Induction: Christopher Sly, a drunken tinker, rudely refuses to pay for his ale in an alehouse in England, annoying the hostess. He falls asleep at his chair.
A lord and his men come to the alehouse after a hunt. They see Sly asleep, and regarding him as contemptuously as the hostess has, the lord decides to play a trick on him. He tells his men to carry the drunkard to his bedchamber. There, they will trick him into thinking he’s a lord.
The lord has his page, the boy Bartholomew, dress up as a woman and pretend to be Sly’s dutiful, obedient wife. When Sly wakes up, he finds himself wearing a lord’s bedclothes, and lying in a luxurious bedchamber. Naturally confused, he insists he’s Christopher Sly the tinker; they say his identity as a tinker is the result of a dream he’s had during a fifteen-year coma, from which he’s just woken, to the tears of joy of his long-suffering wife.
The lord says Sly will now watch ‘a pleasant comedy’ that a group of actors has prepared. Sly’s doctors say the entertainment will be good for his recovery. The play begins:
Act One: Lucentio and his servant Tranio are entering Padua, since Lucentio is to study at the university there. They see Baptista Minola and his two daughters, the shrewish Katherina and her younger sister Bianca. Two suitors to Bianca, the elderly Gremio and foolish Hortensio, are disappointed to hear that Baptista won’t allow any wooing of Bianca until a husband can be found for Katherina.
Lucentio falls in love with the pretty Bianca instantly, forgetting all about his studies while focusing all his energy on winning her love. Though Baptista won’t allow her to be married until the ‘too rough’ Katherina is wed, he wishes to find music and poetry teachers for both his daughters. Lucentio thus plans to disguise himself as a Latin poetry teacher, calling himself ‘Cambio’. Tranio is to pretend he’s Lucentio, and woo Bianca in the real Lucentio’s stead. Master and servant swap clothes in the street, when Biondello, another servant of Lucentio’s, arrives, all confused to see his master dressed as Tranio, and vice versa. Lucentio explains the whole plan to Biondello.
(The actors note that Christopher Sly, bored with the play, is nodding off. He politely insists that he’s enjoying the performance, asking if there’s more…Actually, he wishes it was already over.)
Petruchio and his servant Grumio enter Padua. Petruchio would have Grumio knock at the door of Hortensio’s home; and when Grumio grows argumentative over Petruchio’s ambiguous words, Petruchio threatens to knock his servant over the head. When Grumio shouts in fear of his ‘mad’ master, Hortensio appears.
Petruchio and Hortensio greet each other, and Petruchio explains that his father has died, and he, without money, hopes to marry a woman and get a generous dowry. He doesn’t care what the bride is like, as long as he gets lots of money. The fact that Petruchio is Hortensio’s good friend is a deterrent from Hortensio telling Petruchio about the shrewish Katherina. Still, Petruchio would get a good dowry from Baptista, so he willingly accepts.
Delighted with the hope of Katherina soon being married off, Hortensio tells Petruchio of his plan to disguise himself as ‘Licio’, a teacher of the lute.
Gremio comes with ‘Cambio’, hoping the would-be Latin teacher will woo Bianca on his behalf. When Hortensio tells Gremio of Petruchio’s intention to marry Katherina, Gremio worries that Petruchio will change his mind when he learns of “all her faults.” Petruchio reassures the others that he, being used to the harsh sounds of war, has no fear “of a woman’s tongue.”
Tranio appears, calling himself ‘Lucentio’ and telling everyone of his plan to woo Bianca, to the annoyance of Gremio and Hortensio. All the men go to the Minolas’ house.
Act Two: Angry and envious Katherina has Bianca’s hands tied, and demands that her sister tell her which man she loves the most. Bianca says that she doesn’t love any particular man yet. Katherina hits her. Baptista comes over to break up the fight, pitying poor Bianca and unbinding her hands. She leaves. Katherina grows more enraged, imagining their father loves Bianca more, and that Bianca will be married first, thus shaming elder Katherina, who leaves in a fury. Baptista laments his ill fortune as a father.
