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The Taming of the Shrew
William Shakespeare

THE STORY, continued


Lucentio is dressed as Cambio. Hortensio, dressed as Litio, and Lucentio/Cambio are competing for a chance to work privately with Bianca, but neither will let the other alone with her. Each of them tries to use his teaching as a cover to speak of love.

The surprise in this scene is Bianca's personality. What has happened to the easygoing, sweet girl? What is your impression of Bianca's method of handling her tutors? Is her character consistent with what you have already seen and with the way others have described her?

Lucentio/Cambio and Bianca read together a passage in Latin written by the Roman author Ovid, who wrote on love in the first century A.D. You may imagine the two of them sitting very close together, trying to whisper so that Hortensio can't hear, although he keeps trying to edge closer to them. Lucentio/Cambio reads the Latin words loudly and then lowers his voice to give Bianca the real message.

Just when Lucentio has explained why he and his servant Tranio have changed places, Hortensio declares that his instrument is ready. Lucentio and Bianca try delaying tactics: first the treble is out of tune- giving Bianca a chance to reply coyly to Lucentio under the cover of the Latin- then the bass. Hortensio begins to notice what's going on.

Then Bianca gently puts aside Lucentio to let Hortensio/Litio have his turn. He gives her a piece of paper ostensibly explaining the scale or "gamut." She reads it aloud, paralleling the encounter with Lucentio. But she soon thrusts Hortensio's "gamut" from her, making quite clear her preference for Lucentio. Called to help prepare the house for Katherina's wedding the next day, she leaves them both. Lucentio avoids a confrontation with Hortensio by departing just as quickly.

Hortensio speaks to himself, using a metaphor from hunting with a hawk to make his point. If Bianca responds to Cambio's easy flattery, then she isn't worth much, he rationalizes. A good hawk homes in only on worthy prey, that is, a good Bianca should respond only to someone worthy like Hortensio. It seems as if Hortensio is ready to give up the contest for Bianca.


This scene takes place the next day, Katherina's wedding day. Baptista anxiously worries aloud to Tranio/Lucentio about Petruchio's lateness for the ceremony. Note his concern with his own shame and what others will say about this "mockery."

Katherina sees herself as the only person wronged. She believes that Petruchio means to leave her standing at the church door. Is Katherina on the verge of change? Do her last words, wishing she'd never seen Petruchio, hint at anything else besides hurt vanity? Could it be love? Repeat her line with different intonations indicating different emotions to see which one you think best fits the situation.

Tranio's reassurance speech here (lines 21-25) does not really fit, since Tranio doesn't know Petruchio well. It would make more sense for Hortensio, Petruchio's friend, to say of him: "I know him passing wise." Some of Shakespeare's plays were written down later from the players' memories. This method led to odd mistakes: Sometimes the players' real names were inserted instead of the parts they played (probably the reason one of Petruchio's servants is called Curtis, the name of an actor in the company), and sometimes, as seems to be the case here, the wrong character was given a speech.

Biondello, Lucentio's servant, now comes rushing in excitedly. He announces Petruchio's arrival. The prose in which he describes Petruchio's dress and his horse is full of colorful Elizabethan terms and horse terminology. They conjure up the ridiculous picture of a man coming to his wedding in rags, wearing a rusty sword and riding a horse that belongs in the glue factory. Both Petruchio and Grumio are dressed exactly the opposite of what Baptista expects of a bridal party.

When Petruchio and Grumio finally arrive on stage, their appearance is as bad as Biondello described. In horror, Baptista and the others urge Petruchio to borrow clothes more suitable to a wedding, but he refuses. Katherina will marry him, not his clothes, he says. He rushes off to see her.

After Gremio and Baptista depart for the wedding ceremony, Tranio reports to Lucentio, his master. They have to find someone to impersonate Vincentio, so that Lucentio can marry Bianca.

At this point Gremio returns and tells about Petruchio's wedding. Petruchio's behavior at his wedding was apparently even worse than his appearance. He knocked down the priest, called for wine, threw the dregs in another church official's face, and finally gave his bride a smacking kiss.

