A comedic play by William Shakespeare involving “taming” a wife, a relatively common idea during the Elizabethan age. This is a good play to read or see for anyone being introduced to Shakespeare’s works- it’s one of the easier ones to understand- but it’s not really the Bard’s best play. The story was turned into a musical called “Kiss Me Kate,” and has been updated in “10 Things I Hate About You,” which I ended up seeing and was surprised to find I actually enjoyed it, despite the fact that it’s a teen flick. The story’s influence can also be seen in the ice-skating film “The Cutting Edge,” where the horrid ice-queen- Kate- is brought down to size by her new skating partner.

Katharine (a.k.a. the shrew) is the eldest daughter of Baptista, a well-off man of Padua. Katharine is known for her horribly ugly temper (hence, the nickname) and everyone felt sure that no man would ever dare to marry the supercilious woman. Meanwhile, Katharine’s younger sister, Bianca, continues to get numerous offers for marriage, but Baptista refuses to allow her to be married until he can get Katharina married- and off his hands- first.

One day a young gentlement named Petruchio enters Padua, looking for a wife, and he hears of the rich and fair-looking Katharine, and about her infamous temper as well. He scoffs at the news of her temper and plans to persue the woman anyway. Petruchio himself is high-spirited and witty, and speaks to Baptista about his wish to marry his eldest daughter. Baptista tries to warn him, but Petruchio cares not. Baptista then settles the arrangement, offering 20 thousand crowns as her dowry, and goes off to fetch Katharine. When she enters to meet Petruchio, Katharine is naturally spiteful towards him, but after every venemous sentence she speaks, Petruchio tells her how beautiful her words and voice are. He tells her that he’s heard of her mildness being praised all over, and wishes to woo her for his wife. This really angers her, but he claims that regardless of her own wishes, he will still get his way. When Baptista returns to check on them, Petruchio claims it went wonderfully and that she plans on marrying him the following Sunday. Katharine denies this, saying she would rather see him hanged on Sunday. Petruchio claims that even though she’s acting reluctant, before her father entered she was very kind and loving. He tells her to get ready for the wedding, because it was for sure going to happen.

When the time comes for the wedding that Sunday, and all their guests were waiting, Petruchio has yet to arrive. Katharine gets very upset about this, thinking he’d only done all of this to make a joke out of her. He eventually does arrive, but not dressed up at all, and with no finery for Katharine to wear either. They fuss about it but head to the church anyway, after Petruchio exclaims she is marrying him and not his clothes. Petruchio continues his rudeness during the ceremony, swearing and putting off the preacher and generally creating an embarrassing disturbance. He contiued his absurdities by throwing wine all over someone after the ceremony, and when Baptista asks them to join him at the marriage feast, Petruchio refuses and claims he wishes to leave for home immediately with his new wife.

All the way back to his house, Petruchio rants at his servants, and when they finally arrive, they sit down to eat but Petruchio finds fault in everything. He throws food on the floor and orders it all away. When Katharine looks to go to bed, still starved and extremely tired, Petruchio feigns anger with the bed and throws the covers about the room. She then has nowhere to sleep but in a chair, but gets very little sleep because her husband continues with his angry outbursts towards his servants all night.

The next day he acts the same, being very kind to Katharine but screaming at everyone else. When Katharine gets a chance to speak to one of the servants privately, she asks for a secret meal so she can actually eat, and they refuse. Petruchio soon enters, having made some food for her himself, and sets it down for her. She says nothing, so he attempts to take it away. By this time Katharine is so famished she asks him (kindly!) to leave it. This appeases him and he lets her eat. Then Petruchio begins to plan for a grand visit to see her father, where they will be finely dressed. When the tailor brings in clothing for them, Petruchio again flies into a rage about the apparel. Katharine struggles with him about the clothes, claiming she likes what they have to offer and wishes to wear it. Eventually, Petruchio gives in.

When they head out to Baptista’s, Petruchio continues his bizarre behavior, claiming things opposite than they are just to get a rise out of Katharine. He says the moon is the sun, simply because he says it is, and soon all of this wears on Katharine and she begins to agree with whatever he says. At one point, they pass an old man and Petruchio claims it is a woman. He tells the man he looks very fair and lovely and tells Katharine to make the same remarks to him. Katharine hugs the man, calling him a “young budding virgin... fresh and sweet.” Petruchio then laughs at Katharine, saying she is wrong- the man is not a fair maid, of course. Katharine apologizes to the old man. The couple then realize the man is the father of Bianca’s new suitor, and they travel together to Baptista’s home.

