What is a Shrew?
In literal terms, a shrew is a small mouse like creature, that is known to bite and release venom. I’m going to be talking about the lesser known definition of a shrew, used during the Elizabethan era, and popularized by the Shakespeare play: The Taming of the Shrew.
The name “shrew” was given to a woman who portrayed “non-ladylike” characteristics. As during this era, a woman was expected to serve, and obey the men in her life, anything against this, would result in being labelled “shrewish”, or “shrewd”. Katherine Minola, the shrewd woman of the play, is labelled as a shrew because she yells, mocks, is aggressive, and portrays many other traits that of a shrew.
Some Historical Perspective
Like I said, during the Elizabethan era a “proper” woman’s life would consist of, obeying her father as a young girl, being married as a teenager (usually arranged by father), and therefore obeying and serving her husband. And because this lifestyle was so normalized, men had certain expectations for their wives such as: keeping to themselves, bearing children, and keeping their husbands happy.
There were many techniques in which the Elizabethans would punish/humiliate people when they disobeyed laws, some much more severe than others. Minor punishments would include “carting”, which was being carried through the town in a cart while wearing a sign to depict your crime. For more serious crimes people would be in danger of many different punishments such as, torture of many kinds, burning, and even hanging. But these methods were general, women of the time were exposed to some different methods, one being the “scolds bridle”.
As explained in the video above, “scold” was a term used against women in similar way to “shrew”. The “scolds bridle” is a symbol of the view in which society had on women at the time, as something to be controlled, or perhaps even tamed.
Why does this matter?
You could possibly be wondering why the topic of medieval torture devices matter today. But its not necessarily the devices themselves that matter, but the reasons in which they were used, and how those reasons connect to todays world. I believe in the invisible scolds bridle. No one can see it, but the victim can feel it. Ever witnessed someone verbally shut down another person with a insulting comment? Or has it happened to you? If not look out for it, and speak up before that iron cage in placed on someone’s head, cause it’ll get locked.
As women’s rights activist Nellie McClung once said: “That seems to be the haunting fear of mankind – that the advancement of women will sometime, someway, someplace, interfere with some man’s comfort.” Which is exactly what the society of the Elizabethan era, and beyond has tried to prevent, the advancement of women. What would the world be like if we were truly equal?