Taming Trope Turnabout: John Fletcher’s The Woman’s Prize, or the Tamer Tamed
AbstractWithin literature and history exists a long-standing tradition of men tyrannizing over women and harsh penalties for any woman who does not conform to society’s expectations. From these trends emerged the taming tradition, almost how-to guidebooks, in which a representative
patriarch subdues and reforms an unruly woman. This man, most notably Petruchio from William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, controls the errant female via her output in physical pleasures, will power, and ability to speak. With the transition into the Jacobean era, many changes were taking place; government and society were adapting, and there was
widespread debate about customary gender roles. Playwright John Fletcher responded to the taming trope but told the story directly reversed in his work The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed, where a woman character shows Shakespeare’s Petruchio—now a widower—how to behave, thereby earning a companionable kind of equality in her marriage to the former
woman-tamer. Though likely intended as a parody, or even a cruel kind of comedy where the humor comes from the impossibility of the situation, this text complicates the taming tradition by directly reversing the gender roles. Despite situating the woman as the tamer over the errant husband, however, Fletcher’s play utilizes the customary elements of a taming tale and ultimately finds its happy ending in the protagonists settling back into traditional roles within the gender hierarchy. While contemporary audiences might have found this comedic, the modern feminist can read into this dramatic situation the fomentation of gender discontent.
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