William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1999

William Shakespeare

Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using The Complete Works of Shakespeare Updated Fourth Ed., Longman Addison-Wesley, ed. David Bevington, 1997.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of his commentary.   

Overall Impression: A funny play, not as sophisticated or enlightended in its attitude toward women as later ones but very enjoyable.

Per Bevington: Uses an induction (introductory framing plot or prologue). Thematic elements include mistaken identity, inverting appearance and reality, dreaming and waking, and the master servant relationship. Two distinct plots: Petruchio vs. Kate and Lucentio vs. Bianca. Draws on The Sleeper Awakened motif as in Arabian Nights, Gasciogne's "Supposes", the ballad "A Merry Jest of a Shrewd and Curst Wife, Lapped in Morel's Skin", and other sources.


Induction

Induction Part 1

Before an alehouse and the nearby lord's house. The beggar & drunkard Christopher Sly owes for his drinks at the ale house, and the hostess goes to fetch the constable. The lord arrives from a hunt and proposes having some fun with the sleeping Sly. They arrange to take him inside the lord's home, place him in fine clothes, and convince him that he is a nobleman who has been out of his mind for 15 years and has now awakened with his reasoning restored. On awakening, he is plied with good food and drink. Some players arrive and the lord asks them to put on a performance [i.e., of a play within this play]. 

Induction Part 2

Sly and his attendant noblemen watch the play from aloft. He is convinced at last of his new role, though he wonders if he dreams. He calls for his "wife" and wants to get her to go to bed with him, but is told his doctor wanted him to abstain for now. The play begins.

Act I

Act I Scene 1

Padua, a street. Lucentio (son of Vincentio of Pisa, who was born in Florence) has arrived in Padua to pursue a course of studies in virtue and philosophy. [Shakespeare believes Padua is in Lombardy and that it has a harbor.] His servants Tranio and Biondello accompany him. Tranio hopes Lucentio will not be too stoical in what he studies and will allow time for pleasure. 

Baptista Minola appears with his two daughters Katharina and Bianca, along with Bianca's elderly pantaloon suitor Gremio and a second younger suitor Hortensio. Baptista asks they not importune him further about Bianca, as he has resolved that she cannot marry until his elder daughter Katharina has. They discuss her roughness and shrewishness. Lucentio, standing nearby, is entranced with Bianca. Baptista announces that Bianca will be schooled by schoolmasters in his house. The suitors plot to provide the schoolmasters and to find a husband for Katharina. Lucentio also resolves to pose as a poor schoolmaster and to have Tranio assume his role as the visiting Lucentio and to act as a third suitor of Bianca. They exchange clothing. Biondello arrives and will serve in the role of Tranio's servant. Sly, watching the play from above, wishes it were already over.

Act I Scene 2

Padua, below Hortensio's house. Petruchio arrives from Verona with his servant Grumio, intending to see his friend Hortensio. Grumio is impudent and Petruchio wrings his ears. Petruchio's father Antonio has died leaving P. with a small inheritance, and now he seeks a rich wife. Hortensio tells him truthfully about the young and beauteous but shrewd and froward Katharina and about the obstacle she presents to Hortensio's pursuit of Bianca. Despite her fearsome description, Petruchio wants to woo and "board" her, and also agrees to present Hortensio to Baptista in the guise of a schoolteacher. In the meantime, Lucentio has been recruited by Gremio to serve as a schoolteacher and to school her in perfumed books of love and poetry. Gremio presents Lucentio as Cambio to Hortensio, who informs him that he too has found a teacher, a musician (i.e., Hortensio in disguise). Hortensio introduces Petruchio to Gremio--P. is all bravado and fearless in his upcoming courtship of Katharina. Hortensio and Gremio agree to bear the expenses of Petruchio's wooing her. Tranio appears in Lucentio's garb and indicates his desire to woo Bianca--the other suitors try to discourage him.

Act II

Act II Scene 1

Baptista's house. Bianca implores Katharina to remove the bondage she is under by getting married. They discuss Bianca's suitors, and K. strikes Bianca. Her father arrives and K. rebukes him for favoring Bianca. 

Elsewhere in the house, Gremio arrives along with Lucentio/Cambio, Petruchio, Hortensio (dressed as Litio, a musician from Mantua), and Biondello, and the "teachers" are introduced. Petruchio informs Baptista of his desire to wed Katharina, and wastes no time getting to the question of the dowry--Baptista offers a generous one, and P. asks that the papers be drawn up.

