Historical Background

Although there has been much debate, Shakespeare is now believed to have composed The Taming of the Shrew between 1592 and 1594. Although a play named The Taming of A Shrew was published first in the so-called “bad quarto” of 1594, Shakespeare’s own version was not published until 1623 when the First Folio of his works was compiled. The pirated version is thought to be a fast transcription, not without some embellishment, of Shakespeare’s play as it was performed.

The first known performance of The Taming of the Shrew was held at Newington Butts on June 13, 1594 by Shakespeare’s own company, the Chamberlain’s Men. Shakespeare himself played the part of Vincentio (a confined role) alongside the very popular actor Richard Burbage, who played Lucentio. However, there is a reference (not a record) in the “bad quarto” to earlier performances by the Earl of Pembroke’s Men, a troop which disbanded in 1594 due to financial troubles.

The Newington Butts stage was located one mile south of London Bridge in one of the Liberties, so called because they lay outside of the city limits where strict municipal laws did not affect the theater. Londoners regularly traveled outside the city proper to see their favorite plays, except during plague years when the theaters were closed for the public’s safety. The Globe, Shakespeare’s famous playhouse, was likewise located in the Liberties. When it burned down, Shakespeare’s company was forced to move into London to Blackfriars and other playhouses.

The Taming of...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Warwickshire. County in England’s Midlands area, which contains William Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. The induction scenes, outside a tavern and within a nameless lord’s country house, contain specific references to actual villages such as Greet, Wincot, and Burton Heath. This landscape introduces contemporary sociopolitical issues such as enclosure (the tavern abuts the lord’s hunting preserve), vagrancy and sumptuary laws (for example, Sly’s list of jobs and his being jokingly dressed as a lord), and the economic tensions produced by changes in land use (Sly’s poverty contrasts with the conspicuous wealth of the lord’s house—dogs, servants, food, and erotic art).


*Padua. City in northeastern Italy, about twenty miles west of Venice. Shakespeare borrows this setting from the Italian source for his comedy, Ludovico Ariosto’s I suppositi, complete with disguises and clever manservants. As usual on the fluid, nonrepresentational Elizabethan stage, the action moves effortlessly, without the use of stage directions, from the first street scenes to the reception rooms, where Petruchio woos Kate, to the music room. The impression achieved is of a successful mercantile community, where personal wealth is measured in numbers of ships and household goods. The streets and houses near the home of Baptista Minola provide the fictional displacement from the England portrayed in the introduction, a displacement that parallels the thematic shifts from class anxieties to those of contemporary gender politics.

*Petruchio’s farmhouse

*Petruchio’s farmhouse (peh-TREW-kee-oh). Near Verona, a city in northern Italy, forty miles west of Padua. Petruchio’s property, with its muddy roads and bustling servants, provides a material reality in contrast to Padua’s nondescript spaces. As signified by the names of the servants, Petruchio’s blunt masculinity is construed as characteristically English in contrast with the mannered Italians. Furthermore, Petruchio’s house functions as a site of transformations, where the pretensions of wealth and social behavior can be stripped away from Kate by Petruchio’s “taming.”

Modern Connections

(Shakespeare for Students)

Modern audiences are typically troubled by two problems in The Taming of the Shrew. The first is the problem of Christopher Sly's...

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Media Adaptations

(Shakespeare for Students)

Kiss Me Kate. MGM, 1953.
Film version of the 1948 Cole Porter musical based on The Taming of the Shrew. Two divorced actors...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Shakespeare for Students)

Bevington, David ed., The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Third Edition. Glenview, IL, 1980. [1]


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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”: Modern Critical Interpretations. New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Not for the faint-hearted, this collection of essays is useful for indicating the trends of modern scholarship regarding the play. It contains a number of essays utilizing modern critical perspectives such as feminism and deconstruction.

Greenfield, Thelma N. “The Transformation of Christopher Sly.” Philological Quarterly 33 (1954): 34-42. Greenfield argues that the importance of the Christopher Sly framing device lies in its establishment of the juxtaposition between reality and appearance evident also through the main action of the play.

Holderness, Graham. Shakespeare in Performance: “The Taming of the Shrew.” Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1989. Holderness examines four different productions of the play, including the 1966 Franco Zeffirelli movie and the 1980 television adaptation starring John Cleese. The book is valuable in that it stresses the importance of the performance of Shakespeare’s works.

Huston, J. Dennis. “‘To Make a Puppet’: Play and Play-Making in The Taming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Studies 9 (1967): 73-88. Huston asserts that Shakespeare repeatedly shocks the audience by presenting a series of false starts (that of Christopher Sly being the first). This reflects Katharina’s experience as she is tamed by Petruchio.

Wells, Stanley, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare Studies. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. This is where all studies of Shakespeare should begin. It includes excellent chapters introducing the poet’s biography, conventions and beliefs of Elizabethan England, and reviews of scholarship in the field.