The character of Katharina is the main protagonist in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. As the title says, she is THE shrew, that means, the woman whose fierce personality will be tamed throughout the play. She is a very complex character that has been analyzed and discussed for centuries, just like all of Shakespeare’s protagonists. In the case of Katharina, the development of her personality is very much influenced by her interaction with other characters in the play, namely Petruchio, Bianca and Baptista among others. Therefore the aim of this paper is to explain the reasons for Katharina’s behaviour, its development throughout the play, and her gradual falling in love with Petruchio. This falling in love will be the result of the success of Petruchio’s taming strategies. We will include the opinion of some people who have studied Katharina and who will provide interesting perspectives that will help us analyze the topic in question.


Since the very beginning of the play, Katharina is a furious character who rebels against everybody and everything. There are various reasons for such behaviour: “we can think that her rage stems from unhappiness. She may act like a shrew because she is miserable and desperate. […] Moreover, she expresses jealousy about her father’s treatment of her sister” (Gardner and Brian). But this jealousy is justified, because her father continually humiliates her in public. Many examples can be found in the play: when Baptista offers Katharina to either of Bianca’s suitors, wanting to have Katharina off his hands first. Besides, the fact that “he worries about Bianca’s studies when he desires to hire schoolmasters for her, but he fails to mention Katharina” (El-Haggan). In Act 2, scene 1, Kate bounds her sister’s hands in order to torment her, because she knows that Bianca is not the perfect daughter everybody thinks, but “a calculating and sneaky person” (El-Haggan). Therefore Katharina’s violent behaviour can be justified. The fact that throughout the play Bianca acts as the perfect woman is ironic, because she is the favourite of her father and the loveliest for her suitors, whereas Kate is the opposite. But at the end, when she is married, she behaves in a ‘shrewish’ way. Ironically, in that moment Kate plays the role of the benevolent and mild wife.

The role of women in Elizabethan society is also very important when explaining Kate’s behaviour. Women at that time lived in a patriarchal society, and they had to get married if they wanted to be respected. But they could not choose a husband: that was their fathers’ task. Therefore marriage was an economical pact between a father and a suitor, and women were left aside in that respect. “Male supremacy was a matter of fathers as well as of husbands” (Saccio). In the case of Katharina, “she wants nothing to do with her social role, and her shrewishness results directly from her frustration concerning her position. Because she does not live up to the behavioural expectations of her society, she faces cold disapproval of that society” (Gardner and Brian). This becomes another reason for her anger.


But when Petruchio comes into the scene, everything begins to change. Since his first meeting with Katharina, she adopts her usual ferocious attitude towards people, and this attracts him even more. At the beginning, “Petruchio is only interested in Kate’s dowry because he is poor” (Forés), so he does not reject her, what is more, he takes his dealing with her as a challenge to tame her. The process is slow and painful for Katherine, but it is effective: firstly, he acts and speaks violently, but nevertheless he addresses her politely. For him nothing is good enough for her, in fact he states in Act 4, Scene 2: This is a way to kill a wife with kindness. “Seeing the way Petruchio treats people, Kate realises what had been her previous behaviour, so she starts to change” (Forés). Besides, the suffering that Petruchio is imposing on her (lack of food, sleep, clothes, sex…) accelerates the process. For example: in Act 4, Scene 1, Kate defends a servant: Patience, I pray you; ’twas a fault unwilling, an attitude which was not typical of her. And also in Act 4, Scene 5, Kate “sees” what Petruchio wants her to “see”, that is, that the sun is the moon: But sun it is not when you say it is not;/ and the moon changes even as your mind. / What you will have it named, even that it is; / and so it shall be so for Katharina. And in this same scene, Petruchio claims that Vincentio is a mistress, and even in this moment Kate agrees with him: Young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet…And later she apologises for her “error”: Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes, / they have been so bedazzled with the sun…And finally, in Act 5, Scene 1, Katharina kisses Petruchio in the street. When he asks her if she is ashamed of him, she replies: No, sir, God forbid. She submits, saying I will give thee a kiss; now pray thee, love stay. This represents the culmination of the successful taming process.


We could say that the end of the play is the most important part, because it is the best moment in which we can see the changes that Kate’s personality has undergone. It has been interpreted in different ways. In my opinion, Katharina has indeed fallen in love with Petruchio, and she has realised that her life is better than when she was a ‘shrew’. “The love between Katharina and Petruchio is sincere and deep and it is bolstered by the reality that it ultimately focuses on explaining true love within historical context, namely as a mutual devotion within a limited hierarchy. The Taming of the Shrew seeks to express that, though grounded on order and submission, Kate and Petruchio’s marriage is one of mutual love and respect. There is no explicit reason to assume that the love is a sham or that Kate is being insincere; any considerations outside the text can therefore be refuted by the mutual love within hierarchy paradigm that was so common at the time. The Taming of the Shrew seeks to express that, though grounded on order and submission, Kate and Petruchio’s marriage is one of mutual love and respect” (Gradesaver). I also think that the pains that Katharina has endured have given rise to a dependence on Petruchio. “In her final speech, her allusions to the husband’s care for his wife are evocative of the deprivations inflicted during the taming process, deprivations which have inculcated a formative bodily dependence and gratitude” (Yachtin).


