The Taming of the Shrew Essay - The Taming of the Shrew (Vol. 64)

The Taming of the Shrew Literary Criticism (Vol. 64)


The Taming of the Shrew

For further information on the critical and stage history of The Taming of the Shrew, see SC, Volumes 55, 77, and 87.

While Elizabethan audiences likely viewed The Taming of the Shrew with amusement and approval, the story of the spirited, rebellious, and sharp-witted Katherina, whose father forces her into marriage with the exuberant and clever Petruchio, can be a bit problematic for modern audiences. The tactics by which Petruchio transforms Katherina's obstinacy into obedience are perhaps more offensive to today's spectators than they were to those of Shakespeare's time. The undercurrent of violence and cruelty in Petruchio's words and deeds has been condemned by some critics, while others attempt to clear his name by contending that Petruchio's character, and the play as a whole, must be understood within its contemporary context. Equally confounding to critics is Katherina's apparent submission to her husband in the play's final act. According to the views of some commentators, this obedient stance should be taken ironically, while others suggest that it should be read “straight,” and argue that a truly loving relationship between Katherina and Petruchio, in which she willingly and rightfully submits to him, has been founded. In addition to Katherina and Petruchio’s relationship, many critical analyses study the play's implications concerning patriarchal power structures and gender roles, the role of women in Elizabethan society, as well as cultural and marital conventions.

Many modern critical analyses of The Taming of the Shrew focus on issues of genre and structure, and provide a background for understanding the major critical issues of the play. Peter Saccio (1984) discusses the negative connotations generated by labeling the play as a farce. Saccio reviews the elements of the play which are indeed farcical, and provides a positive analysis of them. George Cheatham (1985) emphasizes the way in which this early play is similar to Shakespeare's later romantic comedies, such as A Midsummer Night's Dream, particularly in its exploration of the idea of transformation. Other critics approach the play through an analysis of its unity. Margie Burns (1986) asserts that the play's unity is established through the frame created by Sly's disappearance in the first act, and the “disappearance” of the shrew in the final act. Michele Marrapodi (1999) finds unity in the Italian aspects of the play. While the subplot is known to be derived from an Italian source, the critic also links the Induction and the main plot to Italian origins. Marrapodi contends that the Induction is similar to Italian Renaissance models, and the main plot is Italian-inspired in its thematic development of the comedy of “classical intrigue.”

Many of the character analyses of The Taming of the Shrew are centered on Petruchio and his gift of rhetoric. Tita French Baumlin (1989) characterizes Petruchio as a “sophistic rhetorician,” demonstrating the way in which he uses hyperbole, linguistic “disguises,” and lies in order to produce a positive change in Katherina. Wayne A. Rebhorn (1995) studies both Petruchio's and Katherina’s use of rhetoric, asserting that The Taming of the Shrew serves as an analysis of Renaissance rhetoric and issues—including power, politics, and the shifting notions of gender distinctions. Marrion D. Perret (1983) focuses not on Petruchio's words, but his actions, and argues that Petruchio shows Katherina by example how a proper wife should behave by taking on those chores identified (according to contemporary conduct books) as “women's work.” Carolyn E. Brown (1995) suggests that Shakespeare relied on another Renaissance literary tradition—the “patient Griselda”—in addition to his utilization of the shrew tradition. Brown identifies the ways in which Petruchio and Katherina are like the lord and wife in the Griselda genre, explaining that in the “patient Griselda” tradition the wife is repeatedly “tested” by her husband, and continually and patiently submits to her husband's abusive treatment.

Modern productions of The Taming of the Shrew are challenged by the brutish aspects of Petruchio's behavior, Kate's obedience (which modern audiences may find disappointing), and the dilemma of how to deal with Sly and the Induction. Geraldine Cousin (1986) compares two modern productions, finding that while the open-air performance of the Medieval Players offered an interesting experiment with sex reversals, it ultimately failed in its casting of Petruchio as a man, since the other major characters were played by the opposite sex (Katherina, for example, also was cast as a man). Cousin describes the Royal Shakespeare Company production as “admirable,” and praises the forthright portrayal of Petruchio's roughness. Peter J. Smith (1997) was pleased with the way Lindsay Posner's production did not attempt to avoid the play's treatment of domestic violence, but found fault with the production's failure to resolve the central difficulties of the play, and with Monica Dolan's “diminutive” portrayal of Katherina. William T. Liston (1997) discusses the uniqueness of the setting of Richard Rose's production, which takes place in New York's Little Italy in the 1960s. Characterizing the setting and other elements of the production as “gimmickry,” Liston comments that the play failed to “catch fire.” The reviewer for TCI (1998) describes Andrei Serban's production as a parable concerned with the taming of the beast that lives inside everyone. Serban succeeded, notes the critic, in creating an atmosphere in which the nature of personal identity is explored.

The play’s treatment of gender relations, marriage, and social conventions is examined in a variety of ways by modern critics. David Daniell (1984) analyzes what he sees as the very serious treatment of matrimony in The Taming of the Shrew. The play's theatricality emphasizes this treatment, Daniell explains, and demonstrates how Katherina enters further into a playworld as the play progresses, enacting a theatrical set piece at the play's end in which she describes her relationship with Petruchio in terms of an imaginary history play and civil war. In the end, Daniell states, the violence and rebellion are contained, and Katherina and Petruchio are able to be themselves, with all their contradictions intact. Many critics study the play's exploration of gender relations through the lens of Elizabethan culture and social conventions. Randall Martin (1991) urges that by understanding the contemporary context of The Taming of the Shrew we are better able to comprehend the play's handling of gender issues. Reading the play in this manner, the critic maintains, reveals that Petruchio's treatment of Kate reflects the conflicted Elizabethan views about the role of women in society. Martin explains that the play does not resolve the contradictory attitudes of its original audience, but rather documents and acknowledges them. Juliet Dusinberre (1993) examines Katherina's role in light of the fact that in Elizabethan times her part would have been played by a boy. In exploring the implications of this for Shakespeare's audiences, Dusinberre points out that as apprentices boy actors were in positions of dependency similar to that of women in Elizabethan society, yet in playing the role of an aristocratic woman, such as Katherina, or a mercantile woman, such as the Hostess, the boys would have experienced the feeling of possessing some social authority.

Unlike critics who approach the play in terms of the often conflicted relationships between men and women, Camille Wells Slights (see Further Reading) argues that the play is more fruitfully accessed through an examination of the conflict between civilized and uncivilized behavior. The critic contends that Katherina reacts to societal constraints with a self-defeating, antisocial behavior, rebelling against these constrictions by performing the stereotypical role of the shrew. However when Petruchio forces her into a new role, that of suffering victim, Katherina learns to shape her own identity instead of conforming to society's expectations. Slights stresses that Katherina's transformation and display of obedience to Petruchio is a victory, because Katherina becomes a civilized individual who understands that societal relationships are maintained through a balance of duty and privilege. In the end, Slights maintains, Katherina achieves—through public submission to Petruchio, and through a show of dominance over the Widow and Bianca—what she has wanted all along: a dominant position as a valued member of society. On the other hand, Laurie E. Maguire (1995), in analyzing the images of hunting, music, and taming, finds that the play's depiction of marriage demonstrates a broader skepticism regarding “so-called civilized behavior.”

Criticism: Overview And General Studies

Peter Saccio (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: “Shrewd and Kindly Farce,” in Shakespeare Survey, Vol. 37, 1984, pp. 33-40.

[In the essay below, Saccio examines the farcical nature of The Taming of the Shrew. After highlighting the negative ideas generally associated with farce, Saccio provides a positive appraisal of the farcical elements in the play and goes on to show how the play blends farce with romantic character development.]

If Shakespeare's plays exemplify what humankind can achieve at its most vital, most thoughtful, and most sympathetic, not only a source of received wisdom but also a resource for those at odds with the received culture, The Taming of the Shrew remains an embarrassment to many who profess and call themselves Shakespearians.1 In our century a brisk revisionism has flourished. Two major series of scholiasts, the first generally modern and psychological, the second specifically feminist, have argued variously that the shrew never really was a shrew but a woman responding understandably to the abuse of a dreadful family, that she is not really tamed, and that her final speech on wifely obedience is a piece of extended irony that dupes perhaps Petruchio and certainly the other characters.2 Standing nearly alone in recent academic commentary, but supported by many theatrical productions, Robert Heilman has attempted to combat this taming of The Taming of the Shrew. Although he allows that Katherine and Petruchio are persons of wit and imagination rather than mere harridan and whip-wielder, Heilman insists that the play is a farce straightforwardly handling the matter named in its title, and dismisses revisionism as ‘a critical falconry that endeavors to domesticate [the play] within the confines of recent sensibility’.3 This dispute, which will surely continue, at present stands bracketed by two documents, comparison of which illuminates what it has and has not achieved.

In 1897, George Bernard Shaw praised those elements of the play he found ‘realistic’:

Petruchio is worth fifty Orlandos as a human study. The preliminary scenes in which he shews his character by pricking up his ears at the news that there is a fortune to be got by any man who will take an ugly and ill-tempered woman off her father's hands, and hurrying off to strike the bargain before somebody else picks it up, are not romantic; but they give an honest and masterly picture of a real man, whose like we have all met. The actual taming of the woman by the methods used in taming wild beasts belongs to his determination to make himself rich and comfortable, and his perfect freedom from all delicacy in using his strength and opportunities for that purpose. The process is quite bearable, because the selfishness of the man is healthily goodhumored and untainted by wanton cruelty, and it is good for the shrew to encounter a force like that and be brought to her senses. … [But] the last scene is altogether disgusting to modern sensibility. No man with any decency of feeling can sit it out in the company of a woman without being extremely ashamed of the lord-of-creation moral implied in the wager and the speech put into the woman's own mouth.4

In 1980, Professor John Bean reversed the terms precisely: he defended Katherine's final speech and deplored the taming. Bean rightly points out that the obedience speech does not imply a lord-of-creation moral. That notion of male supremacy, with its analogy between the husband and the Christian God and its theological argument from the story of Adam's rib and Eve's fall, can be found in the parallel place in The Taming of A Shrew, but not in the Folio play. The religious language of Shakespeare's heroine echoes the marriage service of the Book of Common Prayer, not the doctrine of Creation. She expounds marriage as a non-tyrannical political hierarchy in which the partners have distinctive roles co-operating in mutual love, a notion reflecting humanist ideas on marriage and constituting a considerable change from medieval male autocracy. Bean further admires the romantic thread of the play, ‘those elements that show Kate's discovery of her inward self through her discovery first of play and then of love’. What Bean finds hateful is the taming: the throwing about of food and bedclothes, the abuse of the tailor, and—though not the obedience speech itself—the way in which Katherine is induced to say it, responding to Petruchio's directions like ‘a trained bear’. Here, according to Bean, is ‘depersonalizing farce unassimilated from the play's fabliau sources’.5

The precision of this reversal is useful. Although male, both writers have considerable credentials as feminists. Were he still living, the creator of Vivie Warren and St Joan might well have been persuaded to contribute to the volume in which Professor Bean's essay appears, The Woman's Part. Yet Shaw, who normally detested farce and damned Garrick's revision of the script, found farce realistic and bearable in this instance, while condemning the final doctrine. Bean finds the doctrine not only historically excusable but innovative for its time—a step forward by the Life Force, one might say—and tolerates the action insofar as it is romantic, while condemning Petruchio's motives and farcical methods. Thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. The villain in Padua is now not male autocracy but farce. Bean finds it so offensive that he supposes that Shakespeare was confused in intention, did not fully know what he was doing. In this dislike he joins other feminist critics of the play, Coppélia Kahn and Irene Dash, who also attack what Kahn calls ‘the mechanism of farce’.6 His view is carried to an extreme in the firm pronouncement of H. J. Oliver. In the introduction to his otherwise admirable edition of The Shrew, Oliver describes the play as ‘a young dramatist's attempt, not repeated, to mingle two genres that cannot be combined’. ‘Characterization and farce are, finally, incompatible.’7

Since a few Shakespearians have been reluctant to admit the Bard's connection with anything so low as farce, it would be well to assert firmly the view of this essay, that the play is definitely (though not exclusively) farcical. Tranio exemplifies the trickery and disguise so prominent in Roman farce; Gremio illustrates devices of characterization used in the Commedia dell'Arte; Petruchio and his servants display the physical knockabout that occurs in farce of all ages. The verbal wit is often farcical. Compared, say, to the lyrical strain and sinuous sophistication of Rosalind's speeches in As You Like It, the wit of The Shrew comes near wisecracking. The funny lines are stychomythic exchanges and sharp retorts, as in the courting scene; grotesque catalogues such as Biondello's list of the diseases of Petruchio's horse and Petruchio's abuse of the tailor; accounts of physical roughhouse such as the story of the horse in the mud and Petruchio's plan to rip apart the bedchamber. Stage productions are usually full of bustling activity. Even when this is not dictated by explicit directions in the script, it responds to the character of the script, to the brisk competitiveness of the lines. We may reasonably complain of productions in which directorial inventiveness overstresses knockabout at the severe expense of other qualities in the text, but an absence of knockabout subverts the text even more drastically.

Farce, of course, has long had a bad press. The Elizabethans did not have the word, but they had the thing, most notably in the jigs performed as afterpieces and dismissed by intellectuals like Prince Hamlet when he wanted to sneer at Polonius's taste: ‘He's for a jig or a tale of bawdry’. Dryden, who had the word, said that farce consisted of ‘unnatural events’.8 That is the keynote of the bad press: the negative description. Nearly every effort to define or describe farce since Dryden—carefully collected in Leo Hughes's A Century of English Farce—has been couched in negatives.9 These definitions met their justified rebuke when, in 1958, Eric Bentley anatomized the entry on farce offered by The Oxford Companion to the Theatre and found ‘the whole article based on the … assumption that farce consists of defects without qualities’.10 When, as in The Shrew, farce is combined with a romantic element, the farce may receive even harsher treatment because of the contrast. Thus Hughes, providing what he calls an ‘acceptable definition of farce’ for The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, remarks ‘Its object is to provoke the spectator to laughter, not the reflective kind which comedy is intended to elicit, but the uncomplicated response of simple enjoyment.’11 Freudian critics such as Bentley and Barbara Freedman argue that the enjoyment of farce is hardly that simple, but even they do not help when the farcical effects are allied with ‘the reflective laughter which comedy is intended to elicit’, as is certainly the case with The Shrew, since their analysis concerns psychoanalytic insights that (by definition) cannot be the object of our conscious reflection as long as we are attending to the literal story enacted on the stage.12 The apparent incompatibility between farce and humane attention to character appears most sharply in feminist criticism, and reasonably so. Critics explicitly devoted to the identification, examination, and exposure of stereotypes will naturally disdain a genre considered particularly dehumanizing. The editors of The Woman's Part speak flatly of ‘the rigidities of farce’.13

Farce need not be rigid, and is not rigid in The Shrew. The unattractive features of the genre have been overstated, and the overstatements have been perpetrated most devastatingly by the one prominent defender of the farcical Shrew, Robert Heilman, whose description of farce fuels the attacks of Bean and Kahn. According to Heilman, farce deals with ‘limited personality that acts and responds in a mechanical way and hence moves toward a given end with a perfection not likely if all the elements in human nature were really at work’. ‘Those who have this personality are not really hurt, do not think much, are not much troubled by scruples.’ ‘They lack, largely or totally, the physical, emotional, intellectual, and moral sensitivity that we think of as “normal”.’ Farce ‘simplifie[s] life by a selective anaesthetizing of the whole person’.14 Each of these sentences, and many another in Heilman's essay, is couched in negatives or privatives: limit, without, not, lack, simplify, anaesthetize. Since no work of art can contain all the possibilities of life, since all simplify by selection and emphasis, one could describe any genre this way and thus make it unattractive to those concerned with doing justice to the full range of human character. What would happen if tragedy were subjected to such descriptive habits? Tragedy concerns persons unnaturally ready to rush to extremes; who do not pause to reflect (cf. King Lear); or who, reflecting, do so faultily (cf. Othello); who, by a selective anaesthetizing of the whole person, lack a sense of humour or balance about their problems (cf. Macbeth or Coriolanus); who will not sit down with a sympathetic friend or a good therapist or at least a valium to get to the root of the matter, but instead dash about with drawn swords; in short, a collection of paranoid hysterics who refuse to live like sensible adults. As for moving toward a given end with a perfection foreign to human nature, what real royal court has ever (short of war or armed revolution) suffered the complete and simultaneous extermination that occurs at Elsinore?

The farce presented in Petruchio's wooing of Katherine and in the efforts of Tranio and Biondello to win Bianca for Lucentio deserves a positive description. That farce arises within a relatively realistic situation. As many have noted, Bianca's popularity and Baptista's favouritism credibly motivate Katherine's shrewish behaviour. As George Hibbard has splendidly argued, the premises of the plot ‘reflect life as it was lived’, specifically the marital customs of Elizabethan England.15 A wealthy father, properly seeking husbands for his daughters, tries to even the odds between the popular girl and her unwanted elder sister by vowing that the former shall not marry before the latter, and thereby creates a frustrating and distressing stalemate for everyone concerned. Within this situation, farce celebrates the virtues of energy, ingenuity, and resilience, virtues that disrupt the static dilemma and work to resolve it. The energy is obvious in the eagerness of the male characters arriving in Padua to take on a set of problems regarded by the Paduans as hopeless, and in the demands they confidently make upon themselves in order to cope with them.16 It is verbally elaborated in Petruchio's speeches of resolution: when he boasts of his career amid roaring lions and clanging trumpets he sounds rather like Tamburlaine. Ingenuity—mental independence and resourcefulness—lies in the suitors' adoption of unconventional means to gain their ends, notably in Petruchio's behaviour at the wedding and in his pretence of being a greater shrew than Katherine, but also in the fertile inventiveness of Lucentio and his servants. By resilience I refer to a special combination of stubbornness and adaptability. This virtue is often overlooked in farcical characters. We are too ready (with or without the explicit aid of Bergson) to describe farce as mechanical or rigid, and thus condemn farcical behaviour as subhuman. The ability to initiate or endure repeated confrontations, pratfalls, and beatings can be testimony to the determination of the characters, and the determination loses its mechanical quality when it is combined with the cleverness, the ready resourcefulness displayed by Petruchio in the taming and by the variety of ‘supposes’ in the Bianca plot. In civilized life, of course, most adults avoid the physical activities of farce—the shouting and the knockabout—but the energy, ingenuity, and resilience embodied in such activities are valuable qualities. We do not honour lassitude, mental barrenness, and defeatism.

It may be objected that I have attributed these farce-displayed virtues only to male characters. That, indeed, is the heart of the current feminist case: Professor Kahn regards farce as the elaboration of a male fantasy of domination, and Professor Bean sees Katherine as the victim of farce.17 But Katherine is also an initiator. Her verbal and physical energy in resisting humiliation mark her first two appearances on stage; indeed, they make her the attractive and interesting character that she is. When she meets Petruchio in her third scene, she initiates both the wit combat and the physical brawling. At this moment, her behaviour has a strain of compulsiveness not shared by Petruchio or Tranio: she has the energy, but her resilience is more stubborn than adaptable, and her ingenuity relies heavily on the use or threat of physical violence. But that is precisely the point: her liberation from raging shrewishness, from compulsiveness and destructiveness, is marked by her growth in farcical range. Petruchio teaches her to play, as many critics have noted,18 but what she plays is the energetic, resilient, ingenious games of farce—the farcical wit of the sun/moon scene and the farcical actions of ‘swingeing’ Bianca and the Widow forth and treading on her own cap. The romantic humanization of Katherine is expressed, not in such reflective speeches as might be given to Viola, but through the resilience and energy of her co-operation with Petruchio's madcap words and actions. One verbal example is particularly revealing. Early in the play Petruchio elaborates a farcical catalogue of Katherine's supposed virtues:

'Twas told me you were rough, and coy, and sullen,
And now I find report a very liar;
For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous,
But slow in speech, yet sweet as spring-time flowers.
Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look askance,
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will,
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk. …
Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?
O slanderous world! Kate like the hazel-twig
Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue
As hazel-nuts and sweeter than the kernels.


The energy of Petruchio's adjective-lists, and the rural vividness and tang of his hazel imagery, contrast sharply with Lucentio's praise of Bianca, heavy as it is with bookish mythology and the conventional sonneteer's talk of coral lips and sweet breath (1.1.150-76). Late in the play Katherine splendidly adopts Petruchio's mode of farcical blazon:

Young budding virgin, fair, and fresh, and sweet,
Whither away, or where is thy abode?
Happy the parents of so fair a child,
Happier the man whom favourable stars
Allots thee for his lovely bedfellow.


