William Shakespeare and John Fletcher were writing partners so it is not surprising that their stories shared the same subject matter. Jonathan Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed or The Woman’s Prize is often considered the sequel to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. While a continuation of Shakespeare’s work, it offers a new understanding of the original as well. Their respective characterization and mood offer insight into Shakespeare and Fletcher as playwrights.
Fletcher and Shakespeare’s Petruchio in both plays is striving for control in their relationships however, in Petruchio’s portrayal in The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare puts much more emphasis on the emotional and physical manipulation of his wife Katherina.
This is illustrated in scene 5 where Petruchio says “…for you are called plain Kate.”(5.180) But this abuse only worsens, in Scene 9 Shakespeare reveals the character’s cruel intentions in a monologue where he opens with “I have politicly begun my reign.” (9.158). In Shakespeare’s diction, specifically, the word “reign” highlights the notion that Petruchio sees himself as a King in their marriage.
Petruchio continues in line where he says “That bate and beat and will not be obedient. She eats no meat today, nor none shall eat.”(9.165-166) Here he is essentially saying that throwing the food out was just a ploy and that she will not eat until she is fully obedient much like the servants to a King. Petruchio emphasizes this type of behavior again when he deprives her of sleep which he mentions in the same monologue “Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not; As with the meat.
In Fletcher’s play, Petruchio again attempts to manipulate his wife but Maria is not as easily manipulated as Katherina. As a result, Fletcher can drastically change Petruchio’s characterization. Throughout the play, he is often characterized as the victim which contrasts Petruchio’s previous notion of that of a king. In the first scene Tranio says in a discussion of Petruchio, “For yet bare remembrance of his first wife, Will make him start in ’s sleep, and Cry out for Cudgels.”(1.1.31-34) He continues, “Since his first marriage, He is no more still Petrucio Than I am Babylon.”(1.1.36-38) This establishes his new position as a victim early on in the play. Instead of torturing Maria the way he did Katherina, Petruchio attempts to manipulate her through sympathy. An example of this is at the climax of the play where he pretends to be dead. While at a glance, Petruchio pretending to be dead is arguably manipulative and cruel, Fletcher uses this extreme as a plea for pity which is more human and less cruel than starving someone however this victimization highlights the new tactics Petruchio is utilizing.
Another key aspect that separates Fletcher’s portrayal of Petruchio from Shakespeare’s is identified in his specific desires. Shakespeare characterizes Petruchio as someone whose main desire is wealth through the relationship. Shakespeare expresses Petruchio’s urge for power in Scene 4 in a conversation with Hortensio and Grumio,“ I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua.”(4. 70-71) Furthermore, this is highlighted by Hortensio
“Why give him gold enough and marry him to
a puppet or an aglet-baby; or an old trot with ne’er
a tooth in her head, though she has as many diseases
as two and fifty horses: why nothing comes amiss,
so money comes withal.”(4.73-76)
Hortensio encapsulates Petruchio’s motives that he will marry anyone no matter how undesirable they are, just as long as they hold monetary value. Shakespeare even has Petrus chio agree to this saying “Hortensio, peace. Thou knowest not gold’s effect.” In other words, Hortensio should not overlook the power of money. (4.87)
In The Tamer Tamed, Fletcher makes Petruchio a much more sexually motivated being. Petruchio still desires power in the relationship, but his desires have transitioned from money to being focused primarily on sex. This can be seen vividly by descriptions of his wife Maria, who references his head always being in her crotch saying “ To be made a man, for yet he is a monster. Here must his head be, Livia—!” (1.2.105-106) This heavy desire for sex is expressed constantly throughout the story and is arguably the main focus of the plot. An example of this would be, in act one scene three where he constantly attempts to have intercourse with her. Maria says “till your own experience do untie it, This distance I must keep.”(1.3.168) meaning she will keep her distance and not sleep with him because of his past behavior. He expresses this sexual frustration by saying, “I am angry, very angry.”(1.3.169)
These divergences between Fletcher from Shakespeare’s Petruchio create a new character. While the new Petrichio is still intent on control of his relationship, his desires and how he goes about expressing these desires illuminate the audience into Fletcher as a playwright. Shakespeare was more focused on physical abuse with the motive focusing on money. While Fletchers focuses on the emotional abuse as well as stresses the primal desires of Petruchio. These distinctions of the same character are what distinguish these playwrights apart, even while tackling the same material.
The Taming of the Shrew and The Tamers Tamed’s mood plays an important role that separates Shakespeare’s and Fletcher’s works. These differences can be seen in Katherina and Maria’s last monologues. Shakespeare presents a mood intent on a comedy but feels much darker. As seen in Katherina’s monologue in scene 16, she completely submits to Petruchio. “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper.”(16.144) Shakespeare having Katherina compare Petruchio to a king with the word “lord” even after all the suffering Petruchio has caused her emphasizes the twisted nature of this play. Katherina says:
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord? (16.155-158)
Katherina referring to herself as a “Rebel” and “traitor” if she does not obey Petruchio enhances this dark atmosphere Shakespeare has presented.
In contrast, Fletcher creates a much lighter mood by turning the table on Petruchio and having Maria hold control. This is seen when Petruchio goes to the extreme of faking his Petruchiodeath just to get an emotional response from Maria. However, Petruchio is treated with just the opposite at his funeral when Maria reveals such pity in her final monologue for her dead husband “His poor unmanly wretched foolish life,Is that my full eyes pity, there’s my mourning.” (5.4.20-21) Maria goes on to insight describe how she sees Petruchio as lower than a man “To think what this man was, to think how simple, How far below a man, how far from reason.”(5.4.23-24) This coupled with the dramatic irony of the audience knowing that Petruchio is faking offers a much lighter atmosphere.
Both end with Petruchio ultimately happy, however, Shakespeare and Fletcher stray drastically apart in their mood. One sees the submission of a tortured wife while the other, the submission of a misguided man. This in turn provides insightinsigt into just how different, playwrights Shakespeare and Fletcher were. These different paths to roughly the same conclusion reveal how distinctively they wrote.