At the house, Bianca’s future husband Lucentio and friend Hortensio joke with Petruchio, saying he has placed himself in an unfortunate marriage with such a shrew. Petruchio makes a bet with the guys. He says they each must call on their women, and whoever answers first will be considered the most obedient. The wager is put at 20 crowns, though Petruchio says he will bet 100 crowns on his wife, since odds are supposedly against her. They agree. Which lady obeys the summons? Katharine, of course. Everyone is amazed, and Baptista is so happy he adds 20 thousand crowns to the original dowry. Katharine continues to exhibit her obediency, soon becoming famous in Padua not for being a shrew, but for being the most duteous wife in the land.

The Taming of the Shrew

     by William Shakespeare


Dramatis Personae

   Persons in the Induction
 A LORD
 CHRISTOPHER SLY, a tinker
 HOSTESS
 PAGE
 PLAYERS
 HUNTSMEN
 SERVANTS

 BAPTISTA MINOLA, a gentleman of Padua
 VINCENTIO, a Merchant of Pisa
 LUCENTIO, son to Vincentio, in love with Bianca
 PETRUCHIO, a gentleman of Verona, a suitor to Katherina

   Suitors to Bianca
 GREMIO
 HORTENSIO

   Servants to Lucentio
 TRANIO
 BIONDELLO

   Servants to Petruchio
 GRUMIO
 CURTIS

 A PEDANT

   Daughters to Baptista
 KATHERINA, the shrew
 BIANCA

 A WIDOW

 Tailor, Haberdasher, and Servants attending on Baptista and Petruchio

 

Introduction
   Scene 1 Before an alehouse on a heath
   Scene 2 A bedchamber in the LORD'S house

Act I
   Scene 1 Padua. A public place
   Scene 2 Padua. Before HORTENSIO'S house

Act II
   Scene 1 Padua. BAPTISTA'S house

Act III
   Scene 1 Padua. BAPTISTA'S house
   Scene 2 Padua. Before BAPTISTA'S house

Act IV
   Scene 1 PETRUCHIO'S country house
   Scene 2 Padua. Before BAPTISTA'S house
   Scene 3 PETRUCHIO'S house
   Scene 4 Padua. Before BAPTISTA'S house
   Scene 5 A public road

Act V
   Scene 1 Padua. Before LUCENTIO'S house
   Scene 2 LUCENTIO'S house

Marriage in “The Taming of the Shrew
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In the comedy, “The Taming of the Shrew,” Shakespeare creates two contrasting marriage plotlines that comment on each other. The first is Petruchio’s courtship and “taming” of Katherina. The second, which is shorter but deserves plenty of attention, is the romance between Lucentio and Bianca. On the surface, it seems like Petruchio and Katherina’s relationship is purely about Petruchio’s desire for riches and that, in contrast, Lucentio and Bianca’s love is pure and true. However, a closer look at the two plots reveals that Petruchio and Katherina’s marriage is more likely to endure happily than Lucentio and Bianca’s. The two marriage plot lines demonstrate the need both for meeting social requirements and finding love in forging a successful marriage.

In both the plots, money is an important prerequisite for marriage. Hortensio barely has time to mention Katherina’s name and the fact that she’s rich before Petruchio swears that he will marry her. His goal is to “wive it wealthily in Padua; / If wealthily then happily in Padua” (I.ii.76-77). Enticed by Katherina’s fortune, he disregards all warnings about her disagreeable temper. Lucentio’s vow to marry is nearly as quick as Petruchio’s, except his comes from seeing Bianca’s face instead of hearing about her fortune. Although Lucentio’s love seems like pure “love at first sight,” financial motives are still present in the set-up. Before Lucentio can marry Bianca, his servant Tranio, disguised as Lucentio, must convince Baptista that he is wealthier than the other suitors. Although he isn’t the one desiring money, Lucentio isn’t allowed to marry Bianca without being the heir to his father’s fortune.

In the same way that money affects marriage at the interpersonal level in “The Taming of the Shrew,” it also plays a vital role in determining how socially acceptable a marriage is. It is unthinkable to most of the characters in the play to marry outside their own class. For example, Hortensio is put off when he realizes that Bianca loves Lucentio more than him, but he is equally astounded that a noblewoman like herself would be interested in mere Latin teacher (III.i.96-101). The characters marry within their own class, which makes it possible for them to secure a parental blessing, a social necessity in Elizabethan society. Baptista makes it clear that money is needed to win his daughter’s hand when he tells Tranio, disguised as Lucentio, “I must confess your offer is the best; / And, let your father make her the assurance, / She is your own” (II.i.431-433). If children decide to ignore their families and get married anyway, they face ostracism from their social class. And while feuding classes aren’t quite as dramatic as feuding families, the results could be nearly as dangerous for the couple caught in the middle.

