Obedience in The Taming of the Shrew
An Islamic Perspective
By Rasha El-Haggan, English Major at University of Maryland Baltimore County (Copyrighted 1998)
And among his signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts); Verily in that are signs for those who reflect (Qur’an, 30:21)

It is He who created you from a single person and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her (in love0. When they are united, she bears a light burden and carries it about (unnoticed). When she grows heavy, they both pray to Allah, their Lord (saying) "If you give us a goodly child, we vow we shall (ever) be grateful. (Qur’an 7:189)

Islam, Christianity, and Judaism since their inception have had a profound impact on male-female relationships. All three faiths have set the standards on the roles of wives towards husbands, husbands towards wives, and both towards their respective families. All seem to agree that in a marriage the wife must obey her husband.

William Shakespeare in his play, The Taming Of The Shrew, explores this concept of obeying one’s husband within the husband/wife relationship. The play challenges our nowadays feminine attitude towards the marital vows of "honor and obey." Looking at the play from a strictly religions standpoint, one may see Katherine as a shrewish wife with a strong need to be tamed. Although a strong Christian presence serves as a backdrop to the play, it would be interesting to explore the play from the view of other religions, in particular from an Islamic perspective. Viewed from this angle, one discovers that Petruchio uses many devices to ensure the obedience of Katherine. Although his ends might be Islamically feasible, his means are very un-Islamic.

First, Petruchio realizes that to have a successful marriage, he needs Kate to fully obey his every command. Religions all around the world have struggled with this concept. Secular feminine organizations have tried their best to erase any concept of "obeying thy husband" from existence, thinking the concept is ancient and bias when in actuality it has high social merit. In Islam a husband is morally and religiously obligated by God to care for his wife financially, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), said in a hadith said that "All of you are caretakers, one of the other. A man is the caretaker of those under his care and a woman is the caretaker of those under her care." Since a man is responsible for the protection, happiness, and maintenance of his wife, God has given him a degree of power over his wife. Otherwise, it would be similar to voting for a president, but not giving him the rights to rule a country.

God says in the Qur’an: The wives rights (with regards to their husbands) are equal to the (husband’s) rights with regard to them, although men have a degree (of advantage) over them. Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise. (Qur’an 2:228)

Although this verse from Surat Al-Baqara might sound discriminating towards women at first glance, it is in fact full of hidden wisdom. For example, living in today’s society, can one imagine doing anything without the supervision of a leader? Even our teachers in high school always emphasized the importance of leaders and leadership. In the workforce, every company has a president, every project has a project manager, and every division has a director. Globally, every school has a principal, every city has a mayor, every state has a governor, and every country has a president. Why should marriage be any different? In fact, since marriage is a much important project, the emphasis on leadership should be greater.

Also, since in an Islamic marriage a man has the bigger responsibility of providing for the family financially, mentally, physically, emotionally, and morally, he is in front of God the leader of the relationship. Keeping that in mind, the purpose of obedience in the relationship is to keep the family unit running as smoothly as possible. The man has been given the right to be obeyed because he is the leader and not because he is superior. If a leader is not obeyed, his leadership will become invalid. Imagine a king or a teacher or a parent without the necessary authority which has been entrusted to them.

Obedience also does not mean blind obedience. It is subject to conditions. For instance, it is required only if what is asked from the wife is within the permissible categories of action. It also must be maintained only with regard to matters that fall under the husband’s rights (i.e the wife must be faithful, trustworthy, and honest). Obeying one’s husband in no way demeans the role of the wife. Her role is as important. She is the center of the family and if she is weak, the family will crumble. Going back to our play, Petruchio had every right to demand Kate’s obedience as long as she demanded his protection and respect. Thus, Shakespeare’s emphasis on Kate obeying Petruchio agrees partially with the Islamic perspective on the subject.

Personally, although I am a Muslim woman, I have found it very hard to simply obey my husband, especially when I’m in disagreement with him. I have found myself repeatedly more knowledgeable when it comes to matters of the American society, especially since his experience is limited to Egyptian and Australian societies. At many times I find myself arguing with him about many of his decisions. Fortunately, Islam has made allowances for cases such as I. God commands the husband to consult his wife in all matters. In fact, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was known to consult Aisha, his wife, in matters of the state and matters of their own marriage. Although obeying another human might be hard for some people, it is essential. If there was ever a ship with two captains it would inevitably sink, for one captain would steer it West while the other steers it East.

