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The Taming of the Shrew
William Shakespeare



Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch summed up the general attitude toward the play when he wrote in the New Cambridge Shakespeare (1928) that The Taming of the Shrew may not be Shakespeare's greatest comedy to "any modern civilised man," but it is always a success when acted on the stage. Here are some critical comments about the play in general and some of its larger themes.


As tamer, Petruchio is a gay and witty and precocious artist and, beyond that, an affectionate man; and hence, a remarkable therapist! In Kate, Shakespeare has imagined, not merely a harridan who is incurable or a moral stepchild driven into a misconduct by mistreatment but a difficult woman- a shrew, indeed- who combines willfulness with feelings that elicit sympathy, with imagination, and with a latent cooperativeness that can bring this war of the sexes to an honorable settlement. To have started with farce, to have stuck to the main lines of farce, and yet to have got so much of the suprafarcical into farce- this is the achievement of The Taming of the Shrew, and the source of the pleasure that it has always given

Robert B. Heilman, Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, The Signet Classic Shakespeare, 1966

The Taming of the Shrew is, then, at least in its broad outlines, a significant piece of social comedy that has something to say about marriage in Elizabethan England, and says it in a truly dramatic manner through a contrast of actions and characters. It is also concerned with the inner world of psychological experience, and particularly with the imagination in relation to human behaviour. These two themes, the social and the personal, are intimately connected with each other, so that the total experience becomes a unified whole. The comedy is a complex work of art....

G.R. Hibbard, ed., The Taming of the Shrew, New Penguin Shakespeare, 1968


The interest of the audience will be in the devices, not in the persons who work them or upon whom they are worked. A certain callousness will be induced to form in the sensibilities of the beholder, so that whereas in another case he would be outraged he will now laugh freely and steadily for two hours. The practitioner in farce, no less than the practitioner in melodrama, must possess the art of insulating his audience's heart so that it cannot be shocked while the machinery hums.

Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare, 1939


Though the last scene lacks romance it contains in a highly representative manner those things in the play which I believe best characterize it and give us the greatest pleasure....

All is not easy and intimate; and the talk, though its kind of wit is not ours, convinces us that real people are talking. Shakespeare in fact exercises here his adorable gift of making us feel close to his characters, almost of allowing his readers to share in the social life he presents so lucidly....

All through the play there is the impression of the genuine domestic life, humanizing the cruder parts of the main plot and bringing to life the rigid and potentially arid conventions on which the subplot is founded....

The most sustained picture of domestic life is that of Petruchio's country house. True, the things that happened there were exceptional but at the same time we gather the sense of what was normal. Grumio in one sense is the conventional, necessary clown but he is also that genuinely recurrent character, the humorist of the gang. Arriving after the dreadful journey he calls Curtis, one of the servants, who enters and asks who "calls so coldly." Grumio, undefeated, answers, "A piece of ice. If thou doubt it, thou mayst slide from my shoulder to my heel with no greater a run but my head and my neck" (IV, i, 12), and we feel that this is the kind of thing the other servants expect of him.... And later the visits from the tradesmen complete the picture of life in the country.

E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Early Comedies, 1966


In working on the play I have found that my own problem with its overt endorsement of patriarchy does not decrease, though my pleasure in its formal qualities, the sheer craft and detail of the construction, continues to grow.

In performance I suspect that the personality of the actor playing Petruchio is crucial to the play's success, and this is a factor that Shakespeare would have been able to take into account. The man must have real stage presence, and the ability to convey an underlying intelligence and sensitivity; he must not be a loud-mouthed bully. As Germaine Greer remarks, "Kate has the uncommon good fortune to find [a husband] who is man enough to know what he wants and how to get it." By most standards, including feminist ones, Petruchio is a more interesting and challenging possibility as a husband than the Orlandos and Orsinos of this world, just as Kate is a more interesting wife than Bianca.

Ann Thompson, ed., The New Cambridge Shakespeare edition of The Taming of the Shrew, 1984

[The Taming of the Shrew Contents]


We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.

Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York

Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York

Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
State University of New York at Stony Brook

Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
National Council of Teachers of English Student Guide Series
Fort Morgan, Colorado

Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Tamalpais Union High School District
Mill Valley, California

Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
State University of New York College at Buffalo

Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
State University of New York College at Geneseo

Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
State University of New York at Buffalo

Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
National Council of Teachers of English
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Guilderland Central School District, New York

Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts
Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Illinois

[The Taming of the Shrew Contents]



Brown, John Russell. Shakespeare and His Comedies. London: Methuen and Co., 1957.

Coghill, Nevill. "The Basis of Shakespearean Comedy." In Shakespeare Criticism 1953- 60, edited by Anne Ridler. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Craig, Hardin. "The Shrew and A Shrew: Possible Settlement of an Old Debate." In Elizabethan Studies and Other Essays. Boulder, Colorado: University of Colorado Press, 1945.

Dusinberre, Juliet. Shakespeare and the Nature of Women. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books-Imports, 1979.

Goddard, Harold C. The Meaning of Shakespeare. Vol. 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951.

Morris, Brian. "The Play." In the new Arden edition of The Taming of the Shrew. London: Methuen, 1981. Incorporates much of the previous scholarship and critical views.

Nagler, Alois M. Shakespeare's Stage. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981. A standard work.

Salgado, Gamini, ed. Eyewitness to Shakespeare. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975. Covers reviews of performances from 1590 to 1890.

Spencer, Theodore. Shakespeare and the Nature of Man. New York: Macmillan, 1942. Good insights into Elizabethan thought.

Thomson, Peter. Shakespeare's Theatre. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983. A fine book on the Globe Theatre.

Thompson, Ann. "Introduction." In the New Cambridge Shakespeare edition of The Taming of the Shrew. Cambridge, England: The University Press, 1984. This complement to the Arden edition has some excellent illustrations of productions of the play.

Tillyard, E.M.W. Shakespeare's Early Comedies. London: Chatto & Windus, 1966. Has an interesting treatment of The Taming of the Shrew.

Traversi, D.A. An approach to Shakespeare. New York: Doubleday, 1956. An analysis that begins with words, themes, and images.

Van Doren, Mark. Shakespeare. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1939.


Shakespeare wrote 37 plays (38 if you include The Two Noble Kinsmen) over a 20-year period, from about 1590 to 1610. It's difficult to determine the exact dates when many were written, but scholars have made the following intelligent guesses about his plays and poems:


    1588-93 The Comedy of Errors
    1588-94 Love's Labour's Lost
    1590-91 2 Henry VI
    1590-91 3 Henry VI
    1590-92 The Taming of the Shrew
    1591-92 1 Henry VI
    1592-93 Richard III
    1592-94 Titus Andronicus
    1593-95 The Two Gentlemen of Verona
    1594-96 Romeo and Juliet
    1595 Richard II
    1594-96 A Midsummer Night's Dream
    1596-97 King John
    1596-97 The Merchant of Venice
    1597 1 Henry IV
    1597-98 2 Henry IV
    1598-99 Henry V
    1598-1600 Much Ado About Nothing
    1599 Julius Caesar
    1599-1600 As You Like It
    1599-1600 Twelfth Night
    1600-01 Hamlet
    1597-1601 The Merry Wives of Windsor
    1601-02 Troilus and Cressida
    1602-04 All's Well That Ends Well
    1603-04 Othello
    1604 Measure for Measure
    1605-06 King Lear
    1605-06 Macbeth
    1606-07 Antony and Cleopatra
    1605-08 Timon of Athens
    1607-09 Coriolanus
    1608-09 Pericles
    1609-10 Cymbeline
    1610-11 The Winter's Tale
    1611-12 The Tempest
    1612-13 Henry VIII


    1592 Venus and Adonis
    1593-94 The Rape of Lucrece
    1593-1600 Sonnets
    1600-01 The Phoenix and the Turtle

[Shakespeare's Sonnets read by John Gielgud]


ECC [The Taming of the Shrew Contents] []

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