When the wedding party actually enters, Petruchio has another surprise for everyone. He and Katherina aren't going to attend their own wedding dinner but are leaving at once. Baptista and his friends plead with Petruchio. When Katherina adds her voice, we think he has changed his mind. But he hasn't, and she reacts with fury, tells him he can go without her, and declares that women will be made fools of if they don't resist male tyranny. Is Katherina, and thereby Shakespeare, aware of the larger issues of female independence in society? Is there any other evidence of this in the play?

But Petruchio pulls her away. Everyone else can go to the bridal feast, but the two of them must leave. He speaks a line that is the key both to his character and to a major theme of the play: "I will be master of what is mine own." And off they rush.

Religion and social values in Shakespeare's time supported a belief in a hierarchical structure of human relationships. Everything was arranged in a series of pyramids: God was at the top of the largest one, with angels below Him, man beneath them, animals under them, and plants at the bottom. The political structure had the monarch at the top, lords next, and commoners below. In a family, the man ruled the household, his wife obeyed him, and the children were next, just above the servants.

Elizabethans believed that if the order were disturbed, things would go wrong. Katherina is assuming an authority that does not belong to a woman, the right to do as she likes without obeying her husband's wishes. So when Petruchio declares with all the strength of his personality that he will be master in his own house and demand obedience from what belongs to him, he is putting the social order straight.

He is also demonstrating that wives were thought of as possessions- chattels- along with furnishings and animals. Petruchio's jokingly boastful defense of Katherina demonstrates his intention to defend his property. Can you find any evidence in the play that suggests that Shakespeare may have also been critical of these attitudes?

The rest of the wedding party decides they may as well eat the feast since it has been prepared, and- ironically, because we know what they do not- they choose Tranio/Lucentio and Bianca to sit in the seats meant for the bride and groom.


LINES 1-106

Grumio arrives exhausted at Petruchio's house and tries to rouse the servants. Notice that the scene is in prose, as is appropriate for the speakers, who are servants, and for their subject, domestic arrangements.

After exchanging jokes with Curtis, Grumio describes the appalling journey that Katherina has suffered as a bride. Her horse fell on her and Petruchio did not help her. Instead, leaving his wife in the dirt, he took off after Grumio to beat him for having let Katherina's horse stumble, causing more and more confusion until Katherina was reduced to praying and the horses ran away.

LINES 107-75

Petruchio comes in bellowing at his servants, complaining that they didn't follow his orders. He is followed by a miserable Katherina, wearing a dress covered with mud and limping from her fall off the horse. Petruchio continues to abuse his servants because one doesn't take his boots off properly and another lets a basin of water spill. When the food is brought in, Petruchio immediately pretends to find fault with it and throws it at the servants. Katherina tries to soothe him, giving Petruchio a chance to present the argument he will rely on a great deal during Act IV, that things aren't good enough for her. She is led off to her bridal chamber, not having eaten at all, and also, perhaps for the first time ever, not having spoken anything but conciliatory words.

LINES 176-98

Petruchio now speaks to the audience and compares his strategy for Katherina to the taming of a hawk. His "falcon" is Katherina, now trying to get comfortable in a strange house.

The first few lines of the speech are full of images and words from falconry. Katherina must not eat until she stoops, which means not only yielding her will, but performing what she is trained for; she is a "haggard," that is, a hawk that has already hunted for itself, not a chick from the nest. He must watch her as falconers watch hawks that "bate and beat," fluttering their wings in continual attempts to get free.

Since wild animals were first tamed, they have been used to help people hunt. In fact, their hunting uses may have preceded keeping them as pets. You are familiar with the use of dogs to chase, roust, and collect or corner birds, deer, or rabbits. In China, cormorants are used to bring fish to their masters, who fasten a tight string or ring around their necks to prevent them from swallowing the fish. Hawks, a family of predatory birds that includes falcons, merlins, and kites, are trained to fly above their prey, swoop down on it, and then bring it back to their masters.

Hawking or falconry was an aristocratic sport in Medieval and Renaissance times. Kings and lords boasted to each other about the beauty and quality of their birds. But hawks are fierce creatures who must be handled with knowledge and care. To avoid the sharp talons, a falconer or hawkmaster wears heavy leather gloves when the hawk perches on his wrist. The hawk is tied to the wrist with long leather thongs, called jesses, which can become dangerously entangled if the hawk takes off unexpectedly. To prevent that happening, a hood is placed over the hawk's eyes so that it will not be startled into sudden flight.