Here her striking and ludicrous invention tops Petruchio's more conventional description of eyes like stars and ‘war of white and red within her cheeks’ (4.5.30-2).

Katherine eventually becomes an expert farceur. Her initiation into the full freedoms of farce, moreover, corresponds to the developing pattern of farce in the play itself, to the larger dramatic rhythms. Dramatic rhythm is a matter largely neglected by recent commentary on the play: the feminist concern with social roles has tended to treat the play as case history, where behaviour may be investigated principally as it reveals the sociological assumptions of the playwright and the age. But dramatic events exist within a structure and rhythm of episodes, and that rhythm governs our apprehension of them. Timing is part of the nature of farcical events, in the overall pace of the play as well as in the execution of local business. In The Taming of the Shrew, broadly funny episodes are carefully rationed, with some of the most notable knockabout taking place off stage: the lute-breaking, the wedding service. With the Induction and the elaborately rendered first entrances of Lucentio and Petruchio, the opening scenes are leisurely, slowly introducing the persons and leading only gradually to their engagement with each other. By the time Petruchio woos Katherine and we feel thoroughly into the matter, fully forty per cent of the play has elapsed. Thereafter the pace quickens. The third and fourth acts give us the scenes of outrageous pretence, bizarre costume, physical violence, and disruption of household order characteristic of farce.19 I emphasize this accelerating pattern because it is not the usual rhythm of later Shakespeare, the rhythm Bernard Beckerman has taught us to recognize in Shakespeare at the Globe.20 In most of the Globe plays, as Beckerman notes, there is a mid-play plateau, a sequence of high dramatic excitement, followed by a stretch of lower-intensity story-telling. Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of this design, at least for modern audiences, is the fourth-act sag foreign to modern expectations of dramatic rhythm. Modern audiences are apt to get restless, and modern producers to cut heavily, during the scenes of Laertes's rebellion, the scenes between the blinding of Gloucester and the return of Cordelia, and the later prison scenes of Measure for Measure. But The Shrew accelerates in the later acts, rushing eagerly through hurry and confusion in both its plots, precipitating a comic catharsis through which the characters come to new recognition of their relationships. The accelerating rhythm works on a dynamic of repetition and variation: Katherine is thrice frustrated over food, twice over clothing; she is tested twice in rapid succession over the sun and the old man. The alternating scenes of the sub-plot (4.2 and 4.4) are each built as diptychs: they increase the pace by each handling two problems or two phases of the same problem, the second of which arises unexpectedly in the middle of the scene and calls for a further stretch of ingenuity from the plotters. The final scene of the sub-plot (5.1) builds an hilarious climax out of the true Vincentio's rapid, progressive confrontations with the false Vincentio, Biondello, Tranio and Baptista, and finally the young lovers. The true Vincentio, in his first appearance, is flabbergasted twice, first by being hailed as a nubile virgin and then by Petruchio's bland revelation that ‘thy son by this hath married’.21 The accelerating pace of scenes is matched on the local, verbal level, by rhetorical schemes of repetition leading to climax—anaphora, epistrophe, ploce—schemes that Katherine adopts from Petruchio and uses increasingly. Of particular importance in reinforcing this pace is the sense of improvisation. Although nothing in theatre requires more painstaking rehearsal, farce presents itself as impromptu, spontaneous. Exactly such improvisation, such invention upon unexpected demand, characterizes Petruchio from early on:

Where did you study all this goodly speech?
It is extempore, from my mother-wit.


This is the skill that Katherine learns to exercise in greeting Vincentio, and her practice of it is very carefully rendered: ‘Young budding virgin, fair, and fresh, and sweet—’. She starts with fine hyperbolic inventiveness, in a vigorous six-stress line. But then her ingenuity momentarily staggers: ‘Whither away, or where is thy abode?’ That's a flat line, a dull line unworthy of its predecessor. No word adds colour to the idea, the questions are uninteresting, and the flaccid structure created by the weak ‘or’ helps the line to get nowhere. She is gagging, groping for the next bright idea. Then it comes to her, and without waiting for a reply to her dull questions she produces a sustained outburst of inventiveness, elaborating the fantasy to a wonderfully ridiculous extreme:

Happy the parents of so fair a child,
Happier the man whom favourable stars
Allots thee for his lovely bedfellow.

This rhythmic pattern in the play, rising to frenzy in the later scenes, creates the setting in which the quieter, more romantic moments have their telling impact. When Katherine and Petruchio kiss in the street, defiant of decorum but very much in love, ‘we recognize triumph, we sympathize with surrender; we experience satisfaction in the completion of a long pattern, and we regret that an interesting fight seems finished’.22 That fulfilment would lack its rich savour were it not preceded by the climactic confusions of the sub-plot, the vigorous confrontations of Katherine and Petruchio, and the notable off-stage kiss, the ‘clamorous smack’ that had made the church echo at the wedding (3.2.176). Even more, Katherine's obedience speech, with its elaborate appeal to political and social sanctities, would lack its sense of full-chord resolution if it punctuated something less energetic than farce.

It will be clear by now that I cannot agree with the common modern view that seeks to revise the plain doctrine of Katherine's last speech under the all-saving name of irony. Bean's enrichment of the historical context is helpful here. Discussion of the speech has been vexed by two principal confusions. The first is theatrical: an actress may undercut the sense, vulgarly with a wink at the audience, or elegantly by playing in the high Congrevean manner of Edith Evans. But that is not the point. Such subversion can be practised, according to skill, by any performer on any passage in Shakespeare. It is a familiar form of theatrical humour, delightful at cast parties. With a playwright whose liars and deceivers regularly announce their intentions, however, we must seek some textual basis for supposing that Katherine does not mean what she says. The second confusion, encountered when we seek such textual basis, lies in ignoring the difference between local verbal ironies and a massive irony of intent extending through forty-four lines. Verbal ironies certainly flicker in particular lines. To suggest that Petruchio ‘commits his body / To painful labour both by sea and land’ is to exaggerate the undoubted work of a country gentleman in managing his estate into something that sounds suspiciously like digging the ditches.23 Katherine's reference to a wife who lies ‘warm at home’ is rich in private irony for herself and her husband, but not for the guests who are ignorant of the events of her honeymoon. This verbal playfulness she has learned from her husband, and it valuably lightens what might otherwise be an intolerably long oration, but it does not contradict the doctrine she expounds or the gesture with which she concludes the speech. To argue that the sheer length of the speech contradicts its meaning24 is to cast wanton doubt on everything in the highly rhetorical Elizabethan drama, and also to ignore Katherine's energy in all undertakings, Petruchio's request for such a speech, and the dramatic value of a full statement. Furthermore, verbal irony is far less important in drama than irony of event. Long doctrinal speeches in Shakespeare—the fable of the belly in Coriolanus, the divine-right speeches of Richard II—are often subject to ironic examination by the events of the play, but Katherine's speech is the only such sermon in Shakespeare occurring so late in its play that no further event can challenge it. We do not even need to deplore, as Bean does, the means by which the speech is introduced. Petruchio does not impose it as a further test or taming. The wager has already been won, and husband and wife are playing a game whose object is to demonstrate their superiority as a couple to their scornful relatives.25

The rhythmic pattern I have described, of a leisurely opening followed by gathering farce leading to an unusually late climax and a richly toned conclusion, makes possible the blending of farce and romantic development of character that Oliver deems unworkable. Shakespeare evidently thought so: contrary to Oliver's assertion, he did repeat the blend and the pattern, in a subtler and more varied form, in Twelfth Night, a play also combining a romantic story of wooers and disguisers with a farcical effort to tame a shrewish person. Although a Globe play, Twelfth Night does not manifest the pattern of mid-play plateau and fourth-act sag that Beckerman describes. Instead, like The Shrew, its plot begins with great leisureliness; its theatrical excitement derives from a series of farcical complications that start in the cakes-and-ale scene and accelerate through the letter, yellow-stockings, and duel scenes; and its farce heightens the moments of still romantic wonder late in the love plot. Petrarchanism is set off and energized by the honest mean habiliments of farce.

The Taming of the Shrew is a farce both shrewd and kindly. It is shrewd in many senses. Both hero and heroine are turbulent people. Both, indeed, have the characteristics of real shrews—energy, irascibility, and noise.26 Katherine is also beshrewed, ‘curst’, afflicted by having a sly sister and a father whose relatively good intentions are not supported by much real intelligence about coping with his daughters. She is also shrewd in the sense of being ill-reported, of having a reputation somewhat in excess of her real behaviour.27 And the play itself, especially in acts 3 and 4, is shrewd: noisy, energetic, sharp, piercing, keen. But it is also kindly. This word (which, with its relatives, occurs twenty times in the play) is crucial to the effect. Were it more noticed, feminist critics might be less unhappy. Particularly in the Induction and the final scene, ‘kindly’ is heavily emphasized in the range of meanings that encompasses ‘natural’, ‘dutiful’, ‘compassionate’, ‘gentle’, ‘beneficent’—the range of meanings so important in King Lear. In the Induction, the Lord commands his practical joke on Christopher Sly to be done ‘kindly’, with ‘gently’ and ‘friendly’ as synonymous directions (Induction 1.44, 64, 70, 101, 116). In the final scene, both Baptista and Lucentio welcome the wedding guests with ‘kindness’ (5.2.5, 13). Petruchio responds with a compliment to everyone present. ‘Padua affords nothing but what is kind’ (l. 14). Katherine begins her great speech with. ‘Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening, unkind brow’ (l. 137; if the Elizabethans pronounced the ‘k’ of ‘unknit,’ the combination of ‘unknit’/‘unkind’ would gain prominence by virtue of the complex sound-echo). The play enacts a transformation from shrewdness into kindness, from what is turbulent, curst, keen, and noisy—natural in the sense of fallen nature—to what is generous, gentle, dutiful, and loving—natural in the sense of belonging properly to human relationships in families and communities. It is almost a transformation from Edmund's nature to Cordelia's. There is no confusion of purpose here, no failure to assimilate inherited material to the new purpose. It is of the essence of The Taming of the Shrew that it be both a shrewd and a kindly farce.


  1. An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in April 1982. Quotations from The Shrew come from the new Arden edition, ed. Brian Morris (London and New York, 1981).

  2. The twentieth-century critical fortunes of The Shrew, to the mid-sixties, have been well summarized by Robert B. Heilman in ‘The Taming Untamed, or, The Return of the Shrew’, Modern Language Quarterly, 27 (1966), 147-61. Pre-World War II commentary often deplores the play's apparent doctrine; postwar commentary by Nevill Coghill, Margaret Webster, Harold Goddard and others finds Shakespeare more in sympathy with modern opinions on women. Postdating Heilman's article is the major wave of feminist commentary, well represented by Coppélia Kahn, ‘The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's Mirror of Marriage’, Modern Language Studies, 5 (1975), 88-102; Marianne L. Novy, ‘Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew’, English Literary Renaissance, 9 (1979), 264-80; John C. Bean, ‘Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew’, in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz et al. (Urbana, 1980), pp. 65-78; and Irene G. Dash, Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare's Plays (New York, 1981). Kahn is unique in suggesting that, while Katherine's final speech is ironic, Petruchio is not duped but knows he is being taken in and prefers it that way.

  3. Heilman, p. 161.

  4. Shaw on Shakespeare, ed. Edwin Wilson (Harmondsworth, 1969), pp. 197-8.

  5. Bean, pp. 71, 74, 66.

  6. Bean, p. 74; Kahn, as reprinted in The Authority of Experience: Essays in Feminist Criticism, ed. Arlyn Diamond and Lee R. Edwards (Amherst, 1977), p. 99.

  7. H. J. Oliver, ed., The Taming of the Shrew, The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford, 1982), pp. 56, 52.

  8. Preface to An Evening's Love, The Works of John Dryden, ed. H. T. Swedenberg, Jr. et al., vol. 10 (Berkeley, 1970), p. 203.

  9. A Century of English Farce (Princeton, 1956), esp. chapter 1.

  10. Eric Bentley, ‘The Psychology of Farce’, in Let's Get a Divorce! and Other Plays (New York, 1958), p. viii.

  11. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger et al., enlarged edition (Princeton, 1974), p. 271.

  12. See Barbara Freedman, ‘Errors in Comedy: A Psychoanalytic Theory of Farce’, in Shakespearean Comedy, ed. Maurice Charney (New York, 1980), pp. 233-43. This fascinating analysis ends with the remark that the errors of The Comedy of Errors are really ‘no errors at all’, an observation that indicates that the story and characters as such have dissolved completely.

  13. The Woman's Part, p. 8.

  14. Heilman, pp. 160, 154, 152.

  15. George R. Hibbard, ‘The Taming of the Shrew: A Social Comedy’, in Shakespearean Essays, ed. Alwin Thaler and Norman Sanders, Tennessee Studies in Literature, Special Number 2 (Knoxville, 1964), pp. 15-28.

  16. I am indebted to the ingenious variation on Northrop Frye's theory of comedy presented by Sherman Hawkins in ‘The Two Worlds of Shakespearean Comedy’, Shakespeare Studies, 3 (1967), 62-80.

  17. Kahn, p. 85; Bean, p. 74.

  18. See Novy, ‘Patriarchy and Play’, and J. Dennis Huston, ‘“To Make a Puppet”: Play and Play-Making in The Taming of the Shrew’, Shakespeare Studies, 9 (1976), 73-87.

  19. Brian Morris, p. 142, suggests that the wedding and country-house scenes ‘would be farcical’ if Petruchio did not have a serious purpose. The remark neatly illustrates the prejudice against farce: why should the purpose make the actions less farcical or less funny?

  20. Bernard Beckerman, Shakespeare at the Globe, 1599-1609 (New York, 1962), chapter 2, esp. pp. 34-5.

  21. 4.5.62. No production I have seen has exploited the surprise that must occur to Vincentio here. Editors who comment on the line (e.g. Morris both in a footnote and in his Introduction, p. 19, and Hibbard in the New Penguin Shakespeare) are concerned only with Petruchio's passing on information he could not possibly have. In a play concerned with the proper arrangement of marriages, with a character who exists almost entirely to be subjected to comic shocks, surely this is a notable moment.

  22. Morris, p. 108: he is discussing 4.5, the sun/moon scene, but his fine remark is also applicable to the kiss passage the end of 5.1.

  23. Two recent Petruchios, Raúl Juliá at the New York Shakespeare Festival (1979) and Alun Armstrong of the Royal Shakespeare Company (1982-3), both responded to the line with surprise and a gesture of humorous denial.

  24. ‘It fairly shouts obedience, when a gentle murmur would suffice’ (Kahn, p. 99).

  25. See Morris, pp. 145-9, and Ralph Berry, Shakespeare's Comedies: Explorations in Form (Princeton, 1972), p. 70.

  26. Morris, pp. 120-2, stresses Shakespeare's presumed knowledge of the real animal.

  27. Kahn, pp. 90-1, discusses the inflation of her reputation. In defining ‘shrewd’, OED includes ‘Of reputation, opinion, meaning: Evil, bad, unfavourable’ (3b): examples cited make clear that a shrewd reputation need not be justified.

George Cheatham (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: “Imagination, Madness, and Magic: The Taming of the Shrew as Romantic Comedy,” in Iowa State Journal of Research, Vol. 59, No. 3, February, 1985, pp. 221-32.

[In the essay below, Cheatham argues that The Taming of the Shrew is similar to Shakespeare's later romantic comedies, and demonstrates the ways in which the play, like A Midsummer Night's Dream, uses the metaphor of theatrical role-playing to explore the idea of transformation in general, and the transformational power of love in particular.]

The position of The Taming of the Shrew in Shakespeare's canon has been and remains uncertain. Well into the current century critics kept it distinct from the other comedies, terming it “ugly and barbarous,”1 for example, or “altogether disgusting to the modern sensibility.”2 Even contemporary critics have found the play difficult to place. As J. Dennis Huston complains, criticism of Shakespearean comedy has played a kind of shell game with The Shrew. Recent studies have shown, he says, that the play is neither happy, pastoral, nor festive comedy. Neither is it an early metadrama. Two recent studies of “early Shakespeare” even ignore the play.3 Critics have clearly had difficulty finding a critical niche to accommodate The Shrew. In one way, of course, such difficulty is good, for readers and auditors must approach the play not as a happy comedy, say, or a festive one, but as itself, as The Taming of the Shrew. Unfortunately, the difficulties with classifying the play may have caused some people not to approach it at all and to consider it only one of Shakespeare's unsuccessful early experiments, an oddity in Shakespearean comedy.

Critics in the last thirty or so years, though, have generally seen The Shrew more as romantic comedy than as farce.4 And in the last fifteen or so years they have begun to cite specific connections between The Shrew and Shakespeare's later, characteristic romantic comedies. John Russell Brown, now followed by others, first noted similarities between the ideas of the imagination and acting in The Shrew and in later comedies, especially A Midsummer Night's Dream.5 Brown, however, does not elaborate the similarities. Marjorie Garber more explicitly makes the connection between the two plays, explaining that Katherina's awakening as if from a dream (IV.i.166-68) is the turning point of her transformation. Although merely figurative and not literal, Kate's awakening nonetheless adumbrates Shakespeare's later mature use of dream devices, in which the dreamer is taken “momentarily out of time” and led “toward a moment of supernatural enlightenment, an accession of knowledge which is frequently self-knowledge.”6 In The Taming of the Shrew, she says, we find the germ of the idea of transformation which becomes central in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Garber's analysis is accurate as far as it goes, but the point merits still more elaboration than she gives it, for The Shrew contains more than just the germ of the idea of transformation. It, like A Midsummer Night's Dream, uses the central metaphor of theatrical role-playing and the subordinate metaphors of madness and magic to explore in detail the idea of transformation—specifically transformation through love.

Ironically, the very characteristic that has historically caused The Shrew to be judged as an atypical Shakespearean comedy—Petruchio's taming of Kate to be an obedient wife—connects it intimately with A Midsummer Night's Dream. Surprisingly, I have not seen anyone point out how closely Petruchio's taming of Katherina resembles Oberon's “tormenting” (II.i.147) of Titania and Theseus' wooing of Hippolyta:

Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword
And won thy love doing thee injuries. …


Both plays begin with disharmony caused by rebellious females, the implications of which Titania makes explicit, in oft-quoted lines:

                    The spring, the summer
The childing autumn, angry winter change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.


The unnatural quarrelling between husband and wife spreads outward, since Titania and Oberon are gods, creating disharmony in nature itself. And even in The Shrew, although Katherina is certainly no goddess and the disruption proceeding from her shrewishness barely extends beyond her father's household, Shakespeare clearly suggests the unnaturalness of her forward temper. Such an uncontrollable person is no woman but a devil, a “fiend of hell” (I.i.88), until she be of “gentler, milder mould” (I.i.60).8

Order is restored in both plays, moreover, only when the women are subdued and returned to their natural position, subordinate to their husbands. As Kate herself eventually says, “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / Thy head, thy sovereign …” (V.ii.146-47). Petruchio finally establishes rightful control only by out-shrewing the shrew; Theseus, by outfighting the Amazon warrior; and Oberon, by out-willing the willful one, showing Titania the folly of doting on the Indian boy by causing her to dote foolishly on Bottom.9

But in each case the husband's supremacy leads not to domination but to peace and harmony. Kate eventually offers her hand below Petruchio's foot, but instead of standing over her as a conqueror, he raises her beside him: “Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate” (V.ii.180). The long-delayed marriage-bed, symbol of fruitful and orderly union, follows, “Come, Kate, we'll to bed” (V.ii.184). Theseus' conquest of Hippolyta leads similarly to harmonious marriage, “With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling” (I.i.19), and to a blest marriage bed. Oberon's subduing of Titania leads to new amity and triumphant dance (IV.i.86-88). Such a view of marriage was, of course, the conventional Christian one, requiring that both partners, despite the male's rightful supremacy, treat each other with “gentilesse,” to use Chaucer's words, and not seek “maistrie.”

