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The Taming of the Shrew
William Shakespeare



You expect the first scene of a play to give you an idea of what the play is going to be about. However, the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew tells you nothing at all about Katherina and Petruchio or Bianca and Lucentio, but begins with a tinker, or mender of household utensils, named Christopher Sly.

When you first meet Christopher Sly, he is quarreling drunkenly with the owner of an inn where he's broken some glasses. His first speech, "I'll feeze you, in faith," is just like our saying, "I'll fix you for this." But he doesn't seem likely to carry out his threat, because he falls asleep on the ground as soon as the woman has gone to fetch the "third-borough," the Warwickshire equivalent of a sheriff.

An unnamed lord on his way home from hunting enters with his dogs and servants. Catching sight of Sly asleep on the ground, he decides to play a joke on him. The servants will put Sly to bed in the Lord's best bedroom, dress him richly, and generally treat him like a lord. You may think it's rather a cruel joke. Clearly the Lord and his servants will laugh at Sly's confusion and clumsy manners when they try to convince him he is really a lord who has been ill and slept for a long time. Do you think that this kind of humor is better appreciated in a society that accepts strict class distinctions? As in the taming plot later, you may find the actions of certain characters cruel. But note also the ways in which Sly holds his own. Already you are presented with the question of whether people are better off remaining true to themselves or allowing themselves to be transformed into socially more desirable people.

A traveling company of actors comes in, and the Lord takes them into his confidence. They obviously will play The Taming of the Shrew for us as well as for Sly.

Companies of actors still go on the road with a play that may have begun its run on Broadway in New York City. In Shakespeare's time, companies left London in the summer and traveled around England presenting their plays in the courtyards of inns and in the great halls of country manor houses. (They also went on the road when the plague, which struck frequently in Elizabethan times, closed the theaters in London.)

Here the Lord is welcoming a company of traveling players to his manor. You probably know of a similar scene in Shakespeare's Hamlet, in which Hamlet welcomes the players. The Lord would give the players food and shelter as well as a fee for their performance. Shakespeare's own company was probably welcomed by many such a Lord.

The Lord decides to extend the joke by having a page dress as a woman and pretend to be Sly's "lady" wife. In the Lord's speech, there is one clear reference to the subject of The Taming of the Shrew: the Lord describes how a lady should behave, "With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy," asking humbly how she may show her love to her husband. (As you know, the main play is about a woman's learning to please her husband by behaving obediently and humbly.)

As the play exists today, the Induction has no obvious relationship to the main story. Scholars have tried to explain why the framework is incomplete- perhaps the last part of the manuscript was lost before the play was printed, so the closing scene was omitted; or perhaps it was a tradition for the actors to improvise the ending of the framework; or perhaps Shakespeare just found the Sly story inconvenient and dropped it.

There is another play, entitled The Taming of a Shrew, published in London in 1594, which has a complete framework. At the end, Christopher Sly awakens on the ground outside the alehouse, where he has been taken by the Lord's servants, who have dressed him in his own clothes again. He tells the man who wakens him that he has had a marvelous dream, the best in his life. He has learned how to tame a shrew and so he knows how to deal with his own wife. Remember, though, that Shakespeare may also have deliberately chosen to begin with an Induction but not to end with one. As you read further, consider whether you see connections between the Induction and the rest of the play.

Note also that Shakespeare sets the Induction in Warwickshire where he grew up. Perhaps the play was first performed at a lord's manor in Warwickshire, so the local people would enjoy jokes at the expense of people they knew.


The stage directions tell you how the framework was supposed to enclose the play physically. It says, "Enter aloft," meaning that Sly and the Lord would be seated above the main action, on the balcony at the back of the stage. In some performances, the characters remain there throughout the play, silently commenting on the action through facial expressions and gestures.

Sly has awakened and wants more drink. But he doesn't want the aristocratic sack (Spanish wine), just weak ale. He vigorously rejects the idea that he is anyone but Christopher Sly and gives you his credentials with references. He mentions Marian Hacket, probably a real person who would be recognized with applause or catcalls from the audience.

