Talitha Benjamin

Professor Obermeier

English 200

8 December 1999

[comment1]Perceptual Manipulation in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew

     Teun A. Van Dijk, in his essay "Pragmatics and Poetics," explains the reason for speech is "to change the internal state of the hearer" (Dijk 30). Ferdinand de Saussure describes in his essay, "Nature of the Linguistic Sign," how a word is more connected to the minds of the speaker and the hearer than to anything else. He describes that the "linguistic sign" as a unit formed equally by the association of a "concept" and a "sound-image." The "sound-image" is what one would call a spoken word, something that "signifies." Saussure describes it as "the psychological imprint of the sound, the impression that it makes on our senses" (Saussure 832). He goes on to describe its materiality: "the sound-image is sensory" (Saussure 832). The term "concept" is summed-up as being "generally more abstract" (Saussure 833) than the "sound-image." The "concept," it appears, is what one would call objective perceptions, for example, the table, or an ox. A "concept" is anything that can be "signified." In The Taming of the Shrew Petruchio intends to break Katharina by disassociating her from her sense of reality by prying apart the linguistic unit she has intuitively taken for granted.
      The first scene demonstrates Katharina's personality through the interaction she has with her sister, Bianca, and her father, Baptista. She is shown to have "a devilish spirit" (Shakespeare 2.1, 25). Katharina has tied her sister's hands and is taunting her, goading her into telling her which of Bianca's suitors is her favorite. Petruchio, shortly afterwards, meets Baptista and speaks to him about Katharina. Instead of calling her a shrew, Petruchio compliments her on her "beauty and her wit, / Her affability and bashful modesty, / Her wonderous qualities and mild behavior" (Shakespeare 2.1, 47-9), all of which strike Baptista as so strange a depiction of his daughter Katharina that he thinks Petruchio must have mistaken her for a different girl. Petruchio has started the process that will disassociate Katharina from the world she knows to be true and make her dependent on the world he asserts to be true.
      Petruchio's claims of how sweet he has heard Katharina to be are the absolute opposite of how she is perceived by the other characters in the play. Katharina is notoriously un-sweet. Bent Rosenbaum explains in his essay, "The Discourse of Psychosis and the Process of Listening," that when speech is manipulated so that what is being spoken is radically different from what is spoken about, the spoken realm takes on a reality of its own. Whether or not this spoken realm is perceived by anyone but the speaker does not diminish its existence for the speaker and, by extension, those who respond to the speaker (Rosenbaum 206). Petruchio is constructing an identity for Katharina that contradicts completely the one Katharina herself demonstrates, and because he is stating it as if it were true it begins to take shape as a truth. Harly Sonne states that in certain forms of madness, language becomes "liberated from its otherwise tightly bound relations to what it means" (Sonne 228). Sonne says it is as if the linguistic sign has been abnormally broken down into its components, and the signifier begins to work independently of the signified (Sonne 228). Petruchio works in this model and madly separates signifier from signified.
      Petruchio gives a soliloquy in which he communicates his plan to "tame" Katharina. Petruchio says that he will present the world to her as the opposite of how she perceives it to be. When she frowns, he will "say she looks as clear / As morning roses" and when "she be mute and will not speak a word, / Then [he will] commend her volubility / And say she uttereth piercing eloquence" (Shakespeare 2.1, 169-72). By asserting to be true the opposite of what Katharina perceives, Petruchio intends to break her of her intuitive bond between the world as it is and the world as it is communicated. He wishes to break Katharina's association between the world and its signifiers. Jacques Derrida, in his essay "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," suggests that there is a structure that does not change, beneath a layering of words and concepts that do change (Derrida 879). Petruchio is aware of the relative independence of words from objects, or actions. He is in a position of power over Katharina who relies on the existence of a complete linguistic sign.