Marriage, as part of the social hierarchy, as part of the so-called Great Chain of Being, reflected all social relationships—the ruler's relation to his people, for example, or Christ's to his church or a master's to his servant—and was in turn reflected by each of them. Each of these relationships could be used metaphorically to describe any of the others. Katherina herself invokes the analogy of sovereign and subject, as quoted above, to describe marriage. Such comparisons were commonplace. In The Shrew, however, Shakespeare adduces another analogy to explore the marriage relationship, the unconventional metaphor of theatrical role-playing. Each of the play's three attempts at transformation through role-playing—Petruchio's of Katherina, Lucentio's of Bianca, and the Lord's of Sly—suggests that an ideal marriage requires gentilesse from both partners, not maistrie. Each suggests, specifically, that, first, one can play only a compatible role and that, second, the role-playing succeeds only if all parties exhibit sufficient selflessness.

Katherina's transformation from shrew to wife involves role-playing, and it succeeds, at least in part, because she is called on to play a congenial role, that of loving and obedient wife.10 Like a director, Petruchio explicitly details to her and to others the part he expects her to play:

                    she's not froward, but modest as the dove;
She is not hot, but temperate as the morn;
For patience she will prove a second Grissel;
And Roman Lucrece for her chastity. …



And, honest company, I thank you all
That have beheld me give away myself
To this most patient, sweet, and virtuous wife.


To induce Katherina to play the part he desires, Petruchio must himself assume a variety of roles, particularly those of madman and shrew. As Gremio notes about Petruchio's antics, “Petruchio is Kated” (III.ii.238)—that is, Petruchio acts like Kate. He acts mad and shrewish and, like her, sets his selfish will against all others. The resulting misery—the spoiled wedding and feast, the beaten servants, and disrupted household—reveals slowly to Katherina what she has been and what she has done to others.11 Seeing herself in Petruchio's madness and shrewishness, she gradually adopts the alternate role he offers her, that of loving and obedient wife. Her new role, however, comes only with difficulty, and she is for a while disoriented:

                                                                                          she, poor soul,
Knows not which way to stand, to look, to speak,
And sits as one new-risen from a dream.


This “stage of wonderment, this subjectivity of experience and suspension of ordinary assumptions is,” according to Marjorie Garber, “the turning point in the transformation of the shrew.”12 Petruchio so treats her, says Brian Morris, that Katherina “is never allowed to be sure of her own nature until she surrenders to the character he has created for her.”13

That surrender occurs in Act IV, Scene v. There, meeting Vincentio on the road, Petruchio calls the old man a young woman and demands only that Katherina answer “no” and embrace Vincentio. She, however, responds effusively:

Young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet,
Whither away? or where is thy abode?
Happy the parents of so fair a child!
Happier the man whom favourable stars
Allot thee for his lovely bedfellow!


Here Katherina does more than merely obey Petruchio; she sympathetically joins him in his game. She speaks to Vincentio with the “gusto,” says John Russell Brown, of an actor given a congenial role.14 Through this imaginative and generous participation in Petruchio's fiction, Katherina discovers the truth of that fiction. That is, in pretending to be what she does not appear to be, Kate recognizes what she really is. In this speech and in the later one at the wager, Kate helps to create her own role as obedient spouse. And in the creation she and Petruchio take pleasure and find love.15

As mentioned, Katherina's transformation succeeds, at least in part, because she is called to play a congenial role—one assigned to her, in fact, by nature. But the success of the transformation depends just as much on the spirit in which Petruchio works on her and in which she accepts his machinations. Such success as they have requires mutual giving, a willingness of both parties to transcend their narrow selves. Kate obviously does so when she surrenders to the role Petruchio provides for her. And Petruchio does so too by surrendering to the roles he must play to alter her. Were his motives, after all, truly selfish (as his famous lines suggest they might be: “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; / If wealthily, then happily in Padua” [I.ii.74-75]), he could dispense with the role-playing altogether. But he does, finally, “give away” (III.ii.188) himself to Kate.

The failure of the play's other two attempts at alteration, moreover, at least in part through selfishness, underlines the mutual giving by Katherina and Petruchio.16 Both Lucentio and the Lord of the Induction, like Petruchio, attempt to direct another into a new role. Lucentio, like Petruchio, presents a role which he hopes Bianca to play, that of a goddess:

O, yes, I saw sweet beauty in her face,
Such as the daughter of Agenor had,
That made great Jove to humble him to her hand
When with his knees he kissed the Cretan strand.
.....Tranio, I saw her coral lips to move,
And with her breath she did perfume the air.
Sacred and sweet was all I saw in her.

(I.i.164-67, 171-73)

Unlike Katherina, however, Bianca never comes around, partly because the role offered her is unnaturally elevated and thus incompatible and partly because she never consents to play the role. She never overcomes the selfishness she exhibits early in the play—when she refuses to be instructed by her tutors, for example (III.i.16-20).

Bianca's failure is relatively minor, but the play's other failed transformation, that of Christopher Sly from tinker to lord, looms large in all discussions of The Shrew. Some critics argue that Sly's change, like Katherina's, succeeds, that he is transformed and redeemed through the wonderful powers of art17 or that he is created anew, raised up to life as a lord.18 Such interpretations, however, seem obviously erroneous. Katherina literally becomes an obedient wife; Sly neither literally nor even figuratively becomes a lord. His marriage with his “lady,” for example, will never be consummated. And when he awakens from his drunken slumber, no matter which possible epilogue one chooses, Christopher Sly will still be just a tinker.

Only Sly himself in any way believes the truth of his transformation, the actuality of his fictive role as lord:

Am I a lord? and have I such a lady?
Or do I dream? or have I dream'd till now?
I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak.
I smell sweet savours and I feel soft things.
Upon my life, I am a lord indeed,
And not a tinker nor Christopher Sly.

(Induction ii, 66-71)

But neither the auditors nor the other characters are ever convinced, for Sly and his new role are essentially incompatible; he does not play his role well. He cannot, for example, order wine, as a lord would, but calls instead for “a pot o' th' smallest ale” (Induction ii, 73). Nor can he master the correct form of address for his supposed wife:

… What must I call her?
Al'ce madam, or Joan madam?
Madam and nothing else, so lords call ladies.
Madam wife, they say that I have dream'd. …

(Induction ii, 106-10)

Just as important to the failure of Sly's transformation, though, is the Lord's motive in practicing on him. The Lord seeks not to alter Sly but selfishly to amuse himself in “pastime passing excellent” (Induction i, 63). The Lord wishes not to change Sly to a lord but merely to place him in the circumstances of a lord so that his essential nature as a tinker will stand humorously evident.19

These three attempts at transformation in The Shrew lead to two conclusions about role-playing and romantic love. First, one can play only a compatible role. That is, one can become only what at some essential level he or she already is or should be. Katherina, for instance, no matter how shrewish she seems, can become a loving, obedient wife, for nature intends her to be such.20 Bianca, on the other hand, cannot become a goddess. And Sly's attempts at lordship serve only to emphasize that he is essentially no more than a tinker. In this respect, The Shrew looks forward to A Midsummer Night's Dream and, indeed, to all Shakespeare's later love transformations. In the later play Bottom's famous “translation” is really no change at all but a literalizing of what he already truly is—an ass. He and Sly are alike in this: exalted surroundings only emphasize their low natures. Hippolyta and Titania, like Kate, similarly become what nature intended for them to be all along, subordinate wives. And Oberon's love potion works on Demetrius and Lysander only because it returns them to their initial love choices, Helena and Hermia respectively.

Second, the role-playing succeeds only if all parties exhibit sufficient selflessness. Here too The Shrew anticipates A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the later play's description of the imagination illuminates the former play. Actors must be able to transcend themselves through imagination in order to play roles, and the auditors must likewise use their imaginations to generously “amend” (V.i.208) the actors' feigning. When Philostrate suggests that Theseus can “find sport” in the “nothing” (V.i.78-79) of the mechanicals' play, Theseus argues otherwise:

The kinder we, to give them thanks for nothing.
Our sport shall be to take what they mistake;
And what poor duty cannot do, noble respect
Takes it in might, not merit.
.....Love, therefore, and tongue-tied simplicity
In least speak most, to my capacity.

(V.i.89-92, 104-05)

Even the relatively unimaginative feigning of the rude mechanicals, if charitably received, does, as Bottom promises, somehow fall pat, and the play thus “needs no excuse” (V.i.339).

These two conclusions about role-playing apply equally to that metaphor's tenor, romantic love. First, just as a play succeeds only if actors are assigned compatible roles, so true love emerges only if lovers' expectations for love are natural and reasonable.21 One should not, for example, expect a goddess, as Lucentio does, if he wants a wife. Second, just as a play succeeds only if the actors and audience both imaginatively accept the fiction, so true love emerges only if both lovers generously accept each other and “amend” each other's faults. Petruchio and Katherina are both lovers and, metaphorically, actors, and the same generous selflessness that enables them to be successful performers (imagination) enables them also to be successful lovers (gentilesse).

In The Shrew the successful lovers are also the actors. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, however, the two functions are distinct. The four wedding couples illustrate love; the rude mechanicals illustrate performing; and it remains for Theseus and Hippolyta to connect the two in their lunatic, lover, and poet exchange—their attempt to comprehend the happiness of the young lovers.

After a wild night in the woods the young couples in A Midsummer Night's Dream are awakened by Theseus and Hippolyta to find themselves—mysteriously—happy and in love. Theseus questions how “gentle concord” (IV.i.142) has grown from their earlier discord, but the youth cannot answer. “My lord,” responds Lysander,

                                                  I shall reply amazedly,
Half sleep, half waking; but as yet, I swear,
I cannot truly say how I came here.


The others respond similarly.

Rational Theseus acknowledges the strangeness of the events related by the youth but not their truth, and he tries to explain away the events as merely a set of imagined falsehoods or senseless misunderstandings:

'Tis strange, my Theseus, that these lovers speak of.
More strange than true. I never may believe
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys.
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.


Hippolyta, however, recognizes, although she cannot explain, a truth beyond “cool reason.” The lovers' story may not make rational sense. But sensible or not, the changes wrought by the night's happenings are undeniable: All the lovers' minds are “transfigur'd so together” that the events have grown to “something of great constancy / But howsoever, strange and admirable” (V.i.24-27). Discord has somehow become concord; enmity, somehow love. Even the auditors cannot explain the changes. They can know only that lovers, like lunatics and poets, have dreams and visions which can, although irrational, somehow be true. The strange and wondrously enriching power of love cannot be explained rationally; it can only be metaphorically compared to a dream's magically coming true through “fairy grace” (V.i.382).

In A Midsummer Night's Dream the figures of magic and dream which metaphorically explain love are concretely presented through the fairies and their potions. In The Taming of the Shrew the figures convey the same theme, but only imagistically, through Petruchio. In him the lunatic, lover, and poet—and a bit of the magician—all meet. He is obviously a lover, and his role as an actor/director/playwright who guides Katherina into her role as wife qualifies him as poet. He is also a lunatic, and Shakespeare systematically presents him as such. Katherina calls him “one half lunatic” (II.i.286) after their first meeting. On the wedding day (III.ii) she names him a “mad-brain rudesby,” a “frantic fool” (ll. 10, 12), and his “mad attire” (l. 118) and “mad-brain'd” (l. 157) actions during the wedding elicit the appellation “mad” from Gremio, Tranio, and Bianca (ll. 176, 235, 237). And despite the general madness of Petruchio's actions, specific references to it occur only at these points in the text. That fact seems significant. For immediately after Katherina calls him “one half lunatic,” Petruchio describes her ideally to Baptista, in lines already quoted:

Father, 'tis thus: yourself and all the world
That talk'd of her have talk'd amiss of her.
If she be curst, it is for policy,
For she's not froward, but modest as the dove;
She is not hot, but temperate as the morn;
For patience she will prove a second Grissel,
And Roman Lucrece for her chastity.


Immediately after he is termed mad by the wedding guests, Petruchio thanks them for their attendance and again describes Katherina ideally, again in lines already quoted:

And, honest company, I thank you all
That have beheld me give away myself
To this most patient, sweet, and virtuous wife.


To the audience these words seem madness at the time Petruchio speaks them—Kate seems obviously a shrew and no “second Grissel”—but they are a madness in which truth resides, like the madness in the play's Induction. There what is called Sly's “strange lunacy” (Induction, ii, 27)—that he is Christopher Sly, old Sly's son of Burton Heath—is actually the truth. And by the play's end Petruchio's madness too has become truth: Katherina by then is temperate, patient, sweet, and virtuous.22 His descriptions of her may be the irrational imaginings of a madman, a lover's vision of an ideal wife, and a poet's description of the ideal role for a woman. But they are also true. Petruchio's visions, which the rest of Paduan society has judged madness, have somehow become real—and in a way that others can explain only by calling the transformation a “wonder” (V.ii.106, 189), thereby acknowledging Petruchio a sort of miracle worker.23 Like the story of the night in A Midsummer Night's Dream, which strangely grows to something of great constancy, Petruchio's ideal vision of Katherina wonderously bodes, as he says,

                    peace … and love, and quiet life,
And, to be short, what not that's sweet and happy.


With Petruchio's generous help, Katherina, like the young lovers, rises as if “new-risen from a dream” (IV.i.173), mysteriously loved and in love. And like Bottom/Pyramus rising from the dead, she finds her less-than-perfect performance accepted. Her shrewishness yields wondrously to the harmonious joy of the marriage-bed in much the same way that the Burgomask of rude mechanicals yields magically to the dance of fairies.


  1. John Bailey, Shakespeare (London: Longmans, 1929), p. 100.

  2. G. B. Shaw in Shaw on Shakespeare, ed. Edwin Wilson (New York: Dutton, 1961), p. 188.

  3. J. Dennis Huston, “‘To Make a Puppet’: Play and Play-Making in The Taming of the Shrew,Shakespeare Studies, 9 (1976), 73. Huston cities, respectively, J. D. Wilson, Shakespeare's Happy Comedies (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1962); Thomas McFarland, Shakespeare's Pastoral Comedy (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1972); C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959); James Calderwood, Shakespeare Metadrama (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1971); A. C. Hamilton, The Early Shakespeare (San Marino: Huntington Library Press, 1967); and Early Shakespeare, Stratford-Upon-Avon Studies 3, eds. J. R. Brown and Bernard Harris (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1962).

  4. Roughly since Northrop Frye's “The Argument of Comedy” in English Institute Essays 1948 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1949), pp. 58-73.

  5. Shakespeare and his Comedies (London: Methuen, 1957), pp. 94-98. G. R. Hibbard [ed. The Taming of the Shrew (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1968), p. 38] says briefly in his introduction that in The Shrew Shakespeare was very much interested in imagination, which he explored in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Calderwood calls Sly Bottom's “spiritual cousin” (p. 131). Alexander Leggatt [Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), p. 42] says that Sly's awakening “is a dramatic moment of a kind that will continue to fascinate Shakespeare throughout his career” and, specifically, that Sly resembles the waking lovers in A Midsummer Night's Dream. T. F. Van Laan (Role-Playing in Shakespeare [Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1978], p. 52) says that role-playing as structure in The Shrew anticipates nearly all of Shakespeare's subsequent plays. Alvin Kernan (The Playwright as Magician [New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1979], p. 67) says that The Shrew connects with Shakespeare's later plays thematically in the use of theatrical art.

  6. Dream in Shakespeare (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1974), p. 34.

  7. Peter Alexander, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (London and Glasgow: Collins, 1951).

  8. At least as early as the medieval Uxor Noah and Gyll in The Second Shepherds' Play, the shrewish wife has been a type of sinful disobedience.

  9. Titania's doting on Bottom is a clear reversal of natural order: a goddess submitting herself to a mortal—to an animal, in fact, to an ass. She awakens with no thought of claiming the Indian boy, for the obvious folly of such a perverse submission to Bottom reveals to her the unnaturalness of her refusal to submit to Oberon. The doting on an ass suggests further that Titania, in refusing to obey her rightful lord, reverts to her bestial nature, which should be subordinate to her rational one. In refusing to play the role nature intends for her, she necessarily becomes beast-like, less than nature intends her to be. Perhaps something of such an idea inheres in the term “shrew” and in the falcon metaphor Petruchio uses with Kate. Also Sly's drinking himself to the level of a “beast” or a “swine” (Induction, i, 30) is similar.

  10. Kernan, for example, argues that “theatrical methods alone” enable Petruchio to alter her from shrew to wife (p. 66), and Van Laan claims further that the play characterizes all life as a theatrical enterprise (p. 43).

  11. Hibbard, p. 21.

  12. Garber, p. 34.

  13. Morris, p. 135.

  14. Brown, p. 98.

  15. See Leggatt, p. 59. Staging of the play, moreover, could very nicely support such an interpretation, as Ronald Bryden pointed out in conversation (13 April 1984). In the first part of the play Kate is able to control the situation. That is, coming from offstage, railing, she is able to present herself as she wishes others to see her. But as the play progresses, she comes to be surrounded by other characters, hedged in. In III.ii, for example, she enters in a group, a wedding train, and even though she is the center of the group's attention, the others nonetheless limit her, as does her engagement. She re-enters later in III.ii, again in a group, this time as a wife, and exits physically carried off by Petruchio. In IV.i she is, in effect, a prisoner in Petruchio's house.

    In IV.v, however, the situation changes. Once she accepts Petruchio's game with Vincentio, she is no longer hedged in. That is, she and Petruchio stand apart from the others—here in the sense that they are in on the joke while Vincentio is an outsider and literally in V.i. Her and Petruchio's joint knowledge, which the others lack, gives them joint control. Her acceptance of her assigned role thus frees her. In V.ii she again is able to enter and present herself. But this time she presents herself for and with Petruchio, not just to him. She and he understand what is going on, while to the others her actions can be only a “wonder.”

  16. See also Van Laan, pp. 44-53. He, though, considers Lucentio a successful actor/director, who “changes Bianca from Baptista's daughter to Lucentio's wife” (p. 47).

  17. Kernan, p. 67.

  18. Huston, p. 79.

  19. The Lord's joke is appropriate in one sense, though. Through his drinking Sly has become a “beast,” a “swine” (Induction, i, 30), less than a tinker. Being shown to be a fool and no more than a tinker is a fit punishment for Sly. See also note 8.

  20. See note 8.

  21. To paraphrase Bottom, love and reason must keep at least some company. For example, no distinction exists between Demetrius and Lysander capable of explaining Hermia's initial love of Lysander and not Demetrius. Her choice, while inexplicable, is nonetheless consistent with reason, for Lysander is undeniably “a worthy gentleman” (I.i.52). See R. W. Dent, “Imagination in A Midsummer Night's Dream,Shakespeare Quarterly, 15 (1964), 117.

  22. Katherina, too, is mad, but in two distinct ways. Initially “stark mad or wonderful froward” (I.i.69), Kate willfully and obstinately sets herself against all society. Such selfish madness, that of the pariah, does not enrich her life but instead narrowly limits it. The madness of the lover, on the other hand, that which Katherina exhibits toward the play's end, is enriching. In concurring with and actually surpassing Petruchio's mad assertion that Vincentio is a young maiden, she goes beyond her narrow selfishness, surrendering willingly to something outside of herself. The expansive madness of the lover thus liberates her.

  23. The term is Huston's (p. 77).

Margie Burns (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: “The Ending of The Shrew,” in Shakespeare Studies, Vol. 18, 1986, pp. 41-64.

[In the following essay, Burns asserts that the play's unity is established through the frame created by Sly's disappearance in the first act, and the “disappearance” of the shrew in the final act.]

The central thematic and formal principle in The Taming of the Shrew is its conversion of oppositions into dialectics, so that initially adversarial relationships or hierarchies become vehicles of reciprocal exchange. This is accomplished in the relationship between Kate and Petruchio, in the relationship between the Induction and the main play, and ultimately in the relationship between the ending and the “missing” ending. All of these relationships are subsumed by the ending of the play.

The conclusion of Shrew poses two famous problems, the remarkable disappearance of Christopher Sly and the other Induction characters after Act I, and the ambiguity of Katherina's self-extinguishing speech in Act V (ii.136-79).1 At the beginning of the play, Sly disappears, to be replaced by Katherina the shrew; at the end of the play, Katherina the shrew disappears, to be replaced by someone evidently rather … sly.2 As this charming symmetry of beginning and end suggests, I think, the play coheres, without the addition of any supererogatory ending. I shall argue that the two problems mentioned above are connected and that, by virtue of their connection, they can be resolved; the exchange between them—and between beginning and ending—partly indicates the formal complexity of the play, but also evidences the unity of the play. To explain the ending of Shrew, one should posit not that half a frame is missing, but that the unity of the play is its frame.3 Thus Sly's loss can be discussed as the play's gain, because the discontinuation of Sly's story actually helps develop the Kate-Petruchio story. Leaving aside for now the traditional assumptions of Shrew criticism, therefore, I shall concentrate at first on purely formal considerations. Rather than hypothesize a missing ending, I shall focus on the manifold connections between the Induction and the final scene in particular, and between the Induction and the main play overall.