In addition to highlighting money as a prerequisite for a successful marriage, Shakespeare examines the need for practical love. Lucentio and Bianca’s courtship fails at the practical level. After one glimpse of Bianca on the street, Lucentio declares that he will burn, pine, and perish unless he can wed the young, modest girl (I.i.158-159). Their only other meeting on stage is while Lucentio is disguised as Bianca’s teacher. This meeting is largely flirtatious and mostly consists of Lucentio repeating his poorly articulated but burning love for Bianca. Though the end up marrying, they’re not happy together and there is no indication that their relationship will improve. As Petruchio points out Hortensio and Lucentio in the play’s last scene, “We three are married, but you two are sped” (V.ii.208). No one can disagree.

In contrast to Lucentio and Bianca’s romance, Petrucio and Katherina’s “courtship” is a drawn-out argument. While Katherina and Petruchio are “flirting,” they begin to understand that the other is a complex person instead of a caricature of a lover. Later, during the “taming” process, they also get a look at the worst side of the other’s personality. Katherina laments over how Petruchio takes pleasure in her suffering: “The more my wrong, the more his spite appears” (V.iii.2). Yet the opportunity to see each other’s faults is what most sets them apart from Lucentio and Bianca. Early in their marriage, Katherina and Petruchio lay all their cards on the table and prepare themselves for the inevitable conflicts of marriage. The “taming” process functions like modern pre-marital counseling by teaching the couple how they can work together more effectively.

Despite his unromantic view of marriage, Shakespeare leaves the audience with the impression that Katherina and Petruchio love each other and are happy to be married. Even when they are arguing at their initial meeting, they seem to be enjoying themselves. They’ve each found their match in intelligence and intensity. Katherina’s final assessment of the marriage, craftily delivered in a reprimand to the other women, is that what started out as battle has turned into pleasure: “My mind hath been as big as one of yours, / My heart as great, my reason haply more, / To bandy word for word and frown for frown; / But now I see our lances are but straws” (V.ii.192-195). Though they lack the burning passion that Lucentio often talks about, their appreciation of each other is more likely to keep the relationship alive after their initial lust dies down.

The need for balance between love and practicality in marriage is a timeless truth. Current high divorce rates are an indicator that relationships are sometimes forged unrealistically. While class and social requirements for marriage are only loosely defined in modern America, marriage between radically different classes, and without the blessing of families, can still cause trouble. Although Petruchio’s “taming process” is questionable by today’s standards, it does put Katherina in a more powerful position than her sister by the end of the play. Petruchio has learned to respect her as an individual. Even if he’s hesitant to share power, Katherina’s ironic ending speech proves that she’s wise enough to take it. On the surface, she reinforces the notion that husbands should always dominate a marriage. But her exaggerations and the reality of her own marriage push the point to parody (V.ii.158-201). Shakespeare’s central message, that relationships need practical things like open communication, as well as impractical things like love, holds just as true today as it did four hundred years ago.

Echoes and Repetitions in Taming

When reading a play by William Shakespeare, it is important to note the lexical echoing he utilizes. It not only points to some of the important themes of the play, but the repetition of certain words acts also as a sort of glue among various similar scenes throughout the play. Certain words, ideas, and situations are repeated throughout, shedding light onto some of the play’s important ideas. This is the case with Tranio and Vincentio’s dialogue in Act 5 Scene 1 of The Taming of the Shrew, in which certain words and phrases are found and repeated several times in other scenes. Their exchange is a microcosm of the play, as it reveals such themes as the problem of role reversals, the projection of the personal to the public, the enforcement of social hierarchies, and the idea that “the clothes don’t make the man.”

Role Reversals

Perhaps most obvious is the problem of role reversals that occurs in this scene. Tranio is disguised as Lucentio, and the Pedant is disguised as Vincentio, who has been called a “budding virgin” by Kate (4.5.36). Similarly, Lucentio and Hortensio have dressed as teachers to woo Bianca. Also, the Lord, his servants, and the players act as servants to trick Sly, who has been dressed as a Lord; in addition, the Page is dressed as a woman. And one cannot forget the Elizabethan theatrical convention of boys playing the parts of women. Added to the complicated role reversals is the analogous “reversal” of the sun and the moon in 4.5. Shakespeare raises similar questions concerning reality and identity when Christopher Sly asks “Am I a lord?… / Or do I dream?” (Ind. 1.2.68-69). Likewise, Vincentio rhetorically replies to Tranio with “What am I, sir?” (5.1.60). Thus, Shakespeare connects each side of the problem, master and servant, simply by using similar phrases.

