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The Taming of the Shrew

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Categorized among the early Shakespearean comedies, The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1590-91) has become one of the playwright's most controversial works. While Elizabethan audiences may have viewed the piece with amusement and approval, the story of the spirited, rebellious, and sharp-witted Katherina (Kate), forced by her father to marry the equally exuberant and willful Petruchio, generally fails to correspond to a modern sensibility of the proper bond between husband and wife. The tactics by which Petruchio transforms Katherina's obstinacy into obedience, as well as the drama's undercurrent of violence and cruelty, are perceived by many critics as unsettling in a play principally concerned with marriage. Whereas nineteenth-century commentators dismissed the drama as a simple farce of little serious consequence, modern scholars find much in the play that merits serious study. Many critics have endeavored to explicate the troubling elements of the play, and are particularly interested in Katherina's apparent submission to her husband in the play's final act. Summarizing its enigmatic appeal, Oxford Shakespeare editor H. J. Oliver (1982) observes the ways in which Shakespeare transformed and improved upon his numerous sources for The Taming of the Shrew to fashion a piece that, despite certain limitations, fascinates with its intriguing subject: the clash of sexes.

Contemporary character-based studies of The Taming of the Shrew have almost invariably focused on the drama's central and dominating figures, Katherina and Petruchio. This volatile relationship is the subject of Ruth Nevo's (1980) appraisal, which emphasizes the dynamics of “sexual battle” that drive the play. Nevo dissects the fundamental subject of The Taming of the Shrew—locating a suitable mate for the “wild, intractable and shrewish daughter of Baptista”—and the conflict of wills that ensues. Analyzing Petruchio's verbal strategies in wooing and taming his wife, Nevo observes that Katherina largely responds to his cues, and suggests that the play steadily informs us that by its final act Kate is truly in love with her husband. Other critics have taken a wider, social view of Katherina's taming. Velvet D. Pearson (1990) sees the process of subduing Baptista's eldest daughter on stage as a barometer of changing social attitudes toward women from the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, ranging from a traditional view of Katherina and Petruchio as two individuals learning to love one another to a more modern vision that champions Katherina's assertiveness and intellectual freedom. Harriet A. Deer (1991), while acknowledging that the play presents a strongly chauvinist subtext, argues that in The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare creatively undercut conventional stereotypes associated with the shrew and braggart figures, which provide the theatrical basis for Katherina's and Petruchio's characters, in order to reveal the deeply patriarchal suppositions of Elizabethan marriage.

Despite its potentially disturbing representation of gender conflict, The Taming of the Shrew continues to be one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed comedies. Charles Isherwood's evaluates the 1999 Public Theater production staged in New York City's Central Park, directed by Mel Shapiro. Isherwood finds this performance, which primarily appealed to low humor with an unyielding silliness and multitude of crude jokes, an affront to the emotional complexities of Shakespeare's characters and story. While Isherwood admires Allison Janney's outstanding Katherina, he laments Shapiro's overall disregard for the emotional subtleties of the drama in favor of eye-catching comic additions. Similarly, Ben Brantley (1999) finds Richard Rees's 1999 Williamstown Theater Festival production of The Taming of the Shrew disappointing. For Brantley, one of the saving elements of this “fast, furious, and overstuffed interpretation” was Bebe Neuwirth's convincingly performed Katherina. Elysa Gardner (2000) praises director Victoria Liberatori's musically enhanced Taming of the Shrew set in a retro, 1970s style and performed by the Princeton Repertory Theater in 2000. Gardner contends that this seemingly odd setting offered an excellent commentary on the play by evoking the sexual revolution and the women's rights movement. Lastly, D. J. R. Bruckner (2001) comments on Liz Shipman's use of the critically contentious induction scene that opens The Taming of the Shrew in her 2001 production with the King County Shakespeare Company. Bruckner finds nearly all of Shipman's directorial interpretations beneficial to the drama and approves of the ensemble performance.

Recent thematic criticism regarding The Taming of the Shrew has generally focused on two key topics: transformation and the socially dictated roles of women. Jeanne Addison Roberts (1983) explores the theme of metamorphosis in the play, beginning with its induction scene and the mock conversion of the drunken tinker Christopher Sly into a nobleman. Roberts goes on to study the pervasive imagery of transformation in the play, such as the emblematic transformation of a married couple into a single entity represented by a hermaphrodite, and the symbolic metamorphosis of humans into animals—particularly the association between woman and horse. Approaching the transformation theme from a sharply contrasting perspective, Barry Weller (1992) studies the problematic relationship between The Taming of the Shrew's induction and main plot. Noting that Christopher Sly's dream induction to the drama is rife with allusions to theatricality, Weller suggests that Katherina's ostensible metamorphosis from assertive shrew to servile wife, when viewed through this frame, should be regarded with at least a degree of skepticism. Shifting to issues of gender in The Taming of the Shrew, Erika Gottlieb (1986) considers Katherina's rebellious actions in the play as a kind of ideological assault on the Great Chain of Being, a traditional hierarchical structure that dominated early modern thinking. While Katherina rails against her social placement below man in this scheme, Gottlieb observes that Shakespeare's final statement on the matter remains ambivalent. Gary Schneider (2002) presents a feminist-materialist assessment of the social world depicted in The Taming of the Shrew. Schneider maintains that in the play, the theater becomes a site of “social control” where Katherina becomes the mouthpiece for patriarchal rhetoric. According to Schneider, Katherina's final speech is meant to act as a kind of sermon that encourages the female audience members to exhibit proper behavior.

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

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SOURCE: Oliver, H. J. Introduction to The Oxford Shakespeare: “The Taming of the Shrew,” edited by H. J. Oliver, pp. 1-76. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

[In the following excerpted introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, Oliver surveys the play's sources, style, themes, structure, and characterization.]


No one source for the ‘Induction’ of The Taming of the Shrew has yet been found, and none need be sought: Shakespeare may well have first heard at his mother's knee some version of the universal tale of how a sleeper or drunken man, when he awoke to find himself dressed in fine clothes, was deceived into believing that he was really a lord, or of some such high rank, and that what he thought to be his memories of his earlier life were delusions. The form of the story most widely known today is that in The Arabian Nights, where the Caliph Haroun al Raschid plays the trick on Abu Hassan (and although The Arabian Nights as such was not known in Europe until the eighteenth century, it is perhaps worth recalling that the stories in it may have been collected as early as the fourteenth and in origin may go back many centuries before that).

Discussion of Shakespeare's acquiring of this fable was put on the wrong track years ago when Thomas Warton stated in his History of English Poetry (1774-81) that Shakespeare found the story in a collection of prose tales made by Richard Edwards in 1570. Then in the papers of the Shakespeare Society in 1845, H. G. Norton, from loose printed leaves in his possession, published such a tale, calling it ‘The Waking Mans Dreame’ and assuming that it came from the book by Edwards, of which no copy had ever been seen. In 1913 A. E. Thiselton demonstrated that the tale printed by Norton supposedly from Edwards's (hypothetical) volume was in fact one of a collection of anecdotes, Admirable Events, translated by S. Du Verger from the French of J. P. Camus and not published until 1639; but this demonstration went almost unnoticed and the point had to be made again by Charles C. Mish in 1951.1 The Edwards collection is apparently a ‘ghost’—but it haunts many scholarly discussions of Shakespeare's sources written even since 1951.

It is, then, still necessary to say that no printed version of the story has been found earlier than Shakespeare's except the one in Latin by Heuterus, in De Rebus Burgundicis, 1584, which Shakespeare is not likely to have known: it was not translated into French, by Goulart, until about 1600, or into English until 1607, by Edward Grimeston. Grimeston's, the version printed by Geoffrey Bullough in his Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare,2 tells how Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, found ‘a certaine Artisan’ very drunk in the street, had him carried home to the palace, dressed in fine clothes, conducted to the Mass, waited on there, taken hunting and hawking, and entertained with ‘a pleasant Comedie’, before being carried back, drunk again, to where he was found. The tale is told in a completely different tone from Shakespeare's, to draw moral lessons about the vanity of state—but one suspects that if it were not safely dated 1607, somebody could long since have ‘proved’ by verbal parallels that Shakespeare used it. Perhaps some day an earlier translation will be found.

It may be difficult to name a source for the Sly scenes, but it is not difficult to appreciate them. From the moment of the entry of Sly and the Hostess—an opening sure to capture the attention of an audience, particularly if Sly reels on to the stage as if he has been thrown out of the alehouse—the pace does not slacken. The tinker's drunken recalcitrance is caught in just a few sentences; his intellectual limitations are well established by his references to Richard Conqueror and Saint Jeronimy and by his fondness for the catch phrases from The Spanish Tragedy. Within a few minutes the Lord and his train have come on, and their knowledgeable discussion of the hounds, in technically correct language—but in only fourteen lines—has made the necessary contrast with the peasant and has also added to the already convincing details of life in a ‘real’ countryside. The plan to deceive Sly is outlined in the firmest of language—noticeable particularly are the precise active verbs, ‘take him up’, ‘carry him’, ‘hang it round’, ‘balm his foul head’, and so on—and the audience is eager to see what will happen. Not many plays have openings as competent, theatrically, as this: it is, albeit in a completely different tone, comparable with the magnificent beginning of the much later Othello.

The entry of the players provides further variety in stage ‘action’ before plans are worked out both for their share in the tricking of Sly and for the share of the page who is to be Sly's wife. The exchange about Soto makes a private joke with the audience and so helps to maintain its feeling of complicity, in however small a way. Sly is brought forward again, ‘aloft’, and the interest now is in the psychological changes as he is faced with the new situation. The first mood, after he wakes calling ‘For God's sake, a pot of small ale’, is the surliness, the truculence that has already been seen: ‘call not me “honour” nor “lordship”. I ne'er drank sack in my life … Ne'er ask me what raiment I'll wear …’ and so on. Surliness is succeeded by plain anger, that he should be made a victim of what he naturally assumes to be their mockery of him: ‘What, would you make me mad? Am not I Christopher Sly … ?’ (and there follows the sequence of local allusions, to ‘Burton-heath’ and Marian Hacket and Wincot, which certainly builds up ‘atmosphere’, even if Shakespeare is amusing himself at the same time). Then there is a period while the others talk at Sly, and he remains silent and presumably perplexed; when he does speak, it is to announce his decision to make the best of it and enjoy both the small ale (he is still, of course, continually giving himself away) and the company of his ‘lady’. As Hazlitt delightedly—and delightfully—put it, ‘we have a great predilection’ for him.3

Detailed comment would be superfluous on Sly's guarded dialogue with the servants, or his blunder over the aristocratic way to address a wife (‘“Al'ce madam”, or “Joan madam”? … Madam wife, they say …’) or his willingness to watch the comedy to be played before him, though he is none too sure what a comedy is. There is, however, some need for comment on the search for ‘meaning’ in the Sly section, and on its dramatic function.

Whereas once there would have been general agreement with F. A. Marshall's opinion that The Taming of the Shrew ‘is the one of Shakespeare's plays most devoid of serious interest, not excepting the Comedy of Errors',4 it has become orthodoxy to claim to find in the Induction the same ‘theme’ as is to be found in both the Bianca and the Katherine-Petruchio plots of the main play and to take it for granted that identity of theme is a merit and ‘justifies’ the introduction of Sly. Such a claim is seen in its extreme form in the statement that the three segments of the play ‘are all linked in idea because all contain discussion of the relations of the sexes in marriage’.5 So do Othello, and Hamlet, and Macbeth, and even King Lear. The situation is not saved by the statements that The Shrew deals with ‘different ways of wooing and holding a wife’ and portrays ‘different kinds of wives and husbands. The Shrew becomes thereby a drama with more social and intellectual substance than The Comedy of Errors, but in presenting shrewishness and preaching morality it resembles that play.’6 What The Shrew has to say about wooing a wife can be—and in the play itself is—put in a few sentences; and if one were to read the comedy—or The Comedy of Errors or for that matter any early Shakespearian comedy—for its ‘social and intellectual substance’ or to see what it preaches, then—if Dr Johnson's famous phrase about reading the novels of Samuel Richardson for the story may be adapted—‘your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself’. If, as Meredith said in his Essay on Comedy, the test of true comedy is that it should awaken thoughtful laughter, probably The Taming of the Shrew qualifies—but only just.

It is also debatable whether discussion is much advanced by the more widely held theories that the Induction, the Bianca story, and the taming form a unified play because each deals with ‘assumptions about identity’ and ‘assumptions about personality’.7 An alternative version is that the plots are all based on ‘supposes’—the ‘counterfeit supposes’ of 5.1.106, with the implied reference to Gascoigne's Supposes, the source of the Bianca plot.8 Such theories seem to derive from D. A. Stauffer's suggestion that the play demonstrates that people can become—or, indeed, are—what others think they are or treat them as being. Sly is compared with Katherine: ‘there is something deeper than humor, however, in Petruchio's calling Katherine affable, modest, and mild: in the outcome, thinking makes it so’.9 Is it too late in the day to insist that it is not ‘thinking’ that makes it so—neither Petruchio's nor Katherine's—and that Sly does not become what others pretend him to be?

The terms used in all these interpretations are far too wide: the sense in which Sly (for the minute) ‘assumes a new personality’ is quite different from the sense in which Kate is thought to assume one. Does she in fact ever assume one? Perhaps she merely learns that in certain circumstances certain kinds of behaviour do not work. Bianca, of course, does not assume a new personality at all: Lucentio finally sees her in her true colours, as the audience, if it has any acuity or theatrical experience, will have predicted from the first scene in which she appears. Assumptions about identity and assumptions about personality may be wildly different things. And it is simply not true that ‘Sly's story is in effect “finished” when, like Kate, he has been persuaded to accept a new personality’.10 He remains in the play after that, to watch a comedy—and not only to watch it but also to comment on it: ‘'Tis a very excellent piece of work, madam lady: would 'twere done!’—and Sly's attitude to the play within the play is crucial to the attitude to it of the audience in the ‘real’ theatre. The Sly Induction does not so much announce the theme of the enclosed stories as establish their tone.

There are many reasons for telling a story indirectly or putting it within a framework—as, for example, a play can be enclosed within a play. Sometimes, as in Defoe, the main tale is wrapped up in discussion about the narrator, and the author's knowledge of the veracity of the narrator and so on, as a kind of camouflage, with the aim of causing a reader to quibble, if at all, about what does not matter so that the main story will remain unchallenged. It is a method of making the enclosed story more realistic, more credible. Something similar, although far more sophisticated, is seen in the novels of, say, Joseph Conrad; if Conrad tells us about Marlow who helps with others to tell us about Lord Jim (or Kurtz, in Heart of Darkness), it is, partly, that we may believe more readily in the ‘truth’ of the story and also that attention may be given to the analysis of the complex moral issues that the story raises: Marlow's opinion, among others, is accepted, rejected or modified by the reader only because he for the minute accepts the ‘reality’ of both Marlow and Jim. The moral or intellectual debate in a sense presupposes the reality of the characters. Similarly, in a less complex and indeed unsophisticated use of the technique, a film or play will start with an ‘I remember’ followed by a dramatization of what is remembered—the aim again being greater conviction.

More often, however, the ‘enclosing’ technique works in exactly the opposite way. If in a film the characters go to see a film, the film they see is quite remote: it is at one further move from the ‘reality’ of the audience in the ‘real’ cinema. Similarly if a play on a small scale is put within a play, what happens in the enclosed play is not ‘believed’ at all. Examples would be ‘The Mousetrap’ in Hamlet and ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ in A Midsummer Night's Dream—both of which, of course, are further ‘distanced’ by other methods and notably by a deliberately artificial and old fashioned style. Since, however, these are short and in some ways special, it may be better to look for a parallel to the technique of The Shrew in a play in which the enclosed story is the longer and the enclosing story apparently no more than a way of introducing it. Just such a play is George Peele's The Old Wives Tale, the exact date of which is uncertain but which undoubtedly belongs within a few years of The Shrew. In Peele's play as in Shakespeare's the audience is introduced in the Induction to realistically drawn rustics who are contrasted with more aristocratic and intellectual types; and Peele's delightfully down-to-earth Old Wife, Madge, begins to tell a typical old wife's tale which is then, as it were, acted out for her by the players, with all the inconsecutiveness and the crossed lines of the story as it would be if she told it. And, of course, we do not ‘believe’ a word of it, and have been told not to believe it—and enjoy it the more. The Taming of the Shrew is in some ways very similar: the enclosed story is not told by an uninformed and unimaginative rustic but it is put on to amuse one; we ‘believe’ in Sly but do not really believe in Lucentio, or Bianca—or Petruchio. The phenomenon of theatrical illusion is itself being laughed at; and the play within the play makes Sly drowsy and probably soon sends him to sleep. Are we to let that play ‘preach morality’ to us or look in it for ‘social and intellectual substance’? The drunken tinker may be believed in as one believes in any realistically presented character; but we cannot ‘believe’ in something that is not even mildly interesting to him. The play within the play has been presented only after all the preliminaries have encouraged us to take it as a farce (meaning by that not slapstick, but a broader kind of comedy not involving ‘engagement’ with the characters). We have been warned.

Why, then, having begun the Induction, might Shakespeare have decided not to continue with it to the end; or—what is for this purpose much the same question—if he did at first continue with it, in a form of which A Shrew gives us some idea, albeit inadequate, why might he have changed his mind and decided to cut it short?

There are, in the first place, some purely practical, theatrical, considerations that may have weighed with him. It has been suggested, for example, that there was a staging problem because the presence of Sly and the ‘presenters’ ‘aloft’ made the use of the ‘upper stage’ for another purpose difficult; and the raised acting area does seem to be needed again in 5.1 when, as F1 has it, the ‘Pedant lookes out of the window’ (l. 2397).11 There may be something in this, although not enough is certain about the ‘upper stage’ in Elizabethan theatres for the argument to carry full conviction; it was not necessarily impossible to keep Sly's party well away from the ‘window’ required for the Pedant. (Conceivably the form of the Induction in A Shrew, which has Sly on the main stage throughout, represents some intermediate, experimental version that tried to get over the problem of the differing uses of the area ‘aloft’; alternatively, … the compilers of A Shrew—if they were thinking that the text they compiled might be acted by, for example, touring companies—may have had in mind the limitations of stages and theatres other than those for which the Shakespeare play was written.)

The staging would not seem to have been so difficult as to make necessary by itself the decision not to continue the Sly story after Act I Scene I. A greater difficulty was, perhaps, casting, although again it cannot be said that an Elizabethan company could not have coped with the problems of the full framework (including in that phrase both the carrying through of Sly's comments as in A Shrew and the alternative possibility of leaving him and others, even though they remain silent, in view of the audience throughout). If the actors of Sly, the Lord, and the Page in the Induction are not available to play other roles, then The Taming of the Shrew requires a cast of sixteen to play named parts (plus a few odd servants), of whom at least four would be boys (the Page, Kate, Bianca, the Widow)—five if a boy played Biondello; and it may have been necessary—if the company could not rise to this number—to introduce some doubling, not merely by ending the Sly story when it does end in the Folio text but also by getting him and his fellow presenters off the stage altogether.12 One caveat may be entered: it has perhaps been too readily assumed that because the Lord remains on the stage with Sly in A Shrew, he must remain with Sly, if Sly remains, in The Shrew. This is not so. The Lord could leave the Induction for the last time at 2.114 and be available for Vincentio or any other role thereafter, unless he is made to be the ‘Messenger’ of Induction 2.125.1 (itself involving an almost impossibly rapid change of costume) and also the ‘1. Man.’ who is one of the ‘Presenters’ still watching the play at the end of 1.1.13 If these two very minor roles are given to a minor actor or hired man, then only Sly and the boy-Page-‘wife’ are being ‘wasted’ if they are kept on stage; but certainly if they are removed from the view of the audience, ‘Sly’ can play the Pedant later, and the boy can play the Widow in the final scene.14 (Perhaps it should be added—in view of some rather wild theorizing about Sly's ‘dream’—that the actor playing Sly cannot conceivably play Petruchio if the Folio text is adhered to; Sly must ‘sit and marke’, at least for a while, and the very first thing he is required to mark is the entrance of Petruchio.15) William Ringler's analysis of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, however, has suggested that Shakespeare as a young dramatist did not always use his actors economically, and has shown that he probably could count on twelve adult actors and four boys if he really needed them. It may therefore be wiser to look beyond the casting, as well as the stage, for explanations of the dramatist's final preference for the ‘incomplete’ framework and to consider the possibility that the final form of the play is in fact the better for aesthetic reasons.

If what has been argued earlier in this Introduction is correct, the main purpose of the Induction was to set the tone for the play-within-the-play—in particular, to present the story of Kate and her sister as a none-too-serious comedy put on to divert a drunken tinker. The artificial style of the beginning of 1.1 is perhaps further indication that we are not expected to become too involved in the Lucentio—Bianca—disguises plot; we are told that it more or less put Sly to sleep; and only then are we invited to watch also Petruchio's campaign to tame the shrew. As that tale goes on and especially when Kate is introduced, it gradually changes key and it does become, for a while, more realistic and convincing (and an attempt will be made later to justify this claim); but it never for long loses its basically farcical character, and it ends, perfectly logically for a farce, with the shrew not only tamed but also prepared to instruct the untamed wives on the social desirability of tameness. That last scene has been taken literally by, for example, G. I. Duthie, who wrote that ‘What Shakespeare emphasizes here is the foolishness of trying to destroy order’.16 He can take such a view, however, only because for him the Induction is finally irrelevant (indeed, in this discussion he does not so much as mention its existence); for him, all the hints about the nature of theatrical illusion have been in vain; because Kate is straightfaced, he believes what she has said. Others, holding that ‘the best in this kind are but shadows’, as Shakespeare was to put it later, and remembering that this particular shadow was for the amusement of a shadow, will have their doubts.

The play as it stands is, in modern jargon, ‘open-ended’—and it is made not more ‘open’ but less so by having Sly, in a final scene, convinced that he now knows how to tame a shrew and by having Sly's friend not so sure. The reintroduction of the presenters would also, as has been suggested by several modern critics, run the risk of anticlimax and, one might add, of seeming to gild the lily. One does not improve a farce by ending it with the reminder that it may have been only a farce; far better to let the audience make that judgement, if it wishes to make it.

Perhaps Shakespeare first tried the play with the full Sly framework, perhaps he did not; but at least one can say that he seems to have had very good reasons for his apparent decision to leave it ‘incomplete’ as it is now in the approved text and (probably) to get Sly out of view of the audience early in the play and let them forget him—until perhaps they have left the theatre and have time to wonder what happened to him and even, perhaps, what has happened to them.


At least there is no dispute about the main source for the part of The Taming of the Shrew that deals with Bianca and her suitors. Shakespeare even alludes to it, and paraphrases it, when he has Lucentio reveal his identity, with the words:

                                                                                                                                  Here's Lucentio,
Right son to the right Vincentio,
That have by marriage made thy daughter mine,
While counterfeit supposes bleared thine eyne.


The source was George Gascoigne's Supposes. Its title-page describes it as ‘a Comedie written in the Italian tongue by Ariosto Englished by George Gascoygne of Grayes Inne Esquire, and there presented 1566’ (and there is an apparent record of a later private performance at Oxford, in Trinity College, in January 158218). Gascoigne was translating Ariosto's I Suppositi in the original prose version in which it was acted at Ferrara in 1509 and at the Vatican in 1519 (although he may have known also Ariosto's rewriting of it in verse) and his translation is thought to be the first English drama in prose (it anticipates Lyly by nearly twenty years). Gascoigne's play was easily available to Shakespeare, particularly in the collections The Posies of G. Gascoigne (1575)19 and The Whole Woorkes of G. Gascoigne (1587).

In the Ariosto-Gascoigne story, Erostrato [Shakespeare's Lucentio], after falling in love at first sight, has enjoyed for some time a secret liaison with Polynesta [Shakespeare's Bianca], daughter of Damon [Baptista]. Erostrato is able to arrange meetings because in disguise he has been employed by Damon as a servant, Dulipo, while Erostrato's real servant Dulipo [Tranio] pretends to be the master Erostrato. The feigned Erostrato pretends to woo the girl, as a way of frustrating a rival suitor, the aged Cleander [Gremio]. These two try to outbid each other with offers of lavish dowries; and to support his claim Erostrato persuades a travelling stranger [the Pedant] to impersonate his real father Philogano [Vincentio]. Erostrato arranges this both by pretending that because of a ducal decision it is dangerous for a Sienese to be found in Ferrara and by offering protection if the stranger will impersonate the father. Matters come to a head when Polynesta is found to be pregnant (Shakespeare altered this, of course: he obviously wanted for his second female character one who to appearance had all the marks of the romantic heroine). Dulipo is put into a dungeon (too ‘serious’ a fate for Shakespeare's kind of comedy); from Sicily20 arrives ‘the right Philogano the right father of the right Erostrato’, to find both that Dulipo is impersonating Erostrato and that a stranger is impersonating Erostrato's father, namely himself; but finally all is solved, and true identities revealed, and Cleander [Gremio] even discovers that Dulipo is the son he lost long ago after the battle of Otranto (and Shakespeare chose to avoid that improbability, which adds nothing of import to the story). For one character who looms large in the source but hardly affects the action—the typical parasite of classical comedy, Pasiphilo—Shakespeare found no place at all; not did his Bianca (since she was not pregnant) need a confidant-nurse. His main addition, which perhaps he saw as an alternative to these superfluous characters, was to complicate the action by giving Bianca a third suitor, Hortensio; and then—on second thoughts, if the argument of the earlier part of this Introduction is correct—he complicated it further by having Hortensio assume the disguise of Litio to compete with Erostrato/Lucentio in disguise as Cambio. In short, he added still more ‘supposes’ to those of which Gascoigne already thought so highly that he put notes in the margin pointing them out lest the reader should miss any.21

Gascoigne, as part of a whole series of quibbles on his title, explained in his ‘Prologue or Argument’: ‘But understand, this our Suppose is nothing else but a mystaking or imagination of one thing for an other. For you shall see the master supposed for the servant, the servant for the master: the freeman for a slave, and the bondslave for a freeman: the stranger for a well knowen friend, and the familiar for a stranger.’ His audience is kept amused by the misconceptions of the characters—as in the Plautine comedies of which Supposes is a direct descendant22—and is not invited (unless it be by the strong suspicion of irony in the Prologue and the marginal notes) to wonder if it has misconceptions of its own. The interest, in short, is not in characterization but in plot, the audience watching to see what happens next and how the knots are untied.

The Bianca section of Shakespeare's play, for the most part, is no different.23 It is the kind of comedy that he attempted also in The Comedy of Errors, with its two pairs of identical twins (this time beginning from Plautus' Mostellaria); he attempted it again—albeit in a very different tone—in the parts of A Midsummer Night's Dream that follow from the anointing of the wrong lover's eyes with the juice of the magic flower, so that Demetrius and Lysander are temporarily infatuated with the wrong women. Being Shakespeare, he carried it off. A reader's head sometimes spins as he tries to remember whether Lucentio is Cambio or Litio and momentarily confuses the names of Grumio and Gremio—but in the theatre all is clear, and the pace of the action is well maintained. Indeed it is increased towards the end and particularly in 5.1, where one seeming disaster after another falls on the bewildered Vincentio: he himself is being impersonated by a complete stranger; his son Lucentio's servant Biondello claims never to have seen him before; the other servant Tranio, whom he brought up in his own house, claims to be Lucentio; and for all this he, Vincentio, is threatened with imprisonment, until the problem is solved by Biondello's unfortunate entrance (unfortunate for Biondello) with Lucentio and Bianca, and his prompt exit with Tranio and the false father ‘as fast as may be’. It is all very fast indeed.

Interestingly, it is in this scene that Shakespeare seems to have worked most closely from Gascoigne. He even borrows such a small detail as having the real father knock in vain at the door for admittance to his own son's dwelling and be greeted by a stranger looking out of the window (although in Supposes the stranger is a servant and not the feigned father). There are also verbal reminiscences, albeit of commonplace phrases. One example is Philogano's ‘What hast thou done with my son villain?’; Vincentio's ‘Tell me, thou villain, where is my son … ?’ with the same expressed fear that the son has been murdered by his former servant. Another is Gascoigne's Philogano to his own servant: ‘Do you not know me?’ ‘As farre as I remember Sir, I never saw you before’; Shakespeare's Vincentio: ‘What, have you forgot me?’ ‘Forgot you? No, sir. I could not forget you, for I never saw you before in all my life.’