Modern readers have reawakened to some of the thematic connections between the Sly story and the rest of the play, as sketched by Richard Hosley in his overview of the play: a “threefold structure of induction, main plot, and sub-plot, unified as these elements are by the ‘Supposes’ theme”4 Among recent readers, Maynard Mack guides the consensus, emphasizing the characteral parallels between Sly and Kate: “what the Lord [sic] and his servants do in thrusting a temporary identity on Sly is echoed in what Petruchio does for Kate at a deeper level of psychic change.”5 Sidney Homan similarly emphasizes the parallels between Sly and Kate, in his reading of the metadramatic parallels between, respectively, spectator and actor.6 Alongside the consensus on the links between Sly and Kate, however, other readers have noted analogous links between Sly and Petruchio, following the direction pointed out by the fair-minded Harold Goddard:

In the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew, Christopher Sly the tinker, drunk with ale, is persuaded that he is a great lord who has been the victim of an unfortunate lunacy. Petruchio, in the play which Sly witnesses (when he is not asleep), is likewise persuaded that he is a great lord—over his wife.7

Goddard's attractive insight, partly a corrective to a rather sexist and elitist emphasis on Kate and Sly as solely the weaker partners in parallel manipulations, will be pursued farther. First, however, to substantiate any of the larger characteral relations between Induction and play, one must observe the detailed relations between scene and scene in the Induction and Act V.

Both the Induction and the final scene necessitate a “banquet,” an atmosphere of communal festivity somewhat self-consciously evoked:

Sirs, I will practice on this drunken man.
What think you, if he were convey'd to bed,
Wrapp'd in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes … ?


In each scene, the festivity celebrates a marriage and/or the reaffirmation of a marriage; in obvious burlesque of comedy's traditional celebratory ending, the Induction bestows a rejoicing wife on the semi-sentient Christopher Sly, before an onstage audience of the whole comic community. So complete a happy ending, indeed, almost obviates any other ending; in a structural pun, its very completeness jocosely explains the absence of a coda for Sly. In fact, the two “ending” scenes of the Induction and Act V jocosely reflect each other: the Induction festivity shows a husband restored to his senses; the final scene shows a wife restored to hers; so far, so good (though I think the ironies in the former pinpoint those of the latter, as Goddard suggested). As one would expect from Renaissance drama, especially Shakespearean, the same process of reflection extends further, throughout the structure of the play: the happy ending of the Induction is picked up in Act V, scene ii, and the unhappy ending of Kate and Petruchio's wedding in Act III is reflected in Sly's unconsummated marriage in the Induction and in the absence of any consummation at all for him after Act V.

With contradictory open-endedness, the end-stopped Induction belies its own form, partly by setting up further developments, as the players enter and commence arrangements for a play. Furthermore, it also sets up the audience: since anyone first seeing the play would expect Sly to be its protagonist, the swift transmutation of roles at the end of the Induction comes like a practical joke. Like the lord, the playwright has a near-supine creature to practice on, and in both cases the butt of the joke metamorphoses into bemused (and perhaps reluctant) spectator, his mind on other things. Beyond the initial foolery, however, the playwright's joke suggests a more fruitful sense of “practice,” and Sly's happy ending also provides a warm-up, a rehearsal, for that of the main play. Parallels between the Induction and the final scene generate what might be called a familial relationship between the Induction and the play. Seen in such perspective, the Induction stands as a sort of little sister to the main play, applying itself to “practice” as a younger sister should:

Well, go with me and be not so discomfited:
Proceed in practice with my younger daughter;
She's apt to learn and thankful for good turns.


Shall sweet Bianca practice how to bride it?


Incidentally, the suggestions about “practice” for Bianca, while juxtaposing her to Katherina, hint subliminally at her constantly ongoing if quiet rehearsal as understudy in the role of shrew.

Following the overall pattern of familial resemblances (and familial stresses), the main play, which apparently must be finished before Sly's induction can be completed, falls into a kind of Leah-and-Rachel relationship to the induction, like an older sister who must be married off before the younger sister can marry. In The Taming of the Shrew, both the main play and the older sister are initially presented—objectified—as things to get rid of:

'Tis a very excellent piece of work, madam lady: would 'twere done!


I am agreed; and would I had given him the best horse in Padua to begin his wooing that would thoroughly woo her, wed her and bed her and rid the house of her!


Happily, the disregarded potential both in Katherina and in her story comes to fruition, as both become (cf. Kant) ends in themselves. Meanwhile, the Sly frame, like the sly Bianca, proves other than what it seemed originally, perhaps balks at expanded development, and finally disappears, subsumed within a larger perspective.

In the overall temper of energized humanism thus sustained by the play, a humanism based on a rather optimistic concept of the potentials in individualism, one outstanding quality in the play is its openendedness—at times, its double-endedness. The Induction and the final scene, for example, are enriched by the open-ended dialectic of literal and figurative language that connects the two scenes. Centered around parallel occasions, the scenes also center around parallel conversations about hunting; however, the literal hunting topos of the Induction metamorphoses into the figurative topos of the final scene:

This bird you aim'd at, though you hit her not;
Therefore a health to all that shot and miss'd.
O, sir, Lucentio slipp'd me like his greyhound,
Which runs himself, and catches for his master;
'Tis well, sir, that you hunted for yourself;
'Tis thought your deer does hold you at a bay.


In the Induction, the men enter arguing about which of three hunting dogs is best; in the final scene, the men argue about which of three wives is best—an infelicitous parallelism which boomerangs on at least two of them since only one wife proves a retriever (of her husband's wager, and incidentally of the other wives). Beneath the jollification (often dubious, in such scenes in Shakespeare's plays), Lucentio and Hortensio's uneasy banter about escape, retrieval, and entrapment betrays their underlying unease, the contradictory sensations of hunters unsure of their prey and of objects of prey themselves. With the play's brilliant doubleness, the colliding forms of edginess produce, for the two characters, a hint both of their own possible entrapment and of a possibly slipping grasp on the yet-untamed wives. Briefly stated, the edginess comes from a tension between denial and fulfillment and is exploited in the wedding-night wager and exacerbated by the wives, who first leave the room (shift their “bush,” as Bianca says [V.ii.46])8 and then withhold their appearance. Again, the polite theatrical indication of the wives' future sexual behavior reflects or is reflected by the action of the Induction, when Sly's wife similarly withholds herself.

Drawing the two scenes yet closer together, the two hunt conversations employ not only the same images but even the same numbers. Like the lord, who enters boasting about his hound—“Saw'st thou not, boy, how Silver made it good / At the hedge-corner, in the coldest fault? / I would not lose the dog for twenty pound” (Ind.i.19-21)—Lucentio proposes to wager “twenty crowns” on his wife's obedience (V.ii.70) and Petruchio boasts of his wife—“twenty crowns! / I'll venture so much of my hawk or my hound, / But twenty times so much upon my wife (ll. 71-73). In the dreamlike dependency of numbers as in other images, the final scene uses and re-uses the materials of the Induction and transposes them to higher terms—or at least to more expensive terms. Indeed, the earlier hunt may echo in the final scene even through the names of the hunting dogs, which chime interestingly with the wives' characters: “Bellman” suggests Kate's voice and function in the play; “Silver,” like “Bianca,” suggests light coloring; and “Echo” adequately describes the unnamed widow whose speeches largely just echo Bianca's.9 Such linguistic echoes reverberate Petruchio's implicit connection of his wife with his other hunting creatures, further widening the uneasy tension between a view of the wives as hawks, hounds, etc., and a view of the wives as “deer” (with the obvious pun). Whether in tandem or in opposition, the Induction and final scene interact to enrich each other; when the playwright pursues contradictions far enough, the progressive complexities involve release as well as tension. Like the progression from literal to figurative “sly” character mentioned before, the progression from literal to figurative hunt draws the beginning and ending of the play closer together and enlarges the play from the literal, confining bounds of its beginning.

The sense of expansion at the ending is amplified by Katherina. Following the men's jokes and the men's wager in a last-but-not-least position, Kate's big speech to the audience seems at first to endorse a downplaying of the woman's role. Its immediate impact in the theater, however, certainly does not downplay her role, and like many other readers, I think it proceeds through—and succeeds theatrically by means of—intentional though extemporaneous irony, along the lines of Kate and Petruchio's gamesplaying in Act IV, scene v.10 Kate's strategic rhetorical position at the end, her eyebrow-lifting overenthusiasm, the vivid language she uses to delineate women's weakness, all support the strongest possible reading of her part at this juncture:

Fie, fie, unknit that threat'ning unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.

(ll. 136-138)

The haphazard order to the lord/king/governor terms, by the way, suggests their rather loose application. To support a political hierarchy, they should form a linguistic hierarchy, as in Portia's incomparably more serious and therefore more elevated use of the same terms:

Happiest of all is that her gentle spirit
Commits itself to yours to be directed,
As from her lord, her governor, her king.

(MV, III.ii.165-67)

Katherina, in contrast, sites the real power of her speech in women; above, she begins by emphasizing that women should avoid injuring men; continuing, she similarly emphasizes that women should avoid injuring themselves:

It blots thy beauty, as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame, as whirlwinds shake fair buds. …

(ll. 139-40)

While Katherina warns women that they could injure themselves or others, the speech never introduces a more sinister dimension of any equivalent threat from men. Like Katherina herself at every point in the play, the speech continuously displays strength and animation. Thus it dwells on the concept of womanhood, and in such a way as to produce images of strong passions and elemental forces—pungently reinforced through Kate's own language and behavior (even in this speech):

Come, come, you froward and unable worms!
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;

(ll. 169-72)

With a pre-Freudian and almost Victorian limpidity, she pronounces that “… our [women's] lances are but straws” (l. 173); but she nonetheless represents women's duty with a particularly “unfeminine” image which, in effect, endows women with “lances”:

Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,

(surely the inclusion of the word “honest” is important here)

What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?

(ll. 155-60)

Most appropriately, the multiply-ironic military idiom in this passage produces the reverse battle cry of “Let's lay down our weapons,” a genre whose energies carry it from the Lysistrata through the Sixties slogan of “make love, not war.” Of course, the strategy employed by Katherina at this juncture (as in the Lysistrata) is the time-honored one of carrying the battle to favorable terrain.

Throughout her speech, Katherina exhorts women to offer dutiful obedience freely; the speech addresses (ostensibly) not the men in the audience but the women themselves, and it argues not masculine coercion but masculine privation:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor, both by sea and land;
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold. …

(ll. 146-50)

Indeed, as with the dubious image of the “foul contending rebel” preceding, Kate's evocation of the ways in which men can be distressed becomes almost a reverse cheer. Proclaiming in lavish detail the difficulties which men must face, Kate shows such gusto as to overwhelm any poor-little-woman argument in the speech; the zest which characterizes Kate's language certainly extends to the subject of men's burdens.

Overall, the speech presents the concept of mutual support between the sexes, clearly based on women's freedom as well as men's, to offer or to withhold. Critics of all political persuasions have passed over this salient point. Indeed, little serious analysis has been devoted to the language of the speech itself; most criticism has its starting point in the supposed tenor of the speech and then addresses itself to justifying or debunking the supposed message.11 The language which presumably couches the message has been neglected. Partly diverging from such a pattern, however, Juliet Dusinberre notes the difference between this speech and the analogous one in A Shrew, though her conclusion differs from mine.12 More in line with my own view of the presentation, Margaret L. Ranald refers to the concepts of partnership and mutuality in discussing both the speech and the play;13 and similarly Anne Barton takes as her emphasis “a Katherina of unbroken spirit and gaiety” at the end of the play, “who has learned the value of self-control and of caring about someone other than herself.”14 In this regard, the speech corresponds fully to the rest of Act V, scene ii: notwithstanding superficial appearances, the entire last scene of The Taming of the Shrew cleverly reinforces a fundamental reciprocity and equality (however raucous) between the sexes. Paradoxically, even the men's wager sustains the reciprocity (unbeknownst, probably, to Hortensio and Lucentio); after all, the men bet on their wives' willingness to appear rather than simply compelling their wives' appearance. It is not suggested that they could compel their wives to appear; what they do, instead, is to reciprocate the treatment asked of woman in Kate's speech, in a willing compliance, a submission based (in one case) on trust, they watch and wait for their spouses to return (from the “bush” outside). In other words, they bet on their wives. This reciprocity is sustained throughout the scene, even to the inclusion of slight touches like the final couplet—which comments equally on Petruchio's taming and on Kate's allowing herself to be tamed:

Now go thy ways, thou hast tam'd a curst shrew.
'Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tam'd so.

In the previous wedding scene, a similar tag expresses the same exchange:

… being mad herself, she's madly mated.
I warrant him, Petruchio is Kated.


Despite the belittlement in such comments, the audience can see that, if Katherina gives herself and her image into Petruchio's protection, Petruchio's stature—as either “tamer” or simply person—rests in Kate's keeping, in the reciprocal estate of marriage.15

I have been arguing that the inequalities ostensibly espoused by Katherina's speech are belied by the energizing individualism of her rhetoric—its vividness, strength and ironies combined in a game of seeming ease analogous to and infused with sprezzatura (even if the latter is more typically considered the exclusive property of the male courtier of the period). In this respect, the final speech reflects the play as a whole, where the same interaction of superficial inequalities against the more fundamental energies of developing individualism results in much the same outcome: a “taming” which stars Katherina as the pivot of the whole play. In particular, the ostensible or gamesmanlike imbalance of Katherina's speech reflects the fate of the Induction, further tightening the formal connections between Kate's problematic speech and Sly's problematic disappearance. With the unfinished Induction, after all, the play concludes on a seeming imbalance between the beginning and ending fully as audacious as the seeming imbalance between the sexes with which Kate's speech concludes. The imbalance itself thus generates a balance, both between the beginning and ending of the play and between the Induction and the play as a whole. The Taming of the Shrew seems to be poised at a moment of relative optimism, which envisions the energies of humanistic individualism as reconcilable with the stresses it imposes on family relationships.

In any case, the connections between the Induction and the final scene of the play lead inevitably to the larger connections between the Induction and the play as a whole. At this juncture, however, to argue for those connections becomes a more complex proposition, partly because to point out the parallels or connections between the Induction and the rest of the play often necessitates references from the text of the play to the context imposed by its history in criticism. Historically, criticism of the play shows that the apparent inequalities in Katherina's speech and in Sly's disappearance invite—or almost compel—speculation (as in this essay). Unfortunately, much such criticism, though by no means all, has reacted to these dazzling provocations to thought by hypothesizing a missing ending for Sly and a missing earnestness for Kate, extending both Sly's story and Kate's conversion beyond the text. Since I think that the play has more than sufficient aesthetic unity to justify its non-ending or its non-final ending (depending on one's preference for terms), I would hypothesize that the artificial extensions imposed by such readings serve chiefly to get both Sly and Kate home—and to keep them there. This point must, however, await the substantiation offered by the further formal connections between play and Induction.

To justify the ending of The Taming of the Shrew, I would term it not a missing ending but a non-final ending, and I would look to the advantages (formal and theatrical) for the playwright implicit in such lack of finality, as well as to the consistency of such lack of finality with the movement of the play as a whole. The metadramatic approach which has proved useful to other readers proves useful again in this context. One recent reader suggests, for example, that the difference between the play's Induction and ending reflects the difference between farce and comedy; thus with Sly's disappearance the farce also disappears, in a metadramatic sloughing-off of old wineskins which nicely signals the author's development into a playwright of genuinely comic stature.16 Similarly, a student concluded that as the Induction characters get farther and farther into the play, they simply get swallowed up; like the audience watching, they become lost in the play, and therefore the lord's joke partly metamorphoses into a joke on himself, as he and his attendants are swept away by the action which they themselves initiate. Reinforcing the metadramatic approach on this point, the traditional topos of the biter bit brings the Induction closer (once again) to the main play. For just as Kate has the tables turned on her, seeing her shrewishness reified in another personality, as in the therapeutic technique of commanding the double bind that requires correction, Petruchio also sees his game successfully played back at him by Kate, when she mimics and outdoes his Baroque flipflops (IV.iv. and V.ii). As Erasmus recommends in the former instance,

Malo nodo malus quarendus cuneus.—To a crabbed knot must be sought a crabbed wedge. A strong disease requyreth a stronge medicine. A shrewed wyfe a shrewed husbande to tame her. A boysteous horse, a boysteous snaffel.17

And in the latter, he similarly recommends,

Fallacia alia aliam tradit.—One discept driveth out another, As we see one nail driven out with another nail, so doth many times one craft and guile expel another.18

In the play, the energetic series of proverb-salted processes—tormentor tormented, fighting fire with fire, one nail drives out another—returns on itself (“Petruchio is Kated”), as Kate's domineering recoils on herself, Petruchio's supposed lordship on himself, and the lord's joke on himself, all combining in one of the more therapeutic veins of theatrical comedy.

In part, I would contend that the combination succeeds because it is actually a re-combination, resulting from correspondences between Kate, Petruchio, and the other main-play characters and the figures from the Induction who actually offer shadowy equivalences for the main-play characters. The play's reversals, inversions, and reciprocities include an exchange which connects characters in the Induction to characters in the main play. Thus Kate's situation resembles not only Sly's, but—as has already been touched on—other links connect Kate to the lord and Petruchio to Sly. In fact, Kate's character includes, like Petruchio's, elements of both Sly and the lord (and in Kate's case, of the page and the hostess), relationships which derive support from the original doubling of actors' parts. Presumably, for example, the same actor played either Sly and Petruchio or the lord and Petruchio; perhaps the same boy actor played the hostess of the Induction and Kate; or perhaps, more appealingly, the page of the Induction played Kate, while the hostess doubled as either Bianca or the Widow.19 If the original pairings remain uncertain, their thematic import at least remains correspondingly open to conjectural use.

As one instance of key parallelism, when the page of the Induction becomes a lady, he also becomes, like Kate, a model wife. Consider the course of his instruction in how to personate a wife:

Tell him from me, as he will win my love,
He bear himself with honorable action,
Such as he hath observ'd in noble ladies
Unto their lords, by them accomplished. …
And say, “What is't your honor will command,
Wherein your lady, and your humble wife,
May show her duty and make known her love?”
And then with kind embracements, tempting kisses,
And with declining head into his bosom. …


If the page does play Kate, his practice in receiving instruction (“taming,” so to speak) amply fits him to do so; like Kate afterward, he rehearses the role of wife, under the tutelage of his “lord,” in order to win that lord's “love” (l. 109). Furthermore, the fact that the page's role as wife runs counter to his previous role does not make the theatrical joke any less effective—although it does, of course, prevent any ultimate consummation onstage (the page's story does not have an ending, either). Incidentally, the lord's speech indicates that the lord, like Petruchio, seems to have devoted some thought and energy to the course of instruction as a husband.

Where the page resembles Kate, Christopher Sly also resembles Petruchio; where Kate's character seems to contain elements of the page and the hostess, Petruchio's seems to contain elements of the lord and Sly, a transference which proves significant. In his own way, Sly shows a propensity, like Petruchio's, to treat his wife from the start as (as we say) a person:

Where is my wife?
Here, noble lord, what is thy will with her?
Are you my wife and will not call me husband?
My men should call me “lord”; I am your goodman. …


Fascinatingly, Sly's comic celerity here in assuming a social distance between him and his “men” anticipates the way Petruchio and Kate bond with each other, leaving other members of their respective genders to engage in a sort of post-play battle of the sexes as groups, rather than as individuals. To do so, however, he assumes the same distance between his servants and his wife—a distinction which, the play suggests, would be sloughed off swiftly by a “real” lord. As Petruchio expostulates, dogmatically,

She is my goods, my chattles; she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything;


Petruchio's over-emphasis on the legal situation at least brings it out into the open and signals his own uneasiness here. Indeed, I think that the ensuing mock-heroic scene dramatizes Petruchio's genuine underlying desire to remove Kate from the situation enunciated:

I'll bring mine action on the proudest he
That stops my way in Padua. Grumio,
Draw thy weapon, we are beset with thieves;
Rescue thy mistress, if thou be a man,
Fear not, sweet wench, they shall not touch thee, Kate:
I'll buckler thee against a million.

(ll. 236-41)

The comedy points up an actual need for individual protection against a community of people like Baptista, a need which Petruchio seems to recognize.

