The Taming of the Shrew Summary
by William Shakespeare

The Taming of the Shrew book cover
Start Your Free Trial

The Taming of the Shrew Summary

The Taming of the Shrew is a play by William Shakespeare in which the wealthy Molina sisters become embroiled in romantic conflicts.

  • Bianca Molina has many suitors, but her father insists that her shrewish older sister Katherine marry first.
  • Lucentio trades clothes with his servant so he can woo Bianca directly by posing as a tutor.
  • Petruchio marries Katherine in hopes of helping his friend Hortensio marry Bianca. He attempts to make Katherine obedient by depriving her of food and sleep.
  • Lucentio and Bianca marry secretly. Hortensio marries a rich widow.
  • Katherine wins a contest to determine the most obedient wife, having been tamed by Petruchio.

Summary

Written between 1590 and 1592, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy about the unconventional marriage between Petruchio and Katherine. Disreputable Petruchio is paid to woo cantankerous Katherine so that her younger sister, Bianca, is eligible for marriage. Through a series of cruel psychological games, Petruchio attempts to tame the shrewish Katherine into becoming a model wife. Though presented as a comedy, The Taming of the Shrew is a controversial play for modern audiences. Some view it as a relic of antiquated gender roles, while others view it as a quirky love story between two stubborn, strong-willed characters.

Download The Taming of the Shrew Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Induction

The induction takes place before the first act of the play. It is cut from many performances as it has little bearing on the rest of the play. The induction introduces Christopher Sly, a drunken beggar. Sly falls asleep in a local tavern just as a great lord comes back from his hunt. The lord and his men decide to play a prank on Sly: they will pretend that Sly is a great lord who lost his mind. They move the beggar to the lord’s chambers and hire a traveling band of actors to perform a play for Sly when he wakes up. The Taming of the Shrew is the play that the actors perform.

Act I

Act I opens as Lucentio and his servant, Tranio, arrive in Padua. Lucentio, a merchant’s son, has come to Padua to study philosophy. As they discuss Lucentio’s studies, Baptista and his two daughters, Bianca and Katherine, enter and are followed by two of Bianca’s suitors, Gremio and Hortensio. The two suitors long to marry Bianca, but Baptista refuses to marry off his younger daughter until the elder, Katherine, is wed. Neither man wants to take on this challenge as Katherine is notoriously ill-tempered. As Lucentio and Tranio watch the argument unfold, Lucentio finds himself enamored with Bianca’s mild modesty. He convinces Tranio to switch clothes with him so that he can pretend to be a school teacher and woo Bianca in disguise. Tranio agrees to the plan, as he is bound by his love for Lucentio and a promise to Lucentio’s father to be obedient.

Meanwhile, Petruchio and his servant Grumio arrive in Padua to visit Petruchio’s friend Hortensio. Petruchio tells Hortensio that he left Verona after his father died and is in search of a wife. Hortensio proposes that Petruchio should marry Katherine. He argues that even though Katherine is ill-tempered, she is very rich. Petruchio agrees to this plan, since his main motivation is to marry a rich woman to obtain wealth. He claims not to care how horrible Katharine is as long as he can marry into money. He also agrees to help Hortensio disguise himself as Litio, a music teacher, so that he can secretly woo Bianca. Gremio and Lucentio, who is now disguised as Cambio the language teacher, enter. Hortensio tells Gremio about his plan to have Petruchio marry Katherine, and the men all agree that it is a good plan. Finally, Tranio enters, disguised as Lucentio, and asks the way to Baptista’s house. He is pretending to be a suitor to Bianca in order to distract Baptista from the real Lucentio’s deception.

Act II

As act II begins, Katherine binds Bianca’s hands and torments her about her suitors. Assuming Katherine is jealous, Bianca agrees to give Katherine any suitor that she wishes to have. Katherine...

(The entire section is 3,449 words.)