Since I was 14 years old, I’ve dreamed of playing Katharina. It all started when I was in the chorus of a production of “Kiss Me Kate.” As I watched the leads rehearsing, I was far more interested in the scenes that were pulled directly from Shakespeare’s play than the upbeat and campy musical numbers that peppered the show. I went home after rehearsal and read the play.
As an actor, I find Katharina appealing because of the strength of her language and the quickness of her thought. She is sharp, smart and gutsy. She’s things I admire in real life. It has been a challenge to authentically reconcile her journey with my own values as a strong and independent woman. Is she simply bitter and angry at the start, and forced into the role of “well behaved wife” at the end? That can’t be the whole story. I am constantly fascinated by the relationship that builds between Katharina and Petruchio over the course of the play, as they regularly attempt to outdo one another on a scale of 1 to insane. The title of the play tells me she’s tamed, but during that last monologue I can’t help but think that she’s finally found her voice.
At the start of the play, Katharina is exactly what she’s been told she is. From several voices, but never her own, she is called rough, the devil, stark mad, fiend of hell, curst and shrewd… the list goes on, but I’m weary of reading it. This is the role she has been assigned, and she plays it well. It keeps her suitors at bay, and as she’s not interested in them, it works for her. When Petruchio shows up and calls her, “the prettiest Kate in all Christendom” among other things, she is rightfully surprised and suspicious. Then he proves himself to be her intellectual equal; a very attractive quality to her. She ups her game in an attempt to outwit him. Of course, no amount of wit could undo the strength of the patriarchy, and her security and future depend on allowing herself to be married. Which, reluctantly, she does.
The early days of their marriage have caused many people to voice many opinions about Kate, Petruchio, misogyny, abuse, marriage, love, societal pressures and gender roles. As Petruchio withholds food from Kate, he seems to skip the meals himself. And if he is the one keeping her awake all night, he’s certainly not doing any sleeping. Let’s face it, if all he wanted was to overpower her and make off with the money, he’d have locked her up or resorted to physical violence. This is a battle of wills, and thank goodness Kate is clever enough to not only see the game, but to play hard enough to win it.
In the end, has Kate been tamed? Her spirit has not been broken, and she clearly still has leave to say her mind, in fact Petruchio seems to capitalize on her ability to do so. It’s not that she’s been tamed, but rather changed. For individuals bound together in marriage will inevitably find themselves changed in some way or another.