Like Petruchio later, Sly shows his recognition of his wife as a person, by exploring the possibilities of the wife's name (also commencing the instant intimacy which he desires):

What must I call her?
Al'ce madam, or Joan Madam?
Madam, and nothing else, so lords call ladies.

The last is a telling comment, underlined by the fact that the lord himself has no name, and evidently repudiated by Sly:

Madam wife …

(ll. 108-12)

Similarly, Petruchio opens with Kate's name:

You lie, in faith, for you are call'd plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,
Kate of Kate-Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation. …


Sly and Petruchio attest the wife's identity by emphasizing the wife's name, in an authorial word-play which reflects adversely on the nameless Widow and the colorless Bianca—as well as on the unnamed lord and the name-changing “Supposes” characters, among the men.

From such connections, the roles in Induction and main play recombine, sometimes to produce rather androgynous results (e.g. the treatment of the page, both by his own lord and by Sly). In the doubling-up typical of the play, moreover, the characters also form their thematic bonds in pairs; when Petruchio becomes a lord, like Sly, and Kate becomes a lady, like the page, the two pairs of characters reflect each other's situations, partly in the mutuality of their mock-elevations. In fact, the social elevations are validated chiefly by their mutuality—converted, like so much else in the play, from oppositions to dialectics. As briefly stated at the beginning of this essay, each initial opposition or hierarchy—Kate and Petruchio, Sly and the lord, Induction and play—metamorphoses into a vehicle of dialectical exchange, as does even the opposition of “ending” and non-ending (or missing ending), where the non-ending can serve as an ending, and the ending can serve as an open door.

Here enters much of the thematic point of the ambiguous ending—again, attesting a moment of rather optimistic humanism, even in the form of the play; when the dichotomy between “formal” and “thematic” or contentual also becomes recognizable as dialectic, and the form can be seen as homologous with the relationships among the characters, then the open-endedness of the play vindicates the open-endedness of the central characters' relationship. If both Sly and Petruchio have jokes played on them, the ending of the play finally gives the jokes some point; Kate's mock-elevation of Petruchio results in a genuine elevation, a release from the limitations of his earlier role (fortune-hunter, bully, etc.), reflecting her release from her role. While the joke on Petruchio takes on a point, however, the joke on Sly—as just a joke—remains pointless, and the play outgrows it. The disappearance of Sly and the other Induction characters partly constitutes the disappearance of a sly joke, and the play proves its enlargement at the end by enlarging the audience from the sly state of mind.

In examining this point, I found that the concept of a developing dialecticism in the form of the play elucidates the minor puzzle of Sly's name. While the significant name “Sly” can hardly be accident, given the way Shakespeare plays with names, the name seems not to fit Sly's egregiously straightforward personality.20 Perhaps, then, the name conveys less the individual character than the frame of reference which he provides. In such a sly frame of reference, either Kate or Petruchio must be seen as beaten, while the other must be narrowly seen as victor, a reductive view which downgrades the characters to manipulators and bullies (or to shrews and slys). Given the direction of the play, such a view would result in the loss of Kate and Petruchio, and the playwright chooses fittingly to jettison Sly instead. Only characters like Lucentio and Hortensio cling to their sly jokes, and their attitude toward Kate and Petruchio tends if anything to arouse the audience's protectiveness toward the latter. In a neat structural pun, the “Supposes” remain sly—merely sly, like spectators, eavesdroppers, bystanders—at the frame rather than at the center of things, leaving the viewer or reader to identify (as most do) with the central intelligences. Finally, indeed, with Kate's address virtually directly to the audience, the playwright allows the audience itself to “frame” the play from its vantage point as bystanders in a different and larger sense, released—like Kate and Petruchio—from the initial configuration of response.

In other words, the playwright declines to put the lid on, recork the bottle, at the end of The Taming of the Shrew; to return to the Sly framework would imply regression, inappropriate to a play whose action celebrates so much progression. The confinement of a single limited role for Sly, whether in a manor or in the gutter, would diminish the playwright's options and those of his characters; and if Sly's story is not over, perhaps Kate and Petruchio's is not over either. Their wedding occurred back in Act III, after all, so the audience knows that a wedding does not necessarily signify closure any more than it necessarily signifies the happy ending; and the end of the play reinforces the point, partly through Bianca and the Widow's weddings and partly through its own lack of closure. For Kate and Petruchio, the open ending is the most persuasive happy ending, because the open threshold promises them room to grow; as Kate and Petruchio make their final exit with the other characters gaping after them, their development suggests a dimension beyond closure into the adult future of the “real world.”

Professor Anne Barton, introducing the play in a student text, observes of the traditional joke-on-a-beggar story that “inherent in all versions is the return of the beggar to his original state and his conviction that all the wonders he has seen and enjoyed were only an exceptionally vivid dream.”21 In The Taming of the Shrew version, perhaps the author wishes to do more than tell an old joke. Perhaps the Sly framework disappears because any enclosing form would ill-suit an action of release and expansion; like the audience watching and some of the characters within it, the play escapes from limits initially imposed on it, reflecting its own action in the farthest-reaching optimism of Renaissance dramatic mirroring. In such form, the story represents a dream come true, less for the tinker turned lord than for the married couple turned friends and for the audience turned party to its own entertainment in the fictional characters' happiness.22

As mentioned, emphasis on the formal unity of the play extant has ramifications beyond the text of the play to the context of previous criticism. In my opinion, the play has traditionally been read with an elitist and antifeminist bias which reifies relationships as hierarchies and then endorses those hierarchies. Where the play itself makes elaborate jokes out of its hierarchies—including the highly sanctioned ones of youth and age (“Young budding virgin, fair and fresh …” [IV.v.37]), father and son (“Thy father! O villain! He is a sailmaker in Bergamo” [V.i.80-81]), and master and servant (“Knock you here, sir!” [I.ii.9]) critics have too often solemnly taken them to be fixed, normative, and ordained. The play itself leaves virtually nothing fixed; rather, its action proceeds and unfolds chiefly through a series of exchanges, including exchanges of role which entail exchanges of status, which leave status mobile and suspended in mobility at the end of the play.

Instead of focusing on the mobility, or suspension, sustained by the text, however, and analyzing the consequences or significance of such mobility, much criticism has concentrated instead on the “missing” ending, proceeding not from the text itself but from the underlying assumption that Sly should return to his “rightful” state. (Analogously, as observed above, Kate's final speech is often approached from the assumption that she, too, is coming to her senses and returning to the ordained subservient status of women). I wish to examine the assumptions underlying such criticism, despite the inexplicitness of the assumptions. Obviously, the fact that Sly does not have an ending leads to the question, “Why not?” But this valid question, with which I have attempted to deal on formal grounds, differs considerably from its implicit reformulation in much Shrew criticism, which asks not, “Why doesn't Sly have an ending?” but rather, “Of course, Sly must have had an ending; where did it go?” If the cumbersomeness of this proposition renders it suspect (in chess or in logic, an attempted resolution entailing two steps is called inelegant if only one is needed), its disingenuousness renders it even more suspect. As an ostensible starting point, it not only does not begin with the beginning—namely, with the text that we possess—but also conceals this slippage. I would argue that, in the absence of social or critical presupposition, the logical question would ask why the ending is the way it is, rather than why it is not as it is not.

I shall return to the presuppositions shortly, but only after dealing with the two most nearly solid grounds on which they rest. The idea that Sly should have an ending has two bases: an implicit comparison to the ending of the other extant “shrew” play, A Shrew, and an implicit comparison to a more overtly regular dramatic closure. In regard to the first: given the tremendous uncertainty, from the time of initial productions and revivals of The Taming of the Shrew to now, about the relationship between The Shrew and A Shrew—which is the source of the other, whether either is the source of the other, whether one or both draw directly or indirectly from yet a third play now lost, etc.23—hypotheses about the relationship of any part of the plays must be cautiously advanced. In any case, Shakespeare altered so many sources in so many significant ways that “source” alone, today, would determine almost no textual decisions. In regard to Shrew, an instructive caution lies in earlier scholars' eagerness to excise parts of the play from the Shakespearean canon (the parts regarded as too brutal, too farcical, etc.).24 And in regard to endings, given the augmented dramatic effect accruing to an ending, caution is also behooved; eighteenth-century readers of Shakespeare provided the all-time nadir of negative examples, as in altering the ending of King Lear (a trifling change from sad to happy) to resemble that of the sources.

If the norm provided by A Shrew is obscure, the norm provided by a sense of closure or by any desire for such sense in regard to this play is invisible. In the first place, one might reasonably ask whether the desire for a more regular ending—whatever regularity entails—prescribes any particular ending for Sly, especially if the irregularities of the ending coalesce with the larger irregularities of the play. An a priori application of invisible norms of regularity actually begs the question, for Shakespeare manipulates and/or disappoints expectations of satisfactory endings in a multitude of forms throughout the canon. Looking at that segment of the canon into which The Taming of the Shrew falls, one notes immediately that Love's Labor's Lost ends with no marriages at all but only the commutation of the men's original sentence from three years to one; and The Two Gentlemen of Verona ends with the surprising denouement of attempted rape which produces the final reaffirmation of love and friendship. Needless to say, both endings strike numerous readers as in some way unfinished. With a paradoxical symmetry, therefore, the relevant period of the author's career comprises three lopsided or oddly ended comedies in a row, framed by Comedy of Errors before and Midsummer Night's Dream after, both of which self-consciously call attention to their links between beginning and ending in play-within-play devices which constitute frames. If I were forced to speculate about this period of the author's career, I would conclude that Shakespeare is metadramatically memorializing his own development in the virtuosity of beginnings and endings, by playing off frame plays against skewed-frame plays.

When neither the norm provided by A Shrew nor the norm provided by a priori appeals to a sense of closure dictate any particular ending for The Shrew, I consider the historically variable and laborious explanations of where Sly's ending “went” to be a social reflex to Sly's change in status, a reflex of some emotionalism. Although this proposition cannot be proven ultimately, one could create a strong supposition to such effect. Thus, it is remarkable that wherever a reading of this play deals with the “missing ending,” its thrust deals exclusively with Sly's story. Despite the lord's longer speeches, greater number of lines, greater complexity of character and greater impact on the action—which the lord, after all, initiates—criticism never focuses on the lord's story as unfinished, presumably because he at least remains in the manor house which is his rightful place. Such a consistently limited focus suggests that the truncation of Sly's story jars less our sense of closure than our sense of status. Further corroborating this position, the page's story also lacks completion, leaving the page in a position surely even more anomalous than Sly's, but far less regarded by scholarship than Sly's.

Here I am reluctantly forced to differ with readers who have, with some courage, argued explicitly in favor of the missing ending theory (in contradistinction to those who simply finesse the argument altogether). Both types of readers have applied themselves seriously and responsibly to hypothesizing an ending which fills the perceived gap. One ingeniously constructs an ending designed, in regard to the “ladies of London” in the audience, to be non-sexist: Sly awakens at the end of the play with a hangover, starts home to tame his own wife, and is foreseen (though not shown) to fail signally in the attempt.25 This surmise, however, relies entirely on the existence of a character unmentioned in the play, a wife for Sly. While such a character could arguably be added by a director interested in the concept, the text itself provides absolutely no support for such an addition. Therefore, it seems implausible: how, in speeches of such detail as Ind.ii.18-26 and 85-98, which mention personae never heard of again such as “Cicely Hacket,” “old John Naps of Greece,” and “twenty more such names and men as these” (ll. 95, 97; italics mine), could a wife of Sly's fail to be mentioned?

The other reader employs a casting analysis of the last scenes—also purely hypothetical—to argue that a Sly ending was cut from the play because of its excessive demands on the personnel.26 The problem with this hypothesis, however, is that the idea of insufficient personnel to include Sly still does not establish that an ending for Sly was written and then dropped. Even admitting the problem, which cannot easily be established, given the uncertainties attendant on part-doubling, it could equally have been obviated by never writing an ending at all; could the author not see the end coming? In general, efforts in academe to prove a previously existing ending for Sly do founder on this objection; while A Shrew and numerous theatrical productions prove the relative ease of inventing an ending, nothing shows how one came to be lost. There is great difficulty in accounting for a hypothetical ending's being lost or cut, leaving not a wrack behind.

For the alert reader, the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew should provide a foretaste of the limitations of supposititious lordship. In a simulacrum of the dialectic that develops in the main play, just as Petruchio becomes a lord when Kate becomes sly, so Christopher Sly becomes a lord when the lord becomes sly; Sly's induction into the aristocracy depends on an induction of the aristocracy into slyness. Both parts of the play translate a hierarchy—less rigid than it seems, even in the Induction—into mobile reciprocity. Nor does the Induction circle back to repress Sly, although the play puts him to sleep before he can tinker (to use the word in its Elizabethan sense) with it further.27 Rather, Sly's comic-economic mobility commences before the start of the play (I.ii.18-22) and continues beyond the end. If the exchange between real and mock lords chiefly indicates that any man can be induced to think himself a lord, the flimsy distinction evaporates completely in the metadramatic reminder that both roles depend on an actor and a few props. The distinctions between the real and the mock lords undermine themselves, as the lord successfully dupes Sly only by demoting himself to Sly's mock-entourage—“O noble lord, bethink thee of thy noble birth” (I.ii.32-48)—becoming a “tinker” in order to create Sly a “lord.” As with any delusional victim, the ironies of the joke on Sly resemble those of the treatment of Don Quixote, where others must participate in the victim's fantasy (a fantasy, by the way, foisted off on the victim by the “real world” to begin with) to bring him into their world; victimized by the victim, they enter into his order of things as much as or more than he enters theirs (as with Kate and Petruchio). Where the Induction ends, both key characters display “sly”-ness and “lord”-ship in a hierarchical relationship coterminous with their persons and their roles, which disappears when they disappear.

Evidently, the wish to provide an ending to Sly's story proceeds from a wish to “complete” two actions: to return Sly to his original lowly state, and to send Sly home to tame his own wife. What the reader must question, however, is the nature of such completion. One who does not view the dual repression as necessarily desirable will probably not view it as a priori more complete than the play extant; such a concept of completion rests on presuppositions about the hierarchies initially presented in the play. But notwithstanding an emphasis on putatively Elizabethan terms of “degree” by readers in the vein of E. M. W. Tillyard,28 a hierarchy in practical politics is not an essentialist entity, external to and independent of the persons who in their various relationships sustain it. Hierarchies change when the persons, roles, and relations which compose them change. As the action of The Taming of the Shrew reflects, the potential of such alteration is the regenerative potential of such social constructs; when the initial oppositions in the play become vehicles of reciprocity, Sly can enliven the lord's house, Kate and Petruchio can enliven and regenerate stale courtship patterns (including those of the theater), and a surprise non-ending can enliven the traditional ending of comedy. Thus the wish for closure can be exchanged for the pleasures of vitality. In the play's structural exchange between ending and non-ending, neither is entirely either, and both have qualities of the other, with a self-reflexiveness which would seem almost vertiginous in modern literature but which is contained within the effortless dialecticism of Renaissance drama. In the similar exchange between main play and frame, incidentally, the crucial thematic shift between “inner” and “outer” within the action of the play is reflected when the apparent play-within-a-play becomes the outer half, at the end, while the apparent frame disappears within the play.29

In the same multiplicity of self-reflection, the play's stories also exchange patterns on a broader basis: the public relationship, the hierarchy of status between Sly and the lord's household, becomes a “marriage,” while the private relationship, the marriage of Kate and Petruchio, becomes a highly public political division, a battle of the sexes which polarizes the entire comic community. The relationship between Induction and main play—again, one of reciprocal exchange—manifests itself in the movement from division to marriage in the former, from marriage to division in the latter (and back), an ironic series of inversions where each marriage results in an “equality” of sorts—more apparent than real in the Induction, more real than apparent in the main play. Undermining conventional distinctions between the personal and political, the class division between Sly and the lord translates into a tongue-in-cheek familial relationship, and the union of Kate and Petruchio (initially characterized by the language of commerce anyway [II.i.115-31]) creates a politicized struggle for dominance or, in modern jargon, sexual politics.

The resultant continuum between psychological and political, between private and public and individual and society, provides a healthful perspective for reading the play. With the transformation of Sly and Petruchio into supposed lords, The Taming of the Shrew administers to the audience the traditional sugar-coated pill of comedy. Beneath the humor, one salient phenomenon manifests itself through the symmetrical action: predictably, where there is a lord around, the spectator will often be confronted with the choice of beholding a shrew or beholding the sly. If this parallelism is indeed pointed thus, then the audience has a lesson to learn. Christopher Sly has a name but no title; the lord has a title but no name; and when the anonymous lord and the eponymous Sly vanish together, the play suggests a to-be-dreamed-of dimension of life from which both lordship (or repression, or force) and slyness (or resistance, or fraud) can be excluded. Such a dimension is not created entirely by the play, of course; Petruchio and Kate just drive the same terms into a higher plane of material and emotional satisfaction, creating a vital little realm of their own, relatively independent of the pettiness around them. If Sly and the lord are excluded by the world of the play, Kate and Petruchio seem themselves to exclude that world—at least insofar as represented by the other key characters.

Since the play does not assert the completeness (or even the complete possibility) of either alternative, excluding “the world” or being excluded from it, both alternatives leave a sense of unfinished work behind them. Only thus, however, does Shrew leave something unfinished: it recognizes that in human relationships, including relationships between the individual and the social structures, much remains to be done and few solutions to be found. To insist that the play is literally, formally unfinished violates its formal expansiveness. In the absence of textual or historical evidence, the idea of a missing ending must be regarded as myth with the usual function of myth, to explain puzzling sensations or puzzling phenomena, such as the impression created at the end of The Taming of the Shrew that much does indeed hang in the balance.


  1. All citations of text refer to The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Hardin Craig, ed. (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1961).

  2. Tightening the parallel between the words shrew and sly, the OED gives the latter repeatedly as a noun (thirteenth through fifteenth centuries) to describe a person, a sly. Chaucer's Miller's Tale provides an instance not recorded in the OED: “Alwey the nye slye / Maketh the ferre leeve to be looth.” (The “nye slye,” of course, is “hende Nicholas.”)

  3. In regard to the concept of “frame,” especially the implied necessity of completing a frame, it should be pointed out that modern use of the word frame differs from that found in Shakespeare. Of some seventy-seven instances including variants in The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare, Marvin Spevack, ed. (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1973), most are verbs. Shrew itself uses the word only as a verb (Ind.ii.135; I,i,232); nor does any other language in the play suggest a finished product or an unfinished product. In Shakespeare's plays overall, frame signifies an internal shape, an order of principle, rather than a finite or rigid structure externally imposed (e.g., a picture frame, a cucumber frame). Only Sonnet 24 approaches the latter, but even there the frame is held within, allowing a play on the senses of human form or human body. The complexity of the concept of a frame stems partly from the related word “induction.” While I, too, have found the term useful, it nonetheless remains an addendum, not found in the Folio but inserted later by Pope. According to the Concordance, Shakespeare never uses the word in Pope's sense; while induce and inducements, etc., appear on occasion, induction signifies only “plot” (1H4, III.i.11, and R3, IV.iv.5 and I.i.32). One wonders what a difference Pope might have made for scholarship, had he applied a term like “proem,” “prologue”; no reader insists that a play with a prologue requires an epilogue or vice versa.

  4. Richard Hosley, “Sources and Analogues of The Taming of the Shrew,Huntington Library Quarterly, 27 (1964), 289-308.

  5. Maynard Mack, “Engagement and Detachment in Shakespeare's Plays,” in Essays … in Honor of Hardin Craig, Richard Hosley, ed. (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1962), pp. 279-80. Among other readers who pursue the same idea, Brian Morris provides a useful history of the problems arising from the segmentation of the play, in the New Arden edition of Shrew (New York: Methuen, 1981).

  6. Sidney Homan, “Induction to the Theater,” unpublished reprint from the 1978 MLA Convention Special Session, “Shakespearean Metadrama.”

  7. Harold Goddard, “The Taming of the Shrew,” in The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1960), I, 68-73. For a similar point see Sears Jayne, “The Dreaming of the Shrew,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 17 (1966), 41-56.

  8. Wordplay gives Shrew much of its liveliness and explains part of its longevity; when Bianca uses the word bush, for example, she puns on the senses of bird in the bush and a bush for wine; when students read the line today, current slang adds yet another sense. The play lends itself to wordplay in the classroom, in the following suggestions for alternative titles: “Sly and the Family Minola,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sly,” and of course, “The Turn of the Shrew,” used elsewhere.