Kate meets Petruchio--he calls her Kate and informs her he is wooing her to be his wife. They spar verbally and she strikes him. He praises her virtues and says the contract has been agreed upon and that he plans to tame her. He names the following Sunday as the wedding date and says he is off to Venice to buy the wedding apparel. Baptista marvels. He announces to the other suitors that there will be a bidding contest for Bianca's hand. Tranio (as Lucentio) offers great wealth and outbids Gremio, so Baptista announces that their wedding shall be the Sunday after Kate's, assuming the settlement is as Tranio has offered.

Act III

Act III Scene 1

Same location. The teachers Litio/Hortensio and Cambio/Lucentio vie for time with Bianca. Cambio/Lucentio disguises a profession of love to her in his Latin lesson, but she is coy and says she does not know him. Litio/Hortensio passes her a love note in musical form.

Act III Scene 2

The wedding day. Baptista and the others are worried that Petruchio has not yet returned, and K. weeps in humiliation. Finally Petruchio arrives in outlandish attire and with a broken-down horse, dismissing the concern expressed by Tranio and Baptista. Tranio and Lucentio plot to arrange a man to pose as Lucentio's father so that he can receive Baptista's permission to marry Bianca. Gremio returns from the church and describes a mad marriage in which Kate struck the priest and Petruchio threw sop in the vicar's face. P. announces that he must leave and take Kate with him, leaving the wedding party behind, making Kate feel she is being made a fool of. He announces he will be master of her as his goods and chattels.

Act IV

Act IV Scene 1

Petruchio's country house [presumably Pisa]. Grumio gripes to Petruchio's servant Curtis about his master and the cold weather. He tells how K. ended up in the mud under her horse. The other servants appear, as do K. and P., the latter berating the servants. They bring in supper, and P. continues to abuse them, striking one. He complains about the meat, throws it at them, and demands they take it away, though K. thinks it is fine and is very hungry. P. says they will fast that night. Later he tells the servants that he is depriving her of sleep and food and subjecting her to criticism in order to tame her.

Act IV Scene 2

Padua, before Baptista's house. Cambio/Lucentio reads Ovid's Art of Love to Bianca, and Litio/Hortensio and Tranio observe their affection. Hortensio reveals his true identity to Tranio. Tranio convinces Hortensio to forswear Bianca and that he also will, in favor of Cambio/Lucentio. Hortensio announces that he intends to marry a wealthy widow and Tranio informs Bianca that he too is withdrawing his suit. 

After the others exit, Tranio encounters a traveling Mantuan pedant and cons him into thinking he needs Tranio's protection from a decree of death against Mantuans. They persuade him to take on the role of Lucentio's father, Vincentio of Pisa, in order to convince Baptista that the required dower is forthcoming.

Act IV Scene 3

Petruchio's house. Katharina is exhausted and starved, and Grumio toys with her further. P. says they will travel to her father's house. A tailor arrives with a cap, which P. rejects to frustrate her. He demands that she agree with him even when he states the time of day incorrectly, but she is not yet ready to do this.

Act IV Scene 4

Padua, before Baptista's house. The pedant is presented as Vincentio by Tranio to Baptista. The wedding will proceed.

Act IV Scene 5

On the road to Padua. P. calls the sun the moon, and Vicentio a fair maid, and she consents at last to let him redefine her reality as he sees fit. (They have encountered Vincentio as he is traveling to Padua to see his son Lucentio.) P. informs V. that his son has married Kate's sister and they embrace.

Act V

Act V Scene 1

Padua, before Lucentio's house. Lucentio and Biondello conspire to get the priest and have the marriage performed. P. arrives with Vincentio and Kate. They knock at Tranio's door (i.e., actually Lucentio's), announcing the true Vincentio as Lucentio's father, but the pedant inside insists he in fact is Lucentio's father. V. demands that Biondello identify him as the father and reveals Tranio (posing still as Lucentio) to be a servant. Baptista is confused and the pedant calls for an officer to arrest Vincentio. Gremio identifies the true Vincentio. Lucentio arrives with Bianca, admits his true identity, begs his father's pardon. Baptista is reassured by Vincentio that he will be adequately compensated for the marriage. Kate kisses P. in the street as he requests, to prevent his taking her back home again.

Act IV Scene 2

Padua, Lucentio's home. All the characters are there. The lovers welcome the two fathers. Hortensio appears with his newly married widow, who is catty toward Katharina. With the three women out of the room, P. proposes a test to show which is the most obedient to her husband. Bianca sends word back that she is busy and cannot come, the widow likewise, but Kate comes willingly--P. has won the wager. The women return, and the other men bemoan their losses. P. asks Kate to describe to the other wives the duty they owe to their lords and husbands, which she does so lovingly--P. and K. kiss and head off to bed as the others marvel at her transformation.