DEL Island Discs Episode Six: Katherine

Our castaway this week is Katherine from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and our presenter is Department of English Literature alumna, Eleanor Dewar.

*Disclaimer/trigger warning* I know the play/character I’m about to talk about is very problematic for some and I am in no way condoning domestic violence in anyway. If you are worried about yourself or someone else, I will leave a links and contact for help below.

Katherina, or Katherine, or Kate, depending on who you are and whether or not you’re Italian is Shakespeare’s take on the infamous Shrew character, an outspoken female character with the audacity to not want to get married and who only needs a strong man to break her in like a horse for the whole world to be happy. But Shakespeare being his ingenious, if not annoying, self can’t leave these simple tropes alone and instead we are treated to a complex and well written woman with compassion and intelligence enough to comment on the absurd situations the men in her life decide to throw her into. I’ve always liked Katherine and think we are alike in a lot of ways: both of us hate to have our names shortened and both of us are loud and have little interest in what is traditionally expected of us but are simultaneously crippled by our desire to be accepted and loved.
All our disc selections are from women only as I think (and Katherine would agree) that men say enough in both her play and across all forms of fiction. Likewise, there is wide range of genres and stories in this list just to make sure people are aware that obedient and angry are not women’s only reactions.

Disc One- Hit Me with Your Best Shot, Pat Benatar, 1970

Never one to shy aware from a fight, Katherine and Petruchio’s first meeting Act II scene I is an explosion of rude innuendoes, false threats and overall chaos and this song is perfect for Katherine in letting Petruchio know exactly what he is in for.

Disc Two- One way or Another, Blondie, 1978

Another song centred around power; I always feel that people are too caught up in Petruchio’s own desire for Katherine that our girl’s desires are almost completely ignored. On the flip side, in the sequel The Tamer Tamed it is revealed that Katherine’s sharp tongue and cracking attitude resulted in many an argument between the pair so “one way or another” it seems Petruchio’s famous ‘taming’ techniques ultimately comes back to haunt him.


Disc Three- I won’t say (I’m in Love), Susan Egan, 1997

One of my all time favourite Disney songs, Meg and Katherine have a lot in common- the men in their life have caused them pain, they are misunderstood as the victim of their own story and deep down reject love because they do not expect to be loved. A deep and moving song once you get past the awesomely cool chorus.


Disc Four- Defying Gravity, Idina Menzel, 2003

Another musical classic, for this song represents the main issue facing Katherine, other women in literature and of course those unfortunate enough not to live inside a fictional world; that we can never just be ourselves. We are either perfect angels, the Biancas of the world obedient and meek or the wicked witch, unloved and rejected by all.

Disc Five- If I were a Boy, Beyoncé, 2008

Again, not the happiest of tunes and reasons, but it’s fairly self-explanatory why this is on the list. Katherine and Petruchio’s personalities are painfully alike which begs the question why are they treated so differently?

Disc Six- God is a Woman, Ariana Grande, 2019

Power and female identity is something that you cannot avoid in The Taming of the Shrew but for all the men’s silly games and bets, it is mostly the women who dramatically alter the narrative of the play. Bianca plays her father and suitors for fools, both her and the Widow publicly humiliate their new husbands by refusing to play along with their bet. Even Petruchio is forced to rely on Katherine’s grand speech in order to win his money, and even then, we are not hundred percent sure she means every word…


Disc Seven- I’m Going to Wash that Man right Out of my Hair, Mitzi Gaynor, 1958

This list is very musical heavy I know but I feel that perfectly represents the over the top and performative nature of Shakespeare’s interpretation of the Shrew story. But one of the reasons I want Katherine in my girl gang is to be my shoulder to cry on when relationships go sour. She would be the self-esteem booster, the ice cream provider and the reassurance that I’ll be just fine on my own.

Disc Eight- I hate Men, Alexandra Silber, 1953

Of course, I could not miss Kiss Me Kate out of a desert island discs centred around The Shrew and this song has me snorting with laughter every time I listen to it. I think if Shakespeare did write a song for Katherine to sing it would be this one. And with the nonsense she must put up with, honestly, I don’t blame her.


Katherine’s book
Katherine could take My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst, to reassure her that one day her ‘shrewish’ ways will be accepted and even appreciated. Good luck Kate and thank you for being our desert island castaway.

Call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.

About English Literature at Reading

The Department of English Literature at Reading has been an internationally recognised centre for research and teaching in English Studies for over a hundred years. Our teaching system, with its emphasis on seminars and tutorial work, encourages our students to discuss ideas with tutors and other students in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere. All of our students have access to dedicated study advisors; our academic placement scheme and 'professional track' programme provide invaluable preparation for subsequent careers.
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