Although there has been much debate, Shakespeare is now believed to have composed The Taming of the Shrew between 1592 and 1594. Although a play named The Taming of A Shrew was published first in the so-called “bad quarto” of 1594, Shakespeare’s own version was not published until 1623 when the First Folio of his works was compiled. The pirated version is thought to be a fast transcription, not without some embellishment, of Shakespeare’s play as it was performed.
The first known performance of The Taming of the Shrew was held at Newington Butts on June 13, 1594 by Shakespeare’s own company, the Chamberlain’s Men. Shakespeare himself played the part of Vincentio (a confined role) alongside the very popular actor Richard Burbage, who played Lucentio. However, there is a reference (not a record) in the “bad quarto” to earlier performances by the Earl of Pembroke’s Men, a troop which disbanded in 1594 due to financial troubles.
The Newington Butts stage was located one mile south of London Bridge in one of the Liberties, so called because they lay outside of the city limits where strict municipal laws did not affect the theater. Londoners regularly traveled outside the city proper to see their favorite plays, except during plague years when the theaters were closed for the public’s safety. The Globe, Shakespeare’s famous playhouse, was likewise located in the Liberties. When it burned down, Shakespeare’s company...
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In this section:
- Shakespeare’s Language
- Shakespeare’s Sentences
- Shakespeare’s Words
- Shakespeare’s Wordplay
- Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
- Implied Stage Action
Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does, looking up and...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Warwickshire. County in England’s Midlands area, which contains William Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. The induction scenes, outside a tavern and within a nameless lord’s country house, contain specific references to actual villages such as Greet, Wincot, and Burton Heath. This landscape introduces contemporary sociopolitical issues such as enclosure (the tavern abuts the lord’s hunting preserve), vagrancy and sumptuary laws (for example, Sly’s list of jobs and his being jokingly dressed as a lord), and the economic tensions produced by changes in land use (Sly’s poverty contrasts with the conspicuous wealth of the lord’s house—dogs, servants, food, and erotic art).
*Padua. City in northeastern Italy, about twenty miles west of Venice. Shakespeare borrows this setting from the Italian source for his comedy, Ludovico Ariosto’s I suppositi, complete with disguises and clever manservants. As usual on the fluid, nonrepresentational Elizabethan stage, the action moves effortlessly, without the use of stage directions, from the first street scenes to the reception rooms, where Petruchio woos Kate, to the music room. The impression achieved is of a successful mercantile community, where personal wealth is measured in numbers of ships and household goods. The streets and houses near the home of Baptista Minola provide the fictional displacement from the England...
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The Induction, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
1. Where does the action take place?
2. Why do Christopher Sly and the hostess quarrel?
3. Is Sly a modest person?
4. Where is the Lord returning from when he finds Sly asleep?
5. What does the Lord decide to do with Sly?
6. Who arrives at the Lord’s dwelling while he is making preparations?
7. What special instructions does the Lord give to the new arrivals?
8. How does the Lord plan to use his page?
9. What special instructions does the Lord send to his page?
10. Why does the Lord want to be present when Sly awakens?
1. The action takes place in England, in front of an alehouse and near a lord’s home.
2. Sly has apparently broken some glasses in the alehouse, after drinking too much.
3. No. He tries to claim that his ancestors descended from France with William the Conqueror. Therefore, he at least had access to the aristocracy if not membership in it.
4. The Lord is returning from hunting.
5. The Lord plans to move Sly into his own home so that Sly will wake up to find himself dressed as a nobleman with servants.
6. A theatrical group comes to the Lord’s house and asks to give a performance.
7. The Lord instructs the players to ignore any protests or signals from Sly. The Lord is afraid that Sly might not play along....
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The Induction, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
1. Where does Sly awaken?
2. How is Sly treated once he is awake?
3. How does Sly first respond to this treatment?
4. How does Sly describe himself?
5. What activities does the Lord suggest might be to Sly’s liking?
6. What classical text do the Lord and his servants allude to when they mention mythological characters, such as Adonis and Io?