  9. Cf. Goddard's analogous discussion of the echoes of the hunt in MND, I, 75-78.

  10. Perhaps Goddard is the most famous of the older generation of readers to agree with this sense of Kate's speech. More recent readers include Nevill Coghill, Margaret Webster, and Coppélia Kahn, all cited in a useful overview by John C. Bean, in “Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew,” in The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, Carolyn Lenz, Gayle Green, and Carol T. Neely, eds. (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1980), pp. 65-78. While I find Bean's article helpful and intelligent, I disagree with his use of the terms “revisionist” and “anti-revisionist,” borrowed from Robert B. Heilman's “The Taming Untamed, or, The Return of the Shrew,” Modern Language Quarterly, 27 (1966), 147-61. If readers who emphasize the ironies in Kate's language and demeanor are to be called “revisionists,” I think the usage begs the entire question. Rather than insist, as such readers seem to do, that irony entails a narrow perspective of Kate as sneak and Petruchio as dupe, I would suggest that the effortless dialecticism of Renaissance dramatic verse (especially Shakespeare's) allows some latitude on the point; irony and earnestness, joke and gravity, etc., are related to each other, not merely antitheses.

  11. See, for example, Heilman; Marilyn French in Shakespeare's Division of Experience (New York: Summit Books, 1981), pp. 82-85; and George Bernard Shaw, Shaw on Shakespeare, Edwin Wilson, ed. (New York: Dutton, 1961), among widely varied others.

  12. In Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (London: Macmillan, 1975), pp. 78-79.

  13. Margaret L. Ranald, “The Manning of the Haggard; or The Taming of the Shrew,Essays in Literature, 1 (1974), 149-65.

  14. Anne Barton, Introduction to Shrew in The Riverside Shakespeare, G. Blakemore Evans, et al., eds. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

  15. Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, which ends with Alison adjured to keep her husband's estate and honor and fully willing to do so—if another husband comes along—provides fascinating parallels; some are noted by David M. Bergeron, “The Wife of Bath and Shakespeare's Shrew,University Review, 35 (1969), 279-86. Each work, segmented into an introduction and a marriage story, portrays a power struggle between the sexes, structured with attendant ironies through a series of inversions and dialectical exchanges.

  16. Mark Scheid, unpublished discussion, 1978. See also Bean: “Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew rises from farce to romantic comedy to the exact extent that Kate, in discovering love through the discovery of her own identity, becomes something more than the fabliau stereotype of the shrew turned household drudge” (p. 66). This approach recasts and dynamizes an older distinction between the Kate-plot as farce and the Bianca-plot as comedy; cf. E. M. W. Tillyard, “The Taming of the Shrew” in Shakespeare's Early Comedies (London: Chatto and Windus, 1965).

  17. Desiderius Erasmus, Proverbes or Adagies with newe addicions gathered out of the Chiliades of Erasmus, by Richard Tauerner, London, 1539 (repr. Amsterdam, New York: Da Capo Press, 1969), fol. 5v.

  18. Ibid., fol. 33r. Erasmus has been cited in other respects as part of the influence behind this play; see Peter Alexander, “The Original Ending of The Taming of the Shrew,Shakespeare Quarterly, 20 (1969), 111-16.

  19. Frustratingly little direct evidence exists on the doubling of parts in early productions of the plays. Furthermore, doubling in the comedies even from the nineteenth century is “intermittent and hard to trace” (Arthur Colby Sprague, The Doubling of Parts in Shakespeare's Plays [London: Society for Theatre Research, 1966], p. 29), making it difficult to infer an earlier stage tradition from one more recent. However, as a “matter of course” Sly was removed at the end of the first act in nineteenth-century productions (Sprague, Shakespeare and the Actors [Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1945], p. 56). Sly's remaining on stage until the end of the first act does not insuperably bar the actor from doubling the parts of Sly and Petruchio, in any case; modern stagecraft offers the easy solution of concealing Sly in darkness, from which his voice can be heard while Petruchio exits into the same darkness. While the broad daylight of Elizabethan staging offered less concealment, by the same token it also demanded less deference to verisimilitude in physical details—cf. Oberon's “I am invisible” among countless examples.

  20. Several influences probably operate here. Since one actor in Shakespeare's own troupe was named Will Sly, the character's name suggests some joke on the casting of the play. Marston subsequently uses the same name, emphasizing its low-life tenor: two characters in the Induction to The Malcontent are named Will Sly and Sinklo, suggesting a possible tradition in connection with the name. As Thelma Greenfield suggests, the name may be retained from sources, since A Shrew uses the same name (The Induction in Elizabethan Drama [Eugene: Univ. of Oregon Press, 1969], p. 104). For a larger discussion of Shakespearean name-play, see Harry Levin, “Shakespeare's Nomenclature,” in Shakespeare and the Revolution of the Times (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976), pp. 51-77.

  21. Anne Barton, op. cit., p. 108.

  22. For the topic of “dream” in connection with Shrew, see Goddard, Jayne, and Marjorie Garber, Dream in Shakespeare: From Metaphor to Metamorphosis (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1974). The dynamics of dream energize the play; dream imagery pervades the language, the main play has a dreamlike dependence on the Induction, and the entire play with its open-ended structure serves as an induction to the author's next play, A Midsummer Night's Dream. While I disagree with the idea that Sly falls asleep and dreams the Kate-Petruchio story, it certainly has more dignity than the idea which is its deep structure—that Shakespeare fell asleep and neglected to finish the play. Furthermore, the undoubted relevance of dream to the play has the appeal of uniting two different literary influences—the folk tale of the joke on a beggar, and the literary genre of dream-visio narrative—in a dialectic which contributes to this play among others of Shakespeare's.

  23. See, among others, Greenfield, Hosley, “Sources and Analogues,” and “Was There a ‘Dramatic Epilogue’ to The Taming of the Shrew?Studies in English Literature, 1 (1961), 17-34; as well as Morris.

  24. As mentioned by Tillyard, op. cit.

  25. Peter Alexander, op. cit.

  26. Karl P. Wentersdorf, “The Original Ending of The Taming of the Shrew: A Reconsideration,” Studies in English Literature, 18 (1978), 201-15.

  27. In Elizabethan usage, the word tinker is generally deprecatory, cf. OED c. 1592: “to work at something clumsily or imperfectly, esp. in the way of attempted repair or improvement,” a definition relevant not only to Sly's role in Shrew but also to Petruchio's and the lord's (to say nothing of producers who either add an ending or subtract a beginning, as Jonathan Miller did in the BBC production of Shrew. Revealingly, I think, Miller's open assertion of Shrew as anti-feminist resulted in a lifeless production, which robbed both Shrew and John Cleese of much of their comic genius).

  28. E. M. W. Tillyard, in The Elizabethan World Picture (London: Chatto & Windus, 1943). Predictably, Tillyard, in Shakespeare's Early Comedies, supports the theory that Sly once had an epilogue, p. 74. But see Ernest P. Kuhl, “Shakspere's Purpose in Dropping Sly,” Modern Language Notes, 36 (1921), 321-29.

  29. For related use of the terms inner and outer, see Rene Wellek and Austin Warren, Theory of Literature (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956), p. 140.

Michele Marrapodi (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: “Crossdressing, New Comedy, and the Italianate Unity of The Taming of the Shrew,” in Shakespeare Yearbook, Vol. 10, 1999, pp. 333-58.

[In the following essay, Marrapodi links the Induction and the main plot to Italian origins. The critic contends that the Induction is similar to Italian Renaissance models, and the main plot is Italian-inspired in its thematic development of the comedy of “classical intrigue.”]

The three-part structure of The Taming of the Shrew—Induction, main plot and subplot—has been considered organically united by the themes of disguise and mistaken identity central to the subplot, which derives from George Gascoigne's adaptation (Supposes, 1566) of the prose and verse editions of Ariosto's I Suppositi (1509, 1532).1 Whereas the Italian origin is easily identifiable in the Tranio-Bianca-Lucentio plot, the other two parts of the play would not seem to offer sufficient elements to suggest precise Italian sources; hence the development, in the past, of a critical tradition which considered the Shrew and The Merry Wives of Windsor to be Shakespeare's two most English comedies. Brian Morris, for example, views the Sly scenes in the light of the dramatist's life and does not recognize in the taming-plot any concrete form of narrative or thematic influence outside the background of national cultural practice: “The real sources of The Shrew rise in Shakespeare's experience of Warwickshire, of the town houses of mercantile London, of the taverns and streets, and of all sorts and conditions of women, their expectations, frustrations, conquests and surrenders.”2

Beyond the numerous but vague derivations mentioned by Morris himself from English and European cultural traditions, both popular and erudite (folktales, ballads and medieval plays), it is possible to find in the Shrew some thematic developments of classical intrigue comedy and interesting re-elaborations, some Italian in origin, of New Comedic conventions. Robert Miola has convincingly demonstrated the intertextual linkage which, starting from Greek and Latin New Comedy, leads to Ariosto's nova comedia via the plays of Menander, Plautus and Terence.3 The use of disguise, the callidus servus, the duping of the old by the young, the sudden return of the absent father, and the lock-out scene are among the principal theatergrams taken up and transformed by the dramatist through a series of parallel actions. Although the links between the Induction and the main body of the play remain tenuous in some respects, both stylistic-metaphoric coherence, amply attested by various studies, and the origins of both major plot lines in the classical tradition unify the three parts of the play. A stimulating article by Richard Hosley sees in the Shrew “a synthesis of many sources and traditions,” belonging to different genres and cultures.4 In my view the Italian matrix of the Bianca-Lucentio plot affects the form and conventions of the entire play, relying on the theatergrams and types of classical New Comedy and of commedia erudita, which reached Gascoigne through Ariosto's indebtedness to Plautus and Terence.5

If the coexistence of both New Comedic and Italian elements appears evident in the two complementary narrative lines forming the main stories,6 it is not so in the Induction where the thematic and stylistic affinities with the play proper and the relationships with classical and Italian theater are less explicit and even problematic because of the disputed connection with the anonymous The Taming of A Shrew (1594).7 In an endeavor to trace a common Italian inspiration, this essay will explore the double nature of the Induction as a Frame, i.e. a dialogic anticipation of the motifs of the play in the form of a metatheatrical structure of the English kind, and as a Prologue, i.e. an independent diegetic segment having the character of an autonomous spectacle, based on Italian Renaissance types and models. Taking the Sly plot as the central focus of discussion, it will also claim that gender and crossdressing motifs provide significant cues for the Italianate unity of the Shrew as a whole.


From Rowe's first critical edition of 1709 onwards, the Induction has been separated from the rest of the play and divided into two scenes of 136 and 142 lines respectively. The first scene consists of three brief sequences which give rise to the following succession of events: an altercation with the hostess and Sly sleeping (Ind.I.1-13); the Lord's return from hunting and the organization of the jest (Ind.I.14-74); the arrival of players and request for performance (Ind.i.75-136). The opening quarrel between the drunken tinker and the hostess ironically anticipates the central clash between man and woman, the taming motif, and Petruchio's strategy of acting the role of the alazon. Like Petruchio, Sly appears as a braggart, deriving from the various milites gloriosi of classical comedy: he boasts his descent from a noble and ancient lineage (“The Slys are no rogues. Look in the / Chronicles”, Ind.I.3-4); he mixes up Richard the Lionheart and William the Conqueror, implying that he is acquainted with soldiership; he twice misquotes The Spanish Tragedy (“paucas pallabris”; “Go by, Saint Jeronimy”; Ind.I.5,7), trying to show off learning which he does not possess.

This alazoneia and the clumsy soldierly attitude prefigure Petruchio's cockiness when he uses a series of war metaphors to boast of his capacity to handle Katherina's rebellious character (“Have I not heard great ordnance in the field, / And heaven's artillery thunder in the skies? / Have I not in a pitched battle heard / Lord ’larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets’ clang?” 1.2.202-5). The opening provides an initial framing effect in line 5 (“let the world slide. Sessa!”), echoing the closing lines of the Induction (“And let the world slip, we shall ne'er be younger” Ind.II.142). This kind of game-framing appears in the repeating images and phrases that continue within the play itself. Sly's utterance, “go to thy / cold bed and warm thee” (Ind.I.7-8), based on the game of contrasts, anticipates the words of the second hunter who finds him asleep: “Were he not warm'd with ale, / This were a bed but cold to sleep so soundly” (Ind.I.30-1). The association between warmth and beds takes on a growing importance in the course of the main plot, tying up with the erotic implications of Petruchio's intention to kindle passion in Katherina by means of punning and verbal clashes:

Am I not wise?
Yes, keep you warm.
Marry, so I mean, sweet Katherine, in thy bed.


This kind of metonymic relation between warmth and beds reappears, after the marriage, at the start of Act 4, in the episode in which Grumio and Curtis light a fire in Petruchio's country house (4.1.4-5ff.), punning on the contrast between warmth and cold. Here the relation acquires erotic significance as it is associated with the idea of consummating marriage, an idea that Petruchio represses in Katherina (by means of the taming process enacted through sexual abstinence and by depriving her of food and sleep). The mutton, “burnt and dried away” (4.1.157), and not given to the woman, is explained by Petruchio with reference to the theory of ill-sorted humors, causing the bilious and choleric behavior of the two lovers (4.1.158-63). In the same way, depriving Katherina of sleep and sex is part of Petruchio's tactics to outdo Kate by adopting her own pose as a scolding wife. Thus, if Bianca can say, referring to her sister, that “being mad herself, she's madly mated,” in Gremio's words, “Petruchio is Kated” (3.2.242-3).

Sly's words, uttered before falling asleep, suggest the framing function of the Induction. When the hostess threatens to send for the “thirdborough”, Sly calls her “boy” (Ind.I.12). This gender-confusion heralds the appearance of the “boy” in the following sequence (Ind.I.17) and the task given to the page of impersonating Sly's wife, thus anticipating the theme of crossdressing at the heart of the comedy.8 The return of the Lord and his train signals the end of the initial realism and introduces the aristocratic world of the second section. The transition is marked by a change of stylistic register. Ironically, while Sly is waiting for the “thirdborough” (“Let him come, and kindly” Ind.I.12-13), he falls asleep and begins dreaming. We thus move into the mannered atmosphere and cultured language that marks the start of the new sequence and the joke played on him by the Lord. Not surprisingly, Sly's fictitious entrance into the opulent aristocracy of the new world is enacted during his sleep and with the disguise and deception techniques of theatrical pretense. To the Lord, Sly appears to be a “monstrous beast”, “a swine” (Ind.I.32), a counterfeit of man on whom the effects of the art of simulation will act like a “flatt'ring dream or worthless fancy” (Ind.I.42).

A skilful connection is thus made between dream and scenic illusion: both weaken the boundaries between truth and fiction, appearance and reality, operating on mental confusion.9 The Lord's order to carry Sly “gently” (Ind.I.44) to the best room in his mansion and to dress him as a rich gentleman—as well as echoing Sly's adverb in line 13 and looking forward to lines 64 and 70—makes explicit reference to the seduction of the senses, which must be skilfully stimulated for the success of the plan. Sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste are all involved in this scene and at the start of the next, to evoke those illusory sensations which will produce in Sly the effect of estrangement, of loss of identity:

Carry him gently to my fairest chamber,
And hang it round with all my wanton pictures.
Balm his foul head in warm distilled waters,
And burn sweet wood to make the lodging sweet.
Procure me music ready when he wakes,
To make a dulcet and a heavenly sound.


By depriving her of food and sex in Act 4, Petruchio uses a similar strategy, based on the bafflement of the senses, in the taming of Katherina. The strategies link the Lord's behavior to Petruchio's, especially in the former's display of theatricality by which he accomplishes the whole plan, distributing the parts, giving advice, even dealing with scenery and stage props.

Let one attend him with a silver basin
Full of rose-water and bestrew'd with flowers,
Another bear the ewer, the third a diaper,
And say ‘Will't please your lordship cool your hands?’
Some one be ready with a costly suit,
And ask him what apparel he will wear.
Another tell him of his hounds and horse,
And that his lady mourns at his disease.


As David Daniell has maintained, in his long speech the Lord shows that he is “obsessed with the notion of acting, particularly with the careful creation of an illusion of a rich world for Sly to come to life in”.10 The answer of the first hunter, “I warrant you we will play our part” (Ind.I.67), heralds the news of the players' arrival with which the episode concludes, and ties the realization of the beffa to the actual performance. In this way the hunter's playacting appears to be constructed as a metonymic expression of the theatrical spectacle per se and is, at the same time, the frame of that announced by the professional troupe, becoming, in Cesare Segre's words, the principal container of a secondary scene en abyme, “staged within the first”.11 If we consider that the initial paradigm, which concludes with Sly's dream, acts as a mini-prologue to the beffa at the expense of the sleeping beggar, we are faced with multiple framing pieces, in that the two complementary scenes of the Induction also constitute the prologue to the comedy proper considered as a play-within-the-play. The entrance of the players produces a double mirror effect in the reference to the actor's first experience in which “he play'd a farmer's eldest son” and “woo'd the gentlewoman so well” (Ind.I.82-3): it ironically subverts the situation that Sly has to face in his new role as a lover and reflects the more general events of the main plot, centring on Petruchio's strong characterization (“Antonio's son, / A man well known throughout all Italy”, 2.1.68-9), and on the teasing of Katherina. The sequence is followed by the Lord's request to use the troupe's artistic ability (“cunning”, Ind.I.90) for the fulfilment of the deception. The recommendations to the actors about the “modesties” and “merry passion” (Ind.I.92-5) of the dramatic profession confirm the Lord's role as the producer of this metatheatrical sequence. Significantly, it is the same invitation to natural acting as that given to the hunters.12

The criss-cross game of references and the particularly coherent structure support the hypothesis of considering the Induction an independent narrative part, revolving around a character of a strong clownish nature who acts as the compère-presenter of the main action, parodying or underlying its motifs and developments. Telling examples of this kind of dramatic inset may be found in Peele's The Old Wives' Tale (1584), Jonson's Every Man Out of His Humour (1600), Webster's Induction to Marston's The Malcontent (1604), or Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607), in which we have different cases of autonomous narratives preceding the actual plays. For Thelma Greenfield, who distinguishes among occasional, critical and frame inductions, Plautus's and Terence's prologues share many characteristics of the inductive pieces, especially in relation to pretense and theatricality, and in such stock elements as “the wanton who sits on the stage, the noisy lictor, the officious usher, the sleeper, slaves, nurses with crying babies, and talkative housewives”, all recurring features of both Italian and Elizabethan drama.13 Hence, another source of inspiration for this clownish part-playing, on which various dramatic solutions were modeled, is the rich typology of the Italian Renaissance prologue, of Plautine and Terentian derivation but with frequent grafting from the proems of the Decameron, having an introductory, polemic, or mixed character.14

Angelo Poliziano is one of the first Cinquecento theoreticians to attempt a definition and a classification of the classical prologue which, besides explaining the argument, can present “some other things to the audience, for the benefit of the author, or of the play itself or of the actor”:

‘Prologo’ è parola greca, in latino prima dictio, cioè esposizione antecedente alla vera composizione del dramma. Quattro ne sono i tipi: raccomandatario, in cui si caldeggia la storia o l'autore; relativo, in cui si esprimono insulti verso un avversario o ringraziamenti al pubblico; argomentativo, con l'esposizione dell'argomento del dramma; misto, con la presenza simultanea di tutti i precedenti.15

(Prologue is a Greek word, in Latin prima dictio, that is an exposition antecedent to the actual composition of the play. There are four types: recommendatory, in which is extolled the importance of the story or author; relative, which contains insults against an enemy or thanks to the audience; argumentative, with the exposition of the argument; mixed, with the simultaneous presence of all the former.)

G. B. Giraldi Cinthio makes a strong case for the essential autonomy of the prologue in his Intorno al comporre delle commedie e delle tragedie (1543):

… non si può dire tal prologo parte della favola; perché non ha legamento alcuno coll'azione che nella favola si tratta, né a quel modo si recita che si recitano l'altre parti; perocché colui che fa il prologo il fa in persona del poeta, il quale non si può né si dee introdurre nell'azione. Laonde, non imitando il prologo l'azione, riman chiarissimo ch'egli della favola non è parte, ma è una giunta postavi da' Romani per disporre gli animi degli spettatori alla attenzione, o per conciliare insieme benevolenza al poeta; il che mostra il voltar del parlare che fa colui del prologo agli spettatori, la qual cosa non si può fare negli atti della favola, se non con riprensione.16

(It is not possible to consider the prologue a part of the fabula; because it has no link whatsoever with the action treated in the fabula, and is not acted in the same manner as the other parts either; in that the prologue-speaker acts as the poet himself, who cannot and must not intrude in the action. Hence, because the prologue does not imitate the action, it is plainly not part of the fabula, but an addition made by the Romans to draw the attention of the spectators' minds, or to favor their appreciation of the poet; this shows the particular address to the audience by the prologue-speaker, which is impossible in the acts of the fabula without disapproval.)