Universalization

Other less obvious themes are apparent in this dialogue. For example, Vincentio reacts with outrage to Tranio for posing as a gentleman, Lucentio, and cries “O, immortal gods!” (5.1.60-61). Allusion to the heavens happens many times throughout the play. In 3.2 Petruchio calls Kate “My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything,” (232) which is borrowed from the Tenth Commandment; he speaks of “God” and the “Good Lord” again in the opening of 4.5 (1-2); when Petruchio demands a kiss from Kate, she submits with “God forbid, but ashamed to kiss,” (5.1.137) meaning that God demands that a woman do what her husband says; and Biondello remarks “I pray the gods Bianca may,” to which Tranio responds “Dally not with the gods,” (4.4.68-69) remarking that Bianca’s unconventional ruling of Lucentio is outside the universal or heavenly order. Like these examples, Vincentio’s plea represents a projection of personal problems onto a public level. By mentioning the “gods,” he shows how humans can universalize the personal, an action that occurs several times in the play. First, when Kate is introduced, her father and Bianca’s suitors are making a spectacle of her. Hortensio and Gremio insult her in full view of strangers, such as the eavesdropping Lucentio and Tranio.

Also in this exchange is the public wooing and negotiation of Bianca and Kate’s marriages. For the characters in Taming, marriage is not merely a private affair, but one that affects others than those directly involved. The other father, Baptista Minola, exemplifies this projection, as he takes into account his own advancement when considering whom Bianca will marry. For example, when Gremio and “Lucentio” (a disguised Tranio) are bidding on Bianca, Lucentio offers a better dowry than the pantaloon. When Gremio replies that the young suitor may die before Bianca, Baptista ignores him, saying he is “resolved” and satisfied with the large sum Lucentio can supply (2.1.390). He doesn’t think twice about the character of either of the two, for he is more concerned with the social and economic gains he can make. Of the same mind, Petruchio makes his wedding a public parade by captivating the wedding guests with his outlandish apparel and festive aura. While both their attitudes toward marriage certainly support the idea of the interchangeability of the private and the public, a more subtle echo occurs in Tranio’s conversation with the Pedant, in which he says of the Duke of Padua, “For private quarrel twixt your duke and him, / Hath published and proclaimed it openly” (4.2.85-86). Again, the bickering of two noblemen has (supposedly) resulted in a law banning all persons from entering the opposing side’s kingdom. Inevitably, Shakespeare proposes, one’s own affairs actually affect many others.

Inversion of the Social Hierarchy

Underlying Tranio and Vincentio’s argument is the fact that Tranio is disguised as the noble Lucentio, and the gentleman Vincentio is being treated as if he were a peasant. In other words, the supposed hierarchy is reversed, and servants are ruling lords, contrary to what is “ordained” by the Great Chain of Being. Likewise, the madcap Sly is treated as a nobleman, and the real Lord of the Induction is a servant to a “beggar.” Just as outraged at these hierarchal inversions as Vincentio, Petruchio beats his servants (just as Tranio echoes the word “beat” to Vincentio in 5.1.59) and calls them villains and the like when they talk back to him, as with Grumio in 1.2 and the various serving men of 4.1 and 4.3. Similar inversions of relationships and contradictions to the Great Chain occur throughout the play. Bianca, for instance, has complete control of the suitors Lucentio and Hortensio in 3.1, in which she rebukes them, “Why, gentlemen, you do me double wrong / To strive for that which resteth in my choice” (16-17). Rather than pursue the standard course of the man confidently courting the “inferior” woman, the two characters allow Bianca to lead. Hortensio’s Widow, too, rules his relationship, and both supposedly “tamed” women refuse to submit to their respective husbands at the play’s end.

