Thesis: Brooks begins by commenting on the good qualities of two Shakespearean Shrews, Adriana (The Comedy of Errors) and Katherine (The Taming of the Shrew). They are, Brooks says, strong-willed, intelligent, sensitive, and passionate. He adds that the secondary women in both plays, though generally submissive, also have a mixture of characteristics. These observations lead to the premise of his essay, a generalization about women:
- Brooks, Charles. "Shakespeare's Romantic Shrews."
- Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Summer, 1960), 351-356.
Every woman, then, has within her both a need to submit and a will to dominate, and the harmony of the character depends on the balance between the two. These two aspects of character might be labeled the male and the female, since Western culture has a tendency to consider dominance a masculine trait and submission a feminine one. Shakespeare's point would seem to be that women have both male dominance and female submission, and it is perhaps healthier to burn out the male through such experience as Adriana's and Kate's than to let it rest dormant and suddenly flare forth as it does with Bianca. (353)
As a corollary to the above generalization, Brooks makes another. He says that the transition from courtship to marriage involves role reversals for both women and men: "A woman matures by transforming herself from worshiped mistress to devoted wife, and a man matures by changing from a worshiper to a governor" (353). On the basis of this general premise, Brooks treats The Taming of the Shrew as the story of how Katherine makes the transformation, and focuses on a crucial scene, in which Katherine decides to call the sun the moon if Petruchio will have it so:
In The Shrew, Kate experiences, farcically and brutally, the necessary transformation as she learns to curb her will. She learns to be less frank and direct, to play the role which her husband wishes her to play. This is clear in the key scene when Petruchio and Kate meet the stranger on the road to Padua. In the past she spoke her mind frankly that she might not suffer; but she has seen Petruchio successfully put on an act, treat her brutally "under name of perfect love." On the road she disputes with him when he calls the sun the moon, then quickly gives in. Obviously when the stranger appears Kate does not see a young maiden, no matter what Petruchio says; but she plays the part assigned to her much more poetically than required. She discovers that such playing can be good sport, that if she bends a little she and her husband can not only live harmoniously, but can also entertain themselves gloriously at the expense of others. She needs only one more lesson, to enjoy her husband's kiss, and she is ready for her great stage triumph. When she sees the other two wives unsuccessfully called into the presence of their husbands and then is called herself, she knows that Petruchio has a new game afoot, and she plays her part so brilliantly that the audience cannot be sure just how serious she is in her final lecture. . . . The others on the stage do not catch the irony; so the point is that she plays her part so well that only she and Petruchio know how much is serious and how much put on. When the couple sweeps triumphantly from the stage, the audience feels not that a curst shrew has been broken in spirit, but that Petruchio has won an enviable mate. These two will go far. (354)
Bottom Line: Good, if you're willing to accept the grand generalizations.