Old Baptista of Padua has a problem. His much-courted, demure younger daughter Bianca is surrounded by suitors, but he has resolved not to give her in marriage until the elder, Katherina, the shrew of the play’s title, is wed. Though Kate is well-dowried and fair, her temper is legend. Father, sister, and suitors writhe under the lash of her tongue.
Hortensio, enamoured of Bianca, explains his predicament to Petruchio, a witty and wise young man of Verona who has come to “wive it wealthily in Padua.” The description of Kate fails to daunt him; he has the intelligence to perceive the woman as both puzzle and prize.
Though Hortensio’s plan avails him naught--he loses Bianca to Lucentio disguised as a schoolmaster--he sets Petruchio in motion. In a scene perhaps better dramatized than read, the sparks fly as Petruchio ventures to woo Katherina. He pretends to have heard nothing but good of her. As she insults him, he compliments her courtesy. This is only a skirmish in the battle between the sexes; later, Petruchio comes late to the wedding, wears tattered clothes, and rides a pathetic excuse for a horse. He swears at the priest, smacks a loud kiss on the bride, and hurries her off without the comfort of a wedding feast.
Once Kate is installed in her new home, Petruchio’s antics grow even madder. Nothing is good enough for his Kate, so the food is thrown out, the bed flung asunder, her new gown returned to the tailor. Exhausted, hungry, and wary of her husband’s unpredictable temper, Kate finds that gentleness and agreeability, once foreign to her nature, transform Petruchio into a man fit to live with, which was his plan all along.
The comedy ends with a marriage feast for Bianca and Lucentio. A merry debate on marriage ends with the new husbands testing their brides for gentleness and obedience. The results puzzle the banqueters but not the reader of this tale of unfolding mutual respect and understanding.
Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”: Modern Critical Interpretations. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Not for the faint-hearted, this collection of essays is useful for indicating the trends of modern scholarship regarding the play. It contains a number of essays utilizing modern critical perspectives such as feminism and deconstruction.
Greenfield, Thelma N. “The Transformation of Christopher Sly.” Philological Quarterly 33 (1954): 34-42. Greenfield argues that the importance of the Christopher Sly framing device lies in its establishment of the juxtaposition between reality and appearance evident also through the main action of the play.
Holderness, Graham. Shakespeare in Performance: “The Taming of the Shrew.” Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1989. Holderness examines four different productions of the play, including the 1966 Franco Zeffirelli movie and the 1980 television adaptation starring John Cleese. The book is valuable in that it stresses the importance of the performance of Shakespeare’s works.
Huston, J. Dennis. “‘To Make a Puppet’: Play and Play-Making in The Taming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Studies 9 (1967): 73-88. Huston asserts that Shakespeare repeatedly shocks the audience by presenting a series of false starts (that of Christopher Sly being the first). This reflects Katharina’s experience as she is tamed by Petruchio.
Wells, Stanley, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. This is where all studies of Shakespeare should begin. It includes excellent chapters introducing the poet’s biography, conventions and beliefs of Elizabethan England, and reviews of scholarship in the field.