The Taming of the Shrew SYNOPSIS & CHARACTERS; SETTING & THEME
The Taming of the Shrew is a story of two courtships. Lucentio arrives from Pisa to study at the University of Padua. As
he and his servant Tranio stand talking, they observe two suitors, young Hortensio and elderly Gremio, arguing with the
father of the woman both pursue. The father is wealthy Baptista Minola. Baptista will not let anyone woo his sweet
younger daughter, Bianca, until the elder sister, Katherina, is married. And Katherina is so bad-tempered that no one will
While watching this meeting, Lucentio has fallen in love with Bianca. He and Tranio hit upon a plan. They change clothes.
Lucentio pretends to be Cambio's tutor. The purpose of the disguise is to gain Lucentio access to the forbidden Bianca.
Meanwhile, Tranio will pretend to be Lucentio.
Now the play's second and main courtship begins with the arrival in Padua of Petruchio. Petruchio intends to find a rich
wife. As soon as his friend Hortensio hears this news, he realizes that he may have found a husband for Katherina.
Though he tells Petruchio what a shrew Katherina is, that problem doesn't phase Petruchio a bit. He believes he can deal
with any woman's temper. Because Petruchio's marrying Katherina will free Bianca, Hortensio, Gremio, and Tranio
(dressed as Lucentio) tell Petruchio they will help pay the expenses of his courtship.
When the entire party arrives at Baptista's house, Petruchio immediately offers himself as a suitor to Katherina and
presents Hortensio, now dressed as the tutor Litio, to teach the girls music. Gremio presents Lucentio, dressed as
Cambio, to teach Bianca literature. And Tranio, dressed as Lucentio, presents himself as the third suitor to Bianca.
As soon as the others have gone, Petruchio and Baptista agree on a large dowry to be paid Petruchio for marrying
Katherina. But Baptista thinks that the wedding will never occur because Petruchio will not be able to stomach Katherina
nor will he be able to win her love.
When Petruchio and Katherina meet, the sparks of battle fly. The two are clearly a match for each other. Petruchio
flatters Katherina, but she fights his every word. He nonetheless maintains that he is delighted with her and that they will
be married the next Sunday. When the others return, Petruchio falsely reports that she has agreed to the wedding and
that she acts shrewish only when other people are around.
With Katherina promised, the rivalry over Bianca comes to a head. Baptista auctions off his younger daughter to
Tranio/Lucentio, who offers a higher price than does old Gremio. Unfortunately, Tranio has promised the fortune of
Lucentio's father- Vincentio- without Vincentio's consent. Baptista insists that Vincentio must agree to the bargain in
person. So, though one problem- the marriage of Katherina- is solved, another one- how to find a "pretend" father who
will consent to Lucentio's marriage- has been created. And Petruchio has still not tamed Katherina.
Petruchio keeps everyone in suspense on the wedding day by arriving late. Worse, he is dressed in outlandish rags and
rides a worn-out horse. At the wedding, Petruchio humiliates Katherina by behaving even worse than she does. After the
ceremony, he insists on leaving at once for his own house and will not wait to eat the wedding dinner. When Katherina
does not want to leave immediately, he declares that he "will be master of what is mine own."
The "taming" continues at Petruchio's house. He tells us that he will weary Katherina and keep her without food until she
accepts his mastery. So, protesting that things aren't good enough for her, Petruchio throws the food off the table, tosses
sheets and pillows off the bed, and shouts and quarrels all night. When a tailor and a haberdasher (accessory maker)
come next day to show the bride new clothes, Petruchio sends everything back, shouting that the clothes are poorly
Meanwhile, Tranio (still disguised as "Lucentio") continues the excellent job he's doing for his master. He makes a pact
with Hortensio that neither of them should marry Bianca, since she clearly prefers the schoolmaster "Cambio" (the real
Lucentio). Hortensio decides to marry a widow who has loved him for some time.
