This extract is from one of William Shakespeare's famous plays, 'The Taming of the Shrew'. It was written in 1593. In this passage, a woman called Katharina defends and believes in her husband's sexist vision of women, even though she has been mistreated by him.
The first thing to notice is the use of ‘thy’, ‘thou’ and ‘thee’. They reflect a familiarity that gives the impression women are inferior, it debases them. In itself, the enumeration of the first two verses reveals a husband is everything to his wife.
Line 1, we can read ‘Thy husband is thy lord’. It means the wife must obey her husband because he is her lord, possibly her god, which is confirmed by ‘thy life’. It not only means she should only live for him, it also suggests the husband gives her life and is also entitled to take it away from her, just as God is. In line 2, we can read ‘Thy head’. It suggests the husband thinks for her wife so she should not try to think but do as instructed. Incidentally, it may be understood that women were considered as incapable of reflection and decision-making. This is in keeping with the word “keeper” which might suggest the husband plays the role of a ‘babysitter’ because he protects her wife and controls her, he always watches her, but of course for her own good, like a babysitter would do. Then, we can read ‘one that cares for thee”, which echoes ‘thy keeper’ on line 1. Those two expressions mean that the woman should obey and should not try to defend herself because her husband will always be here to defend her. It follows that if you say to someone they should not defend themselves, then they will be weak. And if the woman is attacked when her husband is not close to her, she won’t be able to defend herself. Thus, women are maintained in a constant state of dependence.
Lines 3 and 4, we can find an image that shows how hard the husband is working for her. The passage is clearly hyperbolic and it means to show that the husband could do everything for his wife, in a sort of heroic sacrifice. But we know he won’t do that ‘for free’. That is why he wants her to obey him. In addition, insisting on the so-called difficulties of a man’s life might make women think twice before asking for their place, it is a way to show them it’s a lot more comfortable to be a woman.
Then, line 5, we can find the word ‘watch’ which has a double meaning. It first means that the husband watches his wife to protect her, but also to control her. This quote, ’the night in storms, the day in cold’, not only shows he will protect her but also, ironically, that he will control his wife whatever happens, even at night or if it is cold. (ELIOTT)
From verses 6 to 10, Kathrina explains the three duties a woman should fulfill to please her husband. These three duties are "love, fair looks, and true obedience".
"Love" means the woman should be devoted to her husband, as she is supposed to love him. Of course, one might suppose that physical love is hinted at, as much as the feeling in itself.
"Fair looks" mean that the woman must always look beautiful to please her husband’s physical desires. We can say she is more considered as an object than as a human being.
"True obedience" means the woman must behave submissively to her husband: she is considered as her servant. The word "true" emphasizes the word "obedience", therefore we can consider this duty as the most important of all three. However, if obedience is a duty or an obligation, it can hardly be “true” in the same time; obedience cannot come both from one’s heart and one’s obligation to obey. This is an important contradiction in the ideology justifying women’s submission.
These three duties, if completed will mean that Katharina will always look up to her husband. Therefore, this system in which the woman is treated as inferior will remain because the woman will believe her husband is superior.
Katharina justifies a woman should complete these three duties by saying a woman "lies at home, secure and safe" thanks to her husband. She implies a woman should feel guilty for doing nothing compared to the absolute, heroic devotion of her loving husband. Likewise, the fact all this remains “too little” leads women to feel incapable of giving their husbands the satisfaction they deserve, hence a guilt complex which guarantees their feeling of inferiority.
Line 10 can be seen as a conclusion and a summary of these three duties. It says the woman is "the subject" of her husband, "the prince". Therefore, again, she is inferior and owes him duties. (JEAN)
Awaiting Soe's publication.