Schneider: The Public, the Private, and the Shaming of the Shrew - Mitchell


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Schneider, Gary. “The Public, the Private, and the Shaming of the Shrew.” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 42.2 (2002): 235-58. Web. 7 Sept. 2016

Annotated by Victoria Mitchell

            The article by Gary Schneider titled "The Public, the Private, and the Shaming of the Shrew" addresses many problematic things through Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew- mostly those dealing with the public versus the private. When I say public versus private, I am referring to the different shaming techniques employed against Kate throughout the play, both in public and in private. This also includes bringing things that are meant to be private into public, resulting in humiliation and shame for Kate, thus “taming” her. Petruchio’s goal in Taming of the Shrew was to make Kate into the “ideal woman” during the Renaissance time period. [This includes valuing many difference morals, one of which includes having Kate be “chaste.” (Petruchio denies Kate food, clothes, and keeps her chaste for this reason.)] Schneider focuses on difference categories within his article: the public and the private, banning Kate (the public and the private), and then the civilizing process, along with metatheatrical elements to the play itself.

            During the time period that Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew, when private problems arose (perhaps within the home or family), they were often dealt with in a public manner. Scholars have described the “public punishment of private behavior” as “public shaming rituals” (238). Petruchio uses this “public shaming ritual” as a way of taming Kate. George Duby states in Schneider’s article, “The opposition between private life and public life is a matter not so much of place as of power” (239). Petruchio brings to light and makes public things that should be kept in private as a way of humiliating and shaming Kate. One example would be the marriage ceremony/ritual. During this time, as well as now, a marriage is no longer private- it is a public affair. The public proclamation of banns in church to allow the pre-contract to be heard by everyone was a tool used to shame Kate in The Taming of the Shrew. To Petruchio, “proclaiming the banns” was in keeping of “a sense of propriety and decorum” (241). Then, when Petruchio doesn’t show up to the wedding, he brings more shame onto Kate, as everyone in Padua has shown up for the wedding, and she will be publically humiliated. Schneider states that “publicizing occurs at almost every step. The final step is even publicized by the public kiss that symbolized consummation” (241). Schneider’s research shows that during this time, “public shame was, of course, a powerful social instrument for controlling women” (243). Throughout the play, Petruchio uses the marriage, his vows, and the public kiss, as a way of publically humiliating Kate and bringing shame upon her.

            During the time of The Taming of the Shrew, there were many important values that women had to make them the “ideal woman.” Some examples are “virginity or maidenhood, chastity, shamefastness, temperance or moderation, honest and diligent labor, and modesty in apparel” (246). Petruchio’s goal is to make Kate into the “ideal woman” for the Renaissance time period. For instance, it was extremely important for women to be chaste. Chaste can have a few different meanings, besides just abstaining from sex. Petruchio’s goal in “taming” Kate is to help her with bodily abstinence, or “fasting” from food, sex, and clothes. Gary Schneider says that silence is also a sign of chastity. “Silence and chastity are, in turn, homologous to women’s enclosure within the house” (246), which is why Petruchio kept Kate enclosed within his house, to make sure he could oversee her “chastity” and “taming.” Schneider puts it plainly, saying, “the ‘cloistering’ of Kate encloses her within walls, limits her behavior, restricts her diet, and safeguards her chastity” (247). Petruchio tries to silence her, because it is well known that “the mouth that is perceived as most troublesome in Shrew” (246). Other than silencing her as a form of chastity, Petruchio also withholds food and clothes from her. Schneider states that “he tames her by forcing her to renounce the cates she is accustomed to in the process of mortifying her” (249). Petruchio’s goal is to make Kate into that “ideal women” by “training” her within the privacy of his home via deprivation.

            Eventually Petruchio’s taming of Kate has been completed. However, this only can be clear after she is brought back out into the public again. We see this take place when he brings Kate back to her father’s house for Bianca’s wedding. Camille Wells Slights says that “Kate’s ‘domestication is complete only when it is made public” (251) in Act 5 at the wedding. Schneider says that “by Act 5, Kat is less a dramatic character than she is a sort of metatheatrical construct, a public announcement, or even a brand of advertisement meant to speak for the civilizing process she has just undergone” (251). Petruchio uses Kate to speak to both Lucentio and Hortensio about their wives, but he also speaks to the husbands in the audience as well. It is his moment to stand on his soap-box to show what the “ideal wife” looks like. Throughout the play we have seen the process of taming that Kate has undergone… This means that every husband in the audience during this time period now has some “hard and fast” rules on how to tame their own wives. Petruchio brings Kate to Bianca’s wedding as a sort of “advertisement” to the other men during this time period, saying “If you do as I have done, you too could have the ‘ideal woman.’”

            In conclusion, Gary Schneider lays out the step-by-step process of Kate’s taming by Petruchio. He shows how Petruchio brings out things to the public that were meant to be left in the private, as a way of shaming Kate, such as the marriage, wedding vows, and the public kiss. Then, Petruchio shuts Kate into his own house to control the things she does. He wants to make her “chaste,” thus having her abstain from sex, food, and clothing. His ultimate goal is to make Kate into the “ideal woman” of the Renaissance time period. Then, to complete her taming, he brings Kate to the public again, as a sort of “advertisement” to the other husbands on stage and off, showing them how they too can have and make the ideal woman.

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