Gender roles in The Taming of the Shrew and The Proposal
The Taming of the Shrew is a play written by William Shakespere. In Shrew, Petruchio, a wealthy man, plans to marry Katherine, a woman notorious for her unpleasant disposition. Katherine does not consent to the marriage, but Petruchio convinces her father that Katherine has agreed to the match and the two are married. When Katherine goes to live with Petruchio, he vows that he will “tame” her. The Proposal, a film released in 2009, is ver similar to The Taming of the Shrew. The Proposal is about a man named Andrew and his boss Margaret. Margaret is disliked by all of her employees, especially Andrew. Margaret, a Canadian citizen, risks deportation if she doesn’t get married. She blackmails Andrew into marrying her.
The Taming of the Shrew is often criticized for it’s sexist themes. Due to Petruchio’s calculated abuse (he denies her food and sleep in order to extract compliance) Katherine surrenders to his will, declaring to her friends and family “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign; (5.1.146)” Literary critic George Bernard Shaw described the play as “altogether disgusting to modern sensibility". However, the gender roles delineated in The Taming of the Shrew are not outdated products of Shakesperian chauvinism. In The Proposal, Margaret and Andrew’s interactions appear to be a role-reversal of the Taming of the Shrew, but the film ends up reiterating a message of male dominance.
“She is intolerable curst,
And shrewd, and froward, so beyond all measure
That, were my state far worser than it is,
I would not wed her for a mine of gold”(1.2.89-93)
In this scene, Hortensio is trying to convince Petruchio to marry Katherine. He tells Petruchio about Katherine’s reputation: she is known to be unpleasant, petulant, and irritable.
In The Proposal, Margaret is seen in a similar light.
In part of the movie, Margaret fires an employee who failed to secure a contract with an important client for the publishing company of which Margaret is a high-level manager. Once she informs him of his termination, he flies into a rage, calling Margaret a “poisonous bitch” and a “monster”. Additionally, throughout the entire film Margaret is referred to as “satan’s spawn” by several other characters. Margaret is very similar to Katherine: both women are written off as horrible bitches by the male characters. The way their different situations unfold is when the two characters begin to differ.
“I tell you, ‘tis incredible to believe
how much she loves me. O, the kindest Kate!
She hung about my neck , and kiss on kiss
She vied so fast, protesting oath on oath
That in a twink she won me to her love” (2.1.325-329)
In this scene, Petruchio declares to Baptista (Katherine’s father) that he has successfully woo’d her. Upon hearing the above quote, Baptista agrees to the match and arranges for Katherine to be wed to Petruchio. Katherine remains silent during this part, although she previously made it clear to Petruchio that she had no interest in marrying him.
In The Proposal, Margaret does the same thing to Andrew.
Margaret is a Canadian citizen living in the United States on a work visa. When she fails to take the steps necesscry to renew he visa, she faces deportation. When she finds out about her impending deportation, she quickly tells ICE that she and her assistant, Andrew are to be married. Andrew goes along with this in the meeting, but afterwards he expresses some concerns about marrying her. Margaret then says that if she is fired, her successor will fire Andrew, ruining his dreams of publishing his book. Andrew also negotiates a promotion for himself. Andrew agrees to marry Margaret.
In The Taming of the Shrew, it is Petruchio who pursues Katherine. In The Proposal, it is Margaret who pursues Andrew. Both Margaret and Petruchio want to be married not for romantic love, but for their own purposes. Margaret wants to keep her job and Petruchio wants to collect Katherine’s sizable dowry. However, Andrew will receive a promotion while Katherine receives nothing for marrying Petruchio.
This role-reversal reflects the changed reactions to women in power since Shakesperian times. In the 1500’s, a woman had no rights and was considered property. The very idea of a woman being in any sort of power (with the notable exception of Queen Elizabeth, who was often ruthlessly mocked in the English media during her reign), was absolutely ridiculous. Therefore, the Renaissance equivalent to Margaret’s “bitchy boss” character would be a woman who refused to conform to traditional gender roles. Katherine fills this role. She refuses to allow her father to make a whore of her and marry her off to a stranger, and was often belligerent in asserting this. Through Petruchio, Hortensio, and other male characters’ eyes, an independent woman must be deficient in some way because men are dominant, and in not accepting her socially-expected role as a woman threatened their power. Thus, she was a “shrew”
Margaret is shrew for not conforming to gender roles. She is a woman in power in corporate America, which is no easy feat. When her subordinates speak to each other about her, they often use gendered insults to refer to her (like “bitch” and “witch”), even though the film never shows her doing anything particularly horrible to her employees. Modern women in power are often put under a microscope. Take Hillary Clinton. She is constantly berated by the press for her appearance in ways that her male counterparts never have been and never will be.
“Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; (5.1.146-147)”
This quote is from the last scene in The Taming of the Shrew. At a dinner party with Katherine’s friends and family, she makes a shocking speech declaring that women must be obedient to their husbands, because women must be protected by men.
In The Proposal, Margaret and Andrew interact in ways that send the same message.
In this scene, Margaret and Andrew go on a boat ride. When Margaret tries to operate the boat, she falls out of the boat and into a lake. Unable to swim, Andrew must pull Margaret out of the water, saving her from drowning. In the film there are also other scenes like this where Margaret seems unable to do anything for herself and Andrew must sweep in and save the day. For example, Margaret cannot walk down a ladder without Andrews assistance. Nor can she turn on a computer in an internet cafe without him showing her how, which seems strange since it would make sense that a highly-esteemed book publisher would know how to operate a computer. In the films final scene, Andrew confronts Margaret in the office, declaring his affection to her in front of the entire staff of the company. When Margaret tries to interrupt him, he yells at her “I told you to shut up!”. The two kiss, and the scene ends with a co-worker yelling “Yeah! Show her who’s boss Andrew!”
As the film progresses Margaret becomes more reliant on Andrew. By the end of The Taming of the Shrew, Katherine is totally and utterly reliant on Petruchio. Both works send the same message: women must rely on men, otherwise they are shrews. When Andrew “takes control” in the final scene, he has successfully “tamed” Margaret. When Katherine relinquishes her entire identity for Petruchio, he has successfully “tamed” her. On the surface, The Proposal may seem like a role-reversal of The Taming of the Shrew, but the film falls into ancient tropes the still dictate the way men and women relate to each other in television, film, and other forms of media.
Shakespere, William. The Taming of the Shrew. New York, NY: Washington Square, 1992. Print.
The Proposal. Dir. Anne Fletcher. Perf. Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2009. DVD.