Shortly thereafter, the "father" Tranio has been seeking for Lucentio turns up in the shape of a newly arrived scholar, the
Pedant (a Merchant in some editions of the play). Tranio deceives the Pedant into pretending to be Vincentio. He
introduces the Pedant to Baptista, who agrees to let Bianca marry Lucentio- but of course he means Tranio, who has
been impersonating him. Cambio is sent to tell Bianca what has happened. But instead, he arranges to be secretly
married to her at once, just in case the plot is revealed.
Petruchio has decided to bring Katherina back to her father's house. He has told her directly that she must not argue with
him any more. To test her, Petruchio on the way praises the sun but calls it the moon, and then, being contradicted by
Katherina, orders the whole party to return to his house. She capitulates, saying that it can be sun or moon just as he
wishes. The taming has worked- she is obedient and compliant. To prove it, Petruchio orders her to greet a traveler on
the road as a young girl, although the person is an old man. She does so at once. Then Petruchio corrects her and tells
her to make good her mistake, and she does so. The old man is surprised and a little uneasy at these apparently crazy
people, but he decides to travel with them to Padua. He is Vincentio, the real father of Lucentio.
The stage is now set for a confrontation between the real and the pretended Vincentio. It happens in front of Lucentio's
house. Lucentio's servants pretend not to know Vincentio, and the uproar is so great that Vincentio is about to be
arrested, when in come Lucentio and Bianca, just married. Lucentio kneels to ask his father's forgiveness.
The story ends at a wedding feast for Petruchio, Lucentio, and Hortensio and their three new wives, Katherina, Bianca,
and the Widow. Petruchio proposes a gamble that the other two grooms readily accept. The husband whose wife comes
immediately when summoned will win the pot. Bianca and the Widow refuse to come; Katherina arrives at once. At
Petruchio's orders she goes back to get the two other women and then speaks to all assembled about the duty of women
to men. Katherina and Petruchio depart in triumph, leaving Lucentio and Hortensio astonished and less than pleased with
their own wives.
Masculine confidence and strength characterize Petruchio. He never voices any doubt that he can tame Katherina.
But beyond these basics, readers often disagree about Petruchio. Is he greedy, authoritarian, crude, and cruel?
Almost his first words are that he wants a wealthy wife. And he picks his mate, sight unseen, simply on the basis
of what he has been told about her father's money. He also wants to be "master of what is mine own"- to take
his rightful place as male and husband in the Elizabethan scheme of things, where a man is head of the
household and a wife must obey her husband. But is it necessary for him to bring Katherina to a state of total
submission? At the end of the play, he is not satisfied with having her come out at his bidding. He asks her to
stamp upon her new hat in full view of the other guests. You may wonder whether this additional demand is not
unnecessary humiliation. You may also want to question Petruchio's methods. He seems to enjoy starving his wife
and depriving her of sleep and doesn't try gentler methods of winning her love.
On the other hand, Petruchio seems genuinely attracted to Katherina precisely because of her independence and
feistiness. Had docility and wealth been his only goals, he could have joined in the competition for Bianca. And
his crude language, full of the often bawdy slang of the Elizabethan period, may seem a refreshing change from
the romantic cliches with which Lucentio woos Bianca.
Much of your opinion of Petruchio will depend on your interpretation of the taming. Some readers feel that, in
"taming" Katherina, Petruchio is simply exercising brute masculine power. Others note that he never uses
violence against Katherina. Some even see him as a firm "educator" bringing out the best in Katherina. What is
your opinion? Is Petruchio psychologically astute, because he realizes after his first rough encounter with
Katherina that her true nature isn't shrewish?
Petruchio uses the metaphor of taming a hawk to explain his strategy. The training, which results in a mutual
trust between man and bird, requires immense energy, patience, and dedication from the tamer. Petruchio puts
the same kind of energy and patience into "taming" Katherina. If she is exhausted, he is much more so but never
shows it. When she does not eat, neither does he. He is ready to go back to the beginning of the process at any
time she shows signs of backsliding. He never loses his temper with her and always insists on his love for her.
