Kate's final speech (the longest one in the play) at the end of Shrew has perplexed critics, audiences, and students for centuries. We know that Kate has outwardly transformed by the time she finishes her lengthy monologue about a wife's duty to her husband. Even the wedding guests can't believe how much her behavior has changed. We can also break the speech down into a nice little close reading. The problem is that it's not entirely clear what we're supposed to make of Kate's complete turnaround.
Does Kate really believe that wives should submit to their husband like subjects submit to rulers? Is she sincere when she kneels and fondles Petruchio's feet?Or, is Kate being ironic and disingenuous?
We've seen the ending played both ways (and then some) on stage and there's plenty of evidence to support both interpretations. We tend to lean toward the side of irony but we'll show you how you might argue the point from either side.
Option 1: Kate believes every word she says.
Like we said, we don't necessarily agree with this but plenty of people do. A lot of conservative criticism sees Kate's transformation as a genuine enlightenment. Petruchio has given Kate a dose of her own medicine, forcing Kate to look in the mirror, so to speak, and recognize the ugliness of her behavior. Overcoming her shrewishness, according to this idea, is a triumph for Kate because it allows her to be happy. (This seems to imply that happiness means blissful obedience to men.)
More provocative critics also argue that Kate believes every word she utters. These critics point to how Petruchio's shrew-taming tactics (as we've noted before) are basically torture devices – sleep deprivation, starvation, intimidation, manipulation, shaming, etc. Kate, according to some, has been totally brainwashed by the end of the play and identifies with her abuser. The idea is that Katherine suffers from "Stockholm syndrome" (a term used to describe the psychological state of victims of domestic abuse or kidnapping who become loyal to their abusers and /or abductors).
Option 2: Kate doesn't really believe what she's saying – she's just telling her husband what he wants to hear.
The most significant evidence to support this theory comes from the scene where Kate finally breaks and agrees to play along with Petruchio's game of make-believe, even though she knows that what Petruchio says isn't true. The final speech, then, can be seen as an extension of Kate's newfound ability to "role-play," or act. This theory is particularly appealing because the entire play is very much interested in the theatricality of everyday life and the performative aspects of gender roles.
(Remember when Bartholomew plays the part of an obedient nobleman's wife in the Induction? Bart, who is really a boy in women's clothing, says all the right things and is so convincing that Sly actually believes he's a dominant and powerful husband. We can also think of the way Bianca pretends to be an obedient daughter by saying everything her father and suitors want to hear – or, by not saying what they don't want to hear. She is so convincing that her dad and Lucentio believe she's a good girl – the perfect daughter and also perfect wife material.)
The next question, then, is whether or not Kate enjoys her new skills and whether or not she derives any power from her new relationship with Petruchio. What do you think?
Few woman, now and especially during Shakespeare’s time, would be willing to risk humiliation for themselves or others, unless they have a strong personality.Then again in her final speech, Kate talks at length with a strong presence that captivates her audience, further proving she is still the feisty woman she had been at the very beginning but with new understanding. She recognizes marriage as a partnership. While in this society a woman is asked to be obedient, it is not without men serving woman as well. She demonstrates this when she states,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body,
To painful labor both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou li'st warm at home, secure and safe;
This refers to what men of this time had to do for their wives. When she expresses her feelings towards a woman’s obedience it is not only a representation of what is expected of a woman, but what men are expected to do for their wives as well.
This same spunk is reflected other times in the same speech, despite its strong patriarchal message. At the beginning of her monologue, she begins with the strong rebuke, “Fie, fie, unknit that threat'ning unkind brow” (V.ii.142). The fact that neither her sister nor the widow immediately argue back is a reflection of Kate’s continuing authoritative demeanor. Later she uses further piercing words, such as “foul contending rebel” and “graceless traitor,” which again are not met with an immediate challenge (V.ii.165-166). Also, the speech’s length is further proof that she is as full of strength as she is in the beginning, if not more. She is talking amongst both men and women, yet all listen. She rebukes, yet no one interrupts. The speech is long, and does not end until she has decided to finish speaking. The fact that she decides when the speech is finished is emphasized by the couplets in which end her speech. Only someone who could demand such authority would have been able to give such a strong lengthy speech.
Despite Kate’s apparent anti-feminist talk, Kate has not become a completely broken weak-willed woman. She still has the passion and energy she began with, but with a realization that her actions affect others. She also has learned how to love by being loved. Though she evolves in her ideas and actions, her personality is essentially the same as it is in the beginning but shaped by empathy and love. She still is able and willing to fight which is reflected in her monologue. However, she does it with tact and poise, which is no longer met with dispute. Though it is Petruchio who helped her along the journey, if she hadn't desired for love in the beginning, her transformation would not have occurred.