There is a large literature on falconry, which has an extensive vocabulary. You can see examples of this vocabulary in Petruchio's speech. He is referring to the breaking of a hawk, which is accomplished by keeping the hawk in a small room without food or sleep until it accepts its master. The master stays with it all the time, soothing it and dominating it by preventing its sleeping or attacking him. The breaking can go on for more than two days, during which time the man and the hawk develop emotional bonds that enable them to hunt together. It is a process that is hard on the tamed (Katherina), but even harder on the tamer (Petruchio), because he has to be alert constantly.

Think of the traits of a hawk and the ways in which Katherina is like one. Remember to include both positive and negative traits. What is the final relationship between a hawk and its master? Is this appropriate for a husband and his wife?

Leaving the hawking metaphor, Petruchio explains the details of his strategy: He will continually complain that things are not good enough for his wife, keeping her awake and without food while pretending it is all for her welfare.

You now understand a great deal about Petruchio's character. Whom do you know like him? Do any of these adjectives describe him: confident, opportunistic, shrewd, boastful, conceited, inventive? Which is the most accurate? Why? Do you think he'd make a good husband? A friend? What might be the drawbacks of such a friend?


LINES 1-56

You're now back in Baptista's house. Hortensio has brought Tranio/Lucentio to a spot where they can see Bianca and Lucentio/Cambio together. Tranio, in the character of Lucentio, feigns to be surprised that Bianca is attracted to anyone but him. Hortensio (disguised as Litio) wants to convince him.

As soon as Bianca and Lucentio enter, it is obvious that the "schoolmaster" has become the lover. Hortensio triumphantly points this out to Tranio, who continues to pretend amazement. Hortensio's pride is seriously hurt that Bianca would scorn the advances of a gentleman like him for an apparent servant. Tranio eagerly seizes on Bianca's moral faults, her "lightness," as an excuse for rejecting her. The two men make a bargain: neither of them will marry her.

Tranio is a clever fellow. He has managed to use the situation to cut out Hortensio, thus giving his master a clear field. Hortensio leaves hastily, saying that he will keep his side of the bargain by immediately marrying a wealthy widow who has wanted to marry him for a long time.

Note that he uses the same word, "haggard," to describe Bianca as Petruchio used about Katherina. This should remind you that Hortensio used the hawk metaphor earlier, when he first began to suspect Cambio in Act III. Since both Bianca and Katherina are compared to hawks despite their different natures, you might ask which of them most deserves the description.

With Hortensio gone, Tranio greets Bianca and Lucentio with the news that Hortensio has gone off to marry the Widow.

LINES 57-121

Biondello enters with the good news that he has found someone who could impersonate Vincentio, Lucentio's father. This is the Pedant, the first of the two new characters you meet in Act IV. Note that it is Tranio, not Lucentio, who takes on the job of persuading the newcomer to act the part.

Tranio is still dressed as his master, and the Pedant greets him as a gentleman. As soon as the Pedant reveals he is from the town of Mantua, Tranio makes up a story that the Dukes of Padua and Mantua are at odds and the Pedant will be killed if he goes undisguised into Padua.

Having discovered that the Pedant at least knows of Vincentio, Tranio suggests that he should adopt his name and background as a disguise while in Padua. The Pedant is deeply grateful for what he thinks is a favor, and they go off together so that Tranio can tell him what to say to Baptista.


LINES 1-35

Katherina is asking Grumio to give her food, because, as she eloquently says, she is being treated worse than beggars at her father's door. Grumio is his master's man; he teases Katherina about different kinds of meat, rejecting all of them just as Petruchio had done. He finally provokes her into a rage and she becomes the old Katherina- although here she has clear justification for her anger.

LINES 36-60

When Petruchio comes in, he is accompanied by Hortensio and is bringing a dish to Katherina. But food is snatched from her lips again when she doesn't immediately thank him. Hortensio rebukes Petruchio and offers to eat with Katherina.