This last example, with its improvement on Gascoigne in its colloquial tone and the balance of its calculated repetitions, is sufficient warning against equating Shakespeare with his sources. It is also noticeable how he avoids the traps into which others fall: he will not slow up the scene just discussed, for instance, or falsify its tone, by introducing passages of self-pity amounting to attempted pathos, such as ‘Alas, who shall relieve my miserable estate? to whom shall I complaine? … Alas, you might have some compassion of mine age …’. Nevertheless it remains true that it is the Gascoigne kind of comedy that he is writing in the Bianca scenes; and (although a few caveats to this judgement will be entered later, in the general discussion of the style) he does not attempt to alter that kind by elevating or enriching the language. It would not have been an improvement for Bianca to speak or be described in genuinely romantic terms; on the contrary, she must be seen, at first, as nothing but the conventional heroine sought by the hero of fiction, and in this capacity she will be contrasted with another type of woman, at first much less attractive, her spirited ‘real-life’ sister Kate.

Shakespeare is not content, however, to leave it at that. He does not merely contrast one sister with another: he uses the younger as part of the explanation of the acquired shrewishness of the elder, and so—for better or worse—also uses Bianca in a ‘realistic’ way. In particular there is psychological realism in the scenes in which Katherine resents not only Bianca's success with her ‘pretty’ tricks, and Baptista's treatment of his favourite, younger, daughter, so different from the way he treats the elder (‘Why, and I trust I may go too, may I not?’, 1.1.102) but also Bianca's very meekness. Words like ‘what you will command me will I do, / So well I know my duty to my elders’ (2.1.6-7), and the offer to pull off her ‘raiment’ if Katherine wants her to do so, might well, if a phrase from elsewhere in the play may be purloined, ‘vex a very saint’, let alone a girl of Katherine's ‘impatient humour’; understandably, they infuriate her. The audience, moreover, has the opportunity of seeing Bianca ‘in action’ with her suitors Lucentio and Hortensio/Litio. (The suddenness of Lucentio's infatuation with her, incidentally, on the strength of her beauty, her ‘dutiful’ behaviour, and the four lines he has heard her speak may not be mere dramatic casualness: it may be part of Shakespeare's characterizing of the kind of lover other literature asks one to admire.24) In 3.1 it is a very self-possessed young lady who manages both Lucentio and Hortensio to her own satisfaction, insists on the right to please herself about her lessons, and gives Lucentio the encouragement that she could not in all modesty give if she were what she pretended to be in the earlier scenes. His ‘reward’ proves to be a wife who is not only ‘disobedient’ (to the extent of losing him his wager) but also capable of spitting at him ‘the more fool you for laying on my duty’.

The second function of the Bianca story, then, is to help explain how Kate has become a shrew. It serves also to make us more sympathetic with Kate by contrast—and presumably that is what Shakespeare intended (although it may have landed him in difficulties of another kind, to be discussed later). And it is all done with amazing economy: has it always been realized how very few lines Bianca has in the play and how short her speeches tend to be?

On the level of mere narrative, the Bianca ‘plot’ connects with the Katherine story when Bianca's wooers support the suit of Petruchio because of their interest in having Kate married off first, that Bianca may become available; and the two groups of characters compete in the final scene. It is clear, however, that there are links of the other kinds, discussed above; and Dr Johnson may not have been exaggerating as much as is often thought, if he had those others in mind when he made his famous statement that ‘of this play the two plots are so well united that they can hardly be called two without injury to the art with which they are interwoven. The attention is entertained with all the variety of a double plot, yet is not distracted by unconnected incidents.’


Continuation of the search for a ‘source’ of Petruchio's taming of Katherine may well be pointless. There were shrews galore in literature long before Shakespeare—tamed and untamed. Petruchio himself refers to the wife of Socrates, Xanthippe, whom literary tradition rather than any ascertainable facts had made into the very symbol of the nagging wife; and in earlier English drama, tradition again seems to have determined that Noah's wife in the religious cycles should be a termagant and almost as great a trial to her husband as was the Deluge. There are shrews in Old English verse, and in Chaucer, in medieval tales, in Persian literature, in popular Italian stories, in Danish and other folklore; and probably there were shrews in many a stage farce. It is even possible to speculate whether there may not have been a stock costume to identify the character as soon as she appeared on the stage.

Peter Alexander and others were convinced that Richard Hosley had identified the source of the taming story when he again drew attention to a ballad that had been well known to earlier scholars such as Frey, W. C. Hazlitt, Boas, and Bond but rejected by them as the probable origin.25 This is the verse tale A Merry Jest of a Shrewde and Curste Wyfe, Lapped in Morrelle's Skin, for Her Good Behavyour. The alleged parallels, however, can be overstated, and Hosley himself seems to have withdrawn to a more easily defensible position and is content to say in his edition of the play (in the Complete Pelican Shakespeare, 1969, p. 81) that the ballad perhaps ‘suggested the basic framework’ of Shakespeare's comedy. The verse tale has a shrew—likened to a fiend or devil—with a meek younger sister who is the father's favourite; after the wedding, the shrew returns with her husband to his house in the country; and after the taming the newly-reformed shrew's ‘good behaviour’ is a subject for surprise at a family dinner. But the verbal parallels seldom, if ever, go beyond the standard phrases that one would expect to find in such a story; and as Hosley is the first to point out, the method and spirit of Petruchio's taming of Kate is very different from that of the husband who tears off his wife's clothes, ‘beats her with birch rods till the blood runs on the floor and she faints, and then wraps her in the skin of an old lame plough-horse, Morel, killed and flayed especially for the occasion’ (p. 296).

A stronger case is made by J. H. Brunvand who argues most convincingly that Shakespeare did not need a literary source for his taming story and that he is much more likely to have drawn on oral tradition (although oral tradition may always be recorded in a printed text and perhaps one such has been lost). There is no incident in the Petruchio—Katherine story that Shakespeare needed to invent; on the contrary, the highest common factors, so to speak, of relevant folk-tales include the arrival of the groom at the wedding in poor clothes, the wife's having to learn to swear that black is white if her husband says it is, the wager on her obedience, and even the treading on her cap as proof of it.26 The further significance of this may be—how can one know?—that the Elizabethan audience came to see Shakespeare's play ‘pre-conditioned’, as we might say, to enjoy the spectacle of the taming of one on whom they would not expect to waste a moment's sympathy—just as they presumably came to see revenge-plays, not excluding Hamlet, knowing what the rough outline of the story would be, knowing that the revenger could not be allowed to survive, but still fascinated to see, inter alia, how the dramatist filled in the given outline.

Theories of minor sources that Shakespeare may have used also fall far short of proof. Of the three verbal parallels that have been found27 with Erasmus's Colloquies, for example, two are actually listed by Tilley as proverbs. What works such as this really demonstrate, as Hosley also well points out (p. 299), is that ‘the business of “training” a wife to accept a viable social relationship to her husband, as one would teach a colt to go through its paces or a hawk to fly to the lure, is a commonplace of humanist discussions of marriage’. Indeed, they probably all trace back to the Bible, from which Katherine more or less quotes in her final speech.

A reference to a suppressed ballad called ‘The taminge of a shrewe’ in the Stationers' Company's Decrees and Ordinances for 1596 is now suspected of being a forgery28 and many of the other suggested sources or analogues seem much less likely after Brunvand's demonstration of the strength and detail of the oral tradition. It is clearly more profitable on all counts to consider what Shakespeare did with the taming story.

Literary tradition perhaps prepared Shakespeare's audience, going to The Taming of the Shrew, to expect a farce; the Induction certainly did not invite them to become deeply involved with the characters of the inset play; the very costume worn by the boy playing Katherine may have identified her as nothing but a shrew: in short, there may have been as much likelihood of the audience's sympathizing with Katherine, when she first appeared on the stage, as there is of a twentieth-century music-hall audience's feeling sorry for a mother-in-law. The very first words addressed to Kate also take it for granted that she has no humanity: Gremio's reply to Baptista's invitation to court his elder daughter is ‘To cart her rather. She's too rough for me’—which virtually calls Kate to her face a prostitute; Hortensio classes her among ‘devils’; Tranio can believe only that she is ‘stark mad, or wonderful froward’; Gremio brands her a ‘fiend of hell’. Yet already a modern audience, at any rate, has made a mental reservation. Kate's own first words, to her father, ‘I pray you, sir, is it your will / To make a stale of me amongst these mates’—with their resentment at Gremio's insult and their feeling that a father might well resent it too—seem reasonable enough and, what is more, deserving of sympathy.

That, in brief, is the main problem in understanding or interpreting the play. It is as if Shakespeare set out to write a farce about taming a shrew but had hardly begun before he asked himself what might make a woman shrewish anyway—and found his first answer in her home background. Just as, later, his portraits of Capulet, Lady Capulet, and the Nurse were to serve to arouse pity for the young Juliet, tragically thrown back on her own resources, so here the sketches of the spoilt younger daughter and of the father lacking in discernment (but perhaps not in good will—one may agree with R. B. Heilman that Baptista is not the villain of the piece29) help the audience to understand what Baptista does not—and tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner. We sympathize with Katherine—and as soon as we do, farce becomes impossible. Just as Shakespeare, when he wrote The Two Gentlemen of Verona, tried to dramatize materials from prose romances which had been acceptable precisely because the characters had no character—and had made the story unacceptable as soon as he did introduce character (it is one thing for a puppet hero to offer to hand over his puppet-like beloved to his best friend but quite another for Valentine to offer Silvia to Proteus), so in The Taming of the Shrew he was dramatizing material from unrealistic literature that was perfectly acceptable on the level of the Punch and Judy show but ran the risk of embarrassing as soon as it rose above that level. We may laugh at Punch's hitting Judy on the head in the puppet play but it is not so easy to laugh at Petruchio's taming of Katherine. As M. R. Ridley put it: if it were all farce ‘our subtler feelings would lie contentedly quiescent. … But Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, cannot restrain his hand from making Petruchio more of a man, and Katharine more of a woman, than from the artistic point of view was wise; and so Petruchio's bullying of Katharine, funny though it would be if they were mere marionettes, and effective and indeed salutary though it is in its results, leaves a slightly unpleasant taste in the mouth.’30 It is not necessary to agree with this in detail—for example, about Petruchio—in order to agree with it in general. In other words, Shakespeare was already too good a dramatist for the material he was dramatizing: characterization and farce are, finally, incompatible.

Finding itself in this dilemma, the average audience seems to decide to get as much enjoyment as it can from the farce—trying, as it were, to keep its sympathy with Katherine in a state of suspense (paradoxically, a suspension of belief, in the interests of enjoying what is not to be believed). And on the level of farce, The Taming of the Shrew is, generally, superb; and in so far as one can put sympathy aside and watch the taming of Kate as one might watch the taming of a falcon or wild beast (although even that presents problems to an audience more sensitive than Shakespeare's to cruelty to animals), one can ‘enjoy’ Petruchio.

He, of course, is the ‘right’ man for the task—and it is difficult to understand the objections to Peter Alexander's statement that the story is, among other things, a variation on ‘the perilous maiden theme, where the lady is death to any suitor who woos her except the hero, in whose hands her apparent vices turn to virtues’.31 As Curtis infers, hearing of Petruchio's behaviour, ‘he is more shrew than she’ (4.1.75); or as Grumio puts it, ‘an she knew him as well as I do, she would think scolding would do little good upon him’ (1.2.107-8); as Peter sums it up, ‘he kills her in her own humour’ (4.1.168) (and not, surely, as the sentimental modern orthodoxy believes, by burlesquing her behaviour, so that she sees herself as others see her, and finally ‘sees the joke’,32 but by standing over her and proving that with him shrewishness simply will not work).

For his role as tamer, he has all the necessary attributes. For example, he is mature: ‘Yet you are withered’, Kate taunts him, and he replies ‘'Tis with cares’ (2.1.238)—and although in most modern productions Kate is played by a sophisticated actress in her twenties or thirties, Shakespeare may well have thought of her as about sixteen. She is older than Bianca—but then on the evidence of other Shakespeare comedies Bianca would be thought marriageable at fourteen—and Kate's tantrums as well as Petruchio's treatment of them may seem rather more credible if she, too, in her own way is a spoilt child. However that may be, she certainly thinks of Petruchio, in the line just quoted, as older than she is. He also claims—and there is no reason to doubt the claim—a wide range of dangerous experience:

Have I not in my time heard lions roar? …
Have I not heard great ordnance in the field …
And do you tell me of a woman's tongue … ?
Tush, tush, fear boys with bugs!

—and Grumio adds ‘For he fears none’ (1.2.196-206).

In the tradition of the best tamers, he is quite without sentiment:

I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua


and insists that his prospective father-in-law come to the point:

Then tell me, if I get your daughter's love,
What dowry shall I have with her to wife?


It is apparently not even beneath his dignity to bargain with Bianca's wooers that if they want Katherine out of the way, they shall pay the expenses of his courtship of her.

If he lacks sentiment, however, he is certainly capable of appreciating strength in a woman's character, including strength of resistance, and when he hears of Kate's breaking of the lute over Hortensio's head proclaims:

Now by the world, it is a lusty wench;
I love her ten times more than e'er I did.
O how I long to have some chat with her!


Love, of course, has nothing to do with the case, and there is no place for love in a farce; but he does admire, and he welcomes the challenge of prospective strong opposition. Kate is like him in that respect: the implication of their first meeting and its prolonged and rather tedious exchange of insults is that she is at least interested in him, almost in spite of herself, and welcomes his un-Hortensio-like refusal to cower.

Petruchio has one other quality invaluable in a tamer—the ability to make a plan, and to keep to it. Just before their first meeting he announces, in soliloquy, his proposed strategy of calculated opposition:

Say that she rail, why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale …
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns, and when be marrièd


he tells her to her face what he proposes to do:

For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates


and then, again in soliloquy, when the programme is in operation, explains exactly how he is carrying out the plan ‘to man my haggard’ (4.1.175-98). Nothing is accidental, nothing unpredicted; and Hazlitt summed it up perfectly when he said that ‘There is no contending with a person on whom nothing makes any impression but his own purposes, and who is bent on his own whims just in proportion as they seem to want common sense. With him a thing's being plain and reasonable is a reason against it. … The whole of his treatment of his wife at home is in the same spirit of ironical attention and inverted gallantry.’33

Katherine learns that it is no use hitting him, as she might hit Hortensio, for ‘I swear I'll cuff you if you strike again’ (2.1.222); it is no use being shrewish when he has announced that it is their agreement that she shall be so in public; it is no use refusing to go with him after the wedding when he pretends that he is rescuing her from those who might help her to stay; it is no use claiming to be the injured party when he thanks the wedding guests who ‘have beheld me give away myself / To this most patient, sweet, and virtuous wife’ (3.2.193-4); it is no use complaining that food is denied when it is said to be bad for her health. Petruchio's campaign has already passed the point of possible failure when the assurance is given, in 4.1.68-70, that for the first time she was more concerned with somebody else—Grumio—than with herself (‘how she waded through the dirt to pluck him off me’); and soon afterwards she is seen trying to defend the servants from her husband's (feigned) anger.

There is nothing to warrant an assumption that—at this stage, at any rate—Katherine and Petruchio are merely ‘playing a game’. She is being tamed, and the spectacle would be acceptable if, but only if, Katherine had no feelings and the audience had no concern for her.34 In fact, however, Shakespeare sometimes dramatizes Kate's genuine distress. No modern playgoer can fail to sympathize with her, part of the time at least, and—difficult as such questions are—it is not easy to believe that the Elizabethan audience was always on Petruchio's side.

A crucial scene is the wedding. Katherine's words when her bridegroom does not appear for the ceremony are bound to arouse compassion:

No shame but mine …
Now must the world point at poor Katherine
And say ‘Lo, there is mad Petruchio's wife,
If it would please him come and marry her.’


Tranio is embarrassed (‘Patience, good Katherine …’); and Baptista for once shows fatherly understanding:

Go, girl, I cannot blame thee now to weep,
For such an injury would vex a very saint,
Much more a shrew of thy impatient humour.

They are both further concerned—not least for Katherine—when Petruchio arrives in his disarray (‘See not your bride in these unreverent robes’). Most significantly of all: Gremio admits, in his account of the riotous marriage ceremony, that Katherine is ‘a lamb, a dove’ compared with Petruchio, and confesses ‘I seeing this came thence for very shame’. If even Gremio can be ashamed, the audience cannot fail to be so too; it will feel that this is indeed ‘a way to kill a wife’, and not ‘with kindness’. The world of farce—for all the broad humour of Petruchio's antics—has been left behind, and Katherine has long ceased to be merely the subject of an experiment.

The audience's disquiet will probably continue in the scenes at Petruchio's house, when she is not only denied food but also allowed to be the victim of mockery by the very servants; and there will not be general agreement with the attempts by some twentieth-century critics to ‘save’ her by saying that she ‘enjoys the game’ in Act 4 Scene 5 when she declines any longer to have an opinion different from her husband's. The mood is rather weary resignation:

… be it moon, or sun, or what you please;
And if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

(ll. 13-15)

Petruchio's victory, if it is a victory, is a very poor one indeed—and to say this is not to agree for one minute with H. C. Goddard's desperate claim that ‘the play is an early version of What Every Woman Knows—what every woman knows being, of course, that the woman can lord it over the man so long as she allows him to think he is lording it over her’.35 (As R. B. Heilman nicely put it, ‘After three centuries of relative stability, then, Petruchio has developed rather quickly, first from an animal tamer to a gentleman lover who simply brings out the best in Kate, and then at last to a laughable victim of the superior spouse who dupes him’.36) In fact, Katherine never ‘lords it’ over Petruchio; in nearly every sense that matters she loses; and Goddard admits that his main reason for interpreting the play in this way is to bring it ‘into line’ with the other comedies because otherwise it would be ‘an unaccountable exception’ and a regression. It is not a regression but a young dramatist's attempt, not repeated, to mingle two genres that cannot be combined—and it may not even be exceptional if … The Two Gentlemen of Verona had also tried to blend incompatible literary modes, albeit modes different again from those in The Taming of the Shrew.

It is the logic of the farce in the play that demands that in the final scene the tamed shrew shall be shown to be tamer than both the seemingly meek sister and the worldly-wise widow; and the tone is certainly farcical as the husbands who have made the wagers on the wives' obedience urge those wives on exactly as if they were animals: ‘To her, Kate!’ ‘To her, widow!’ The lecture by Kate on the wife's duty to submit is the only fitting climax to the farce—and for that very reason it cannot logically be taken seriously, orthodox though the views expressed may be. If one does take the finale seriously, then one experiences some such difficulty as that felt by R. W. Bond, who protested solemnly that the order to Katherine to throw her ‘cap’ away and trample on it is ‘a needless affront to her feelings, not excusable like former freaks as part of a wise purpose, but offered at the very moment when she is exhibiting a voluntary obedience’ (p. lvii). (Treading on the cap, it should be remembered, is one of the elements common to the shrew-taming folk tales.) It is the same mistake, attempting to take the last scene as a continuation of the realistic portrayal of character, that leads some modern producers to have it played as a kind of private joke between Petruchio and Kate—or even have Petruchio imply that by now he is thoroughly ashamed of himself. It does not, cannot, work. The play has changed key again: it has modulated back from something like realistic social comedy to the other, ‘broader’, kind of entertainment that was foretold by the Induction. Hazlitt was perhaps for once wrong when he said that ‘The Taming of the Shrew is almost the only one of Shakespeare's comedies that has a regular plot, and a downright moral’; the moral, if any, is light-hearted and it is the very irregularity and inconsistency—of the tone, if not exactly of the plot—that creates the problems, not only for the reader but also, if the truth be told, for the audience.

Shakespeare certainly plays with the subject of theatrical illusion, and through the Induction and elsewhere seems to warn his audience of the ambiguity of ‘belief’; he perhaps illustrates—he certainly for the moment accepts, or pretends to accept—some of the commonplaces of the thought of his time on social behaviour and the desirability of conforming; but if the play is to be enjoyed, it must be enjoyed primarily for its fun, and the paradox is that this fun is cut across and indeed reduced by that other dramatic skill that makes a character credible or ‘real’.


J. W. Mackail once said of The Taming of the Shrew that, although ‘brilliantly successful on the stage’, ‘it has no high quality as literature, and but a few touches of Shakespeare's magic or of his verbal and rhetorical felicity’.37 It is not difficult to see why the comment was made, but Mackail shows a very limited concept of ‘verbal felicity’ and is almost certainly wrong about the absence of good ‘rhetoric’.

To be sure, one will look in vain in The Shrew for the kind of ‘magic’ that often leaps from the Shakespearian page even as early as The Two Gentlemen of Verona. There are no memorable lines of the type of ‘the uncertain glory of an April day’ or verbal pictures of ‘the current that with gentle murmur glides’ and ‘makes sweet music with th' enamelled stones, / Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge / He overtaketh in his pilgrimage’. Such romantic touches are ruled out by the subject matter of this very different play. There are, however, other kinds of poetic skill.

The comedy is not lacking in images (though Caroline Spurgeon counted only 92 in the whole play, an exceptionally low number38); indeed there is even iterative imagery—notably that of training the falcon which is, as it were, basic to Petruchio's theory of taming. K. Wentersdorf has shown not only that many of the images are characteristic of Shakespeare—the noise of hell, for example, and the noise of battle39—but also that they tend to recur (and how an image, such as card playing, can often be found both in a part of the play that the disintegrators were prepared to accept as Shakespeare's—1.2.33 and 2.1.311—and in another part—4.2.57 and 2.1.387—that they wished to allot to a collaborator).40 With the possible exception of the falcons and haggards, however, there is no important pattern of imagery; and where one image is repeated in a later part of the play, the second rarely gains any added significance from the first. For example, it is difficult to see any dramatic significance in the fact that Vincentio's indignation with Tranio in 5.1.108-9—‘Where is that damned villain, Tranio, / That faced and braved me in this matter so?’—repeats the pair of words on which Grumio chose to pun in his attempt to outface the tailor in 4.3.122-5. The repetition may be deliberate but is more likely to be unconscious and in itself meaningless.

Single images are vivid enough—such as the Lord's first picture of Sly, in the Induction, ‘O monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies! / Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image!’ or Hortensio's picture of himself after Kate has broken the musical instrument over his head, ‘And there I stood amazèd for a while, / As on a pillory, looking through the lute’ (2.1.154-5) or—one of several that may, as B. Ifor Evans has said, ‘derive from a genuine rustic experience’41—‘Kate like the hazel-twig / Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue / As hazel-nuts and sweeter than the kernels’ (2.1.252-4). It will be noticed, however, that the images tend to take the form of the self-conscious simile rather than the direct metaphor—‘as loud / As thunder’, ‘as rough / As are the swelling Adriatic seas’, ‘gives not half so great a blow to hear / As will a chestnut in a farmer's fire’. This is characteristic of the early Shakespeare, as, too, is an occasional tendency towards the literary, seen not only in Petruchio's ‘as foul as was Florentius' love, / As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd / As Socrates' Xanthippe’ but also in Tranio's ‘so devote to Aristotle's checks / As Ovid be an outcast quite abjured’, in Sly's blunders about ‘Saint Jeronimy’ and ‘Richard Conqueror’ and his ‘paucas pallabris’, and in the speeches to Sly of the Lord and attendants when he wakes in Induction 2.33-58.

The inflation in these last-mentioned speeches, however, may be deliberate—the Lord and those in league with him are playing, and even consciously over-playing, parts; and this is reminder enough that in any discussion of the style of The Taming of the Shrew one important caveat must be entered, namely that it is exceptionally difficult, when the language falls flat, or seems inflated, to be sure that the playwright is not deliberately making it so, for what may seem to him to be, and often still seem to be, excellent dramatic reasons.

The first example has already been given: the classical allusions in the second part of the Induction are probably a meaningful kind of overwriting, indicative of the pleasure taken by the intriguers in their intrigue, and their awareness of the glorious inappropriateness of references to Adonis, Cytherea, Io, and Daphne when addressing Christopher Sly. There is even the suggestion that the attendants are not fully successful in their attempts to reproduce the inflated language of the Lord.42

The style of the beginning of the play-within-the-play presents a similar problem. There can be little doubt that the exposition is blatant, that the verse sounds not much better than jog-trot, and that the line-endings ‘Lombardy’, ‘Italy’, ‘company’ add to the effect of jingle. But is this Shakespeare's relative incompetence or is he already trying by artificiality of language to mark off the play-within-the-play as less ‘real’? Is this in short the same technique as he was to use—one is tempted to say ‘more obviously’ but perhaps should say ‘more clearly’—when he began the play-within-the-play in Hamlet with the prologue ‘For us, and for our tragedy, / Here stooping to your clemency, / We beg your hearing patiently’? One would like to be sure.

It seems reasonably certain that the language of Gremio and Hortensio in 1.1.105-42 is made up largely of proverbs and clichés not because Shakespeare can do no better but because he sees the characters as having commonplace minds; and when Lucentio speaks as he does about his falling in love at first sight with Bianca:

                                        I saw sweet beauty in her face,
Such as the daughter of Agenor had,
That made great Jove to humble him to her hand,
When with his knees he kissed the Cretan strand


—the rhyme may be significant—it is perhaps not because Shakespeare thinks that this is admirably romantic but because Lucentio is being presented as the traditional lover who thinks it so, the lover found in romantic drama, poetry, and fiction. (The case would admittedly be stronger if Lucentio had not addressed Tranio a few lines earlier as the confidant “That art to me as secret and as dear / As Anna to the Queen of Carthage was’.)

Most interesting of all is the speech of the Pedant, who when he talks in his own character, on first meeting Tranio (4.2.72 ff.), uses regular blank verse but as soon as he has to play the part of Vincentio speaks to Baptista in verse that limps:

                                        and, if you please to like
No worse than I, upon some agreement
Me shall you find ready and willing
With one consent to have her so bestowed.


There may be textual corruption—or is this Shakespeare's way of indicating that the Pedant is unsure of himself and improvising?43

The passages just discussed may all belong to the process of experimentation that may be seen again and again in the play. Experiment is clear, for example, in the use of rhyme. One is not surprised by rhyme when a statement is to sound platitudinous or vaguely ridiculous, as Marlowe had used it for the speech of Mycetes in Tamburlaine and as Shakespeare perhaps uses it in the lines of Lucentio quoted above (1.1.166-7), rhyming ‘hand’ and ‘strand’, and in the speeches by Hortensio and Gremio at 1.2.225-34. One also expects it when a statement is to be given the force of an epigram or is to sound conclusive, as in Petruchio's:

My father dead, my fortune lives for me,
And I do hope good days and long to see


(where it is not very successful) and, probably, in Katherine's:

To comb your noddle with a three-legged stool,
And paint your face, and use you like a fool.


Tranio is presumably uttering a ‘home truth’ when a few lines later he comments on Kate:

Husht, master, here's some good pastime toward;
That wench is stark mad, or wonderful froward.

Lucentio's rejoinder, however, gives a subtler effect:

But in the other's silence do I see
Maid's mild behaviour and sobriety.

The rhyming of the fully stressed syllable with one stressed only lightly, if at all, allows Lucentio to sound convinced of his truth, too, but perhaps makes it sound less convincing to us; and it allows Shakespeare to modulate back to blank verse.

Rhymed doggerel also seems to be used in an attempt to obtain special effects. It is prominent, for example, on the first appearance of Petruchio and Grumio, at the beginning of 1.2, and the impression given is, appropriately, of something clownish. What is perhaps different from uses in other early drama is that the rhymed lines are not continuous but are broken up with others—complete or half-lines or even prose; and if an editor's head spins, endeavouring to decide which is which, it may be because Shakespeare is trying out occasional rhymed prose. An example would be the speech by Grumio (1.2.29-35) which begins with colloquial prose and ends ‘Whom would to God I had well knocked at first, / Then had not Grumio come by the worst’—which may be verse, or may not. The opposite process seems to occur in 2.1.74 ff., where Petruchio's ‘O pardon me, Signor Gremio, I would fain be doing’ is capped by Gremio's ‘I doubt it not, sir, but you will curse your wooing’ followed by several lines of prose. At least this avoids jingle and monotony.

A still more interesting use of rhyme is found in Petruchio's initial statement of his strategy (2.1.169-79). In the lines:

Say that she rail, why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale …
If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks,
As though she bid me stay by her a week.
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns, and when be marrièd

it may not at first be apparent that ‘rail’ within the first line rhymes with ‘nightingale’ at the end of the second; ‘pack’ and ‘week’ are a kind of half-rhyme; and ‘marrièd’ rhymes with ‘wed’ in the middle of the line before. This interlacing, as it were, gives the whole passage the musical effect of lyric, and continuity, and a certain emphatic quality, without risking the monotony of a sequence of rhymed couplets that might have the added disadvantage of making Petruchio sound at this stage too confident or even ridiculous.

