Time to Make Your Own Life Choices
A Comparison between the Taming of the Shrew and Coming to America
Social justice is a thing that most people strive for. This includes everything from equal rights among different races to equal rights among different genders. The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare is the story of two different couples going down very different paths to find love. One man needs to fight other men off to win his future bride, while another has to fight his own bride off to earn her respect and adoration. It was written during and about a time where men were thought of and treated as superior beings to women. Since then, times have evolved and so have love stories. Coming to America (1988) is a story of a prince fighting tradition and attempting to find a mate who loves him for who he is on the inside. It is a story of love, deception and comedy. It also displays a strong female lead who knows what she wants and isn’t going to let her father stop her from getting it. Women no longer feel like they need men to be their whole world. This is evident by examples such as those present in the movie Coming to America. Many traditions that used to exist are no longer valid. Even men have more say in their relationships as the parents have a smaller role than ever before. As shown by the differences between Coming to America and Taming of the Shrew, over time, women’s and men’s control over their own lives have become more equal.
The main character in Coming to America is Prince Akeem, played by Eddie Murphy. As the movie opens, Prince Akeem is about to be married to a woman he has never met and is very distraught about the situation. Instead of following tradition and marrying this woman, he decides to take his friend and servant Semmi to America where he can find and earn his bride. However, he believes that any woman that knows who he is will act insincere because of his fortune.
In this early scene from the movie, Akeem and Semmi arrive in the “strange” land of America and realize immediately that they do not fit in. Akeem wants people to see him as a regular person and knows that his current attire is not the way to do it. He decides to put on a charade where acts as a poor person so that the person he falls in love with will love him for who he is. It is for this reason that I compare Prince Akeem to Lucentio from The Taming of the Shrew. Both are trying to earn their way into their future brides’ hearts by acting as commoners. This shows how traditions have evolved, giving kids more power in their own lives. Prince Akeem showed how times have changed by finding his own bride in the dating world. Lucentio, despite putting on this game, still had to have his servant interact with Baptista, the father of the girl he wants to marry, as at that time, the father played an unbelievably large role in the marriage process.
The girl that Prince Akeem will eventually find and fall in love with is Lisa McDowell. Lisa is the character with the most wide-ranging personality in the movie. When she first meets Akeem, she is romantically involved with another man named Darryl Jenks. Darryl is a rich man, but he is insensitive, slightly abusive and an all around obnoxious person.
In this scene Darryl is trying to charm his way into Lisa’s life. I would compare Darryl to the character Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew. Both characters are very wealthy and use this wealth to try and control their mates. Another big similarity is that both characters feel the need to lock down their girlfriends or companions because of their beauty and wealth. However, at this time, both of their counterparts do not want marriage, so Petruchio and Darryl each lied to the respective fathers saying that they and their girlfriends agreed to get married. They both say this without their girlfriends’ (Katherine and Lisa, respectively) consent, but each is met with a much different result.
In the Taming of the Shrew Petruchio announces that he and Katherine have agreed to be married to which she responds with a lot of anger and sadness.
“Petruchio: ...And to conclude, we have ‘greed so well together that upon Sunday is the wedding day.
Katherine: I’ll see thee hanged on Sunday first.” (Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 314-316)
Despite Katherine’s obvious and severe protests to this potential marriage, no one seems to care. This is mainly because she is a woman at a time where they received little to no respect. Meanwhile, in Coming to America, Darryl announces the same thing about Lisa. At first Lisa is so upset that she storms out of the room, but when she talks to Darryl next she tells him off and breaks up with him saying that they will never be married. Her father supports the potential marriage because of what Darryl has to offer as a caretaker but Lisa does not care. This shows a huge evolution of the female character in a relationship. They have evolved from people that gets no say in their own lives and are forced to stay with whatever men will have them because they cannot provide for themselves, into real people with real rights who can take care of themselves.
Another aspect of relationships that has drastically changed is dating. As evident by the sudden marriage of Petruchio and Katherine, back then, as long as the father was on board, the woman got no say. There was little courtship of the woman, and a great deal courtship toward the father. In The Taming of The Shrew this very tradition occurs, or so Katherine is meant to believe. Despite the fact that it is not true, Petruchio tells Kate that her father agreed to marriage between them and there is nothing she can do about it. While cruel, this was not only possible, but common during this time period.
Petruchio: “Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented that you shall be my wife, your dowry ‘greed on, and will you, nill you, I will marry you. Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn...Here comes your father. Never make denial. I must and will have Katherine to my wife”. (Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 284–295)
In Coming to America the father figure is Cleo McDowell, an upper middle class restaurant owner and father of two daughters. Throughout the movie McDowell is trying to ensure that his eldest daughter, Lisa, not only ends up with the right man, but also ends up with a wealthy man so that he won’t have to worry about her future. It is for this reason that he pushes Darryl on her, and reject Akeem as a potential suitor (until he finds out he is a prince).
In this scene Akeem is shown working at Cleo McDowell’s restaurant as a common janitor. It is for this reason that McDowell rejects him as a suitor, he wants Lisa to have someone who can take care of her and doesn’t care about how she actually feels. This is quite similar to The Taming of The Shrew where the father figure, Baptista, is trying to find the right man for his desirable daughter (Bianca) and any man for his shrewish daughter (Katherine). Baptista talks with suitors seeing who can offer the most to his daughter Bianca, not caring at all for her happiness, and wants to make sure she has a rich husband to provide for her. Here Baptista explains his rules about selling off his daughters, he wants to unload his less desirable daughter before the bidding for his very desirable daughter can begin.
Baptista: Gentlemen, importune me no farther, for how I firmly am resolved you know— that is, not to bestow my youngest daughter before I have a husband for the elder. If either of you both love Katherina, because I know you well and love you well leave shall you have to court her at your pleasure. (Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 48-54)
The two fathers are very similar in both their tactics and their desires for their daughters. The key difference between the two stories is the result. Because of the social convention at the time, Baptista is completely allowed to sell of his daughters like cattle and they would have to do what he says. Meanwhile, during the time of Coming to America McDowell can push whoever he wants to push on Lisa, but she doesn’t need to rely on a man the way that she would have had to in a different time period. She is free to choose whoever she wants, and even be alone if she so chooses.
Tradition has changed quite drastically as time has went on. Coming to America and The Taming of The Shrew are examples of two love stories with the same basic types of characters, goals, and plot lines and yet they are two stories with such different outcomes. Civil rights have made such a huge difference on the way that people act and think in the 21st century. Thankfully women’s and men’s control over their own lives have become more equal.
Coming to America. Dir. John Landis. Perf. Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Shari Headley and James Earl Jones. Paramount Pictures, 1988. Online Movie.
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shew. New York: Penguin, 1977. Print.