Caparisoned like the horse”: Tongue and Tail in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew
Sloan, LaRue Love
Early Modern Literary Studies 10.2 (September, 2004)
Critics commenting on Petruchio’s diseased horse have suggested that it reveals Petruchio to be a monster of household mismanagement (Heaney), that it implies Petruchio’s transformation into a monstrous centaur (Roberts), or that it “counter[s] the more usual image where a horse and rider in concord exemplify the harmony of man and nature” (Hartwig 293). Using the Early Modern English Dictionaries Database (EMEDD) and a close reading, I argue that the groom’s uncooperative, diseased horse represents Kate and that Petruchio portrays the surrogate Skimmington “husband,” shamed by repeated failures to manage his horse/unruly intended. Virtually every detail of the horse’s appearance has a secondary, bawdy meaning so that, in good Skimmington fashion, the horse represents female unruliness of both tongue and tail. In selecting a mount for his pre-emptive Skimmington, Petruchio constructs the Kate everyone expects to see-the lame Kate “reported” to be unchaste, the Kate who certainly will get the best of her foolish husband, not only by railing, but also by cuckolding him. Paradoxically, staging his own Skimmington enables Petruchio to pass himself off as a surrogate for the henpecked husband, an actor who but plays the role in jest. The future looks somewhat less promising for Kate, however. In or out of the Skimmington pageant, she remains a woman, and thus caparisoned like the horse.