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In Act 4 Scene 1, How and to What Extent Does Shakespeare Create Comedy Through the Presentation of Dominance?

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In Act 4 Scene 1, how and to what extent does Shakespeare create comedy through the presentation of dominance?

In this scene Shakespeare creates comedy through dominance to a certain extent, Shakespeare shows two types of dominance, physical and mental dominance. Also, Shakespeare has made powers very clear in this scene. For instance, Petruchio is at the very top of the pecking order; as he controls everyone in the scene, Grumio is head servant, he comes second in the scene then the other servants…and then Katharina, Petruchio’s wife, whom has no power in the scene. She is manipulated and told what to do by every other character. The dominance creates comedy in this scene as the Elizabethan audience would find is amusing due to the roles played and how people are treated in relation to their rank in society, they would find it funny to see servants challenge their social role so long as they were put back in their place at the end. However, a modern audience is more likely to find the dominance insulting and misogynistic and no amusing at all. Act 4 scene 1 present’s dominance throughout and I am going to explore the comedy Shakespeare reveals through the assertive attitude he displays.
At the start of the scene Shakespeare uses sexual connotation during Grumio and Curtis’s comical row. ‘Curtis: Away, you three-inch fool, I am no beast! Grumio: Am I but three inches? Why, thy horn is a goof, and so long am I at the least.’ Lines 19-21. The two servants are caught up in a row due to Grumio’s leadership over the other servants, he in fact hits Curtis which is showing his dominance. The connotation would be seen as funny to the Elizabethan audience as they appear to be insulting each other and because they’re a lower class and even though they are both servants; Grumio thinks he has the upper hand. This is funny as the servants are acting like they have more power than they do, challenging their roles. But cleverly, Shakespeare has made them look quite stupid, which anyone would find amusing. Also, the word horn is used not only as sexual imagery but it also has connotations of animals in battle, like two goats fighting for the leadership role; portraying their dominance.
Shakespeare makes a clear distinction between social class by Petruchio using words like peasant and drudge. Basically implying that all his servants are good for is manual labour insulting the lower class and their intelligence, this would be amusing for Elizabethans. ‘Petruchio: You peasant swain! You whoreson malthorse drudge!’ line 100. This demonstrates Petruchio’s cruel attitude towards his servants. Petruchio speaks to his servants in a vicious tone from the videos I have seen on this scene. The way he treats his servants makes is apparent to the audience that he is very much in charge, he is the leader. This would’ve been entertaining for the Elizabethan audience as ranking in society was very important. The servants were treated poorly and for the Elizabethans it would’ve been laughable to watch. Also, Petruchio’s unkind approach toward his servants is apparent throughout the play in Act 1 Scene 2 it is shown in line 8 ‘Petruchio: Villain, I say, knock me here soundly.’ Again, referring in bad manor toward his servant Grumio. The use of the word peasant is using social dominance, here Petruchio is using social class directly to put Grumio down and ‘in his place’. Petruchio showing himself as a lord over the peasant; his hierarchy.
The way Petruchio portrays his power over Katharina by impersonating her shrew-like ways. He plays on her outrageous ways, and goes over the top. An example of this is where he throws the food around; ‘Petruchio: There, take it to you, trenchers, cups and all! [He throws the food and the dishes at them.]’ This is Shakespeare using antic disposition to portray Petruchio as a man shrew. This is humorous as Petruchio is mocking Katharina causing comedy for the audience. I got this information from a video I watched of a woman explaining this to me, she described Petruchio’s ways as antic distribution. Whilst explaining the scene she also informs us how she has played various characters in the scene.
In Petruchio’s soliloquy at the end of the scene, Petruchio uses the imagery of training ‘…Kites that bait and beat and will not be obedient…’ lines 166-167 He is saying here how he is going to tame Katharina, saying his power is capable of such a task. This could perhaps be seen as insulting towards women as he is treating her in a poor way ‘…She ate no meat today, nor none shall eat; Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not.’ Lines 168-169, Petruchio is demonstrating poor treatment of his wife. However to an Elizabethan audience this wouldn’t have been so appalling, however it still isn’t likely to be amusing. Also in Petruchio’s soliloquy, Nichola McAuliffe explains the way Petruchio uses the word falconry where he tells the audience he will deprive Katharina of her sleep and food, he is describing the way birds of prey are socialised.
At the start of the scene, the servants’ argument get physical when Grumio beats Curtis, ‘Grumio: Lend thine ear. Curtis: Here. Grumio: There. [He boxes Curtis’s ear.]’ Lines 24-45 Grumio’s dominance over Curtis could be taken as worrying rather than comical to the audience as no longer was the row just words. The way Grumio beats Curtis’s ear it shows he is doing it due to his power over Curtis and their social role. This would be unpleasant to watch as it is portraying violence.
Petruchio feels it is very necessary to show his power over his servants however he is in fact no better. He calls them vile names and speaks to them like dirt. He exaggerates every insult also, there is always more than one insult when he speaks poorly to the servants. ‘Petruchio: You logger-headed and unpolished grooms!’ line 96. As it was set in Elizabethan times it would’ve been seen as more acceptable but to some not quite accepted. It may seem like Shakespeare’s attempt to show dominance was taken too far, so that it was no longer amusing.
In conclusion I think that Shakespeare creates comedy through dominance to a certain extent as sometimes the power Shakespeare is trying to create is too overpowering. Also, this scene can be very much misunderstood, Nichola McAuliffe, has played Katharina twice and believes we misread Petruchio’s actions as we don’t understand his references to falconry. However the ‘torture’ scenes where he takes his powers to the extremes of not allowing Katharina to eat nor sleep is difficult to create a nice meaning too; other than his attempt to tame her. However the taming could be done in a much less severe way. Gregory Doran says “...I don’t think it’s describing an ideal relationship, but it is a real relationship.’ There is comedy created by dominance throughout the scene however it is very much Elizabethan comedy and wouldn’t be seen as comical by many people of today.
The Taming of the Shrew – Cambridge School Shakespeare
The Taming of the Shrew: ‘This is not a woman being crushed’ | Stage | The Guardian

[ 1 ]. (06/01)
Square's sixth production:
Directed by Rose Bochner and Dan Hasse
Produced by Serena Adlerstein and Chris Corbo
Assistant Director: Chris Corbo
Music Director: Chris Dubrow
Fight Choreography by Dan Hasse
Costume Design: Liz McGlone
Properties Master: Frankie Oliva
Stage Manager: Amber Como
Scenic Painter: Phil Falino
[ 2 ].
Link above from (06/01) which is a channel on YouTube of a person who refers to themself as Pcpatientzero and explains Shakespeare.
[ 3 ]. Nicola McAuliffe speaks on page ¾ of the article. She has played Katharina twice in theatre. Bradford Stage.
[ 4 ]. Nicola McAuliffe speaks on page ¾ of the article. She has played Katharina twice in theatre. Bradford Stage.
[ 5 ]. Gregory Doran who directed the play for the RSC in 2003. Speaks on page 2/4.

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