illustration of Kate and Petruchio standing and staring at one another

The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare
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Act V, Scene 1 and 2 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2273

In Act V, Scene i, Gremio lurks in front of Lucentio’s house, but apparently does not see Lucentio, Bianca, or Biondello as they steal away to the church for the secret marriage ceremony. While Tranio and the pedant are still inside, Petruchio, Kate, and Vincentio reach Lucentio’s home and knock. Gremio comes out from hiding to inform them that they had best knock more loudly since those within are busy.

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The pedant appears at the window above the front door, and greets Vincentio in a hostile manner. After Petruchio announces that Lucentio’s father, Vincentio, has just arrived from Pisa and wants to see his son, the pedant calls him a liar and claims that he himself is Lucentio’s father. The pedant then demands that Vincentio be restrained and brought before the law.

Biondello approaches the house and realizes that his master’s plot will be ruined if the pedant is exposed as an imposter. Vincentio recognizes Biondello and orders him to come forward, but Biondello pretends that he has never met Vincentio before. When Biondello points to the pedant in the window as his master, Vincentio starts to beat him and he runs off stage. Petruchio moves himself and Kate out of the action to watch what will happen.

Tranio, still dressed up as his master, finally comes out of the house, to the consternation of Vincentio. He laments that Lucentio has wasted his money on his servant to furnish him with such rich apparel. Tranio announces his identity as a gentleman, and Vincentio reproaches him, claiming that his father was a sailmaker. Baptista tries to intervene and calm the rising confusion by asking Vincentio to identify Tranio. Vincentio declares it to be Tranio, and the pedant defends Tranio as Lucentio. This convinces Vincentio that Tranio has murdered his son and assumed his identity. Tranio is forced, therefore, to call for an officer to arrest Vincentio, because Tranio has been accused of murder.

The officer arrives, but Gremio steps in to defend Vincentio. However, since Gremio will not swear that Tranio is not Lucentio, Baptista asks that Vincentio be carried away to jail. At this point, Lucentio, Bianca, and Biondello appear to find Vincentio constrained by the constable. Biondello warns Lucentio not to give away their scheme. Then Tranio, Biondello, and the pedant run quickly off stage.

Lucentio kneels before his father to ask for pardon. Bianca does likewise before her own father. Lucentio reveals his identity to Baptista, then explains to his father how he planned to use Tranio to woo Bianca. Lucentio begs his father’s forgiveness for his deception and he assumes responsibility for the acts of Tranio and Biondello. Vincentio forgives him, but goes into the house to be avenged upon the two servants who would have him taken to jail.

Baptista, followed by Lucentio and Bianca, exits. Gremio is left behind to marvel that he has come up empty-handed. Once he goes in to the banquet, Kate and Petruchio are left on stage. Petruchio asks Kate for a kiss, but she admonishes him that such a thing would not be proper in public. Once Petruchio tells Grumio to pack up to return home, Kate cuts off their preparations and gives Petruchio a kiss in the street. Petruchio rejoices and they exit the stage.

In Act V, Scene ii, Lucentio gives a short speech to begin the wedding banquet at which Bianca, Baptista, Petruchio, Kate, Gremio, Hortensio, and his newly-wedded widow are all present. Petruchio grumbles that they must always sit down, and a conversation ensues, which is difficult to follow because of the frequent use of innuendo. The men banter somewhat separately from the women, but both groups engage in the same form of witty linguistic one-upmanship. One notable instance is a comment from the widow, who implies that Petruchio is a hypocrite for claiming that Hortensio is afraid of her. Petruchio lets her remark go by without chastising her, but Kate calls the widow on her charge by asking what she means by it. The widow tries to dodge Kate’s question, but when pressed again, the widow chooses to be frank.

With the widow’s claim of Katharina’s shrewishness now obvious to everyone, Petruchio instructs Kate to attack the widow verbally. Hortensio also exhorts his bride to do likewise. Petruchio and Hortensio then bet on their wives’ success in the contest.

Attention shifts suddenly to Baptista, who asks Gremio whether he is enjoying the conversation so far. His reply allows Bianca an opportunity to insinuate that he is a cuckhold. Seeing that Bianca has entered the fray, Petruchio announces to her that she too is fair game for their verbal sparring. Bianca puts his idea to rest by exiting. Kate and the widow follow.

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Without missing a beat, Petruchio puns on the fact that the women have walked away from the men in order to poke at Tranio and Gremio, the men who courted and missed their targets. Tranio compares himself to a greyhound who hunts for his master, and Petruchio first compliments, then sneers at his simile. Tranio, reemploying his metaphor, quips that Petruchio is thought to be held at bay by his new wife. The men chuckle at this, but Petruchio appears poised to humiliate them by questioning the obedience of their wives. Petruchio wagers that his wife is the most loyal; to prove it, he suggests that they call their wives to them in succession. Lucentio bets twenty crowns. Petruchio says that he would bet as much on an animal of his, but would stake twenty times more on his wife. Chagrined, Lucentio ups his bet to one hundred crowns. The men agree. Baptista offers to go in for half of Lucentio’s expense, but is refused.

Lucentio calls to Bianca first and is rejected. Hortensio makes the attempt, yet fares no better. Petruchio sends Biondello specifically to command Kate to return to him, and she obeys. The men are stunned except, of course, for Petruchio, who then orders Kate to bring out the widow and Bianca. At this point, Baptista exclaims that he now has a new daughter and offers Petruchio a second dowry of 20,000 crowns.

Petruchio orders Kate to doff her cap and crush it underfoot. She obeys, and the women complain of her treatment by Petruchio. Both Lucentio and Hortensio upbraid their wives for disobeying them and are met with haughty replies.

