The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare (from Shakespeare A to Z, by Charles Boyce)
Taming of the Shrew is sometimes seen as an account of the tyranny of man over woman, but this is a misinterpretation stemming from our distance from the assumptions of Shakespeare's day.
Shakespeare's version of the 'Battle of the Sexes' is a striking step forward from its predecessors. The violence in the play is limited to Kate's battles and Petruchio's attempts at behavior modification therapy.
The play relies heavily on accepted dramatic conventions, and despite lacking the depth of Shakespeare's later comedies, it foreshadows them. It is a remarkable early work in a writer's career.
In Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio and Kate engage in a battle of wits as he tries to "tame" his bold and stubborn wife and bring her into line with society's expectations. This romantic farce, full of disguises and role playing, deals with themes such as marriage and duty, reality and illusion, and compromise. The Taming of the Shrew is one of William Shakespeare's most clever and sophisticated comedies.
The suitor, bridegroom, and tamer of Katharina, the shrew in the title.
He is sometimes seen as a tyrannical male, selfishly dominating a woman who cannot escape him. However, this view reflects certain modern attitudes towards marriage. He does not physically abuse or humiliate Katherina, and in 'submitting' to him, she is merely assuming the conventional role as a wife.
Petruchio is a humorous figure -- seen in ridiculous clothes while indulging in spectacular tantrums --but his primary role is more serious. His importance is as Kate's tamer. He is the instrument of the personality change that is the central event in the play.
Although Kate is one of Shakespeare's most enigmatic heroines, she is not the only complicated character in The Taming of the Shrew. Her groom, Petruchio, has nearly as much mystery surrounding him as does Kate herself. Yet exploring Petruchio forces us to ask questions that can become difficult largely because, frankly, we want to like him. In a sense, it's initially hard to explore a side of him which may, in fact, make him less likable. Is he a man of honor or a mercenary seeking only to marry into money? Is he domineering and truly worthy of the title "tamer," or does the role he takes with Katherine constitute something less aggressive and ultimately more democratic? To be sure, in the end, it's clear Petruchio is not nearly as mercenary as we might initially think. In fact, when all is said and done, Petruchio is a successful match for the strong-willed and ebullient Kate.
The first difficult issue we must deal with if we are to look at Petruchio fairly is his early claim that he has "come to wive it wealthily in Padua; / If wealthily then happily in Padua" (I.2, 74–75). Certainly this doesn't sound like a declaration from a man destined to marry for love. Rather, it sounds like a man who is following the common, traditional pattern for the time: making the best alliance he can for himself, elevating his status as much as possible through marriage. If we accept that Petruchio does indeed want to marry solely for financial gain, then another line of questioning arises: If all he wants is money, once he has Katherine's hand (and dowry), why then does he try to help her (and himself) to a better life? It would have been far simpler to treat her poorly, as most shrews in the literature of the time were treated.
It seems as if Petruchio surprises even himself when he realizes that although he outwardly wishes to marry for money, when it comes to it, he is motivated by something else: the desire to love and be loved. Petruchio, rather than being domineering and selfish, is an observant man who quickly senses in Katherine something more than her outward shrewishness. He sees beyond the superficial (unlike Lucentio who falls in love with Bianca based on what he has observed) and aptly recognizes that her behavior is a masquerade, a tough exterior intended to cover her inner desire to be loved and valued. On top of that, Petruchio becomes so attracted to her spirit and her non-conventional nature that when he accomplishes his initial desire to "wive it wealthily," he takes his involvement a step further, making a great effort to help Kate develop, sensing that the true Kate, when she can be brought out, will compliment him well.
Part of what makes Petruchio so likeable is his apparent disregard for social decorum, particularly when he works to get Kate to abandon her shrewish exterior. For instance, he doesn't buy into the notion of "birthright," as we see by his refusal to treat Katherine as a woman of her status traditionally expects to be treated. Rather, Petruchio's treatment of Kate is based on how she behaves. She has to earn her privileges. We see another good example of Petruchio's willingness to go against convention in an ends-justifying-the-means fashion when he arrives late for the wedding. To be sure, though, it is this exact willingness to go against convention that keeps Petruchio from being a paragon for the Elizabethan man (remember, class and social stratifications were encouraged by those in power during Shakespeare's time). Many of the ordinary people who initially viewed the plays (they made up the bulk of the audience) would likely have seen Petruchio as a hero, but to those in power, aspects of Petruchio's behavior would have been cause for concern.
