I grieve and dare not show my discontent;
I love, and yet am forced to seem to hate;
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant;
I seem stark mute, but inwardly do prate.
I am, and not; I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned. –Queen Elizabeth I
To hold a nation in the palm of her hands for forty-five years…Queen Elizabeth I cannot be overlooked as a visionary leader of her time. Not that her kingdom was peaceful or free from problems or a perfect model of government–far from that, but she managed to unite a kingdom and make it strong so that it could withstand most tyranny that tried to breach it.
How did Elizabeth do it? Shakespeare reflected the popular views of women in all of his plays. Property was owned by the husband. Children were owned by the husband. The only time property rights were given to a woman were if she was a widow and even then property ownership was not guaranteed. If a brother of her husband, her son, or other male heir apparent was available, he would more likely gain control of all goods, land, and children (“more likely”-does not mean it wasn’t possible or didn’t happen).
Elizabeth did not marry (that we know of) or have children (that we know of) and with divine right maintained all power, authority, and property of the Tudor line. If she had married, she would have lessened her status and control, even if by blood she was the true ruler. If Elizabeth did not have the cunning to rule over a male saturated society, her kingdom would not have lasted and at the very least would have been ineffective. But Elizabeth saw how to rule and how to manipulate men, most likely with some observations based upon her father, her sister, her mother, and step-mothers, and allowed men to feel like they had control over the government while she maintained ultimate power and authority over the government. She would not have held this sway and would not have created a legacy if she had been subject to a man and yet she had to make men believe that she was maintaining a man’s nation and that they were the cornerstone of society.
Baptista sees this. Katerina has no divine blood line with which to call on for authority. With no male heirs, Baptista’s property will be passed down to his/her daughters’ husbands (ours will be a her). By law, when Katerina and Bianca marry, their property will be passed down to their husbands. If Katerina does not marry, all property will be passed down to Bianca’s husband and Katerina will be at the mercy of Bianca’s husband. If someone married Katerina, he would have three options: to be violently abusive, divorce her, or learn to live with her as an equal.
Why can’t Katerina subjugate a man? Her very overt hostility towards men makes them self-conscious and insecure and would make them want to control her even more for that reason. One of the great tricks of the widow and Bianca is that by the end of the play they no longer answer to anyone but Katerina after seeming to be so meek and feminine and therefore truly are in control of their relationships.
Katerina ends up with a partnership of equality and understanding, which may make her seem weaker in comparison, but is actually stronger in that Petruchio’s manhood will never be questioned and yet Katerina has full say in matters of their relationship. Lucentio and Hortensio are more likely to become cuckolds who are only seen as authority by virtue of their property ownership who are secretly lessened in estimation by their lack of control over their wives.
A known, violently abusive relationship was not tolerated by Protestant, Elizabethan society and short of murder, Katerina was not one to be kept silent. Divorce was difficult to procure and difficult to recover from in Elizabethan society. While it was possible because of Henry the Eighth and the Anglican Church, divorce was still looked upon as highly dishonorable and immoral. If a man did so, he was subject to disgrace and even difficulty of ever remarrying which would disgrace his entire family. Yes, he would maintain property rights, but he would not be a man of high respect in society.
So the only way to procure Baptista’s property without dealing with Katerina would have been to marry Bianca and for Katerina to have been an old maid subject to Bianca’s husband. Bianca’s husband could easily have been cruel and abusive to Katerina as unmarried women were often looked upon as evil and even as witches; so if Baptista did not guarantee Katerina’s property ownership she would have been left to a fate worse than death or even simply an abusive life and cruel death. While Katerina’s may seem to have been neglected, she actually was fully looked after that a man would not simply own her because he owned her sister and her father/mother’s property. Katerina would be ensured that either she would have property ownership as being one of Baptista’s only heirs or because she had control through her marriage.