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, Scenes 3 and 4 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1476

In Act IV, Scene iii, Grumio talks with Katharina after a night of terror. We learn from their conversation that Petruchio has fulfilled his plan not to allow his bride any sleep on her wedding night, supposedly “all in the name of perfect love” (12). The scene begins, however, with Grumio denying Kate’s request for food. Grumio either believes Petruchio when he claims that certain foods are too choleric for fierce people like Kate, or Grumio is in on the scheme, as he dismisses any food Kate mentions as being too hot or choleric for her temperament. In either case, Grumio sadistically teases Kate by offering, then rejecting, certain foods.

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Petruchio enters along with Hortensio, and tantalizes Kate with a real piece of food. Petruchio uses Kate’s silence at this point to give the meat to Hortensio, stating that Kate has not thanked him for his kind offer. Clearly, Kate did not believe he would ever give it to her.

A tailor and haberdasher enter with a gown and cap respectively. When Petruchio rejects the cap, Kate defies him and declares that the cap suits the current fashion. Petruchio maintains his position, and an enraged Kate starts to launch a harangue against Petruchio. He cuts her off, ignores what she has said, and pretends that Katharina has agreed with him.

Petruchio rejects the tailor’s gown in a similar manner, but this time he argues with the tailor not Kate. In fact, when Kate charges Petruchio with making a puppet of her, he displaces the blame onto the tailor. Petruchio finally dismisses the tailor, but sends Hortensio to pay him for his trouble. Petruchio justifies his action by telling Kate that they must appear humble before her father.

Petruchio announces his plans for departure, but Kate points out that he has mistaken the time of day in his calculations. Petruchio becomes indignant and refuses to leave until his calculations are accepted and demonstrated.

In Act IV, Scene iv, Tranio and the pedant arrive at Baptista’s to perform the act of consent. The pedant worries, however, that Baptista may recognize him from their meeting some twenty years ago.
Baptista greets them and Tranio hastily asks for his “father’s” consent to marry Bianca. The pedant feigns a more graceful approach to the business of their union and his consent, but speedily gives his consent anyway.

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Baptista urges them to proceed more cautiously, since the dowry arrangements have not yet been made. He asks that they not discuss these matters at his house for fear of eavesdroppers, such as Gremio. Tranio suggests that they transact their negotiations at his lodging where his father is staying.

At this point, Baptista sends Lucentio off to inform Bianca of their dealings and to get her ready to greet her fiancé formally. Tranio, Baptista, and the pedant leave for dinner. Biondello appears while Lucentio is still on stage, and alerts Lucentio to Tranio’s presumed plans. Biondello implies that Lucentio must marry Bianca before they hold the binding church ceremony. Lucentio leaves to fetch Bianca.

Act IV, Scene iii shows a darker side to Petruchio and Grumio, who at this point seems to be collaborating with his master; Grumio certainly follows Petruchio’s lead, in any case. Given Kate’s admission that she has never had to ask for anything in her life (7-8), Petruchio’s method seems fitted to the task of disciplining a spoiled person.

With the cap incident, Petruchio specifies how Kate will have to act in order to get what she wants—she will have to be gentle (71). Here Petruchio puns on the double sense of “gentle,” which can mean either mild or noble. He suggests, then, that Kate’s lack of mildness undermines the honor of her bourgeois origins. For an Elizabethan audience attuned to self-conscious theatrical signals, Petruchio’s gesture signals that many of the players on stage are dressing above their station when they perform.

This metatheatrical signal is repeated when Grumio mistakes Petruchio’s meaning in the statement, “the gown is not for me” (151). Grumio absurdly thinks that Petruchio had thought that the gown was for him to wear. This idea recalls the situation involving Bartholomew in the Induction and reminds an Elizabethan audience that every “woman” on the stage is a crossdressed boy.

Bringing attention to the common Shakespearean theme of the falsity of mere appearances, Petruchio decides that the couple will return to Padua in humble clothing. Petruchio’s attitude toward the world of appearances, however, is not necessarily negative. As he tried to create a new reality with his novel descriptions by flattering Kate in the wooing scene, so Petruchio insists here that the time will be whatever he declares it to be. Furthermore, the gown which he has meticulously ordered no longer suits his pleasure. He will not allow Kate to cross his will no matter how mad it may seem. This attitude leads Kate to reflect accurately that Petruchio “mean[s] to make a puppet” of her (103). Indeed, just as in the wooing scene, Petruchio sometimes ignores anything negative coming from Kate and seems to hear only what he wishes her to say. He appears on his way to fashioning a model wife, in both senses of the word—namely, a wife who will prove an example to others, and a wife who is more puppet than a person.

Act IV, Scene iv is a short scene which develops the subplot of the dual set of marriage preparations. Not only must Tranio arrange to marry Bianca publicly, but Lucentio needs to wed Bianca in secret before the binding public ceremony. Otherwise, the audience is left to assume, the servant will be lawfully married to Bianca, leaving the aspiring Lucentio out in the cold.

The terms Biondello uses to describe the elopement are not flattering to Bianca, or to women. He refers to Bianca metaphorically as a book to which his master must gain the rights before it goes into publication; otherwise, any man whatsoever will still be able to claim her as his own. By marrying Bianca in secret, any subsequent marriage would only be a “counterfeit” and, therefore, worthless. This metaphor, which compares women to books (or, more accurately, manuscripts), has a long and sordid history. No matter what its ugly permutations, the metaphor equates men with an active principle and women with a receptive, inactive one. To expand this version of the metaphor, the woman is the parchment upon which the active male writes his story.

In order to ensure that a story is not changed or copied by a rival, the writer must seek a copyright. Books, of course, had only recently become available in England. Caxton had brought his printing press to England and printed the first book in English around 1474. Problems of publication and authenticity were still cause for considerable anxiety, as the history of this text attests (see the Theatrical Background section of the Introduction). Identifying authorship of manuscripts before books became commonplace was even more difficult as many works were kept anonymous during the Middle Ages. It was customary for several writers to inscribe annotations on a single page of parchment (or vellum) while what we think of as the text occupied less than half of the page’s space, and often became obscured.

Biondello changes the metaphor slightly by referring to Bianca as Lucentio’s “appendix”, that is, the tail end of the book. The comparison recalls two moments in the play where Petruchio has been describing the relation he wants to have with Kate. First, Petruchio had joked lewdly of having his tongue in Kate’s tail, where she had imagined the sting (of her tale) to be hidden (II,i,210-18). Later, Petruchio had declared that his wife should be his “ass,” his “anything” (IV,i,231). The appendix metaphor, despite its association with a code necessary to interpret the book itself, does not, therefore, show the wife in a favorable light. The careful reader of Elizabethan English will note here that “appendix” sounds suspiciously like “apprentice,” and that this verbal variation recalls the fact that boy actors were apprenticed to theatrical companies whereas veterans, such as Richard Burbage, received wages.

Baptista has been easily duped by Tranio and Lucentio. His comment that Bianca and Tranio love each other well, “Or both dissemble deeply their affections” (42), shows ironically how far he has been deceived. In another moment of poignant irony, Biondello characterizes the disguised pedant and Tranio as the “deceiving father of a deceitful son” (82-83). He makes this remark to Lucentio at his expense, for Lucentio is truly the son who is deceiving not only his real father, but also his father-in-law-to-be who, at least according to Lucentio’s plan, will never know that he has married Bianca to the schoolmaster and not to Tranio.

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