Also fascinating is Shakespeare's choice of prose or verse for different parts of the play. Sly, for example, normally speaks prose, of the most colloquial kind; but once he accepts the argument that he is ‘a lord indeed’, he adopts the more formal blank verse of those around him:

Am I a lord, and have I such a lady?
Or do I dream? Or have I dreamed till now?

(and soon adopts the royal plural!). Petruchio normally speaks in verse, but the best accounts of him are by speakers of prose.44 (One exception is Gremio's description of the wedding—but that involves Kate too.) Presumably the verse gives him a certain status, forces the listener on the stage to take him seriously, as it were, while the prose passages prevent his seeming to the audience in any way heroic. The best instances, of course, are Biondello's description of Petruchio's horse and of his dress for the wedding (3.2.43-68) and Grumio's report to Curtis of what happened on the way home from the ceremony (4.1.58-74)—the latter, incidentally, also a splendid example of the art of narrative (as is Gremio's account of the wedding itself).

One other change from prose to verse, completely unexpected, is worthy of mention. Grumio, appropriately enough, usually speaks in prose, as colloquial as Sly's, if more fluent. Why then in 4.1, in answer to Petruchio's feignedly angry question why the servants did not meet him in the park, does he speak in very formal blank verse?

Nathaniel's coat, sir, was not fully made,
And Gabriel's pumps were all unpinked i'th' heel;
There was no link to colour Peter's hat,
And Walter's dagger was not come from sheathing;
There were none fine but Adam, Ralph, and Gregory,
The rest were ragged, old, and beggarly …

The effect, surely, is of something prepared, possibly learnt off verbatim—a warning to the audience, in fact, that Grumio is in league with Petruchio throughout the taunting of Katherine in this scene and 4.3.

Perhaps enough has been said to demonstrate that The Taming of the Shrew, pace Mackail, is very rich in verbal and other technical skills; and if one looks for ‘rhetorical felicity’, that is easily found—in Petruchio's ‘Think you a little din can daunt mine ears? / Have I not in my time heard lions roar? …’, for example (1.2.195-206), or Gremio's account of the riches with which he would be prepared to endow Bianca:

My hangings all of Tyrian tapestry;
In ivory coffers I have stuffed my crowns …
I have a hundred milch-kine to the pail,
Six-score fat oxen standing in my stalls …
If whilst I live she will be only mine


or (let us not forget) in Sly's:

… if you give me any conserves, give me conserves of beef. Ne'er ask me what raiment I'll wear, for I have no more doublets than backs, no more stockings than legs, nor no more shoes than feet …

This last passage is also sufficient reminder that there are verbal virtues other than the romantic or the rhetorical: directness, for instance, ready intelligibility, lifelikeness, sprightliness, and vigour—and all these abound in The Taming of the Shrew. It has its linguistic weaknesses, in the occasional flatness (subject to the caveats entered above) and in the over-long wit-combats of Grumio and Curtis and even of Petruchio and Kate, but for the most part it is superbly written, in both verse and prose; and the qualities it is said to lack would not necessarily be improvements. …


  1. A. E. Thiselton, The Mystery of the Waking Mans Dreame revealed, (London, 1913); Charles C. Mish, letter in The Times Literary Supplement, 28 December 1951.

  2. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London, 1957, repr. 1961), i. 109-10.

  3. William Hazlitt, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ in Characters of Shakespear's Plays (1817). (Complete Works, ed. P. P. Howe, 21 vols., London 1930-4, iv. 345.)

  4. Introduction to the play in The Works of William Shakespeare, ed. Henry Irving and F. A. Marshall (New York and London, [1888]), Vol. 2.

  5. Bullough, Sources, i. 58.

  6. Ibid.

  7. The Taming of the Shrew ed. Richard Hosley, the Pelican Shakespeare (Baltimore, 1964), p. 24. Similarly, Maynard Mack, ‘Engagement and Detachment in Shakespeare's Plays’, in Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in honour of Hardin Craig, ed. Richard Hosley (London, 1963), pp. 279-80. Equally unacceptable is Alexander Leggatt's ‘Petruchio, Katherina and the Lord have a special vision, an awareness of life as a game …’ (Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (London, 1974), p. 62).

  8. C. C. Seronsy, ‘“Supposes” as the Unifying theme in The Shrew’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 14 (1963), 15-30.

  9. Shakespeare's World of Images (New York, 1949), p. 46.

  10. Hosley, Pelican edition (1964), p. 24.

  11. So, for instance, Bond, in the original (1904) Arden edition, p. 33. The New Cambridge editors were inclined to add 4.1—surely unnecessarily (p. 142). For further discussion of the staging, see the headnote on Induction 2 in the present edition and, in a wider context, Richard Hosley, ‘Shakespeare's Use of a Gallery over the Stage’, Shakespeare Survey 10 (Cambridge, 1957), 77-89.

  12. Discussions of the casting include Richard Hosley, ‘Was there a Dramatic Epilogue to The Taming of the Shrew?’, Studies in English Literature, 1 (1961), 17-34; Karl P. Wentersdorf, ‘The Original Ending of The Taming of the Shrew: A Reconsideration’, Studies in English Literature, 18 (1978), 201-16; and William A. Ringler, ‘The Number of Actors in Shakespeare's Early Plays’, in The Seventeenth-Century Stage, ed. G. E. Bentley (Chicago, 1968), 110-36.

  13. See the notes on Induction 2.114.1 and 125.1 and

  14. One minor textual point may be made here. The Pedant is listed as entering in 5.2 but says not one word. Is that because he originally played a speaking part there, but was removed from the scene although accidentally left in the opening stage direction?

  15. Nevertheless it has been known for one actor to double the parts—notably Oscar Asche; and Jonathan Pryce played both, in a controversial Royal Shakespeare Company production, as recently as 1978.

  16. G. I. Duthie, Shakespeare (London, 1951), p. 59.

  17. See notes on these lines.

  18. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, iii. 321.

  19. This is the version printed by Bullough in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare i. 111-58 and quoted in the present edition.

  20. Incidentally—lest Shakespeare alone be thought guilty of ignorance of Italy—Philogano has come to Ferrara via Ancona, ‘from thence by water to Ravenna, and from Ravenna hither, continually against the tide’. (The journey has to be made to appear onerous.)

  21. Still another ‘suppose’, in a sense, is Lucentio's wooing of Bianca while pretending to teach her Latin (3.1.27-43), a scene that Furnivall (and others since) thought to be borrowed from a speech in R. W[ilson]'s Three Lords and Three Ladies of London (1590). The speech in question is Simplicity's to Pleasure: ‘O singulariter nominativo, wise Lord Pleasure: genitivo, bind him [Fraud] to that post; dativo, give me my torch; accusativo, for I say he's a usurer; vocativo, O give me leave to run at him; ablativo, take and blind me’ (Dodsley's Old English Plays, revised W. C. Hazlitt, London, 1874, vi. 500). Shakespeare's certainly has more point, and more humour, and may have led in turn to the Latin lesson in The Merry Wives of Windsor. See also note on 4.1.130-1.

  22. See, e.g., R. W. Bond, Early Plays from the Italian (Oxford, 1911).

  23. It should be added that W. E. Harrold's analysis of the relationship of Plautus' Mostellaria to A Shrew and The Shrew fails to give reason for altering the generally accepted opinion that Shakespeare borrowed directly from Plautus only the names of Tranio and Grumio. (‘Shakespeare's Use of Mostellaria in The Taming of the Shrew’, Shakespeare Jahrbuch, Heidelberg, 1970, 188-94.)

  24. The casualness may be elsewhere—in having Lucentio refuse to give a reason for ordering Tranio to pretend to be a suitor to Bianca (1.1.244-6)—although it turns out to be a useful arrangement.

  25. Richard Hosley, ‘Sources and Analogues of The Taming of the Shrew’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 27 (1964), 289-308. The ballad is most easily found in W. C. Hazlitt's Shakespeare's Library (London, 1875), Vol. 4.

  26. J. H. Brunvand, “The Folktale Origin of The Taming of the Shrew’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 17 (1966), 345-59.

  27. W. S. Walker, A Critical Examination of the Text of Shakespeare, 3 vols. (London, 1860), iii. 70; Hosley, pp. 299-300; Kenneth Muir, The Sources of Shakespeare's Plays (London, 1977), pp. 20-1.

  28. Chambers, William Shakespeare, i. 328; ii. 391-2.

  29. ‘The Taming Untamed, or, the Return of the Shrew’, Modern Language Quarterly, 27 (1966), 147-61.

  30. William Shakespeare. A Commentary, Introductory Volume to the New Temple Shakespeare (London, 1936), p. 24.

  31. Shakespeare's Life and Art (London, 1939), p. 71.

  32. Hardin Craig, An Interpretation of Shakespeare (New York, 1948), p. 90.

  33. William Hazlitt, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, in Characters of Shakespear's Plays (Complete Works, iv. 343).

  34. The problem presumably disappears for anyone who agrees with Gareth Lloyd Evans that Petruchio ‘is every woman's dream of a kind of ideal lover’ (Shakespeare I, 1564-1592, Edinburgh, 1969, p. 109).

  35. The Meaning of Shakespeare, 2 vols. (Chicago, 1951, repr. 1963), i. 68.

  36. ‘The Taming Untamed, or, the Return of the Shrew’, Modern Language Quarterly, 27 (1966), p. 151.

  37. The Approach to Shakespeare (Oxford, 1930), pp. 58-9.

  38. Shakespeare's Imagery and What It Tells Us (Cambridge, 1935), p. 361.

  39. See also, e.g., 1.2.199 and note, and note on 1.1.165-7.

  40. K. Wentersdorf, ‘The Authenticity of The Taming of the Shrew’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 5 (1954), 11-32. The caveats entered by Moody E. Prior, ‘Imagery as a Test of Authorship’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 6 (1955), 381-6, should not be disregarded; but if the ‘authenticity’ of the play is not further discussed in this Introduction, it is because there is no case to answer once the variations in style are seen to be functional.

  41. The Language of Shakespeare's Plays (London, 1952, repr. 1965), p. 29.

  42. See notes on Induction 2, ll. 15, 29, and 46.

  43. Compare note on 4.4.32-3.

  44. Both points are made by, e.g., Milton Crane, Shakespeare's Prose (Chicago, 1951, repr. 1963), pp. 78-9.

Ruth Nevo (essay date 1980)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4011

SOURCE: Nevo, Ruth. “Kate of Kate Hall.” In Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare's “Taming of the Shrew,” edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 29-39. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1980, Nevo designates the principal concern of The Taming of the Shrew as the “sexual battle,” and analyzes the relationship between Katherina and Petruchio.]

A more gentlemanly age than our own was embarrassed by The Shrew. G. B. Shaw announced it “altogether disgusting to the modern sensibility.” Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch of the New Shakespeare judged it

primitive, somewhat brutal stuff and tiresome, if not positively offensive to any modern civilised man or modern woman, not an antiquary. … We do not and cannot, whether for better or worse, easily think of woman and her wedlock vow to obey quite in terms of a spaniel, a wife and a walnut tree—the more you whip 'em the better they be.

It will be noticed, however, that Q's access of gallantry causes him to overlook the fact that apart from the cuffings and beatings of saucy or clumsy zanni which is canonical in Italianate comedy, no one whips anyone in The Taming of the Shrew, violence being confined to Katherina who beats her sister Bianca and slaps Petruchio's face. Anne Barton has done much to restore a sense of proportion by quoting some of the punishments for termagant wives which really were practised in Shakespeare's day. Petruchio comes across, she says,

far less as an aggressive male out to bully a refractory wife into total submission, than he does as a man who genuinely prizes Katherina, and, by exploiting an age-old and basic antagonism between the sexes, manoeuvres her into an understanding of his nature and also her own.

Ralph Berry reads the play rather as a Berneian exercise in the Games People Play, whereby Kate learns the rules of Petruchio's marriage game, which she plays hyperbolically and with ironic amusement. “This is a husband-wife team that has settled to its own satisfaction the rules of its games, and now preaches them unctuously to friends” (Shakespeare's Comedies). In our own day, the wheel, as is the way with wheels, has come full circle and the redoubtable feminist, Ms Germaine Greer, has found the relationship of Kate and Petruchio preferable to the subservient docility of that sexist projection, the goody-goody Bianca (The Female Eunuch).

With all this fighting of the good fight behind us, we may approach the play with the unencumbered enjoyment it invites. As Michael West has excellently argued, “criticism has generally misconstrued the issue of the play as women's rights, whereas what the audience delightedly responds to are sexual rites.” Nothing is more stimulating to the imagination than the tension of sexual conflict and sexual anticipation. Verbal smashing and stripping, verbal teasing and provoking and seducing are as exciting to the witnessing audience as to the characters enacting these moves. It is easy to see why The Shrew has always been a stage success, and so far from this being a point to be apologized for it should be seen as exhibiting Shakespeare's early command of farce as the radical of comic action, a mastery temporarily lost as he struggled to absorb more rarefied material in The Two Gentlemen and only later recovered. The mode, however, of the sexual battle in The Shrew is devious and indirect and reflects a remarkably subtle psychology. Petruchio neither beats his Kate nor rapes her—two “primitive and brutal” methods of taming termagant wives, but neither is his unusual courtship of his refractory bride simply an exhibition of cock-of-the-walk male dominance to which in the end Katherina is forced to submit. Michael West's emphasis upon wooing dances and the folklore of sexual conquest is salutory, but Petruchio's conquest of Kate is far from merely a “kind of mating dance with appropriate struggling and biceps flexing.” Nor is she simply “a healthy female animal who wants a male strong enough to protect her, deflower her, and sire vigorous offspring.”

Only a very clever, very discerning man could bring off a psychodrama so instructive, liberating and therapeutic as Petruchio's, on a honeymoon as sexless (as well as dinnerless) as could well be imagined. Not by sex is sex conquered, nor for that matter by the withholding of sex, though the play's tension spans these poles. Christopher Sly, one recalls, is also constrained to forgo his creature comforts, a stoic malgré lui, and thereby a foil and foreshadower of the self-possessed Petruchio.

In the induction, the page Bartholomew plays his part as Lady Sly to such effect that Sly pauses only to determine whether to call the lovely lady “Al'ce madam, or Joan madam?” (Ind.2.110) or plain “madam wife” before demanding “Madam, undress you, and come now to bed” (Ind.2.117). Bartholomew must think fast, of course, and does: “[I] should yet absent me from your bed,” he says, lest “[you] incur your former malady,” and hopes that “this reason stands for my excuse” (Ind.2.124). Sly clearly has his own problems: “Ay, it stands so that I may hardly tarry so long. But I would be loath to fall into my dreams again. I will therefore tarry in despite of the flesh and the blood” (Ind.2.125-28). But Christopher Sly's “former malady” is, of course, an imposed delusion: it is not as an amnestic lord that he is himself but as drunken tinker. Katherina's, we will finally learn to perceive, was self-imposed, and requires the therapies of comedy—“which bars a thousand harms and lengthens life”—not the tumbling tricks of a “Christmas gambold” for its cure. This lower level functions as foil to the higher yardstick and guarantor of the latter's reality.

The play's formal telos is to supply that which is manifestly lacking: a husband for the wild, intractable and shrewish daughter of Baptista. But how shall Katherina herself not perceive that this husband is sought in order to enable her younger sister to be happily married to one of her numerous suitors? The situation of inflamed and inflammatory sibling rivalry which the good signor Baptista has allowed to develop between these daughters of his is suggested with deft economy. Her very first words:

I pray you, sir, is it your will
To make a stale of me amongst these mates?


speak hurt indignity, an exacerbated pride. Her response when Baptista fondles and cossets the martyred Bianca:

A pretty peat! it is best
Put finger in the eye, and she knew why


indicates her opinion that if Bianca is long suffering she is also extracting the maximum benefit and enjoyment from that state. Nothing that Baptista says or does but will be snatched up and interpreted disadvantageously by this irascible sensitivity:

Why, and I trust I may go too, may I not?
What, shall I be appointed hours, as though (belike)
I knew not what to take and what to leave? Ha!


These first glimpses already invite us to infer some reason for the bad-tempered, headstrong, domestic tyranny Kate exercises, but when we find her beating her cowering sister, screaming at her for confidences about which of her suitors she most fancies, and turning on her father with

What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see
She is your treasure, she must have a husband;
I must dance barefoot on her wedding-day,
And for your love to her lead apes in hell.
Talk not to me, I will go sit and weep,
Till I can find occasion of revenge


we surely do not require inordinate discernment to understand what ails Katherina Minola. It is a marvellous touch that the pious Bianca, defending herself from the wildcat elder sister (with no suitor), says:

Or what you will command me will I do
So well I know my duty to my elders


Bianca, it may be supposed, is not the only younger sister who has got her face scratched for a remark like that.

All of Padua, we are given to understand, is taken up with the problem of finding someone to take his devilish daughter off Baptista's hands, leaving the field free for the suitors of the heavenly Bianca. And this is precisely a trap in which Kate is caught. She has become nothing but an obstacle or a means to her sister's advancement. Even the husband they seek for her is in reality for the sister's sake, not hers. When she says: “I will never marry” it is surely because she believes no “real” husband of her own, who loves her for herself, whom she can trust, is possible. How indeed could it be otherwise since patently and manifestly no one does love her? Because (or therefore) she is not lovable. And the more unlovable she is the more she proves her point. Katherina of acts 1 and 2 is a masterly and familiar portrait. No one about her can do right in her eyes, so great is her envy and suspicion. No one can penetrate her defences, so great her need for assurance. So determined is she to make herself invulnerable that she makes herself insufferable, and finds in insufferability her one defence. This is a “knot of errors” of formidable proportions and will require no less than Petruchio's shock tactics for its undoing.

The undoing begins with the arrival of Petruchio, to wive it wealthily in Padua. No doubts are entertained in Padua about the benefits of marriage where money is, but it will be noted that no one is banking on a rich marriage to save him from the bankruptcy courts. All the suitors are wealthy; Lucentio, potentially at least. The contrast that Shakespeare sets up between Petruchio and Lucentio is an interesting ironic inversion of that obtaining in the Terentian tradition. In Terence the second (liaison) plot entailed tricky stratagems for acquiring money in order to buy (and keep) the slave girl. The main (marriage) plot on the other hand hinged upon the fortunate discovery of a true identity, which meant both legitimizing the affair and acquiring the dowry. Here, in the case of Bianca and Lucentio, the mercenary mechanics of matchmaking are masked by Petrarchan ardours on Lucentio's part (or Hortensio's, until the appearance of the widow):

Be she as foul as was Florentius' love,
As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrowd
As Socrates' Xantippe, or a worse
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua

(1.2.69-71; 75-76)

the spirited, bonny dark lass Baptista's terrible daughter turns out to be cannot but cause him a lift of the heart. She, for her part, does not of course respond immediately to his good-humoured teasing, but we may surely assume a certain vibration to be caused by this note of a tenderness which her obsessive fear of not finding has consistently put out of court. But she has built up sturdy bastions and will certainly not imitate her conciliatory sister. Combat is her chosen defence, and that these two are worthy opponents the set of wit which follows shows. Then comes the cut and thrust of the clash between her proud-mindedness and his peremptoriness. She misses no ploy, is outrageously provocative and brazenly impolite, verbally and even physically violent. He trips her up with a bawdy pun, she dares him to return a slapped face, and it is by no means certain to anyone that he will not. His strategy of mock denial:

'Twas told me you were rough and coy and sullen,
And now I find report a very liar;
For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous


contains an infuriating sting in its tail:

But slow in speech, yet sweet as spring-time flowers


so that she is criticized for being what she most prides herself on not being, and consoled by being told she is what she most despises. Again:

Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?
O sland'rous world! Kate like the hazel-twig
Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue
As hazel nuts, and sweeter than the kernels.
O, let me see thee walk. Thou dost not halt.


And poor Kate must be beholden to him for patronizing defence against the alleged detractions of a despised world, and finds herself judiciously examined for faults much as if she were a thoroughbred mare at a fair. It is no wonder that in reply to his

Father, 'tis thus: yourself and all the world,
That talk'd of her, have talk'd amiss of her.
If she be curst, it is for policy,
For she's not froward, but modest as the dove;
She is not hot, but temperate as the morn;
For patience she will prove a second Grissel,
And Roman Lucrece for her chastity;
And to conclude, we have 'greed so well together
That upon Sunday is the wedding-day


she can only splutter “I'll see thee hanged on Sunday first”; a response which is immediately interpreted by Petruchio, for the benefit of the spectators, as a secret bargain between lovers:

'Tis bargain'd 'twixt us twain, being alone,
That she shall still be curst in company.
I tell you 'tis incredible to believe
How much she loves me. O, the kindest Kate,
She hung about my neck, and kiss on kiss
She vied so fast, protesting oath on oath,
That in a twink she won me to her love.
O, you are novices! 'tis a world to see
How tame, when men and women are alone,
A meacock wretch can make the curstest shrew.


Round one thus ends indeed with “we will be married a Sunday.”

Sunday, however, brings not the marriage that has been prepared for in the Minola household, but a mummer's carnival. Petruchio arrives inordinately late, and in motley. Of the uproar he produces in the church we hear from Gremio, in a lively description containing the shape of things to come:

Tut, she's a lamb, a dove, a fool to him!
I'll tell you, Sir Lucentio: when the priest
Should ask if Katherine should be his wife,
“Ay, by gogs-wouns,” quoth he, and swore so loud
That all anaz'd the priest let fall the book,
And as he stoop'd again to take it up,
This mad-brain'd bridegroom took him such a cuff
That down fell priest and book, and book and priest.
“Now take them up,” quoth he, “if any list.”
What said the wench when he rose again?
Trembled and shook; for why, he stamp'd and swore
As if the vicar meant to cozen him.
But after many ceremonies done,
He calls for wine. “A health!” quoth he, as if
He had been aboard, carousing to his mates
After a storm, quaff'd off the muscadel,
And threw the sops all in the sexton's face.
This done, he took the bride about the neck,
And kiss'd her lips with such a clamorous smack
That at the parting all the church did echo.

(3.2.157-73; 177-79)

All of this is prologue to the first open clash of wills between these fiery newlyweds. He will instantly away, she “will not be gone till I please myself”:

The door is open, sir, there lies your way:
You may be jogging whiles your boots are green.


Father, be quiet, he shall stay my leisure.
Gentlemen, forward to the bridal dinner.
I see a woman may be made a fool,
If she had not a spirit to resist.

(3.2.217; 219-21)

This is Petruchio's cue:

They shall go forward, Kate, at thy command.
Obey the bride, you that attend on her.
But for my bonny Kate, she must with me.
Nay, look not big, nor stamp, nor stare, nor fret,
I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing;
And here she stands, touch her whoever dare,
I'll bring mine action on the proudest he
That stops my way in Padua. Grumio,
Draw forth thy weapon, we are best with thieves;
Rescue thy mistress if thou be a man.
Fear not, sweet wench, they shall not touch thee, Kate!
I'll buckler thee against a million.

(3.2.222-23; 227-39)

And he snatches her off, sublimely indifferent to anything she says, insisting upon his property rights, benignly protective, mind you, of his bonny Kate, turning all her protests to his own purposes and depriving her of any shared of self-justification by his indignant defence of her.

Stage-manager and chief actor, master of homeopathy—“He kills her in his own humour” as Peter says—Petruchio's play-acting, his comic therapy, provides the comic device. One of a long line of Shakespearean actor-protagonists, he holds the mirror up to nature, and shows scorn her own image. The tantrums that she has specialized in throwing he throws in superabundance, forcing her to see herself in the mirror he thus holds up.

Grumio's tale of the saga of the journey:

Hadst thou not cross'd me, thou shouldst have heard how her horse fell, and she under her horse; thou shouldst have heard in how miry a place, how she was bemoil'd, how he left her with the horse upon her, how he beat me because her horse stumbled, how she waded through the dirt to pluck him off me; how he swore, how she pray'd that never pray'd before; how I cried, how the horses ran way, how her bridle was burst; how I lost my crupper, with many things of worthy memory, which now shall die in oblivion, and thou return unexperienc'd to thy grave.


prepares for the continuing hubbub in the Petruchean dining-hall. That Petruchio's strategy has the additional advantage of an austerity regime as far as food and sleep and “fine array” is concerned is all to the good. Petruchio is canny and will leave no stone unturned. Also, he has tamed hawks. But it is not physical hardship which will break Kate's spirit, nor does he wish it, any more than a spirited man would wish his horse or his hound spiritless. And Petruchio, we recall, wagers twenty times as much upon his wife as he would upon his hawk or his hound. Significantly, Kate's recurrent response to his carrying on is to fly to the defence of the cuffed and chivvied servants. Crossing her will, totally and consistently, under the guise of nothing but consideration for her desires, confuses and disorients her, as she complains to Grumio:

What, did he marry me to famish me?
Beggars that come unto my father's door
Upon entreaty have a present alms,
If not, elsewhere they meet with charity;
But I, who never knew how to entreat,
Nor never needed that I should entreat,
Am starv'd for meat, giddy for lack of sleep,
With oaths kept waking, and with brawling fed;
And that which spites me more than all these wants,
He does it under the name of perfect love;


Katherine gets the point, but fails to get from Grumio even one of the mouth-watering items from a hearty English menu with which he tantalizes her. When she, listening hungrily to Petruchio's “sermon of continency,” and knowing not “which way to stand, to look, to speak,” is “as one new-risen from a dream,” she might well rub her eyes, and say, with Christopher Sly, … “do I dream? Or have I dream'd till now?” (Ind.2.69).

What subtle Dr Petruchio has done is to drive a wedge into the steel plating of Kate's protective armour, so that he speaks at once to the self she has been and the self she would like to be; the self she has made of herself and the self she has hidden. The exchange of roles, with herself now at the receiving end of someone else's furies, takes her, as we say, out of herself; but she also perceives the method of his madnesses. Petruchio's remedy is an appeal to Kate's intelligence. These are not arbitrary brutalities, but the clearest of messages. And they are directed to her with undivided singleness of purpose.

In act 4 the remedy comes to fruition and Kate enunciates it:

Then God be blest, it [is] the blessed sun,
But sun it is not, when you say it is not;
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it nam'd, even that it is,
And so it shall be so, for Katherine.


And then it is enacted, with considerable verve, as she addresses Vincentio, on cue from Petruchio, as “young budding virgin, fair, and fresh, and sweet” and then promptly again, on cue, undoes all. Kate has yielded to a will stronger than her own and to an intelligence which has outmanoeuvred her, but the paradoxical, energizing and enlivening effect of the scene is that the laughter is directed not against her as butt or victim, but, through her prim performance, towards the disconcerted Vincentio. The senex is made fun of, in effect, by a pair of tricksters in some subtle alliance with each other not clear to him, but clear to the audience. Partly this response is structured by New Comedy paradigms. As Grumio puts it in act 1: “Here's no knavery! See, to beguile the old folks, how the young folks lay their heads together!” (1.2.138-39). But mainly I believe it is due to our sense of liberation from deadlock. Petruchio has enlisted Kate's will and wit on his side, not broken them, and it is the function of the final festive test to confirm and exhibit this. It is also to be noted that the arrival in Padua of Vincentio “exhausts” Lucentio's wooing devices, just as Petruchio's taming device exhausts its function; and it is a dexterous turn of composition which balances the mock nonrecognition of Vincentio on the way to Padua, and his encounter with his Mantuan proxy, with the unmasking and recognition of the true Katherina, and the true Bianca, at the banquet.

That Kate is in love by act 5 is, I believe, what the play invites us to perceive. And indeed she may well be. The man she has married has humour and high spirits, intuition, patience, self-command and masterly intelligence; and there is more than merely a homily for Elizabethan wives in her famous speech:

A woman mov'd is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty,
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to slip, or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labor, both by sea and land;
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
While thou li'st warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience—
Too little payment for so great a debt.


She wins her husband's wager but the speech bespeaks a generosity of spirit beyond the call of two hundred crowns. We have just heard Bianca snap at Lucentio mourning his lost bet: “The more fool you for laying on my duty,” and it seems that the metamorphosis of folly into wisdom which the comic action performs makes an Erastian reversal. More fool the Paduans indeed, in their exploitative hypocrisies and meannesses, than this madcap pair.

The very up-Petrarchan Petruchio has been the initiator of remedies in The Taming of the Shrew as well as the temperamental suitor; Katherina largely a responder and a foil. These positions will be reversed in As You Like It but not without a number of intermediate moves. The Two Gentlemen of Verona which follows The Shrew allows very little scope for the presentation of independent action on the part of Julia (despite her notable independence) and no occasion for courtship at all. Nevertheless, the growth of perceptions which make later developments possible proceeds through this next play, and is positively advanced by its explorations in the ambivalent and mimetic rivalry of the gentlemen.

