaten, telling Katherine it is burned and bad for their health. In the bridal chamber, he treats her to a lecture on selfrestraint. In his second soliloquy, Petruchio likens Katherine to a wild falcon that must be prevented from eating and sleeping until it is tamed. Subsequently, he repeatedly frustrates Katherine's needs and desires, all the while insisting that he does so for her own good.

He also insists that Katherine agree with him even when he contradicts the most obvious realities, leading even his friend Hortensio to comment on his unreasonableness. Later, on the road to Padua, he repeatedly changes his opinion as to whether the sun or the moon is shining and refuses to continue until Katherine agrees with him. Her eventual statement that ''What you will have it nam'd, even that it is'' is usually regarded as marking her capitulation to Petruchio. When they meet Vincentio on the road, Katherine plays along with her husband's joke when he pretends to think the old man is a young woman

Through the remainder of the play Petruchio repeatedly tests Katherine's compliance. When they reach Padua, he threatens to return home unless she kisses him in the street. At Bianca and Lucentio's wedding banquet, a number of the other guests imply that Petruchio has failed to get control over Katherine. Petruchio proposes a wager on which of the three new wives--Katherine, Bianca, or the widow Hortensio has married--is most obedient. When Katherine is the only one of the three wives to come when summoned, Petruchio sends her to fetch the other wives, then tells her to take off her cap and stamp on it. Finally, he orders her to ''tell these headstrong women / What duty they do owe their lords and husbands.'' At the end of Katherine's long speech in favor of male authority and female obedience, Katherine offers to place her hand under her husband's foot, to ''do him ease.'' Petruchio praises her, kisses her, and takes her off to bed, suggesting as they leave that Hortensio and Lucentio have a hard road before them in their marriages.

Critical commentary and play productions reflect a wide diversity of opinion regarding both the nature of Petruchio's treatment of Katherine and his reasons for it. Motivations ascribed to his character range from love for Katherine to a will to dominate, from self-interest to a simple enjoyment of a challenge. Similarly, a wide variety of interpretations have been put forward regarding the dynamics of his relationship with Katherine. Some see him as bullying his wife into submission; others claim that he insightfully leads her to an acceptance of her ''true'' nature and of her rightful role in society. Still others claim that in the course of the play, Katherine and Petruchio negotiate a mutually acceptable mode of co-existence within the limits imposed by their society.

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