Mary Vermazen12/6/2018English 407Professor OlsenPortia and Katerina’s lack of Choice and Transformation in Shakespeare’s Comedies William Shakespeare has a common theme regarding the lack of choice women have when choosing a husband. In fact, most of the time, the women in his stories have no choice at all, and the marriages are either arranged or forced. Many times, the men are the ones in control, either the father of the woman or the man pursuing her. In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, Portia struggles with this issue with her father’s expectations of the man she marries in in his will, even though he is diseased.
In one of Shakespeare’s other comedy’s The Taming of the Shrew, Katerina faces the same issue with the pressure to marry before her younger sister, Bianca, as well as pressure from Petruchio, who makes it clear that he will marry her with or without her consent. In both plays, both Portia and Katerina suffer with having a voice in their decision to choose their husbands.
The women here have two key similarities, which in turn, effects their outcome: the men who control their ability to choose and how this issue ties into their drastic transformations from start to finish. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Portia faces difficulty coming to terms with the will her father has left behind regarding how a man must choose the correct box between three in order to marry her. This situation affects Portia in various way, as it makes it difficult for suitors to even want to try and court her, making her a difficult candidate for marriage. In addition, she does not want to break away from her father’s word, which indicates that she is still under her father’s control even after he has passed away. She expresses concern for this issue in Act 1, Scene 2 to her servant Nerissa by saying: It is a good divine that follows his own instructions. I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of twenty to follow mine own teaching. The brain my devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps o’er the meshes of good counsel, the cripple. But this reasoning is not in fashion to choose me a husband (Shakespeare 1.2. 13-19). Here, Portia is conflicted, since she does not want to go through with her father’s will, but she still feels a need to stay true to his word. This shows that even though her father is no longer alive, he still has an aspect of control over her decision-making process with marriage. By saying the reasoning behind her father’s will for a man being able to court her is not in fashion, indicating that even though she would like to respect her father’s wishes, the contract in his will is unreasonable. Portia goes on to say: I may neither choose who I would nor refuse who I dislike, so is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of a dead fatherI cannot choose one nor refuse one (1.2. 20-23). Here, Portia is discussing a much deeper issue: lack of choice regarding her desire to enjoy her future husband’s company. Even if a man does choose the correct box, she may not connect with him the way she might with a man who choses the incorrect box. Like anyone, Portia desires a loving relationship, whilst her father’s will shows no concern for. This is telling for how women’s marital choice and overall well-being not being an issue of concern in the era of Shakespeare’s plays. In Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, the title itself is an example of society’s views about women during Shakespeare’s time. Katerina is an outspoken, woman who Petruchio promises to tame into a submissive woman fit to be a wife. However, like Portia, Katerina faces pressure from her father to marry since her younger sister, Bianca already has suitors lined up and cannot marry until her older sister does so. In the first act, Baptista explains this to the suitors when introducing his daughters. He says:For now 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 Katerina, because I know you well and love you well, Leave shall you have to court her at your pleasure (Shakespeare 1.1. 51-54). Here, Baptista, like Portia’s father, has strict guidelines suitors must follow before marrying his daughters. Since he knows Bianca is a more ideal candidate for a wife, he is putting pressure on not only the suitors, but an immense amount on Katerina. It is clear Baptista is not paying much mind to his daughter’s will to chose as he is seemingly treating her as if she is an object merely destined to be auctioned off to a man who choses her. The way he speaks to the suitors resembles a sort of sweet talk as if he is selling her. This is evident when he says, court her at your pleasure, neglecting any concern for his own daughter’s pleasure and well-being in a marriage. Since Katerina is outspoken, considered as obnoxious and not a timid, subordinate woman fit to fill the role as a wife, the suitors openly express distaste for her. Gremio does this by saying: To cart her rather. She is too rough for me (1.1. 55-56), whilst Hortensio agrees by saying: Mates, maid? How mean you that? No mates for you (1.1. 58-59). Gremio and Hortensio’s response to Baptista are clear: they don’t want to marry an outspoken woman like Katerina. However, in their eyes, Bianca, who is considered timid and well-mannered is an ideal wife, who is less likely to cause any friction and speak her own mind, which Katerina has no issues with in the beginning. Portia and Katerina are both affected by their father’s in terms of their lack of choice when it comes down to deciding who they will marry. However, Katerina faces more pressure from her future husband, Petruchio whilst Portia desires to marry Bassanio but fears he will not pass her father’s tedious test. Unlike Portia, Katerina initially does not want to marry Petruchio, even though he is the only man who agrees to court her. Petruchio pressures Katerina tremendously, more so than her own father by threatening, giving her no choice. He even uses her father’s desire for her to marry to further manipulate her into marrying him. He does so by saying: 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 your husband for your turnThou must be married to no man but me (2.1. 