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The Unruly Woman: The Case of Katherine Molina

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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.”

Black-and-white illustration shows a humble dinner table. Petruchio has thrown a whole cooked bird up in the air. Two servants are shown running out of the room, as Katharine sits across the table with a stunned look on her face. On the floor sits a with its content spilt.

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.

Portrait of a young woman, identified as Katharine, with angry expression. Her hair is long and loose. She wears a small crown on with a dark veil and white-collar black dress with puffy sleeves.
Black-and-white illustration shows Petruchio with a sword on his right hand and drags his wife Katherine who is on her knees, with his left hand.
Black-and-white illustration shows Katharine having smashed a string instrument on the head of a man who is her music teacher.

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.

Photograph of the play, The Taming of the Shrew.

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.

I'll curb her mad and headstrong humor... —William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew Red horizontal line


Illustration of a red quill pen