Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1422
Curtis: servant of Petruchio who speaks with Grumio
Nathaniel, Philip, Nicholas, Peter: servants of Petruchio
Pedant: a traveler whom Tranio tricks into playing the role of Vincentio
In Act IV, Scene i, Grumio arrives at Petruchio’s country home ahead of his master and new mistress to prepare for their reception and, above all, to start a fire to warm the travellers after their chilling journey. He meets Curtis, a fellow servant, who asks whether Katharina is the shrew she is reported to be. Grumio responds that once she was, but that the cold journey has temporarily tamed her.
After some verbal scuffling with Curtis, Grumio reports that Katharina fell into the mud, that Petruchio started to beat him for this nuisance, and that Kate had to intervene to save him from Petruchio. Curtis acknowledges that Petruchio is more of a shrew than Katharina.
Petruchio arrives and scolds Grumio for not bringing the servants to meet him and Kate in a nearby park. Grumio claims that most of the servants were not equipped to meet them.
During Grumio’s explanation, a servant tries to offer water to Kate in order to help her wash up from the journey, but he spills the water. When Petruchio becomes enraged, Kate vainly intervenes to check his anger.
The servants finally bring out supper, but Petruchio claims that the mutton is burnt. Kate objects that the meal has been prepared properly and that the meat is edible. Still, Petruchio insists that burnt meat is bad for choleric tempers like theirs and must be sent back. Petruchio effectively starves Katharina on her first night in her new home.
When Kate has gone to her room in disappointment, Petruchio soliloquizes, revealing his plan to tame Kate by denying her food and sleep.
In Act IV, Scene ii, the courting continues back at Baptista’s home. Tranio attempts to dissuade Hortensio from wooing Bianca any further. He suggests that she has already chosen the schoolmaster Cambio. Hortensio agrees, pointing out Bianca’s favoritism while eavesdropping on Lucentio and Bianca, who have all but dropped the pretense of poetry lessons.
When Tranio feigns indignation, Hortensio reveals his true identity. The pair forswear Bianca, and Hortensio states that he will pursue a wealthy widow instead.
Hortensio leaves, and Tranio calls to Bianca and Lucentio, who rejoice that Hortensio is now out of the picture. Tranio jokes that Hortensio has gone to taming school. Bianca questions the existence of such a thing, and Tranio responds that Petruchio is the master of one.
Biondello interrupts their felicitations to report that he has seen an old traveler who might fit the part of Vincentio and consent to Lucentio’s marriage before Bianca’s father. Tranio convinces Lucentio that he will be able to persuade the pedant, by means of a ruse, to assume the identity of Lucentio’s father.
Tranio encounters the pedant alone and delivers his story. He says that if the authorities catch the pedant in Padua, they will execute him. The pedant is from Mantua, and the dukes of Padua and Mantua are quarreling. Tranio suggests that the pedant take on the identity of “his” father, Vincentio. The pedant agrees. Tranio further stipulates that he will have to pretend to consent to Tranio’s marriage.
Although he appears idiotic, Grumio may in fact demonstrate some savvy in Act IV, Scene i by his report of Petruchio’s taming technique. He claims, for instance, that “winter tames man, woman and beast” (20), perhaps implying that Petruchio has kept Kate out in the cold in order to break her spirit before she arrives at her new home.
Grumio may not realize, however, the extent to which Petruchio relies upon maltreating him in order to win Kate’s support for her new household servants and thus her new living situation. For example, Grumio does not quite play along with Petruchio’s irascible behavior when Petruchio beats him for allowing Kate’s horse to fall in the mud, or when the servant spills water and receives a lashing.
Still, Shakespeare uses the figure of Grumio for clever comic effect. Note the classical rhetorical device at this point of the extended paraleipsis, also called occupatio (besieging an audience with details), wherein Grumio insists that he will not tell what happened on their trip but does so anyway (lines 64-75). This rhetorical device allows an orator to have it both ways, that is, to pester an audience with details it may not want to hear, and to claim to save an audience the displeasure of hearing them. A famous example of occupatio occurs in Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, lines 2919-66, where Chaucer masterfully extends one sentence over forty-seven lines. It is possible that Shakespeare’s idiotic Grumio owes something to Chaucer’s bumbling narrator.
The psychology Petruchio uses in this scene has the desired effect. If he wants Kate to adjust to her new home and feel that it belongs somehow to her, not just to Petruchio, then his strategy of castigating servants succeeds. Kate is tricked into defending servants whom she might have otherwise chastized herself.
As for nearly torturing Kate, Peter reports that this strategy merely mimics Kate’s own behavior toward others; he claims that Petruchio “kills her in her own humor” (168). In his soliloquy, Petruchio states the terms for his treatment of Kate: he will deal with her as if she were an animal. Using behavior modification psychology, Petruchio will try to reshape Kate’s attitude toward him. He compares her to a hawk which should fly off to hunt down animals or come at his call. The comparison seems strange here, but the metaphor carries great weight. The hawking metaphor here foreshadows the play’s final scene where Petruchio commands Kate to tear apart, figuratively speaking, the two women who will not obey their husbands. The reader will also recall the Lord in the Induction, who had just returned from hunting and was entertaining himself by molding Christopher Sly.
To remind the audience of the Induction at this point, the playwright has Curtis report that Kate responds to Petruchio’s treatment “as one new-risen from a dream” (174), a clear allusion to Christopher Sly.
Act IV, Scene ii is purely “connective,” or structural. It ties up loose ends and ensures the successful progress of the Lucentio-Bianca subplot.
Hortensio falls to Tranio’s original plan to discourage other suitors from competing with Lucentio for Bianca’s hand in marriage. In the process, Tranio exposes a trade secret of chauvinism when he exclaims, “Unconstant womankind” (14), a common misogynist charge, repeated anciently by Virgil in his Aeneid. In that instance, Mercury has been sent by Jupiter to persuade Aeneas to leave Dido (whom Lucentio referred to at I, i, 54), and claims, “varium et mutabile semper/ femina” (woman is ever capricious, 4.569-70). This patriarchal tactic of vilifying women is revealed through Tranio’s situation, for he himself, along with Hortensio and Lucentio, is in disguise and appears consummately variable.
This irony is heightened when Tranio invents a convoluted lie to persuade the pedant to pretend to be someone he is not. Both men are willing to employ dishonest means to achieve their ends, whether to help another person, as in the case of Tranio, or to save one’s skin, as in the case of the pedant.
It is not surprising at this point in the play that the schoolmaster Cambio mentions Ovid’s Art to Love (itself variously known as the Ars Amatoria and Ars Amandi). While his Metamorphoses, with its myths of legendary figures, may be a key subtext behind most of Shakespeare’s works, Ovid’s Art of Love (as it is now called) clearly informs this play. The Art of Love retells some of the stories from the Metamorphoses (such as that of Cephalus, the hunter, and his wife, Procris), but it also emphasizes the idea of fashioning behavior to achieve the desired result in amatory relations. This is a comic text, however, as the narrator/instructor sometimes gives advice that cannot possibly be followed. While knowledge of this work is not necessary to appreciate The Taming of the Shrew, any reader familiar with Ovid’s classic will see how Shakespeare playfully ridicules lovers in the same fashion as his ancient literary predecessor. Both authors put lovers in compromising situations to test them. Such tests are ludicrous to the audience, however, since it knows that this is just a play and that acting is the basic object anyway.
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