Another aspect of Petruchio's nature that adds to his appeal is the way in which he grows to trust his wife — something none of the other characters do. The play's final scene provides the best example when, in the midst of the banquet, Petruchio eagerly puts his reputation in Kate's hands. For him, the initial twenty crown wager is an insult, causing him to exclaim "I'll venture so much of my hawk or hound, / But twenty times so much upon my wife" (V.2, 73–74). Kate comes when she is called, as Petruchio was sure she would, but in giving Kate the task of telling "these headstrong women / What duty they do owe their lords and husbands" (V.2, 144–145), he releases complete control of his reputation. At this point, whatever she says will reflect not only on her, but on him as well. At this point Petruchio is also giving Kate an unparalleled opportunity: to address and instruct the party. Clearly he trusts her — so much, in fact, that he is willing to share the public forum with her (an extraordinary occurrence for a woman). Kate's formidable speech leaves her own husband speechless, able to exclaim only "Why, there's a wench!" (184).
Although in many ways Petruchio is like his wife, admittedly he doesn't undergo the same sort of maturation and development as she does (after all, his tyranny is clearly a fiction, a parody created to help Kate see the senselessness of her behavior). It would be unfair, though, to claim he remains static. When we look back to the Petruchio of the early acts, he is determined to live solely for himself, intending to exist largely on the dowry of the wife he hopes to find. If this were his sole motivation, though, what point would there be in his taking the time to help his wife into a partnership? If money were his only goal, surely he wouldn't bother trying to help Kate to a different perspective. When it comes to it, it seems Petruchio does not, in fact, want merely to wive it wealthily. He wants someone who can spar wits with him, challenge him, and excite him intellectually, emotionally, and physically. By the wedding scene, Petruchio has come to this realization; hence, he willingly assumes the all-important role as the catalyst for Kate's change. For instance, purposely arriving late, wearing conspicuously inappropriate attire, and behaving in a completely improper manner at the wedding mark Petruchio's initial steps in getting a wife worth more than merely her money. By play's end his gamble to try and bring Kate to a higher level of understanding pays off. Petruchio gets the mate he desires — but he, too, is changed. He is no longer the mercenary man from the early acts; rather he is a man deserving of the extraordinary partner he has gained.
The ill-tempered young woman courted, married and tamed by Petruchio.
She is presented as a volatile and distinctly unhappy person. A familiar character, one who resents the rejection she receives, yet she makes herself less likable by taking exception to everything.
The psychological pressure within Kate bursts forth in violence, both threatened and actual. But in Acts 4-5 we are witness to a change, under the forceful guidance of Petruchio. She is shown the path of the discontented outcast, and she chooses one of acceptance and moral worth. It is Petrchio's behavior that ultimately shows Kate the shrewishness she has displayed, and she rejects the former, defensive character of herself and assumes the role of the ordinary wife.
Like many other of Shakespeare's comedies, The Taming of the Shrew features a woman as one of the story's chief protagonists. Katherine Minola is a fiery, spirited woman, and as such, the male dominated world around her doesn't quite know what to do with her. Much of what we know about Kate initially comes from what other people say about her. In Act I, for instance, we see her only briefly and hear her speak even less, yet our view of Katherine is fairly well established. Shakespeare, though, is setting up a clever teaching lesson, helping us later to see the errors of our own hasty judgment (just as characters in Shrew will also learn lessons about rushing to judgments). Right after Baptista announces that Kate must marry before Bianca may take suitors, Gremio colors our interpretation of the elder daughter by declaring "She's too rough for me" (1.1.55). Later in the scene, Gremio reiterates his dislike for Kate, demeaning her as a "fiend of hell" (88) and offering that "though her father be very rich, any man is so very a fool to be married to hell" (124–126). He finishes off with the declaration that to marry Kate is worse than to "take her dowry with this condition: to be whipped at the high cross every morning" (132–134). Hortensio, too, is quick to add to the foray, calling Kate a devil (66) and claiming that she is not likely to get a husband unless she is "of gentler, milder mold" (60). Tranio, Lucentio's servant, is perhaps the only man in this scene not to disparage Kate, diagnosing her as "stark mad or wonderful froward" (69).
