The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

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Act IV, Scene 5 Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Vincentio—Lucentio’s father, who arrives unexpectedly and foils his son’s plans to elope

Summary
Petruchio, Katharina, Hortensio, and some servants have set out for Padua to attend the wedding of Bianca and Tranio/Lucentio. On the way, Petruchio stops to test Kate’s willingness to accept his version of reality. Petruchio comments that the moon shines brightly, but Kate corrects him, saying it is the sun that shines. Petruchio commands that the moon, or some star, shall shine if he says it does before they continue their journey. Hortensio intervenes to warn Kate to let Petruchio have his way. Kate accedes, declaring that the time of day shall be whatever her husband deems but says so only to may move on.

Unsure that he has won the game, Petruchio tests her again, claiming first that the moon, then the sun, shines. Kate agrees in each instance and grants that the day shall be whatever her husband commands. Satisfied, Petruchio allows them to continue their journey.

The group immediately encounters the real Vincentio, an aged man. Petruchio uses this occasion to try Katharina’s patience once again. He hails Vincentio as a “gentle mistress,” and suggests that Kate do the same. In a speech memorable for its gifted exaggeration, Kate greets the elderly Vincentio as “Young budding virgen, fair and fresh and sweet.” Changing his tack, Petruchio contradicts Kate and signals her to apologize to Vincentio. Kate performs this minor task with the same alacrity and virtuosity of her previous speech to Vincentio.

The test having been settled to his satisfaction, Petruchio asks Vincentio where he is headed. Vincentio informs them that he is bound for Padua to visit his son Lucentio. Thinking of Tranio, Petruchio assures Vincentio that his son is well and about to be married to Bianca, Kate’s sister. The anticipated marriage will make Vincentio a kinsman, though not a blood relation, and Petruchio embraces him as such.

When Vincentio becomes outraged that his son has contracted to marry without his consent, Petruchio reassures him that the supposed Lucentio has made a noble match. Vincentio is still incredulous on account of Petruchio’s game with Kate which came at his own expense; Hortensio intervenes to affirm Petruchio’s story.

After everyone else has left the stage, Hortensio soliloquizes that he has learned how to tame his widow by Petruchio’s guiding example.

Analysis
This is the first scene that presents Kate as appearing to accept Petruchio’s view of reality, even if that means defying reality as she knows it. But this capitulation may not be entirely binding, for it seems to mainly allow Petruchio to believe what he wants. We have no way of knowing, in other words, what Kate is actually thinking or what she believes to be true. For example, when Petruchio rants that “It shall be moon, or star, or what [he] list” (7), this statement does not really entail much from Kate. She simply agrees with him, almost certainly without meaning it.

The audience may well ask what good this kind of performance serves. Is this really what men want from their wives, mere mimicry and mindless obedience? Or is there another reason behind Petruchio’s gestures? The play’s final scene will point to the importance of Kate’s public performance of her obedience to Petruchio. In this scene, Shakespeare spends no little effort putting beautiful, if overly ornate, speeches in Kate’s mouth, which she performs brilliantly before Vincentio. Is Petruchio bringing out the best in Kate precisely at the point where she gives in to his whims? Or has he forced her to deliver her best as a sort of survival technique?

In any event, the ambiguity presented by Kate’s gestures of capitulation, here as well as later in the play, has lead to much debate over what kind of slave Kate has become—whether she fully accepts her mental and physical domination, or whether she is merely playing along to suit her own purposes. The problem for...

(The entire section is 1,382 words.)