Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1187
Petruchio—a forceful man who intends to marry for money
Grumio—Petruchio’s patient servant
Petruchio arrives in Padua from his hometown of Verona. His father, Antonio, has just died. Petruchio plans to take a wife in Padua and to visit his old friends. In front of the home of his friend Hortensio, Petruchio orders the elderly servant Grumio to knock on the door for him. But Grumio misunderstands, and a scuffle ensues. The clamor brings out Hortensio, who recognizes his old friend and invites the pair in.
Having heard Petruchio’s plan “to wive and thrive” wealthily in Padua, Hortensio mentions Baptista’s daughter Katharina. He entices Petruchio with her rich dowry. Petruchio takes immediate interest in Katharina’s dowry and puts off any talk of being afraid of her sharp tongue. Petruchio reminds Hortensio of the weight of gold on one’s preferences. Grumio, speaking from experience, gives Petruchio a vote of confidence.
Hortensio then divulges his plan to woo Bianca covertly, as a schoolmaster of music. At this moment, Gremio enters with Lucentio dressed as a schoolmaster. Gremio instructs Lucentio privately to speak to Bianca on his behalf, and to read only the books of love poetry which are on the list he then gives to Lucentio. Lucentio promises to plead to Bianca in private on Gremio’s behalf.
Hortensio tries to interrupt the pair, and Gremio reveals to Hortensio only that he intends to provide schooling in poetry to Bianca. Hortensio explains their good fortune in finding Petruchio to marry Kate so that they may both court Bianca. Gremio dismisses the match, but Petruchio assures him that if he has been able to withstand fierce battles and raging seas, he can easily tolerate one woman’s mouth. Hortensio enlists Gremio’s aid to pull off the match.
Tranio, dressed as Lucentio, enters with Biondello as his servant. When Tranio asks for directions to Baptista Minola’s home, the other men become worried that he intends to court the object of their affections. Tranio declares his wish to court Bianca. He calms the passions of Gremio and Hortensio by reminding them that the right man will always win his bride.
Once the men establish that Tranio seeks the younger daughter, whom he has never seen, Hortensio reveals their conspiracy to help Petruchio marry Kate first so that they will all have access to Bianca. Tranio agrees to the conspiracy, and Hortensio offers to introduce Petruchio to Baptista.
This scene establishes the characters of the men who will set the terms for courting the two sisters, Katharina and Bianca. Petruchio will court Kate openly, and the other men will resort to surreptitious means to gain access to Bianca. The fact that they must rely on Petruchio to clear the way to Bianca only reinforces the idea that these men cannot court a woman on their own or by “honest” means. Gremio, Hortensio, and Lucentio have each plotted a way to woo Bianca in secret, out of the reach of the restrictive father, Baptista. To what extent dressing up as a schoolmaster demeans a man of wealth such as Lucentio remains a question.
Petruchio comes to Padua partly to visit with his friends but mostly to find a wealthy wife. He is quite honest about his intentions to marry a woman for her money. When Hortensio cautions Petruchio about Katharina’s ability to scold, Petruchio chastizes him that he has forgotten “gold’s effect,” that is, the way money can entice one to forget shortcomings and to see only the pleasure it can buy. Petruchio even lists several women, famous for their lack of beauty, who would be tolerable given the right incentive. One woman, Florentius’ wife, is not even named, so trivial is she. She was well-known, nonetheless, to readers in Shakespeare’s time as the lady who is transformed into a beautiful woman in Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath’s Tale and also in Gower’s Confessio Amantis. This allusion foreshadows Katharina’s own transformation at the end of the play.
Hortensio’s disingenuousness is remarkably evident in this scene. Hortensio claims to have mentioned Katharina as a jest, but Petruchio’s offer to marry her is clearly a dream come true. The other suitors, Gremio and Tranio (who pretends to be Lucentio), are similarly overjoyed at the offer, and they agree to help speed Petruchio’s courtship of Kate in any way they can. This conspiracy sets the stage for the abduction, rather than the courtship, of Kate.
Grumio, Petruchio’s servant, has real faith in Petruchio’s ability to marry “Katharine the curst.” This epithet may in fact be a reminder of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catharine “the First” (there has been no second), who bitterly opposed the monarch’s plan to reform the Church by replacing the Catholic Church with the Church of England. Grumio claims that Petruchio will “rail in his rope-tricks...he will throw a figure in her face and so disfigure her with it that she shall have no more eyes to see withal than a cat.” His words, though difficult to construe at first, actually foreshadow the play’s action. Grumio envisions Petruchio tying up Katharina so that she will have to do what he says, while he flashes verbal tricks in her face. In other words, Grumio knows Petruchio to be a rhetorical genius.
There was evidence of such verbal virtuosity at the scene’s opening. When Petruchio asks, “Knock me here soundly,” he intends that Grumio should knock for him on Hortensio’s door. Grumio takes Petruchio literally to mean “Knock here on my head hard,” which a servant should never do to his master. To Grumio, this playing with the literalness and figurativeness of words makes Petruchio an excellent verbal craftsman. While Grumio is perhaps not too believable, he is credible on this point.
Petruchio announces that he knows how to court a woman properly, especially a shrew. He does not mean to woo her in the traditional sense. Instead, he plans an assault: “I will board her, though she chide as loud/As thunder when the clouds in autumn crack.” The literal sense here is sexually vulgar, and it may be intended; but the figurative sense of boarding, as in boarding a ship, is also suggestive of the way he means to capture Katharina. He will not wait to be invited. He must seize the day by seizing the woman.
Ignoring Gremio’s pessimism that “such a life with such a wife were strange,” Petruchio boasts that he has done things far more difficult, and manly, than taming a shrew. Displaying some of his rhetorical genius for the first time, Petruchio spontaneously composes a speech to insist that Katharina will be easy prey for him: “Have I not in a pitched battle heard/Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets’ clang?/And do you tell me of a woman’s tongue...?” Finally, Petruchio puts aside rhetoric altogether: “To what end are all these words?” Petruchio clearly means to take Katharina by force, not by guile or verbal persuasion.
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