As Clifford Leech has pointed out, the terms prologue and induction are used almost interchangeably in the Elizabethan age: the prologue spoken by Rumour in 2 Henry IV is headed “Induction” in the Folio and, though different in form, “it is not the practice to have the prologue spoken in the person of a character in the play”.17 The virtue of the prologue was to give an immediate account of the play's argument, although this inevitably reduced the spell of realism. This limitation may explain Leech's final remark that “the almost total absence of the device in the earliest seventeenth-century tragedy” reflected current fashions (p. 164) and the preference in Shakespearean tragedy for the beginning in medias res.18 Despite the obvious cultural differences between Italian and Elizabethan dramatists, among the most interesting cases of Italian dialogic prologue is that in Alessandro Piccolomini's L'Amor costante (1536), in which a Spaniard comments on the organization of the performance, talks with the prologue-speaker and is involved in the mise-en-scène, “perché aviam de bisogno d'uno che facci meglio un capitano” (because we need someone who plays a captain's role better);19 those in Aretino's Cortigiana (1533), acted by a “Forestiere” and a “Gentiluomo”, who debate the “pomposo apparato” (pompous staging) and the authorship of the play; and that in Ipocrito (1542), spoken by two protatic malcontents, who by means of oblique anaphoric language and paradoxical statements criticise society on all levels.20 Another significant play, La strega (c. 1570) by Anton Francesco Grazzini, opens with an interesting dialogue between two interlocutors, Prologo and Argomento, discussing theoretical matters on the nature of comedy and the actual play. This introductory part has an induction-like structure “similar to those later used by Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, and other Elizabethan playwrights”.21

Among the monological prologues, it is worth mentioning the prologue written by Bibbiena for the staging of an unknown comedy traditionally associated with his Calandria (1513). The speech parodies the vices of Florentine society through the narration of a dream during which, using Angelica's ring (as in Boiardo's Orlando innamorato), the speaker acquires invisibility, since “chi lo portava in bocca non poteva esser veduto da persona” (whoever wore it in his mouth could not be seen by anyone).22 Bibbiena's prologue seems particularly important to the Shrew in the common device of a sleeping character whose dream brings forward the production of a play. One should finally recall, because of the strong subversive challenge it presents to all accepted conventions, the lengthy prologue included in Giordano Bruno's Candelaio (1582), divided into caudate sonnet, dedication, argument, anti-prologue and pro-prologue, which enjoyed great popularity in England after the years the Italian philosopher spent in London and Oxford.23

In contrast with these various forms, the Induction written by Shakespeare is characterized by a greater theatrical completeness, which gives rise to a microdrama whose internal division imitates the tripartite structure of the Shrew: prologue (Sly-hostess quarrel), main plot (arrival of the Lord and his train), subplot (Sly's metamorphosis and performance of the jest), supporting the hypothesis of a preliminary narrative piece which works as an ironical metaphor of the play proper. The Italian quality of the Induction, centring on the beffa of an illusory reality on a sleeping rustic, has a peculiar Boccaccian derivation. In Decameron (III,8) two crafty monks carry the lulled Ferondo to the underground of their convent to make him believe, when he recovers, that he is in Purgatory to expiate his jealousy. The comic spirit of the beffa is much the same. Thus, with the continual emphasis on theatrical pretense, the Sly framework provides access to the Italianate world of supposes, paralleling its motifs, types and situations.


The order given to the page to don a female disguise and to act the role of Sly's wife completes the organization of the jest, placing on the same level the enactment of the beffa and the production by the professional troupe:

… Bid him shed tears, as being overjoy'd
To see her noble lord restor'd to health,
Who for this seven years hath esteemed him
No better than a poor and loathsome beggar.


The transsexual impersonation of the page Bartholomew is the only example in the Shakespeare canon of male sexual disguise, except for the comic metamorphosis into “the witch of Brainford” which Falstaff is forced to undergo in order to escape from Master Ford's jealousy, and the expedient of the two “boys” disguised as women in the wedding ceremonies announced at the end of The Merry Wives of Windsor.24 If male sexual disguise, as an escape from an irate husband or to replace the bride is very rare in Elizabethan theater, it represents a constitutive variant in New Comedic conventions.25 This theatergram develops in a long intertextual chain of uses and re-uses stretching from classical comedy (Plautus's Casina and Terence's Eunuchus) to the commedia erudita; it plays an important role in the beffa on Nicomaco in Machiavelli's Clizia (1525) and its variations in Lodovico Dolce's Il ragazzo (c. 1540) and Giovan Battista Gelli's L'errore (1555), as well as providing the most original twist in Aretino's Marescalco (1527), in which the discovery of a boy instead of his bride fully satisfies the stablemaster's misogynistic and homosexual tastes.

The common plot element of crossgender disguise says much about the genetic affinity between the two Shakespearean works, traditionally considered the most English in the canon; yet, on the other hand, precisely the application of this particular theatergram hints at a much more significant blending of elements of classical and Italian derivation than hitherto recognized.26 Moreover, Sly and Falstaff have in common the characteristic traits of alazoneia: braggadocio, a passion for drinking, idling and gold, repressed lust, and even the use of the contrast warm/cold and the same tendency to playact. Like Falstaff, disguised as “Herne the hunter”, Sly, dressed as a nobleman, is compelled to forgo the sexual satisfaction which he was jokingly promised only to be subjected to collective mockery. The typology of the characters also harks back to the stock figures of classical and Italian New Comedy. If Sly embodies the alazon with the conventional vices of the boastful soldier, inspired by Plautus's Miles Gloriosus, the Lord is entrusted with the role of the eiron, in this case setting the action going. Petruchio, with his histrionic strategy, takes on the roles of both the alazon and eiron for the teasing of Katherina, invariably showing the boastful pose of a braggart and the ironic mockery of a jester, parodying his wife's shrewish attitude. Whereas the subplot, taken from Ariosto, represents, sometimes in multiple fashion, all the main characters of classical New Comedy and commedia erudita: the faithful servant Tranio (callidus servus), the enamoured master Lucentio (adulescens amans), and no fewer than five types of elderly or middle-aged men—the pater familias Baptista, the Pedant of Mantua and the Pedant Gremio, the rejected suitor, Hortesio, acting as senex amans, and the senex iratus Vincentio in difficulty with the cunning Biondello (dolosus servus)—all discomfited in various ways by younger adversaries.

The joke on Sly, organized by the Lord, gives rise, in the commedia improvvisa, to the duet between Zanni and the Magnifico, whose relations, as Guido Davico Bonino has pointed out, “echo the eternal conflict between oppressed and oppressor, but also, the more specific one, between town and country.”27 A social and cultural conflict of this nature can also be read in the Induction between the sleeping beggar, called “monstrous beast” and “foul and loathsome” image of death (Ind.I.32-3), and the aristocrat: in the cultured nobleman's jest we may find a display of class power at the expense of Sly's misfortunes. Aretino's Marescalco provides an analogue to the Induction, in that it offers a similar aristocratic entertainment, played on a lower-class figure, in the duke's farcical marriage of the misogynistic stablemaster to a transvestite boy. Since Aretino draws on Casina and Eunuchus, from which Ariosto's I Suppositi also derives, we may say that the Sly plot, as well as the rest of the play, inventively refashions New Comedic models from a contaminatio of classical and Italian deep sources.

The scenario of the commedia dell'arte is likewise recognizable in the presence of numerous stereotyped phrases in Italian and in Lucentio's expression “old pantaloon” (which is the natural development of Magnifico) referring to Hortensio (3.1.36). In well managing and re-combining all this in a tripartite configuration, Shakespeare's handling, as Leo Salingar has put it, “is not mere imitation of New Comedy or Italian plots, but the application of Italian methods to new purposes”.28 Yet, if the beggar represents the chosen victim, the second Induction scene also shows, as suggested by Keir Elam, that Sly, notwithstanding he “is forced willy nilly into the role of actor” […] is quite ready to renounce his familiar but paltry universe of discourse in favour of the more alluring one sketched out by the Lord and his helpers.29 In other words, the question of Sly's awareness of the beffa on him is left ambiguously open; indeed, some significant utterances of Sly's would seem to conceal a sharp irony concerning the unexpected advantages deriving from his new condition.

To consider the second scene, it is necessary to clarify the construction of femininity that the Lord advises the page to impersonate:

Such duty to the drunkard let him do,
With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,
And say ‘What is't your honour will command,
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her love?


These lines extol a model of a wife who is obedient, gentle and subdued, whose “soft low tongue and lowly courtesy” make her an example of virtue and devotion. The ironic contrast with Katherina's “scolding tongue” is evident, but it is also worth noting that this ideal feminine figure will also be the portrait that inspires Katherina's final speech. The analogy between the two situations is confirmed on the linguistic plane. Petruchio's request to Katherina (“tell these headstrong women / What duty they do owe their lords and husbands” 5.2.131-2) is anticipated in the Lord's instructions to the page (lines 113-15), and Kate's speech echoes the absolute love uttered by Sly's fictitious wife in the second scene. The correspondences of characters and situations between the Induction and the main plot also provide instructive links with the Ariostan intertext from which the Gascoigne subplot derives. Since Miola's illuminating analysis has dealt extensively with Shakespeare's New Comedic variations of Supposes and its deep sources, I will sketch out only a few other elements more specifically connected by common ancestry with commedia erudita.

In the interplay of parallel actions, the couples Sly-page and Petruchio-Katherina correspond to the couples Lucentio-Bianca and Hortensio-widow, all related by a series of contacts and contrasts to Petruchio's taming school (4.2.53-8). Disguised as Cambio and Litio, teachers of Latin and music respectively, Lucentio and Hortensio act as a foil for the taming offered by Petruchio, although ironically his shrewish partner will impart to them and their wives the final lesson in the wager scene. If the “new-born” Sly and his “obedient wife” parody the taming motif, they also anticipate the rhetoric and content of the discourse on marriage in this concluding scene, which sees all the couples involved, in some way or another, in Katherina's matrimonial lecture. The metatheatrical role of the Lord as promoter, schemer and producer of the beffa, mirroring Petruchio's variable playacting, corresponds to the figure of Tranio as architectus doli, impersonating the deviser or intriguer of the action who exchanges clothes with his master and invents the Pedant's role-playing as Lucentio's father. The locked-in beggar, physically and mentally entrapped in the Lord's opulent mansion and in his “supposed” noble attire, provides an ironical reversal of the New Comedic lock-out scene, drawn from the Ariosto-Gascoigne play. In the Shrew, Vincentio is left out and accused by Tranio of madness like Antipholus of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors and his Plautine precursors in Menaechmi and Amphitruo. Unlike Ariosto's Dulippo, Shakespeare's Tranio does not find a long-lost father, but he does escape punishment, and his faithful service is gratefully acknowledged by his master:

What Tranio did, myself enforc'd him to;
Then pardon him, sweet father, for my sake.


The theatergram of the callidus servus as a trickster and the New Comedic door-knocking and crossdressing are central to commedia erudita. From Fessenio in Bibbiena's Calandria to Ligurio in Machiavelli's Mandragola, from Querciuola in Piccolomini's Alessandro to Panurgo in Della Porta's La fantesca, a variety of ingenious servi and cooperative partners are capable of adding a new twist or finding an immediate solution to a difficult situation. In Cecchi's L'assiuolo in particular, as well as in Piccolomini's Alessandro and Della Porta's La fantesca, all drawing on Latin New Comedy via Boccaccio's Decameron (VIII, 7) and Ariosto's Supposes, the theatergram of the faithful servant is associated with skilful variations of the door-locking theme. In L'assiuolo (1550), a young student, with the collaboration of a friend and a cunning servant, obtains sexual satisfaction from a lawyer's wife, Oretta, while her jealous husband is left not only cuckolded, but locked all night in a cold courtyard, imitating the call of the horned owl (a hilarious metonymy of his own state) which he thought was to be his password to an illicit sexual encounter.

An extraordinary contaminatio of classical and contemporary sources (Supposes, Calandria and Gl'Ingannati) constitutes the three plots of L'Alessandro (1543), all coherently united by the crafty trickery of a servant and the recurring presence of lock-in/lock-out motifs. In the first, an adulescens amans enters with a rope-ladder the bedroom of his beloved and is locked in by her irate father. In the second plot, a senex amans, disguised as a locksmith to gain access to a captain's wife, is miserably locked in a closet and later locked out of his own house by his dolosus servus (as in the Pedant-Vincentio-Biondello exchange). In the third plot, inspired by Eunuchus, Lucrezia, crossdressed as Fortunio to escape persecution, falls desperately in love with another girl, Lampridia, who looks like her long-lost lover, Aloisio. With the complicity of a chambermaid, who lets Fortunio into Lampridia's dark bedroom, while she is sleeping, Lucrezia finds out that Lampridia is a man. The cousin of the supposed maid locks them in, discovering at the end that his stepsister is actually a boy, the lost Aloisio, and the presumed rapist is Lucrezia; the couple have been in love with each other since childhood.

In Della Porta's La fantesca (1592), Essandro crossdresses as a maid, named Fioretta, to persuade his beloved Cleria to love Fioretta's twin brother. In this transsexual attire he is foolishly courted by the girl's father, Gerasto, who has promised Cleria to a Pedant's son. To avoid the marriage, Essandro and his servant Panurgo, after various lock-in and lock-out episodes and with the trickery of Panurgo's and the parasite Morfeo's comic disguises (impersonating first Gerastro and his daughter and, later, the Pedant and his son) disrupt the engagement, till the young lovers are happily reunited in a multiple recognition scene of false identities and long-lost relatives. This same functional game of correspondences in the three parts of the Shrew—based on the beffa, criss-cross disguises and make-believe—emerges in the succession of events of the second Induction scene to which now we may turn.


The concluding scene of the Induction is divided, like the previous one, into three brief sequences. In the first (Ind.II.1-99) the servants offer drink, food and costly garments to Sly who insists on his true identity; later, won over by the servants' allurements and by the expectation of a lovely wife, the tinker is content to take on his new role as an aristocrat. The second sequence (Ind.II.100-28) develops the meeting between the pseudo-master and the false wife and the thwarted desire to consummate the marriage. The third sequence (Ind.II.129-42) announces the arrival of the players and their production of The Taming of the Shrew. The strategy of the entire scene is to offer an interpretative key to the “pleasant comedy” (line 130) about to be performed, anticipating its main themes. The offer of drinks and food by the two servants introduces one of the constant motifs of the play, variously signalled by rich iterative imagery in the language of many characters and dealt with, specifically, in no fewer than three episodes of the main plot: in the wedding feast which Petruchio refuses to attend; in the already mentioned country house scene, in which he compels Katherina to fast; and in the final reunion, which celebrates the couples Lucentio-Bianca and Hortensio-widow. Only on this occasion does Petruchio accept the invitation to dine (“Nothing but sit and sit, and eat and eat!” 5.2.12), that is, only when the conquest of Kate has occurred and he can demonstrate it.

This links him to Sly's rebellious behavior at the opening of this second scene, when the beggar rejects the privileges of his new identity, and leads to the parallel motif of clothes, skilfully used by Petruchio in his taming of Katherina:

I am Christophero Sly, call not me ‘honour’ nor ‘lordship’. I ne'er drank sack in my life. And if you give me any conserves, give me conserves of beef. Ne'er ask me what raiment I'll wear, for I have no more doublets than backs, no more stockings than legs, nor no more shoes than feet …


Sly's words prefigure Petruchio's analogous attitude when he rejects the role of gentleman, imposed upon him by the circumstances, and goes to the wedding ceremony in the motley robes of a fool or jester with “a new hat and an old / jerkin; a pair of old breeches thrice turned; a pair of / boots that have been candle-cases, one buckled, / another laced; an old rusty sword ta'en out of the / town armoury, with a broken hilt, and chapeless; / with two broken points; his horse hipped-with an / old mothy saddle and stirrups of no kindred” 3.2.41-7). To Baptista and Tranio, who beg him to change his attire before marrying Katherina, he significantly replies: “To me she's married, not unto my clothes” (3.2.115). The inversion of the value of the dignity of clothes, whose moral Petruchio's disguise plays upon, is realized by the subtle Tranio (“He hath some meaning in his mad attire” 3.2.122).

Thus the didatic theme of clothing as a distinction from deceitful appearance is associated with that of “supposes”, taken up by Petruchio in the episode with the tailor and the haberdasher, where he abandons his apparent intention to buy a cap and gown, which Katherina particularly likes. To the woman's “This doth fit the time, / And gentlewomen wear such caps as these”, Petruchio replies: “When you are gentle, you shall have one too” (3.3.69-71). Petruchio's teasing is even more manifest in his words at the end of the same scene:

Well, come, my Kate, we will unto your father's
Even in these honest mean habiliments.
Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor,
For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich,
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.


Petruchio's strategy is to create a behavioral code that surpasses the limitations of appearance and the boundaries of language and adopts non-verbal communication founded on a communion of feelings and on silent love vows. The strategy becomes clear in the comic exchange on sunlight or moonlight, at the end of which Kate agrees to use the same linguistic code as Petruchio (“What you will have it nam'd, even that it is, / And so it shall be so for Katherina” 4.5.21-2). From this point onwards there is in the couple a tacit agreement on non-verbal communication made up of glances, participation and jocularity which finds immediate confirmation in the meeting with old Vincentio, at first jokingly taken for a virgin (4.5.27-48).

Adapting the clothes metaphor, which recalls the leitmotifs of disguise and mistaken identities, Petruchio reaches a perfect understanding with Katherina in the wager scene, when he demonstrates not only the complete taming of his bride but also and above all his successful realization of a harmonious relationship of reciprocal trust. Hence Katherina's significant gesture of taking off and stamping on her cap, in obedience to Petruchio's request (“that cap of yours becomes you not. / Off with that bauble, throw it under foot” 5.2.122-3), acquires an important symbolic connotation: it goes beyond too easy a submissive attitude, and attains a more intimate and profound marriage of true minds made up of playfulness and complicity. In complying with Petruchio's request, Katherina's gesture displays genuine devotion and love but it also contains a warning amidst the mutual overacting. In her own peculiar way she lets her husband know that she can play the role of the devoted wife as she was able to play the shrew: the option is Petruchio's. The uniqueness of their union is highlighted by the distance from the other couples, who do not employ the same language. The widow defines the deed as “a silly pass” (line 125) and Katherina's sister Bianca considers it “a foolish duty” (line 126). Petruchio's couplet reveals the exclusive relationship which now links them:

Come, Kate, we'll to bed.
We three are married, but you two are sped.


The sensitivity which Katherina has acquired colors the final speech with undertones of irony and pretense, serving to suggest an unconventional relationship founded on language-games and the awareness that each has of the other's needs and desires.30 The maturity attained is comically anticipated in the conclusion of the Induction, where in Sly's behavior we may find a progressive perception of the joke being played on him, which induces him to accept his new status as a nobleman. Sly's hesitations are soon overcome by the Lord's cunning strategy of alluding to “strange lunacy” and “lowly dreams” (Ind.II.30, 33) and of stimulating interest in the new status by appealing to the senses. What the Lord attempts to do is to invert the reality/dream relation in the tinker's mind, making him a spectator, as well as a victim, of the theatrical jest:

Wilt thou have music? Hark, Apollo plays,
And twenty caged nightingales do sing.
Or wilt thou sleep? We'll have thee to a couch
Softer and sweeter than the lustful bed
On purpose trimm'd up for Semiramis.


The same effect is sought in the servants' descriptions of pictures on erotic subjects intended to arouse Sly by means of sexual fantasies (lines 50-4 and 58-61), and to prepare him for the final revelation that his young wife is eagerly awaiting him:

Thou art a lord, and nothing but a lord.
Thou hast a lady far more beautiful
Than any woman in this waning age.


