Identify and explain an example of a humorous misunderstanding or slapstick comedy in The Taming of the Shrew.

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booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, we see humorous misunderstanding and slapstick in Act II, scene i.

Petruchio has been encouraged to woo and wed Katharina, the shrew in the story. He is drawn by her fine dowry. Petruchio meets with the girl's father, Baptista, and they settle upon the financial details of the marriage. Petruchio is interested in beginning his courtship immediately, and we have learned he intends to flatter her into a good humor.

Katharina and Petruchio meet, and thus begins the battle. I have seen this play staged, and the slapstick comedy is present as Petruchio makes advances toward Katharina, and she physically side-steps his attempts, turning his words back on him by twisting their meaning, while also throwing things at him. A great deal of the slapstick humor would depend on the physical "blocking" of the players.

In this part of the play, there is also a moment when Katharina slaps Petruchio and he warns her not to do so again. Their battle then continues with the thrust-and-parry of barbed comments.

When Petruchio suggests that Katharina sit on his lap, she says:

Asses are made to bear, and so are you...

...inferring that he is not only an ass that one might sit upon, but he is, as a man, an ass.

Later in this scene, the "misunderstandings" are purposeful as well:

Petruchio: Nay, come, Kate, come; you must not look so sour.
Kate: It is my fashion, when I see a crab.Petruchio: Why, here's no crab; and therefore look not sour.Kate: There is, there is.Petruchio: Then show it me.Kate: Had I a glass, I would.Petruchio: What, you mean my face?       (233-239)
When Petruchio accuses Kate of having a sour look on her face, she responds it is her way when she sees a "crab," but he insists there is no crab. She insists there is, and he asks her to show him.  She tells him that if she had a mirror ("glass") she would, by showing him his own reflection.
The comedy comes from Kate's desire to be ornery and argumentative with Petruchio, giving him no opportunity to gain ground with her; she does this by using double entendres, taking his words to means the opposite of what his intent is. He is no better, delivering his own double entendres, but she is a equally matched with him it would seem.
Shakespeare was a master at using verbal and physical humor at the same time in order to entertain his audiences.

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Well, every Shakespearian comedy has lots of examples of slapstick comedy and humorous misunderstandings, and this play is no exception. Shakespearian comedies seem to involve lots of disguises, assumed identities and then mistaken identities leading to great hilarity, and this leads to one of the most amusing parts of this play in my mind.

This comes in Act V scene i of the play, when Vincentio goes to meet his son Lucentio, but is shocked and amazed to find Tranio disguised as his son. This confusion is compounded when Tranio argues that it must be Vincentio that is mad because of his stubborn insistence that Tranio is not his son, after everyone in Padua has been introduced to Tranio as Lucentio, to give the real Lucentio the freedom he needed to pretend to be a scholar and thus get close to Bianca:

Sir, you seem a sober ancient gentleman by your habit, but your words show you a madman. Why, sir, what 'cerns it you if I wear pearl and gold? I thank my good father, I am able to maintain it.

The situation is further confused when the Pedant arrives, pretending to be Vincentio and supporting Tranio in his claim to be Lucentio. Amusingly, Vincentio is just on the point of being taken to prison for claiming to be an "imposter," when his son arrives with Bianca and is able to straighten everything out.

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