The Taming of the Shrew
Table of contents
Prior to the first act, an Induction frames the play as a "kind of history" played in front of a drunkard named Sly who thinks he is a Lord. The induction is rarely performed.
The "Shrew" is Katherina Minola, the eldest daughter of Baptista Minola, a merchant in Padua. Her temper is extremely volatile and no man can control her. She ties her sister to a chair in one scene, and in another attacks a music tutor with his own instrument. Her younger sister, Bianca Minola, is docile, beautiful, and much sought after by the noble men of the town. Baptista has sworn not to allow his younger daughter to marry before Katherina is wed. Bianca has several suitors, and two of them agree that they will work together to marry off Katerina so that they will be free to compete for Bianca. One suitor, Gremio, is old and grey, and the other, Hortensio, is feisty and young.
The plot becomes considerably more complex when two strangers, Petruchio and Lucentio, arrive in town. Lucentio, the son of the great Vincentio of Pisa, falls in love with Bianca, while Petruchio seems intrested only in money.
When Baptista mentions that Bianca needs a tutor, both suitors compete to find one for her in order to curry Baptista's favour. Gremio comes across Lucentio, who pretends to be a man of letters in order to woo Bianca. Hortensio disguises himself as a musician and convinces Petruchio to present him to Baptista as a music tutor. Thus, Lucentio and Hortensio, pretending to be teachers, woo Bianca behind her father's back.
Meanwhile, Petruchio is told by the suitors about the large dowry that would come with marrying Katherina. He attempts to woo the violent Katherina, calling her "Kate", quickly settles on the dowry, marries her and takes her home against her will. Once there, he begins his "taming" of his new wife – he keeps her from sleeping, invents reasons why she cannot eat, and buys her beautiful clothes only to rip them up. When Kate, profoundly shaken by her experiences, is told that they are to return to Padua for Bianca's wedding, she is only too happy to comply. By the time they arrive, Kate's taming is complete and she no longer resists Petruchio. She demonstrates her complete subordination to his will by agreeing that she will regard the moon as the sun, or the sun as the moon, if he demands her to do so.
Bianca is to be married to Lucentio (following a complex subplot involving Lucentio's servant masquerading as his master during his stint as a tutor). Hortensio has married a rich widow. During the banquet, Petruchio brags that his wife, formerly untameable, is now completely obedient. Baptista, Hortensio, and Lucentio are incredulous and the latter two believe that their wives are more obedient. Petruchio proposes a wager in which each will send a servant to call for their wives, and whichever wife comes most obediently will have won the wager for her husband. Baptista, not believing that his shrewish Katarina has been tamed, offers an enormous second dowry in addition to the wager.
Kate is the only one who responds, winning for Petruchio a second dowry. At the end of the play, after the other two wives have been summoned also, Kate gives them a speech to the point that wives should always obey their husbands.
There are many interpretations of The Taming of the Shrew. Viewed from a modern feminist perspective, the play seems at first to be undeniably misogynistic, and the ending in particular offends. However, modern critics respond that Petruchio suffers as much as Kate in order to tame her – he does not eat in order to starve her, he acts like a fool in order to make her seem foolish too, and he stays up all night in order to keep her from sleeping. Kate's hysterical violence seems to require Petruchio's severe methods in order to render her a fit member of society. Many point to this as an indication that the play is not as male-oriented as it at first seems.
A number of later works have been derived from The Taming of the Shrew, including the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate; the Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari opera Sly; the 1999 motion picture 10 Things I Hate About You; and the 2000 Brazilian soap opera O Cravo e a Rosa ().
The television series Moonlighting also produced one episode ("Atomic Shakespeare") which recast the show's main characters in a comedic parody of The Taming of the Shrew.
Shakespeare's contemporary John Fletcher wrote a comedic sequel titled The Tamer Tamed in 1611, just 20 years after Shakespeare wrote the original. It is said Fletcher wrote this play to attract Shakespeare's attention, and it seems to have worked — the two went on to collaborate on at least three plays (Fletcher wrote about 42 plays in his life, 21 of which were collaborations with other known dramatists). The play was resurrected in 2004 by the Royal Shakespeare Company after centuries of obscurity.
- The Taming of the Shrew – searchable, indexed e-text
- Full Text of Play
- The Taming of the Shrew – HTML version of this title.
- The Taming of the Shrew – plain vanilla text from Project Gutenberg
- An analysis of the play's characters