But the Lord and his servants begin to work on Sly in poetic speeches, offering him the upper-class delights of music, riding, hunting, painting, all with liberal references to Greek and Roman mythology to give the general impression of refinement.

It works so well that the next time Sly speaks, he adopts the blank, or unrhymed, verse of the aristocratic household. Amid the feigned rejoicing at the recovery of his wits, the servants tell Sly how he really behaved and pretend that he was a lord out of his wits. Sly wonders which of his lives is real and which illusion. Distinguishing reality from illusion will be important in the main play, too.

The fun heightens when the page dressed as Sly's wife approaches. Sly has to be told how to address her, but he soon gets right to the point: "Madam, undress you and come now to bed." The page gets out of a difficult spot very ingeniously by insisting that Sly needs to rest after his illness. The doctor's advice that entertainment will benefit Sly's condition is invoked as a reason for the play, which the actors are now ready to present on the stage below. Sly shows how unsophisticated he is by not understanding what kind of play he is to see, but he's quite content to do as he thinks lords do and watch it.


LINES 1-47

Lucentio and his servant Tranio have arrived in Padua (famous for its university). In his first speech, Lucentio tells you that he intends to study philosophy, with the blessing of his rich father Vincentio. One of a playwright's most difficult problems in the first scene is telling the audience what they need to know without making one character tell another character what both already know. What do you think of the way Lucentio's first speech does this? Does Shakespeare solve the problem gracefully?

In his first speech, Tranio advises his master not to spend all his time in hard study, but to enjoy himself as well. He speaks a famous line: "No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en." Then Lucentio and Tranio are interrupted by the entrance of the family of Baptista Minola, by Hortensio, and by Gremio, the "pantaloon." Lucentio and Tranio retreat to the side of the stage, where they stand and watch the action.

A pantaloon was a stock figure of fun in the Italian popular theater, the commedia dell'arte. When an actor appeared wearing baggy pants, walking with an exaggerated hobble to indicate old age, carrying a stick, and bumping into things, the audience knew they could expect some fun at the expense of old men trying to get the attention and affection of young girls. Even when Shakespeare uses stock characters, he usually gives them a little depth, so they aren't quite what the audience expects. What do you think of Gremio? Is he a silly old clown? Or does he develop into something else during the play?

LINES 48-104

Baptista's first speech presents the main premise on which the rest of the play depends: He tells Hortensio and Gremio that Bianca, his younger daughter, can't be married until Katherina, his older daughter, has a husband.

Gremio answers in the punning style you find so often in Shakespeare's comedies. When Baptista suggests that he "court" Katherina, he offers to "cart" her instead.

Elizabethans loved playing with words, especially in the form of puns (the humorous use of the same or similar-sounding words with different meanings). We tend to think of puns as a simple form of humor and may groan when we hear one. Sometimes of course they are marvelously creative and show you similarities between words you hadn't thought of before. Shakespeare's puns occasionally use older forms of words you won't immediately recognize. Follow the explanations in your text to fully appreciate these wordplays that so delighted Elizabethan audiences. And notice the characters that are most creative in the use of puns. What does such ability tell you about them?

Katherina demonstrates why she has a reputation as a shrew. She isn't thinking of marriage, she says, but if she were, her husband would be beaten with a stool, scratched until his face bled, and made a fool of. Hortensio and Gremio will have none of her. Meanwhile, still off to the side and unobserved by the others, Lucentio is falling in love with Bianca.

LINES 105-46

After sending his daughters home and just before departing himself, Baptista tells Hortensio and Gremio that he's looking for tutors in music and literature for Bianca. When Gremio and Hortensio think they are alone, they commiserate with each other. As they see it, there's only one way out of the problem: they must find a husband for Katherina. They agree to work together until they can set Bianca free.

