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To Kill a Wife with Kindness: Early modern marriage in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew


This essay examines Shakespeare’s portrayal of marital issues in his play, The Taming
of the Shrew, particularly in light of the significant changes in attitudes towards
marriage brought about by the Reformation. Old and brutal methods of wifedisciplining
began to be frowned upon and replaced by new ideas presumably more
suited to a marriage of equals. These newfangled methods are demonstrated in the play
by Petruccio, a boisterous gentleman who purports to know how to “kill a wife with
kindness”. The fundamental question is whether the play condones or criticizes his
methods. The essay also examines the way in which his wife, Katherine, is treated as a
commodity, sold to the first bidder who comes along in what was still a largely
patriarchal society, despite the fact that it was ruled by a female monarch. The concept
of the shrew will also be discussed alongside the notion that a harmonious and violence
free household was dependent on a woman’s submission to the husband. Lastly, this
essay looks for signs of violence and maltreatment within Petruccio’s seemingly gentle
treatment, primarily by comparing the couple’s often erratic conduct to the
psychological behaviour pattern known as Stockholm Syndrome.


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