Shakespeare does not explain Katherina's dreadful temper and unrestrained rebelliousness. He gives some clues,
but none are unambiguous. It's obvious that Katherina's father, Baptista Minola, hasn't treated her as well as he
treats Bianca, her younger sister. On the other hand, is her "shrewishness" a cause or a result of this favoritism?
Katherina is obviously a highly intelligent woman whose gifts have no outlet in the domestic company of the
household. Note how Katherina keeps up with Petruchio pun for pun and insult for insult in their first meeting.
Perhaps her fury is simply the result of having no outlet for her feisty wit.
Katherina's development in the play is an important psychological puzzle you must solve. Is she really tamed by
Petruchio? Or does she figure out his game and decide it's best to play it? Or does she recognize her own
excessive behavior in his and decide to change of her own free will? And finally should we, as modern readers,
want her to be tamed? Perhaps her initial independence is a virtue.
Katherina reacts without thinking to the first part of the "taming." She's preoccupied with her own physical
distress and frustration. But when Petruchio addresses her directly, she may finally understand his strategy. "Look
what I speak, or do, or think to do, / You are still crossing it," he says. In a subsequent scene, she yields.
Perhaps she is just exhausted, starved for sleep and food, denied new clothes. On the other hand, she may have
come to see Petruchio's actions as a game, one she can enjoy playing. Note how enthusiastically she responds
when he insists on calling old Vincentio a young maid. Or could it be that she loves Petruchio and really wants to
Look at her first meeting with Petruchio, when for the first time in her life a man speaks kindly to her. She seems
moved by Petruchio's praise. When it looks as if he will jilt her on her wedding day, she weeps and wishes she
had never seen him. Is this grief a sign of having fallen in love?
Katherina's final speech is very unpalatable to modern sentiments and contains the most submissive words she
speaks in the play. But note how even this speech is subject to interpretation, especially in performance. In some
performances the actress speaks listlessly as if completely beaten down. In others she speaks with tongue in
cheek as if she is only joking. Your understanding of this final speech should be consistent with your
interpretation of Katherina's motives throughout the taming.
In contrast to Katherina, Bianca is the sweet and submissive daughter. Her name means "white" in Italian, a color
the Elizabethans would have associated with purity, beauty, and other such desirable feminine qualities. But
Bianca may remind you of some people you know: You're attracted to them for their good looks and their
apparently sweet natures, but they later behave in ways that don't match your first impressions. Watch what
Bianca does and consider whether her actions match her words. She tells Katherina while they are fighting that
she well knows her duty to her elders. But she is perfectly capable of asserting her own will, as she does when
giving orders to the disguised Hortensio and Lucentio. She manipulates her suitors so as to encourage Lucentio
and discourage Hortensio. And Bianca has no scruples about the deception being practiced on her father, nor any
objections to a secret marriage with Lucentio.
Bianca gets what she wants, even while she appears to comply with authority's commands. But she may have the
potential to become a "shrew" herself. Note her behavior at the marriage banquet. First she indulges in some
bawdy banter usually more characteristic of her sister. Then she disobeys her new husband.
Lucentio is a young man whose wealthy father has sent him to Padua for a university education. He is attended
by two servants and has enough money to rent fine living quarters. But he's susceptible to romantic impulse. As
soon as he sees Bianca, university studies are totally forgotten. He is immediately full of one subject only and
starts making plans to marry the object of his passion.
Lucentio may not be so much a fully developed human being as a stock character used to contrast with Petruchio
and to advance the plot. Note that Lucentio isn't remarkable for his intelligence. His servant Tranio does all the
intriguing for him. The other servant, Biondello, arranges the elopement but has some difficulty making Lucentio
understand that he should hurry off and marry Bianca. You can think of Lucentio as a typical romanticist, a
university youth insulated from trouble by a rich, indulgent father and two clever servants. On the other hand, his
seeming denseness may simply have been a method of letting the servants explain the complicated plot to the
Incidentally, the name of the character Lucentio "changes" into Cambio, which means "change" in Italian.
