The Taming of the Shrew

Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew was written around 1590 and 1592. It is one of the remarkable comedies by William Shakespeare. It employs the framing device, induction, to allow the main plot to accommodate another plot within the play. The actual story is about Christopher Sly, whom a mischievous lord makes fool of him as if he is a nobility after a drunken night. Once he is assured that he is a nobleman, a play is presented in his court for his entertainment. The induction part contains taming of the shrew, an action, which is primarily based on misogynistic tendencies of the male-dominated society. The play, though a comedy, opens up to various interpretations and raises deep psychological, emotional, and social questions.

Summary of The Taming of the Shrew

The play starts before the subplot, and a bit of fake history is played before an alcoholic, Christopher Sly. To befool him that he belongs to aristocracy, who lost his memory fifteen years back but has regained it just now. To divert his attention from his wife, a play is performed for his entertainment. In this play, Katherine, the daughter of Padua’s lord Baptista Minola, is presented as a “shrew” because of her stubborn nature. Because of her strong-headedness, nobody wants to marry her. However, her younger sister Bianca is portrayed as an ideal bride and a lady. Their father, however, wants Katherine to get married first. Bianca’s suitors now try to get a suitable match for Katherine to pave the way for them to compete and marry Bianca. The plot, further, becomes complicated when Lucentio, who has fallen in love with Bianca, disguises himself as a Latin tutor for Bianca. His servant Tranio disguises himself as Lucentio.

It happens that Petruchio, along with his servant comes, to Padua. He informs Hortensio that he has been enjoying it since his father died. Hortensio convinces him to love Katherine and convince her to marry. This gives space to both Lucentio and Hortensio to pursue Bianca whom they both want to marry.

Petruchio, to face Katherine’s nasty remarks, pretends that her remarks are very kind. He succeeds and Katherine consents to marry him. Petruchio arrives late to his own wedding, wearing a ridiculous dress. In spite of creating a scene, they are married. After the marriage ceremony, Petruchio forcibly takes her to his home. At first, she does not agree to go with him on account of his rowdy behavior during the ceremony. Meanwhile, Gremio, as well as, Tranio, who are in the guise of Lucentio, ask for Bianca’s hand. Tranio wins this bid after which he thinks that they would require an old man, who could act as Vincentio, the father of Lucentio.

Petruchio, on the other hand, now has begun to tame his wife Katherine. He hardly allows her to have the basic things to eat and wear. He believes that all these things are unsuitable for her. He denies her everything under one pretext, or the other, completely disagreeing with what she says. By this, he makes her believe in every foolish thing he utters from his mouth. While they attend Bianca’s wedding ceremony, Petruchio makes Katherine believe that the moon is the sun and the sun is the moon. Katherine is tired of arguments and unwillingly agrees with her husband.

On the other hand, Lucentio and Tranio succeed in convincing an old man to feign as Vincentio and ask him to settle the issue of dowry. This old man successfully plays his role, and Bianca’s father happily agrees to marry Bianca to Lucentio, who is basically Tranio in disguise. However, knowing everything, Bianca flees with the real Lurencio and gets married to him. Upon arrival in Padua, the real Vincentio happens to see the fake father of Lucentio. Tranio appears and the fake Vincentio claims that Tranio, disguised as Lurencio, is his son. During this confusing situation, the real Vincentio is taken into custody, while the real Lucentio comes on the stage along with his wife Bianca. He unfolds the entire story and at last, the matter is solved.

During other events, Hortensio gets married to an affluent lady. In the last episode, the stage is set with three married couples. The three men develop an argument to prove the most submissive and obedient of the three brides. They agree to have a wager through which each one will call her wife via a messenger. They will judge, and the one whose wife shows the most obsequious behavior will win the wager.  Katherine proves to be the most obedient. Hence, her husband Petruchio wins this gamble. She also tells the other two wives how they should obey their husbands. At the end of the play, some characters are shown rejoicing that Petruchio has succeeded in taming “the shrew.”