Velvet D. Pearson (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5785

SOURCE: Pearson, Velvet D. “In Search of a Liberated Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 44, no. 4 (1990): 229-42.

[In the following essay, Pearson considers stage representations of The Taming of the Shrew as they reflect the changing social perceptions of women.]

From its first performance in about 1594 to the present day, productions of The Taming of the Shrew challenge actors and directors to provide the audience with a play that supplies entertainment rather than sketches a harsh portrait of Elizabethan patriarchal society. When faced with a “problem play” such as this one, theater companies often avoid the difficulties involved by ignoring the play entirely or substituting an altered version. David Garrick's shortened three-act play, Catherine and Petruchio replaced The Taming of the Shrew for almost one hundred years. With the exception of one three-day run of an operatic version, Garrick's play was the only version produced in England and America from 1754-1844 (Haring-Smith 16-18). This version eliminates the subplot about Bianca and her suitors as well as the Induction. Garrick cut out most of the pure comedic elements to make the play more farcical so that the characters of Catherine and Petruchio become more clearly motivated. Catherine plainly marries in order to tame Petruchio, but is beaten at her own game. Garrick makes the play acceptable by indicating unmistakably that Petruchio is not a tyrannical household ruler and Cate, although tamed, is not humiliated; the couple shares a happy, compromising marriage.

In contrast, Michael Bogdanov's modern dress production by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1978 emphasized the moral and physical ugliness of a male-dominated society. A review in the Guardian questioned “whether there is any reason to revive a play that seems totally offensive to our age and our society” (qtd. in Thompson 17). Admittedly, the play can easily be distasteful to the feminist awareness of the 1990s, and if a way is not found to make the text compatible to the sensibilities of a modern audience, performances of it will cease, and the text will sink into obscurity, to be read only by the most dedicated Shakespeare scholars. The Shrew has many redeeming qualities, including some hilarious scenes, that make the search for an acceptable production worthwhile. Somewhere between Garrick's revision and Bogdanov's dark commentary lies an entertaining and thought-provoking evening of theater.

One of the major obstacles to a satisfactory modern production of the play is Katherine's speech in the final scene:

I am asham'd that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.


At a first reading, it seems to be her final capitulation to Petruchio's taming, and a subservient reiteration of the ideal Elizabethan woman's loyalty to her husband. England, however, had Elizabeth I for a ruler at this time, a ruler who in no way could be labeled inferior or submissive to anyone. In addition, many medieval ideas about marriage were beginning to be attacked by such critics as Heinrich Bullinger, Robert Cleaver, Juan Luis Vives, and Erasmus. Some ideas under fire included sex for procreation purposes only, woman as idealized in the classic romance, wife as drudge and servant, and male autocracy in the household (Bean 69). In his “Commentary on Ovid's ‘Nut Tree,’” Erasmus writes that “in those days the object of matrimony was offspring, but nowadays most people take a wife for pleasure, and a woman who produces many children is called a sow” (139). Surely Shakespeare would have been aware of these trends in his society, which included the ancient Biblical idea that the relationship of a wife and husband is second only to the bond owed to God. Considered in this light, Kate's final speech takes on an entirely different hue. Attention to certain details throughout the text, however, must lead up to and build to her act 5 speech to create a believable transition from the unruly Kate in her first scene to the supportive and loving wife in her last.

Perhaps one of the fascinations of The Shrew is the very difficulty of enjoying it while also feeling uncomfortable with it. We are amused by many of the comic scenes, especially between Christopher Sly and his page/wife and between Bianca and her suitors in disguise, but at the same time we are horrified by the mercenary comments offered by most of the male characters. In addition, Petruchio does not choose the most gentle means to shape his wife's character. His behavior may be softened or hardened through directorial choices; however, downplaying the taming process too much eliminates the discordance between his methodology and his seeming charm and love for Katherine. Some may argue that Petruchio's love for Kate is really his love for her dowry. What could be the importance of a dowry to a man who has just inherited his father's estate and claims “Crowns in my purse I have, and goods at home, / And so am come abroad to see the world” (1.2.57-58). The added responsibility of an estate makes his need for an heir more urgent. Petruchio realizes he must marry quickly and if money comes along with a wife, then so much the better. Most marriages of the time were for necessity, not love; Petruchio, product of a society in which men took care of women and expected absolute obedience, is no different. Nor did his requirement die with Shakespeare; dominance and submissiveness in marriage continue in our own time. The perceived opposition of violence and slapstick, darkness and comedy, reflects our own changing feelings towards the roles of men and women and raises questions that can only be generated by a complex play that requires careful thought and staging.

Many modern productions choose to cut the Induction, thus eliminating the entire idea of a play within a play. To do so, however, is to lose an important dimension: the real audience watching a group of actors who are playing actors performing in front of another group of actors who are pretending to be spectators. Several productions, including those at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1954, 1962, and 1967, exaggerate the point by heralding the actors before the play proper begins and making the players clear the stage of props and pieces of the set after the play is over. Often the actors playing Hortensio and Katherine are paired, as are those who play Petruchio and Bianca, in this mimed afterword that further calls attention to the play as a piece of theater rather than a slice of real life (Sprague and Trewin 54). The Induction thus serves as a distancing device; the play within the play, a farce created for the benefit of Christopher Sly, can more easily be seen as an illusion. The traditional suspension of disbelief is eliminated, as the actual audience is reminded they are watching a play.

Many parallels between the Kate/Petruchio plot and the Christopher Sly/Lord plot are lost when the Induction is cut. The Lord tells all, “Sirs, I will practice on this drunken man” (Ind.1.36). In a similar fashion Petruchio plays games with Kate's mind. Where Sly is confused about which is his true role, beggar or lord, “Am I a Lord, and have I such a lady? / Or do I dream? Or have I dream'd till now? / I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak,” Katherine finds herself in a similar state, “… she, poor soul, / Knows not which way to stand, to look, to speak, / And sits as one new risen from a dream” (Ind.2.68-70, 4.1.184-86). Each character goes through some sort of transformation. Although Katherine's seems to be permanent, we know Sly will be returned to his beggarly state after the lords and hunters tire of their game. Sly's new “wife,” the page, states “My husband and my lord, my lord and husband, / I am your wife in all obedience” just as Kate, in her final long speech, claims to be subservient to her so-called master, Petruchio (Ind.2.106-07). However, at the beginning of the Induction when the hostess throws Sly out of the pub, he is portrayed as inferior to women although he does not view himself that way. A parallel between Petruchio and Sly here should put a question in the audience's mind: is Petruchio really superior, or does Kate just let him think so? (Kahn 87).

Many critics complain that The Shrew is incomplete because it lacks the closure of an epilogue. An earlier, anonymous version of the play dating back to 1589, The Taming of A Shrew, has an afterword in which Sly announces to the audience that he is going to use the methods he just learned in this “dream” to go home and tame his own wife. Irving Ribner argues that there is no need for such an obvious closure because V.ii acts as an epilogue; the play proper is over with Kate's capitulation in the previous scene, and this final scene merely illuminates the true characters of the other players. Bianca and the widow are revealed as the true shrews, while Kate is the loving wife (175). It is true that the Induction is confusing; there is no indication of an exit for Sly and his group, merely: “They sit and mark” (1.1.254). It is up to the director and the actors to decide exactly when Sly and company leave the stage. In many productions, he is carried off soon after, but in some he remains on stage as a spectator throughout the performance.

The attention given to actors and role-playing in the Induction influences the rest of the play. George Cheatham claims that two criteria must be satisfied before a character can truly play a role: the role must be compatible with an original characteristic, and the parties involved must exhibit a certain amount of selflessness (225-27). Petruchio, after all, falls in the mud with Kate and refuses to eat the burnt meat with Kate. He acts as a director teaching Katherine to play roles other than the shrew: wooed maiden, wife with jealous husband, wife with tyrannous husband, wife with loving husband. Through examples of buyer, wooer, tamer, and husband, he shows her the possibilities of her personality, her ability to be any woman she chooses to be (Henze 232-33). She is defined not only as Baptista's daughter or Petruchio's wife; she is an intelligent woman who can play any role she, her husband, or any other person requires her to play. Other characters do not have this ability; they are more one-dimensional.

Before their first meeting, Kate and Petruchio do not seem to be sympathetic characters. On the one hand, we see a man who scuffles with his servant the first moment he is on stage and then announces that he comes to “wive it weathily in Padua; / If wealthily, then happily in Padua” (1.2.75-76). No wonder Kate is shrewish; she is surrounded by men who want to buy and sell her. Baptista, like any smart merchant, wants to get rid of his unpopular goods before selling his prize, Bianca, off to the highest bidder. He even stands by and allows Gremio and Hortensio to insult Kate and doesn't deign to reply to her “I pray you sir, is it your will / To make a stale of me amongst these mates?” (1.1.57-58). Of course, Kate is not the most charming woman in the world. Breaking a lute over Hortensio's head and tying up and striking Bianca earn her her devilish reputation. Unfortunately, many modern productions cut Petruchio's lines about marrying for money, yet include Kate's behavior unaltered (Dash 45-46). In this case Petruchio becomes a more sympathetic character, and Kate is reduced to a one-dimensional shrew.

It is interesting to note that although most directors of this play have been male, their female counterparts have not presented The Shrew in a drastically different way. Margaret Anglin, who directed and played Katherine in 1914, reflected the typical twentieth-century attempt to present Kate and Petruchio as two characters who are learning from and in love with each other. Katherine is truly transformed from Kate the Curst to a Kate who learns a socially acceptable way of controlling her husband (Haring-Smith 93-94). Margaret Webster's 1951 production demonstrated a more recent tendency toward excessive farce. Although her Petruchio and Kate were also portrayed as falling in love with each other, their physical horseplay suggested a certain savagery in the characters, echoed later in Bogdanov's production (137-39). Other directors have used the play as an opportunity to ridicule modern women. Oscar Asche, in a London performance in 1904, had Kate enter dressed in a riding habit. She cracked a whip, led two dogs, and carried dead rabbits from a successful hunt. He marginalized her individuality by presenting her masculine qualities as a negative caricature of the New Woman (83-84).

In this play Shakespeare is only beginning to exhibit his talent for the word games that mature into a cutting wit in Love's Labors Lost, and some productions emphasize Petruchio as a player of games and Kate as a ready learner of his technique. When Petruchio and Kate finally meet in a Royal Shakespeare Company production in 1967, Trevor Nunn had Petruchio pretend to have only one arm. Kate was genuinely sympathetic for a moment, then indignant and amused when she found she had been tricked (Leggatt 55n). This mimed game can be justified by the multitude of verbal games played in the text and a specific reference to Petruchio's arms later in the scene: “So may you lose your arms. / If you strike me, you are no gentleman, / And if no gentleman, why then no arms” (2.1.221-23). Kate is already responding to the games her suitor plays. Even though she asks to be called Katherine, Petruchio calls her Kate eleven times, infuriating her. Sexual puns abound in Petruchio's lines: “Alas, good Kate, I will not burthen thee, / For knowing thee to be but young and light. … What, with my tongue in your tail? Nay, come again, / Good Kate; I am a gentleman—” (2.1.202-03, 218-19). And a gentleman he is, for when Kate strikes him, he has only a verbal threat to give her. By the end of their scene, she recognizes his words as the verbal tricks they are and asks, “Where did you study all this goodly speech?” (2.1.262). He is the master of the game, but through listening to him, she will equal, if not surpass, his ability later in the play.

Beginning to soften, Kate must feel hints of emotion for Petruchio, who is quite a different man than any she has met before. While waiting for him at the wedding, she admits, “Would Katherine had never seen him though!” The line could be interpreted as just another angry retort but the stage direction following, “Exit weeping” (3.2.26), suggests that the wedding day is important to her. Petruchio finally shows up, though late and poorly dressed. After the wedding, in a 1902 London production, Petruchio “used to carry a kicking Katherine right off on one shoulder.” This type of heavy-handed physical behavior, which seems out of keeping with the man who would not hit Kate earlier in the wooing scene, is often seen. Even more exaggerated was an 1848 production in which the “promptbook reads: ‘The Ladies give a faint scream and cling to the gentlemen. The Servants retreat’—to which is added in a later hand; ‘Hortensio and Baptista draw and attack Petruchio who defends himself and at the same time pulls Catherine up stage Business and Change Scene’” (Sprague 57). This same man, however, has the decency to respect Kate's person on the wedding night, choosing to lecture her on continence rather than enter the marriage bed. Surely this is an action from a many-faceted, sensitive character. Such kindness from a husband was not often the case in Elizabethan or later times; many women were forced to perform in the bridal bed before they were ready (Dash 54-56).

Some of the most difficult scenes to play are those in Petruchio's house. His behavior can easily be portrayed as cruel and tormenting, even as a type of brainwashing, but in such a portrayal the play loses its multiplicity and is no longer an entertaining examination of marriage and society. In the 1902 production referred to above, when Kate is denied the “burnt” meat even though terribly hungry, she “snatch[es] up a knife and raise[s] it to strike Petruchio, when the sight of his mocking face, quite unruffled by her fury, breaks down her proud spirit, and plunging the knife into the table, she sinks sobbing at his feet” (Sprague 60). If it were not for the fact that Petruchio joins her in deprivation of food, Kate would become a woman completely defeated by a tyrant. Petruchio's recognition that he is as volatile as she softens his behavior considerably: “And better 'twere that both of us did fast, / Since of ourselves, ourselves are choleric, / Than feed it with such overroasted flesh” (4.1.173-75).

Kate who can later berate Petruchio obviously has plenty of spirit and spunk left in her. She is not tamed, nor does it seem her tongue will ever be:

Why, sir, I trust I may have leave to speak,
And speak I will. I am no child, no babe;
Your betters have endur'd me say my mind,
And if you cannot, best you stop your ears.
My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
Or else my heart concealing it will break,
And rather than it shall, I will be free,
Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.


Although Petruchio denies her the new dress in this scene, he asks Hortensio to pay for it in an aside. His brawling behavior is a part of the game he's playing with Kate. In an effort to make his character more sympathetic, Maurice Daniels, in a 1962 RSC production, had Petruchio give Kate the “paltry cap” in a mime at the end of the scene (Leggatt 55). From his first entrance, he plays at visual tricks and word games with everyone; Grumio, for example, if so directed, can go along with the “knock me soundly” game he plays with his master. Then Petruchio can be developed into a gamester and master of the language rather than just a brute (1.2.5-19).

Kate finally learns the game well enough to challenge her husband's wit when they are travelling on the road to her father's house, a road that signifies a transition for her. It takes a blatant explanation from Hortensio to make her aware of Petruchio's game: “Say as he says, or we shall never go” (4.5.11). Her immediate capitulation surprises both men, and Petruchio tests her further to prove to himself that she really does understand the game.

I say it is the Moon.
I know it is the Moon.
Nay, then you lie; it is the blessed sun.
Then god be blest, it [is] the blessed sun,
But sun it is not, when you say it is not;
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it nam'd, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katherine.


If we see a Kate who is beginning to enjoy beating Petruchio at his own tricks, we can interpret her actions as a compromise between obedience and intellectual freedom (Kahn 96). The liberation of her imagination transforms her into a skillful partner and player who can further exaggerate and who is perfectly capable of competing with Petruchio. His challenge in reference to the old Vincentio, “Tell me, sweet Kate, and tell me truly too, / Hast thou beheld a fresher Gentlewoman,” is surpassed by her retort:

Young budding Virgin, fair, and fresh, and sweet,
Whither away, or [where] is thy abode?
Happy the parents of so fair a child!
Happier the man whom favourable stars
Allots thee for his lovely bedfellow!

(4.5.28-29, 37-41)

And when he points out her mistake, her reply reflects the joy she feels: “… my mistaking eyes, / … have been so bedazzled with the sun, / That every thing I look on seemeth green” (4.5.45-47). She is not sad; her spirit is not broken, else Vincentio would not be able to observe that she is a “merry mistress” (4.5.53). She has discovered an intellectual freedom unavailable to many Elizabethan women, a freedom encouraged by her playful, though sometimes domineering, husband.

Katherine's assertiveness begins to shine; when they arrive in Padua it is she who suggests they follow to see what will happen to Bianca, Lucentio, Baptista, Vincentio, and all the imposters. It is the first time she is not merely responding to Petruchio's cue; she offers her own idea: “Husband, let's follow, to see the end of this ado” (5.1.141). Characteristically, Petruchio tests her sincerity to see how far she will let him go and asks for a kiss in the street. Although she is hesitant to kiss in the midst of the street, she agrees in order to avoid the consequence that they will go home again if she does not. But there is more to it than that; she calls him “love” for the first time. Has our boisterous Katherine fallen in love with her supposed tamer? Petruchio seems somewhat smitten as well: “… Come, my sweet Kate: / Better once than never, for never too late” (5.1.149). It is the beginning of a relationship based on mutual respect, as well as mutual admiration of intellect (Dash 60-61).

The test of a good production of The Shrew is Katherine's final long speech, which may appear to be a sermon on the good Elizabethan wife. If Kate has been yielding slowly throughout the play, her speech becomes the ultimate acquiescence to her husband's authority. If she has not been portrayed as the surrendering type, and the speech is delivered seriously, then Kate's character takes an unbelievable turn. However, a close look at the text reveals another option. She chooses to emphasize positive aspects of woman in the context of marriage: softness, beauty, and woman's strength as complement to her husband's. Though it can be argued that softness is merely an indication of weakness, it carries images of comfort, love, and care as well. Kate recognizes the power she has within the confines of her society and her marriage, contrasting it with the powerlessness of her role in Baptista's house (Bean 69).

The well-developed political analogy she uses illustrates the depth of her intellect.

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
.....Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?

(5.2.151-52, 160-65)

Note that it is an “honest will” she serves; a people/wife are more willing to serve a benevolent king/husband than a tyrant because of the fair treatment received (Bean 69). Often the two types may be performing the same underhanded, dirty deeds, but the people are more willing to make excuses or accept the behavior as right if they are being treated well. Discomfort and dissatisfaction lead to revolution, not affluence and a content society. If most people are happy, those in power are more likely to be able to function without trouble.

Though Petruchio's way of life may not be the best or the only way, his is the better way within the context/reality of the play. He is the only husband who gains a true wife; Hortensio and Lucentio are left with disagreeable women who do nothing in the final scene that could portray them in a positive light (Henze 238). Kate also recognizes the strange changing relationship between illusion and reality: “That seeming to be most which we indeed least are” (5.2.175). She realizes that she would not have recited such a speech for anyone earlier in the play. The always sure Petruchio even hesitates to ask this performance of her; he recognizes the risk he is taking by pushing her perhaps too far, and knows that her play with him is more important here than at any other time. When he says “The fouler fortune mine, and there an end,” he acknowledges that her refusal to play will mean his defeat, and for both of them a loss of hope for happiness in the marriage (5.2.97).

Her words dominate the scene, even quieting the ebullient Petruchio. The sermon she delivers mocks and surpasses all of her husband's earlier tirades (Kahn 98). Just as Petruchio enjoys making the bet, so Kate enjoys helping him win as the length and care of her performance demonstrate (Leggatt 61). In an Ashland production in 1978, Kate was the only character who stood and moved around in the final scene, thus creating her own visual superiority. She also conveyed an alliance with Petruchio that they had been developing throughout the play. He was so moved and subdued by her final speech that when she started to kneel, he knelt too, catching her hand. They rose up together, equals, face to face, and went on to bed (Andresen-Thom 123, 139).

What a contrast with Michael Bogdanov's modern dress production of the same year. An ornate set greeted the audience, but when a “drunk” in the audience started a ruckus with an “usherette”—“I'm not having any bloody woman tell me what to do”—a riot ensued and ended up on stage, destroying the set and revealing a complex set of catwalks, iron staircases, and scaffolding. Later the audience found out the drunken man was Christopher Sly, and still later discovered that the same character was playing Petruchio. He violently kicked and slapped, threw Kate to the ground and pinned her by the wrists in the wooing scene, while Grumio covered their getaway from the wedding with a switchblade. The final scene took place in an atmosphere of cigars, brandy, and poker chips. Katherine relished her new-found servitude in a perverse, masochistic way that bothered even Petruchio. He snatched his foot away nervously before she could kiss it; the other characters were horrified and disgusted as well (Haring-Smith 120).

Bogdanov was trying to offer a feminist interpretation of the play and illustrate that the differences between the status of modern woman and Elizabethan woman are not as marked as some might believe. However, most critics, while admittedly admiring the daring of the piece, complained, along with Lorna Sage of the Times Literary Supplement that it was,

an interesting and courageous (not to say feminist) way to interpret the play, but though it works in theory, I am not so sure in practice. It is very difficult to accept an emotional curve that starts with exhilaration and ends in depressed deadlock.

(qtd. in Haring-Smith 122)

Sage goes on to observe that audience members seemed to enjoy the beginning of the play, but the implications of the world created on the stage eventually led to a certain amount of discomfort (122). The production became a satire of commercialism, romantic love, and the oppression of women, rather than a play whose sympathetic characters could make the audience think about their own lives.

Kate and Petruchio are two of only a few characters who do not rely on disguise or deception to develop their relationship (Daniell 25). Masters of the overstatement, they join in marriage while retaining their individual personalities, rather than exist as individuals concerned with their own self-gratification. Joined in battle against an unyielding society that can accept without question a Baptista who sells his daughters and a Gremio who shops for a bride, Petruchio and Kate offer new ideas and change to the established society of Padua. Their relationship, though rocky and unpredictable, is based on mutual trust and dependence (Andresen-Thom 140). They play a game in which only they know the rules (Berry 70). As a result, Petruchio can bet on his wife's willingness to perform tasks that she realizes are only a part of their play. Visually, a production in Ashland easily amplified the difference by dressing the couple in plain, buff clothes for the final scene in contrast with the rich reds, satins, and velvets of the other characters (Andresen-Thom 138). This directorial choice is justified by the text; Petruchio has much to say about clothing and its relationship to people's character:

To me she's married, not unto my clothes.
Could I repair what she will wear in me,
As I can change these poor accoutrements,
'Twere well for Kate, and better for myself.
.....Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor,
For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich;
.....What, is the jay more precious than the lark,
Because his feathers are more beautiful?

(3.2.117-20, 4.3.171-72, 175-76)

Productions from different eras mold Kate's character to reflect the role of contemporary women. In the nineteenth century, to tame a Kate would be to do her a favor; her final speech delivers the morality of the time, a definition of the true feminine woman (Haring-Smith 24). Many twentieth-century performances try to minimize the ugliness of the play, making Katherine a woman who can subtly control or one who capitulates to Petruchio out of her love for him (123-24). Directors attempt to distance the play from these problematic choices by making it more farcical. Unfortunately, this technique often obscures the humanity of the characters, making them flat and one-dimensional caricatures to whom the audience cannot relate (146). The play is reduced from the multidimensionality that most people associate with Shakespeare's writing to a singular circus from which the audience leaves having learned nothing. Noting the failure or semi-success of other slapstick productions, directors tend to make the play more and more farcical, rather than returning to the genre of comedy for inspiration. It is this same loss of subtlety that undercuts any chance for the audience to perceive a victory for Kate. A production in Stratford-upon-Avon presented a Petruchio who stroked Kate's calves at the end of their first scene; they gazed into each other's eyes like young lovers. Thus, the audience could too easily believe that they would live happily ever after. Interaction between a man and a woman is rarely so simple (Sprague and Trewin 182).

Although many readers regard the play as satirizing women, some also see it as ridiculing “male attitudes toward women” (Kahn 86). Considering the atmosphere Shakespeare was writing in, a world in which philosophers and scholars alike were beginning to question the traditional roles of women, it seems plausible that he intended to raise difficult questions about the roles society had assigned both men and women. That it is extremely difficult to be an individual while remaining within the acceptable confines of one's society is a concept that Petruchio helps Katherine identify as the cause of her trials. No longer must she be defined as Baptista's shrewish daughter or object of man's ridicule; she knows her own mind and has opinions she is unafraid to voice. Katherine often thinks her husband mad because of the strange statements he claims are true. He labels meat “burnt and dried away,” though she saw with her own eyes that it “was well, if you were so contented” (4.1.170, 69). Later when he insists “'tis now some seven o'clock” she points out that it is obviously “almost two” (4.3.187, 189). He serves as a mirror in the games they play; she perceives his “insane” behavior in the same manner in which men see her “insane” behavior. Yet Petruchio, unlike the other men in the play, enjoys his wife's intelligence and wit, and expends much time and effort encouraging her to use them in a challenging way.

The Taming of the Shrew's diverse and interesting stage history indicates that it is a play that requires careful consideration of the society's changing perceptions of women. The context of the original play must also be reconciled with the vastly different twentieth-century atmosphere; women do have more intellectual freedom and respect, yet they also still feel the repercussions of past subservience. Certainly a play which raises issues such as the battle of the sexes, the changing roles of women, and the constraints society places on individuals will leave its audience trying to sort out these concerns long after the curtain falls. Perhaps one day a director will be brave enough to shift the attention completely to Katherine by making the story originate from her mind, rather than a man's. Kate the career woman could enter before the Induction. She may come home from a long day at work, set down her briefcase, pour herself a glass of white wine, and proceed to fall asleep in her chair. Then the play becomes her dream about Sly dreaming about Kate and Petruchio, and the Russian doll effect goes on and on.

Works Cited

Andresen-Thom, Martha. “Shrew-taming and Other Rituals of Aggression: Baiting and Bonding on the Stage and in the Wild.” Women's Studies 9 (1982): 121-43.

Bean, John C. “Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’” The Woman's Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Eds. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Neely. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980. 65-78.

Berry, Ralph. Shakespeare's Comedies: Explorations in Form. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972.

Cheatham, George. “Imagination, Madness, and Magic: ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ as Romantic Comedy.” Iowa State Journal of Research 59 (1985): 221-32.

Daniell, David. “The Good Marriage of Katherine and Petruchio.” Shakespeare Survey 37 (1984): 23-31.

Dash, Irene G. Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare's Plays. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

Erasmus, Desidirius. “Commentary on Ovid's ‘Nut Tree.’” Trans. A. G. Rigg. Collected Works of Erasmus. Eds. Elaine Fantham and Erika Rummel. Vol. 7. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989. 125-69. 66 vols.

Haring-Smith, Tori. From Farce to Metadrama: A Stage History of “The Taming of the Shrew”: 1594-1983. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Henze, Richard. “Role Playing in ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’” Southern Humanities Review 4 (1970): 231-40.

Kahn, Coppélia. “‘The Taming of the Shrew’: Shakespeare's Mirror of Marriage.” The Authority of Experience: Essays in Feminist Criticism. Eds. Arlyn Diamond and Lee R. Edwards. Amherst: University of Massachussetts Press, 1977. 84-100.

Leggatt, Alexander. Shakespeare's Comedy of Love. London: Methuen, 1978.

Ribner, Irving. “The Morality of Farce: ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’” Essays in American and English Literature Presented to Bruce Robert McElderry, Jr. Eds. Max F. Schulz, William D. Templeman, and Charles R. Metzger. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1967. 165-76.

Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Riverside Shakespeare. Eds. G. Blackmore Evans et al. Boston: Houghton, 1974. 110-42.

Sprague, Arthur Colby. Shakespeare and the Actors: The Stage Business in His Plays (1600-1905). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1945.

———, and J. C. Trewin. Shakespeare's Plays Today: Some Customs and Conventions of the Stage. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970.

Thompson, Ann, ed. The Taming of the Shrew. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Harriet A. Deer (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6372

SOURCE: Deer, Harriet A. “Untyping Stereotypes: The Taming of the Shrew.” In The Aching Hearth: Family Violence in Life and Literature, edited by Sara Munson Deats and Lagretta Tallent Lenker, pp. 63-78. New York: Plenum Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Deer argues that through his characterization of Katherina and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare transcended the stock comic figures of shrew and braggart, and allowed an exploration of “the patriarchal assumptions that underlie Elizabethan marriage.”]

There is no question that The Taming of the Shrew incorporates spouse abuse. Its “knockabout” farce occurs chiefly at the expense of a wife who suffers verbal abuse, starvation, and material deprivation. Furthermore, the abusive husband seems to be more praised than blamed, for in the banquet scene with which the play closes, the wife appears to praise his right to control her and then to embrace dutiful obedience. Thus, the play seems to reinscribe many of the stereotypes that have been rejected by contemporary feminists. Whether one objects to the play's apparent condemnation of willful women or finds fault with its apparent praise of women who conform to men's rules for wifely conduct, The Taming of the Shrew seems to capitalize on the perception of women as marginal members of a hierarchical, masculine society. It therefore seems a potentially objectionable choice for a contemporary junior high school literature curriculum. Yet the play is taught without much protest by intelligent, sensitive people who would normally rebel against having to deal with such chauvinistic material. When one mentions that it may praise spouse abuse and the servitude of women, most teachers look puzzled and demur that since the abuse is all in fun, it should not be taken seriously.