Tranio, a stock character derived from Roman comedy, is a servant who seems superior to his master. He's a
realist, as you can see from his first speech to Lucentio. He doesn't believe for a moment in Lucentio's devotion
to learning and is proved right when Bianca enters.
Lucentio's dependence on Tranio is almost complete: "Counsel me, Tranio, for I know thou canst; / Assist me,
Tranio, for I know thou wilt." You can be pretty sure that Lucentio would never end up married to Bianca without
Tranio's quick wits and energy. Tranio handles the bidding for Bianca, manipulates Hortensio into marrying the
Widow, and convinces the Pedant to portray Vincentio.
Note also how Tranio takes so well to being disguised as his master. He is the son of a tradesman ("a sailmaker
in Bergamo") but can refer to Ovid and Aristotle apparently from firsthand knowledge. And Tranio speaks in verse
(a sign of superior thought and station in Shakespeare), whereas the other servants speak in prose. In fact, he
seems quite at home giving orders to these other, more clownish, servants.
Hortensio's friendship with Petruchio provides the latter with the opportunity to visit Padua and to woo Katherina,
and so is a link between the two plots. He is first presented as one of Bianca's wooers, but there is something
halfhearted about his suit throughout, despite his disguise as the music master Litio (sometimes spelled Licio). He
is not even present when Bianca is auctioned off by her father. He quite readily makes a pact with
Tranio/Lucentio according to which neither of them will marry Bianca. Hortensio has even less individuality than
the play's other stock characters.
Gremio is called a "pantaloon" in the first stage direction. A pantaloon was a stock character in Italian comedy,
the old fool wearing baggy pants who feebly pursues a young girl and makes himself look silly in his expressions
of love. Gremio probably looks old, and he does behave sometimes foolishly, but he isn't a clown. Nonetheless,
there is no sympathy for the old lover in The Taming of the Shrew. The audience is obviously expected to
approve the mating of the young people and to laugh at Gremio's aspirations.
Baptista was probably more admired in Elizabethan times than he would be now. He is a wealthy businessman
who shows little feeling for his daughters. He makes no attempt to understand Katherina, and he auctions off
Bianca to the highest bidder. He arranges that, should Lucentio default on his promise to produce his father,
Bianca must then marry old Gremio. But Elizabethans may have seen him as a good father. Remember that he is
assuring his daughters' economic future in a society where they had virtually no opportunity to make a living.
The Widow who marries Hortensio has a tiny part and no name, but she makes an impression in a few words.
She insults Petruchio (and Katherina) when they are feasting together after the three marriages: "He that is giddy
thinks the world turns round." In other words, because he married a shrew, he thinks everyone else has done the
She continues to be so ungracious that Petruchio asks Katherina to address her speech on women's duty first to
her. The Widow is a reminder of Katherina's former self, contrasted with Katherina so that you can see how much
Katherina has changed.
THE SERVANTS GRUMIO, BIONDELLO, CURTIS
These three servants and the others in Petruchio's household are, unlike Tranio, illiterate and clownish.
Elizabethans loved comic serving men in their plays. These fellows depend on their native wits to survive and to
please the often ridiculous whims of their masters. They are full of puns and dirty jokes, frustrating their masters
because they take everything literally, though they nonetheless obey and help their masters.
Comic serving men are always complaining about the cold or being tired or being hungry. They are also a source
of deflating comment on the action. High-flown rhetoric is punctured at once when a servant tells the truth:
Biondello tells us that the Pedant doesn't look a bit like Vincentio. The servants are sometimes the voice of
ordinary humanity in a world of pretense.
THE PEDANT, VINCENTIO, AND OTHERS
Both the Pedant and Vincentio are only plot conveniences meant to advance the story. (In some editions of the
play, the Pedant is called a Merchant.) Other incidental characters include the tailor and the haberdasher, the
servants at Petruchio's house, and the officer who comes to arrest Vincentio.
