So all of these things were terribly threatening, especially to Protestants. Why Protestants? Because the whole basis of the Protestant Reformation, to oversimplify grandly, was to see the authority of the Bible as overriding – as superseding – the authority of the historical institutional church. There are some qualifications you’d need to make to that statement, but basically that is a fair assessment. So that tremendous weight is placed on the authority of that text, and if its authority falls into question, then the entire foundation of Protestantism is threatened.
Of particular worry to this society were “shrews” or “scolds”—that is, cantankerous or gossipy wives, who resisted or undermined the assumed authority of the husband within a marriage. A large number of sermons, plays, and pamphlets of the time address related topics: the taming of shrews by their husbands or the public punishment of scolds by, for example, repeatedly dunking them in a river. Part of this body of literature took a very diplomatic attitude toward women, although much of it was extremely misogynistic. In some of this literature, it is difficult to distinguish between behavior that is being parodied and behavior that is presented as an ideal. This ambiguity may also be found in The Taming of the Shrew , which manages to lampoon chauvinistic behavior while simultaneously reaffirming its social validity. The play celebrates the quick wit and fiery spirit of its heroine even while reveling in her humiliation.