Because Petruchio had the right to demand Kate’s obedience, he also had obligations to treat her with respect. Unfortunately, Petruchio did no such thing. He not only humiliated Kate in front of her peers and servants, but he also undermined her intelligence. For example, after their wedding ceremony, Petruchio demands that his wife come home with him without even allowing her to enjoy her own wedding celebrations. Even after she "entreats" (Act III, Scene II, Line 198) him, he refuses, "But for my bonny Kate, she must with me" (Act III, Scene II, Line 226).

Islamically this behavior is frowned upon. A husband should try his best to indulge his wife especially on her wedding day. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) indulged his wife, Aisha, at all times, especially when there were festivities involved. In a hadith, Aisha reportedly heard an Abyssinian entertainment team playing outside their house, the Prophet said to Aisha, "Would you like to see them?" When she agreed, he sent for them and they came and performed in front of his door. The Prophet stretched his hand, putting his palm on the open door and letting Aisha's chin rest on his arm so that she could see comfortably. A while later the Prophet asked Aisha, "Enough?" She said, "Silence!" Another while later he asked, "Enough?" and the answer was again, "Silence!" But when he asked her for the third time, "Enough?" she agreed, "Yes," and the team went away on a gesture from the Prophet. Petruchio, instead of indulging his wife, he chose to abuse his power and take Kate away from her festivities.

Furthermore, Petruchio later abused Kate by not allowing her to eat and by turning the servants against her. Although I realize that Petruchio was trying to tame Kate, he need not treat her with disrespect. Islamically, the Prophet told us that "The most perfect belief is that of those who are best-mannered and most tender with their wives" and that "Surely God does not love a rough person who is boastful, and rude to his wife." A husband must be kind, understanding and forgiving, and must treat his wife in a tender and loving manner. He not only should avoid hurting her but also should bear with her if she ever does something disagreeable.. The Qur’an reads: "and treat them [women] kindly" (Qur’an 5:19). And the Prophet (PBUH) used to say "Whoever of you whose wife behaves in a disagreeable manner and he responds by kindness and patience, God will give him rewards as much as Job will be given for his patience."

Moreover, patient behavior was the practice of the Prophet, even when his wife dared to address him harshly. Once his mother-in-law- saw her daughter strike him with her fist on his noble chest. When the enraged mother-in-law began to reproach her daughter, the Prophet smilingly said, "Leave her alone; they do worse than that." And once Abu Bakr, his father-in-law, was invited to settle some misunderstanding between him and Aisha. The Prophet said to her, "Will you speak, or shall I speak?" Aisha said, "You speak, but do not say except the truth." Abu Bakr was so outraged that he immediately struck her severely, forcing her to run and seek protection behind the back of the Prophet. Abu Bakr said, "O you the enemy of herself! Does the Messenger of God say but the truth?" The Prophet said, "O Abu Bakr, we did not invite you for this [harsh] dealing with Aisha, nor did we anticipate it."

Returning to our play, had what Petruchio did to Kate been at all real, he would not have gotten the same results that Shakespeare shows in the play. In fact, only if the husband is considerate, respectful, and caring does a wife appreciate him and obey him.

In conclusion, although Petruchio’s finally manages to tame Kate in the context of the play, he would not have been as successful in real life. With women nowadays, one needs to be considerate, romantic, and loving. Personally, if my husband treated me the same way Petruchio treated Kate, I would have probably went to my father’s house and divorced my husband. Marriage is a project. It is a sacred tradition that needs careful attention. Both man and wife have obligations that need to be met. As the leader, the man needs to start off with the right steps and in turn, the wife will supply him with obedience, respect, and love. Kate explains it best at the end of the play when she says:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
They head, they sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for they maintenance; commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at they hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience-
Too little payment for so great a debt
Such a duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband.
(Act V, Scene II, lines 145-155)


 
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