Reading Pointers for Sharper Insights
Consider the following as you read The Taming of the Shrew:
Gender Roles—Some critics have seen this play as a sexist critique of women who were gaining too much power (the ruler of England, of course, was a woman). Others believe that Kate's final speech is ironic, and that she has found a way to rule her husband while appearing to be ruled.
Induction, Plot and Subplot—The Taming of the Shrew begins with anInduction (a brief prologue).
The play that follows interweaves a main plot—Petruchio's “taming” of Kate—with a subplot involving the schemes of Bianca's suitors-turned-tutors. The characters of the Induction do not appear in the play after Act I, scene i.
Try to trace the main and subordinate plots. Where do they branch off, and where do they come together? How does Shakespeare build up to major events in the play, and how does he conclude the action?
Also, look for a thematic connection between the Induction and the main play. It may help you to know that some critics believe part of the play has been lost, and the Induction actually is concluded in Act V; others see the play as complete without a return to the Induction. What do you think?
Contemporary and Classical Models—This is one of Shakespeare's early comedies. It therefore takes elements from other plays. The model for Taming of the Shrew was the Italian farce, itself based on Greek and Roman comedies by authors such as Plautus and Terence. These comedies usually contained common and predictable plot devices and stock characters.
In the play, Bianca's suitors arrange an elaborate system of disguises in order to gain access to her. Ancient comedies also often revolve around people in disguise, identical twins who are unaware of one another (and therefore confuse the other characters without meaning to) and other, similar plot devices.
Likewise, the following characters would have been immediately recognizable to the classical audience:
How does Shakespeare change these characters and plot devices? Are the roles of some characters reduced or enlarged?