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.
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
As a joke, a beggar is carried, while asleep, to the house of a noble lord and there dressed in fine clothes and waited on by many servants. The beggar is told that he is a rich man who, in a demented state, has imagined himself to be a beggar, but who is now restored to his senses. The lord and his court have great sport with the poor fellow, to the extent of dressing a page to pose as the beggar’s rich and beautiful wife and presenting the supposed woman to him as his dutiful and obedient spouse. The beggar, in his stupidity, assumes his new role as though it were his own, and he and his lady settle down to watch a play prepared for their enjoyment.
Lucentio, a young man, and Tranio, his servant, have journeyed to Padua so that Lucentio can study in that ancient city. Tranio persuades his master that life is not all study and work and that he should find pleasures also in his new residence. On their arrival in the city, Lucentio and Tranio encounter Baptista and his daughters, Katharina and Bianca. These three are accompanied by Gremio and Hortensio, young gentlemen both in love with gentle Bianca. Baptista, however, will not permit his younger daughter to marry until someone takes Katharina off his hands. Although Katharina is wealthy and beautiful, she is such a shrew that no suitor will have her. Baptista, not knowing how to control his sharp-tongued daughter, announces that Gremio or Hortensio must find a husband for Katharina before either can woo Bianca. He charges them also to find tutors for the two girls, that they might be skilled in music and poetry.
Unobserved, Lucentio and Tranio witness this scene. At first sight, Lucentio also falls in love with Bianca, and he determines to have her for himself. His first act is to exchange clothes with Tranio, so that the servant appears to be the master. Lucentio then disguises himself as a tutor in order to woo Bianca without her father’s knowledge.
About the same time, Petruchio arrives in Padua. He is a rich and noble man of Verona, come to Padua to visit his friend Hortensio and to find for himself a rich wife. Hortensio tells Petruchio of his love for Bianca and of her father’s decree that she cannot marry until a husband is found for Katharina. Petruchio declares that the stories told about spirited Katharina are to his liking, particularly the account of her great wealth, and he expresses a desire to meet her. Hortensio proposes that Petruchio seek Katharina’s father and present his family’s name and history. Hortensio, meanwhile, plans to disguise himself as a tutor and thus plead his own cause with Bianca.
The situation grows confused. Lucentio is disguised as a tutor, and his servant, Tranio, is dressed as Lucentio....
(The entire section is 1119 words.)
Act and Scene Summary and Analysis
Christopher Sly, a drunken tinker, is expelled from a tavern and falls asleep on the ground. He is discovered by a Lord and his huntsmen. The Lord orders his men to dress Sly in fine clothes and put him to bed in the best chamber. When Sly awakes, Lord and servants conspire to convince him that he is really a nobleman. The Lord's page (a young male attendant) dresses like a woman and pretends to be Sly's wife. After some initial confusion, Sly appears convinced that he is a nobleman. He is told that a comedy will be played for him to aid his recovery. Sly will comment briefly on the play at the end of Act I, scene 1, then disappear from the text.
The Induction, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
Christopher Sly: a drunken tinker (pot-mender) who becomes the subject of a nobleman’s joke
Hostess: the innkeeper who must run after a constable in order to force Sly to pay for damaged goods
Lord: a nobleman who finds Sly asleep and decides to play an elaborate joke at Sly’s expense
Servants and huntsmen: minor players who serve the Lord
Players: members of a traveling theater company
The play begins with a quarrel between an innkeeper and a drunken tinker, Christopher Sly, who has presumably consumed too much ale and has broken some glasses. When Sly refuses to pay for what he has broken, the hostess goes off in...
(The entire section is 1320 words.)
The Induction, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
Bartholomew: the Lord’s page who appears dressed as a woman ready to play Sly’s wife
Sly awakens and finds himself in bed, surrounded by servants who treat him as if he were nobility. The servants ask Sly, who is now in a fine gentleman’s night apparel, whether he will have sack (wine) or other delectables. Sly protests that he is no gentleman, and that he has never drunk sack in his life. He recites a ridiculous personal history, but the servants pay him no attention.
According to the Lord’s scheme, the servants remind Sly that this type of behavior is exactly what has kept his family away from his lordly estate and his wife from his bed. The Lord...
(The entire section is 1096 words.)
Act I, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
Katharina: the shrew who rejects suitors
Bianca: Katharina’s beautiful younger sister who cannot marry until a man weds Katharina
Lucentio: a young man who wants to marry Bianca
Baptista: the wealthy father of Katharina and Bianca
Gremio and Hortensio: suitors to Bianca
Tranio: Lucentio’s servant who disguises himself as his master
Biondello: young servant to Lucentio
Lucentio, a wealthy young man, arrives in Padua, a city famous in Shakespeare’s time for its university. He has come with his servant, Tranio, from Pisa, supposedly renowned for its “grave citizens.” Lucentio mentions that his...
