The Play’s the Thing: Starting with a sort of meta-theatrical opening that never really goes anywhere, the play begins with an Induction where a drunkard gets kicked out of the tavern, falls asleep in the street, and is happened upon by a lord and his followers who have just returned from hunting. They decide to have a bit of fun, take the drunkard, dress him up like a lord, and convince him that he’s actually been mad for the past fifteen years and imagined being a poor schlub. They also hire some players to put on a play for the lord. This entire opening is ignored for the rest of the play, with one minor interjection at the end of I.i, and we thus move into the play proper.
Lucentio has just arrived, with his servant Tranio, in Padua to take up scholarly studies when he comes across Bianca in the street with her father, Baptista, her sister, Katharina, and Bianca’s suitors. We quickly learn that Katharina is a complete terror and no man wants her, and thus Baptista sets a rule that no one can marry Bianca until Katharina is married, and until that time, he will ensure his daughters dedicate themselves to their studies. Lucentio, of course, falls in love with Bianca and comes up with a plot to disguise himself as a tutor for Bianca and have Tranio pretend to be him as needed. Petruchio, freshly arrived in Padua as well, is on the hunt for a wife and goes to check up on his friend Hortensio, one of Bianca’s suitors. Hortensio jokes about setting him up with Katharina but then says she’s definitely not worth the trouble no matter how big her dowry. However, Petruchio is intrigued and decides he’ll check out this crazy woman. Meanwhile, Gremio, another of Bianca’s suitors, has hired Lucentio to be a tutor for Bianca and plead his case. Hortensio, like Lucentio, is also going in disguise as a tutor to try and court Bianca. All three men are very excited that Petruchio is going to take on Katharina as if he’s successful, Bianca will be on the market in short order.
Katharina takes on the role of abusive older sister, tying up and smacking around Bianca a bit while they discuss Bianca’s many suitors. Baptista rescues his younger daughter, Katharina notes that Bianca is daddy’s favourite and she resents it. Petruchio presents himself to Baptista as a suitor for Katharina and manages to fenagle a one-on-one interview with the woman. We then get one of the best verbal pyrotechnic shows ever. While Katharina obviously hates Petruchio, he decides he’ll marry her and tells her father that he’ll back in a week for the wedding. With the wedding planned, Gremio and Tranio as Lucentio put in various bids for Bianca’s hand with “Lucentio” eventually winning Baptista’s consent.
Lucentio and Hortensio use their tutoring sessions with Bianca as attempts to woo her, with Lucentio winning out. On the set wedding day for Katharina and Petruchio, everyone’s concerned as no one has seen the groom at all and Katharina freaks out a bit. Petruchio eventually shows up on a poorly accoutred horse and dressed very oddly himself. He dashes off to marry Katharina and then decides to skip his own wedding feast and leave right away with Katharina, despite the tantrum she throws.
Petruchio and Katharina arrive at his country house where he acts even crazier than Katharina ever has, which he reveals as his ultimate plot in order to tame his wife. Hortensio shows up in the middle of this, having given up on courting Bianca, and coming to visit Petruchio in order to pick up some woman taming tips as he plans to marry a rich widow he knows. With all this craziness, Katharina doesn’t know up from down and Petruchio decides it’s time to head back to Padua for Bianca’s wedding. Back in Padua, Lucentio and Bianca run off to the local priest to get married. On the road, Katharina and Petruchio have another showdown, with Katharina finally giving in and going along with her husband’s craziness. They run into Lucentio’s father on the road, and all head back to Padua together.
There’s a bunch of comic stuff leading up to Lucentio being revealed to be himself and Baptista giving his blessing to Lucentio and Bianca’s marriage. At the wedding feast, Lucentio, Hortensio, and Petruchio all wager as to whether they can get their wives to come when they call them. Neither Bianca nor the widow show up, but Katharina does. Petruchio then has her fetch the other women, and Katharina then gives them a lecture about obeying their husbands who deserve respect. And then everyone marvels at how Petruchio has tamed the shrew that was Katharina.
Heroes and Villains: Katharina gets my love this time around for being the brilliant strong female character for which I adore Shakespeare for writing. She’s a bit harsher than some of my other favourites, but her sharp tongue is endlessly entertaining.
Insults with Style:
- whoreson malt-horse drudge (IV.i)
- A whoreson, beetle-headed, flap-eared knave! (IV.i)
- gaze your fill (I. i)
- break the ice (I.ii)
- I speak but as I find (II.i)
- kiss me, Kate (II.i)
Speech to Know: There are no really awesome monologues in this play, but the first verbal exchange between Petruchio and Katharina is epic, with just a few dashes of bawdiness to keep it interesting. I’ve included just a sample of the dialogue below:
Petruchio: Good-morrow, Kate; for that’s your name, I hear.
Katharina: Well have you heard, but something hard of hearing:
They call me Katharine that do talk of me.
Petruchio: You lie, in faith; for you are call’d plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;
But, Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,
Kate of Kate-Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all cates; and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation; –
Hearing thy mildness prais’d in every town,
Thy virtues spoken of, and thy beauty sounded, –
Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs, –
Myself am mov’d to woo thee for my wife.
Katharina: Mov’d! in good time: let him that mov’d you hither
Remove you hence: I knew you at the first
You were movable.
Petruchio: Why, what’s a movable?
Katharina: A joint-stool.
Petruchio: Thou has hit it: come, sit on me.
Katharina: Asses are made to bear, and so are you.
Petruchio: Women are made to bear, and so are you.
Katharina: No such jade as bear you, if me you mean.
Petruchio: Alas, good Kate, I will not burden thee!
For, knowing thee to be but young and light, –
Katharina: Too light for such a swain as you to catch;
And yet as heavy as my weight should be.
Petruchio: Should be! should buzz.
Katharina: Well ta’en, and like a buzzard.
Petruchio: O, slow-wing’d turtle! shall a buzzard take thee?
Katharina: Ay, for a turtle, – as he takes a buzzard.
Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp; i’ faith, you are too angry.
Katharina: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
Katharina: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp wear his his sting?
In his tail.
Katharina: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Katharina: Yours, if you talk of tails; and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail? nay, come again,
Good Kate; I am a gentleman.
Katharina: That I’ll try (striking him)
View from the Pit: Taming of the Shrew is an interesting play in a few ways. The Induction alone could be endlessly discussed, as wondering if the false transformation of the drunkard reflects in some way on Kate’s transformation. The whole “taming” process is equally fascinating. Kate is a strong woman, verging on the hellion and that Petruchio could alter such a woman in such a short period of time is problematic. Knowing that I actually wrote an essay on that topic in my Shakespeare course in undergrad, I actually went and dug it out to see what my thoughts were on Kate’s transformation. I argued that Kate did not actually change, but simply learned the best way of dealing with her husband in order to get her own way, when her previous methods did not work with this man. As my professor wrote in his comments, I “energetically argued” my point but I’m not sure if I agree with my ideas now. However, I do prefer to see Kate as the strong female personality that refuses to let her husband cow her than the submissive woman her final speech emphasizes a good wife should be. Either way, if my Shakespeare prof ever stumbles across this, thanks for the A-, Chuck!