Similar to the master-slave and husband-wife inversions is the parent-child inversion that Vincentio alludes to by shouting, “While I play the good husband at home, my son and my servant spend all at the university” (5.1.63-65). He has been wronged and disrespected by Lucentio’s scheme and Tranio’s contemptuous behavior. Shakespeare juxtaposes this father-son relationship with both Kate’s arrogance and Bianca’s passive behavior toward Baptista. Bianca is Baptista’s favorite, but he is set upon getting rid of Kate. Thus, the Bard seems to suggest that a good child is one who submits to his father, while a bad child only brings grief and pain to his parents. Likewise, a good servant acts supinely toward his master, and a good wife, like Kate, puts her hand under her husband’s foot, as the Great Chain demands. Shakespeare comments on this by using the word “villain” to describe bad servants. For instance, in and after 5.1.60, the vengeful Vincentio mutters the word several times to describe Tranio’s insolence. Petruchio, too, refers to his bumbling servants’ “villainy” (4.3.140). Also, Grumio calls the Tailor a villain for refusing to take the blame for Kate’s displeasing dress (4.3.154). In all cases, a villain is one who steps out of his social role. Repeated use of the word alerts the reader to the theme of the importance of rigorously enforced social hierarchies in Taming.

The Clothes Don't Make the Man

Another of the play’s repetitions occurs in Vincentio’s catalogue of Tranio’s attire, his “silken doublet, a velvet hose, a scarlet cloak, and a copatain hat” (5.1.61-62). What he means is that Tranio is a servant despite his fancy clothing, and Shakespeare elaborates this point through Sly’s makeover. Although he is dressed as a lord, Sly’s thirst for alcohol and his crude attitude remain, for he is ignorant of social niceties and says of the play, “would ‘twere done” (1.2.254); he is merely an uncultured drunkard despite his appearance, and the Lord alludes to this by calling Sly a man “Of such possessions and so high esteem, / …infused with so foul a spirit” (Ind. 2.15-16). Similarly, Petruchio recognizes that he doesn’t need to look like a gentleman to be considered one, as he attends his wedding in tattered clothes and says, “To me she’s married, not unto my clothes” (3.2.117). He later refers to fashionable clothes as “knavery” (4.3.58), and declares “’tis the mind that makes the body rich,” not a man’s clothing (4.4.168). Even the disguised Tranio admits that one’s clothes cannot reveal one’s true character when he tells Baptista, “Sir, you seem a sober ancient gentleman by your habit (clothing), but your words show you a madman” (5.1.68-69). That one cannot change his social position by changing his clothes is an inescapable fact in Taming, for, at the end of the play, servants must shed noble clothes, and masters must once again don their respectable attire; when the two exchange clothes, only folly, foolery, and complications result.

So What?

While a scene in which Vincentio, a seemingly unimportant, minor character, argues with the foolish Tranio at first seems inconsequential upon the play as a whole, it actually reflects upon some of the subtler themes of the play. Their conflict in 5.1 is not to be overlooked, for it sheds light upon the problems confronted in the major plot of Taming. While his poetry may seem long and verbose, Shakespeare actually uses no more words than necessary to convey an idea. Therefore, it is important to look closely at every word uttered by his characters, no matter how trivial they may seem. That he can seamlessly integrate so many themes into such a small, inconspicuous piece of dialogue is a testament to his greatness.

Bianca as the Shrew

In The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare, Katherine is the shrew the title is referring to, but her sister Bianca has quite the personality of her own.

When we first see how Bianca manipulates people to get her way, she is alone in a room with her sister. Katherine has her tied up and is chasing her around. Bianca says, “Yea, all my raiment to my petticoat, / Or what you will command me will I do, / So well I know my duty to my elders.” Here she seems to be acquiescing to her sister by pledging to do what she asks, but she really doesn’t plan on telling her sister anything.

Katherine asks which of her suitors she likes the best, but Bianca says she hasn’t decided. She answers the rest of the questions in a seemingly compliant attitude, but is following her orders in a white mutiny just to get her mad. Katherine strikes her just as Baptista comes into the room. Bianca starts crying in order to get protection from him. He scolds Katherine and protects Bianca long enough to separate her from her sister. She perfectly manipulated both her sister and her father to get what she wanted, her sister to leave her alone and her father’s favor and protection, while still seeming to be well-mannered.

Later, she discourages her suitors from pursuing her, so she can be with Lucentio. She also probably knows about the pedant pretending to be Lucentio’s father, but doesn’t care to tell her father.

At the end of the play, Shakespeare makes it very obvious who is now the shrew. Petruchio makes a bet that Katherine is now more docile than both Bianca and Hortensio’s widow. Bianca says she is too busy to come to her husband, but Katherine comes immediately. Bianca is exerting her independence and power over her husband, while Katherine is proving to be docile and obedient.

Bianca means ‘white’ in Italian, which is usually associated with purity and gentleness. Shakespeare lets us think in The Taming of the Shrew that Bianca is a very pure and gentle woman, but her actions later in the play prove otherwise.

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