Kate, in her own defense, offers telling commentary on her situation. Although other characters encourage us to see her as unmannerly and incorrigible, deserving of marginalization and abuse, looking more closely at what Kate actually says reveals she may not be as domineering as some characters would have us believe. For instance, the first lines we hear her speak are to her father, imploring him not to wed her to a fool (57–58). Although it is somewhat nervy for her to speak out against her father, the fact that she does so in order to make what seems to us to be a fairly reasonable demand helps us see her as reasonable rather than shrewish.
In Act II, we get another look at Katherine and learn a bit more about what motivates her seemingly outrageous behavior: She's responding to the favoritism she perceives Baptista holds toward her sister, Bianca. As Act II opens, Kate enters, dragging Bianca with her hands tied. On one level, the mere act of one sister roping the other and handling her roughly for a perceived injustice is comic, but when we stop and consider from Kate's perspective we can have a bit more empathy. Kate is venting her anger that Bianca should be indulged with suitors while she remains alone. Granted, she is an intelligent and spirited woman who wouldn't be satisfied with simpering men such as Gremio and Hortensio. Rather, she needs a strong man to compliment her own strong and powerful personality. When Baptista enters and comes to Bianca's rescue, we learn what's really underlying Kate's behavior: She's angry at the way Baptista favors her younger sister. She confronts her father, claiming Bianca is his "treasure" and "must have a husband" while she, humiliated, dances "barefoot on her wedding day" and leads "apes in hell" (II.1, 31–36). Although Katherine, in the early acts of the play, seems reasonably well motivated in her actions, the manner in which she carries out her feelings is perhaps what most marks her as a shrew. Her actions are decidedly unladylike, revealing Kate's inability to deal in an adult manner with what she is feeling. In short, she comes across as a child who has learned that the best way to get what she wants is to cajole, bully, and lash out, whereas later she will reason and be able to contain her behavior. From early on, we see Kate is a scrapper, ready to enter into a physical brawl rather than risk not getting her way. No matter how justly motivated we may find her actions, the fact she is quick to lash out signals an immature approach to life.
By the time the play hits its midpoint, however, Kate begins her transformation, moving from egocentric misery to a decidedly more mature happiness found, in this case, through marriage. We see the beginning of Kate's change on the ride to Petruchio's house after the wedding. In Act IV, Scene 1, Grumio travels ahead of his master and mistress in order to prepare for their welcome. He recounts the horrors of their travels, including Katherine's slipping off her horse and the horse landing on her (64–75). Petruchio's response was to beat Grumio for letting the horse stumble. Kate, it would seem, would use this occasion to enter into a grand fight, but rather, she waded through the mire to pull Petruchio off Grumio. This simple act of defense signals that Kate is, in fact, capable of considering a perspective other than her own. Shortly after arriving at the house, Kate again shows her kindness in defending a servant who has accidentally spilled some water; Kate's character continues to be revealed as the play progresses. As the couple travels back to old Baptista's house, for example, she begins to see how Petruchio's partnership works. She quickly learns that, if she gives in to what Petruchio says, even if she knows it to be false, she'll get something she wants (for example, they'll travel to her father's house). The test, of course, comes when they meet the real Vincentio on the road, and Petruchio questions Kate as to whether she has ever seen a finer young woman. Rather than arguing the contrary, Kate shows her incredible wit by not only agreeing with him, but also good-naturedly adding to the game! At this point, she has clearly come to understand that Petruchio has a method to his madness, and she begins to realize their relationship can be a partnership with a series of actions and rewards.
Perhaps in no place is Kate seen as more enigmatic than in her final speech. Although some readers' initial impulse is to take the ending at face value, the speech, like Kate herself, is far more rich and dynamic than that. Underlying the speech is Kate's awareness that she is in a partnership and that by advancing the power of her husband she advances her own power. In addition, she is clearly aware of the distinction between public and private behavior, and there is no indication that her assuming this temporary and very public role of suppliant means she will always be that way — especially in private. It shows, also, that Kate has come to a level of maturity, able to handle things in an adult manner (in which there is both give and take). Kate's speech does not reflect a tamed shrew, but rather a richer, more developed woman than the one seen at the story's beginning.
