Why is the dramatic impact of humor on an audience important to the play, The Taming of the Shrew, as a whole?
There is a long history of the humorous depiction of domestic violence in English drama. The puppet show characters Punch and Judy, which were brought to England in the seventeenth century, are an example of this popular kind of humor. In these puppet shows (which were more widespread than any Shakespeare play, as they were performed in almost every village) the husband, Punch, of a nagging wife, Judy, argue and beat each other. While things are generally more civilized in The Taming of the Shrew, the humorous intent is similar. The joke of the "shrewish" or nagging wife, eventually disciplined by a long-suffering husband, was considered funny for a very long time in England (and is still current in sanitized versions of village shows today.) The humor attached to a very real issue of domestic strife could be seen by the audience in various ways: it was funny to some people because they see the nagging wife as something unfeminine, and the eventual punishment by the husband as a restoration of the patriarchal order; the ridiculousness of the discord between a married couple played out for all to see; or a coping mechanism of laughing at the inescapable fact of domestic violence. The humor in Taming makes Petruchio's assertion of authority more palatable, and Kate's allegedly "shrewish" behavior funny. Humor palliates the truth of the struggle between the sexes.
Source: Punch and Judy webpage http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-PunchNJu.html