One is therefore left with a contradiction, a play that capitalizes on spouse abuse and yet is palatable to late twentieth-century audiences. Given the uncritical reverence that Shakespeare is often accorded and the continuing prevalence of shrew stereotypes in our own time, one must first ask: Are we simply responding mindlessly to Shakespeare's name and to stereotypes so deeply seated in the grammar of farce that we accept them uncritically, or does the play elicit from us more complex responses than we recognize? Is there a possibility that the play may deftly undercut its surface chauvinism by making chauvinism itself the butt of the joke?

The play's most noticeable quality is not its chauvinism but its theatricality, and several sustained critical considerations of its theatricality have appeared. Thomas Van Laan's consideration in Role Playing in Shakespeare (1978, 21-52), J. Denis Huston's extended treatment in Shakespeare's Comedies of Play (1981, 58-94), and Sidney Homan's somewhat briefer observations in When Theatre Turns to Itself (1981, 31-54), all address the question of how a playwright uses the commonplaces of theatrical tradition to create something more than the commonplace. Their concern with theatricality springs from their postmodernist assumption that the models individuals live by—call them fictions or illusions—are creations of human beings, not facts of nature, and that one test of an artist is the extent to which he or she is aware of the act of model making and the limitations of the models used, both those inherited and those created. In other words, most postmodern criticism explores the creativity possible for the individual who knows how to play with models. If the individual is a playwright, then her or his great inherited model is the theater, and one of her or his major subjects is likely to be the significance of the theater and its conventions as ways of structuring our perceptions of the world. Even if individuals are merely participants in the dominant models of their time, their ability to play with and invent models is still analogous to the creative process of the playwright, and the problems of the dramatist are analogous to the problems of people who wish to control and invent the fictions that dominate their daily lives. Thus, the activity of the theatrical model maker and the activity of the individuals who are trying to find models for their daily conduct are not radically different in kind, and the process of model making in literature often reveals the process by which we make models in our lives.

Such an approach is particularly appropriate to Shakespeare's early comedies, since they are so openly about invention and conformity, and about the suffering that marginal people undergo when they must adapt to inappropriate conventions. In the early plays, Shakespeare is particularly concerned with women who have to conform to patriarchal marriage conventions whose implicit authoritarianism sanctions abuse in the name of conformity. Especially in The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare explores from many perspectives the idea that while slavish adherence to conventional theatrical models of plot and character may be dull and destructive—not only for both playwrights and actors but for society in general—using conventions as tools for discovering the lapses, inadequacies, and new possibilities in a society may transform them from devices encouraging inhumane homogeneity into lively sources for discovering ways to break free of that conformity.

Even within the Induction concerning Christopher Sly, Shakespeare seems interested in both the nature of theatrical invention and its humane implications. As the play begins, Christopher Sly, a low drunk, is thrust out of a tavern, and passes out. He is so marginal a part of his society that even the other drunks cannot tolerate him. A passing lord and his hunting party discover Sly. Taking him at first for dead, the lord then realizes he is merely dead drunk and decides to use this clod for the amusement of his party. From his deathlike stupor, the lord will resurrect Sly, clothe him like a noble, place him in the lord's bed tended by a page disguised as his genteel “wife,” and convince him that he is a noble restored to his senses after long insanity. The lord's little masquerade is, then, primarily a source for condescending laughter about Sly, and a way of keeping Sly a clod rather than humanizing him.

The limitations of the lord's authoritarian imagination quickly become clear. Since the lord and his court have conceived a play with a central character who is almost totally passive, and since the courtiers think of themselves as observers, not participants, there is a limit to how far the play can be developed. Before the play is two scenes old, Shakespeare has suggested that the authoritarian imagination may be somewhat sterile. Fortunately, a troupe of strolling players happens by, for, without them, the lord's invention would come to an untimely end. The lord commands them to perform before Sly as if he were the lord; after the play begins, the assembled courtiers and Sly are heard from only once more, during a brief interruption early in the main play.

The Induction seems to have so little influence on the course of the central Shrew play that critics have sometimes questioned why it is there at all.1 Yet its presence is important, for it is the “frame” through which the play is viewed. It establishes connections among the treatment of marginal members of society, society's authoritarian assumptions, the creative imagination, and the problems of art. These are the same connections that Kate and Petruchio will explore during the course of the main play, and the frame play suggests the interpenetration of the fictions of art and the fictions by which human beings live. If we look at The Taming of the Shrew without taking into consideration the failure of conventional values and the abuse of marginal members of society in the Induction, then we miss the perspective that allows us to see how original Kate and Petruchio are, how Petruchio uses role-playing to educate Kate, and how Kate finally learns enough about patriarchal conventions to transform these conventions into tools by which she can control her world rather than be controlled by it.

The players have been commanded to contrive a play that is supposed to satisfy impossible requirements. First, the play is to continue the lord's weak joke by attempting to please Christopher Sly, yet Sly is totally unfamiliar with plays. When he is told he will witness a comedy, he asks, “What is this Comonty?” He hopes it will be like “Christmas gambolds and tumbling tricks” (Induction.2.141). His concept of entertainment includes only the simplest physical action and conflict. Appealing to him is difficult in itself. Yet, the players must also appeal to the nobles, for although the nobles want to watch Sly watching the play, they also expect to be entertained by the play, and the nobles expect that the play will include those ready-made, genteel, self-flattering stereotypes common to courtly theater, stereotypes that affirm the superiority of a hierarchical vision and of the authoritarian vision of the nobles. Although the two ideas of entertainment seem incompatible, their forced juxtaposition so shatters our preconceptions that it encourages us to explore both the vitality and the limitations of each idea, and to discover the necessity for broader perspectives.

The conflation of courtly and folk tastes is observable even in the sources for this play. The tale of the shrewish wife is usually associated with the use of physical farce, and it generally includes physical abuse of the shrew; in a popular English ballad, the shrew is even wrapped in a salted horsehide to induce obedience.2 Shakespeare's softening of abuse from the coarsely physical to the more verbal and psychological is one of the most immediately noticeable alterations he makes in the old tale, and this suggests that he is more concerned with the realities of abuse than with the knockabout stereotypes associated with it. The Lucentio-Bianca subplot springs from the courtly love tradition,3 and it stresses the conventions of courtly love—disguise, music, poetry, love at first sight, and true love versus materialistic marriage, to name only a few (Van Laan 1978, 21-52).

The two traditions—courtly and folk—are held together only by the particular theatrical imagination of the strolling troupe that devises the play. It is a commedia troupe, the kind of troupe whose roots stretch back in theater tradition at least as far as Plautus and forward at least as far as nineteenth-century Italy, where the still-surviving troupes serve as the inspiration for I Pagliacci. A commedia troupe is composed of actors who specialize in particular kinds of stock roles rendered familiar to their audience through long usage and prevalence in both folk and courtly literature. As the character types in The Shrew make evident, this particular troupe is composed of actors who are skilled in creating a number of stock characters prevalent in Renaissance literature: for example, it has several pantaloon actors (i.e., foolish older men), it has a very skilled coquette, a young lover type who handles witty language well, a miser type, at least one clown, a braggart type, and a shrew. Commedia players present plays, either by adapting their stock roles to already existing plots, or else by inventing plots that are appropriate for the characters that they know how to play. Thus members of a commedia troupe are part actor, part playwright, sometimes working with previously developed material but just as often “discovering” the turns of the plot as they face the problems of adapting their stock characters and commedia routines to a multitude of different plot situations.4

The troupe is an appropriate vehicle for combining farce and courtly traditions since, by Shakespeare's time, commedia actors had developed a broad range of stock characters that covered the spectrum of Renaissance social types and dramatic tastes. Some of their stock characters, the coquette and the young lover, for example, reflected the stock characters and plot expectations of courtly drama. Others, like the shrew and the braggart, reflected the demands of folk drama. And still others, like the servant types, could function in either courtly or folk drama, as do Lucentio's servant Tranio and Petruchio's servant Grumio. Since the actors in a commedia troupe are to some degree playwrights, they are inventors as well as interpreters of the dialogue and of the reactions of characters to each other within scenes. The nature of their trade makes them in some sense surrogate playwrights whose onstage struggles to create plays may mirror both the creative offstage struggles of playwrights to reconcile the stereotyped expectations of their society with their particular original visions and the problems these playwrights encounter in working with particular plots. Thus, the question for a commedia troupe is not whether but how to mix the apparently disparate traditions of folk and courtly drama. The demand placed on them to satisfy the tastes of both Sly and the courtiers challenges their inventiveness, and the varying levels of inventiveness with which they meet the challenge are connected not only with the kinds of conventions available to the various actors but also with their success in developing the social and humane implications of those conventions.

In his brilliant analysis of the play, Tom Van Laan points out three different levels of invention. The two lower levels are connected with the rather routine, aristocratic courtly love story concerning Bianca and Lucentio. The performers of this plot seem content to confirm the courtiers' assumptions concerning the superiority of nobility, the virtue of feminine dependence on and obedience to men, and the importance of maintaining the patriarchy. On the lowest level of invention are the hack actors, the minor characters who can barely stumble through their roles, let alone find fresh ways of treating them. Gremio, the pantaloon, is a good example of these. He is so stupid and inept that Lucentio can gull him almost effortlessly into permission to teach Bianca poetry, and he is so lacking in invention that when Lucentio's trick is revealed, he simply sinks into obscurity. He can neither complicate the plot nor test the validity of courtly values. He can only conform in the most unimaginative way.

Lucentio, playing the amoroso, represents a second, far more significant level, that of the virtuoso who practices his craft, not to understand and deepen the values and conventions implied in the stock characters he portrays, but rather to display his own style. He gains access to Bianca by employing a rather stale device, but he performs it with grace and wit; imitating Dante, he uses Ovid to court her, and his success seems in every way to confirm the stage audience's assumptions about the superiority of courtly conventions in the hands of a proficient performer. Although Bianca's character seems to be less developed, she is also proficient. She knows how to please her suitors, how to dissemble before her father, how to discriminate between Lucentio's love and the other suitors' interest in her dowry, and how to reap the rewards of conformity. Yet, despite their virtuosity, until the banquet scene both Bianca and Lucentio are purely conventional. Not until Bianca refuses to obey Lucentio does either of them seem anything more than a competent but uninventive courtly actor. Through Lucentio, Shakespeare gives the courtly tradition its due, allowing it virtuosity but denying it real vitality and imagination. Its demands for conformity make it the enemy of invention. His treatment of Bianca is more interesting, for during the banquet scene she violates the mindless conformity that Lucentio holds so dear. Bianca's conventional obedience may mask a capacity for rebellion about which she has remained silent throughout most of the play. Once married, she can afford to reject courtly ideals.

Kate and Petruchio represent the highest level of invention. Both theatrically and socially, they are marginal and antiromantic. The actor creating Kate is expert at shrewishness, temper tantrums, and brawling. His/her shrew character is outside the pale of polite society, marginal by definition. Petruchio is played by an actor who is an expert boor, more skilled at harangues and knockdown farce than at love. Because of his boorishness and bombast, he, too, is a somewhat marginal member of the aristocracy. Even the tale with which they are associated is only marginally romantic, for the shrewish wife is traditionally a “curst” woman who is brutalized into obedience by a husband more interested in securing peace than love. Nevertheless, however unpromising the material, these two folk characters from a crude folk tale are intended, on the one hand, to capture the interest of Christopher Sly and, on the other, to serve as the primary subjects of a romance suitable for a courtly audience. The necessity to concentrate on the Kate and Petruchio relationship becomes evident early in the play when the action is briefly interrupted by the nobles trying to waken Christopher Sly. The play has, to that point, been proceeding along routine courtly lines, far outside of Sly's experience, and he has gone to sleep. If he is to remain awake, that is, if the nobles are to have the fun of watching him watch a play, then the rough-and-tumble plot will have to be highlighted. But it must be brought into prominence in such a way that the taste of the courtiers for a love story is also satisfied.

Whereas the Lucentio-Bianca plot requires only expert handling of and conformity to predictable motives and situations, the Kate—Petruchio plot defies convention. Shrews and braggarts are not courtly lovers, and thrusting them into a romantic plot forces everyone to examine, on the one hand, the motives and assumptions that underlie shrewishness and verbal abuse and, on the other, the conventional expectations that wives should bring with them a dowry and should practice obedience and conformity. Although the conventions associated with shrews and boors seem intended to deny the possibility that either character might be able to love anyone else, the actors must use those conventions to create a love story. And although a shrew is per se an undesirable mate, this shrew must find a way to convince her audience that she will live happily ever after. The task is gargantuan, and it cannot be accomplished simply by rearranging existing rules. It requires that the actors rethink the potential of their roles and the assumptions implicit in the conventions associated with them. The task requires not only virtuosity, but the development of a highly independent creative imagination.

What I am suggesting is that the Shrew deals with more than playfulness, as Denis Huston suggests, or with levels of role-playing, as Van Laan argues. Both are important aspects of the play, but they are secondary to its exploration of the relationship between theatrical conventions and social values. The play deliberately develops an analogy between the difficulties that the skilled actor-playwright encounters when he or she tries to convert popular plots, roles, and acting techniques into new uses and wider meanings and the struggles of marginal human beings, both male and female, to convert the destructive and abusive conventions associated with Renaissance marriage and marginality into sources for new kinds of relationships. Just as the playwright must create vitality while still retaining the established conventions on which actor and audience depend for communication, so women in a patriarchal society must learn to use the conventions of conformity necessary to their survival as sources for affirming their own creativity and imagination. From one perspective, Shakespeare is talking about how players can put old dramatic conventions to new uses, and, from another, about how women (and men) performing conventional roles within a society also try to discover new possibilities for human relationships.

Kate and Petruchio make great sense if we think of them as stock actors who can perform their play only if they discover new possibilities within the routines and conventions they have always unquestioningly performed. Part of their solution is to center the plot not on routine courtship but on the search for conventions that would make courtship possible. At the beginning of the play, each actor is presenting his usual routines—Kate throwing tantrums and brawling with her sister, Petruchio boorishly announcing that he has “come to wive it wealthily in Padua.” But braggart and shrew stereotypes cannot develop the romantic relationships that the plot requires. Romance conventions require that a character be able to care for at least one other person, yet the conventions of shrew and braggart are specifically structured to prevent the characters from noticing anyone else. The actors cannot discard their stock characters; those are the only acting conventions they are any good at performing. They must improvise until they can discover in the mannerisms and interactions of their characters some possibilities that can be used to develop more complex characters capable of multiple reactions. They must, in other words, particularize the shrew and braggart so that they can find out why this particular pair exist and what other qualities their behavior may imply.

Almost immediately the shrew and braggart begin to acquire specificity, because the plot requires that their stereotypes develop some motivation. The character playing Kate develops the idea that she resents her father's oft-repeated belief that she is simply marriage material to be awarded to a high bidder. She has rejected the marriage contract, but not the idea of marriage itself. She refuses to cooperate with her father or to adopt the manners that would make her desirable merchandise. But her shrewishness is a self-defeating strategy, for her unpleasantness, intended to fend off merely mercenary suitors, guarantees that the only reason anyone would marry her is for her fortune. Petruchio, like most of his society, regards marriage as a business proposition. He wants wealth. Yet, he does want a wife as well as a dowry, although his stream of expletives makes him the most inept of suitors. If Kate's shrewishness offends courtly suitors, then Petruchio's verbal assaults offend the courtly fathers of genteel daughters. Nevertheless, within the desire for marriage the pair can find enough common ground to improvise the beginnings of a romance. But how to sustain a romance? How to reconcile Petruchio's materialism with Kate's rejection of it? How to direct the process of improvisation and invention so that some kind of interaction can take place?

At first, Petruchio seems the more inventive player. He exploits the aspects of his behavior that most resemble those of Kate—that is, the conventions of boorishness associated with his stock character—to intensify and mirror back to Kate her own outrageous behavior. If she attacks him, he will attack her. If she affects disdain for marriage, he will arrive in antic dress for the wedding. If she makes unreasonable, arbitrary demands of others, he will treat her to extremely unreasonable behavior, arbitrarily refusing her food, rest, and proper clothing. If she throws tantrums, he will harangue her to death. Petruchio's mirroring technique is not a departure from his usual bag of acting tricks or his virtuosity as a braggart; in recognizing the resemblance between the abusive language of his stock responses and those of a shrew's, he is developing a tool for discovering new perspectives on the two roles, new ways of generating action when one would normally expect only impasse. From stock tricks, a kind of creativity is emerging. His well-practiced routines are put to the new purpose of forcing on Kate an awareness of the way her violent language and actions frustrate her desires.

Unfortunately, Petruchio's mirroring tactics create more self-awareness in Kate than they create in him. Although his acts allow Kate to understand a great deal about herself, they do not create similar insight in Petruchio. He is still a “controller,” still boorish, still in danger of seeing Kate merely as an extension of his own ego, just as her father saw her merely as a tool for improving his family fortunes. Although he has found a way to be Kate's mirror, his ego and control of the plot prevent Kate from returning the favor. Yet, if Petruchio is to educate Kate, he must recognize and limit the destructive possibilities of his usual mode of acting. He must not go beyond education to sheer manipulation. Such recognition is difficult for Petruchio, since he is enjoying his lord-and-master role, and we sense that unless some new device intervenes, boorishness will overwhelm inventiveness. One device that helps Petruchio to retain some balance is his servant Grumio, who often mirrors his master's actions without his master's wit or awareness. Like Petruchio, Grumio also harangues others, particularly the tailor. But Grumio's harangues are directed toward hapless bystanders; his bamboozling of the tailor constitutes gratuitous abuse, and Petruchio, observing this, has to set matters right. Petruchio's intervention reminds him that Kate may be more like the unfortunate tailor than he had realized, and that his own abuse may go beyond education to a gratuitous exercise of power. The mirror Grumio can furnish is too simplistic and limited, however, to save Petruchio from his own ego. Grumio's actions are a form of burlesque, naive distortions of Petruchio's actions; they do not furnish the kind of sophisticated and intense mirror that Petruchio has given Kate.

One yearns to place Petruchio before such a mirror, for the performance strategies and the imaginative uses of boorishness by the actor playing Petruchio suggest that, placed before the right mirror, he might find creative alternatives to his egocentric desire to control everything and everyone around him. Yet Petruchio, the actor and the character, is so consumed with his desire to control that he seeks to impose on Kate his own vision of the world; on the road when they are returning to Padua for Bianca's wedding, he even invents tests for her to be sure she has learned his lesson; he is willing to let her walk every step of the way back to Padua unless she conforms to his demands.

Despite Petruchio's creativity in using the conventions of the boor to make Kate recognize the destructiveness of her shrewishness, he cannot see that the alternative to the shrew that he advocates is the courtly convention of the obedient and dependent wife. The character-actor improvising this courtship can imagine no relationship between man and woman that does not involve mastery and submission. He can devise no plot that does not, despite its inappropriateness, affirm the ideals implicit in the Lucentio-Bianca courtship plot. Thus, as the plot moves toward its conclusion, and despite the appreciation that he has displayed for Kate's high spirits, the Petruchio character is driven to rely on the courtly ideal of an obedient wife, and thus he seems willing to sacrifice Kate's spirit to coerce her obedience. The plot of depriving Kate of food, sleep, and clothing is far less destructive than the device of depriving her of her own vision. Whereas the first device leaves Kate with room to react and retain some kind of identity, the second device leaves the stage and the action entirely to Petruchio. Wanting to civilize Kate is one thing; wanting to displace her independence and vitality with a mere echo of himself is quite another. We are forced to ask whether Petruchio's “mirroring” technique is only a way of giving Kate new awareness, or whether it is also a way of forcing her to conform to his vision. We wonder whether controlling another person's imagination may not be the worst abuse that one spouse can inflict on another. Petruchio has pretended to mime Kate's routines as a way of freeing her from the destructive implications of the shrew character, but, in the end, we discover that he does not really want to free the character, he merely wants to substitute a compliant wife for the shrew, one who will agree to behave according to the ideal held by all Bianca's suitors. That desire is Petruchio's blind spot and the opening for which the actor playing Kate has been waiting.

During the entire play, the Kate actor-character has had difficulty converting the special tricks of the shrew to constructive ends. The logic of the plot has placed Petruchio in command, and the action has followed a pattern in which Petruchio acts, Kate reacts, and Petruchio then counteracts in such a way that she is forced to abandon one shrewish trick after another. She has been stripped of the shrew conventions that constituted her identity without being given the opportunity to find alternative conventions. In the scene on the road back to Padua, Petruchio's attacks become so outrageous that they finally reveal his desire not only to obliterate the shrew role, but to obliterate the independence and sense of self that gave the shrew role its originality and vitality. Petruchio is so determined to control the action that he commands Kate to swear that the sun is the moon, that an old man is a budding virgin; in other words, he wants her only to see the world according to the vision he allows her. He wants her to deny both the surface tricks of the shrew stereotype and the underlying sense of independence that has made her shrewishness a vital if unproductive activity.

Petruchio's demand cuts to the core of the character the shrew actor has developed during the play. Kate has been transformed into a motivated shrew; her shrewishness is presented as a defense against becoming a mere puppet, a mere reflection of the courtly values required by her entire society. Her excesses have proved to be counterproductive, and she has been auctioned off to Petruchio, but her motivation still remains. How can she turn the tables on Petruchio, and create through her actions a mirror of his expectations with such intensity and distortion that he recognizes how his expectations fundamentally rob her of the ability to act at all? If she cannot create a new awareness in Petruchio, then alternatively, how can she use his authoritarianism and egotism to create freedom for her own inventions? The question for Kate, the character, is the same as the question for Kate, the actor. The conventions for stage roles and the conventions for social roles seem to become interchangeable. The character's struggle to solve her marital problem is like that of the actor's or playwright's struggle to find a way of using conventions creatively rather than mechanically.

Kate's chance comes in the last act, when she finds a way to control Petruchio using his own illusions. The plot develops into a paradigm of a courtly “game” situation, a trial of the three new husbands based on their success in commanding their wives' absolute obedience. Petruchio, Lucentio, and Hortensio have all wagered that their wives will come when bidden. According to conventional expectations Bianca, as the courtly ideal, should immediately obey her husband's arbitrary command. But Bianca, now married, is no longer controlled by the “rules” of the coquette. She is therefore free to ignore her husband's command. Hortensio's wealthy widow is also free, and just as casual in answering his command as he was early in the play when he decided to marry her because it seemed easier than fighting for Bianca's hand.

Although the test has failed, the three husbands, instead of questioning whether their ideal of absolute obedience is either desirable or attainable, wait for Kate. She enters and in a remarkable tour-de-force performance mirrors back to Petruchio his own values and strategies. As he has often done to her, she delivers a long harangue, this time to the other two wives. As he desires, she delivers a conventional encomium on the values of obedience. Even the most uncritical viewer is amazed by Kate's “taming.” The harangue and encomium are too good to be true; they have nothing to do with the rest of the play, with Kate's attitudes or experiences, with Petruchio's actions, or, for that matter, with the realities of Elizabethan marriage implied in Petruchio's capacity to deprive Kate of food, sleep, and clothing. Coming from Kate, they are so outrageous that they throw into relief the emptiness of the cliché responses demanded of her, and the lack of inventiveness of the actor and society who would approve such a demand. Just as Petruchio, earlier in the play, performed Kate's tantrums with even greater intensity than Kate did, so Kate is now performing, with an intensity that mocks credibility, the courtly rules of marriage that Petruchio seems to demand of her. The very exaggeration of the performance calls attention to the possibility that what we are seeing is so blatantly conventional that the viewers ought to beware. We begin to conceive the possibility that Kate, who has not lost her wits, is setting a trap, that her performance is a comment on, not merely an imitation, of Petruchio's own values. Our sense of such a possibility is increased when, with a single theatrical gesture, Kate commits an act so outrageous that only someone like Petruchio, who is utterly consumed with his own success, could accept it without question. Kneeling to him as if he were her God, her object of worship, she offers to let him tread on her hand.

Lucentio and Hortensio are awestruck. Here is surely the ideal of obedience that they have dreamed of. And Petruchio? We are not sure whether he has or has not gotten the point. Does Kate's hyperbolic performance of his courtly ideal reveal to him its destructiveness and emptiness? Does her performance reveal to him her wit, imagination, and independence? Does his roar of approval, “Why there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate” (5.2.180), signal his discovery of Kate's inventiveness? Or is Kate now to play on him the kinds of mirroring tricks he played on her? Is he Kate's partner or her fool? Will she merely control him or will they join in creative inventions? Is this the end of the play or the beginning of a new one? We are not sure. What we see is that the play's conclusion, which is often treated as Kate's conversion to a simple, mechanical conformity, has become problematic. What we see is that Kate, who appears so conventionally tamed, may have found a way to tame Petruchio. We see the clear possibility that she has used Petruchio's own conventions as a way of achieving control of the plot and her destiny. Seeing the play in that way puts fresh meaning and fresh doubts into the aristocratic wifely ideal: even as Kate pretends to be blindly obedient, she springs the trap implicit in the ideal of blind obedience, to wit, that he who believes in blind obedience is likely to be blindly enslaved by it.

Shakespeare has not created a play in which a “conversion” necessarily occurs, nor one in which the female characters must choose nontraditional roles. He has done something more important. He has found modes of questioning established values, of demonstrating that the systems of family values traditionally considered to be unified and justified are merely logocentric models that can be unmade just as well as they were originally made. In so doing, he has opened for the audience a world of the imagination in which the possibility of alternative relationships between husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, and masters and servants can be contemplated. What Shakespeare has done in this early play is to use the process of performance as a way of exploring the unstated values embodied in the traditional stereotypes on which stock characters are based, ways of testing their limits and their validity. By focusing on the difficulties that a group of actors encounter during the improvisational process of reconciling stock commedia characters with courtly plots, he has been able to probe the difference between static, closed assumptions and flexible, open ones. Employing a shrew and a braggart, he has been able to explore the patriarchal assumptions that underlie Elizabethan marriage and to show that spouse abuse is not an aberration, but an intense expression of those values that reduce Elizabethan wives to the status of appendages. Using the process of acting and playmaking as a microcosmic test of larger social assumptions, he has expanded the patriarchal assumptions underlying stock characters as sources for creative response without at the same time affirming those assumptions or their destructive effects. The Taming of the Shrew does indeed exploit spouse abuse as a major source of action and humor. But it does not encourage such behavior; rather it reveals how destructive and widespread is its hold on society.


  1. Some critics have suggested that the Induction sets the tone for the play; it establishes that this is a play ostensibly for Sly and thus it cushions us from the inner play's brawling physicality. Van Laan (1978), Huston (1981), and Homan (1981) all suggest that the Induction calls our attention to the fact that we are witnessing a piece of theater, and thus shifts our attention from what happens to how it happens—from plot to style, performance, and invention—an observation fundamental to both their observations and mine. None of them, however, takes into account the main plot line of the Induction, which is simply that a lord invents a practical joke in the form of a courtly play. His play runs out of steam because it cannot be developed, and it cannot be developed because both the playwright and his audience are so hedged in by assumptions about Sly's inferiority and their superiority that they cannot generate action; they can only generate a static emblem of their assumptions. For them, theater is merely a static, illustrative activity which confirms the aristocratic status quo, it is not a generative, exploratory one.

  2. For a brief but very helpful discussion of sources for both the Kate-Petruchio plot and the Induction, see G. B. Harrison's (1968) introduction to the play.

  3. Probably from George Gascoigne's translation of Ariosto's Supposes.

  4. The extent to which Shakespeare is thinking in commedia terms is made clear in the Folio, where Gremio, Bianca's aged, greedy suitor, is first noted namelessly simply as “a pantaloon.”


Harrison, G. B., ed. “Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew,” in Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968.

Homan, Sidney. When the Theater Turns to Itself: The Aesthetic Metaphor in Shakespeare. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1981.

Huston, J. Denis. Shakespeare's Comedies of Play. Columbia University Press, 1981.

Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. In G. B. Harrison, ed., The Complete Works. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968.

Van Laan, Thomas F. Role Playing in Shakespeare. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978.

Charles Isherwood (review date 12 July 1999)

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SOURCE: Isherwood, Charles. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. Variety 375, no. 8 (12 July 1999): 46.

