Gonna Wife My Baby, Gonna Tame Her Right

Analyzing “Afternoon Delight” in light of “The Taming of the Shrew”

In “The Taming of the Shrew”, quieting a sharp-tongued Katherine becomes the dire task for her resolute and relentless suitor, Petruchio. Her father, Baptista, is a man of great wealth, and Petruchio shows that his true endgame is not Katherine, but her dowry. The entire play is one that pinpoints the expectations of men and women in relationships, and further, a woman’s place in society.

A few modern comparisons can be made in “Afternoon Delight,” a romantic comedy-drama that released in 2013. In the film, Rachel and Jeff are a married couple who take the advice of their wayward friends to go to a strip club to inject new passion into their marriage. They take a trip to Sam’s Hofbrau, where Rachel gets a lap dance from a very young McKenna. When McKenna mentions that she’s 19, Rachel feels immediately sympathetic and decides to take it upon herself to bring her out of the lifestyle she leads. When Rachel brings McKenna home, various incidents create shifts between Rachel, her husband and her acquaintances. During the movie, she often questions whether or not she wants to be married because of McKenna’s presence in the house.  

The play  illustrates a woman who speaks her mind despite the stigma placed on her gender to do so, and  “Afternoon Delight” explores a woman’s battle with the expectations men place on women in marriage. While the idea of romance and marriage has changed throughout time, both “The Taming of the Shrew” and Afternoon Delight prove that a woman is still expected to play specific roles in a marriage and within society, despite the progress from patriarchy that has been made.

“For I am he am born to tame you, Kate, and bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate conformable as other household Kates.”
- Petruchio, Act 2. Sc 1. Line 291-293

In this particular scene, Petruchio is first meeting Kate. All that he knew about her were rumors from others of her sharp speech and copious dowry; upon meeting her, they exchanged a fast-paced competition of words, which Petruchio gained the upper hand of. Just before Katherine’s father walks in to see that his daughter and future son-in-law were properly courted, Petruchio says the statement above. Comparatively,

This can be compared to a major plot point in Afternoon Delight, where Rachel mentions that she needs to “save McKenna from her life of sex-work.  In the scene pictured above, McKenna is telling Rachel and her best friend Stephanie (who advocated for Rachel to go to the strip club in the first place) about her escapades with various men- young and old, she calls them her clients. She mentions the money she is paid for the work that she does through playing into men’s desires and wooing them in her way. Rachel and Stephanie both look at McKenna sideways; being middle-class mothers from sunny California, a woman’s work is quiet and respectable- not that of a prostitute, which Stephanie condescendingly calls McKenna.  In this situation, McKenna can be seen as the wild and unruly Katherine, content with her life, proudly working in a field controlled by men. Although she doesn’t speak as harshly as Katherine, McKenna’s backlash isn’t a verbal one- her backlash is largely against societal standards and how a woman should act. Throughout the movie, McKenna is side-eyed, her presence is laced with Petruchio’s distaste of Katherine lies within her outspokenness and pushback against the status quo and standards of society at the time. Throughout the play, he wishes to make Kate a respectable woman- one of both stature and restless obedience toward her husband.

At a later time during the play Katherine shows a completely new side of herself:

“I am ashamed that women are so simple to offer war where they should kneel for peace or seek for rule, when they are bound to serve, love and obey. Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth, unapt to toil and trouble in the world, but that our soft conditions and our hearts should well agree with our external parts?”
- Katherine, Act 5. Scene 2, Lines 176-184

One of the most heart-wrenching quotes for any headstrong woman to read, this quote is a clear sign of Petruchio’s brainwashing in full swing. Earlier in Act 5, Katherine was only tipping into submission, more or less so that she didn’t have to deal with Petruchio’s obscene wishes and desires. However, in this scene, Petruchio- having the love and gratitude of Katherine’s father in full- tells Katherine to show the other women in the scene how things are really done in a marriage. She lashes out against the women, telling them that their true place is obedience and submission. This is an example of Katherine advocating for the wishes of a man and his expectations within a marriage. In the same light,

in the scene pictured above, Rachel is drunkenly lamenting to her “friends” about how she only has one child immediately after Stephanie tries to bring up the fact that she’s having another baby. The most interesting part of her maudlin confession is that Rachel says and does all of the right things around the other moms, but this drunken stuper seems to eject all of the words she’s been holding on her tongue.

“You will all have three children, and I have one. Just one,” she almost yells angrily, seeking empathy in a place where it simply won’t be offered. The assumption that can be made during this scene is that the drudges of her marriage and amount of sexual tension is manifesting negatively with each thing she says while drunk. She says what she truly feels- and those feelings are those expectations of a good, healthy marriage weighing on her shoulders. She makes each woman in the room feel bad for their bounty, unleashing a cornucopia of unkempt thoughts. Just as Katherine lashed out against the women in the scene from “Shrew,” Rachel lashes out against the women in “Afternoon Delight”- and they’re both doing it because of those weighty preconceptions of how women are supposed to be in relationships.

“The Taming of the Shrew” was written over 400 years ago, but still connects to “Afternoon Delight” with comedic moments both light and dark. Both works are laced with drama, but the greater comparison can be made when there is a realization that both of these romantic “dramedies” touch on one elephant in the room: for centuries, men have, and still do, dictate the way women choose to present themselves- not only in relationships, but as a woman in general. Petruchio aims to woo and tame Katherine, trying to shove her on the “right” path to a “perfect” relationship. In the first scene, Rachel and her friend can be compared to Petruchio, trying to push an untamed McKenna into the light. In the second scene, Rachel can be compared to Katherine, with a ruthless Petruchio yelling through her subconscious. At the end of the movie, despite a breakup with her husband, a falling out with most of her friends, and an end to her relationship with McKenna, Rachel ends up happy and comfortable with married life- void of those expectations that were holding her back.