Shakespeare set The Taming of the Shrew in Padua, a town in northern Italy near Venice, but several mistakes indicate
that he didn't know much about the real Padua or Italy, and the food, clothing, and customs referred to in the play are
almost all of Elizabethan England. Geography and cartography (map- making) were only beginning to be developed in
Shakespeare's time. Place and time were not depicted realistically on stage, and costumes were contemporary
Elizabethan regardless of the setting. The Italian setting of The Taming is thus important in only one respect.
Shakespeare's comedies, especially his early ones like The Taming of the Shrew, were influenced by a tradition of Italian
and classical Roman farce and comedy. Like many of the stock characters, the setting derives from those models. But into
this conventional locale, Shakespeare brings the richness of Elizabethan language and the originality of his own mind.
You should note two other points about the setting. After marrying Katherina, Petruchio takes her away with him to a
country house outside the city of Padua. It is in this new locale, as well as on the journey there and back, that Katherina
undergoes her transformation. Observe also how quickly Lucentio abandons his scholarly duties and falls hopelessly in
love when he is away from his usual milieu, Pisa. In his later plays Shakespeare often uses either a voyage or a new
location (especially a rural location away from the ordered city scene) as an impetus for character change.
Secondly, because The Taming of the Shrew begins as a play performed for Christopher Sly, you might want to argue
that it is all set in Warwickshire, a location that Shakespeare depicts with a detailed accuracy absent in his portrayal of
Moreover, if the Induction is indeed to be taken as an integral part of the play, then the setting of the main action may
even be a dream. Sly, who falls asleep under the alehouse wall, may only be dreaming that he has been taken into the
comfort and luxury of a lord's house (not an unlikely dream for someone asleep on the cold, damp ground!) and then that
the lord has entertained him with a play. If this were the case, we should expect a final scene where Sly wakes up and
tells us it was a dream. Such a scene makes so much sense that The Taming of the Shrew is sometimes performed with it
The following are major themes of The Taming of the Shrew.
1. THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES
The Katherina-Petruchio plot is about domination in man-woman relationships. Who's going to be boss? It's one
of the oldest themes in the world. Katherina is having her own way at the beginning of the play, and no one is
comfortable, not even Katherina herself. Petruchio seems to re-establish the natural order of the times, with men
ruling women for everyone's good. You must make up your mind whether in fact Petruchio will dominate their
marriage, or whether Katherina has simply found a subtler method of getting her own way, or whether a
partnership with no domination will ensue. You may also want to ask whether you applaud Katherina's final
conversion if you believe she has been converted. Don't feel that you have to defend the conversion simply
because Shakespeare wrote it. Even before the feminism of our own day, many readers found this play offensive.
You'll also want to look at the attitude of Bianca as she progresses through the play. Is her scorn for Katherina's
statement of submission at the end justified by her prior behavior? What is her strategy in the battle between
men and women, especially in regard to Lucentio and her father?
The play has two speeches describing the correct behavior of a wife, the first in the Induction where the Lord
instructs his page how to impersonate Sly's wife and the second in the last scene by Katherina. How do they
compare? Do you think Shakespeare's own attitude is reflected in either? or in both?
1. THE ELIZABETHAN SENSE OF ORDER
The Elizabethans believed that the world was ordered in a series of hierarchies, beginning with God at the top of
the highest one and continuing down in a series of nested pyramids. For example, the monarch was the highest
point of the political hierarchy. He or she was supposed to be like God to nobles and common subjects alike.
Similarly, a man was supposed to be the master of his own household. He expected obedience and submission
from his inferiors- his wife, children, and servants. On the other hand, the Elizabethans knew that their world did
not always conform to their ideal. And they were sometimes troubled by conflicting ideals. For example, what are
a wife's obligations to a husband who neglects his own duties?
The Taming of the Shrew plays on the idea of order reversals. In the Induction, the Lord deliberately upsets the
order by making Christopher Sly a lord for comic purposes. Would the world be more orderly if a disruptive fellow
like Sly were transformed, or is it more "orderly" to let him be himself? Petruchio forcibly re-establishes the order
of man-woman relationships as he tames Katherina. You'll want to look also at the other reversals in the
relationship of servant to master and of student to teacher. In Katherina's final speech, all the elements are
brought together as she explicitly compares a properly ordered household to a harmoniously governed kingdom.