264-72). In Petruchio’s speech here, he is making it clear that he intends to be in control of the decision. He is using forceful and aggressive tactics in order to ger what he wants. By mentioning the fact that Baptista has already consented, he is clearly trying to further manipulate Katerina since he knows her father stresses his rule that his eldest daughter marry before his youngest. By saying things like I will marry you, I am your husband as well as telling her she can marry no man but me, he is asserting his dominance over Katerina, which further emphasizes her lack of choice as a woman. In a much different scenario, Bassanio still uses manipulation in his attempt to court Portia but is by no means crude or forceful in doing so. Since Bassanio needs to be somewhat well off to be considered a worthy candidate to court Portia, he knows he must put on a front and find a way to use money to do so. When Bassanio requests to borrow money from Antonio, he explains his desire to win over Portia and how having money will work in his favor. Bassanio says: In Belmont is a lady richly left, and she is fair, and fairer than that word, of wondrous virtuesHer name is Portia, nothing undervalued to Cato’s daughterAnd many Jasons come in quest of her. O my Antonio, had I but the means to hold a rival place with one of them. I have a mind presages me such thrift that I should questionless be fortunate (1.2. 161-76). Here, Bassanio explains to Antonio that he needs money, so he will have a better chance winning over Portia as his wife. This indirectly affects Portia’s choice since Bassanio is being deceitful in order to become more appealing to Portia. Like, Petruchio, Bassanio uses manipulative tactics, however, in a much less forceful way. Bassanio knows that many suitors are superior to him financially, so he knows he must accumulate money in some way, so Portia will want to marry him. While he does not have ill intent, Bassanio is still affecting Portia’s already tainted ability to choose a suitor to some extent by lying about his social class status. The endings of each play have two different outcomes when it comes to Portia and Katerina’s ability of choice and control in their marriage. Portia’s outcome is more empowering as she proves she can control a potentially fatal situation by posing as a man and saving Antonio’s life. She proves that she is in control in the end, especially over Bassanio but also in a way over her father as well. When Bassanio says to Antonio: I am married to a wife which is dear to me as life itselfI would lose allsacrifice them allto deliver to you (4.1. 281-84), he betrays her trust further than he already has. Portia’s response proves she feels betrayal and anger towards her husband when she says: Your wife would give you little thanks for that (4.1. 286). Perhaps Portia is angry because she is proving loyalty by working to save Antonio, and Bassanio has lied to her and given so little to her in return. Even though Portia feels betrayed, her outcome is still more empowering than Katerina’s in a way that she ends up confronting her husband’s mistakes. This is when Portia regains her control and asserts authority in her marriage. She does so by saying: Mark you but that? In both my eyes he doubly sees himself; In each eye one. Swear by your double self, and there’s an oath of credit! (5.1. 243-46). Here, Portia speaks up by telling Bassanio she is not blind to his deceit and she accepts him to own up to it and stay loyal to her as her husband. She later goes on to further assert herself when she reveals her disguise as a man: Here is a letter; read it at your leisureThere you shall find that Portia was the doctor, Nerissa there her clerkUnseal this letter soon. There you shall find three of your argosies are richly come to harbor suddenly. You shall not know by what strange accident I chanced on this letter (5.1. 266-79). Here, Portia’s speech shows how far she has come since the beginning of the play. By revealing her disguise, she proves to them men in the room, especially Bassanio, that she has the ability of power, authority, and control even more so than they do as men. This is quite a transformation, as Portia previously was a woman controlled by men in her life, namely her father through his will. This scene, in addition to scene 4, is almost like a rebirth for Portia since she gains control and proves to her husband that she will not tolerate being belittled. While Portia ends up gaining control over her lack of choice, unfortunately Katerina receives a much different outcome. Katherina’s final speech is much less empowering as she becomes more submissive in comparison to her initial strong willed, outspoken character. In her final speech, Katerina says: Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeperplace your hands below your husband’s foot; in token of which duty he please (5.2. 146-78). In contrast to Portia’s speech, Katerina’s speech expresses that she feels her husband must be in control in the marriage and that she must serve him as he pleases. This is most evident when she mentions that women should kneel to their husbands as a means of obeying his wishes. The lack of choice women have in choosing their spouses in Shakespeare’s plays The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew, work out in different ways in the end. While Katerina portrays herself as a hot-headed, wild woman who is not seen as marriage material, she is still affected by not having a choice in who she marries. In contrast, Portia, who at first is so wrapped up with following her father’s rule, gains a sense of authority, something so unimaginable as a woman during this time. Each woman goes through a drastic transformation by the end of the play which ties into their power to choose. Thus, Portia’s in the end gains a voice as a woman, while Katerina is silenced in the end. Works CitedThe Merchant of Venice, The Norton Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare et al., W.W. Norton, 2008, pp. 1339″1393.The Taming of the Shrew, The Norton Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare et al., W.W. Norton, 2008, pp. 352-414.