[In the following review of director Mel Shapiro's production of The Taming of the Shrew for The Public Theater in New York City's Central Park, Isherwood laments that an overemphasis on low humor obscured the underlying complexities of Shakespeare's play.]

Silly accents and silly walks, funny hats and funny shoes, lewd jokes and rude jokes: The Public Theater's production of The Taming of the Shrew in Central Park is pretty hysterical, all right, but that is not meant kindly. As mindless summer movies sprawl across the country spreading either delirium or dismay, depending on one's taste for such as Adam Sandler, the Public Theater has come up with the theatrical alternative: the Bard as reinterpreted by the Three Stooges.

And just as moviegoers flocked to Big Daddy, the Central Park audience at the performance reviewed guffawed right along with Mel Shapiro's shamelessly broad take on the Bard's prototypical battle of the sexes. Let 'em laugh, but someone ought to disabuse them of the idea that what they're watching is actually the play Shakespeare wrote.

Shakespeare was, of course, an aficionado of low humor, and Taming of the Shrew, an early comedy and not among his finest, has more than enough: from the drunken exploits of duped tinker Christopher Sly to wise-cracking servants to the brawling of the central lovers and more than one ribald double entendre. But just as Shakespeare's tragedies are often studded with off-color puns or bits of slapstick, even the broadest of his comedies is laced with complex emotional textures and richly conceived characterizations, all of which Shapiro's Shrew eschews in favor of an attempt at the biggest, baddest jokes possible—with many of them the director's invention. The result, despite some undeniably ripe moments, is eventually an exhausting air of desperation: The cast seems so hysterically intent on finding all the laughs that they end up losing the play.

The production's unpleasantly frenzied aesthetic is embodied in its unfortunate designs. Karl Eigsti's set evokes a standard-issue, subdued Italianate villa that opens onto a nice Central Park vista. But the gaudily colored furnishings that are trundled on and off by stagehands seem to come from an entirely different production dating from an entirely different era. Likewise, Marina Draghici's astonishing mishmash of costumes share only a single characteristic—extreme ugliness. When Jay O. Sanders' Petruchio arrives for his wedding in Hulk Hogan garb, the dismayed reactions don't seem credible—his is hardly the most ludicrous ensemble on the stage (Peter Jacobson's Tranio-as-Lucentio, inexplicably sporting pimp couture and the occasional kilt, takes that title). Certainly the play's layers of artifice can excuse some stylistic disjunctions, but the production's disparate visual vulgarities are more bewildering than pointedly surreal.

Unfortunately, most of the actors turn in performances to match their loud getups. This isn't of any great consequence when it comes to the smaller, less-developed roles, although the endless mugging and less-than-cultivated handling of Shakespeare's language isn't heartening coming from any source.

Mario Cantone has some authentically appealing bits of camp business as Petruchio's servant Grumio. The incomparable Max Wright makes an endearingly bewildered Christopher Sly, cowering in terror when Allison Janney's Katherina comes within striking distance (the production employs additional Sly scenes derived from the disputed Taming of a Shrew text, with Sly observing the play from the sidelines and eventually playing a part or two). Danyon Davis' Biondello is a strangely charming sprite with a high-pitched squeak of a voice.

But Taming of the Shrew rises or falls on the strengths of its principal combatants, the virago Katherina and the putative bully who tames her, Petruchio, and it is here that Shapiro's knockabout directorial style does the most damage. Sanders is a talented actor of some renown, but he is not an inherently commanding presence, and he is lacking in romantic allure in a role that requires heaps of it. His Petruchio is close to a blustering buffoon in the early scenes, a man who seems ill-prepared to match wits and weapons with even the most passive-aggressive of partners.

Janney's Katherina certainly doesn't stint on the physical pyrotechnics, assaulting both her sister and her intended with a gusto that's utterly convincing. But her voluble bellowing and bursts of hysteria come at the expense of a more sympathetically human rendering of a character who hides a real pathos—a soul-starving lack of affection and respect—beneath a veneer of violence. Both performers do not seem to have been given much encouragement to find the coherent characters in the text; like everyone else, they mostly strive to land laughs.

Crucially lacking from both performances is a sense of deep connection with the lover who first appears as a combatant but is ultimately revealed as a soul mate. If we do not feel that Petruchio's brutishness and humiliating trickery serve to inspire Katherina to reveal the real feeling in her heart, a feeling answered in Petruchio's own—well, then, it's just brutishness and humiliation.

Janney intelligently delivers the play's problematic final soliloquy, but with no emotional context surrounding it—no sense that in declaring women's subservience she is primarily declaring her own love and respect for Petruchio—it can only sound uncomfortably antiquated in this equal-opportunity age.

But Shapiro isn't really interested in exploring any of the play's richer possibilities. They're all but buried beneath dubious comic fripperies: a high-stepping chorus of friars singing in Latin while supertitles supply kooky translations, servants got up as pizza chefs flinging dough heavenward. Even, believe it or not, a Viagra joke.

Ben Brantley (review date 15 July 1999)

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SOURCE: Brantley, Ben. “Shakespeare's Hostilities of Courtship, Italian Style.” New York Times (15 July 1999): E1, E5.

[In the following review of The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Roger Rees in 1999 for the Williamstown Theater Festival, Brantley deems Rees's style excessive in its additions and interpolations, but uncovers several positive elements in the production, including Bebe Neuwirth's convincing Katherina.]

American cinema audiences of the 1950's and 60's were thrilled to the marrow when Italian movies demonstrated that you didn't have to make nice to make love. Sniping, scrapping and thumb-bitting as foreplay? How exotic, how earthy, how passionate it all seemed when Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastrolani, or Anna Magnanl and anyone, were butting heads.

Marriage Italian Style, the name of the most legendary Loren-Mastroianni collaboration, might as well be the subtitle of the fast, furious and overstuffed interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew that runs at the Williamstown Theater Festival through Sunday.

Directed by Roger Rees, who plays Petruchio to Bebe Neuwirth's Kate, this very animated production of Shakespeare's prickly comedy of courtship reinvents Renaissance Padua as a cartoon version of the world of De Sica and Fellini. Neil Patel's eye-popping set is Pop neo-realist, with clotheslines festooned with soccer jerseys and alley walls featuring oversize ads for tomatoes and pasta. The rowdy young men and women who hang out in the streets wear clothes (by Kaye Voyce) out of “I Vitelloni.” And when Petruchio meets Kate, they rumble with Vesuvian menace and many hand gestures.

It is a clever, if not entirely original, approach to a classic that tends to trouble latter-day theatergoers. And while the wiry and brittle Ms. Neuwirth and Mr. Rees may not be obvious stand-ins for the robust Ms. Loren and Mr. Mastroianni, there are moments when this shrew and her would-be tamer bring a vivid, self-surprising pleasure to their hostile mating dance, as though each had finally discovered another person who speaks the same language.

Mr. Rees, it should be noted, wants to have his passion and apologize for it, too. Even as this Shrew styles itself as a giddy male fantasy of romantic conquest, there is the sense that neither Kate nor Petruchio is altogether easy with the roles they play.

The production also takes novel liberties with the Christopher Sly “induction” sequence, which frames Shrew as a play within a play, to emphasize that it is by no means advocating the work's approach to marital counseling. Further distance is provided by the what-the-heck merriment of the staging, which keeps the pace athletic (soccer is a dominant motif) and lets the supporting actors riff outlandishly, like fledgling trumpeters at a jazz club. There is some merit to all of these elements. But you do wish that Mr. Rees had edited them down. The show, which includes such shrill touches as an Elvis-impersonating manservant and a goggle-wearing domestic staff out of Monty Python, suffers from a surfeit of invention.

Its energy and its obvious eagerness to please keep the audience with it, but the production doesn't stick together. There are bright flashes of insight throughout, especially (and unexpectedly) from Ms. Neuwirth, but they are often obscured by the evening's dominating glare. Even basic clarity is sometimes sacrificed to maintaining a high adrenaline level.

Interpreters of Shrew, also the subject of a current production by the New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park, have usually seemed embarrassed by it. James M. Barrie reconceived the work (for Maude Adams, who played his Peter Pan) along the lines of his own What Every Woman Knows, turning Kate into a sly, sweet manipulator of her obtuse master. When the German director Max Reinhardt did Shrew in 1909, it was as a commedia dell'arte style romp that made it clear no one was to take Petruchio seriously.

Mr. Rees incorporates both of these traditions, and then some. The program for the show features academic quotations on topics like “inward aggression,” “parental deprivation” in Tudor-Stuart England and “negative reinforcement.” It is best to ignore these, or you will really be at sea.

The production begins with a late arrival's disruption of the audience. That's Mr. Rees, doing a boisterous take on Christopher Sly, the drunken taverngoer, for whom the story of Shrew is performed in Shakespeare's original. (Theatergoers unfamiliar with the play are unlikely to know what's going on.) In this version, Sly is arrested by a tough, night-stick-wielding police officer, who happens to be played by Ms. Neuwirth.

Like much of what follows, this prefatory scene has an appealing verve, but it isn't altogether thought through. Mr. Rees is clearly better at plumbing individual moments than at connecting them. And he indulges his actors in ways that finally serve neither them nor the play. When the servant Blondello (Sam Breslin Wright) describes the arrival of Petruchio on his wedding day, it turns into an applause-milking standup performance (with interpolations) that eclipses Mr. Rees's subsequent entrance.

A certain license for excess must be allowed summer theater. And Mr. Wright's Blondello, along with his fellow servants Grumio (David Aaron Baker) and Tranio (Kyle Fabel) do give off an enjoyable vitality. So do Neal Huff and Carrie Preston as the lovers of the subplot, Lucentio and Bianca, Katherina's sister, here presented as a spoiled Italian princess in a headband. But they could all benefit from some streamlining of shtick.

This is especially the case because Mr. Rees clearly has more on his mind than slapstick. His own Petruchio, while presented as a slightly seedy, mercenary greaser who wouldn't be out place at an Off Track Betting parlor, is also given to serious moral doubts. Mr. Rees, a Royal Shakespeare Company veteran who can play with the comedy's language as though it were a beach hall, provides some intriguingly shaded line readings. But he also often seems out of place in his own production.

He is by far at his best in his scenes alone with Ms. Neuwirth, who is the evening's real revelation. This perennially droll actress, justly celebrated for her work on Broadway (Chicago) and television (Cheers), has an arch, contemporary style that would not seem to lend itself either to Shakespearean language or the tempestuous Kate.

Yet without altering her eccentric signature delivery, she gives her much abused, much abusing character a credible psychological center. Ms. Neuwirth always exudes both the beleaguered air of the underdog and the highhandedness of the diva, and she mixes those traits quite touchingly here.

It is not an entirely convincing performance. But by the time she gets to Kate's notorious submission speech, Ms. Neuwirth has cannily laid the groundwork for its presentation by a woman who has learned that love demands compromise. There's an implicit wink along with real passion in the moment, as though she were catering to a fantasy that both she and her husband know is a joke at heart. Even before Ms. Neuwirth returns in police garb for a surprise postscript, this Kate has already had the last word.

Sheridan Morley (review date 6 November 1999)

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SOURCE: Morley, Sheridan. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. Spectator 283, no. 8935 (6 November 1999): 66, 68.

[In the following excerpted review, Morley describes a traveling production of The Taming of the Shrew directed by Lindsay Posner in 1999 as “noisily simplistic but generally joyous.”]

Of all the other major Shakespeares, it is now The Merchant of Venice, on account of its anti-Semitism, and The Taming of the Shrew, on account of its male chauvinist piggery, which always cause the most difficulty to politically correct directors and audiences alike. Brave, therefore, of the RSC at home to make a radical new staging by Lindsay Posner of the Shrew their regional tour for 2000: after this week's opening at the Barbican Pit it goes to Stratford for Christmas and then sets off around Ellesmere Port, Middlesbrough, Ollerton, Braintree, Penzance, Ebbw Vale, Barnsley, Portsmouth, Sunderland, Littleport and Barrow-in-Furness through June of next year, playing not in conventional theatres but in sports arenas, schools, leisure centres and even church halls.

So the production has to be very flexible, minimally scenic and designed to appeal to audiences who seldom or never get to see Shakespeare locally; it also has to work with a cast of relative unknowns willing to spend the next six months on the road in often uncongenial surroundings. Given all of that, Lindsay Posner's production is close to triumphant; it uses Internet computer screens by way of scenery, goes for a vibrant theatricality closer sometimes to Kiss Me Kate than Shakespeare's original, and tackles the final, abject, embarrassing surrender of Katharine to her lord and master Petruchio by suggesting that she has suddenly decided to pay any price to get him into her bed. Posner's is a gimmicky gallop through a familiar text, neatly skirting the minefields of modernity and assembling a cast which, if not exactly distinguished or experienced, is led from the front by two feisty performances from Stuart McQuarrie as Petruchio and Monica Dolan as Kate. This version also gives us the usually cut Christopher Sly prologue, which sets the whole story in the framework of a drunken dream, thereby further alienating us from the problems of chauvinist reality and abusive manhood. Catch it if you can, as it makes its noisily simplistic but generally joyous way around the country over the next six months.

Alvin Klein (review date 6 August 2000)

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SOURCE: Klein, Alvin. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. New York Times (6 August 2000): WC12.

[In the following review of The Taming of the Shrew at the Boscobel Restoration in 2000, Klein praises Nick Mangano's production, which focuses on a very human battle of the sexes, and lauds the excellent performances of Kurt Rhoades and Nance Williamson as Petruchio and Katherina.]

After the jubilant opening-night performance of The Taming of the Shrew at the Boscobel Restoration here, one woman, holding her daughter by the hand, promised to take her to the Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate. This is a sweet idea. It is provocative, too.

Practically speaking, members of the Shrew ensemble can get to Broadway in their own good time. But can the Broadway cast be bused to Boscobel? Do performance times conflict? Or dark nights coincide? I would gladly coordinate the trip: I will even drive the bus. Can an extra performance be squeezed in one fine morning? Better still, can the engagement be extended for a very long time? Must winter come?

Given the obviously contagious delirium of Nick Mangano's staging, it is hard to get a grip on a real world when such a wildly romantic and intrinsically harmonious and sane one has been conjured up by lovers, lunatics and magicians of theater.

Since it has become fashionable to regard Shrew as a pro- or anti-feminist statement, it comes as a revelation to behold the play about sparring lovers as a human, loving one.

Of course, Shakespeare was up to more than that in his complicated plot, which all too often fails to cohere when the seemingly arbitrary Induction Scene, involving Christopher Sly, a drunken tinker, along with a practical joker and his confusing attendants, begin the proceedings. All that nonsense, interchangeable with so many other plays in the canon, leads into a play-within-a-play, which happens to be The Taming of the Shrew as the world knows it. More confoundingly, Shakespeare's plot does not return to or resolve its beginnings, which is why the scene is easy to omit.

Mr. Mangano does not only include it, he also resolves it, most hauntingly with the image of a traditionally costumed player exiting, carrying a boom box. Since the Sly episode is staged, well, conventionally, given the company's trademark anachronistic excess, the last picture of a real show of shows emerges as a lovely statement about the possibility of values coexisting, say, classical and funk, the old with all things contemporary.

But wait. It's the rambunctious battle of the sexes everyone has really come to see. Will you root for the wily Kate, the irksome, brawling scold who negotiates her own taming? Or doesn't she? Will Petruchio, designated by Shakespeare as a gentleman of Verona, who will kill with kindness, as Shakespeare says he must, win the spoils of a war that has yet to end?

It does not matter. At this truly festive festival, two raging fires (Nance Williamson and Kurt Rhoads) do not meet, they ignite! The air sizzles. There is no contest. From his entrance, wielding a golf club, Mr. Rhoads is dangerous. Of course, he can act the gentleman. Mr. Rhoads, it seems safe to surmise, can act anything.

But that is the only safe bet when his Petruchio is around, about, up the trees, in your face, in his mad attire for a hilarious wedding scene. Mr. Rhoads is elegant, in or out of his pants, and he speaks the speeches with resonance and class.

Those trees out yonder on the glorious grounds surrounding the company tent are not safe when he is, well, twirling them. As for your face, not to worry. Others are apt to get spritzed, and Mr. Rhoades gets a pie smacked right into his. Here is a Petruchio to be tamed, and don't mess with his servant, Grumio (a gem of a classic and lowdown comic turn by James Coyle) as a caddy driving off in a golf cart.

That an actor of Mr. Coyle's caliber can underplay farce is just one of those ineffable things about a star-kissed ensemble. If Shakespeare's troupe of strolling players has ever been more entrancing, tell me where or when?

And the Fellini-esque entrance of the company is one of many joyous choreographic patterns that define the company's exuberant style, always true to the text, in its fashion.

Ms. Williamson cannot be and will not be forgot. Heaven help you if you dare.

Her Kate is ferocity incarnate. She is radiantly beautiful. Hers is that special face; there is happiness and fulfillment in it. Her final soliloquy, which can be interpreted any which way, can only be felt one way, it is so finely spoken and rich with feeling. As she kneels at the end of it, Mr. Rhoads stops her before her knee hits the ground, and then he kneels before her. Love is everywhere. That's all there is. It is heart stopping.

It is hard to think of a more accessible way to brush up your Shakespeare. It is hard to think at all, afterward. Imagine a G-rated family entertainment that can also be, for many, a most allowable visualization of sexual foreplay, a free-for-all farce that is precisely nuanced, transmitting a message that all of us should be free, a divine midsummer madness that inspires madness in others. If only such good times were here to stay.

Elysa Gardner (review date 15 August 2000)

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SOURCE: Gardner, Elysa. “Princeton Shrew Is a Groovy Kind of Love.” USA Today (15 August 2000): D4.

[In the following review, Gardner comments on the retro, 1970s styling and music of Victoria Liberatori's staging of The Taming of the Shrew with the Princeton Repertory Theatre in 2000. Gardner contends that this seemingly odd setting offered an excellent commentary on the play by evoking the sexual revolution and the women's rights movement.]

Months after a Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate cleaned up at the Tonys, the Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival has put a new musical spin on The Taming of the Shrew. And it's a way groovy one.

For this new Shrew—which will be performed Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings through Aug. 27, outdoors at Petoranello Gardens—company artistic director Victoria Liberatori enlisted composer Galt MacDermot, best known for scoring the classic hippie musical Hair, to write incidental music.

Quirky as it might seem, Liberatori's choice was actually quite practical. For one thing, MacDermot is no stranger to the Bard: the Canadian-born tunesmith won a Tony for his musical adaptation of Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1972, and he has since provided music for several of Joseph Papp's productions of Shakespeare plays.

Perhaps more to the point, the Princeton Rep's Shrew is set just after the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, in the swinging '70s. And MacDermot's prerecorded soundtrack—segments of electronically enhanced instrumentals fusing funk and lite jazz, which are played intermittently throughout the show and during intermission—is only part of the fun.

In Liberatori's canny take on Shrew, Petruchio zips into Padua on a motor scooter, clad in a banana-yellow suit that would make Mr. Blackwell break out in hives—one of many authentically tacky retro costumes designed by Marianne Powell-Parker. When Petruchio's willful lover, Katherine, argues with her dainty sister Bianca, a poster of one of Bianca's rock idols is thrown and a 12-inch record is broken in the process. When Bianca's suitor, Hortensio, disguises himself as a music teacher to woo her, he brandishes an electric guitar and sports a tight, sequined get-up that could have been lifted from the Jimi Hendrix exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

By setting Shakespeare's battle of the sexes in the recent past, at a time when the sexual revolution and quest for women's rights were at full throttle, the director and her able cast point out the extent to which male-female relationships remain an endless source of confusion, frustration and amusement.

Donald Kimmel is a nearly perfect Petruchio, exuding just the right mix of alpha-male pompousness and dapper charm. Missy Thomas' Katherine is at times a bit too shrewish—kicking and barking at her colleagues, she can seem less like a headstrong feminist than a child in need of Ritalin—but her chemistry with the male lead is undeniable. The fireworks between Thomas and Kimmel are enhanced by Bianca Falco's athletic choreography, which brims with feisty, funny innuendo.

Erik Sherr's slick Hortensio and Julie Lund's hyper-flirtatious Bianca also work well together, and Richard Bourg is convincingly lecherous as Bianca's older suitor, Gremio. But some of the most entertaining performances in this Shrew come from actors playing less central characters. As Biondella, a domestic servant to yet another of Bianca's admirers, Karen Traynor is irresistibly spry and impish; as Petruchio's traveling servant Grumio, Joe Narciso is a sharp schlep in the great tradition of Woody Allen and Albert Brooks—a guy who knows and appreciates what fools these mortals be.

Can you dig it?

D. J. R. Bruckner (review date 23 June 2001)

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SOURCE: Bruckner, D. J. R. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. New York Times (23 June 2001): B8.

[In the following review of Liz Shipman's 2001 staging of The Taming of the Shrew, Bruckner finds nearly all of Shipman's directorial interpretations beneficial to the drama and approves of the ensemble performance.]

In the Kings County Shakespeare Company's Taming of the Shrew under Liz Shipman's direction, it is the play that is disciplined into civility, with only a slight misstep. Ms. Shipman uses part of Shakespeare's opening scene that is routinely ignored in modern productions. But instead of making the play a stunt by amateur performers to confuse an addled sot, she has a lush reel from the street into the theater where the actors talk him into taking the role of Petruchio. It seems to me this diminishes the distancing effect Shakespeare intended by making Shrew a play within a play.

She also uses fragments from a 1594 play of uncertain authorship called The Taming of a Shrew, but without much changing Shakespeare's text. She makes Katherine a less strident shrew than she is usually portrayed and Petruchio a less hectoring coach of manners. This slight muting does not dull the edge of their verbal combat, but it does make the fumbling rivalry of the three suitors of Bianca and the rascally disorder of the many servants in the play more insistently funny. In this innocent and wild world Kate and Petruchio often seem to be the only adults.

This company has become a fine ensemble. The easy command of Shakespeare's language by the actors is impressive. Every character, right down to the tailor and the haberdasher, has a strong comic personality, so it is with apologies to all that I single out any. But making Baptista a woman, not a man, in this version is inspired since the part goes to Vicki Hirsch, who has wondrous ways of making a character ridiculous but not silly. And giving Joseph Small the part of the widow who is in love with one of Bianca's suitors is no less astute, for much the same reason. As for those suitors, John McCarthy, Phillip Douglas and Jon Fordham make the three of them such lovable provincial oddballs that you are sorry to leave them when the play ends.

Renee Bucciarelli lets one see, and feel, that Kate's eventual surrender to Petruchio is the surest sign of her intelligence—no mean feat of acting. And Michael Oberlander's Petruchio, while he doesn't hesitate to put Kate through some humiliating trials, obviously loves this woman, from first meeting. The play depends on the tone set by these two, and they get it right.

Jeanne Addison Roberts (essay date summer 1983)

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SOURCE: Roberts, Jeanne Addison. “Horses and Hermaphrodites: Metamorphosis in The Taming of the Shrew.Shakespeare Quarterly 34, no. 2 (summer 1983): 159-71.

[In the following essay, Roberts examines the theme of metamorphosis in The Taming of the Shrew, which is suggested by imagery of literal transformation in the play.]

The relationship between the world of nature and the world of human beings is always of special interest in Shakespeare's plays; and in discussing the “romantic” comedies critics since Northrop Frye have routinely noted the alternation in settings between the “normal world” and the “green world of romance.”1 Just as routinely they have excluded The Taming of the Shrew from discussions of “romantic” comedy on the grounds of its “realism” and its farcical qualities.2 I should like to suggest that important elements of romance do in fact lie under the surface of this play and that an appreciation of these elements helps to illuminate its picture of the interaction of natural and human worlds. Some of the links between the worlds are supplied by Ovid.


It is a truth universally acknowledged that Shakespeare was well-versed in Ovid and that Ovidian literature shaped and permeated his writing. In the playwright's early works Ovid's influence is manifest especially in Venus and Adonis and Titus Andronicus. The Taming of the Shrew virtually advertises its Ovidian connections, with two Latin lines from Penelope's letter to Odysseus in Heroides actually quoted in Cambio's first Latin lesson with Bianca (II.i.28-29). There is a reference to The Art to Love (the Ars Amatoria) in the second Latin lesson (IV.ii.7).3 There are allusions in the play to the outcast Ovid and to Adonis and Cytherea, Daphne and Apollo, Io, Leda's daughter, Europa, Dido, Hercules, and the Cumaean sybil, all of whom Shakespeare could have learned about in the Metamorphoses. Even two dogs have Ovidian names: Echo and Troilus. And most suggestively for my purposes, there is, at the crucial moment of the play, a submerged but significant reminder of the myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus.

Superficially it might seem that the mythical and supernatural world of Ovid, with its obvious affinity for the gory surrealism of Titus and the rowdy eroticism of Venus and Adonis, would be antithetical to the realism and farce of The Taming of the Shrew. But I will argue that an appreciation of Ovidian overtones can move our perception of the comedy in the direction of romance, thereby enhancing our pleasure in the complexity of a play that is often thought to be lacking in subtlety.

Metamorphoses ought to be useful in comedy—a form committed by its very nature to the belief that people can change. Muriel Bradbrook has illustrated the use of metamorphoses in early Elizabethan dramas such as The Old Wives' Tale, Love's Metamorphoses, and The Maid's Metamorphosis. She observes, however, that the influence of such Ovidian transformations rapidly faded, and that Shakespeare never employed the device at all, since his comedies are concerned with the subtler forms of change involved in growing up.4 I think that Bradbrook is essentially right. Although there are hints of Ovidian metamorphoses in the transformations of Bottom and Falstaff, these metamorphoses pose a basic threat to comedy since the changes are nearly always for the worse.

Ovid's metamorphoses are, in fact, not true changes at all but terminal revelations of stasis.5 People turn into animals, trees, or stones because they cannot grow. Shakespeare's changes are more likely to be genuine. They are signaled by mini-metamorphoses such as metaphors, pretenses, disguises, or stage images. They are distinctive in that they may be temporary or reversible, and they are often progressive rather than static or regressive.

Whereas in Ovid people turn into animals, a primary motif of The Taming of the Shrew is the elevation of animals into people—and not only into people but into suitable spouses, a rather more difficult feat. In the Induction Sly is transformed from a monstrous swine-like beast (Ind.i.34) into a happy husband and a lord. And Kate and Petruchio move through a whole zoo of animal metaphors before they achieve the dignity of a human marriage. Each tries insistently and repeatedly to demote the other to bestial status. And while their refusal to respect the gap between animal and human in the Chain of Being is the stuff of low comedy, it is also a violation of humane interrelation. For Kate and Petruchio an important progressive image is that of the horse, and I shall pay particular attention to its uses throughout the play.


For the purposes of my discussion it will be helpful to abandon, at least for the moment, the received view of this play as a realistic farce controlled by the masterful Petruchio. It is true that the title invites this view and that folktales and analogues support it, but it is worthwhile to entertain the possibility of a subtext which runs counter to this traditional interpretation—a subtext resonant of romance and fairy-tales in its depiction of two flawed lovers in quest of an ideal union. This approach flies in the face of long critical practice and requires a considerable suspension of disbelief, but it will, I believe, prove fruitful.

First, consider the “Induction.” Why is it there? Why is it open-ended? Why does it linger repeatedly and, it seems, needlessly on details of sport and hunting? Why the persistent talk of dreams? Why the theme of deferred sexual consummation? And finally why is Sly taken for his metamorphosis to the Lord's “fairest chamber” hung round with “wanton pictures,” presumably those described later by the servants as representations of the metamorphoses of Adonis, Io, and Daphne?

The use of the induction or frame is, of course, a standard device of distancing, of signaling a movement from the “real” world to a domain of instincts, romance, and supernatural possibility. The classic instances are The Thousand and One Nights and The Decameron, but there are many other examples. The frame is not, however, a favorite Shakespearean device. The closest approaches to it in his other plays are the Theseus-Hippolyta plot in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the use of Gower in Pericles. In both cases the frame encloses a fluid romantic world within the fixed perimeters of known history. The repeated references to dreams in the Induction of Shrew and Sly's resolve at the end to “Let the world slip” can be seen as creating a similar effect. The chief difference is that the frame in The Taming of the Shrew is open-ended.

Metaphors of the hunt and the use of hunting scenes serve regularly in Shakespeare as transitions between the worlds of history and romance, especially between the city and the forest.6 On one level this is predictable and obvious. Hunting is a sport that takes civilized man into the woods. But in myth and fairy-tale the journey into the forest world is commonly an exploration of the instinctual and especially of the sexual. In Shrew the Lord moves from his offer to Sly of a “couch / Softer and sweeter than the lustful bed” of Semiramis (Ind.ii.37-39) by natural progression to his offer of gorgeously trimmed horses, soaring hawks, and baying hounds. The servants switch easily back to images of lust—Venus', Jupiter's, and Apollo's. These metaphors alert us to the important themes of animality and sexual pursuit in the play proper, and they ought also to sensitize us to the play's mythological overtones.