Interestingly, the motif of sensory stimulation returns in Sly's acceptance of his aristocratic condition. Yet if the Lord's purpose has been achieved and illusion replaces reality, Sly's sudden abandonment of his true identity in favor of an alien world that flatters him with its enticing mirages reveals an ambiguous choice, halfway between cunning and incredulity, underscored by a brusque shift from prose to verse, which gives his new role a comic flavor:31

Am I a lord, and have I such a lady?
Or do I dream? Or have I dream'd till now?
I do not sleep. I see, I hear, I speak.
I smell sweet savours and I feel soft things.
Upon my life, I am a lord indeed,
And not a tinker nor Christophero Sly.
Well, bring our lady hither to our sight,
And once again a pot o' th' smallest ale.


In the tinker's words there is the same comic bewilderment as that which precedes Katherina's perceiving of Petruchio's strategy at the moment of the beneficial “sermon of continency” (4.1.170), during which, as the servant Curtis reports, his master adopts the same roughness as the woman in order to force her to take stock of the absurd peevishness of her nature and to consider “which way to stand, to look, to speak, […] as one new risen from a dream” (4.1.172-73). The second servant makes further reference to the dream, reminding Sly of his illness:

These fifteen years you have been in a dream,
Or when you wak'd, so wak'd as if you slept.


His witty answer, “These fifteen years! By my fay, a goodly nap” (line 82), marks the beginning of the tinker's ironic participation in the theatrical game which concerns him and in which he can act the part of the noble master.

The hypothesis of Sly's awareness of having been manipulated has a threefold justification: 1) his sudden acceptance of the new identity comes immediately after his being aroused by means of erotic fantasies about “a lady far more beautiful / Than any woman in this waning age” (Ind.II.63-4); 2) the parallel situation between the taming of Sly and Katherina is suggestive of a common ironical compliance with their respective teasing-tests; 3) in the farcical nature of the Induction and, in the general emphasis on pretense, Sly's self-mocking participation in the trick fits coherently into the theatricality of the play. For although there is no record of this in the performance history as far as I know, the fact that Sly and Petruchio have been sometimes performed by the same actor not only makes the hypothesis possible but it offers a twist of great comic effect. Significantly, in Michael Bogdanov's 1978 production, where this doubling represents the longed-for revenge of Sly upon unruly women, “Petruchio's wedding clothes were those he had worn as Sly, a sharp contrast to the proper gray flannel suits of the other guests.”32

The ensuing sequence introduces the second segment of the farce, which shows the entrance of the page Bartholomew disguised in such a way as to “usurp the grace, / Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman” (Ind.I.129-30). After the short initial exchange, which continues the motif of sensory stimulation (Ind.II.101-2), Sly asks about his wife, and the crossdressed page steps forward with an overt sexual offer (“Where is my wife? / … Here, noble lord, what is thy will with her?”, 103-4). The beggar's first reaction is the request to be called husband, to which the false bride retorts with a chiasmus, conveying a further form of erotic submission: “My husband and my lord, my lord and husband; / I am your wife in all obedience”, 107-8). These lines look ahead to the words with which Katherina, in her final speech, in accordance with Elizabethan precepts, extols the union of matrimony and absolute obedience to the husband: “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / Thy head, thy sovereign” (5.2.147-8). The affinity with the page's words reveals the subtle similarity between the two characters and is an invitation to consider Bartholomew a “foil” to Katherina. Both are called on by their lords to act the part of the loving and devoted spouse and they enter into their roles with growing enthusiasm and participation. This reading of the final speech is consistent with the game-like character of the entire Induction and with the behavior of Katherina who, once she has understood Petruchio's playacting strategy, not only accepts it willingly (as in the joke against old Vincentio) but also joyfully enriches it with other comic twists. Her ironic part-playing as the victim of Petruchio's jests thematically links her astute performance with that of Sly, whose onomastic implication is now clear, and both of them with Italian comedic conventions.

In classical New Comedy, the maturation of the protagonist and the recognition of his social identity mark the transition from pistis to gnosis, which in the Shrew, through the theme of “supposes”, becomes the passage from illusion to reality, from a society ruled by senes to one dominated by adulescentes.33 In portraying the strong characterization of Katherina, Shakespeare creatively rearranges female roles from a wide variety of dominating or shrewish but triumphant and assertive matronae, ranging from Aristophanes's heroine in Lysistrata to Plautus's Artemona and Cleostrata in Asinaria and Casina respectively, from Terence's Sostrata in Hecyra to Machiavelli's Sofronia in Clizia, and passing through a number of other variants and imitations in such works as Giovan Maria Cecchi's La moglie (c. 1545), Girolamo Parabosco's Il marinaio (1550), Benedetto Varchi's La suocera (1569) and Luigi Groto's Alteria (1587), including the novelle versions of nagging and aggressive wives by Boccaccio, Bandello and other prose writers in Italy, France, and England. As Alexander Leggatt stresses, Katherina's submission to her husband is not “something to be admitted with shame, or rationalized, but celebrated—particularly in the presence of women who have just failed the test she has so triumphantly passed.”34

The eroticism of the Sly-Bartholomew exchange returns in the subsequent lines, when Sly's recollection of his long illness is interpreted by the page in terms of sexual abstinence:

Madam wife, they say that I have dream'd
And slept above some fifteen year or more.
Ay, and the time seems thirty unto me,
Being all this time abandon'd from your bed.


To Sly's immediate invitation, “undress you and come now to bed” (line 118), Bartholomew recommends a little patience in order to ensure a perfect recovery, “For your physicians have expressly charg'd, / In peril to incur your former malady, / That I should yet absent me from your bed. / I hope this reason stands for my excuse” (lines 122-5). The deictic “this” indicates a bawdy allusion, brilliantly echoed in Sly's answer: “Ay, it stands so that I may hardly tarry so long” (line 126). The erotic word-game on erection (“stands”) may carry a double meaning, depending on whether the transvestite boy is pointing to himself or to Sly, implying either homosexual or heterosexual enticement. If he is referring to himself (in line with the ludicrous, Plautus-like character of the entire scene) the exchange plays on homoerotic tensions, explicitly aroused by the page's invitation. In that we have a further association with Aretino's Marescalco and, via its deep source, with Terence's Eunuchus.35

Although Sly's homosexual drive may not be overtly suggested within the text, his sexual call to the transvestite boy posits the two characters' response to the beffa in a common intertextual perspective. In either case, not only does this mock marital episode herald the theme of consummating a marriage, which plays an important strategic function in the taming-plot, but it foreshadows the frequent use of sexual puns in the Petruchio-Katherina exchanges, which give rise to lively verbal clashes in terms of a battle of the sexes. Language-games are part of the therapy put forward by Petruchio to cure his mate, using the same weapon of wit as Kate does in her irreducible poses. The success and the real quality of the play lie in this verbal strife, since, as Ruth Nevo has pointed out, “Nothing is more stimulating to the imagination than the tension of sexual conflict and sexual anticipation. Verbal smashing and stripping, verbal teasing and provoking and seducing are as exciting to the witnessing audience as to the characters enacting these moves.”36

In the last sequence a messenger announces the performance of a “pleasant comedy” in Sly's honor to help him recover from his melancholy and, as he says, to “frame your mind to mirth and merriment, / Which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life” (Ind.II.135-6). The therapeutic value of the theater is a long-established convention with many significant examples from Hamlet to The Duchess of Malfi. While tragedy plays on the ambiguity between feigned and real madness, intrigue comedy, as is the case in the Shrew, focuses upon the comic equivocation of the false staging of madness.37 The trick played on Sly, therefore, privileges the idea of theater as pretense, linking coherently with the false wife's playacting and the general deception in which Sly himself plays the leading role. “Just as Christopher Sly the beggar”—Juliet Dusinberre has observed—“is transformed into a lord for the duration of the play, with a player-boy as the lady his wife—‘in all obedience’—so Kate and Petruchio adopt the most hyperbolic postures open to man and wife in their relation to each other, as the premise for real life.”38 Thus we are led to perceive a perfect metatheatrical relation—between Sly's story and the “history” (Ind.II.140) in the comedy, between the tinker's delusion, perpetrated by the Lord, and Kate's taming, accomplished by Petruchio—which leads to an interesting juxtaposition of mistaken identities and disguises involving Sly in the double role of actor and spectator:

Well, we'll see't. Come, madam wife, sit by my side
And let the world slip, we shall ne'er be younger.


After these closing lines, Sly and the page will make only one more brief appearance, between the first two scenes of Act 1. At this point the false Lord and the sham wife comment on the play they are watching and remain present as an onstage audience throughout the performance, reminding us, through the framing effect, of the distinction between fiction and real life.39 As the fool's exit in King Lear signals the King's progressive recognition of his tragic delusion, so Sly's lapsed role marks the beginning, in the comedy as well as in the theater, of “the subtilties of these our Supposes”, in Gascoigne's definition, as “nothing else but a mystaking or imagination of one thing for an other.40 The degree of ironic awareness that the protean zanni—“by birth a pedlar, by education a cardmaker, by transmutation a bear-herd, and now by present profession a tinker” (Ind.II.18-21)—expresses in playing the part of the deceived protagonist can be appreciated only if we too watch the staging of The Taming of the Shrew in the announced terms of play-within. In acknowledging the linguistic and thematic affinities between the Induction's plot and the other parts and characters of the play, we recognize a device that derives specifically and directly from Italianate comedic conventions, contributing to the unity of the whole.


  1. See C. C. Seronsy, “‘Supposes’ as the Unifying Theme in The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare Quarterly, XIV (1963), pp. 15-30; Leo Salingar, Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1974), pp. 222-5. Some passages in Gascoigne's translation show that he used both editions (see the opening, for instance, and the dialogue between Cleander and Pasiphilo in I.ii).

  2. The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Brian Morris (London: Methuen, 1981), p. 69. All quotations are from this edition.

  3. Cf. Robert S. Miola, Shakespeare and Classical Comedy: The Influence of Plautus and Terence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp. 62-79. The pervasive influence of classical and Italian theater on Shakespeare has also been freshly reconsidered by Louise George Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare's Time (New Haven: Yale UP, 1989).

  4. Richard M. Hosley, “Sources and Analogues of The Taming of the Shrew”, Huntington Library Quarterly, XXVII (May, 1964), p. 307.

  5. Ariosto's prologue acknowledges indebtedness to Eunuchus and Captivi. Miola's Shakespeare and Classical Comedy brilliantly discusses the pervasive presence of Mostellaria in the play.

  6. Miola, “Shakespeare […] unites the three actions by portraying them as variations of New Comedic intrigue: each features the classical device of courtship by disguise, proxy, or impersonation; each illustrates variously the New Comedic tendency of fiction to be or become true in surprising ways” (p. 79).

  7. On the topic of the relationship of the Shakespearian text to the anonymous play, see Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, “No Shrew, A Shrew, and The Shrew: Internal Revision in The Taming of the Shrew”, in Shakespeare: Text, Language, Criticism. Essays in Honour of Marvin Spevack, ed. B. Fabian and K. Tetzeli von Rosador (Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1987), pp. 351-70. For the purpose of the present essay, it is precisely the fact that the Sly plot disappears from the Shakespeare text which makes the double nature of the Induction possible.

  8. Cf. Michael Shapiro, “Framing the Taming: Metatheatrical Awareness of Female Impersonation in The Taming of the Shrew”, The Yearbook of English Studies, 23 (1993), pp. 143-66, who in Sly's gender-confusion views an attempt at “accentuating the general practice of crossgender casting if not the presence of the same female impersonator who had played the role of the gentlewoman” (p. 151). In a recent essay orientated towards audience response criticism—“The Taming of the Shrew: Women, Acting, and Power”, Studies in the Literary Imagination, XXVI: 1 (Spring, 1993)—Juliet Dusinberre sees in Sly's error a metatheatrical reference to the boy actor, suggesting “the presence in the play itself of actors, not just impersonators of characters” (p. 67).

  9. The emphasis on the theme of dreaming has led some scholars to interpret The Shrew as Sly's dream. For this suggestive approach see S. Jayne “The Dreaming of The Shrew”, Shakespeare Quarterly, XVII (Winter, 1966), pp. 41-56.

  10. David Daniell, “The Good Marriage of Katherine and Petruchio”, Shakespeare Survey, 37 (1984), p. 24.

  11. Cesare Segre, “Shakespeare e la ‘scena en abyme’”, in Teatro e romanzo: Due tipi di comunicazione letteraria (Turin: Einaudi, 1984), p. 52.

  12. The mirror effect, suggested by the entrance of the players, is close to that produced by the acting of the Dido-play in Hamlet and the recommendations to the actors links the passage to the analogous “modest speech” (Hamlet, 3.2.16-24).

  13. Thelma N. Greenfield, The Induction in Elizabethan Drama (Eugene: University of Oregon Books, 1969), p. 69. For a useful link between Shakespeare's Shrew and other frame plays, see pp. 97-119.

  14. See Alessandro Ronconi, “Prologhi ‘plautini’ e prologhi ‘terenziani’ nella commedia italiana del ’500”, in Il teatro classico italiano nel ’500, Atti del Convegno dell'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Quaderno n. 138 (Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1971), pp. 197-214. The particularity of the Italian prologue in relation to its classical antecedents is stressed by Nino Borsellino in Borsellino and Roberto Mercuri, Il teatro del Cinquecento (Bari: Laterza, 1973), pp. 3-14. Some useful references to the Italian prologues in relation to Shakespeare's comedies are to be found in H. B. Charlton, Shakespearian Comedy (London: Methuen, 1938, rpt. 1969), pp. 73-99. In this regard, see also my “Prologue”, in The Italian World of English Renaissance Drama: Cultural Exchange and Intertextuality, ed. Michele Marrapodi (Newark: Delaware UP, 1998), pp. 9-19.

  15. Angelo Poliziano, La commedia antica e l'‘Andria’ di Terenzio, ed. R. Lattanzi Roselli (Florence, 1973), (transl. from Latin), quoted in Il teatro italiano: La Commedia del Cinquecento, ed. Guido Davico Bonino, Vol. 1 (Turin: Einaudi, 1977), p. 462.

  16. G. B. Giraldi Cinzio, Intorno al comporre delle commedie e delle tragedie (1543), in Scritti critici, ed. Camillo G. Crocetti (Milan: Marzorati, 1973), p. 202.

  17. Clifford Leech, “Shakespeare's Prologues and Epilogues”, in Studies in Honor of T. W. Baldwin, ed. Don Cameron Allen (Urbana: Illinois UP, 1958), p. 152. It may be worth considering that, although he provides no intertextual link with classical and Italian prologues, Leech reads the device “as being a direct address to the audience, preceding the play, normally spoken by a single actor who is usually but not necessarily alone on the stage” (p. 151-2).

  18. The seven Shakespearian plays with prologues (Romeo and Juliet, 2Henry IV, Henry V, Troilus and Cressida, Pericles, Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen, the latter in collaboration with Fletcher) mainly present a classical construction of a mixed type, obeying diverse dramaturgical needs, ranging from exposition of the subject-matter to spatial-temporal specification, from the necessity of providing a narrative link with the antecedent or the previous play to the metatheatrical function of audience involvement.

  19. Alessandro Piccolomini, L'Amor costante (1536) in Commedie del Cinquecento, ed. Nino Borsellino, Vol. 1 (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1962), p. 306.

  20. See Pietro Aretino, Tutte le commedie, ed. G. B. De Sanctis (Milan: Mursia, 1972).

  21. Marvin T. Herrick, Italian Comedy in the Renaisance (Urbana: Illinois UP, 1960), p. 137.

  22. Bernardo Dovizi da Bibbiena, La Calandria (1513), in Commedie del Cinquecento, ed. Nino Borsellino, Vol. 2, p. 18.

  23. On Bruno's life in England, see particularly Dorothea Waley Singer, Giordano Bruno: His Life and Thought (New York: Greenwood Press, 1968), pp. 26-45, and Hilary Gatti, The Renaissance Drama of Knowledge: Giordano Bruno in England (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 128-38.

  24. The Merry Wives of Windsor, ed. H. J. Oliver (London: Methuen, 1980), 4.2.89; 5.5.183-205.

  25. Cf. Giulio Ferroni, “Techniche del raddoppiamento nella commedia del Cinquecento”, in Il testo e la scena: Saggi sul teatro del Cinquecento (Rome: Bulzoni, 1980), pp. 43-64.

  26. See Robert S. Miola, “The Merry Wives of Windsor: Classical and Italian Intertexts”, Comparative Drama, 27 (1993), pp. 364-76.

  27. Bonino, Introduction to Il teatro italiano: La commedia del Cinquecento, Vol. 3 (Turin: Einaudi, 1978), p. xxvi.

  28. Salingar, Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy, p. 225.

  29. Keir Elam, Shakespeare's Universe of Discourse: Language-Games in the Comedies (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984), p. 36.

  30. Cf. Ruth Nevo, Comic Transformations in Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1980), pp. 49-50: “Petruchio has enlisted Kate's will and wit on his side, not broken them, and it is the function of the final festive test to confirm and exhibit this. […] The man she has married has humour and high spirits, intuition, patience, self-command and masterly intelligence; and there is more than merely a homily for Elizabethan wives in her famous speech.” See also J. Dennis Huston, Shakespeare's Comedies of Play (London: Macmillan, 1981), pp. 90-3. A rather different interpretation is given by Shirley Nelson Garner in “The Taming of the Shrew: Inside or Outside of the Joke”, in ‘Bad’ Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, ed. Maurice Charney (London and Toronto: Associated UP, 1988): “Taming is responsive to men's psychological needs, desires, and fantasies at the expense of women. It plays to an audience who shares its patriarchal assumptions: men and also women who internalize patriarchal values. As someone who does not share those values, I find much of the play humorless. Rather than making me laugh, it makes me sad and angry” (p. 117).

  31. See Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), p. 41; Edward Berry, Shakespeare's Comic Rites (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984), pp. 55-56, 195.

  32. Tori Haring-Smith, From Farce to Metadrama: A Stage History of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, 1594-1983 (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1985), p. 119.

  33. See Miola, Shakespeare and Classical Comedy, pp. 77-8. For Miola, “In New Comedies like Eunuchus the virgo proves to be an Athenian citizen, and recognition of her true identity makes possible a desired marriage. Similarly, in the Shrew Kate, through the magic of theatrical play, presents herself as ideal wife, no longer a shrew; proclamation of this new identity makes both possible and desirable her marriage, already performed, to Petruchio” (p. 78).

  34. Leggatt, p. 61. By contrast for Margie Burns, in “The Ending of The Shrew”, Shakespeare Studies, XVIII (1986), pp. 41-64, the relationship between induction and play comes out as a kind of dialectic between Bartholomew's playacting and Kate's final speech: “If both Sly and Petruchio have jokes played on them, the ending of the play finally gives the jokes some point; Kate's mock-elevation of Petruchio results in a genuine elevation, a release from the limitations of his earlier role […], reflecting her release from her role. While the joke on Petruchio takes on a point, however, the joke on Sly—as just a joke—remains pointless, and the play outgrows it” (p. 54).

  35. On the fortune of Eunuchus as a seminal play, see Keir Elam, “The Fertile Eunuch: Twelfth Night, Early Modern Intercourse, and the Fruits of Castration”, Shakespeare Quarterly, 47 (Spring, 1996), pp. 1-36.

  36. Nevo, p. 38.

  37. See Vanna Gentili, La recita della follia: funzioni dell'insania nel teatro dell'età di Shakespeare (Turin: Einaudi, 1978), pp. 47-8; 66-127.

  38. Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (London: Macmillan, 1975, repr. 1985), p. 106. See also Anne Righter, Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962, rpr. 1967), pp. 94-7. According to Righter, who considers Shakespeare's induction to be an adaptation of the anonymous A Shrew, the Sly scenes focus on the play metaphor, demonstrating “the cunning with which elements of illusion can insinuate themselves into life, and be mistaken for reality” (p. 95).

  39. See Caroline Di Miceli, “The Taming of the Shrew: Frame and Mirror”, in The Show Within: Dramatic and Other Insets, ed. François Laroque, vol. 1 (Montpellier: Université Paul-Valéry, 1992), pp. 127-39. For Di Miceli, who sees in the Shrew a game of mirror and framing insets throughout the entire play, Shakespeare's framing devices, here stressed by Sly's brief return, create a double movement: “a movement of penetration into the dramatic action […] and a movement of recoil, where we are shown that our participation is nevertheless limited, the play proper being merely fiction for us, while forming part of Sly's reality” (p. 130). It is doubtful, however, as the present essay attempts to demonstrate, that Sly is totally unaware of the joke played on him and that, like Katherina, he does not comply with the situation.

  40. George Gascoigne, Supposes, in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), vol. I, p. 112 (italics in the text).