Major Themes in The Taming of the Shrew

  1. Female Submissiveness: The play discusses the issue of female submissiveness. Even the most upright and haughty women are compelled to subdue before men in this male-dominated society. The example of Katherine, being the shrew, is a case in point that she succumbs to Petruchio, who shows her his temper at the ceremony and even after he forcibly takes her home.
    Here men gamble to even test their wives’ obedience and celebrate their victories. The play also depicts this submissiveness by the end, which is evident in the speech of Katherine, who has been forcibly convinced to believe in the idea of male supremacy by Petruchio.
  2. Marriage as an Economic Institution: A romantic comedy, the play depends mostly on love relations between both genders. Each romantic relationship progresses into marriage. The comedy at hand is not just the progression of love and marriage. Instead, it looks deep into the psyche of this relation which brings forth new gender roles in the society. For example, Katherine, though a very harsh and uncompromising woman, is offered love by Petruchio just because he wants to have some money, which he can get from Katherine’s father. However, he turns his marriage into a mission to subdue or tame her. He successfully makes her a good and submissive wife, though, for economic reasons.
  3. Search for Individual Happiness: Every character in this comedy has a unique role to play and so each character creates expectations about his/her role. The family is depicted as a very powerful institution that determines how characters should adapt themselves to certain situations and how they should behave. They want to change their role to test whether they could be happy otherwise such as Sly is transformed into a noble lord, while Lucentio becomes a Latin tutor, and Tranio pretends to be an aristocrat.
  4. Transformation: The characters in this play are not happy with their present situation. They belong to different sections of society. They want to transform themselves into another self to achieve their objectives. They have put on masks to make others believe what they are not what they are. Katherine, however, is forced to transform herself into an obedient wife as she is vexed with Petruchio’s manipulation. Lucentio tries to present himself as a Latin tutor, while Tranio disguises himself as Lucentio. Christopher Sly is transformed into a Lord. Hence, unconsciously, the characters are not satisfied with what they are. They want to be what they are not.
  5. Education: The play takes into consideration the usefulness of education not in the traditional and formal sense. Here, the knowledge is gained by making sense of real-life experiences in the world. This theme has considerable juxtaposition with the themes of punishment and dissimulation. The rogue characters pass through a process of learning lessons on how to live in a social world. For example, Katherine attacks her music teacher, while Lucentio teaches how Petruchio how to tame Kate. Even, Tranio teaches him to “tame a shrew and charm her chattering tongue.”
  6. Society and Class: The play deals with the complexities that were common in the 16th-century elite class and also takes into account the problems of that society on the whole. The cover story describes the low-class people such as Christopher Sly who is made fun of by making him a lord who represents the upper class. This disparity is also evident in the inset part of the play where class differences and gender hierarchy are discussed amusingly.
  7. Family: In this play, the complex strands of intra-family and inter-family relations are discussed. The play discusses husband and wife relationships such as Petruchio and Kate, the relations between the father and his daughters, such as Baptista Minola, Kate, and Bianca. We also find a power battle between sons and fathers such as Lucentio, the son, and his father, Vincentio. To make it a comedy Shakespeare tries to portray things going towards final settlement yet deep inside the story, many questions are left unanswered.
  8. Language and Communication: Language emerges as a powerful tool to communicate in this play. It is like using physical power as Petruchio does with Kate after marrying her. Sometimes, it even goes forward to an extent that the use of language poses more danger than the torture of the physical type. Petruchio avoids physical abuse but uses words with force. He succeeds in breaking Kate’s willpower and makes her confess that the sun is the moon and vice versa. In the play, arguments given by different characters not only create laughter but also function as a powerful tool to assert power and hierarchy.

