Title

Identity and Ostentation in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew

Subject Area

Literary Criticism

Abstract

As a keen observer of and commentator upon psychology and human behavior, Shakespeare, naturally, also delved frequently into social criticism. Much of Shakespeare’s social criticism finds its focus in the rapidly changing class structures of Elizabethan England and the ways the members of those classes derived and displayed self-definition through membership in their respective classes. In The Taming of the Shrew in particular, Shakespeare engages in a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, critique of the establishment of identity through the ostentatious display of wealth in clothing styles and other decorations of the body. Inspired by the costumes of the theater and the ease with which an actor altered his displayed identity with each change of clothing, Shakespeare explores the gain and loss of both social identity and self-definition made possible by changes of apparel in all three plots of the play: the metamorphosis of Christopher Sly from beggar to lord in the induction, the subplot in which Tranio and Lucentio exchange identities so that the latter may win the love of Bianca, and the main plot in which Petruchio tames the shrewish Katherine through a series of exercises exhibiting defiance of Elizabethan social norms. Through this exploration of the centrality of ostentation to the establishment and maintenance of identity, Shakespeare calls into question the solidity and stability of the social order as well as offering an admonitory commentary on the obsessive ostentation of the wealthy.

Brief Bio Note

David Withun is a first-year PhD student in literature at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama. He is also the history teacher at Savannah Classical Academy in Savannah, Georgia. His research interests are focused in early modern English literature, especially the work of William Shakespeare. In addition to his research in Shakespeare, Mr. Withun also acts in performances of Shakespeare's plays. Most recently, he played the part of Christopher Sly in a production of The Taming of the Shrew.

Keywords

Shakespeare, Identity, Wealth, Clothing, English, Elizabethan, Drama, Metamorphosis, Capitalism, Class

Location

Coastal Georgia Center

Presentation Year

2016

Start Date

4-7-2016 9:00 AM

End Date

4-7-2016 9:20 AM

Embargo

9-30-2015

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Apr 7th, 9:00 AM Apr 7th, 9:20 AM

Identity and Ostentation in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew

Coastal Georgia Center

As a keen observer of and commentator upon psychology and human behavior, Shakespeare, naturally, also delved frequently into social criticism. Much of Shakespeare’s social criticism finds its focus in the rapidly changing class structures of Elizabethan England and the ways the members of those classes derived and displayed self-definition through membership in their respective classes. In The Taming of the Shrew in particular, Shakespeare engages in a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, critique of the establishment of identity through the ostentatious display of wealth in clothing styles and other decorations of the body. Inspired by the costumes of the theater and the ease with which an actor altered his displayed identity with each change of clothing, Shakespeare explores the gain and loss of both social identity and self-definition made possible by changes of apparel in all three plots of the play: the metamorphosis of Christopher Sly from beggar to lord in the induction, the subplot in which Tranio and Lucentio exchange identities so that the latter may win the love of Bianca, and the main plot in which Petruchio tames the shrewish Katherine through a series of exercises exhibiting defiance of Elizabethan social norms. Through this exploration of the centrality of ostentation to the establishment and maintenance of identity, Shakespeare calls into question the solidity and stability of the social order as well as offering an admonitory commentary on the obsessive ostentation of the wealthy.