The fair chamber hung round with wanton pictures prepares, of course, for sexual themes. But even more important, it is a landmark on the road to romance. Frye points out that what he calls romances of descent frequently begin with scenes of passing through a mirror—as in the case of Lewis Carroll's Alice—or of sleep in a room with such modulations of mirrors as tapestries or pictures. Such sleep, says Frye, is typically followed by dreams of metamorphoses.7 In the case of Sly, as in the case of the chief protagonists in Shrew proper, the metamorphoses we behold represent improvement, progress. Although Sly's transformation is superficial and externally imposed, we are not allowed to witness his regression. And the play convinces us that Kate and Petruchio are permanently altered. Only the merest trace of true Ovidian metamorphosis—the relevation of stasis—remains buried in the play. I hope to demonstrate this, as well as to show that the deferral of sexual consummation (made bearable for Sly by the diversion of the players) also energizes the courtship of Kate and Petruchio (premarital and postmarital)—not consummated, I suggest, until the latter's final invitation, “Come, Kate, we'll to bed.”8


As we turn from the Induction to the play itself, the most obvious romance convention is that of the paired heroines. It is never safe, of course, to ignore the possible influence of available actors when one analyzes Shakespeare's practice in characterization; one remembers perforce the dark and blonde pairs of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the double female roles of The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labor's Lost (redoubled), The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. But, although available actors may have facilitated its realization, the theme of the multiplication of lovers seems to have been central to Shakespeare's romantic comedy. Often such multiplication serves to emphasize the urgency and irrationality of sexual instincts. In Shrew it suggests rather the two sides of one psyche.9 One cannot make too much of the fact that Bianca and Katherina are sisters: the plot demands it. However, the dark, sometimes demonic older sister and the fair, milder younger sister are recurrent figures of romance (Frye cites the example of Arcadia), and frequently one sister is killed off or sacrificed in the renewal of the other's life. The argument for linking Bianca and Katherina can be made quite directly: the elder sister complains that she is being made a “stale” (one meaning of the word is “decoy,” i.e. double) for the younger sister (I.i.58); Bianca's suitors hope to “set her free” by finding a husband for her sister (I.i.138); and the younger sister appears literally bound and enslaved to the elder at the start of Act II. When Katherina is carried away from her own marriage feast, her father placidly proposes to “let Bianca take her sister's room” (III.ii.250).

Early in the play Katherina has been identified by everyone as an animal—not only seen as a shrew but also assaulted with an extraordinary thesaurus of bestial and diabolical terms. She is called devil, devil's dam, fiend, curst, foul, rough, wild cat, wasp, and hawk, to offer only a selection of epithets and adjectives. Bianca, by contrast, appears sweet, gentle, and compliant until two wry but tell-tale metaphors surface toward the end from the disappointed lovers, Tranio and Hortensio. The former remarks her “beastly” courting of Lucentio; the latter calls her a “proud disdainful haggard” (IV.ii.39). At the very moment that Kate is graduating to full human and marital status at the play's end, Bianca reveals her own animality with references to heads and butts, and heads and horns. Her words imply acceptance of animal status: “Am I your bird? I mean to change my bush” (V.ii.46). At this point she says that, though “awaken'd,” she means to “sleep again” (V.ii.42-43); and she virtually vanishes, reappearing only as a shrewish echo in two final rebellious lines. The two figures have merged into one—one more fully human than either of the parts. This is the technique of folk tales rather than of realistic drama.


The relationship of the two girls to their father is also of considerable interest. According to Bruno Bettelheim, children in fairy-tales are turned into animals by parental anger.10 Baptista's favoritism toward his younger daughter is abundantly clear in the first scene: he assures her of his love; he praises her delight in music and poetry; and he singles her out for private conversation. Later (II.i.26) he angrily chides Kate as a “hilding of a devilish spirit” (“hilding” is a word applied to a horse in its earliest appearance in the OED in 1589); and, when a potential suitor for her appears, Baptista actually tries to discourage him. In fairy-tales children transformed into animals are regularly turned back to humans by love, especially in marriage; but in addition they must establish harmonious relationships with the offending parent. It is significant, I think, that both Bianca and Kate are married in the presence of “false” fathers. Baptista never acknowledges a loving relationship with Kate until her transformation is revealed at the very end of the play; than he finally offers “Another dowry to another daughter, / For she is chang'd, as she had never been” (V.ii.114-15). Bianca is married with the blessing of her own father (on the wrong man) and that of the Pedant, Lucentio's substitute father. The potential merging of these fathers into one true father is signaled on the road to Padua after the turning point between Kate and Petruchio when Kate says to Vincentio, Lucentio's true father, “Now I perceive thou art a reverend father.” And Petruchio goes even further when he discovers the old man's identity, insisting “… now by law as well as reverend age, / I may entitle thee my loving father” (II.v.48, 60-61). As daughters merge into one, so do fathers. In the last scene “jarring notes” are said finally to “agree,” and Bianca and Lucentio welcome each other's true fathers (V.ii.1-5). Lucentio has aptly summed up the situation with his declaration, “Love wrought these miracles” (V.i.124).

The forces working to metamorphose humans into animals are not merely parental, however. Katherina is associated with more animal metaphors than any other female character in Shakespeare. The images come from every direction, but especially from Petruchio. A great deal of the humor of the first meeting between Kate and her suitor (II.i.181-278), for example, depends on the determination of each to reduce the other to subhuman status. She connects him successively with a join'd-stool, a jade, a buzzard, a cock, and a crabapple. He responds by associating her with a turtledove, a wasp, and a hen—and of course his resolution to tame her implies the sustained hawking analogy underlying most of his behavior.11 In their first encounter each wishes to reduce the other to a laboring animal. Kate starts with “Asses are made to bear, and so are you,” and the double (or perhaps triple) entendre of Petruchio's riposte, “Women are made to bear, and so are you,” helps to activate a second animalistic analogy which underlies the play—the fallacious picture of beast and rider as a suitable emblem for harmonious marriage.12


There can be no doubt that the equation of women with horses was operative in Elizabethan culture. Perhaps the most relevant example is that of one of the possible sources of Shakespeare's play, the long poem called “A Merry Jeste of a shrewde and curst Wyfe, Lapped in Morrelles Skin for Her Good behavyour” (London, 1580). The poem is of special interest because it too features two sisters (rather than the three sisters of the old play The Taming of a Shrew or the one sister of the source of the subplot, Gascoigne's Supposes),13 the younger and more docile of whom is cherished by the father and disappears early in the tale. In this poem the groom (the double meaning of this word invites equine elaboration) quarrels with his wife and in his anger mounts his old horse Morrell, a blind, lame nag unable to draw and given to falling in the mire; as he rides away, the groom conceives the idea of killing the horse, flaying it, and wrapping his wife in Morrell's skin “for her good behavior.” There is no need to recount the brutal details of how he carries out his plan. The point is clear: he wants his wife to be a horse and, in effect, succeeds in turning her into one.

The association of women and horses surfaces also in other Shakespearean plays—notably in Cleopatra's envy of Antony's horse (I.ii.21) and in Hermione's reference to women being ridden by their husbands (The Winter's Tale, I.ii.94-96). In The Taming of the Shrew Gremio swears that he would give Kate's bridegroom “the best horse in Padua” and declares that in Petruchio's search for money he would wed “an old trot with ne'er a tooth in her head, though she have as many diseases as two and fifty horses.” This grim marital metaphor materializes in the description of Petruchio's arrival at his wedding mounted on exactly such a horse; meanwhile, Petruchio himself has visibly deteriorated to match the horse. The play does not accept the emblem of horse and rider as a proper model for marriage. On the contrary, the Petruchio of this scene is, like his specifically characterized lackey, “a monster, a very monster in apparel, and not like a Christian …” (III.ii.69-70). Biondello says that it is not Petruchio who comes, but “his horse … with him on his back.” Baptista's remonstrance that “That's all one” and Biondello's enigmatic and apparently gratuitous “A horse and a man / Is more than one / And yet not many” (III.ii.84-86) might even be taken as a mock description of marriage—in which man and horse are one flesh. Petruchio has come, not like a proper bridegroom, but like a parody of the centaur at the wedding feast. However, he has none of the virility of the mythical centaur arrived to rape the bride. He looks readier for “The Battle of the Centaurs to be sung by an Athenian eunuch to the harp” than for sexual consummation.14 And though Shakespeare's play has nothing comparable to those lines in A Shrew that overtly reveal the bride's readiness for marriage,15 most stage productions supply some sign of her awakened interest in her suitor. Her disappointment in Petruchio's tardy and tawdry appearance reflects more than a concern about his breach of etiquette.

And yet the aura of the centaur is not altogether lacking. Petruchio does commit a sort of rape in carrying off his bride against her will. Nor is his comparison of Kate to Lucrece and Grissel unapt; he proceeds to treat her like each of these women in turn. There have been some overtones of the monster in Petruchio right from the start. Critics have often been conditioned by interpretations of the play that depict Petruchio as the wise teacher experienced in animal psychology,16 and by productions which encourage a blind enjoyment of his macho self-confidence. And yet the text does not necessarily support such responses. From the start Petruchio displays an irrational irascibility that leads his servant to call him mad and drives his friend Hortensio to rebuke him for the treatment he accords his “ancient, trusty, pleasant servant Grumio” (I.ii.47). When the violent hero speaks of his coming to Padua as a way of thrusting himself “into this maze” (I.ii.55) in order to wive, there may be some doubt as to whether he should be linked with Theseus or with the minotaur. As understandable as the expectation of a good dowry was to an Elizabethan audience, Petruchio's single-minded insistence that wealth is the burden of his wooing dance, and his willingess to accept a Xanthippe or worse if she is rich enough, seems the extreme of folly even to his friends. He compares himself and Kate to two raging fires which will consume “the thing that feeds their fury” (II.i.132-33). His thoughts of wooing are formulated with hunting analogies: “Have I not … heard lions roar? / Have I not heard the sea … / Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?” (I.ii.200-202). And his courtship repeatedly reminds us of the hawking metaphor in which he sees himself as the hunter. Hunters in mythology, however, are often themselves in danger of metamorphosis, and from the moment of his venereal triumph Petruchio is transformed into a beast. Granted that his transformation is in part assumed, it nonetheless seems excessive and shocking. He is, says Baptista, “An eyesore at our solemn festival” (II.ii.101), and his gross behavior in the church is carefully removed from view on stage. He is a “grumbling groom,” “a devil, a devil, a very fiend” (III.ii.155), and indeed Kate's journey with him to his country house is for her a descent into hell. The fairy-tale of the two sisters is now eclipsed by shades of Pluto and Proserpina, or of Beauty and the Beast.


The quester one finds in a fairy-tale or romance is frequently accompanied by a dwarf or an animal. It is therefore both amusing and fitting to discover that Grumio, the first to speak in the new hellish setting of Petruchio's house, is a sort of dwarf, “a little pot” (IV.i.5) and a “three-inch fool” (IV.i.23), and that one of Petruchio's first acts is to call for his spaniel Troilus. Dogs, one recalls, are regularly resident in the lower world. Rather more significant is the description of the newlyweds' journey. In addition to the association of horses with women, it is a Renaissance commonplace that horses represent the passions, which must be reined in by the rational rider for a harmonious and moderate life. The skilled equestrian or the chariot driver … is a model for well-governed individual existence. The marital goal of Kate and Petruchio will be, not to ride each other but to ride side by side, in control of their horses, back to Padua. It is a goal constantly frustrated. The curious account of their problems with their horses en route to Petruchio's country estate has no parallel in The Taming of a Shrew. The idea might have been suggested by Morrell's tendency to fall in the mire or by a passage in Gascoigne's Supposes, where Paquetto speaks of the “foule waye that we had since wee came from this Padua” and expresses his fear that the mule “would have lien fast in the mire.”17 In Shakespeare the reported incidents (III.ii.55-84) serve as fitting prologue to the scenes at Petruchio's house. Both Kate and her husband, it seems, have lost control of their passions (i.e., they have been thrown from their horses) as they came down a “foul hill.” Kate's horse has actually fallen on her, and she has waded through dirt, “bemoiled” and disoriented. The suggestion that her former identity has been destroyed is supported by the discussion among the servants about whether or not she has a face of her own (III.ii.99-104), and later by the report that she “knows not which way to stand, to look, to speak, / And sits as one new risen from a dream” (IV.i.185-86). Unlike Proserpina, she is eager to eat in this frigid underworld but instead is starved (literally and figuratively), denied proper apparel (cf. Grissel), and assaulted with “sermons of continency” (IV.i.182-83).


Throughout Act IV Petruchio continues to speak of his wife as an animal, explicitly as a falcon (IV.i.190-96), and to treat her accordingly. I have never found these scenes very funny. For me, they reinforce Curtis' observation that by now “he is more shrew than she” (IV.i.85-86). Kate justly complains that her husband wants to make a puppet of her (IV.iii.103). The promised journey to her father's house is aborted by their quarrel over the time, and the horses to be ridden to Padua remain unmounted at Long-lane End (IV.iii.185). In IV.v it appears likely that travel plans will be canceled again as the two start out for Padua a second time and momentarily disagree. But this disagreement leads to the turning point of their relationship. Kate learns to play Petruchio's game and acquiesces in his apparently whimsical identification of the sun as the moon.

It is at this moment that one encounters the submerged evocation of Ovid to which I referred earlier. Petruchio continues his game by addressing Vincentio as “gentle mistress.” Hortensio protests that it “will make the man mad, to make the woman of him.” But now the “game” turns suddenly into a kind of shared vision. Following Petruchio's lead, Kate greets Vincentio as “young budding virgin,” and then goes on to say,

Happy the parents of so fair a child,
Happier the man whom favorable stars
Allots thee for his lovely bedfellow.


Editors have noted18 that this speech echoes Salmacis' words in Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses:

                                        … right happy is (I say)
Thy mother and thy sister too (if any be:) …
But far above all other, far more blisse than these is she
Whom thou for thy wife and bedfellow vouchsafest for to bee.(19)

What has not been analyzed is the logic and significance of the connection. In Ovid Salmacis is addressing Hermaphroditus, the young man who subsequently fuses with her to become a hermaphrodite.

The language takes on obvious relevance in The Taming of the Shrew, where the speakers are transforming a man metaphorically into a woman. The word “bedfellow” evokes the idea of sexual consummation; and the hermaphrodite was a popular Elizabethan emblem for the miracle of marriage, which joined male and female.20 One emblem features, above the figure of the hermaphrodite, the sun and moon (on male and female sides respectively), reinforcing the idea of the union of these qualities in marriage and adding resonance to Shakespeare's scene, where the two heavenly bodies have become interchangeable. The alchemical Rebis features a similar image of the hermaphrodite flanked by sun and moon, symbolizing the first stage of the “chemical marriage” which produces pure gold.21 Another emblem shows the male and female being joined under a burst of light from heaven, comparable to the light that has “bedazzled” Kate's eyes. At this moment the hell of estrangement is lifted. Kate explains her vision as the result of “eyes, / That have been so bedazzled with the sun / That everything I look on seemeth green” (IV.v.45-47). As a couple she and Petruchio have emerged from the underworld of lost and mistaken identities to the green world presided over by the true father (cf. A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like It). It is this moment that makes consummation possible. The same moment leads Hortensio to resolve to marry his widow and presumably coincides with the nuptial ceremony of Bianca and Lucentio. And following this moment, Kate and Petruchio mount their respective horses and ride to Padua.

Beryl Rowland suggests that the Latin word equus is related to the word for equal—because horses drawing a chariot needed to be well-matched.22 It is pleasant to suppose that some sense of this meaning inheres in Shakespeare's image, even though it is obvious that the idea cannot be pushed too far. There can be no question that the view of the dominant male and the submissive female survives to the end of the play. It would be absurd to argue otherwise. And yet the substitution of the vision of the hermaphrodite with its two human components for the earlier images of horse and rider or falcon and falconer is progress. And in independence of mind and liveliness of spirit the two riders do seem well matched.


In the final scene of the play bestial metaphors and figures of the hunt reappear—but with a difference. They are no longer in the mouths of Kate and Petruchio except when Kate rebukes the other women as “unable worms” (V.ii.169). The widow's reference to the shrew is dismissed by Kate as a “very mean meaning” (V.ii.31). Bianca speaks of head and butt, and head and horn, and “becomes” a bird to be hunted and shot at (V.ii.46-51). Petruchio denigrates Tranio's greyhound imagery as “something currish” (V.ii.54) and insists on the distinction between his wife and his hawk and hound (V.ii.72-73). The transformation of the protagonists bodes “peace … and love, and quiet life.” In this context the trial of Kate (a trial is a recurring feature of the final stage of romance) culminates in the revelation of her true identity and prepares the way for the long-deferred consummation.

The end of this play is not the social celebration characteristic of festive comedy. It shows, rather, the kind of individual salvation typical of romance. As Petruchio says, “We three are married, but you two are sped.” The figurative transformation of Bianca into a bird is a true Ovidian metamorphosis—the revelation of terminal stasis. The lonely lovers create a private sanctuary for themselves, but the surrounding world continues to be paralyzed by its illusions.23

The benign green world of The Taming of the Shrew is explicitly manifest only in the brief shared epiphany of the main protagonists. The violence, both psychic and physical, and the bestial metaphors belong to another kind of natural world—a world of nightmares and unrestrained instincts. The bestial metaphors are not merely weapons in the war of attempted manipulation of others; they are also passing pictures in a fluid scene where transformations are still possible. The very assertion of false images facilitates their confrontation and rejection. In the end it is possible to believe that Petruchio has given up his view of Kate as goods and chattels or as his horse or his falcon, even as Kate has relinquished her headstrong humor. It is, after all, the “sped” Hortensio and Lucentio who persist in the assertion that Petruchio has succeeded in “taming” “a curst shrew.” Petruchio himself is equally “tamed.”

I am willing to concede that this is not the most obvious reading of the play. Still, if the romantic subtext I have attempted to trace is actually operative, it should not be totally ignored; and a stage production might effectively emphasize it. It demonstrates an oblique, probably unconscious, use of source materials which is, I believe, typical of Shakespeare. It also reveals the poet's uncanny ability to modify a standard tale of male supremacy with a humane vision which helps to account for the survival of his most sexist comedy as a play acceptable to and even pleasurable to modern audiences—truly a miraculous metamorphosis.


  1. Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), p. 182.

  2. H. B. Charlton, The Taming of the Shrew (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1932), p. 6 Charlton is typical in his contention that no Englishman would find the play romantic. He concedes germinal romanticism to the Bianca plot but finds none in the main plot.

  3. References to The Taming of the Shrew and other Shakespearean plays are drawn from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

  4. The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy (London: Chatto & Windus; repr. Baltimore: Penguin, 1963), p. 88. “Growing up” involves, of course, the development of potentialities already present. Metamorphosis in Ovid involves the denial of potentialities.

  5. See Irving Massey, The Gaping Pig: Literature and Metamorphosis (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976). Shakespeare's use of Ovidian metamorphoses is discussed in my “Animals as Agents of Revelation: The Horizontalizing of the Chain of Being in Shakespeare's Comedies,” in Shakespearean Comedy, ed. Maurice Charney, special edition of New York Literary Forum (1980), 79-96.

  6. Note that II.ii in Titus Andronicus marks a transition from town to forest; IV.i and ii in Love's Labor's Lost precede the scenes of male capitulation; IV.i.103-39 in A Midsummer Night's Dream marks the end of the “dream,” and II.i and IV.ii in As You Like It, with their hunting references, punctuate the green world of Arden.

  7. Northrop Frye, The Secular Scripture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1976), pp. 108-9. For other pertinent passages on romance conventions, see pp. 142-43, 105, 115, and 139.

  8. It is noteworthy that Shakespeare again uses the strategy of play as foreplay in delayed consummation in A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest.

  9. The same approach might be used in the case of other such paired siblings as those of The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night.

  10. The Uses of Enchantment (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976; repr. Vintage, 1977), p. 70. Bettelheim cites hedgehogs and porcupines. Shrews belong to the same biological family and share the reputation of being unpleasant to deal with. For a discussion of the relation of shrews as animals to shrews as women, see the New Arden edition of The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Brian Morris. (London: Methuen, 1981), pp. 121-24.

  11. For an analysis of the methods of hawk-taming and their use in the play, see George Hibbard, “The Taming of the Shrew: A Social Comedy,” in Shakespearean Essays, ed. Alwin Thaler and Norman Sanders, Special Number 2, Tennessee Studies in Literature (1964), 15-28; and Margaret Loftus Ranald, “The Manning of the Haggard or The Taming of the Shrew,Essays in Literature 1 (1974), 149-65.

  12. This idea is touched on by Marianne Novy, “Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew,” English Literary Renaissance, 9 (1979), 264-80. Since I wrote this essay I have also heard a good development of the use of the horse and rider emblem in a paper by Joan Hartwig, “Horses and Women in The Taming of the Shrew,” delivered at the Southeastern Renaissance Conference, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 27 March 1982 (forthcoming in Huntington Library Quarterly). Although asses can be ridden, they are more likely to be beasts of burden, which is the primary analogy implied by Kate. As Petruchio picks up the image, however, it suggests (1) that women must bear burdens; (2) that women must bear children; (3) that women must bear males in the sex act; and even perhaps (4) that women as representative of passion must be “ridden” by rational male “riders.”

  13. A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called The Taming of a Shrew (London, 1594). Whether this play is a source, an analogue, or a bad quarto of Shakespeare's play is still debated, but opinion seems to be moving toward the idea of bad quarto. Supposes was printed in The Posies of George Gascoigne (London, 1575).

  14. Shakespeare's association of Centaurs with the story of how the Centaurs invited to the wedding feast of Theseus' friend Pirithous tried to carry off the bride, Hippodamia (note the horse allusion in “Hippo”), and thus precipitated a bloody battle, is apparent in A Midsummer Night's Dream, V.i.44-45, and Titus Andronicus, V.ii.203.

  15. In A Shrew, sig. B3, Kate says in an aside, “But yet I will consent and marry him, For I Methinkes have livde too long a maid. …”

  16. See, for example, Robert B. Heilman, “The Taming Untamed, or The Return of the Shrew,” Modern Language Quarterly, 27 (1966), 147-61.

  17. Gascoigne, p. 18.

  18. See, for example, the Arden edition, ed. R. Warwick Bond (London: Methuen, 1904; rev. & repr. 1929), p. 132.

  19. Quoted in Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), I, 169-73, as a source of Venus and Adonis, As in Petruchio's speech earlier (IV.v.30), Ovid's passage also contains reference to white and red (apples and Ivorie) in the face of the object of observation. A few lines further on the passage reads,

    And even as Phebus beames
    Against a myrour pure and clere rebound
    With broken gleames;
    Even so his eyes did sparcle-fire.

    The lines are comparable to Kate's:

                                            Pardon … my mistaking eyes,
    That have been so bedazzled with the sun. …

    Ovid's original may be even closer to Shakespeare than Golding's translation. It reads:

    flagrant guoque lumina nymphae,
    non aliter quam cum puro nitidissimus orbe
    opposita speculi referitur imagine Phoebus. …

    See Ovid's Metamorphoses in the Loeb Classical Library, with translation by Frank Justus Miller. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1977), p. 202, ll. 347-49. The word “nitidissimus” suggests “bedazzled.” The same passage, echoed in Troilus and Cressida (II.iii.241) in a speech by Ulysses to Diomed, is even closer to the Latin. Ovid himself echoes Odysseus' speech to Nausicaa (6.149-59) in Homer's Odyssey. Although it does not prove Shakespeare's knowledge of Greek, the original is followed by an intriguingly apposite elaboration: “And for yourself, may the gods grant you all that your heart desires; a husband and a home … and oneness of heart … For nothing is greater or better than this, when a man and wife dwell in a home in one accord, a great grief to their foes and a joy to their friends” (6.180-5). The translation is by G. Karl Galinsky, Ovid's “Metamorphoses”: An Introduction to the Basic Aspects (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1975), p. 188.

  20. For a discussion of hermaphrodites in poetry, see William Keach's Elizabethan Erotic Narratives (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1977), Chapter 8.

  21. I am indebted to Robert Kimbrough for directing my attention to the Hermetic androgyne.

  22. Animals with Human Faces (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1973), p. 107.

  23. This idea is elaborated in Novy, p. 277.

Erika Gottlieb (essay date 1986)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11038

SOURCE: Gottlieb, Erika. “‘I Will Be Free’: Shakespeare's Ambivalence to Katherina's Challenge of the Great Chain of Being.” In Essays on Shakespeare in Honour of A. A. Ansari, edited by T. R. Sharma, pp. 88-116. Meerut, India: Shalabh Book House, 1986.

[In the following essay, Gottlieb contends that The Taming of the Shrew should not be viewed as a farce with a determinate happy ending, but rather that the play demonstrates Shakespeare's ambivalence to feminine assertions of independence from authoritarian, hierarchical tradition.]

In spite of the great number of its critics and the wide range of critical directions, most commentators on The Taming of the Shrew insist on reading it as a comedy with a wholeheartedly happy ending. In contrast to this assertion, I suggest that The Taming of the Shrew represents one of the earliest examples of Shakespeare's ambivalence towards the dilemma of individual freedom and equality as inspired by the emerging new consciousness of the Renaissance, and opposed to the well-tried ideas of dependence and obedience to authority posited by the conservative, medieval tradition.

To respond to this dilemma, Shakespeare also presses into service the current romantic code of gentlemanly behaviour and courtly love as a buttress to the central ideological edifice, that of the Great Chain of Being. To illustrate this ambivalence, I shall concentrate on the question of Katherina's initial rebellion and plea for equality, the very question responsible for those unresolved contradictions which ultimately get in the way of a truly, wholeheartedly happy ending both in terms of the plot, and in the characters' psychological realization.

Conclusions of a ‘happily-ever-after’ ending have emerged from reading the play as antiromantic, ‘literally Shakesepeare's recoil from romance.’1 This reading emphasizes that after his initial attempt at romantic comedy, in The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare returns to the home-spun, the down-to-earth, to the scrutiny of the real behaviour of man and woman as opposed to the artificial behaviour imposed on characters by the high-falutin conventions of romantic comedy imported from Europe, particularly from Italy. The fact that there are indeed two lines of love intrigue developed in the play—Bianca's foreign and Katherina's more home-spun story; that the two girls' relationships are tested, as in a contest; and that it is Katherina's which undoubtedly wins the upper hand—seem to bear out this contention.

To arrive at the conclusion of happy ending critics have also drawn attention to Shakespeare's scrutiny of the contrast between reality and illusion in the play. They point out that Shakespeare introduces this contrast through the Sly frame-story, develops it through Bianca's unexpected change from pre-nuptial, maidenly sweetness to matronly assertiveness, even aggressiveness, right after her wedding, so that we may become aware of the difference between apparent and real in the relationship between Katherina and Petrucio. Indeed, it has been implied by critics of the most divergent persuasion that Petruchio only appears to be a ‘tamer’; as a matter of fact, he is more of a kind teacher—ultimately even a liberator—who allows misled, immature, or neurotic Katherina to catch a glimpse of her own better self and decide to cure herself of her shrewishness. In line with this interpretation, there have been several speculations developed about Katherina's background, suggesting that the original cause of her shrewishness could have been that she was a problem child because her father had favoured Bianca, because he was interested only in money, or because he was, simply, a family tyrant. According to these interpretations, Petruchio's role, in effect, was to rescue her from an intolerable family situation.2

What emerges from these quite different lines of interpretation is that Katherina's final defeat in the battle between the sexes is not really a defeat. Readers located on such widely different parts of the philosophical spectrum as psychoanalytical3 and feminist4 criticism agree that Kate's final speech of woman's absolute and unconditional surrender and obedience to the male is merely a clever trick to make Petruchio believe he has the upper hand. They imply that as long as Petruchio is under this illusion, it is actually Kate who, through her subtle feminine ways, is in command of their relationship.

Still in harmony with this central contention, explicators assume that in spite of the seeming brutality of Petruchio's taming techniques (Northrop Frye seems to be one of the very few who admits to distaste of at least one scene, where Petruchio forces Katherina to deny the evidence of her senses and describe an old man as a young woman5) the young couple achieves mutual love and understanding by the end of the play. Maynard Mack, for example, credits Petruchio's strategies with the sensitivity and maturity of a healer who, showing Katherina desirable mirror images of herself, succeeds in allowing ‘the loved one grow to match the dream’.6

Although individual insights within these interpretations may make valid contributions to our understanding of various aspects of the play, it seems to me that what they often overlook or evade relates to the issue of the unconditionally happy ending, that is, to some of the very basic questions of the comic conflict and its resolution.