You will have noticed that some speeches are in prose and some in poetry. In general, Shakespeare uses poetry- unrhymed, or blank verse- to express emotions and thoughts; it is usually assigned to people high on the social scale. Prose is for ordinary information and for servants, workers, and craftsmen. Comedies contain a lot of prose. You have already seen Christopher Sly in the Induction moving from prose to poetry as he comes to believe he is indeed a lord. In this first scene of Act I, Hortensio and Gremio speak in prose as they discuss the problem of finding a husband for Katherina; then Lucentio moves to the most elevated poetic style to express his love for Bianca. The richness of the language, though, does not necessarily depend on whether it is prose or poetry. Can you find any examples of prose dialogue that you especially like? Some of the poetry may be deliberately empty, a comment on the character speaking it.

LINES 147-247

As Hortensio and Gremio leave, Lucentio bursts out: "Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio." You will soon notice that there is no more talk of Lucentio's studying philosophy- he is about to begin a different kind of education.

The object is to get access to Bianca. Lucentio will become one of the schoolmasters that Baptista wants to hire. But then who will impersonate Lucentio? It is decided that Tranio will impersonate his master, while Lucentio assumes the name Cambio (a name that has the significant meaning of "change" in Italian). Tranio remarks that he had promised Lucentio's father, Vincentio, that he would be serviceable to his son, "although," he adds humorously, "I think 'twas in another sense."

Their plan is confirmed with Biondello, Lucentio's other servant, who enters at this point. They tell him they must change places to protect Lucentio while he escapes after having killed a man. It's an effective deception to keep Biondello quiet. Then Tranio, dressed as Lucentio, goes off to seek out Hortensio and Gremio in order to join them as a suitor to Bianca, while Lucentio/Cambio goes to get himself recommended as a schoolmaster.

LINES 248-52

These are the last few lines written for the characters in the Induction. They are sitting on the balcony watching the action from above, and apparently Sly is not paying attention. He doesn't seem interested in the play. His last words express his wish for it to be over. You learn nothing more about him, because all the Induction characters disappear from the text at this point.


LINES 1-19

At the beginning of Scene I you met Lucentio and his servant. Now you meet Petruchio and his servant Grumio, also newly arrived in Padua. Note the contrast in the relationships. Where Tranio acted as a mentor to Lucentio and can behave enough like him to impersonate him, Grumio is a clown. The first exchange shows his misunderstanding a common usage. Petruchio asks him to "knock," meaning "knock on Hortensio's door," but Grumio thinks his master wants him to "knock" (hit) someone.

Grumio misunderstands and won't hit his master for fear of being hit in return. The exchange of words ends with Petruchio pulling Grumio's ears. Hortensio enters in the middle of the quarrel.

Grumio is a fine example of the comic servants you find in Shakespeare's plays- not only in the comedies, but also in the tragedies, where they provide contrast to the main action. Shakespeare's servants are completely at their masters' mercy and try to please them all the time. They worry about getting meals and being paid, and they often have a robustly realistic attitude to the follies of their masters, even while faithfully carrying out (or trying to carry out) their orders. In The Taming of the Shrew, there are at least three comic serving men, Grumio, Biondello, and later Curtis, another of Petruchio's servants.

LINES 20-138

Hortensio greets his old friend Petruchio, and Petruchio explains his presence in Padua.

Contrast Petruchio's explanation with Lucentio's explanation in Scene I. Unlike Lucentio, Petruchio is speaking to someone who really doesn't know the reasons for his visit, and his speech doesn't sound artificial. Petruchio wants to marry a rich wife. He has no romantic illusions: He comes to "wive and thrive." For him, wealth and happiness are an equation. Some readers think that Petruchio's declaration shows him to be more honest than the other suitors. Do you think they are all after money? One may also question Petruchio's words. Couldn't he find an easier route to money than wooing Katherina?

Differing attitudes to love and marriage run throughout The Taming of the Shrew. You saw Lucentio's intense romantic passion for Bianca. Petruchio has a completely different attitude. Is marrying for money any less acceptable than marrying for love? Is it more or less likely to lead to a successful marriage? Look at what happens in the play for some unexpected light on these questions.

