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The major theme of the play is the unpleasant and hurtful nature of shrewish behavior. Ironically, it is not just Katherine that demonstrates such unpleasant ways. Baptista treats his oldest daughter rudely, which causes Katherine to hide her hurt by acting more scornfully and violently. Petruchio is intentionally cruel and hateful to teach his wife a lesson for her own good. The servants are cruel to Lucentio’s father, Vincentio, and physically attack him. Christopher Sly, in the induction, is cruelly treated by the Lord for his own amusement. Even the mild mannered Bianca is shown to have shrewish behavior to her new husband, calling him a fool. Throughout the play, rude and cruel behavior is regularly depicted and often exaggerated. Although the cruelty can be humorous in its presentation, Shakespeare is clearly showing its unpleasant and harmful nature.
The minor theme of the play is appearance vs reality. Throughout the drama, things are never really as they seem. Katherine appears to be a real shrew, but it is all a cover-up for the hurt she feels. Bianca appears to be a self-sacrificing angel, but she is really a spoiled young lady who can quickly revert to shrewish behavior. Baptista appears to the outside world as a wonderful father; in truth, he pampers Bianca, totally spoiling her, and treats Katherine badly, depriving her of the loving attention she needs and seeks. Petruchio appears to be a cruel and insensitive husband to Katherine; in reality, he cares enough for her to try and change her shrewish ways by mocking and exaggerating her own behavior.
The play is also filled with people in disguise, appearing to be something they are not. Lucentio disguises himself as Cambio, the tutor, so he can get to know Bianca. Hortensio also disguises himself as Licio, another tutor to Bianca. Tranio disguises himself as Lucentio in order to present his master as a suitor for Bianca. The Pedant pretends to be Vincentio, the father of Lucentio. Through these appearances, the plot becomes complicated and often humorous, but Shakespeare masterfully reveals the true identity of all characters in the fourth act of the play.
Overall, the mood of this comedy is quite light. Most of the time, in spite of Katherine’s shrewish nature, the drama is comic, with Petruchio’s exaggerated behavior and with the many disguises that complicate the plot. But beneath the light and comic mood, there is a serious lesson to be learned from the play. Rude and cruel behavior is always hurtful and harmful.