At the end of Taming of the Shrew, Katherine gives a speech on the role of wives. The text of the speech urges women to submit to their husbands. And yet, as many people have pointed out, the length of the speech works against that exhortation. Katherine’s speech at the end of Taming of the Shrew is the longest speech in the play. Moreover, it is one of the longest speeches in the Shakespeare canon. I tried to confirm if this is the longest speech ever given to a woman; I could not but it is certainly longer than most other speeches given to women.
The length of the speech actually works against the text of the speech. If women are supposed to be chaste, silent, and obedient, how obedient can Katherine be if she is so talkative? Much as Polonius draws a laugh with his line “Brevity is the soul of wit” because he is rambling, Kate’s lengthy speech cannot be submissive by its very nature. Katherine commands attention. She does not take the wives aside and lecture them one on one. She speaks to everyone at the dinner, men and women, commanding their attention. This is even clearer in a performance. Katherine commands the attention of the audience; everyone sits obediently and allows her to lecture him.
There is a tendency, beginning with the 20th century, to interpret the speech in an ironic sense. While I think the speech should always be played sincerely, I do think that there is a level of irony in the speech.
I have other thoughts about the speech, more next time.