At a Glance

In The Taming of the Shew, the confident Petruchio tries to tame Katharina, the supposed shrew. After being deprived of food and sleep, Katharina is finally "tamed" and bends to Petruchio's will.

The Taming of the Shrew summary key points:

  • Lucentio and his servant Tranio travel to Padua where they encounter Baptista and his daughters, Katharina and Bianca. Bianca has many suitors but Baptista insists on first marrying off the aggressively assertive Katharina.

  • Lucentio falls in love with Bianca and trades clothes with his servant so that he can woo Bianca under the guise of a tutor.

  • Petruchio decides he wishes to marry the wealthy Katharina and help his friend Hortensio, who wishes to marry Bianca. Hortensio disguises himself as a tutor to woo Bianca.

  • Petruchio marries Katharina and bends her to his will by a scheme that deprives her of food and sleep.

  • Lucentio woos Bianca and the two marry secretly. Hortensio marries a rich widow.

  • In a contest to determine the most obedient wife, Katharina wins. She has been tamed by Petruchio.


Summary of the Play

The principal five acts of the play are preceded by an Induction. Thus the five acts really compose a play-within-a-play, a Shakespearean device. In the Induction, a nobleman out for a laugh puts a drunken tinker and vagrant, Christopher Sly, into bed. He awakens to find a woman calling herself his wife. The wife, who is really the lord’s page dressed as a woman, claims that Sly is a lord. Sly wants his wife to join him in his bed, but she puts him off by asking him to watch a play performed by a newly arrived theater company.

In the central play itself, Lucentio, a young man from Pisa, arrives in Padua to attend its famous university. He quickly becomes enamored of the fair Bianca, who is also pursued by two other men, Gremio and Hortensio.

Bianca’s father, Baptista, will not give away his younger daughter before the elder Katharina—the shrew—is wedded, so Hortensio arranges for his friend the surly Petruchio to woo Katharina. Meanwhile, Lucentio disguises himself as one “Cambio,” a teacher of Latin, in order to woo Bianca. His servant, Tranio, arrives dressed as his master to bargain with Baptista for Bianca’s hand in marriage. Hortensio also comes to woo Bianca disguised as the musician Litio. Bianca favors the younger of the two, and secretly promises to marry Lucentio.

Petruchio makes his suit to Katharina, who vehemently rejects him. Petruchio uses clever repartee to trick Kate into agreeing to marry him. When Petruchio returns to Padua a few days later to wed Kate, he appears slovenly and vulgar. After running out on his own wedding banquet, Petruchio takes Kate to his home in nearby Verona. He subjects her to humiliation by not allowing her to eat, sleep, or wear proper clothing for her visit back home. Gradually, Kate submits to this form of “taming.” She swears that the sun shines even though it is night, just to please her new husband.

Meanwhile, to secure his marriage with Bianca, Lucentio disguises a pedant as his father. But Vincentio, Lucentio’s real father, interrupts the proceedings. After some dispute, father and son are reconciled, and Vincentio consents to the marriage.

Petruchio and Kate return to Padua to attend the wedding banquet of Lucentio and Bianca. Hortensio and his new wife, the widow, are also present. In order to show how masterfully he has tamed his shrew, Petruchio sets up a wager among the grooms to find out whose bride will obey most readily. Each man must call on his wife to attend him.

When summoned, the widow and Bianca both spurn their masters. Kate immediately appears and also brings out the other two wives. Kate then proceeds to harangue the two stubborn women for neglecting their masters. All of the venom that Kate had once used upon her suitors is now turned against the widow and Bianca. All concede that Petruchio has successfully tamed his shrew.

Estimated Reading Time
Readers will be happy to find that The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s most enjoyable and easy-to-read plays. Allow anywhere from three to four hours to read through this comedy. Readers may want to slow down for the details of character switching and disguises. Selecting an edition with good footnotes to the text is always a good policy. Possible choices are the Riverside and Bevington editions or those published by the Oxford, Cambridge and Methuen (Arden Shakespeare) presses. Readers will note that some lines are in Latin. Although most of these lines have no direct bearing on the play, some students might wish to understand why Shakespeare chose to quote the Latin author Ovid. There are also many references to mythological persons in The Taming of the Shrew, as in most Shakespearean plays. Again, a footnoted text will help the reader ponder what Shakespeare intends by comparing characters to certain legendary heroes or victims.

Students may also want to view the most recent American film version of The Taming of the Shrew, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Beware, however, that all available film versions leave out the Induction.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

As a joke, a beggar is carried, while asleep, to the house of a noble lord and there dressed in fine clothes and waited on by many servants. The beggar is told that he is a rich man who, in a demented state, has imagined himself to be a beggar, but who is now restored to his senses. The lord and his court have great sport with the poor fellow, to the extent of dressing a page to pose as the beggar’s rich and beautiful wife and presenting the supposed woman to him as his dutiful and obedient spouse. The beggar, in his stupidity, assumes his new role as though it were his own, and he and his lady settle down to watch a play prepared for their enjoyment.

