Wordy Wednesday-“Kill With Kindness”

This week’s wordy Wednesday is “to kill with kindness”, uttered by Petrucio, in his speech revealing how he plans to tame Kate’s shrewish nature:

And if she chance to nod I’ll rail and brawl,

And with the clamor keep her still awake.

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness.

Taming Of The Shrew: act 4, scene 1

In this speech Petrucio is revealing how he plans to tame Kate’s shrewish nature and make her into an obedient wife. He claims that the only way to make her truly obedient and get rid of her wild and feisty nature is to kill a wife with kindness. From Petrucio’s point of view “killing with kindness” involves depriving Kate of food and sleep for a period of time, until she willingly gives in to being his obedient wife.

According to dictionary.com killing with kindness is any action that involves overwhelming someone with mistaken or excessive kindness. This expression originated as a reference to something that fond apes do to their young: crushing them to death in a hug and was a proverb by the mid 1500s.

The usage of the phrase in Taming Of The Shrew is fascinating because of its ties to the word’s origins. Petrucio is like the ape crushing its young through an ignorantly and overwhelmingly aggressive act that he claims is an act of love. The usage of ‘kill with kindness’ strays away from our traditional notions of what overwhelming an individual with mistaken or excessive kindness really is. The one question we’re left with is the following: is this an excessive and mistaken act of kindness or is it straight-forward aggression and cruelty?

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