Hortensio has a suggestion for Petruchio: he knows a match for him- Katherina. Of course he sees the advantage to himself as well. If Petruchio marries Katherina, Hortensio may get Bianca. Petruchio decides to go at once to the Minola household, since Petruchio's father and Baptista Minola were acquainted. Grumio assures Hortensio that Petruchio is a match for any bad-tempered person- we know from the quarrel at the beginning of the scene that he's speaking from experience.

Hortensio sees how he can use Petruchio's visit to Baptista to help his case with Bianca. Petruchio will introduce Hortensio disguised as a music teacher. Grumio remarks sarcastically on the deceptions the two young men are plotting to undermine an old man's authority.

Old men in authority don't fare well in The Taming of the Shrew. The young people conspire against them, as Grumio says here: "See, to beguile the old folks, how the young folks lay their heads together." What's more, the young people are successful. The theme of vigorous youth in love pitted against old age that wants to frustrate them derives from Italian theater conventions, which were familiar to Shakespeare and his audience. How does the triumph of youth in this play fit into the theme of natural order and its reversals? Can it be justified using order as a reason or is it a reversal?

LINES 139-61

At this point Gremio and Lucentio enter, with Lucentio disguised as Cambio, the schoolmaster.

Hortensio explains to Grumio and Petruchio that Gremio is his rival for Bianca. Gremio meanwhile is instructing the "schoolmaster" Cambio on how to plead his case to Bianca. Gremio thinks Cambio will be acting on his behalf.

You've already seen quite a few deceptions and transformations. Sly is tricked into becoming a lord. Lucentio becomes Cambio and Tranio becomes Lucentio to trick Baptista, Gremio, and Hortensio. These are the first of many deceptions and transformations that occur throughout the play.

LINES 162-216

Gremio tells Hortensio that he has a schoolmaster (Cambio) for Bianca. Not to be outdone, Hortensio announces that he too has a teacher, a musician, for Bianca, without of course mentioning that he means himself.

Hortensio introduces Petruchio as a young man who can do them both good by courting and hopefully marrying Katherina, if her father offers a large enough dowry. Gremio is skeptical: "But will you woo this wild-cat?" Petruchio answers with a magnificently boastful speech about the noises he has endured in his life as a hunter of wild beasts, as a sailor, and as a soldier. What is a "woman's tongue" compared to these?

The speech also gives us an indication that Petruchio is not a romantic young student like Lucentio but has seen the world. (The role of Petruchio is usually assigned to a mature, even middle-aged actor, rather than to a young romantic lead.)

Gremio and Hortensio agree to help pay Petruchio's expenses, because they think they will benefit from his courtship of Katherina.

LINES 217-80

Everyone on the stage intends to go to Baptista's house. Now another pair enters, asking directions to get there. They are Tranio, disguised as his master Lucentio, and Biondello. Gremio and Hortensio are immediately suspicious and challenge Tranio/Lucentio's right to visit their "choice love." Tranio acts the part of the gentleman so well that Lucentio/Cambio praises him (with no one else hearing).

When Petruchio explains that anyone who wants to court Bianca is dependent on Petruchio's success with Katherina, Tranio/Lucentio agrees to pay his share of the expenses. So they all go off together, with the three suitors for Bianca pinning their hopes on the single suitor for Katherina.


LINES 1-38

Katherina has tied Bianca's hands together and won't untie them until Bianca tells her which of her suitors- at this point, she knows only of Hortensio and Gremio- she loves best. Perhaps Katherina is burning with jealousy because her sister has suitors and she herself has none. If so, this jealousy may suggest that, contrary to what she says on other occasions, she is indeed interested in marriage. Bianca simply cannot believe that anyone would be jealous of Gremio, but Katherina is so angry that she strikes her sister. The noise of their dispute brings their father in to part them.

As he rebukes Katherina and soothes Bianca, you may get some clues about the origin of Katherina's ill temper. Her father seems to prefer Bianca. Do you think that sibling rivalry motivates Katherina? Or do you think that Baptista's preference is a result of Katherina's ill temper? From your own experience or that of your friends, consider Baptista's behavior as a source of Katherina's constant anger. Keep in mind, though, the ways in which Baptista shows his concern for Katherina; for example, his insistence that she marry first. Katherina does not seem to believe that Bianca will not marry before she does. She thinks that the traditional fate of old maids faces her- to dance barefoot at her younger sister's wedding and to "lead apes in hell" (instead of children) when she dies.