Petruchio then tells Kate to chastise each wife, starting with the widow, for treating their masters so rudely. In a tour de force of verbal showmanship, Kate explains at length why women must serve their husbands with a smile. She then drops to the ground and offers to take up her husband’s boot in her hands. Petruchio, presumably lifting Kate up from her kneeling posture, rejoices and kisses Kate in front of the others. The men marvel at Kate’s new behavior. Once Petruchio and Kate exit, the new husbands admire Petruchio’s taming of Kate once again.

In Act V, Scene i, the expected complication in the subplot reaches its climax with the arrival of the real father. Lucentio’s plan to marry Bianca, by having Tranio go through the public ceremony in his place, is exposed. This plot was not Shakespeare’s own invention, as the allusion to Gascoigne’s English version of Ariosto’s I Suppositi (Supposes) attests. Lucentio says that “counterfeit supposes” (meaning disguises, 110) have tricked the others into believing that Tranio was Lucentio. Lucentio seems to shift the blame away from himself, however, when he claims that “Love wrought these miracles” (116).

Some of the tension caused by dressing beyond one’s station is here at play as well. Note Vincentio’s reaction to Tranio’s clothing when he encounters him (60-65).

Once the stage has been cleared and only Petruchio, Kate, and Grumio remain, Petruchio tests Kate for the last time by asking her for a kiss in public. She protests but ultimately gives in. Petruchio celebrates his victory over her. He looks forward to the banquet where he will show off his hard work before the other men, who, he knows, will scrutinize Kate’s behavior toward her new husband.

This scene also employs a dramatic “cascade effect,” as characters leave the stage in a staggered order. This device suggests the complex nature of the plots that overlap here. Of course, the threater audience would also see Christopher Sly, who is presumably asleep up in his loft overlooking the main stage.

As one might expect, Act V, Scene ii serves as the focus of attention for those who are interested in gender relations in the Elizabethan period as represented in this play. Two points seem pressing here: why must Kate kneel and offer her hands for Petruchio’s boots; and why should Kate be made to argue for her own subservience to her husband?

Again, critical opinion splits over the question of Kate’s sincerity. Some people view Kate as thoroughly brainwashed and dominated by Petruchio. Others choose to believe that Kate is merely performing the role assigned to her, one she enacted before Vincentio. According to this view, she retains her own self respect and true identy since she does not believe in male supremacy.

At least two other interpretations of Kate’s position are possible. First, Kate may suggest that no real autonomy (or individual freedom) is possible anyway since every person alive is always already subject to a prince. According to this way of thinking, freedom becomes a relative term. No absolute independence, or autonomy, exists—even the prince is accountable to the people in some fashion. Another reading of this scene might claim that Kate is aware of her situation and has assessed that all women are outmatched by men because men are generally more shrewish than women. This reading is supported by Kate’s earlier comparisons of Petruchio with the moon, a lunatic, and so on.

Petruchio, for his part, anticipates that Kate may very well be playing her assigned role, for he forces her to crush her cap underfoot as a “sign of her obedience”(119). Ironically, however, he calls Kate’s efforts to bring the wives out from the parlor her “womanly persuasion”(122). This name begs the question of whose skill is being employed to command women.

A further irony stems from Kate’s argument that women’s bodies are unfit for labor or command:

Why are our bodies soft and weak and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts? (167-170)

An Elizabethan audience will recognize that while, on one level, Kate assumes that the body mirrors the condition of the mind, her subject matter, on another level, is ironic because Kate is really a boy dressed as a woman. Kate’s argument betrays her at this moment because her words about women’s bodies point ludricrously to a male’s body instead. It is not difficult to imagine the boy who plays Kate signalling this fact to the audience’s attention with a wry smile or some simple disclosing gesture.

The matter of cross-dressing aside, whatever our view of Kate’s sincerity, the audience will notice that she has uttered the longest speech in the play and earns the most acclaim for it. Her gift for witty repartee has apparently been transformed into the cautious gracefulness of a person who knows when to stay quiet and when to vent her spleen in a controlled way. Once she is judged to be tamed—something the audience can never quite know—Kate really appears to have mastered herself and to have harnessed the ability to create a compelling argument. This achievement puts into relief the lowly kind of repartee those around Kate enjoy rather frivolously. With this in mind, Kate appears serious and conscientious while the rest, including Petruchio, seem cheap and, at times, contemptible.

In this final scene, Bianca’s behavior seems to change, but the audience will find that she has played her part exquisitely all along. She has been more coy than shrewish, though this scene certainly questions the difference in motivation for each form of behavior. Clearly, Shakespeare paints Bianca in this scene as a kind of tramp. Note, for instance, how quick she is to call Gremio a cuckhold then tell the men that they are “welcome all” (48) when they mean to hunt her with verbal assault. This comment portrays her as teasing the men whom she enjoys luring.

The matter of the wager, as was remarked earlier, recalls the story of Lucretia,whose husband eagerly bets on her chastity and dutifulness. In that apocryphal story, told first by Livy in his history of early Rome, all of the wives except for Lucretia have been found lacking in duty to their husbands. One of those unfortunate husbands, Sextus Tarquinius, comes back later to make love to Lucretia, who rejects him. He rapes her, and Lucretia commits suicide because she cannot live knowing that her body has been violated. Enraged by the atrocity, a man named Brutus comes forward to demand that Romans put down the Tarquin family of kings, who have enslaved their people. Brutus’ bravery here stuns everyone because he had affected insanity up to that time. His act of bravery and dissimulation earned Brutus the reputation of being a very shrewd man, a feature not uncharacteristic of Petruchio, who has had to play the part of a “mad-brain rudesby” (III,ii,10) and one “half lunatic” (II,i,284) in order to convince Kate to obey him.

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Act IV, Scene 5 Summary and Analysis