Katherine’s Limp

Katherine’s Limp

  [Pet.]  Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?
O sland'rous world! Kate like the hazel-twig
Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue
As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than the kernels.
O, let me see thee walk. Thou dost not halt.

The Taming of the Shrew, 2.1.252-56

It has been suggested that Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew is actually disabled, that her frustration with being disabled contributes to her shrewishness, that she should therefore be played as disabled in performance, and that any resistance to this reading stems from an outdated, oppressive, normative cultural aesthetic that basely values the physical over the mental, moral, and spiritual. Unfortunately, this suggestion mistakes a dubious for a necessary reading, disparages those who do not accept it, and is in fact a selective reading that can only be arrived at by willfully ignoring the evidence against it. In The Taming of the Shrew, the lines about Katherine’s limp come in the context of Petruchio’s plainly professed attempt to confound Katherine by contravening the evident sense of things. Even though he has not, Petruchio claims that he has heard that Katherine is coarse, coy, and curt, while he finds her pleasant, playful, sweet, sincere, soft, affable, mild, kind, and courteous, a flattering description of Katherine that clearly contravenes the direct evidence we have of her character from earlier in the play. Then, even though (again) he has not, Petruchio claims he has heard that Katherine limps when she walks, while he finds her to stand straight and walk with a lovely gait. Obviously, there is no way to confirm what Petruchio has previously heard about Katherine, or the accuracy of his statement about her body, but both are likely fabrications. Moreover, the reading that insists upon a disabled Katherine reveals a tendency in some disability studies to project disability upon someone who may not necessarily need or want that identity, and to reduce that person to an extension of that disability, much like a single passage being plucked out of context and bullied into changing the entire meaning of a play. The disability studies reading of Katherine is certainly well-intentioned, coming as it does in a plea to reject the cultural aesthetic of kalokagathia, “the beautiful and the good,” but in distorting the play to fit its polemic, this reading actually stigmatizes the disabled by performing the very error it complains of: allowing an ideological commitment to skew our image of the world we ought to interpret from the ground up. 


Lameness in Shakespeare


Hile, Rachael. “Disability and the Characterization of Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew.” Disability Studies Quarterly 29.4 (Fall 2009): n. pag.