Is Kate in charge of her life, or do others have control over her actions?
Who is primarily in control of Kate’s actions in William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew? Is Kate primarily controlling her actions, or do other characters in the play control her? If you just read through the play, but don’t study it in-depth, it appears that Kate is controlled by other characters’ actions towards her, but is this actually the case? Isn’t it very possible that Kate is actually in control of all her decisions, but is just strongly influenced by others? After studying the text in-depth, you can see for yourself that although Kate is strongly influenced by others, she is the one who actually makes the decisions to act in the manner in which she acts.
As was stated, although Kate, in many instances, appears to be controlled by others, she is actually in control of her actions. She is the one who does everything, such as allowing herself to be married off to Petruchio. Some people may say that she was forced to marry Petruchio, but she could have just run away if she really hadn’t wanted to marry him. In this instance, Kate’s family, especially her father Baptista, and society were influencing Kate to make the choice to not run away and follow through with the marriage. In the end, though, this was Kate’s decision – no one made it for her, she had to make it for herself. She had the ability to choose to run away or do something else about being forced to marry Petruchio. Kate was already considered a shrew and often did not let society’s roles for men and women influence her: Why couldn’t she have done the same in this instance?
Another instance in which it may seem to some people reading the play that Kate is being controlled by others occurs when Petruchio insists that the sun is the moon – “Pet: Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the moon!/Kate: The moon! The sun: it is not moonlight now./Pet: I say it is the moon that shines so bright.” (4.5.2-4). Petruchio first called the sun the moon and Kate argued with him because it was obviously the sun (at the time, they were on their way to Baptista’s house), but Petruchio insisted that it was the moon. Kate finally agreed, “I know it is the moon that shines so bright” (4.5.5). People just reading through the play and not studying it would say that Petruchio is controlling Kate by making her agree with him. I don’t think this is so – Kate most likely just gets sick of arguing with Petruchio because she can tell he will continue to insist that the sun is the moon. If you think about your childhood, there is probably at least one example of a time you were arguing with a friend of yours about something and neither of you wanted to give up and let the other person “win” the argument, but eventually, one of you gives in. The reason Kate might be so quick to give in this time is because she knows Petruchio is trying to tame her and that she won’t be able to get anywhere with him. Petruchio tells her when they first meet, “For I am he am born to tame you Kate,/And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate/Conformable as other household Kates” (2.1.308-310).
Furthermore, people may argue that Kate acts like a shrew not by her own choice, but because others mistreat her. What they think proves this point is all the examples of instances in which Kate is being mistreated, and in which she responds like a shrew. One such example is when Hortensio basically calls Kate a shrew. He says, “Mates, maid! how mean you that? no mates for you,/Unless you were of gentler, milder mould” (1.1.59-60). Kate responds, saying, in short, that she wouldn’t want Hortensio for anything except to make a fool of him. In this example, Hortensio (and Tranio) are mistreating Kate, and she responds by acting in a similar manner. Many people make take this to mean that the reason Kate is acting like this is because of the other characters mistreating her, and they blame it all on her oppressors. In reality, the characters that are harassing Kate are greatly influencing her to respond in an unkindly manner, but they are in no way forcing her to respond like she does. Kate chooses to respond like this; she has the option to respond in a kind, friendly manner, or even to just totally ignore the rude comments other characters are making by leaving the room.
In keeping with the topic of Kate’s shrew-like behavior, the same people who argue that Kate acted like a shrew because she was forced to by other characters may point out some interesting facts about some fairly recent studies. It has been proven that children who are abused as they grow up tend to abuse others as adults. Some people may try to show that being abused as a child forces that person to abuse others when they are adults, but they are incorrect in one word – forced. I’d agree with the results of the study, but not with the reason given for why this occurs. Children who are abused are not forced to abuse others as adults – everyone is born with a conscience and knows the difference between right and wrong. As abused children grow up, they make the choice to allow their childhood abuse to affect their actions toward others; they choose to not treat others the way they should be treated. These studies have also shown that if there are two kids in the same family who are abused, often only one of them will be abusive as an adult and the other will be “normal.” This further proves the point that the child has control of how they act as they grow up.
On a similar note, there is the reason for Kate’s becoming a so-called “normal” woman after marrying Petruchio. Many people would say that Petruchio was the one who changed Kate. Although Petruchio did influence Kate to become a much nicer person (much less of a “shrew”), it was Kate’s choice and will that she changed. As was stated, there are examples throughout the whole play where Kate is being mistreated. Often, Kate is even mistreated by her very own father and sister. It is very probable that Kate has grown up her whole life (or most of it!) being treated like this. When Kate first met Petruchio, he was very kind to her. He told her how wrong everyone was by calling her a shrew – “You lie, in faith; for you are call’d plain Kate,/And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst;/But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom/Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,/For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,/Take this of me, Kate of my consolation;/Hearing thy mildness praised in every town,/Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded,/Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs,/Myself am moved to woo thee for my wife” (2.1.205-214). This was probably the first time Kate felt loved and cared for. For this reason, she no longer had a need to act like a shrew, and chose not to be shrew-like any longer.
Also, Kate got a taste of how she acted by seeing Petruchio mistreat his servants. After coming home from the wedding, Petruchio says, “Here, sir! here, sir! here, sir! here, sir!/You logger-headed and unpolish’d grooms!/What, no attendance? no regard? no duty?/Where is the foolish knave I sent before?” (4.1.115-118). He continues to mistreat his servants right in front of Kate; he even hits a few of them. Kate sees this and realizes how poorly she has treated others in the past and realizes that she doesn’t want to be a shrew any longer.
In class, when discussing the topic of control, everyone was pretty much able to agree on one point: Although there are many influences on our decisions, we are ultimately the ones who make our decisions and no one can do that for us. In Taming of the Shrew, there are numerous examples of times Kate is influenced greatly by others, and yet she makes the final decision herself.