7. How does the Lord ultimately convince Sly that he is a lord and not just dreaming?
8. Describe Sly’s reaction to his “wife.”
9. Does Bartholomew join Sly in bed?
10. What sort of play is announced to Sly?
1. Sly awakens in a bedroom at the Lord’s home.
2. The Lord’s servants treat Sly as a gentleman, and offer him wine and rich clothing.
3. At first, Sly tries to renounce his new identity and all the ministrations of the Lord’s servants.
4. Sly describes his ancestry, and his current vocation as a tinker (pot-mender), but does so in a pretentious way, as if he were a gentleman.
5. The Lord mentions riding, hunting, and hawking.
6. They refer to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a text alluded to in various ways in most of Shakespeare’s works.
7. The Lord switches from talk of clothes and courtly activities, of which Sly is ignorant, to mention of Sly’s beautiful wife....
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Act I, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
1. Under what special circumstances does Act One begin?
2. Where do Lucentio and Tranio arrive in the first scene, and why have they come to this town?
3. Whom do Lucentio and Tranio witness quarreling?
4. Why will Baptista not give away Bianca at present?
5. How does Katharina treat the suitors of Bianca?
6. What scheme does Hortensio concoct in order to marry Bianca?
7. With whom has Lucentio fallen in love?
8. How does Lucentio intend to woo Bianca?
9. What is Tranio’s role in Lucentio’s plan?
10. How does Sly like the play so far?
1. Act One begins with Sly and his “wife” sitting above the stage in a loft, so as to view the play the Lord has prepared as entertainment for Sly.
2. They arrive in Padua, a city famous for its university. Lucentio has come to study philosophy.
3. They see two suitors, Gremio and Hortensio, speaking with Baptista and Katharina. Bianca speaks only four lines.
4. Baptista knows that if he does not marry off Katharina before Bianca, he will have to spend the rest of his days listening to her sharp tongue. He uses Bianca as leverage to send away Katharina as soon as possible.
5. Katharina returns the insults of Gremio and Hortensio, and goads them.
6. Hortensio enlists Gremio to find a suitable man to...
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Act I, Scene 2 Questions and Answers
1. Why has Petruchio come to Padua?
2. Why does Petruchio box Grumio’s ears?
3. Whose house does Petruchio enter?
4. What does Hortensio suggest to Petruchio?
5. With whom does Gremio conspire to achieve Bianca?
6. What is Gremio’s attitude toward Petruchio’s attempt to marry Kate?
7. What does Grumio mean when he says that Petruchio will disfigure Kate so that she will not be able to see?
8. Why does Tranio appear at Hortensio’s home?
9. What is Lucentio doing in the meantime?
10. Why does Tranio go along with the men’s scheme?
1. Petruchio arrives in Padua partly to visit friends but mainly to find a wealthy wife.
2. Grumio incurs Petruchio’s wrath when he does not knock on the door for him as a servant should for his master.
3. Petruchio enters Hortensio’s home.
4. Hortensio mentions the wealthy dowry of Katharina, and suggests that Petruchio try to marry her.
5. Gremio arranges for Lucentio, now disguised as a school¬master, to woo Bianca for him while reading selected works of love poetry to her.
6. Gremio does not believe anyone can find a fit mate in Katharina, but he will be pleased if Petruchio marries her.
7. Grumio seems to have picked up Petruchio’s knack for figurative language here. He means that...
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Act II, Scene 1 Questions and Answers
1. What color is Kate’s hair?
2. Why has Kate bound Bianca’s hands?
3. Who offers Baptista gifts?
4. Why do the men believe that Petruchio has successfully wooed Kate when she rejects him publicly?
5. How does Baptista resolve the strife between Gremio and Tranio, who both seek the hand of Bianca?
6. What does Gremio offer to give Bianca?
7. How does Tranio’s offer compare to Gremio’s?
8. When are Katharina and Bianca to be married?
9. How does Gremio react to Baptista favoring Tranio’s offer?
10. What does Tranio mean when he says that a “child shall get a sire”(408)?
1. She is probably a brunette, as Petruchio refers to her as a hazel-twig, and brown in hue.
2. She is interrogating Bianca about which suitor she prefers.
3. Strictly speaking, only Tranio does. He presents Baptista with a lute and some books. Both Petruchio and Gremio offer the services of teachers.