Lucentio, a young man, and Tranio, his servant, have journeyed to Padua so that Lucentio can study in that ancient city. Tranio persuades his master that life is not all study and work and that he should find pleasures also in his new residence. On their arrival in the city, Lucentio and Tranio encounter Baptista and his daughters, Katharina and Bianca. These three are accompanied by Gremio and Hortensio, young gentlemen both in love with gentle Bianca. Baptista, however, will not permit his younger daughter to marry until someone takes Katharina off his hands. Although Katharina is wealthy and beautiful, she is such a shrew that no suitor will have her. Baptista, not knowing how to control his sharp-tongued daughter, announces that Gremio or Hortensio must find a husband for Katharina before either can woo Bianca. He charges them also to find tutors for the two girls, that they might be skilled in music and poetry.

Unobserved, Lucentio and Tranio witness this scene. At first sight, Lucentio also falls in love with Bianca, and he determines to have her for himself. His first act is to exchange clothes with Tranio, so that the servant appears to be the master. Lucentio then disguises himself as a tutor in order to woo Bianca without her father’s knowledge.

About the same time, Petruchio arrives in Padua. He is a rich and noble man of Verona, come to Padua to visit his friend Hortensio and to find for himself a rich wife. Hortensio tells Petruchio of his love for Bianca and of her father’s decree that she cannot marry until a husband is found for Katharina. Petruchio declares that the stories told about spirited Katharina are to his liking, particularly the account of her great wealth, and he expresses a desire to meet her. Hortensio proposes that Petruchio seek Katharina’s father and present his family’s name and history. Hortensio, meanwhile, plans to disguise himself as a tutor and thus plead his own cause with Bianca.

The situation grows confused. Lucentio is disguised as a tutor, and his servant, Tranio, is dressed as Lucentio. Hortensio is also disguised as a tutor. Petruchio is to ask for Katharina’s hand. Also, unknown to anyone but Katharina and Bianca, Bianca loves neither Gremio nor Hortensio and swears that she will never marry rather than accept one or the other as her husband.

Petruchio easily secures Baptista’s permission to marry his daughter Katharina, for the poor man is only too glad to have his older daughter finally wed. The courtship of Petruchio and Katharina is a strange one indeed, a battle of wits, words, and wills. Petruchio is determined to bend Katharina to his will, but Katharina scorns and berates him with a vicious tongue. Nevertheless, she has to obey her father’s wish and marry Petruchio, and the nuptial day is set. Then Gremio and Tranio, the latter still believed to be Lucentio, vie with each other for Baptista’s permission to marry Bianca. Tranio wins because he claims more gold and vaster lands than Gremio can declare. In the meantime, Hortensio and Lucentio, both disguised as tutors, woo Bianca.

As part of the process by which he seeks to tame Katharina, Petruchio arrives late for his wedding, and when he does appear he wears old and tattered clothes. Even during the wedding ceremony Petruchio acts like a madman, stamping, swearing, and cuffing the priest. Immediately afterward he drags Katharina away from the wedding feast and takes her to his country home, there to continue his scheme to bend her to his will. He gives her no food and no time for sleep, all the while pretending that nothing he has is good enough for her. In fact, he all but kills her with kindness. Before he is through, Katharina agrees that the moon is the sun and that an old man is a woman.

Bianca falls in love with Lucentio, whom she thinks to be her tutor. In chagrin, Hortensio throws off his disguise, and he and Gremio forswear their love for any woman so fickle. Tranio, still hoping to win Bianca for himself, finds an old pedant to act the part of Vincentio, Lucentio’s father. The false father argues his son’s cause with Baptista until that lover of gold promises his daughter’s hand to Lucentio, as he thinks, but in reality to Tranio. When Lucentio’s true father appears on the scene, he is considered an impostor and is almost put in jail for his deceit. The real Lucentio and Bianca, meanwhile, have been married secretly. Returning from the church with his bride, Lucentio reveals the whole plot to Baptista and the others. At first Baptista is angry about the way in which he has been duped, but Vincentio speaks soothingly to him and soon cools his rage.

Hortensio, in the meantime, has married a rich widow. To celebrate these weddings, Lucentio gives a feast for all the couples and the fathers. Following the feast, after the ladies have retired, the three newly married men enter into a bet: Each wagers one hundred pounds that, of the three new wives, his own wife will most quickly obey his commands. Lucentio sends first for Bianca, but she sends word that she will not come. Then Hortensio sends for his wife, but she too refuses to obey his summons. Petruchio then orders Katharina to appear, and she comes instantly to do his bidding. At his request, she also forces Bianca and Hortensio’s wife to go to their husbands. Baptista is so delighted with his older daughter’s meekness and willing submission that he adds another twenty thousand crowns to her dowry. Katharina tells them all that a wife should live only to serve her husband and that a woman’s heart and tongue ought to be as soft as her body. Petruchio has tamed the shrew forever.