Article Title

From Shrew to Subject: Petruchio’s Humanist Education of Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew


This paper argues that Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew makes dramatic sense if it is viewed as a comedy about the success of a specifically early modern humanist pedagogy, transplanted by Shakespeare from the traditional all-male realm of the schoolroom to the domestic sphere. In the process I argue that Shakespeare, via this transplantation, articulates a version of humanism that does not prioritize the masculine over the feminine. Rather, here a system developed for the education of boys works equally well to educate women. The essay seeks to provide a way out of the critical echo chamber that encloses this play, in which Katherine is seen as either more or less subversive of oppressive norms of gender. By contrast, I argue that Katherine is subjugated by Petruchio, but not as a woman subject to a man; rather she takes the role of a student subject to a teacher or a citizen to a monarch. What we discover in The Taming of the Shrew is that Katherine benefits from Petruchio’s use of humanist methodology. She moves from a position of extreme frustration at her unintelligibility to being able to enjoy articulating herself to other characters (as well as beating out the other women in a rhetorical competition). Petruchio is able to cultivate Katherine’s linguistic facility and render her comprehensible to those around her. The play does not see Katherine as having lost something in this process. Instead it sees her attainment of rhetorical mastery as the force that motivates its happy ending.

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