Baptista is an ineffectual elderly genleman, a comic figure in a tradition going back to ancient Roman drama. He is frequently the butt of Katharina's outbursts of temper. He insists on marrying off his elder daughter first, aggravating Kate's already shrewish nature. Once assured Kate is betrothed, Baptista literally auctions Bianca to the highest bidder; his calculating behavior stands in pointed contrast to the infatuation of Bianca's lover, Lucentio. These are standard attitudes and actions of a conventional father-of-the-girl figure; otherwise, Baptista would have virtually no personality.
At first, Bianca seems simply a demure and dutiful foil for her shrewish older sister, Katharina. Kate's stubbornness prevents Bianca from marrying, since her father has ordered the elder must be married first. Bianca's sweet submissiveness also seems to make her a perfect object for the stereotypical romantic rapture of Lucentio, who elopes with her at the climax of the sub-plot.
However, Bianca is more complex than she initially appears. She is catty and self-rightous when she resists Kate's violence, not only declaring her own virtue but also twitting her sister about her age. Furthermore, Bianca draws attention to her supposed moral superiority over Katharina, as when she admonishes her sister with, "Sister, content you in my discontent" (1.1.80). Her ambiguous sweetness may help to explain Kate's generalized belligerence, which has presumably flowered after frequent comparison with her sister's apparent virtue.
We are not surprised to find Bianca shrewish herself in the final scene, holding Lucentio up to ridicule for believing in her wifely obedience. This revelation emphasizes the ironic contrast between the two sisters' marriages. Kate has found true love after an explictly mercenary courtship, whereas Bianca's union with Lucentio, the product of a conventionally idyllic romance, seems likely to be unhappy.
Lucentio, aided by his servant Tranio, disguises himself as a tutor of languages and thus gains access to Bianca, against the wishes of her father, Baptista. Eventually he elopes with her.
His wealthy father, Vincentio assures Baptista that he will provide adequate financial settlement on the couple, and Lucentio is forgiven, only to find, in the final scene, that Bianca is not the ideally demure young bride he had anticipated.
Although the romance of Lucentio and Bianca is contrasted to the mercenary calculations of her father, Lucentio is a rather bloodless lover. He is simply a stereotype--the handsome young male romantic lead--representing a tradition as old as ancient Roman drama. However, in earlier plays, this character tended to marry for money and extend romantic love to mistresses and courtesans; Shakespeare's alteration reflects his concern with love in marriage, a major theme in The Taming of the Shrew.
Lucentio's servant. Tranio accompanies Lucentio to the university at Padua. Wry and comical, he plays an important role in helping Lucentio to woo Bianca--playing a major part in the charade to convince Baptista who his youngest should marry.
A suitor at the beginning of the play to Bianca. Middle-aged and hopeless, Hortensio has his friend, Petruchio, attempt to woo Kate to remove the "eldest daughter marries first" tag from Bianca. He dresses up as a music instructor, Licio, to attempt to teach Bianca 'in-home'. He and Gremio are both thwarted in their efforts and he ends up marrying the Widow.
Gremio is referred to as a 'pantaloon', the humorous figure of a greedy old man in the commedia dell'arte, and he is indeed simply a character type with little real personality.
He is comically cowardly, fearful that the assertiveness of Petruchio will offend Baptista, Bianca's father. His own style is offensively humble; approaching Baptista, he refers to himself as a 'poor petitioner' (2.1.72), in the obsequious language of a minor courtier. He lies about his wealth when Baptista promises his daughter to the wealthiest suitor, but to no avail.
Gremio is absurdly ineffective; in fact, in his attempt to win Bianca's hand he actually introduces the successful suitor into her presence, for he hires the disguised Lucentio as a tutor for the girl, hoping to impress her father.
Probably first published in 1594, Taming of the Shrew is a play filled with romantic intrigue, as the suitors and young women dominate the account of a plot geared to reveal how to 'control a shrew'.
