Review of

"The Taming of the Shrew: A Social Comedy"

Hibbard, George R. "The Taming of the Shrew: A Social Comedy."
Shakespearean Essays. Knoxville, Tennessee: U of Tennessee P, 1964. 15-28.
Thesis: Hibbard relates Shakespeare's play to the social background of the time. Among wealthy people, marriages were arranged. People who had money wanted to make sure that their children were married into families who also had money, and they negotiated their children's marriages in order to achieve that end. However, "while the arranged marriage was the normal thing . . . there were divines and moralists who saw [it] as a consequence of parental covetousness and as having a degrading effect on those who suffered under it" (18). Also, authors of imaginative literature, including Shakespeare, celebrated romantic love, which led young people to deceive their parents and defy social convention.

Hibbard's contention is that Shakespeare comes down on the side of romantic love, while at the same time criticizing both it and arranged marriages. Hibbard says that at first glance it appears that Petruchio is the spokesman for the arranged marriage, since he declares that he "comes to wive it wealthily" and arranges the financial terms of the marriage before he ever sees the bride-to-be. In contrast, Lucentio seems to represent the ideal of romantic love, since he declares that he will die if he does not get Bianca's love and since he eventually elopes with her. However, the play does a back-flip. Beatrice, the ideal of submissiveness, turns out to be quite willful and, by the end of the play, a bit shrewish. Katherine, the shrew, responds to Petruchio's understanding and love for her with her understanding and love for him. This is how Hibbard sums up the insights conveyed by Shakespeare's play:
That The Shrew is a gay, high-spirited, rollicking play, full of broad farcical scenes and richly comic narrative passages is self-evident. What I have tried to show is that it also has a serious side to it. Underneath the comic exaggeration it is basically realistic. It portrays the marriage situation, not as it appeared in the romances of the day, but as it was in Shakespeare's England. And the criticism it brings to bear on it is constructive as well as destructive. Baptista, the foolish father who knows nothing about his daughters yet seeks to order their lives, is defeated all along the line. So is Gremio, the old pantaloon, who thinks he can buy a wife. The play's disapproval of the arranged match, in which no account is taken of the feelings of the principals, could not be plainer. Within the framework of marriage as it existed at the time, it comes out in favour of the match based on real knowledge and experience, over against the more fanciful kind of wooing that ignores facts in favour of bookishly conventional attitudes and expressions of feeling. Paradoxically enough it is Katharina and Petruchio, for each of whom it is the other, as the other really is, that matters, who embody the new revolutionary attitude to marriage, rather than Lucentio and Bianca. (27-28)

Bottom Line: Well-written, persuasive, and even inspiring.