Katherina's meal is not to last long; Petruchio whispers to Hortensio that he should eat all the food. Meanwhile, Petruchio finishes a speech describing the fine clothes and jewelry they will wear to return to her father's house.

LINES 61-193

But Katherina doesn't get to wear any fine new clothes. The haberdasher offers a cap for Katherina, which Petruchio rejects loudly and vociferously. Katherina declares her right to speak her mind. But Petruchio completely ignores the sense of her speech and pretends that she agrees with him in rejecting the cap.

The same thing happens with the gown the tailor presents. Petruchio bursts out in a marvelously punning piece of insult to the tailor based on sewing terminology. Tailors were commonly despised because they were meek little men who spent their days in apparently unmanly pursuits but were also able to cheat their customers easily. The Elizabethan audience probably cheered Petruchio's speech heartily.

So, instead of new clothes, Katherina gets a moralizing lecture about the mind making the body rich. Petruchio's speech seems to be a parody on sermons that try to make people happy with their miserable lot. Do you think it all parody? What message is conveyed? What do you think of his examples- the jay and the lark, the adder and the eel?

After giving orders to prepare the horses for a trip to Baptista's house, Petruchio announces that it is now seven o'clock and they should be in Padua by dinnertime, which was usually about noon in Elizabethan houses. Katherina is amazed: She can see that it is two in the afternoon and the journey to Padua will take the rest of the day.

In Petruchio's reply, he addresses Katherina for the first time directly on the subject of her contrariness. It may be that he wants to help her understand the game, because he quite clearly states the conditions of peace: "It shall be what o'clock I say it is." In fact, in their next scene together, you will see that she finally catches on.


LINES 1-72

After the furious activity of the last scene, this scene at Baptista's house is quite a relief. Tranio, having primed the Pedant and warned Biondello, is ready to deceive Baptista. Remember throughout this part of the scene that Tranio is still dressed as Lucentio, and Baptista thinks it is he who will marry Bianca.

The Pedant plays his part to perfection, and Baptista is quick with his consent. Watch how businesslike he is: in one speech the whole matter is taken care of, and in a second speech he proposes to draw up the contract somewhere else because Gremio may overhear.

Baptista still thinks Lucentio is Cambio the schoolmaster and therefore someone he can give orders to. Unfortunately, he orders him to inform Bianca that she is to marry Lucentio, exactly what Lucentio wants.

After they have all gone off to draw up a contract, Biondello addresses Lucentio as "Cambio" and tells him the priest is waiting to marry him to Bianca. Lucentio seems slow to get the picture, for Biondello has to explain that Lucentio has a chance to marry Bianca while her father is busy with the "counterfeit assurance."

Notice how complicated all the deceptions have become. Remember that illusion and reality is one of the play's themes. Try to think of all the places where the two have become confused since the Lord tricked Sly in the Induction.


LINES 1-24

Petruchio and Katherina are disputing again, this time about whether the sun or the moon is shining in the sky. Because she will not agree with him, Petruchio orders the horses returned; they will not go to Baptista's house. Hortensio whispers to Katherina: "Say as he says, or we shall never go."

Katherina responds immediately, whether she is exhausted or because she now knows the game. It is a watershed, and Hortensio recognizes it in his speech: "Petruchio, go thy ways; the field is won." The shrew is tamed.

The part of Katherina is full of challenges for an actress. How is the submission speech to be played? Katherina's stated reason for finally agreeing with everything Petruchio says is practical: since we have come so far on this journey, please let's go on, no matter what heavenly body gives light.

But the way she expresses her reason allows for a wide spectrum of interpretation. Her tone could simply express exhaustion: I'm so tired that I don't care what's in the sky so long as I get some rest. Or it could be defiance- I'll say what you want, but only to get a quiet life. It could also show that she's just realized how to play the game: Oh, now I understand- I must respond to Petruchio and not worry about the truth of the matter. The tone could also be a combination of all three, or introduce other nuances. You should try reading this speech with as many different emotions as you can put into it.

LINES 27-78

Katherina confidently passes the next tests Petruchio sets for her. Seeing Vincentio (Lucentio's real father) approaching, Petruchio pretends to believe that the old man is a lovely young girl and requires Katherina to greet "her" appropriately. Without hesitation, Katherina does so and is equally gracious when Petruchio at once contradicts her and declares the person to be an old man. Vincentio is at first taken aback but then reassured enough to travel with them.