LINES 39-113

Baptista is interrupted in his self-pity over Katherina's behavior by the entrance of Bianca's three suitors, Petruchio, and Biondello. For the first time you see together the three disguised characters: Lucentio/Cambio, Hortensio/Litio (the name under which Hortensio presents himself as a tutor), and Tranio/Lucentio. They are all busy trying to ingratiate themselves with Baptista, when Petruchio boldly separates himself from the group and begins his business with Baptista. He describes what he has heard about Katherina in terms that surprise Baptista. He says that she is beautiful, witty, gentle, and modest! Then he presents Hortensio/Litio as a music master for her. Baptista is clearly impressed but can't believe that Petruchio really wants to woo Katherina.

Gremio finally manages to push his way between the two of them, in order to present Lucentio/Cambio as a schoolmaster for Bianca. Tranio/Lucentio brings a lute and books as presents for the Minola daughters and asks only to be allowed the privilege of visiting as a suitor to Bianca. Believing him to be Lucentio, Baptista receives him favorably for the sake of Lucentio's father, Vincentio.

The suitors' plans to gain access have worked well. Baptista orders that Hortensio/Litio and Lucentio/Cambio be taken immediately to visit their pupils Katherina and Bianca.

Then Gremio and Tranio/Lucentio are invited by Baptista to walk in the orchard before dinner, while Petruchio and Baptista negotiate over Katherina's dowry.

LINES 114-181

Petruchio has said that he wants to marry for money, so it isn't surprising that he gets to the point so quickly. As soon as Baptista has promised 20,000 crowns as Katherina's dowry, and Petruchio in turn has promised to leave her a wealthy widow, the latter suggests they draw up a contract.

A dowry has two meanings in The Taming of the Shrew. Here it means the money a father pays to a man marrying his daughter. Later, when Tranio/Lucentio and Gremio vie for Bianca's hand, the dowry means property legally assured to a wife in case of her husband's death. Who got and who gave depends on the market: A girl like Katherina would need a large dowry as marriage inducement, whereas a popular girl like Bianca could be awarded to the suitor most likely to assure her a comfortable life.

The gold crown was originally a French coin, but Henry VIII had issued English crowns as early as 1526. The English crown was worth about five shillings. Although you must be very cautious in assigning values to Elizabethan money, it's worth noting that a sixteenth-century soldier was paid sixpence a day, or one-tenth of a crown, so 20,000 crowns would pay the wages of 200,000 soldiers for one day!

Petruchio brushes aside Baptista's doubts about his ability to gain Katherina's love. Baptista's skeptical response, warning him against "some unhappy words," seems to be justified, as Hortensio bursts into the room with the remains of the musical instrument, the lute, around his neck. He miserably tells Baptista and Petruchio that he was just trying to show Katherina how to place her fingers on the frets (the lute is like the guitar), when she became impatient and hit him with the instrument.

As you can see from the play's title, the desired change in Katherina's character is compared to the taming of a wild animal. The metaphor recurs throughout the play. Notice here that Baptista asks: "Why then, thou canst not break her to the lute?" as if she were a wild horse to be broken. While the metaphor may seem justified in view of Katherina's extreme behavior, the suitability of comparing a woman to an animal that must be made obedient to a master's will is questionable. In producing the play, theatrical companies have been aware that audiences often find this "taming" offensive. Some productions exaggerate it for shock value; others find ways of toning it down.

Petruchio professes even greater love for Katherina after hearing Hortensio's sad story, although he hasn't even seen her yet. Concerned about Hortensio's feelings, Baptista reassigns him to Bianca, exactly what Hortensio wants, of course. They leave Petruchio alone to await Katherina's arrival.

