Taming of the Shrew - Endorsing or Condemning Patriarchy?

The Taming of The Shrew is a reflection of the conservative gender ideology of Shakespeare’s period, painting women as mere ‘chattles’ or sexual objects, freely traded by the men. While the plot itself seems to endorse patriarchy and the subjugation of women, I believe the play, when performed, has significant potential to actually condemn this. The play’s open celebration of the dominance of men seems tailored to but to elicit sympathy and horror from the audience over the callous way women are treated – by celebrating Petruchio’s wit and cunning in taming Katherina, the play forces the audience to be aware of and lament the dehumanization of Katherina.
The play is set in a dominantly masculine world – the ‘nursery of arts’ and great centre of learning, Padua. Shakespeare introduces the issue of gender inequality immediately, drawing attention to how men are allowed to freely travel in pursuit of ‘the sweets of sweet philosophy’, and creating a stark contrast between this and how women like Bianca and Katherina have to ‘keep within (Baptista’s) house’ and allow him to provide them with ‘good bringing up’. The women are confined intellectually and physically by the men, allowing them to dictate what they may learn and where they must stay.
This physical confinement of women is a recurring theme throughout the play, reflected even in the choice of characters. Shakespeare introduces only two women characters in Taming of the Shrew, and surrounds them with a host of men – suitors and husbands. For example, in act 1 scene 1, Katherina and Bianca are depicted in a scene with Baptista, Gremio, Hortensio, Lucentio and Tranio, as the objects of a debate over marriage prospects. This creates an idea of women being objects of the male desire, surrounded by and walled in by their inescapable duty as soon-to-be wives. In fact, the audience is also reminded that Sly, the Lord and all his male servants are also watching and taking delight in Katherina’s maltreatment, which...