4. Petruchio has invented a clever story. The couple will be mean in public and mild in private. The men have a conflict of interest and are bound to believe Petruchio’s story.
5. Baptista will choose the suitor who is best able to provide for his daughter.
6. Gremio can only offer his land and what little he has in his house, so he takes pains to enumerate all...
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Act III, Scenes 1 and 2 Questions and Answers
1. What does Cambio recite to Bianca?
2. Assess Lucentio’s control of Latin.
3. What lesson does Hortensio give to Bianca?
4. Why does Hortensio lose interest so suddenly in Bianca?
5. Why is Kate upset on her wedding day?
6. Why does Petruchio arrive underdressed for his own marriage?
7. What happens during the ceremony?
8. Why does Petruchio insist that he must leave immediately?
9. To which poet does Shakespeare allude in Petruchio’s speech about a wife’s duty to her husband?
10. How do the guests react to the newlyweds’ early departure?
1. He recites a few lines from Ovid’s epistolary poem the Heroides.
2. We cannot judge his skill with Latin. Lucentio and Bianca don’t try to translate the lines they read.
3. As the musician Lito, Hortensio devises a message, much like that of Lucentio, based upon the arpeggios of the scales. But Bianca notices a minor error in its beginning and rejects it.
4. Bianca has just rejected him, and she begins to show favoritism to the younger schoolmaster.
5. Petruchio fails to show up at the appointed time.
6. He is presumably trying to humiliate Kate, whom he perceives to be spoiled.
7. We learn from Gremio that Petruchio has struck the priest for fumbling the Bible, and that...
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Act IV, Scenes 1 and 2 Questions and Answers
1. Why does Grumio arrive ahead of Petruchio and Kate?
2. How was their journey from Padua?
3. What do Kate and Petruchio eat when they arrive?
4. Why does Petruchio reject the mutton?
5. What plan does Petruchio concoct to tame Kate after he rejects their meal?
6. Which Ovidian text does Lucentio name to Bianca?
7. Why does Tranio swear not to court Bianca?
8. What is the taming school to which Tranio refers?
9. Why is origin of the pedant important to Tranio?
10. Why does the pedant offer to play the part of Vincentio while in Padua?
1. He has been sent ahead to start a fire and to prepare servants to meet Petruchio in a park.
2. Grumio’s account suggests it was a miserable, cold trip with Kate falling down with her horse into mud.
3. Although a large meal is served, Petruchio sends the entire meal back to the kitchen, and they eat nothing.
4. He claims that it is burnt.
5. Petruchio plans to deny Katharina sleep and to harrass her until she submits to his will.
6. The Art to Love, more commonly translated as the Art of Love, is the text.
7. Ostensibly, Tranio forswears Bianca because Hortensio has proven her to be attached to Cambio. But since this was Tranio’s original plan, he is presumably happy to stop...
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Act IV, Scenes 3 and 4 Questions and Answers
1. What does Grumio give to Kate for breakfast?
2. How long has Kate slept on her wedding night?
3. What reason does Petruchio give for rejecting the cap?
4. Does Petruchio accept the gown?
5. When was the last time Kate has eaten?
6. Where did the pedant encounter Baptista twenty years ago?
7. To whom does Baptista think he is giving away his daughter, Bianca?
8. Why does Baptista not make immediate arrangements for Bianca’s dowry once he has met the pedant disguised as Vincentio?
9. How will Lucentio be able to marry Bianca before the public ceremony with Tranio as groom to Bianca?
10. To what two things does Biondello compare Bianca when speaking with Lucentio about her?
1. He gives her not a morsel.
2. She slept not a wink.
3. First he says it is lewd, filthy, and too small; but then he claims that Kate is not gentle enough to wear it.
4. Not according to this text. Petruchio does pay the tailor, but only in the movie version (with Elizabeth Taylor) does he finally accept the dress after he has sent away the tailor.