Acts 1-3 reveal a convincingly familiar portrait of a highly defensive woman who shields herself from criticism by attacking others first, and she is strong enough to make her father and sister regret any effort to reform her.
The portrayal of the deceptively demure Bianca, who slyly taunts her sister, suggests that Kate has been compared to her sister too often for her temper to tolerate. Petruchio understands this and , although he is motivated to marry for mercenary reasons, he values Katharina's high spirits. Thus he can manoeuvre her into abandoning her shrewishness, and his technique, although comically overdrawn, is psychologically sophisticated.
Petruchio persistently assures Kate that she is a rational and loving person. On the other hand, he himself behaves terribly, throwing tantrums and flying in the face of good sense... in fact, he exaggerates the behavior by which she has distinguished herself. Her transformation comes about not because Petruchio has forced her to feign acceptance of a role she dislikes, but because she has seen in Petruchio's antics the ugliness of her own shrewish behavior and has come to recognize the emotional rewards for being the dutiful wife. He has understood her, and now she understands herself and him.
Although it is impossible to date The Taming of the Shrew exactly, evidence marks it as one of Shakespeare's earliest comedies, written most likely in the late 1580s or early 1590s. In the Shakespeare chronology, Shrew appears to have been written about 8–10 years before Much Ado About Nothing (1598), another comedy to which it is often compared. Although the plots themselves are dissimilar, each play gives us a bold and saucy pair of protagonists who enter into a battle of wits. Much of the cleverness and verbal acumen found in Much Ado is already apparent in Shrew, suggesting that, even early in his career, Shakespeare was extraordinarily skilled in character development, able to pit a headstrong hero and heroine against each other with fantastic results. Shrew shows us a dramatist who is sophisticated in his characterization and his ability to deal with multiple plots, as well as to address socially relevant topics, bringing them to the forefront for our consideration and discussion.
Like all of Shakespeare's other plays, The Taming of the Shrew can be traced to a variety of sources. Unlike most other plays, however, specific texts are difficult to pinpoint. We know that the primary plot, the story of Katherine and Petruchio, finds its roots in folk tales and songs common in Shakespeare's day. In fact, while growing up, Shakespeare was surrounded by a very public debate over the nature of women, including specific arguments on a woman's duty and role in marriage. Shakespeare drew heavily from this debate.
Just as the main story line has its roots in popular debate, so too does the play's Induction. Although inductions were not uncommon in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century dramas, The Taming of the Shrew is the only play in which Shakespeare features this particular framing device. For The Taming of the Shrew's Induction, Shakespeare features the tale of a beggar who finds himself mysteriously in power in a rich man's world. Like the tales of shrewish wives, tales of beggars miraculously transformed were featured in a London jest-book (1570) and were commonly featured in sixteenth-century English ballads of which Shakespeare was quite likely familiar. The Bianca subplot also has its roots in sources with which Shakespeare would have been familiar. Unlike the Kate/Petruchio plot, which can only be traced to general pamphlets and debates, the Bianca subplot comes from George Gascoigne's Supposes (1566, 1573), a translation of Ariosto's I Suppositi (1509).
Regardless of where Shakespeare drew the basis for the text, the fact remains that he masterfully presents us with a well-founded, carefully developed drama that can't help but get us talking. From the Induction, which seems to end mysteriously and abruptly, to Katherine's final speech on wifely duty, we can't help but find layer upon layer of meaning buried in this early, but great, comedy. Shakespeare uses his skill expertly, bringing out themes we still debate today, over 400 years later.
Famous Quotes from the play
Shakespeare coined many popular phrases that are still commonly used today. Here are some examples of Shakespeare's most familiar quotes from The Taming of the Shrew. You just might be surprised to learn of all the everyday sayings that originally came from Shakespeare!
"I'll not budge an inch." (Induction, Scene I)
"There's small choice in rotten apples." (Act I, Scene I)
"Nothing comes amiss; so money comes withal." (Act I, Scene II)
"Tush! tush! fear boys with bugs." (Act I, Scene II)
"Who wooed in haste, and means to wed at leisure." (Act III, Scene II)
"And thereby hangs a tale." (Act IV, Scene I)