Taming of the Shrew
of the Shrew
By William Shakespeare
One of the best-loved "Battle of the
Sexes" is back! Courtship or contest of
wit and will? The verbal sparring never
stops as National Players presents one
of Shakespeare's most popular
2. ABOUT SHREW
In the Italian city of Padua, Lucentio arrives with his servants, to attend the local
university. Lucentio is excited to begin his studies, but his priorities change when he
sees Bianca, a beautiful, mild young woman with whom Lucentio instantly falls in love.
There are two problems: first, Bianca already has suitors; second, Bianca’s father, a
wealthy old man named Baptista, has declared that no one may court Bianca until first
her older sister, the vicious, ill-tempered Katherine, is married. Lucentio decides to
overcome this problem by disguising himself as Bianca’s Latin tutor to gain an excuse
to be in her company. While Lucentio pretends to be Bianca’s tutor, his servant Tranio
dresses up as Lucentio and begins to confer with Baptista about the possibility of
marrying his daughter.
The Katherine problem is solved for Bianca’s suitors when Hortensio’s friend
Petruchio, a brash young man from Verona, arrives in Padua to find a wife. He intends
to marry a rich woman, and does not care what she is like as long as she will bring him
a fortune. He agrees to marry Katherine sight unseen. The next day, he goes to
Baptista’s house to meet her, and they have a tremendous duel of words. As
Katherine insults Petruchio repeatedly, Petruchio tells her that he will marry her whether
she agrees or not.
When Petruchio arrives late to his own wedding, he is dressed in a ridiculous outfit,
rides on a broken-down horse, and forces Katherine to leave for his country house
before the feast. Once they reach his country house, Petruchio continues the process
of “taming” Katherine by rejecting all food and clothing as not good enough for her.
In Padua, Tranio secures Baptista’s approval for Lucentio to marry Bianca by
proposing a huge sum of money to lavish on her. Baptista agrees but says that he
must have this sum confirmed by Lucentio’s father before the marriage can take place.
Tranio, fearful that in bringing Vincentio, Lucentio’s father, to Padua he would not
approve of the assumed identities, carries the charade further by convincing a
traveling pedant to play the part of Luncentio’s father. Lucentio and Bianca decide to
circumvent the complex situation by eloping.
Katherine and Petruchio soon return to Padua to visit Baptista. On the road, the
couple meets Lucentio’s father, Vincentio, who is on his way to Padua to see his son.
In Padua, Vincentio is shocked to meet himself being impersonated by the pedant and
Tranio masquerading as Lucentio. At last, Bianca and Lucentio arrive to spread the
news of their marriage. Both Vincentio and Baptista finally agree to the marriage.
At the banquet following Hortensio’s wedding to the widow, the other characters are
shocked to see that Katherine seems to have been “tamed”—she obeys everything
that Petruchio says and gives a speech advocating the loyalty of wives to their
Love and marriage are the concerns of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The
play offers us some strikingly different models of the process of attracting and
choosing a mate and then coming to terms with the mate one has chosen. Some of
these models may still seem attractive to us, some not.
Lucentio’s courtship of and marriage to Bianca are prompted by his idealized love of
an apparently ideal woman. When she first appears, Bianca is silent and perfectly
obedient to her father. Lucentio then speaks of her as if she were a goddess come to
earth. Because her father denies all men the opportunity openly to court Bianca,
Lucentio spontaneously throws off his social status as a gentleman in order to disguise
himself as a lowly tutor, the only kind of man that Bianca’s father, Baptista, will let near
her. All that matters to Lucentio is winning Bianca’s heart. To marry her—even in
secret and in shared defiance of her father—is surely, he believes, to be happy.
An alternative style of wooing adopted by Petruchio in quest of Katherine is notably
free of idealism. Petruchio is concerned with money. He takes money from all Bianca’s
suitors for wooing her older sister, Katherine, who, Baptista has dictated, must be
married before Bianca. When Petruchio comes to see Katherine, he first arranges with
her father the dowry to be acquired by marrying her. Assured of the money, Petruchio
is ready to marry Katherine even against her will. Katherine is the shrew named in the
play’s title; and, according to all the men but Petruchio, her bad temper denies her the
status of “ideal woman” accorded Bianca by Lucentio. Yet by the end of the play,
Katherine, whether she has been tamed or not, certainly acts much changed. Petruchio
then claims to have the more successful marriage. But is the marriage of Petruchio and
Katherine a superior match—have they truly learned to love each other?—or is it based
on terror and deception?
This question about Katherine and Petruchio is only one of the questions this play
raises for us. How are we to respond to Kate’s speech at the end of the play, with its
celebration of the wife’s subordinate position? What does it mean that Bianca, the
“ideal” woman, at the end seems unpleasant and bad-tempered, now that she is
married? How should we respond to the process by which Petruchio “tames” Kate?
As with so many of Shakespeare’s plays, how one answers these questions has a lot
to do with one’s own basic beliefs—here, one’s beliefs about men and women, about
love and marriage.
Adapted from the New Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A.
Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1992 Folger Shakespeare Library. (www.folger.edu)
To some, The Taming of the Shrew is distasteful because it appears to be justifying
the subjugation of women. But many actresses have loved the role and felt that the
story depicts the love of two equals. In this respect, Kate provides Petruchio a partner
equal to him in spirit and stature, and Petruchio teaches Kate to develop a sense of
humor and cooperation. It is significant to note that the play is full of disguise and irony.
Perhaps, Petruchio may be fooled into thinking that he has tamed Kate. Who is not to
say that Petruchio has also been tamed by love? And, surely, Kate is only a shrew in
the most superficial way; many observers feel that Bianca, under the pretense of
gentleness, is the real shrew! Whichever way The Taming of the Shrew is interpreted,
it is clear that Shakespeare intended it as an adventurous love story full of riddles and
double entendres – not as a treatise supporting cruelty towards women.
Why do we still perform and read Shakespeare’s plays while other plays have fallen
into obscurity? It is not because his plays are the most well structured pieces nor is it
because he is always the finest poet or most original thinker in the English language.
Rather, it is his ability to empathize with and understand all of humanity in a way that is
never judgmental which attracts us to his work. We often see ourselves in
Shakespeare’s vital characters. Sometimes our own emotions seem more aptly
expressed in his words than in our own.
It follows then that Shakespeare’s plays do not have to be produced only in
Elizabethan setting. Often, changing a play’s locale to a more familiar one helps
illuminate certain aspects of the play by bringing the audiences closer to the action.
Indeed, examples of Shakespeare set in other time periods are innumerable. Macbeth
has been done in a contemporary corporate boardroom. The Royal Shakespeare
Company placed The Merry Wives of Windsor in the 1950s and showed Mistress
Ford and Mistress Page blithely chatting in pedal-pushers with their heads under huge
hair dyers at the beauty parlor! The Taming of the Shrew has been done in a raucous
Commedia dell’ Arte style and in a 1930s Italian mafia setting.
"I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; If wealthily, then happily in Padua"
Petruchio – (I, ii)
“‘Katherine the Curst,’ A title for a maid, of all titles the worst.”
Grumio – (I, ii)
“For you are call'd plain Kate, And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the
curst; But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom Kate of Kate Hall, my
super-dainty Kate, For dainties are all Kates” Petruchio – (II, i)
“Asses are made to bear, and so are you.” “ Women are made to bear and
so are you.” Kate and Petruchio (II,i)
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