Much a do about nothing Katharina and Beatrice are both similar characters. They each are plagued with unrequited love, and depressed by their own inability to woo the suitor of their choosing. Each of them are unable to accept the female role of passivity. Although both women seem to accept their roles of wives at the conclusion of the plays. Upon further examination, one will find that Beatrice is a much more complex character. One would have to agree with the critic who said, “Katharina is a character sketched in bold, rapid stokes, with none of Beatrice’s sophistication, verbal brilliance, or emotional depth.” In Taming of the Shrew, the first introduction to Katharina, by Gremio and Hortensio, tells that she is a shrew, (1.I .54-60) and that she will never find a groom. When she first speaks we see her responding to these insults, but she was provoked so her words seem appropriate.
Yet as the play continues we see Katharina tying up Bianca, (2.I.29) and hitting her. This can be rejected as sibling rivalry, but later Katharina slaps Petruchio when he is trying to woo her (2.I.214). Katharina seems to have a physically violent side that isn’t present in Beatrice. She also does not seem to have as strong as a character as Beatrice, especially when one considers that Petruchio was able to tame her in a very short time. In the opening scene of Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice says some harsh things about Benedick (1.I.37-43). She seems to be unprovoked but very rigid in her opinion of him.
In Leonato’s house, the discussion of Beatrice and marriage leads her uncle to conclude that, “Thou will never get thee a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue.”(2.I.18-19) Beatrice will participate in a verbal game of wit by exchanging words with Benedick but she is more sophisticated than to just slap him for no apparent reason. Beatrice is also very sociable with other people and seems to be a shrew just when talking about Benedick and other males. Not unlike Katharina, who was told she would marry Petruchio (2.I.260-268), Beatrice does not consent to marry Benedick directly. Beatrice has to be entrapped with the love sonnets that Hero stole from her pocket (5.IV.88-90). Even at the conclusion of the play, it seems as though Beatrice will not change her attitudes, just her status as an unma! rried woman.
Both Beatrice and Katharina participate in stichomythia, a kind of verbal Ping-Pong match, with their suitors. Katharina seems to go for the vulgar and obscene insults like, “No cock of mine. You crow too like a craven.” (2.I.222) Most of Katharina’s lines are short, two or three lines at a time, and she does not use very many complicated analogies. Beatrice is not obscene in her exchange of words with Benedick, but she seems to have more to say and does more than just respond to insults. Katharina does not seem to be the type of person to write love sonnets about Petruchio, yet Beatrice did write them about Benedick (5.IV.88-90). Beatrice seems to reflect strong verbal feelings of disgust with Benedick and his going off to be a soldier, “I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he killed? For indeed, I promised to eat all of his killing.” (1.I.36-43) Katharina reflects bitter feelings because her sister has more suitors than ! she, but her statements are neither strong nor memorable.
Both women have an emotional side, yet Katharina seems more shallow, and the audience seems to understand why she does what she does. Beatrice, on the other hand, is harder to figure out. She spits insults at Benedick one minute and the next writes love sonnets about him. She seems to switch moods rapidly and without apparent reason. An example that show the emotional depth of each women is the idea that neither of them are being wooed by suitors. Katharina, “cursed Kate”, openly shows her jealousy of her younger sister, while she is being passed and even avoided by suitors because of her tendency to speak her mind. She reveals this attitude by stating about Bianca, “She is your treasure, she must have a husband; I must dance barefoot on her wedding day, and for your love to lead her apes in hell.
Talk not to me. I will go sit and weep till I can find occasion of revenge.” (2.I.31-35) Beatrice speaks of a similar attitude when her cousin Hero is to be married to Cla! udio, “Good Lord, for alliance! Thus goes everyone to the world but I, and I am sunburnt. I may sit in a corner and cry ‘Heigh-ho for a husband!'” (2.I.314-316). In the context of both of these plays, there is more sorrow for Beatrice since she is a more likable character. When Katharina speaks of crying in a corner, she claims she will do so until she is able to find a way to revenge the fact she has no suitors, but Beatrice blames her lack of suitors on her lack of beauty. It is easier to sympathize with one that is ugly than one that is mean, cruel and trying to seek revenge on everyone.
When the chronology of plays is looked at, it is easy to see that as Shakespeare writes more plays his characters get more complicated. It is easy to assume that had Shakespeare written The Taming of the Shrew later, Katharina might have been more complex and brilliant. Just like, if Much Ado About Nothing had been written earlier, Beatrice might have been simpler and less verbal. In the first plays, women do not play as big as a role as the men, but as Shakespeare wrote more, the women seem to be more able to stand on their own. Katharina does not seem to be an equal partner for Petruchio yet Beatrice does seem to be equal to Benedict.
This is because Beatrice is a more round, complex and emotionally understandable a character than Katharina. When one thinks of the conclusions of the plays it is easy to see this. Petruchio has made Katharina change thought cruel and evil tactics, yet Beatrice will probably continue to argue with Benedick since that is the basis of ! their relationship. A stronger, deeper character is harder to change than a shallow, weaker one. When Katharina responds to the calls of her husband, the audience is able to see the weakness in her character. Katharina and Beatrice are nobody’s fools.
They are each resolute and know their own mind. They choose to take a different path than the one that society feels they should take. At the conclusion of both plays, the concept of choice and free-will is applied to both characters. Katharina chooses to do what her husband asks her to do while Beatrice chooses to marry Benedick. It is very important to note this when comparing the two characters.
The fact that neither woman was a helpless pawn in the play is important. But the most important thing to note is that the weaker of the two did change her attitudes, beliefs and actions in order to become a better wife for her husband. Both women seem to be happy as do the men and like most conclusions of Shakespeare’s plays, all the loose ends are tied up.