The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

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At a Glance

  • Christopher Sly is a drunk who is fooled into believing that he is a rich lord by an actual lord. The lord hires players who perform The Taming of the Shrew for Sly.
  • Baptista is a rich man who prevents his younger daughter, Bianca, from marrying anyone until his older, “shrewish” daughter, Katherine, is married.
  • Petruchio comes to Padua looking for a wealthy wife. He decides to marry Katherine in order to obtain her dowry.
  • Lucentio, Hortensio, and Gremio are suitors to Bianca. Lucentio and Hortensio disguise themselves as teachers in order to get closer to Bianca.
  • Grumio is Petruchio’s servant and Tranio is Lucentio’s servant. Tranio disguises himself as Lucentio while his master pretends to be a classics teacher.

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List of Characters

Christopher Sly

In the frame story, Christopher Sly is a drunken tinker who falls asleep at a tavern. When he wakes up, he finds himself in the chambers of a rich lord. He is told that he has been in a dream for fifteen years. His “servants” tell him that his doctor has prescribed laughter to release the excess of melancholy in his blood. Sly is wary of the comedy though and calls it a “tumbling trick.” He is surprisingly wise for his low status and debauched behavior.

Lord

The wealthy lord who decides to play a prank on Christopher Sly. He is pompous and condescending.

Katherine “Kate” Minola

Katherine, or Katharina, often referred to as Kate, is the daughter of Baptista Minola, a wealthy man from Padua. She is the elder of Baptista’s two daughters. Katherine is quick-witted, offensive, and temperamental. She is cruel to her sister, Bianca, and abusive to her sister’s suitors. She does not want to get married and verbally attacks anyone who tries to court her. For these reasons, she is known as a shrew. However, Katherine can also be read as a bitter cynic. Her hostility towards her father, suitors, and her sister can be read as her protest against her social position as a woman. She is far more clever than most of the characters in the play, but she has no control over her life. Her father will decide whom she marries and then her husband will decide how she behaves. Katherine may be so angry and cruel as a means of rebelling against the unfair societal standards imposed on women.

Katherine’s drastic change in temperament at the end of the play has long been a source of debate for critics. Various adaptations of the play have interpreted Katherine’s advocacy of female submission to male authority differently. Some choose to view her change of heart as straightforward evidence that Petruchio really has tamed her willful nature. By this reading, the play becomes an uncritical reinforcement of the idea that women should be submissive and modest. Petruchio’s treatment of Katherine is justified, and he successfully reforms her into the model wife, allowing the two of them to achieve marital happiness.

The play can also be interpreted through a darker lens. Many of Petruchio’s tactics—sleep deprivation,...

(The entire section is 1,537 words.)