Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1064
In Baptista’s home, the two disguised suitors, Lucentio and Hortensio, compete for Bianca’s attention. Lucentio asks Hortensio to go away to tune his instrument, and Bianca seconds him.
Lucentio reads an excerpt from Ovid’s Heroides to Bianca. He tells her, in between lines of Latin poetry and in place of a translation, that he intends to court her. Bianca plays coy and does not reject Lucentio outright.
Hortensio returns and Bianca sends him off again, saying that his treble strings jar the harmony. Hortensio returns shortly, and hands Bianca a love note, hastily encoded in musical terminology, which she reads but rejects.
A servant interrupts the lessons to tell Bianca to go to her elder sister, who must prepare for the upcoming wedding. Bianca excuses herself from her “lessons” and departs, leaving Lucentio with Hortensio. Lucentio exits immediately, and Hortensio soliloquizes that Bianca has cast too loving a glance upon the schoolmaster. Hortensio becomes indignant that she could fall for such a common man as he seems, and decides not to pursue his courtship of Bianca.
Act III, Scene ii begins on Katharina’s wedding day. When Petruchio has not yet arrived, Baptista laments that he and his daughter will be stood up. Katharina is understandly distraught as well. Tranio tries to console and reassure them, but Katharina
Biondello announces that he sees Petruchio coming—dressed in old attire and mounted on a broken and sick horse. After some buffoonery between the servant and Baptista, Petruchio finally arrives. Both Baptista and Tranio ridicule Petruchio for coming to his own wedding dressed as a common vagrant, and they advise him to change clothing immediately. Petruchio spurns them and goes off in search of a kiss from his bride.
Tranio reassures Lucentio in private that they will be able to find an old man to assume the role of his father, Vicentio.
Gremio comes out to tell what has occurred during the wedding service. He calls Petruchio a devil, compared to whom Kate seems a lamb. Gremio also reports that Petruchio struck the priest during the service, and gave Katharina a kiss which pealed loudly through the church.
Petruchio and the wedding entourage appear from the church. The groom declares that he must leave Padua immediately. All entreat him to stay, but he refuses. Even Katharina cannot entice Petruchio to attend his own wedding banquet. She finally becomes irascible, saying that she will stay in Padua even if he leaves. This challenge to his domestic authority fires Petruchio into a rage, and he proceeds to harangue Kate and the rest about a wife’s duty to obey her husband. He also maintains that wives are the property of the heads of household.
Having finished his speech, Petruchio intimates that the other men want to steal his Katharine away from him. He then draws his sword, grabs Kate, and departs with his servant, Grumio. The rest marvel. Baptista asks the guests to take their places at the table and to enjoy the banquet.
Act III, Scene i is a short scene which breaks up the long course of the last act, which is comprised of only one scene. Unlike the previous scene’s competitive verbal combat, this scene pits two
lovers against one another for comic effect. Both lovers appear somewhat ridiculous as they try to make their intentions known to Bianca, who is hardly caught off guard by their disguises. The
beloved here shows herself more in control than either suitor. She asserts her will by dismissing Hortensio and checking the ambition of Lucentio.
The reader may wonder why Shakespeare has chosen to include lines from Ovid’s Heroides (Heroines) rather than from the more popular Metamorphoses, The Art of Love, or Amores (Love Affairs). The Heroides was more popular in Chaucer’s day, as his numerous references to the work reflect. The lines here are from Penelope’s letter to Ulysses, the first epistle in Ovid’s collection. Penelope reports a description of Troy, a place she of course has never seen, for she is still at home in Ithaca awaiting the return of her husband. Perhaps there is a far-off allusion to Helen, the face, as Marlowe puts it in Dr. Faustus, that “launched a thousand ships.” If not, then presumably Shakespeare refers to Ovid’s heroines in order to emphasize through association Bianca’s strength of character and craftiness.
Bianca rejects Hortensio’s overture hastily, though it seems arranged no more sloppily than Lucentio’s. Bianca, therefore, appears capricious. Hortensio’s comments in soliloquy to underscore this point, though clearly his perception of Bianca is conflicted by his interest in her.
In Act III, Scene ii, Petruchio employs a new strategy in his attempt to tame his shrewish wife. Before he had flattered Kate, but now he humiliates her by arriving late to his own wedding and coming underdressed and ill-equipped. Baptista accuses Petruchio of dressing below his station, and shaming both himself and Baptista’s honor. To answer his accusation, Petruchio quickly invents a reason for his deportment, stating emphatically, “To me she’s married not unto my clothes” (116). The line ironically reminds the audience that everyone on the stage is an actor.
Later, this theatrical motif recurs when Petruchio declares that Katherina is “my house,/My household stuff, my field, my barn,/My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing” (229-31). At first glance, these lines seem hyperbolically patriarchal and chauvinistic, yet a savvy reader will notice the allusions to the ribald poet Richard Barnfield, who wrote love poetry about male-male sexual encounters among the English nobility. A crossdressed boy, performs the part of Kate and the modern reader may well have guessed what historical research has found to be true about Elizabethan male sexuality—boys were taken for sexual objects by adult men. If such a fact is astonishing, one has only to recall a similar practice among the ancient Greeks.
Tranio, who is of course disguised as Lucentio, acknowledges the effectiveness of Petruchio’s dressing down when he confesses, “He has some meaning in his mad attire” (123).
The reader will notice the chiasmus used in Gremio’s speech for comic effect (163). The device allows Gremio to narrate three times the farcical event of the Bible and priest tumbling to the floor; here the repetition renders a comic moment all the more absurd.
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