The concept of power is also important throughout the play. Does Katharina have power? Is she completely dominated by Petruchio? At first sight, it seems that Katharina lacks power over her social situation and the problems derived from it (gender, patriarchal society…). Personally I think that she lacks power completely and that throughout the play she is a sort of pawn, manipulated by Petruchio and by society in every aspect, and that love is what determines her adaptation to new circumstances. But there are people who think that Katharina has also power: “Power is indeed in Katharina’s hands when she commands the centre of the playing-space, and that is also in her voice and body. So while there is no doubt that Katharina is subjected to power, it is also true that she wields an irreducible force for her own” (Yachtin). We can also see that her sister Bianca has more power than her, because at least she marries the man she loves, and her behaviour is not manipulated by others (her personality remains the same). In this respect, Katharina has lost, because she has had to marry a man who at the beginning she did not love, and her behaviour has had to change radically.


But this final speech has also been interpreted from the perspective that it is mostly ironic, because what she says is completely different from what she thought at the beginning of the play. She was a real ‘shrew’, but at the end she is behaving as the perfect mild wife that serves her husband happily. This can give rise to various interpretations. I personally think that, since she has fallen in love, she believes what she says; at least it is the literal aspect of the speech. But as we have said, “it can also be interpreted as rhetorically ironic” (Forés). For example: “Kate’s contrasting reference to the wife who ‘lies warm at home’ is full of private irony for herself and her husband, but not for the wedding guests who do not know that Petruchio has kept her cold and sleepless. This verbal playfulness enriches what would otherwise be an intolerably long oration” (Saccio).


Another contrasting opinion is that this scene is a clear act of surrender. It can be understood that after all Katherine has seen, she has simply given up. But this perspective is not related to love, but to physical pleasure: “the satisfactions she expresses in her closing speech suggest the success of Petruchio’s brutal exercise of power-the fact that she has succumbed to and been changed by her husband’s physical and psychological mistreatment of her. […] She relaxes into the pleasurable and erotic.” (Yachnin).


This play has also been analyzed from feminist perspectives. In general, they state that the whole play shows men’s power over women as well as women’s inferiority, all of this surrounded by the conditions of a patriarchal society. Therefore they focus on social factors and they do not consider love as a positive aspect. In my opinion, love and self-knowledge are the key factors in the development of Katharina’s personality, and if we take into account the social aspects, it is true that she indeed has lost power and, in a way, dignity. But “these feminist perspectives of the last two centuries have arisen many years after the creation of the play, and they derive from the doctrine of natural rights propagated by philosophers of the Enlightenment” (Saccio). Therefore it is normal that the consideration of women in Shakespeare’s times was very different from the situation we have nowadays. “Shakespeare is not as anti-feminist as he can be made to sound. The taming is less violent and abusive than it is on pre-Shakespearean shrew stories. But all the learning and industry of admirable feminist critics rescuing Shakesperare from the bleaker reaches of male chauvinist piggery cannot convincingly turn him into a proto-feminist” (Saccio).


As we have seen, Katharina’s personality develops little by little and it is conditioned by the people who surround her, as well as by her gender and social position. But in the end it is clear that Petruchio’s taming process has been successful. “She complies with Petruchio’s humiliating regimen of taming because she knows on some level that, whether she likes the role of wife or not, she will be happier accepting her social obligations that living as she has been with everyone connected to her” (Gardner and Brian). This happens at the beginning of the play, but in my opinion, the real cause for this gradual change has always been love.


It is obvious that the play can be interpreted in different ways, and that the actress’ performance can be a determining factor in that interpretation, for example: in her final speech, Kate could wink at the audience to show that she is putting on an act, but, on the other hand, she could express it as a genuine feeling. While reading this in a book, you cannot know for sure what Katharina is pretending to convey. But taking into account the fact that in the previous scene Kate had kissed Petruchio in the street, we can deduce (or at least that is what I think) that she has really fallen in love.











·        Gardner, Patrick and Phillips, Brian. Sparknote on The Taming of the Shrew. “Character Analysis” and “Theme: The Effect of Social Roles on Individual Happiness”. (20 march 2007)

·        Saccio, Peter. Kate Plays the Game.

·        Anonymous. Petruccio and Katherine: Mutual Love within Hierarchy. (March 14, 2004).

·        Yachtin, Paul. “Personations: The Taming of the Shrew and the Limits of Theoretical Criticism”. Early Modern Literary Studies 2. I-31

·        El-Haggan, Rasha. “Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew: Analyzing Kate”.

·        Forés López, Vicente. “The Taming of the Shrew”. Facultat de Filologia (Universitat de València). València, 8 March 2007.




·        The Taming of the Shrew. Penguin Books, 1967.





Academic year 2006/2007

© a.r.e.a. / Dr.Vicente Forés López

© Silvia Torres Vila
Universitat de València Press