There is no way in the text as we have it that Petruchio could know what he tells Vincentio- that Lucentio will be married to Bianca by this time. Hortensio cannot have known it, because he left after he had made the bargain with Tranio- who he thought was Lucentio- not to marry Bianca. When the play is acted, members of the audience usually don't notice the inconsistency, and in fact it doesn't matter very much. It is just another example of the imperfect state of the text.

Hortensio's final words praise Petruchio for giving him an example for dealing with the Widow he is going to marry. Do you think Petruchio deserves all the praise for the taming? Do you think Hortensio will be able to benefit from the example?


LINES 1-35

Petruchio's party enters, intending to leave Vincentio at his son's house. But Vincentio insists on offering Petruchio a drink in the house, and he knocks at the door. As the Pedant speaks from the window, you have a ridiculous situation in which the two men claim to be the same person. The Pedant is doing an excellent job of playing his part, declaring that his son will need no money as long as he, Lucentio's father, lives. Petruchio assumes that the real Vincentio is the imposter and things begin to look bad for the latter.

LINES 36-99

Biondello comes skipping back from the church where Bianca and Lucentio have been married- and walks straight into his master. Vincentio calls him "crack-hemp," meaning likely to be hanged on the gallows, where the rope is made of hemp. Biondello tries desperately to disavow Vincentio and points to the Pedant in the window above as his master, but it's clearly no use.

Tranio, who is still playing the part of Lucentio, walks in with Baptista. Of course, Vincentio recognizes him immediately. He points to the servant's silken doublet and velvet clothes and then cries out in fury at the amount of his money Lucentio and Tranio have been spending in Padua, supposedly at the university.

Tranio tries to brave out the matter. When the Pedant tells him that Tranio is Lucentio, Vincentio fears the worst- Tranio has murdered his master and taken his place. Tranio grandly calls for the arrest of Vincentio.

LINES 100-124

Lucentio and Bianca enter. Understanding the situation, Lucentio immediately kneels to ask Vincentio's forgiveness. Notice the stage direction: While the meeting is going on in the center of the stage, the two servants and the Pedant sneak out the back "as fast as may be."

Only Baptista still doesn't understand. So Lucentio explains in a speech that begins with a famous line: "Love wrought these miracles." The two young people expect immediate forgiveness for all the deceptions, but Vincentio is off to revenge himself on Tranio, and Baptista wants a fuller explanation. Lucentio's confident assurance to Bianca that "thy father will not frown" is probably based on the size of Vincentio's fortune, which he knows will please Baptista.

LINES 125-38

As the other characters move away from the center stage, Petruchio and Katherina leave the corner from which they have been watching. Petruchio demands a kiss of Kate, who refuses because she thinks it shows poor manners to display affection in public. When he begins to play the same trick on her as he did throughout the fourth act (that is, threaten to return home), she at once yields and they go off together.

Some theater directors think that this tiny scene is Katherina's last attempt at independence, and play it that way. Others think that it shows the development of the relationship between Petruchio and Katherina to the point where they can laugh at his taming techniques. You can imagine Petruchio putting on mock anger as he says, "Why, then, let's home again." They are consciously playing their parts and laughing while they do so.

Do they seem in love with each other? You will remember from Katherina's despair at his supposed desertion at the church in Act III that she seemed truly to regret his absence, despite his rough words. Is there a case to be made from the text for love as the cause of Katherina's conversion?


LINES 1-48

You are now in Lucentio's house, where he is offering a feast to celebrate his marriage. Clearly all has been explained and forgiven, because the Pedant, Tranio, and Biondello are there as well as Baptista and Vincentio.

This is the first occasion on which you meet the Widow who has married Hortensio. Not knowing what has happened between Petruchio and Katherina, she puts her foot in her mouth with her remark: "He that is giddy thinks the world turns round." She means that because Petruchio is "troubled with a shrew," he thinks every married man has the same problem. Katherina jumps to Petruchio's defense.

LINES 49-78

The women have retired, and the men continue to jest about their various wooings, using metaphors from hunting. Baptista declares his belief that Katherina has not changed.