But Bianca and the Widow indicate that they don't accept her advice, and Lucentio suggests doubts about its
People learn in The Taming of the Shrew. Some of the learning is willing, and some is forced on people who don't
want to learn. In the Induction, Sly is educated into the refined manners of the aristocracy although he hasn't
expressed any desire to know them. Like the rest of the play, this comic scene raises an important question about
education. When does education liberate and when does it coerce? When it coerces, can that coercion be justified
by the need for social order?
Bianca is tutored by Hortensio/Litio and by Lucentio/Cambio, himself a student, but she doesn't learn what they
formally profess to teach. She learns instead that Lucentio loves her. And further, she learns how to deceive her
Katherina is the most conspicuous object of education in the play. She learns what to do to please Petruchio, her
father, and her sister. Maybe she learns that freedom is not absolute and must be exercised within social
restraints. Is there a sense in which she is freer at the end of the play than when at first she insisted on her own
will? Her education may also include a knowledge of her true self as well as of the ways to be true to others. On
the other hand, many audiences have liked Kate best before her "education" and find her change upsetting.
Where there is education there must be teachers as well as students. Petruchio seems the perfect teacher: he
has a clear plan and self-confidence. What other attributes of the good teacher do you see in Petruchio? Are
there any techniques he uses that you wouldn't? Petruchio is not a scholar and provides a strong contrast to the
two supposed schoolmasters (Lucentio/Cambio and Hortensio/Litio), who mimic the ineffective ways of formal
scholars. At the end of the play, Petruchio has the satisfaction of seeing his own student become an excellent
teacher in her turn.
Look at other characters to see how the theme of education is handled in the play. What does Baptista learn?
3. TAMING AND ANIMAL IMAGERY
The title of the play is doubly metaphorical: "taming" is a word used of wild animals and is here applied to a
woman; a "shrew" is a tiny mouselike animal with a quite undeserved reputation as venomous and ferocious. You
might want to make notes on the number of times in the play people are compared to animals. Sometimes the
relationship of tamer to animal is a key male-female image. Hortensio can't "break" Katherina to the lute,
referring to the breaking of a horse. Both Bianca and Katherina are called "haggards": hawks caught in maturity
and therefore needing to be mastered. Petruchio's strategy with Katherina is explicitly modeled on the "manning"
or taming of a haggard. Are women ever referred to as animals other than ones to be tamed? Are males ever
referred to as animals? In what kind of relationships, if not as tamer versus tamed? How do you feel about
relationships between people being described as relationships between humans and animals?
4. MARRIAGE CUSTOMS
Every character who marries or has anything to do with arranging a marriage in The Taming of the Shrew has a
different attitude to marriage. Lucentio is a romantic who falls in love at first sight and thinks that such romantic
love is a basis for marriage. Petruchio says that he wants to marry for money. Hortensio seeks comfort, not
beauty. Baptista thinks of marriage as a business proposition: What does he have to give to get rid of Katherina
and how well will Bianca be supported? Christopher Sly in the Induction is told that he has a wife, and his one
thought is to get her into bed with him.
Considering this range of attitudes, is it possible to conclude how Shakespeare felt? Which character, if any,
seems to speak for the author? Which character is most genuinely "romantic"? Lucentio uses the language of
romantic courtship, but is he wooing a real woman or an idealized image of one?
5. ILLUSION AND REALITY
In one sense, The Taming of the Shrew is like a series of mirrors within mirrors, reflecting illusions. If Christopher
Sly is dreaming, then the main play is an illusion. Some of this play's characters- the Pedant, Lucentio, Hortensio-
disguise themselves, so there is even more illusion.
The unveiling of reality is a subtheme in the main play. Some see Katherina's nature as revealed rather than
changed- she was always brilliant and admirable, but her qualities were hidden under her shrewishness. Bianca,
on the other hand, reveals willfulness and deceit under her mildness. Tranio reveals qualities that make him more
effective than Lucentio. Is he really more of a master than a servant?