      Petruchio is not only destabilizing Katharina's perception of the world around her, but he is also misrepresenting her. Petruchio asserts the opposite of how Katharina is perceived by the other characters in the play. When speaking to her father, Petruchio states that Katharina is "not froward, but modest as the dove. / She is not hot, but temperate as the morn" (Shakespeare 2.1, 286-7). There is no apparent change in Katharina's attitude and nothing she has done validates his assertion that she is now sweet and "temperate" (Shakespeare 2.1, 287). Petruchio is creating a reality using nothing but words and imposing it on to the other characters in the play. His asserted reality is taken so far, that it traps Katharina into a marriage against her will. Katharina makes it clear to her father, and to Petruchio, that she does not want to marry Petruchio. Yet when Petruchio tells Baptista that they "have Īgreed so well together / That upon Sunday is the wedding day" (Shakespeare 2.1, 290-1), Baptista readily accepts Petruchio's invented reality over his daughters expressed wishes, and the wedding is set.
      In order to disassociate, for Katharina, the intuitive assumption that appearances and words have a structural attachment to something real, Petruchio dresses in a way that is opposed to what is expected, and he says the opposite of the truth. Petruchio then moves from demonstration to imposition and attempts to dress Katharina as he wishes. Katharina guesses correctly when she says to Petruchio, "you mean to make a puppet of me" (Shakespeare 4.3, 103). He has set up his invented reality and made it clear that he will act according to his invented customs and perceptions despite the other characters in the play. Petruchio now begins to force Katharina to acknowledge his reality over the one she perceives. Weakened by lack of sleep and food, Katharina, in her last attempt to defend her vision of reality, refuses to be dressed by Petruchio. It is the last time she speaks of the connection between her words and a passion or an emotion she feels: "My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, / Or else my heart, concealing it, will break" (Shakespeare 4.3, 77-8); she never expresses her anger and her utterances become shorter and shorter as Petruchio wins control of them.
      Petruchio constructs a separate reality that works independently of any form of objective reality. It is fair to say that Petruchio has invented a cage to keep Katharina once she is caught. In Petruchio's created world, Katharina will be dependant on him for guidance because it is a world of arbitrary signifiers. Katharina becomes dependant on Petruchio at the same time the word "say" comes to have more validation than the word "know." It is day when Petruchio says "it is the moon that shines so bright," and Katharina responds to him by saying "I know it is the sun that shines so bright" (Shakespeare 4.5, 5-6). He has her trapped, if she does not agree with him he will punish her. Katharina relinquishes what she "knows" in favor of what he "says": "I say it is the moon" and Katharina responds with "I know it is the moon" (Shakespeare 4.5, 16-17). Katharina does not try to argue or fight with Petruchio, instead she easily accepts his worded perception over what she knows to be true. He leads her back and forth, from the reality she perceives to the reality he asserts. He addresses Vincentio as a "gentle mistress" and urges Katharina to do the same, and when she has done so, he drags her back by saying Vincentio "is a man, old, wrinkled, faded, withered" (Shakespeare 4.5, 42).
      Petruchio succeeds in separating the signifier from the signified. He succeeds in creating a situation in which Katharina depends on him for clues on how his world is currently being perceive. Katharina learned well from Petruchio how to separate the meaning from an utterance. She demonstrates how well she can say it is night when it is day, and how she has learned to say an old man is a young maiden, and then an old man again. But in a world where there is no accordance between what is said and what is felt or perceived, the spoken word loses its value. Katharina can say what she pleases without any care for meaning. With this in mind, it is hard to tell if Petruchio's plan to "tame" her has worked, or if it has set her free.

Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques. "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and
            Contemporary Trends
. Ed. David H. Richter. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford Books, 1998. 878-889.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. "Nature of the Linguistic Sign." The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and  Contemporary Trends. Ed.       David H. Richter. 2nd ed. Boston : Bedford Books, 1998. 832-835.

Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Ed. Frances E. Dolan. Boston : Bedford Books, 1996.

Sonne, Harly. "Literature: Madness and Literature; Psychiatry and Criticism." Approaches to Discourse, Poetics, and Psychiatry.       Eds. Iris M. Zavala et al. 4 vols. Philadelphia : John Benjamins, 1987. 223-233.

Rosenbaum, Bent. "The Discourse of Psychosis and the Process of Listening." Approaches to  Discourse, Poetics, and Psychiatry.       Eds. Iris M. Zavala et al. 4 vols. Philadelphia : John Benjamins, 1987. 201-213.

Van Dijk, Teun A. ""Pragmatics and Poetics." Pragmatics of Language and Literature. Eds. Teun A. Van Dijk and William O.       Hendricks. 2 vols. Amsterdam : North-Holland, 1976.1: 23-57.