The Taming of the Shrew and Biblical Commentary (part 5)

The same is true of Petruchio, who enters for the first time in the following scene in the midst of giving orders to his servant Grumio. When Grumio misunderstands Petruchio’s orders, Petruchio immediately turns to threats of violence, warning Grumio that he will “knock your knave’s pate,” and finally to actual violence as he grabs Grumo and “wrings him by the ears.”[1] From the moment he enters the stage, then, Petruchio is violent, abrupt, and pompous. As Kahn accurately describes him,

he evokes and creates noise and violence. A hubbub of loud speech, beatings, and quarrelsomeness surrounds him. “The swelling Adriatic seas” and “thunder when the clouds in autumn crack” are a familiar part of his experience, which he easily masters with his own force of will and physical strength. Like Adam, he is lord over nature, and his own violence has been well legitimized by society, unlike Kate’s, which has marked her as unnatural and abhorrent.[2]

Importantly, however, Petruchio is Adam before the creation of Eve, the Adam about whom God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”[3] Petruchio is alone because he has not yet met his match. Petruchio’s violence and pomposity are not presented as positive characteristics.

Petruchio’s violence is certainly more socially acceptable than Katherine’s, as when he describes the sounds and sights of battle:

Have I not in my time heard lions roar?

Have I not heard the sea, puffed up with winds,

Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?

Have I not heard great ordnance in the field,

And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies?

Have I not in a pitched battle heard

Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets clang?[4]

In spite of the greater social acceptance of Petruchio’s state-sanctioned violence, however, he is nonetheless an outsider because of it. As Gremio, the elderly suitor of Bianca, comments beforehand on Petruchio’s plan to woo Katherine, “such a life with such a wife were strange.”[5] When Petruchio, with his usual abruptness, approaches Katherine’s father Baptista to inquire about Katherine, Gremio warns him, “You are too blunt. Go to it orderly.”[6] Petruchio, then, like Kate, lacks orderliness. He is, like her, an embodiment of the primeval chaos that pervaded existence before the creation.

[1] The Taming of the Shrew, 1.2.12, 17.

[2] Kahn, 92.

[3] Genesis 2:18, ESV.

[4] The Taming of the Shrew, 1.2.198-204.

[5] Ibid., 1.2.191.

[6] Ibid., 2.1.45.

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