In the Name of the Father

Last month, we took a look at parenting in Titus Andronicus, so this month let’s do it again with some random thoughts on fatherhood in The Taming of the Shrew.

There are two fathers in the play.  Baptista is father to two daughters (that we know of), while Vincentio is father to one son (that we know of).  Thus, even to start, it cannot be a simple comparison.  And since we have much more opportunity for viewing Baptista (68 compared to 23 speeches), let’s take a look at what roles he plays…

  • A protector to his daughters, at once an obstacle to the wooing of Bianca and a prescriber of a suitor for Kate:

    Gentlemen, importune me no further,
    For how I firmly am resolved you know;
    That is, not to bestow my youngest daughter
    Before I have a husband for the elder.

    — I.i.48-51

  • A protector of his daughter Bianca from Kate: “Why, how now, dame,whence grows this insolence? // Bianca, stand aside” (II.i.23-24)
  • A protector to his daughters, acting as a vetter of suitors and a negotiator of dowries (both in Act Two, Scene One)
  • A sympathizer for his daughter Kate: “Go, girl, I cannot blame thee nowto weep, // For such an injury would vex a saint” (III.ii.27-28)
  • A protector of his daughter Kate, in scolding Petruchio:

    Why, sir, you know this is your wedding-day.
    First were we sad, fearing you would not come;
    Now sadder that you come so unprovided.
    Fie, doff this habit, shame to your estate,
    An eyesore to our solemn festival!

    — III.ii.95-99

  • then as a father-in-law, a backer of Lucentio’s bet with Petruchio: “Son, I’ll be your half” (V.ii.79)

On the other hand, Vincentio plays but one role, that of supporter, both financially (“What if a man bring him a hundred pound or two, to make merry withal” [V.i.19-20]), and emotionally (“Oh, my son, my son! Tell me, thou villain, where is my son Lucentio” [V.i.80-82]).

But how much of this is a gender issue?

Baptista has to play a more protective role as his children are female, and the natural instinct toward protection.  Vincentio, however, has a grown son and while he doesn’t need to protect his son, he does want to support him.

One interesting aspect of fatherhood (primarily again on the son, and stemming from the supportive notion above) is that the very name of the father is enough to represent the son.  When Baptista shows some reluctance at Petruchio’s wooing of Kate, Petruchio plays his trump card: “Petruchio is my name, Antonio’s son, // A man well know throughout all Italy” (II.i.68-69).  This convinces Baptista as he responds, “I know him well, you are welcome for his sake” (II.i.70).

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