Shakespeare depicts the full range of humoralism in his dramatic characters. An excess of the hot, dry emotion of choler, or yellow bile, produced an angry disposition. Choler is valuable in great warriors but in the domestic world of romantic comedy, anger—especially the anger of women—represents a social problem for Shakespeare’s age, which calls for strong therapeutic intervention.
How to manage female anger is the central question of The Taming of the Shrew. Both protagonists, Kate and Petruchio, are identified as choleric by nature, and his behavior in the play is widely seen as eccentric and disruptive. Yet, it becomes Petruchio’s job as husband to tame his shrewish wife and make her “a Kate conformable as other household Kates.”
above right: Louis Rhead, Petruchio entertains his wife at dinner, ca. 1918. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library. Petruchio denies his wife dinner, claiming that roasted meat is too hot and dry for her nature. He deprives her of the pleasure of new clothes and of female companionship. All these deprivations have the effect of wearing her out, both physically and emotionally, until by the end of the play she is willing to submit to his humor, no matter what it might be.
below left: W. Joseph Edwards, Angry face of Katharine Minola, 1847. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library.
below right: Louis Rhead, Petruchio bears off his bride, ca. 1918. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library. Petruchio’s taming of Kate begins with his disorderly behavior at their wedding, when he arrives late and poorly dressed and interrupts the wedding feast by dragging her off to his home far away.
left: Louis Rhead, Katharine and music master, ca. 1918. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library. Here, in a scene described in Shakespeare‘s play, Katharine refuses to accept the music lessons that early modern affluent families would have deemed appropriate for female instruction and socialization in the domestic arts.
left: William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, Quarto, 1631. Courtesy Folger Shakespeare Library. Petruchio‘s harsh program of “taming” his bride is a calculated intervention in her living conditions. He intends to change her humor by removing the accumulation of hot, dry choler in her body.