illustration of Kate and Petruchio standing and staring at one another

The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare
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Act IV, Scene 5 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1382

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

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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.

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Latest answer posted May 15, 2010, 10:47 am (UTC)

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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.

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 both points of view, obviously, is that the playwright leaves to the audience’s imagination to determine what Kate’s interests really are. We know what Petruchio wants. What does Kate want?

At this point in the analysis of the play, it must be noted that Shakespeare’s audience included a very large number of women. In Spain, on the other hand, women were either discouraged from attending the theater, or were kept separate from men in the audience. (Spain also banned women from acting between 1596 and 1600, and boy actors played the parts of women.) In other words, we should not assume that Shakespeare wrote exclusively for the male imagination. Whether a male playwright could understand the female imagination is not so much at issue, therefore, as is the question of how well he was able to depict or appeal to the concerns of women.

No matter how an audience reckons Kate’s attitude, she demonstrates her awareness of Petruchio’s game both in the way she develops flowery speech for Vincentio, and in the way she figures Petruchio metaphorically—”And the moon changes even as your mind” (20). In Renaissance symbolism, the moon represents woman, who borrows her strength from man just as the moon borrows its light from the sun. By comparing Petruchio to the moon, Kate equates Petruchio with a woman, and reveals her understanding of his tactics. By playing the part of the fickle woman, Petruchio is trying to beat women at their own game. Such a victory would make him the real master of his house, not simply master in name alone. It will be further noted that Elizabethans were quite anxious about domineering wives and weak husbands, as the relevant laws and ritual punishments reflect.

Hortensio reminds us of this kind of anxiety with his comment, “‘A will make the man mad, to make a woman of him.”(35) Preying upon this fear, Kate embellishes her greeting to Vincentio by referring to a potential male bedfellow for him. This idea dredges up all the tension in the audience occasioned by the act of crossdressing in the Induction. When countermanded, however, Kate alludes to the metaphor of the sun and moon again. This time, she assigns Petruchio to a man’s traditional place in the system: “Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,/That have been so bedazzled by the sun...”(44-45). Her comment is meant to be taken both literally and figuratively, and this demonstrates Kate’s own sophistication with language, second best only to Petruchio. The remark is construed literally to mean that Kate was momentarily blinded by the bright light of the day, so she saw an old man as a green one, or as a young girl. The switch in sex from old to young is plausible to a Renaissance mind, since notions of maleness and femaleness tended to be grouped with ideas of age: for example, a person is thought of as feminine until he reaches maturity and becomes a masculine man. Figuratively construed, Kate refers to herself as necessarily blinded by the demands of her husband, who is compared to the sun. Thus, Kate alerts the audience to the fact that she only says what Petruchio tells her to; she does not take him seriously at this point.

Hortensio makes a comparison of his own, which equates Kate with a field to be won or lost during a war. The metaphor assumes yet another, older one where the woman represents the fields that lie fallow until a man comes along to till them. Petruchio, not so happy with Hortensio’s completely banal comparison, suggests one from the game of bowling. A game metaphor is not so unusual if we recall his references to hawking, another pursuit for those with leisure. In his metaphor, it is assumed that Kate should not roll against the bias. Petruchio thus thinks of himself as the portion of a bowling ball which weights it, thereby influencing its path. It would be interesting to speculate here how Petruchio conceptualizes Kate, whether as an active bowler, or as a passive bowling pin, that is, as an obstacle. An answer would shed light on how much independence she possesses while she continues to take orders from her demanding husband.

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