(The entire section is 1663 words.)
Act I, Scene 2 Summary and Analysis
Petruchio—a forceful man who intends to marry for money
Grumio—Petruchio’s patient servant
Petruchio arrives in Padua from his hometown of Verona. His father, Antonio, has just died. Petruchio plans to take a wife in Padua and to visit his old friends. In front of the home of his friend Hortensio, Petruchio orders the elderly servant Grumio to knock on the door for him. But Grumio misunderstands, and a scuffle ensues. The clamor brings out Hortensio, who recognizes his old friend and invites the pair in.
Having heard Petruchio’s plan “to wive and thrive” wealthily in Padua, Hortensio mentions Baptista’s daughter Katharina. He entices...
(The entire section is 1187 words.)
Act II, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
At Baptista’s home, Katharina interrogates Bianca, whose hands are bound. The elder sister wants to know which suitor Bianca prefers, but the younger sister will not admit to favoring either Hortensio or the rich Gremio. Bianca offers to stay away from the man of Katharina’s choice, but perceives that Kate has been jesting. This idea inflames Kate, who then strikes Bianca.
Baptista enters and interposes himself between the two sisters. Bianca runs out after Kate attempts to strike her a second time. Kate once again charges her father with trying to humiliate her.
The old and new suitors arrive. Petruchio presents Hortensio as Litio, a musician. Gremio presents Lucentio, disguised as...
(The entire section is 2019 words.)
Act III, Scenes 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis
In Baptista’s home, the two disguised suitors, Lucentio and Hortensio, compete for Bianca’s attention. Lucentio asks Hortensio to go away to tune his instrument, and Bianca seconds him.
Lucentio reads an excerpt from Ovid’s Heroides to Bianca. He tells her, in between lines of Latin poetry and in place of a translation, that he intends to court her. Bianca plays coy and does not reject Lucentio outright.
Hortensio returns and Bianca sends him off again, saying that his treble strings jar the harmony. Hortensio returns shortly, and hands Bianca a love note, hastily encoded in musical terminology, which she reads but rejects.
A servant interrupts the lessons to...
(The entire section is 1064 words.)
Act IV, Scenes 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis
Curtis: servant of Petruchio who speaks with Grumio
Nathaniel, Philip, Nicholas, Peter: servants of Petruchio
Pedant: a traveler whom Tranio tricks into playing the role of Vincentio
In Act IV, Scene i, Grumio arrives at Petruchio’s country home ahead of his master and new mistress to prepare for their reception and, above all, to start a fire to warm the travellers after their chilling journey. He meets Curtis, a fellow servant, who asks whether Katharina is the shrew she is reported to be. Grumio responds that once she was, but that the cold journey has temporarily tamed her.
After some verbal scuffling with Curtis, Grumio reports...
(The entire section is 1422 words.)
Act IV, Scenes 3 and 4 Summary and Analysis
In Act IV, Scene iii, Grumio talks with Katharina after a night of terror. We learn from their conversation that Petruchio has fulfilled his plan not to allow his bride any sleep on her wedding night, supposedly “all in the name of perfect love” (12). The scene begins, however, with Grumio denying Kate’s request for food. Grumio either believes Petruchio when he claims that certain foods are too choleric for fierce people like Kate, or Grumio is in on the scheme, as he dismisses any food Kate mentions as being too hot or choleric for her temperament. In either case, Grumio sadistically teases Kate by offering, then rejecting, certain foods.
Petruchio enters along with Hortensio, and...
(The entire section is 1476 words.)
Act IV, Scene 5 Summary and Analysis
Vincentio—Lucentio’s father, who arrives unexpectedly and foils his son’s plans to elope
Petruchio, Katharina, Hortensio, and some servants have set out for Padua to attend the wedding of Bianca and Tranio/Lucentio. On the way, Petruchio stops to test Kate’s willingness to accept his version of reality. Petruchio comments that the moon shines brightly, but Kate corrects him, saying it is the sun that shines. Petruchio commands that the moon, or some star, shall shine if he says it does before they continue their journey. Hortensio intervenes to warn Kate to let Petruchio have his way. Kate accedes, declaring that the time of day shall be whatever her husband deems...
(The entire section is 1382 words.)
Act V, Scene 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis
In Act V, Scene i, Gremio lurks in front of Lucentio’s house, but apparently does not see Lucentio, Bianca, or Biondello as they steal away to the church for the secret marriage ceremony. While Tranio and the pedant are still inside, Petruchio, Kate, and Vincentio reach Lucentio’s home and knock. Gremio comes out from hiding to inform them that they had best knock more loudly since those within are busy.
The pedant appears at the window above the front door, and greets Vincentio in a hostile manner. After Petruchio announces that Lucentio’s father, Vincentio, has just arrived from Pisa and wants to see his son, the pedant calls him a liar and claims that he himself is Lucentio’s father. The...
(The entire section is 2273 words.)