All the suitors arrive. Gremio greets Baptista, and Petruchio asks about Katherina, praising her “beauty and her wit,/Her affability and bashful modesty./Her wondrous qualities and mild behaviour.” Everyone hearing these words cannot believe his ears. Petruchio introduces ‘Licio’ to Baptista as the girls’ music teacher.
Gremio introduces ‘Cambio’ to Baptista. ‘Lucentio’ introduces himself as a suitor to Bianca. A servant leads ‘Cambio’ and ‘Licio’ to the girls to begin their lessons. Petruchio asks Baptista of the dowry he’ll receive for marrying Katherina. Baptista offers a generous dowry, which more than satisfies Petruchio. The only challenge will be gaining the shrew’s love. Petruchio has no fears of not gaining it. (See the first quote from my ‘Analysis of The Taming of the Shrew‘.)
‘Licio’ enters the room, his head beaten. He explains how he tried to explain the proper fingering of the lute to Katherina, who’d gotten it wrong. Angry with his corrections, she broke the lute over his head. Petruchio is delighted, saying he loves her all the more, and eagerly wishing “to have some chat with her.”
Baptista goes to send her over to meet Petruchio. As he is waiting, Petruchio goes over his plan to deny her every word of nastiness or unwillingness to marry him. He’ll insist she’s sweet and gentle instead, as well as eager to marry him.
Katherina arrives: Petruchio addresses her as ‘Kate’. She says she’s known as Katherina, but he insists she’s ‘Kate’. She scoffs at his plans to marry her. The arguing between them escalates till she slaps him for making a lewd joke.
When Baptista returns with Gremio and ‘Lucentio’, Petruchio denies Katherina’s reputed shrewishness and unwillingness to marry him, claiming her nastiness is all just an act she puts on in public, while privately she’s sweet and mild (and the only time to know a woman for real is in private). They’ll be married on Sunday. (She’d have him hanged then instead.)
The others would much prefer Petruchio’s story to hers, so the wedding is settled. Now gleeful Baptista is ready to accept the best dowry offer of Gremio or ‘Lucentio’. The latter offers a better one, so as long as ‘Lucentio’ can prove that his father can pay the dowry, Baptista prefers him as a husband for Bianca. Baptista and Gremio leave. Now Tranio must find someone to pretend to be Vincentio, Lucentio’s father.
Act Three: ‘Cambio’ and ‘Licio’ are vying over who gets to teach, and therefore woo, Bianca. ‘Cambio’ wins, slipping in his wooing words between Latin phrases; meanwhile, ‘Licio’ is tuning his lute. Bianca tells ‘Cambio’, in Latin phrases alternating with her responding words, that he must try harder to win her heart, but not give up, for she clearly prefers him. ‘Licio’ increasingly suspects him to be a suitor rather than a teacher; he also increasingly realizes he’s losing the suit.
On Sunday at the church, everyone is waiting for the very late Petruchio to arrive. Katherina complains that everyone will say, “Lo, there is mad Petruchio’s wife,/If it would please him come and marry her!” Indeed, Baptista acknowledges that she has good reason to be angry.
Finally, Petruchio and Grumio arrive, but they are dressed absurdly. Biondello describes Petruchio as wearing “a new hat and an old jerkin; a pair of old breeches thrice turn’d; a pair of boots that have been candle-cases, one buckled, another lac’d…”, et cetera. The others chide Petruchio for his clothes, and offer him better ones to change into. He insists Katherina’s marrying him, not his clothes. She very unwillingly goes with him into the church.
The comical goings-on during the ceremony are described by Gremio. Petruchio “swore so loud/That, all amaz’d, the priest let fall the book;/And as he stoop’d again to take it up,/This mad-brain’d bridegroom took him such a cuff/That down fell priest and book, and book and priest.”