Major Characters in The Taming of the Shrew

  1. Christopher Sly: Christopher Sly belongs to the lower class of the society of that time. He is a drunkard who begs to feed himself. Because of his addiction, he is pushed out of the bar. A noble Lord who happens to pass by the tavern plans to make fun of him. He is then made to believe that he is a lord, who lost his consciousness a long time ago. Then, a play is staged for his entertainment.  All this shows how a poor man from a lower class of society is made fun of.
  2. The Lord: The Lord’s name is not mentioned in this play, yet it is known to the audience that he belongs to the upper class with no regard for the lower class. He makes fun of the poor Sly. His role is limited to only the framing part of the play without any actual participation in the main story. However, in the introduction, another character replaces him to represent his class in the play.
  3. Baptista Minola: A wealthy merchant and the father of Katherine and Bianca, Baptista sets a rule that Katherine, the elder daughter, must be married first. Only then he can permit Bianca’s alliance. He is always involved in money matters and busy, finding good matches for his daughters.
  4. Katherine: Katherine is the eldest daughter of Baptista and the “Shrew” in this play. She is haughty and ill-mannered but finds herself in a tight spot after rejecting many proposals. Her attitude is known in her community, which makes it harder to find her a suitable partner. Through Bianca’s suitors, she marries Petruchio. He tames her by force and even makes her believe that the sun is the moon and the moon is the sun. By the end of the play, she is transformed into a loyal and most obedient wife to Petruchio. She also preaches her sister to be faithful to her husband after her character changes.
  5. Bianca: The younger sister of Katherine and daughter of Baptista, Bianca represents an ideal lady in the play with the best qualities that a woman should have to be a better wife. That is why all the young men want to court her, trying their best to win her love. Her character is quite opposite to Katherine, her elder sister, for which she is not acceptable to anybody as a wife. Hence, Bianca is the most favorite choice of all. Finally, she gets married to Lucentio.
  6. Petruchio: A nice young man, Petruchio reaches Padua in pursuit of a wealthy wife. In his harshness and roughness, he could be compared to Katherine regarding habits and behavior. Both are obstinate, always involved in trying to get their opinion forced on the others. However, he is a misogynist who thinks that he can tame Katherine. That is why after marriage, he becomes harsh and strict with Katherine and finally succeeds in his male dominance, making her obedient and submissive.
  7. Gremio: He is one of the suitors of Bianca. Gremio is a rich old man, who tries to win the love of Bianca. He competes with Lucentio, Hortensio, and some other suitors in his pursuit. However, he goes out of this contest when Baptista requires a guarantee, and Vincentio fulfills this on behalf of Lucentio.
  8. Hortensio: Another lover of Bianca, Hortensio comes in the disguise of a music teacher to win her love. He leaves following Bianca when he watches her kissing another teacher. He then marries an affluent widow. The change of love from Bianca to a wealthy widow shows that he was only lusting after money and that he is not a true lover.
  9. Lucentio: Lucentio is a student at the University of Padua. He is accompanied by his servant named Tranio. Instead of paying attention to his studies, he falls in love with Bianca and spends most of his time in her thoughts. He pretends to be a language teacher and tries to get closer to Bianca. He pours out his heart out to Bianca and she agrees to go out with him.
  10. Vincentio: He is Lucentio’s father. Vincentio is a rich man, who guarantees Lucentio the success of his son’s marriage. Initially, his son replaces him with an old man as a supporter, pretending to be Vincentio. Meanwhile, the real Vincentio arrives on the scene to make Lucentio reveal all his plans.
  11. Tranio: A very clever and shrewd person, Tranio is the servant of Lucentio. When he falls in love with Bianca, Tranio becomes his love advisor, telling him how he could reach her. It is his plan that Lucentio becomes a Latin teacher and he pretends to be Lucentio. He, again, demonstrates this cleverness by bringing his master out of this conundrum by the end of the play.
  12. Merchant: The merchant, in fact, is a hired actor as Lucentio’s father, who has been paid to pretend that he is Lucentio’s father, Vincentio. Tranio, who has disguised himself as Lurentio, tells him that as per the orders of the lord any merchant from outside will be killed. Therefore, if he wants to save his life, he should disguise himself as Lurentio’s father.

Writing Style of The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare entertains both verses as well as prose. Basically, Shakespeare uses verse style with iambic pentameter in his plays. However, he also uses prose to fit the requirement of the place, time, and characters. He reserves this prose to express vulgar conversation, and for the communication between the characters of the low class. Apart from this, Shakespeare uses both verse and prose to give a unique color to the play, which brings variety to the communication patterns in the play.