5. Presumably on the morning of her wedding, at least 24 hours before Grumio taunts her, though probably much more.
6. The pedant encountered Baptista in Genoa.
7. Baptista thinks he will give Bianca to Tranio,...
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Act IV, Scene 5 Questions and Answers
1. What time of day is it when Petruchio declares that the moon shines bright?
2. Whom do Kate and Petruchio encounter on their journey?
3. How does Kate give in to Petruchio?
4. Why is Vincentio headed to Padua?
5. To what does Petruchio refer when he mentions being crossed?
6. How does Petruchio greet Vincentio?
7. How does Kate earn Petruchio’s favor when meeting Vincentio?
8. How does Vincentio respond to their games with him?
9. Why is Hortensio with Kate and Petruchio?
10. What does Hortensio plan to do when he returns to Padua?
1. It is daytime.
2. They meet Lucentio’s real father, Vincentio.
3. Kate reports what Petruchio says to be true, although it is notably false. She later performs according to his will in front of Vincentio.
4. Vincentio wishes to visit with his son, whom he has not seen in a long while.
5. He alludes to Kate’s practice of contradicting him when he lies or is otherwise testing her patience.
6. He greets Vincentio in an exaggeratedly cordial way and also refers to Vincentio as a woman.
7. Kate greets Vincentio as a woman, following Petruchio’s lead. She then apologizes for her behavior when Petruchio contradicts her for mistaking Vincentio as a woman.
8. Vincentio is notably...
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Act V, Scene 1 and 2 Questions and Answers
1. Why is Gremio present in this scene?
2. Where is Tranio’s father from?
3. Why does Vincentio think that Lucentio has wasted his fortune while in Padua?
4. Why does Vincentio accuse Tranio of murdering Lucentio?
5. Why is Gremio eager to defend Vincentio?
6. Why does Tranio call for a constable?
7. Who finally gives away Lucentio’s scheme to marry Bianca privately?
8. How much time has passed since Petruchio and Kate were married?
9. How much money has Baptista lost on account of Petruchio’s bet with the husbands?
10. According to Kate, why should women obey their husbands?
1. He is apparently eavesdropping on Cambio, his rival.
2. Being a sailmaker in Bergamo, Tranio’s father is presumably from there.
3. Since Tranio is dressed up beyond the station of a servant, Vincentio thinks that Lucentio has spent money on him.
4. Once Tranio claims that he himself is Lucentio, the only logical possibility that occurs to Vincentio is that Tranio has killed his master.
5. Tranio (as Lucentio) is Gremio’s rival, and Gremio probably wants to discredit him as much as possible in order to win Baptista’s approval to marry Bianca.
6. Although the pedant has already done so, Tranio waits until there is no other option but to have Vincentio...
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Nearly all critical commentary on The Taming of the Shrew deals to some extent with the play's treatment of gender roles: that is, what it has to say about socially accepted definitions of appropriate male and female behavior. On the surface, the play appears to confirm a very traditional view that men should dominate women and that women should submit to male authority. All of the characters except Katherina agree throughout the play that her initial rebellious, self-assertive, "shrewish" behavior is not acceptable. In the end, Kate has apparently come round to this position as well, giving a long speech proclaiming the rightness of male dominance and female submissiveness.
Until fairly recently, few people challenged this view of the play. In fact, the play knew centuries of popularity with audiences who found Petruchio's "taming" of Katherina both inoffensive and amusing. In the late nineteenth century, however, commentators began to express uneasiness with the way Katherina is treated, and directors began to experiment with various "ironic" readings of the plays. In the twentieth century, debate over the play's attitude toward gender roles has produced a wide variety of interpretations.
The play's treatment of gender goes well beyond its basic plot. Unlike most playwrights who wrote plays about "shrews" in the early modern period, Shakespeare suggests possible motivations for Katherina's shrewishness: her...
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Modern audiences are typically troubled by two problems in The Taming of the Shrew. The first is the problem of Christopher Sly's disappearance. Shakespeare sets up an elaborate frame story for presenting The Taming of the Shrew, but, then, seems to abandon the frame story, that of Christopher Sly, at the end. As part of the trick the lord and his servants are playing on Sly, the latter is positioned to watch the inset play (The Taming of the Shrew). Sly watches for a while but then becomes disinterested and is not heard from again. The audience fully expects that the joke on Sly will be revealed to him when he is forced to assume, once again, his real identity. When Shakespeare's play fails to supply this closure, the audience is somewhat disappointed.
