The Taming of the Shrew

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And kiss me, Kate; we will be married a Sunday!
Petruchio:, The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew is one of William Shakespeare's more famous comedies and an interesting exploration of historical Values Dissonance in the realm of gender relations.

In the play (within a play) there is a man with two daughters: kind, beautiful Bianca, sought by suitors everywhere, and loud, shrewish Katarina (sometimes spelled "Katherine," but in any case shortened to Kate), whom nobody likes. Their father declares that he will not marry Bianca off unless someone marries Kate first, which seems unlikely. However, a man named Petruchio is attracted by her large dowry and marries her over her objections.

Petruchio strives to tame her to his will, which ultimately succeeds in breaking her spirit, proving to her the existence of woman's natural need for man. When Petruchio returns to Kate's family, they do not believe in her new obedience, and he wins a second dowry from her disbelieving father. The play ends with three happy marriages, and a speech from Kate about the need for women to obey their husbands.

It's hard to find a story more prime for Alternate Character Interpretation. Some readers see 'sweet' Bianca as a manipulative little bitch who's got their father twisted round her finger and Kate 'acts out' just to get some of his attention. It is also clear that though it is the thought of a fat dowry that initially attracts him, Petruchio is also enchanted by Kate's quick wit. His challenge is to break what has become a conditioned reflex. Your Mileage May Vary on whether he breaks her spirit.

Shakespeare's play is based on older works. Significantly, these versions emphasized women's inferiority. Shakespeare's Kate, on the other hand, argues that women should be obedient to their husbands because said husbands love them and want only what is best for them. Admittedly an arguable proposition, but it puts her in a different category from the patient Griselda who endured any kind of mistreatment as a duty.


Tropes used in The Taming of the Shrew include:
  • Abduction Is Love: Petruchio essentially kidnaps Kate after the wedding ceremony.
  • Aborted Arc: The play starts off with a wealthy man deciding to pull a prank on a drunkard, by fooling him into thinking he's suffering from amnesia and is actually incredibly wealthy, and the play itself is provided for his amusement. After this, the entire setup is pretty much forgotten, and outside of one of them remarking on the play briefly as they're watching, this beginning is never brought up again.
    • Probably the scenes resolving this subplot are lost to history, along with quite a bit of Shakespeare's work thanks to the fact that he didn't bother to preserve his plays himself in any form and many of the written texts of the period were bad knockoff versions penned by others. It's also been speculated that the frame story was added to the play later, probably by someone other than Shakespeare.
    • In some collections, a resolution to the Christopher Sly arc IS added (though it's unclear whether it was actually written by Shakespeare or by someone else). In the ending in The Norton Shakespeare, Sly falls asleep before the end of the Play Within a Play and the men dress him back up in his regular clothes and when he wakes up, he's back where they found him. He thinks it's a dream, and the bartender tells him that he should go home to his wife. Sly agrees, and muses that in the dream, he learned a thing or two about taming a shrew, and maybe he'll try it out.
      • These scenes are from Taming of A Shrew, a play that, for complicated reasons, may either be based on or be a basis of Taming of THE Shrew. Much debate occurs over this stapling on of another (much worse) play's ending.
  • The Alleged Steed: The horse Petruchio rides to his wedding has just about every disease a horse could possibly have, and the moth-eaten saddle and broken bridle probably don't help appearances. (Sadly, this being a stage show, we never actually get to see it.)
  • Artistic License Geography: Averted, though not obviously so. Tranio’s father was a ‘sail maker’ from land-locked Bergamo. Bergamo is the nearest large city to Lake Iseo and close to Lake Como, creating a Bergamo boat-making and sail-making industry which started long before the 16th century and continues to this day.
  • As You Know: Lucentio's opening speech to Tranio. For some reason, feels the need to tell his servant where they are, why they're here, where he was born, and where he was raised. We later find out that Tranio was taken in by Lucentio's family at the age of three. There is no excuse for him not to know any of this.
  • Attractive Bent Gender: In the play outside the play, the tinker Christopher Sly is lusting after a page who the local lord has dressed up as a woman as part of an elaborate joke. (This is Meta Humor, of course.)
  • The Beard: Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) and Bianca fake being a couple so successfully that they have all the other characters fooled. Meanwhile, Bianca's in love with the real Lucentio, who's disguised himself as her tutor.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Most interpretations of Petruchio and Kate.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Kate, in some interpretations.
  • Beta Couple: Bianca and Lucentio, though they seem like the Official Couple at first, if you think the Zany Scheme below is the actual main plot.
  • Break the Haughty
  • Cat Fight: Kate almost gets into one with the unnamed widow in the last scene; Petruchio heartily cheers his wife on.
  • Commedia Dell'Arte: Quite a few elements of the plot are linked to Commedia situations and character types. Gremio is actually referred to as "a pantaloon", and Lucentio and Bianca serve as the innamorati, with Tranio as the trickster servant who gets them together and Vincentio and Baptista as their respective forbidding fathers. Meanwhile, Grumio and the rest of Petruchio's wacky household staff engage in zanni-like slapstick and pratfalls.
  • The Confidant: Tranio to Lucentio, who compares him to a famous example of the trope in Virgil's Aeneid: "That are to me as secret and as dear/As Anna to the Queen of Carthage was."
  • Could Say It, But...: Grumio not telling Curtis all about what happened on his journey with Petruchio and Kate.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Kate
  • Denied Food as Punishment
  • Does Not Like Men: Kate
  • Double Entendre: The first conversation Kate and Petruchio have consists of practically nothing but one after another.

Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp; i’ faith, you are too angry.
Katrina: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
Katrina: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
Katrina: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Katrina: Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, With my tongue in your tail? Nay, come again. Good Kate; I am a gentleman.
[Kate slaps him]

"Husht, master! here's some good pastime toward;
That wench is stark mad or wonderful froward."

Lucentio: Now, mistress, profit you in what you read?
Bianca: What, master, read you? first resolve me that.
Lucentio: I read what I profess, The Art to Love.
Bianca: And may you prove, sir, master of your art!

  • Translation Convention: When Petruchio greets Hortensio in Italian, Grumio thinks he's speaking Latin.
  • Tsundere: Kate.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Upon hearing Biondello's account of the bizarre getup Petruchio is wearing to his wedding, Tranio says, "oftentimes he goes but mean-apparelled." To give an idea of what an Understatement this is, the "No Fear Shakespeare" edition translated the line thus: "from time to time he has been known to dress down".
  • The Unfavorite: Katherina.
  • Upper Class Wit: Petruchio.
  • The Watson: Lucentio; in one scene Tranio drops him several hints about what's going on, then leaves Biondello to explain them to him (and thus the audience) in fuller detail.
  • Wealthy Ever After: When Kate and Petruchio win the already-substantial bet at the end, Baptista throws in twenty thousand crowns, "Another dowry for another daughter/For she is changed, as she had never been." Add to that Kate's original dowry, and it's safe to say that Petruchio got his wish to marry into money.
  • Wedlock Block: Bianca can't get married until Kate does.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: There's growing discussion among critics about the induction scenes with Christopher Sly -- which starts the play and intermingles with it, then disappears and gets forgotten about. These scenes are often left out of modern performances.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Petruchio's "I swear I'll cuff you if you strike again." (Your Mileage May Vary on whether or not he means it, though; Kate counters by telling him he'll be no gentleman if he does so, and it's never brought up again.)
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Look for it during the placing of the bets near the end (of the play; the movie corrects it).
  • Zany Scheme: Bianca's suitors disguise themselves as tutors, leaving Lucentio's servant to impersonate him in dealing with Bianca's father and dragging in another guy to impersonate Lucentio's father. It works.
    • Lucentio is not the only one to come up with this scheme; he wins because he is the only one to both be a tutor and a normal suitor.

Tropes from adaptations of this play:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Lysistrata Gambit: In John Fletcher's sequel The Woman's Prize or The Tamer Tamed.
  • The Musical: Kiss Me Kate, where the original frame story is exchanged for Baltimore in 1947, and a theater company is putting on a musical production of the play. Kate's actress (Petruchio/the director's ex-wife) threatens to walk out, the mob gets involved, and characters break character on stage as the "backstage" drama threatens to go out of control.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: In the Franco Zeffirelli movie version, Kate is unable to say the word "not" after "I will" during her unwilling marriage because her new husband grabs and kisses her.