So Petruchio proposes that they bet on their wives' obedience. He scorns to bet only twenty crowns on Katherina, and the ante is raised to a hundred crowns. Lucentio sends Biondello to ask Bianca to come to her husband.

Notice the speech in which Petruchio refuses the low stakes. He says that twenty crowns is a suitable bet for an animal- a hawk or hound- but not for a wife. Remember that animal imagery has been used throughout the play for Katherina, especially by Petruchio himself. It is as if she has earned her status as a human being by submitting, or by at least learning the right role to play.

LINES 79-137

Lucentio and Hortensio are confident and full of bluster that their wives will win them the bet. In fact, Bianca's father Baptista is so convinced of his daughter's obedience that he offers to go halves on the bet with Lucentio, who just as confidently refuses. Then, Biondello returns with a negative answer from Bianca. Hortensio sends him to bring back the Widow. She also refuses to appear.

By contrast, Katherina comes at once when Grumio brings Petruchio's message, which was significantly different from the other two: Lucentio "bid" his wife come, Hortensio "entreated," but Petruchio "commanded." He alone has the confidence to assert his position as "master of what is mine own."

The merry laughter and shouts cease as Katherina comes to her husband and asks what he wants. He tells her to bring the other two brides to their husbands, and she obeys at once.

Baptista is so pleased with the change in Katherina that he gives Petruchio an additional 20,000 crowns as "another dowry to another daughter." So now Petruchio has received a total of 40,000 crowns for marrying Katherina, as well as 100 crowns from Hortensio and Lucentio.

Petruchio wants to show off his powers and Katherina's changed character even more, so as she enters with Bianca and the Widow, he tells her to throw down her cap and to stamp on it. She does so at once.

The reactions of the two newly married couples will interest you: Bianca and the Widow think Katherina is foolish to obey so literally everything Petruchio says, and Lucentio is quite sour toward Bianca. Then Petruchio pushes his luck one more time: Katherina, once contradictory, independent, and aggressive, is to tell the other wives, whose reputations are quite the opposite, how a wife should behave.

LINES 138-90

Katherina's speech here is the longest in the play. It is a poetic treatise on the proper behavior of wives. Notice that the images are political: A wife owes the same duty to her husband as a subject owes to his prince, and shrewishness is compared to rebellion and treason. The final image alludes to a traditional sign of obedience. Katherina isn't expecting Petruchio to actually step on her hand but is simply making a symbolic gesture.

And place your hands below your husband's foot.
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.

(lines 177-79)

Katherina's speech has obvious problems for twentieth-century women. How can they appreciate being told they should obey their husbands because the husbands provide for them and are their masters? Katherina may sound silly to you when she claims that women are more beautiful if they don't try to assert themselves. How can you reconcile admiration for Shakespeare's play with disapproval of what it conveys? Does Shakespeare necessarily believe in the opinions of a particular character?

Some readers argue that this play must be read with a sense of history, that social relationships were different in earlier and- we like to think- less enlightened times. We should realize, they argue, that women in Elizabethan times had inferior status to men.

But the historical point of view doesn't explain how we can appreciate the play now, near the end of the twentieth century. Think of it from the perspective of the actress who plays Katherina: How can she deliver this speech? Clearly, she has center stage and the attention of everyone. Is it possible to deliver the whole speech ironically? Some modern actresses finish the speech with a wink to the audience and to the Widow and Bianca. This solution may be reasonable, especially if the actress plays Katherina in Act IV as catching on to the game rather than giving up.

Think about other ideas for playing this part. To do as Katherina advises, whether with total sincerity or not, may have been the wisest practical course for a woman in Elizabethan times. She was her husband's possession to a degree hardly imaginable to today's women: She had no property of her own, and no possibility of earning an independent living. Katherina may be expressing a politically sensible course for people in a highly vulnerable situation.

The final two lines of the play are spoken as the characters walk off. Lucentio indicates that he is still unwilling to believe his sister-in-law is permanently tamed. Is he expressing his own discontent with the wife he thought so sweet before he married her? Or are these lines a hint from Shakespeare that the taming itself is partly an illusion?



ECC [The Taming of the Shrew Contents] []

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