A play contemporary with Shakespeare's, The Taming of a Shrew, does provide this closure, Sly critically commenting on the action of the inset play throughout and resuming his normal life at the end. The Taming of a Shrew is thought, alternatively, to be a source for or an imitation of Shakespeare's play. It is also conjectured that The Taming of a Shrew might be a bad quarto version of Shakespeare's play or a play relying on the same source as The Taming of the Shrew. Regardless of the exact relationship of the two plays, the overriding questions are these: might Shakespeare have written Sly into the ending of the play, that ending becoming lost somehow in...
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Kiss Me Kate. MGM, 1953.
Film version of the 1948 Cole Porter musical based on The Taming of the Shrew. Two divorced actors can't separate their real lives from their stage lives after they are engaged to play Katherina and Petruchio in a production of Shakespeare's play. Distributed by MGM/UA Home Entertainment, Facets Multimedia, Inc. 110 minutes.
Kiss Me Petrucho, New York Shakespeare Festival, 1982. Documentary on the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of The Taming of the Shrew. Distributed by Films Inc. Video, Professional Media Service Corp., 58 minutes.
The Taming of the Shrew. Pickford Corporation, Elton Corporation, United Artists, 1929, re-edited 1966. Earliest film version, an early talkie featuring the only pairing of real-life couple Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Distributed by Nostalgia Family Video, Critics' Choice Video. 66 minutes.
The Taming of the Shrew. Columbia, 1967.
A lavish screen version, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and directed by Franco Zeffirelh. Distributed by Columbia Tristar Home Video, The Video Catalog, PBS Video. 122 minutes.
The Taming of the Shrew. International Film Bureau, 1974. Presents two scenes from the play: Petruchio vows to marry Katherina, and he begins the process of "taming" her. Distributed by International Film Bureau, Inc. 13 minutes.
The Taming of the Shrew. NET,...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bevington, David ed., The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Third Edition. Glenview, IL, 1980. 
Baldwin, T. W. The Organization and Personnel of the Shakespearean Company. Princeton, 1927. 
Berek, Peter. “Text, Gender, and Genre in The Taming of the Shrew.” In “Bad” Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, ed. by Maurice Charney, 91-104. London, 1988. 
Boose, Lynda E. “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s Unruly Member.” Shakespeare Quarterly 42 (1991) 179-213. 
Fineman, Joel. “The Turn of the Shrew.” In Shakespeare and the Question of Theory, ed. by Patricia Parker, et al, 138-59. New York, 1985. 
Haring-Smith, Tori. From Farce to Metadrama: A Stage History of “The Taming of the Shrew,” 1594-1983 (Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies, 16). Westport, CT, 1985. 
Hodgdon, Barbara. “Katherina Bound; or, Play(K)ating the Strictures of Everyday Life.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 107 (1992) 538-53. 
Holderness, Graham. “Production, Reproduction, Performance: Marxism, History, Theatre.” In Uses of History: Marxism, Postmodernism and the Renaissance, ed. by Francis Barker, et al, 153-78. Manchester, 1991. 
Howard, Jean. “Women as Spectators, Spectacles, and...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”: Modern Critical Interpretations. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Not for the faint-hearted, this collection of essays is useful for indicating the trends of modern scholarship regarding the play. It contains a number of essays utilizing modern critical perspectives such as feminism and deconstruction.
Greenfield, Thelma N. “The Transformation of Christopher Sly.” Philological Quarterly 33 (1954): 34-42. Greenfield argues that the importance of the Christopher Sly framing device lies in its establishment of the juxtaposition between reality and appearance evident also through the main action of the play.
Holderness, Graham. Shakespeare in Performance: “The Taming of the Shrew.” Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1989. Holderness examines four different productions of the play, including the 1966 Franco Zeffirelli movie and the 1980 television adaptation starring John Cleese. The book is valuable in that it stresses the importance of the performance of Shakespeare’s works.
Huston, J. Dennis. “‘To Make a Puppet’: Play and Play-Making in The Taming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Studies 9 (1967): 73-88. Huston asserts that Shakespeare repeatedly shocks the audience by presenting a series of false...
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