Petruchio and Katherina come out of the church, but he refuses to attend the wedding party, claiming he has urgent business to attend to back home. Katherina won’t go with him, and the others sympathize with her; but he insists she’s his ‘goods’, his ‘chattels’, his ‘any thing’. Acting like a madman, he pretends the others are trying to take her away, and he and Grumio, brandishing swords, claim to be protecting her as they take her with them to Verona. An exasperated Baptista allows them to go.
Act Four: In Petruchio’s country house in Verona, Grumio arrives first, telling Curtis, another servant, of Petruchio’s mad, ungentlemanly treatment of Katherina during the journey from Padua to Verona. She fell off her horse and into the mire, and he wouldn’t help her back on; he beat Grumio instead. Grumio then tells Curtis to have all the servants ready to meet their master and Katherina.
Petruchio soon arrives with his filthy, exhausted, and starving bride. He bullies his servants into making dinner quickly for them. Dinner is served, but Petruchio rants and raves like a maniac that the meat is burnt (it isn’t). A terrified Kate tries to reason with him; he then throws all the meat at the servants. Poor Kate must now do without supper.
He plans to be similarly abusive when he sees the condition of her bed, not letting her sleep in it. In a soliloquy, he tells of his plans to tame Kate (see quote 2 of my ‘Analysis of The Taming of the Shrew‘), saying that all of his depriving her of food and sleep is out of perfect love for her, since the rejected necessities haven’t been worthily prepared for so fine a wife. He’d be happy to see if anyone knows a better way to tame a shrew, for “‘Tis charity to show.”
Tranio (still pretending to be Lucentio) and Hortensio (no longer pretending to be Licio) speak of how ‘Cambio’ is successfully courting Bianca: they watch the two lovers walk by. Hortensio speaks of his plans to marry a wealthy widow instead, then leaves. Tranio is now speaking with Lucentio and Bianca, and all three are happy to be “rid of Licio.”
Biondello comes, telling of a pedant whom they can use in their plans. The pedant arrives, saying he’s from Mantua; but Tranio tells him “‘Tis death for any one in Mantua/To come to Padua.” For the dukes of each city have a ‘private quarrel’ now publicly proclaimed. The pedant, to protect himself, must disguise himself as Vincentio, a man of Pisa, and help Lucentio in promising to pay the dowry for Bianca’s hand in marriage. The pedant agrees to do so.
In Petruchio’s country house, poor Kate continues to go hungry and without sleep. (See quote 3 of my ‘Analysis’.) Grumio tortures her by speaking of delicious meats, then denying her the food, claiming “it is too choleric a meat.” She begins beating him when Petruchio and Hortensio arrive with meat. Petruchio offers her the meat, which he has lovingly prepared himself for her; he is sure his ‘diligent’ work deserves some thanks. She reluctantly thanks him, but he’d have Hortensio eat it instead.
Since Bianca is about to be married, Petruchio and Kate are to wear their finest clothes and go to Padua. He’s had a tailor and haberdasher prepare a gown and hat for her to wear; she loves the clothes, but he is quick to find fault with them. She insists that all gentlewomen wear hats like the one made, but he won’t have her wear one until she learns to be gentle.
When he says the gown hasn’t been made in accordance with his instructions, the tailor insists that it has, and even shows Petruchio and Grumio them in writing; but they both deny this. So Kate won’t have the dress, either. She and Petruchio will have to go to Padua in their modest attire instead; the clothes don’t make the man (or woman), anyway.
Petruchio claims it is seven o’clock, but when she says it’s about two, he says they won’t go to Padua unless she agrees with his incorrect estimation of the time. Defeated, she agrees with it.
In Padua, the pedant as ‘Vincentio’ helps Tranio (as ‘Lucentio’) with the promising of payment of the dowry in a scene with Baptista. Plans are made for the real Lucentio to marry Bianca in a church.
