57 pages • 1 hour readWilliam Shakespeare
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When men in this play muse on women’s behavior, they often compare women to hawks or falcons—powerful, dangerous birds that can nevertheless learn to hunt with humans.
There’s something both complimentary and insulting about this comparison. Take Petruchio’s line about Katherine as he develops his plan to “tame” her: “My falcon now is sharp and passing empty, / And, till she stoop, she must not be full-gorged” (4.1.190-91). He’s at once suggesting that Katherine’s temper will one day make her an admirable hunting bird, full of fight—and thinking of her in the same terms he’d think of a pet, an animal he possesses. Just because this pet is valuable, beautiful, and excitingly wild doesn’t mean it isn’t a little bit less than human.
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Images of falconry thus gesture at the complicated place women held in the Elizabethan world. On one hand, a falcon is a beautiful and expensive treasure. On the other, it’s not an equal, it’s a possession—one that needs to be broken, bent to its tamer’s will.
By William Shakespeare