Analysis of Literary Devices in The Taming of the Shrew

  1. Alliteration: It is the repetition of initial consonant sounds in a line. There are numerous examples of alliterations in the play.
    Katherine the Curst. (Act-I, Scene-II, Line, 101).
    ii. And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humor. (Act-IV, Scene-1, Line, 145)
    iii. To make her come and know her keeper’s call.  (Act-IV, Scene-I, Line, 130)
    iv. That bate and beat and will not be obedient. (Act-IV, Scene-I, Line, 132).
    In the first line the consonant sound /k/, in the second line the sound /h/, in the third line /k/, and in the fourth line /b/ sounds are repeated in quick succession making it more lyrical.
  2. Allegory: The play is an allegory that explains a story within the main story. The underlying story is about gender disparity and the struggle between the two opposites. The woman is subjected to behave as a commodity. The rising voice and reaction by the women in the play appear to subside in the last act when the main character, Katherine, surrenders to the will of Petruchio, leaving aside all her rebellious thoughts.
  3. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in a line of prose or poetry. The following lines are examples of assonance.
    So I to her, and so she yields to me. ( Act-II, Scene-1, Line, 129)
    ii. She eat no meat to-day, nor none shall eat. (Act-IV, Scene-I, Line, 133)
    In the first example, the vowel sound /o/ is repeated four times. Moreover, the sound /i/ is repeated in the words ‘she’, ‘yields’, and ‘me’. In the second example, the sound /i/ is repeated making the lines musical.
  4. Antagonist: Some people believe that Kate might be the antagonist of this play, as she demonstrates villainous behavior in the beginning of the play. However, the character of Kate is not powerful enough to make her an antagonist. Many critics believe that the play does not have any villain or antagonist as it is a comedy. However, we can assume Petruchio as an antagonist too. As he manipulates and mentally tortures Kate to tame her.
  5. Allusion: The play introduces several allusions and references to ancient history. For example,
    Hark Tranio! Thou may’st hear Minerva speak. (Act-I, Scene-II, Line, 84).
    ii. Leave that labor to great Hercules. Gremio’( Act-I, Scene-II, Line, 255).
    The above reference is made to great Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and Roman deity. There is another reference to Greek hero Hercules a great figure in Greek Mythology.
  6. Chiasmus: When the words repeat themselves in reverse order, it is called chiasmus. In this play, the statement of Petruchio is an example of chiasmus.
    i. It is extempore, from my mother wit.
    A witty mother! (Act- II, Scene-1, Lines, 254-255).
    The use of the word “extempore” and then reversing it with the argument “mother wit” and a ‘witty mother’ is a nice example of chiasmus in this play.
  7. Conflict: The major conflict in the play occurs between Katherine and Petruchio. He wants to tame this unruly lady at all costs. This is a hard task for him to accomplish. However, with his efforts, he forces her to be submissive, quite opposite to what her behavior is. She resists a lot in the beginning but with the passage of time surrenders to the machinations of Petruchio. This conflict is between the prevailing ideas of male dominance and female weakness in society.
  8. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds usually at the end of words in a line. For example,
    i. That bate and beat and will not be obedient;
    She eat no meat today; nor none shall eat. (Act-IV, Scene-I, Lines 132-133)
    In these two lines, the final consonant sound /t/ is repeated. This repetition of a consonant sound at the end of these words enhances the musical element in the lines. It is therefore an example of consonance.
  9. Dramatic Irony: Dramatic Irony is used when Bianca and her father do not know about the reality of Cambio and why he intends to be the tutor of Bianca. However, the audience and some other characters know the reality. In dramatic irony, the audience’s knowledge is more than the characters themselves. Kate’s speech, in the last act, preaching how to be submissive towards their husband is also full of irony. The audience knows the situation in which she has to pass through, and internally she is not convinced what she says.
  10. Foreshadowing: Petruchio, in the very second act, tells Kate that he will tame her. At that moment, nobody knows that he is the man, who is really going to tame this unruly lady. However, in the course of the play, it transpires that he accomplishes this mission.
  11. Imagery: There are great examples of imagery in this play.
    Come, come, you wasp! I’faith you are too angry. (Act-II, Scene-I, Line, 203)
    ii. Slow-winged turtle, shall a buzzard take thee? (Act-II, Scene-I, Line, 202)
    iii. My falcon now is sharp and passing empty. (Act-IV, Scene-I, Line, 126)
    Animal imagery is used in this play when Katherine is declared an animal. Falcon and shrew are also two animal images that spark the thought desired by the dramatist. Moreover, imagery such as clothes, food, and home is prominent in the play.
  12. Metaphor: Metaphor is the direct comparison of two different things. There are various examples of metaphor in this play. For example,
    My falcon now is sharp and passing empty. (Act-IV, Scene-I, Line, 126).
    ii. Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor. (Act-IV, Scene-III, Line, 168).
    iii. She is your treasure, she must have a husband. (Act-II, Scene-I, Line, 32).
    In the above examples falcon, purses, garments, and treasure have been used as metaphors. The title of this play also refers to “shrew.” which is a metaphor. It is a tiny fierce animal that has been metaphorically used for Katherine.
  13. Mood: The mood of the play is ironic and sarcastic. Inside the comedy, deep undercurrents of serious themes move through the play. The dominance of males is emphasized and the surrender of a free and liberal girl into total submissiveness makes the play a somber one. Apparently, the play is full of enjoyment, playful acts, and humor.
  14. Protagonist: Though Petruchio made the list as an antagonist, he is also the protagonist of this play as most of the plot revolves because of his ventures. He takes up the responsibility of taming Kate, who is a very difficult lady to deal with. However, he succeeds in taming her by doing everything against her will. She finally seems to surrender before the supremacy of the male in the male-dominated society.
  15. Simile: Shakespeare has used several similes in this play. For example,
    Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love,
    As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd
    As Socrates’ Xanthippe, or a worse. (Act-I, Scene-II, Lines, 68-70)
    ii. O, sir, Lucentio slipped me like his greyhound. (Act-IV, Scene-II, Line, 53)
    iii. See where she comes and brings your froward wives
    As prisoners to her womanly persuasion. (Act-V, Scene, II, Line, 128-129)
    In the given lines, Katherine is likened to Florentius love. She is as old as Sibyl, cursed as Socrates’ Xanthippe. In the second and third examples “like his greyhound” and “as prisoners” are also similes.
  16. Soliloquy: Shakespeare uses soliloquies to unveil the hidden motives of the characters.
    Come, come, you froward and unable worms! (Act- 5, Scene-II, Line, 181).
    ii. That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites…
    He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
    Now let him speak; ’tis charity to show. (Act-V, Scene-I, Lines, 131-146)
    Katherine asks the other two women to behave and obey their husbands. She is entirely transformed and has become tamed. In the second example, Petruchio explains how he has trained and tamed Katherine.