On the road to Padua with Hortensio, Petruchio looks up at the sun and calls it the moon. When Kate says it’s the sun, he threatens to take her back home unless she says it’s the moon, which she now does. Then he corrects her, saying it’s the sun, and she says it’s whatever he wants it to be. Hortensio is impressed, hoping he can similarly tame his shrewish new wife, the wealthy widow!
They see an old man approaching, and Petruchio calls him a pretty young maiden. He tells Kate to “embrace her for her beauty’s sake”. Kate immediately greets the “Young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet”. Petruchio now corrects her, saying she’s spoken to an old man. She begs his pardon for her “mad mistaking”.
The old man, having overcome his surprise and confusion at the ‘merry’ woman, then introduces himself as Vincentio of Pisa, on his way to Padua to visit his son. Since Petruchio and Kate are going there too, they all decide to go there together.
Act Five: In Padua, Lucentio and Bianca prepare to get married, when Petruchio, Katherina, Vincentio, and Grumio arrive.
Vincentio is enraged to find the pedant pretending to be him, and even more so to find Biondello, Tranio (dressed in Lucentio’s clothes), and Baptista all confirming that the pedant is ‘Vincentio’, while Tranio is ‘Lucentio’. Convinced of his servants’ villainy, Vincentio accuses them of having murdered his son. Tranio, wishing to protect himself from getting into trouble, calls for an officer to have Vincentio arrested. Baptista agrees with ‘Lucentio’ that the old ‘dotard’ should go to jail.
Lucentio and Bianca, now married, arrive, apologizing to Vincentio and explaining away all the disguises and deceit. Now Baptista is angry that his daughter has married a man without her father’s consent. All will be explained and resolved when they go.
Kate wishes to follow them and watch the resolution: Petruchio agrees, but wants her to kiss him first. She is too shy to kiss in public, so he threatens to take her back to Verona. She now agrees to kiss him.
Finally, all are in Lucentio’s house, celebrating at the wedding party. Bianca, and especially the widow, prove themselves to be even more shrewish than Kate. Indeed, Kate is quite annoyed with the widow’s meanness. At one point, the three women leave the room, and all the men assume Kate to be still the most shrewish of the three. Petruchio denies this, confidently entering a wager with Lucentio and Hortensio. Each man will call his wife back into the room; the first wife to come, thus being the most obedient, will cause her husband to win the wager.
Overconfident Lucentio goes first, telling his father he’ll pay in full if he loses. He has Biondello fetch Bianca; the servant returns without her, reporting that she says she is busy and cannot come. All are shocked.
Hortensio nervously has Biondello entreat his wife to come. Biondello returns, saying the widow refuses to come; she’d have her husband come to her!
“Worse and worse; she will not come!” Petruchio says to this. The other two husbands insist, though, that Kate will be the most disobedient of all. Petruchio is sure she will obey, and he tells Grumio to tell Kate that he commands her to come. Grumio fetches her, and she comes immediately, in all submission. Everyone is amazed.
Petruchio tells her to get the other two wives, and bring them back, by force if necessary. She goes to get them. Petruchio promises to show the stunned spectators more proof of the obedience of his transformed wife. She returns with Bianca and the widow. Petruchio tells Kate to remove her cap, as he doesn’t like how it looks on her, and drop it at her feet. She immediately does so, to the continued amazement of all in the room.
Bianca and the widow find Kate’s obedience silly; Lucentio wishes he’d gotten such silliness from Bianca, so as not to lose the large sum of money he’s lost in the wager. Bianca calls him a fool for relying on her obedience.
Petruchio tells Kate to tell “these headstrong women/What duty they do owe their lords and husbands.” The widow will hear none of it; Petruchio demands she listen. Kate chides Bianca and the widow in a long speech about why wives should obey their husbands. (See quote 4.)
Petruchio is touched and appreciative of Kate’s love and duty (quote 5). He triumphantly leaves the party with Kate, while the others are left wondering how he succeeded in taming her.
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- Analysis of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ (mawrgorshin.com)