Petruchio now speaks what is called a soliloquy, a speech to oneself or to the audience usually describing what the character is thinking. Petruchio lays out his plan of action to show Katherina who's master: He will contradict everything she says and flatter her profusely. See whether Petruchio carries out his plan and what reaction it gets from the lady.

LINES 182-271

This is the first encounter between these two equally matched contestants. It's obvious that Katherina has never come up against anyone like Petruchio before- everyone else has reacted to her temper as Hortensio did and fled in terror. Petruchio approaches her with admiration for her beauty, "the prettiest Kate in Christendom," and tries throughout the scene to treat her gently. But there's iron in the velvet glove. When she strikes him, he says he will hit her if she strikes him a second time. They exchange a barrage of puns, many with sexual meanings. Toward the end, Petruchio woos Katherina with a speech crediting her with exactly the opposite of her attributes.

Ask yourself as you watch the developing relationship between Katherina and Petruchio what the true source of his power over her is. Is there something besides mastery that she senses in his approach?

LINES 272-317

Petruchio fools Baptista, Gremio, and Tranio/Lucentio by telling them that Kate has adopted her shrewishness deliberately, and when alone with him, is as mild and modest as Chaucer's Grissel (Patient Griselda) or the Roman Lucrece (Lucretia), both well-known models of female virtue. He announces that he and Katherina will be married on the next Sunday. Katherina really loves him in private, he says, and behaves "curst in company" by agreement with him. It's a clever move, because no one can prove otherwise.

Petruchio leaves for Venice to buy wedding clothes. (Padua and Venice are not far apart; Padua is on the mainland and Venice is just off the Adriatic coast.)

LINES 318-404

Baptista still thinks the marriage won't come off even though he is prepared to "venture madly on a desperate mart," or business deal. The others point out, continuing the business metaphor, that Katherina was like merchandise that wasn't moving very quickly. They now turn as fast as they can to their own business- marrying Bianca.

Again you see a mercenary approach to marriage. In effect, Baptista auctions Bianca to the highest bidder. Notice the contrast between this discussion of a marriage settlement and the earlier one concerning Katherina's dowry: Petruchio had to be promised money to marry Katherina- half of Baptista's fortune at his death and 20,000 crowns right away. But Gremio and Tranio/Lucentio have to show Baptista how well they can keep Bianca.

Tranio once again shows how useful a servant he is by easily outbidding Gremio. Baptista acknowledges that Tranio/Lucentio offers the greater fortune but insists on hearing Vincentio's own consent to the agreement. Baptista's a sound businessman: He wants to be assured that Bianca will be looked after if her husband should die.

Gremio comments, "And may not young men die as well as old?" The line comes from a society with a different experience of death from ours. We associate death with old age, but in Elizabethan times, so many young people died from disease or were killed in battle that it was a considerable achievement to grow old.

Baptista sums up the situation: Katherina will be married the next Sunday, and therefore Bianca is free to be married the following Sunday. She will marry Lucentio (we know that Tranio is wooing for him) if he can produce his father to agree to the settlement. If not, she'll marry Gremio.

Tranio/Lucentio is now left alone for a soliloquy. He has to find someone to impersonate Vincentio in time for Lucentio to marry Bianca in less than two weeks. He comments wryly that fathers usually "get" (that is, beget, or cause conception of) sons, but now he, acting as a son, has to "get" a father.

At the end of Act II, it looks as if the major problem of the play is already solved, because Baptista has found a husband for Katherina, and so Bianca can be married. But in a comedy, solutions to problems give rise to further problems. In this case, Tranio has to find someone to act the part of Lucentio's father.

Watch how Shakespeare constructs the play. You won't hear much about this latest plot development until Act IV, when a new element is needed to delay a premature ending. Then you will remember that a father for Lucentio was mentioned at the end of Act II.

Of course nothing is certain at this point. You don't know whether Petruchio will actually marry Katherina. You don't know if Bianca will fall in love with Lucentio. And, like Tranio, you have no idea where a father is going to come from.

THE STORY, continued


ECC [The Taming of the Shrew Contents] []

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