As in Shakespeare's other plays, and indeed in much of the drama of his time, most of the dialogue is in verse. The
specific form of verse that Shakespeare used most often is called iambic pentameter. In iambic pentameter, each line has
ten syllables and the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth syllables are the accented ones (the ones on which stress is
put when speaking). Once you become used to iambic pentameter and to Elizabethan English, you should find
Shakespeare's style in The Taming of the Shrew fairly straightforward. There aren't many examples of the Shakespearean
grand style in The Taming of the Shrew.
The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare's earliest plays (some scholars think it may be his first). It's a
characteristic of Shakespeare's earlier style to include many rhymed couplets. They usually occur as the last two lines of a
scene, where they serve to clinch the action with a rhyme. Look at the ends of the scenes and you'll find the couplets,
although sometimes they're a bit strained: Here's the end of Act IV, Scene i, with Petruchio speaking:
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak- 'tis charity to show.
You can also find rhymes within the scenes, especially in lines that alternate between characters:
PETRUCHIO: O pardon me, Signor Gremio, I would fain be doing.
GREMIO: I doubt it not, sir, but you will curse your wooing.
(Act II, Scene i, lines 74-75)
Rhymes and puns exemplify the Elizabethan delight in language. The characters show pleasure simply in speaking words.
Look at Biondello's description of Petruchio's rags and horse as he arrives for his wedding (Act III, Scene ii)- a heaping up
of images for comic effect. Look also at Biondello's and Grumio's wordplay with their masters when they deliver
messages. Especially in Shakespeare's early plays you sometimes wonder whether a message will ever be delivered
straight without a punning contest first.
The Taming of the Shrew sometimes uses style to differentiate types of characters. In general, characters lower in the
social order speak prose and aristocrats speak poetry. Note that Christopher Sly changes from prose to verse when he
begins to think he is a lord. Prose is sometimes used for ordinary transactions, while matters of feeling and intellect are
usually expressed in verse. Part of the difference between Petruchio's and Lucentio's manners of wooing is also a matter
of style. Note how Lucentio uses Greek and Roman references to describe Bianca. What do you think of this kind of
language or of his references to "coral lips" and breath of "perfume"? Compare this high-blown language to Petruchio's
use of animal imagery and sexual puns.
POINT OF VIEW
A play is not like a novel- it is never told from only one or two characters' points of view as a novel may be. Its point of
view is everybody's in turn. That is why it is effective to act out a play with other people instead of reading it alone; it
highlights the alternative points of view of different characters.
When you analyze a play, you use some of the same skills as when you are trying to understand the people around you.
You find out their motivations by listening and observing. In this sense, watching a play is more "natural" than reading a
novel, because the story and ideas aren't filtered through a single narrator or character- you have to work out the
perspective of the play by following the differing perspectives of several characters. It is often difficult to know where
Shakespeare's own sympathies lie. Can you find Shakespeare's view of marriage, for example, in this play? Is it the view
of one character? A combination of two? More?
What are the different points of view on Katherina? For example, if you want to contrast Petruchio's view of Katherina
with her father's, your first evidence might be those speeches in Acts II and III where Petruchio praises Katherina, while
Baptista describes her behavior as so bad that Petruchio won't want to marry her. Does Petruchio ever change his initial
view of Katherina?
Shakespeare didn't totally invent the plots of his plays. He adapted them from stories he read, historical accounts,
folklore, poems, and other plays. In The Taming of the Shrew, you must account for three plots: the Sly framework, the
Katherina-Petruchio taming plot, and the Bianco-Lucentio wooing plot.
Some scholars have believed that Shakespeare adapted an old play. However, the more current view is that The Taming
of the Shrew was written as early as 1590 or so, and is a source for The Taming of a Shrew, published in 1594, rather
than the other way around. Although no one knows for sure, people now generally believe that A Shrew was a poorly
memorized version of The Shrew.
