The Taming of the Shrew Summary

Synopsis

The Taming of the Shrew

Summary of the Play

The principal five acts of the play are preceded by an Induction. Thus the five acts really compose a play-within-a-play, a Shakespearean device. In the Induction, a nobleman out for a laugh puts a drunken tinker and vagrant, Christopher Sly, into bed. He awakens to find a woman calling herself his wife. The wife, who is really the lord’s page dressed as a woman, claims that Sly is a lord. Sly wants his wife to join him in his bed, but she puts him off by asking him to watch a play performed by a newly arrived theater company.

In the central play itself, Lucentio, a young man from Pisa, arrives in Padua to attend its famous university. He quickly becomes enamored of the fair Bianca, who is also pursued by two other men, Gremio and Hortensio.

Bianca’s father, Baptista, will not give away his younger daughter before the elder Katharina—the shrew—is wedded, so Hortensio arranges for his friend the surly Petruchio to woo Katharina. Meanwhile, Lucentio disguises himself as one “Cambio,” a teacher of Latin, in order to woo Bianca. His servant, Tranio, arrives dressed as his master to bargain with Baptista for Bianca’s hand in marriage. Hortensio also comes to woo Bianca disguised as the musician Litio. Bianca favors the younger of the two, and secretly promises to marry Lucentio.

Petruchio makes his suit to Katharina, who vehemently rejects him. Petruchio uses clever repartee to trick Kate into agreeing to marry him. When Petruchio returns to Padua a few days later to wed Kate, he appears slovenly and vulgar. After running out on his own wedding banquet, Petruchio takes Kate to his home in nearby Verona. He subjects her to humiliation by not allowing her to eat, sleep, or wear proper clothing for her visit back home. Gradually, Kate submits to this form of “taming.” She swears that the sun shines even though it is night, just to please her new husband.

Meanwhile, to secure his marriage with Bianca, Lucentio disguises a pedant as his father. But Vincentio, Lucentio’s real father, interrupts the proceedings. After some dispute, father and son are reconciled, and Vincentio consents to the marriage.

Petruchio and Kate return to Padua to attend the wedding banquet of Lucentio and Bianca. Hortensio and his new wife, the widow, are also present. In order to show how masterfully he has tamed his shrew, Petruchio sets up a wager among the grooms to find out whose bride will obey most readily. Each man must call on his wife to attend him.

When summoned, the widow and Bianca both spurn their masters. Kate immediately appears and also brings out the other two wives. Kate then proceeds to harangue the two stubborn women for neglecting their masters. All of the venom that Kate had once used upon her suitors is now turned against the widow and Bianca. All concede that Petruchio has successfully tamed his shrew.

Estimated Reading Time
Readers will be happy to find that The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s most enjoyable and easy-to-read plays. Allow anywhere from three to four hours to read through this comedy. Readers may want to slow down for the details of character switching and disguises. Selecting an edition with good footnotes to the text is always a good policy. Possible choices are the Riverside and Bevington editions or those published by the Oxford, Cambridge and Methuen (Arden Shakespeare) presses. Readers will note that some lines are in Latin. Although most of these lines have no direct bearing on the play, some students might wish to understand why Shakespeare chose to quote the Latin author Ovid. There are also many references to mythological persons in The Taming of the Shrew, as in most Shakespearean plays. Again, a footnoted text will help the reader ponder what Shakespeare intends by comparing characters to certain legendary heroes or victims.

Students may also want to view the most recent American film version of The Taming of the Shrew, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Beware, however, that all available film versions leave out the Induction.