Shakespeare’s use of foil in Taming of the Shrew

In most stories or plays there are characters and usually they have an opposite. For example, there are heroes and villains, lovers and warriors, leaders and peasants, etc. The unique thing about William Shakespeare’s characters in The Taming of the Shrew is that he essentially foils every main character with another main character. For the most part, basic narratives have a main character, and a generic foil. However, Shakespeare foils the two males: Petruchio and Lucentio along with the leading females: Bianca and Katherine.

Petruchio is a selfish, boastful man who seemingly lives his daily life with the goal being to be as vain and uncaring as possible – especially in terms of love. The vain side of his personality is demonstrated by his attempt to “tame” Kate as he sees a happy marriage as only male domination. As the narrative unfolds a different, lighter side of Petruchio is shown, but not before Shakespeare characterizes him as a selfish individual. On the other hand, Lucentio is the caring, love seeking, warm man. He is overcome by love for Bianca and his gentleness is a key aspect of his personality. Compared to how Petruchio wants to “tame” his wife, Lucentio’s main goal is pleasing his wife.

Similar to the men in the play, the female characters are also parallel foils. Katherine is a strong woman who is foul mouthed and outspoken at the beginning of the play. She has an edge to her personality, and is seemingly proud to make it be known. In general, Katherine seems to be very unhappy, whether it be from jealousy or her low self-esteem about how men view her, Katherine is always in a foul mood. On the other hand, Bianca (Katherine’s younger sister) is the target of many male suitors and is warm and charming. In addition to her large dowry, Bianca has many qualities that males (especially Lucentio) are attracted to, and her outgoing and lovable characterization is essentially what drives the plot of Shakespeare’s play.

Since their father will not let the younger Bianca marry before Katherine, the plot is thrust into turmoil resulting in the brilliance in The Taming of the Shrew. The plot is not overly complex, but when looking at the fundamental techniques Shakespeare uses it is apparent characterization is one of the most important aspects of Shakespeare’s plays.

Michael Imperato

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