The Sly framework has its origins in folklore. There are numerous stories with similar incidents and patterns. The story is
found throughout Europe and even in the Arabian Nights. It's basically the same in all versions: A man of the lower class
is found by an aristocrat and treated like a lord, so that he thinks he has been dreaming. By Shakespeare's time, the story
was popular in ballads and folk poetry, so that it would have been recognized as a familiar tale by Shakespeare's
audience. And for many of the details of the Sly story, Shakespeare probably turned to his own youthful experience in
The Katherina-Petruchio plot also is familiar in folklore as the wife-taming story. Most versions are much more brutal than
Shakespeare's: often the husband kills an animal, wraps the wife in its hide, and beats her. Again there are ballads on the
theme, and it appears frequently in classical and medieval literature. However, Shakespeare gives Petruchio and
Katherina broader psychological dimensions than do the earlier versions of the story.
Though the Bianca-Lucentio plot has forerunners in much of Roman and Italian comedy, it also has a specific written
source, a play called Supposes. Supposes was translated by George Gascoigne in 1566 from the Italian original by
Ludovico Ariosto, a sixteenth-century Italian poet famous for the epic Orlando Furioso. Some of Supposes corresponds
exactly to the Bianca-Lucentio plot; for example, the exchange of clothes between master and servant, and the use of a
casual traveler as the lover's father. The name "Petruchio" comes from the source-play, but it's the name of a servant,
not a major character.
Finding sources gives you the feeling you know a little about Shakespeare's way of writing his plays. But it says nothing
about the real genius of Shakespeare- his ability to combine language, plot, and characterization to form a complete
picture not only of his own world but of the world of human concerns for all ages.
FORM AND STRUCTURE
The Taming of the Shrew has an Induction introducing a setting and characters that disappear after Act I, Scene v.
Perhaps the main play- the one that gives the work its title- was intended to be embedded within another play, some of
whose pages were lost. But, if so, we have only one piece of bread and the filling, not the complete sandwich. Do you
think that the framework as it stands is defective? Do you see connections between the Induction and the rest of the
play? The Lord gives a servant instructions on how his page is to behave when playing Sly's wife. Think of Katherina's
speech at the end of Act V, defining wifely duty. Some readers also point to common themes of illusion and reality (the
deception practiced on Sly and the deceptions used to court Bianca) and of character conversion, as both Katherina and
Sly are transformed from rough diamonds to polished gems. Still others suggest that by making the main story a play
within the play Shakespeare was telling us to see it as an entertainment and not as the last word on its subject matter.
Now consider the form and structure of the two main plots. As in a television situation comedy of our own day, two or
more situations alternate until they intermesh. And elements in each plot help resolve the dilemmas of the other.
In The Taming of the Shrew parallel scenes, each showing the arrival of a young man in Padua, initiate each plot. Then
the scenes alternate until they cross at the point where Katherina and Petruchio meet Vincentio.
It helps to look at a schematic diagram.
See how each plot offers relief from and acts as a foil to (contrasts with) the other. For instance, the Petruchio-Katherina
marriage is a noisy farce, whereas the Bianca-Lucentio marriage is so quiet it's hardly noticed (although both marriages
take place offstage). The two scenes in which Baptista arranges for his daughters' financial futures form another parallel,
though opposite, pair: Petruchio is promised a dowry by Baptista to wed Katherina, but Lucentio has to outbid Gremio to
win Bianca. Part of Shakespeare's originality lies in the intimate way he weaves together material from two such different
sources. The main play is organized in the five-act structure of ancient Roman drama. The first act introduces the two
plots; the second intensifies the complications; the third contains some climactic action- in this case, the marriage of
Petruchio and Katherina; the fourth reintroduces an element foreshadowed in the earlier part of the play (a father for
Vincentio); and the fifth resolves everything.
All languages change. Differences in pronunciation and word choice are apparent even between parents and their
children. If language differences can appear in one generation, it is only to be expected that the English used by
Shakespeare four hundred years ago will diverge markedly from the English used today.