A happy ending implies that Katherina is better off at the end than she was at the beginning, that the rebel has seen the error of her ways and gives up her cause wholeheartedly. There is no doubt that up to the very last scene Katherina is a rebel. As a young girl she resists the idea of marriage by taunting all of her potential wooers. When she meets Petruchio, she begins by striking him. When, after a disgracefully short period of wooing and a scandalously inappropriate wedding ceremony she is taken to Petrudhio's house, she still insists on her freedom to participate in making decisions (for example, to stay in her father's house for her own wedding banquet, to be able to have her dinner when she is hungry, to take her rest when she is tired, to choose her own clothes, to visit or not to visit her father when she considers it appropriate). Then, she merely insists on her freedom to be heard, to be allowed to speak. ‘I will be free’, she blurts out choking with anger and frustration, drawing attention to the fact that she is an adult, equal to Petruchio in intellectual matters; ‘Your betters have endured me say my mind’, she reminds him.

Finally, and as a shock to everyone around her, in the last scene we see a surprisingly new Katherina who is simply delighted to obey her husband's slightest and most irrational wish, and takes delight in demonstrating and justifying woman's absolute subservience to male dominance. What is the final experience, the great discovery that lies between her last assertion of independence and the celebration of her subservience in the last scene? Having gone through the trials involved in Petruchio's taming strategy, Katherina comes to understand that Petruchio's strength is consistently superior to her own, and what is more, suddenly she finds great joy in this discovery. The relationship which started with her striking him ends with Petruchio's satisfied command, ‘Come and kiss me, Kate’ (V, ii, 180), followed by his announcement ‘Come, Kate, we'll to bed’ (V, ii, 184). Those who argue for the unconditionally happy ending must assume that his last two commands are received by Katherina in a spirit of happiness, that in spite of her total defeat in asserting her ideas of equality and independence she holds no grudge and feels no regrets, that the lasting sexual bond forged by her union with Petruchio on his own terms is worth more to her than all her previous attempts at self-assertion.

To believe in this, we should assume, what indeed most commentators imply, that her relationship with Petruchio is a coming together in mutual understanding, respect, and even love. To see this total change in Katherina's character as a happy one, we should assume that she had understood that Petruchio is the man with whom she can live happily, and that we, ourselves, should be convinced that Petruchio is not a fortune-hunter who enjoys the whole game of wooing and taming simply as a means of acquiring a rich dowry; that he is not a disciplinarian who enjoys the game of imposing his will on any rebellious inferior; or that he is not an undisciplined ruffian himself, looking for ways to demonstrate his virility by overcoming woman's resistance by brutality or the threat of violence; that he is not a cynic, intent on proving that deep down it is precisely his brutal and aggressive behaviour that the woman really craves. But are any of these assumptions based on evidence in the play? When examining the plot and the individual character's development, there is little to encourage positive answers to any of these basic questions relating to the feasibility of a happy ending. There is little either in Katherina's or in Petruchio's character, and almost nothing in their relationship, which should make us secure in an optimistic interpretation of the young personal love for each other, or in the securing of love and happiness for their future. If we want to argue for any kind of a happy ending, we should, therefore, come to terms with the genre of the play. Neither the characters nor their relationship is individualized. If in the final tableau Petruchio and Katherina make a happy couple, their love and happiness is far more situational—what the relationship between any man and any wife should be according to Elizabethan expectations—than what we would accept by more recent conventions aiming at psychological realism, verisimilitude, or ‘three-dimensional” characterization.

As a matter of fact, the play follows many of the ‘two-dimensional’ character requirements of comedy in general and farce in particular. And here we come to an interesting incongruity in the critical history of the play that I would like to take issue with. Most of the play's critics have a tendency to minimize the cruelty and inhumanity of Petruchio's wooing techniques by insisting, often with good reason, that one should look at these techniques as stylized, metaphorical. On the other hand, the same critics also insist that Katherina's and Petruchio's love for each other is real, that is, it has achieved maturity, depth, and psychological credibility by the end.

It seems to me as if most critics were embarrassed by the obvious fact that if we looked at Petruchio's methods in contemporary terms, his ‘taming’ of his ‘hawk’ follows methods familiar to a modern reader from the accounts of prisoners of war describing braihwashing, the so-called rehabilitation of the dissident through sensory deprivation. Having been deprived of food, drink and sleep, victims find that their resistance is broken, until they willingly accept the ‘teacher's’ ideology, or going even further, may even come to identify themselves with the aggressor. The fact that Petruchio does not use direct violence—only the threat of violence—does not make this notion much more palatable.

Of course, the moment we remind ourselves that we are faced with the conventions of comedy, and Petruchio is less of a full-fledged character than a reminder of his theatrical type of Bragadaccio, we also realize that we are within a theatrical convention where the actors' romping, fighting, or striking each other is an acceptable form of stage diversion. If we are not invited to enter the play in terms of psychologically convincing actions or verisimilitude, the fistfights suddenly become a source of humour because they are not expected to hurt, actors may hurl obscenities at each other, (or at Katherina) because they do not really count, and the acts of physical violence or the threats of violence are stylized, indeed, because they do not have the weight of reality. Yet, if we admit to this farcical, necessarily two-dimensional convention in most of the plot, is it not incongruous to insist on the psychological depth and credibility of the comic resolution, that is, on Katherina's character development by the end, and on the maturity and convincing power of her relationship with Petruchio? Having pointed out this incongruity, I also disagree with the commentators when they assert that Katherina's final speech which sums up her domestic position and holds all the keys to her final position in society should be interpreted as an ironic gesture or even a comic trick to win the upper hand. What these assertions suggest is that in spite of her words to the contrary, it is actually the weaker sex who had emerged victorious from the battle between the sexes. It seems to me, however, that we really have had no reason to question Shakespeare's consistency in weaving the fabric of the play, that is to say, we have no more reason to doubt the sincerity of Katherina's words in the end when she advises capitulation than we had at the beginning when she expressed resistance, rebellion. Rather than argue for the three-dimensional, fully realized happy ending, while insisting on a stylized, two-dimensional route that has led to this resolution, I suggest that we approach the entire play by admitting to the two-dimensionality imposed on it by the stage conventions of its chosen genre, and by the ideology this convention and genre are intended to illustrate.

As a farce, The Taming of the Shrew presents us with types in various given situations, and not with individual characters engaged in credible, complex interaction. This situational definition of types and their relationships in society is also appropriate to the subject matter, that is the meaning, or the morale that emerges from the play in the context of the ideology operative for the writer and his audience. This ideology emphasizes the stability of a static, hierarchically ordered universe where each human being is defined in a continuum, according to his or her position to an inferior and a superior, a cosmic order based on the concept of the Great Chain of Being. In terms of this ideology, The Taming of the Shrew should be read as an amusing, but clearly didactic, dramatization of a parable, an illustration of what happens to a foolish virgin who wants to remain unmarried, to a young woman who openly challenges one of the most unquestioningly accepted axioms of this ideology: male dominance. At first Katherina challenges the power of her father, then of her suitor, and goes on, even after her wedding, to assert her right to resist her husband's will if she finds it irrational: ‘I see a woman may be made a fool / If she had not a spirit to resist (III, ii, 220-221). She quite openly and eloquently pleads for equal rights with Petruchio, for freedom to be heard:

                                                  I am no child, no babe
Your betters have endured me say my mind
And if you cannot, best you stop your ears,
My tongue will take the anger of my heart,
Or else my heart, concealing it, will break’,
And rather that it shall I will be free,
Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words.

(IV, iii, 73-80)

Challenging the stability of the hierarchical structure at the domestic level, most particularly in the relationship between the sexes, may appear obvious material for comedy to us, yet we should realize that this challenge held an underlying seriousness to the Elizabethan mentality which conceived of the world as a series of correspondences, a mentality which would interpret a challenge to the established order at any of its stages as a threat challenging the entire structure. That this notion was widely held and made accessible either directly or indirectly is proven by the great popularity of Richard Hooker's The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, one of the most significant documents in the background of Elizabethan literature.7 Hooker's treatise makes it quite clear that the most obvious axiom fundamental to the entire Chain is the demonstrable power of the male over women and children, since ‘to fathers within their private families nature hath given a supreme power … all men have ever been taken as lords and lawful kings in their own houses.’8 Therefore the dominance of the male over the female has to be taken as seriously as the dominance of ‘lords and lawful kings’ over their subjects, and, ultimately, as of the Lord over his obedient Creation. This idea of unquestioning acceptance of one's position as a religious and moral duty is precisely the message of Katherina's final speech, expressed in convincing detail and with rhetorical precision:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head thy sovereign; one that cares for thee …

(V, ii, 146-147)

Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?’

(V, ii, 155-160)

In effect, if we define the comic conflict as a deviation from, or even a reversal of the social standards, the resolution of the conflict depends on the character's (and audience's) understanding that the original position was ludicrous, wrongheaded. Chiding Bianca and Hortensio's new wife for their wrongheaded behaviour, in her final speech Katherina describes her own return to the norm established by the Great Chain of Being, a norm which operates on a cosmic, a social-political, and on a personal-sexual level:

I am asham'd that women are so simple
To offer war, where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love and obey.

(V, ii, 161-163)

If we look at the play as an allegorical dramatization of this ideology, we should also realize that the central images, relating to the relationship between man and woman are either images referring to a battle, or to a contract, some kind of mutual agreement (bound, bind, debt, owe, etc.). In Katherina's final words, after the battle is acted out, women should kneel for peace, accepting a treaty in which their bond is to serve, love and obey. This bond or obligattion, however, is only one side of the treaty. Implied in the speech is the legitimization of the relationship between weaker and stronger sex in some kind of a contract which also implies obligations on the superior partner, a contract with social, sexual, and possibly romantic implications.

If Katherina, before her conversion, was a deviant in terms of her rebellion against the subservience imposed on women in relationship to the male, she was equally a deviant in terms of the behaviour expected from a gentlewoman according to the romantic code of courtly love. Although most critics insist that Katherina's story is a triumphant jibe against the entire romantic tradition, I suggest that the issues raised by the romantic code are never really absent from the plot or the characters of The Taming of the Shrew. As a matter of fact, if we recognize the Chain of Being as the ideology central to our understanding of the play, we will find that some of the fundamental ideas of the romantic code of courtly love emerge not really in contrast to, but as a corollary, to this ideology. Although Bianca and Lucentio's marriage based on romantic infatuation seems to be weak and fraught with mutual disappintment right after the wooing stage is over, this does not mean that Shakespeare is rejecting here the code as meaningless. On the contrary, the play explores the possibility of reconciling the openly authoritarian, male-oriented code of the Chain of Being with the Neo-Platonic Renaissance code of courtly love, based, at least on the surface, on the gentleman's reverential love for the lady. (That rules for this code were almost as current and readily available as those for the Chain of Being is borne out by the wide popularity of Sir Thomas Hoby's translation of Castiglione's The Courtier). Far from rejecting this code in its entirety, in The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare examines the question of romantic love in terms of courtly, gentlemanly behaviour, a behaviour that also works as a mutual obligation, a contract imposed equally on gentleman and on gentlewoman. Complying with the rules of this behaviour also acts as a reinforcement of the couple's social status, their superiority over those below them on the social scale.

Maybe we should begin here with the concept of gentleman, because in spite of Petruchio's ruffian behaviour, the comedy is based on the implicit norm of gentility. It has been pointed out that both in satire and in comedy whenever we find ourselves laughing, we should become aware of some kind of a comic reversal of a social or rational standard that ordinarily is accepted, taken for granted. In the Sly episode we experience such a reversal as the source of humour when the Lord points out, ‘And how my men will stay themselves from laughter / When they do homage to this simple peasant’; (Ind.,ii, 134-136). It is also worth noticing that Sly shows himself even more ludicrous through his inability to deal with his gentle lady, thereby giving an even stronger proof of being a ‘simple peasant’, and not a gentleman.

If we now examine the reversal of standards as the source of comedy in Katherina's case, we will find that what we are expected to laugh at is not simply that she challenges male dominance (denying first her father's and then Petruchio's authority over her), but that her challenge takes an unladylike expression. And what will add to our sense of comedy is that Petruchio himself puts on the temporary guise of a ‘madcap ruffian’—a guise, emphasizing even more the deviation from the desirable, the gentlemanly norm.

If Petruchio were a real character in life, and not a character in a farce, we would now want to pause and examine this last statement. Is Petruchio's act as a ruffian merely a temporary masque, is it really a disguise? We hear him boast of his experience as an adventurer who had been through storm and eruptions of violence, and toughened by these accordingly, (I, ii, 198-209). Unfortunately also, the very first time we see him, we observe him abuse and strike his trusty old servant, Grumio (I, ii, 5-45), although in this scene he had not yet made the wager to tame Katherina with pretended rudeness. Nevertheless, we should once more remember that in the stylized, two-dimensional world of farce the roughhousing between master and servant is merely a convenient stage diversion. Also, in terms of situational evidence in the play, we see that Petruchio is made welcome by allegedly gentleman friends who repeatedly emphasize that both he and they are from fine, well-established families. Here, then, the question of Petruchio's true gentlemanly qualities must rest for the time being. As a matter of fact, much of the humour still accessible to the modern viewer comes from the fact that in the play the battle between the sexes is actually a game with its own rules, and therefore the hardships accompanying, and the consequences at the outcome of the battle, are severely limited. The particular game between Katherina and Petruchio is that of a gentleman and gentlewoman testing the rules of the romantic etiquette. To conform to these rules, the gentleman has to ‘obey, please, and honour with reverence’ his lady; he has to ‘reckon her more dear to him than his own life and prefer all her commodities and pleasures before his own.’9 It goes without saying that to remain a gentleman Petruchio cannot strike Katherina, cannot be rude to her openly, cannot use obscene language or force against her. Without these restrictions, their conflict would be settled quickly through Petruchio's undoubtedly superior physical power. But then the game would not be a game, and the play would not be a play. It is the restrictions implied in the code of gentlemanly behaviour, the hoops he has to jump that make his ‘taming’ of Katherina amusing.

To begin with, Katherina seemingly denies the rules of the romantic game as these relate to the lady who should ‘always show herself toward him tractable, lovely and sweet in language, and as willing to please him as be beloved by him.’10 In their first meeting it is Katherina who quite explicitly breaks the rules by hitting Petruchio. She does so quite deliberately to test him as a suitor, which in the context means to challenge him on being and remaining a gentleman.

Good Kate, I am a gentleman—
That I'll try. (She strikes him)
I swear I'll cuff you if you strike again.
So may you lose your arms.
If you strike me, you are no gentleman
And if no gentleman, why then no arms.
A herald, Kate? O, put me in your books.

(II, i, 216-221)

In this short exchange, at first he threatens to retaliate violence with violence. She, however, successfully evades his terms by setting her own framework for their game. The moment you strike a lady, you prove yourself no gentleman and therefore not eligible for my hand (Once you lose your status or nobility, you lose your arms you would need to wage our war).

Petruchio admits to the truth of her warning and accepts her terms when saying, ‘Put me in your books’, with a possible pun on ‘Put me in your good books.’ What is important in this exchange is that it is actually Katherina who challenges Petruchio. Also, when he comes to accept the challenge and the terms of their duel, the battle immediately turns into a kind of contract, the terms of which Katherina could indeed enter in her ‘books’.

Later again Petruchio reminds her of the terms of this original contract in the scene where he denies her the clothes and cap appropriate to a gentlewoman of her status. When Kate argues that ‘gentlewomen wear such caps as these’, he answers, ‘When you are gentle, you shall have one too, / And not till then’, (IV, iii, 70-72). In the meantime, however, Petruchio's strategy is to behave himself in a most ungentlemanly, that is most rude, inconsiderate and unjust way to everyone around them. Behaving as a ruffian at his own wedding, he strikes the priest and the sexton, makes impossible, contradictory demands on his inferiors, until Katherina finds herself being pushed into a new position. Feeling ashamed of Petruchio's ungentlemanly behaviour, she comes to stand up for his servants, asking him to practise self-control and, in general, to return to polite, genteel behaviour. In other words, Petruchio does not domesticate Katherina by bringing her admit that she is a woman, but by making her admit that she is a lady.

Therefore it is extremely important that in his ‘taming’ Petruchio never deviates from the code of gentlemanly behaviour to a lady, that he demonstrates that he prefers ‘all her commodities and pleasures before his own’. When Kate is reluctant to leave for his home immediately after the scandalous wedding ceremony, Petruchio pretends that he will have to gallantly rescue her from the others who would not let her go (II, ii, 234-239). He will deny her food and sleep, yet pretend that he does so only because neither the meat nor the bed are good enough for her, that is, reassuring her each time that ‘all is done in reverent care of her’ (IV, i, 198).

At first glance in curious contradiction to the romantic etiquette of reverence and gentility is the openly admitted, crassly commercial basis of Petruchio's wooing: ‘I come to wive it wealthiliy in Padua / If wealthily, then happily, in Padua’ (I, ii, 74-75), he announces at the very beginning, and there is little indication in the play that he changes his mind later by falling in love with Katherina.

He is not at all ashamed of admitting that he looks at marriage as a means of increasing the wealth left him by his father: ‘Antonio, my father is deceased, / And I have thrust myself into this maze, / Happily to wive and thrive as best I may’ (I, ii, 53-55). It is worth pointing out, however, that he is no fortune-hunter in the sense of looking for a dowry to save him from debt, or because he wants to gamble it away. He immediately makes clear that ‘Crowns in my purse I have and goods at home / And so am come abroad to see the world’ (I, ii, 5). Looking for new experience and increasing his wealth is the twin purpose of his coming abroad, ‘To seek fortune further than at home / Where small experience grows’ (I, ii, 50-51).

He regards marriage as the most obvious and rational means of increasing his property, displaying the sober, prudential mentality of an enterpreneur with great consistency throughout the play. Marriage as an economical success is hinted at again at the end when he wins his bet against Lucentio and Hortensio. Katherina's obedience and ‘well tamed’ answer brings him—in effect to both of them—its immediate financial returns. And to drive this point home, Petruchio explains that both Lucentio and Hortensio are bound to lose money as a result of their failure in taming, or dominating their wives: ‘We three are married, but you two are sped. ‘Twas I won the wager’ (V, ii, 184).

The theme of marriage as a test of prudential financial management is also supported by several points in the frame story. Sly, the old drunk, who is allowed to view the whole play as a masque, is a wastrel, unable to ‘husband’ his resources well. Yet it is also Sly who reminds us of the importance of the romantic code of behaviour: Both the lord and his servants laugh at him for being unable to use the language of gentlemanly, romantic love when approaching his lady, for thinking only of the immediate gratification of his sexual appetite.

The rites of marriage explored in The Taming of the Shrew are primarily social, combining the practical foundation of marriage as defined by the rules of the Great Chain of Being and the superstructure of the Romantic code of genteel behaviour. When we observe the two themes more closely, we realize that the economic considerations implied in the bargain between father and suitor complement the other kind of bargain arranged between the lady and her suitor: Both themes are expected to reinforce the central metaphor of marriage as a contract, a bond between two people who are certainly not regarded equal, but are bound together in terms of a well-understood agreement based on mutual obligation.

As a matter of fact, much of Petruchio's wooing sounds more like a discussion of a mutual investment in real estate, than a declaration of affection. No doubt he aims at impressing his future father-in-law by emphasizing his prudence in financial matters: ‘You knew my father well; and in him, me / Left solely heir to all his lands and goods, / Which I have better'd rather than decreas'd’ (II, i, 116-118). It is as a result of this good husbandry of his property that he also feels entitled to a good dowry. ‘Then tell me, if I get your daughter's love, What dowry shall I have with her to wife?’ (II, i, 6-12). He also emphasizes that he is in haste because he is busy with his thriving affairs: ‘Signior Baptista, my business asketh haste / And every day I cannot come to woo’ (II, i, 114-115).

It is still in the spirit of an exclusively financial bargain that Petruchio offers to assure Katherina's widowhood in exchange for the twenty-thousand-crown dowry he will receive at their wedding:

                              And for that dowry, I'll assure her of
Her widowhood, be it that she survive me.
In all my lands and leases whatsoever,
Let specialties be therefore drawn between us
That covenants be kept on either hand

(II, i, 123-127)

Baptista's answer to Petruchio's offer is the first indication that the contract in question is not exclusively financial. Through a pun he points out the difference between the ‘specialties’ of the contract to be drawn in the lawyer's office and the ‘special thing’ that Petruchio must obtain beforehand, ‘Ay, when that special thing is well obtained, / That is her love, for that is all in all’ (II, i, 127-128).

To return to the theme of mutuality, Petruchio claims that what Baptista may consider ‘all in all’ is actually ‘nothing’, that is not at all difficult to obtain. He describes his method of obtaining Katherina's love as the meeting of fire with fire, that is, yielding to her fierce method, to make her yield to him: ‘So I to her, and so she yields to me, / For I am rough and woo not like a babe’ (II, i, 136-137).

Nevertheless, at the end of the scene when wishing Petruchio good luck to his wooing, Baptista reiterates his former point that the signing of the contract hinges upon Petruchio's success in getting Katherina's loving consent.

At this point it is important to mention that Baptista has been accused by several commentators of the play of being an unfeeling materialistic old man who thinks of his daughters exclusively in materialistic terms, and it is true that at one point he as well as promises Bianca to the highest bidder (or rather, to the suitor who can offer a stronger guarantee that he will leave all his property to Bianca in case of her widowhood). Yet, although the discussion of marriage does indeed begin with a bargain between father and suitor, it is only fair to point out that Baptista does not bargain for himself. As their superior, he is also the protector of his daughters and it is his duty to assure their financial security for the rest of their lives, by providing a dowry made available to their husbands. We would be unfair to this basic responsibility of the Elizabethan father if we agreed with the modern reader who claims that Katherina is a neurotic and unhappy human being because she has a tyrannical, a monstrously materialistic, or, even, an uncaring father.

The difficulties of Baptista's role as father to two not equally marriageable daughters must have been quite clear to an Elizabethan audience. Baptista is not a tyrant offending against Bianca by insisting that her older sister should be married first. Neither is he an indifferent or cruel father to Katherina when wishing Petruchio luck in wooing her. Implied in his reasoning is the fact that there is a certain age after which girls are not marriageable. And not to be marriageable is to be a laughing-stock. Katherina is obviously unfair to her father: in one moment she accuses him of not caring whether or not she remains a ridiculous old maid who ‘must dance barefoot on [her younger sister's] weddfng day, And … lead apes in hell’ (II, i, 33-34); in the next moment she attacks him for lacking ‘tender fatherly regard’ when forcing her to marry ‘a madcap ruffian’ (II, i, 279-280) just for the sake of getting rid of her. Marriage may be against her will at the moment, but both she and the audience would agree that it is not against her interest. In effect it must be quite clear to her that she does not have any real alternatives, because when Petruchio declares that they will get married, she does not put up a great deal of resistance. What is more, when Petruchio is late for the wedding, she weeps bitterly in her impatience and humiliation.

Because, although this point is only implicit in the play, Katherina simply has to get married in order to receive protection, security and respect in society—a truism quite clear to her and to the Elizabethan audience as well. And equally true, therefore, is that she also has to accept the undeniable superioriiy of her protector in that society, first the authority of her father and later the authority of her husband.

The comic conflict, then, consists of her premature, foolish denial of her ‘bond’, her ‘duty’ to her superiors, that is the denial of her proper place by challenging the authority of her father and of her husband. At the end of the play she seems to be convinced of her error, preaching the beauty, the harmony resulting from man's unquestioned dominance over woman: ‘Dart not scornful glances from those eyes / To wound thy, lord, thy king, thy governor,’ (V, ii, 137-138), she warns the other wives. Petruchio has made her accept dependency unconditionally, tacitly offering in return his protection and the affection between master and servant, superior and inferior.

In addition, and underlying the affirmation of cosmic, social and domestic hierarchies is the sexual innuendo that deep down, of course, this is exactly what Katherina had desired all the time, driven less by the need to be wooed than by the need to be forcefully claimed by a man. Only by being ‘tamed’,11 that is, cured of her rebellious behavior, is she prepared to consummate her marriage, to take her place as a sexually attractive young woman.

It is at this point that we should look at the last question in connection with Petruchio's taming process. Most of the play's commentators are in agreement praising Petruchio for having chosen his methods in a way to preserve Katherina's chastity until the last ‘Kiss me Kate’, when this exclamation will signal mutual love and understanding. Even feminist critics have been impressed with Petruchio's respect for Katherina's integrity12, for not forcing upon her conjugal duties until she is emotionally ready to consummate the marriage bond. Reassuring and enlightened as this interpretation may sound, it seems to me that it is very much in discord with the rest of Petruchio's taming strategies. Although he does not use open violence, he uses the technique of physical deprivation, the thwarting of instinct and appetite as a weapon to break her will and enforce obedience. His final declaration, ‘Come Kate, we'll to bed!’ (V, ii, 184) clearly implies a reward for her having behaved according to his expectations, declaring that only now had she proven herself truly desirable to her husband. The consummation of marriage, then, like the satisfying of her other appetites, will follow only after her taming has been fully successful, a reward for her acceptance of her subservient position.

When Katherina explains to the other, still disobedient wives that only if they follow the rules of obedient, pleasing behaviour can they become sexually attractive to their husbands, her words reinforce this interpretation.

A woman mov‘d is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty.
And while it is so, none so dry one thirsty
Will deign to sip, or touch a drop of it.

(V, ii, 142-145)

Katherina's final lecture with its sanctimonious celebration of the feudal social order—a recognizable dramatization of the basic concepts of the Great Chain of Being—must have been quite naturally acceptable to the Elizabethan audience: it simply returns to those concepts of the dominant ideology that have been tested, quite consistently, throughout the play. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that the speeeh takes the form of a hyperbole. By offering excessive praise to woman for being a powerful but gentle provider and protector, she also encourages him to fulfil the obligation outlined precisely by his superior position. Lecturing all women, Katherina sings the praise of man who ‘For they maintenance commits his body / To painful labour both by sea and land, / To watch the night in storms, the day in cold, / Whilst thou li'st warm at home, secure and safe’ (V, ii, 148-150). The earnestness of Katherina's gratitude for being protected from the raging storms of the external world should remind us that she cannot mean Petruchio in person—neither has Petruchio been away from her to face the storm, nor has her experience of marriage demonstrated, so far, a sense of warmth, peace and security. What her speech celebrates, therefore, is an abstract norm, the relationship between man and woman in general.

It is the emphasis on the general, on the abstract in Katherina's speech which should make us reflect on some of the more disturbing personal questions left unresolved in the play. Even if Katherina returns to the acceptance of woman's dependence upon man in general, is Petruchio indeed a true gentleman, is he, in person, the best choice for Katherina? Has he ever fallen in love with her? Was his ungentlemanly crudeness deliberate and temporary only? Will he relinquish the rule of the tamer once he achieved victory? Instead of reflecting on any of these questions in terms of the character development, Katherina's speech seems to indicate Shakespeare's sober return from an emphasis on personality to an emphasis on one's role in society; from the youthful exploration of the limits of her personality, Katherina returns to the affirmation of her fixed and circumscribed role and position in the social structure.

Re-examining Katherina's final position in terms of the romantic code, the romantic contract, we should realize that Petruchio should acknowledge ‘such duty as the subject owes the prince’ with particular kindness. According to the rules binding him as a true gentleman, he should not, he cannot, accept the crowning gestures of subservience in which Katherina urges all wives to ‘place your hands below your husband's foot’ (V, ii. 177). Nevertheless, it is within his power to accept or reject the feudal homage offered to him by Katherina in the spirit of abject humility.

Some of the ambivalence in the comic resolution harks back to the dilemma at the very heart of the romantic code that The Taming of the Shrew is exploring in its social context. On the one hand, woman is placed on a pedestal and praised as man's guiding light, even mediator between the light of heaven and the light of the senses. Hence the courtier is encouraged to ‘obey, please and honour her with reverence … and love no less in her the beauty of the mind, than of the body’. On the other hand, if we only follow the same source to the next passage, we hear that ‘Therefore let him have a care not to suffer her to run into any error, but with lessons and good exhortations always to frame her mind to modesty, to temperance, to true honesty, and so to work that there may never take place in her other than pure thoughts far wide from all filthiness of vices’.13 Suddenly, the lady the gentleman should revere and obey has turned into a weak, fallible creature to be commanded and protected from many things (among them the filthiness of vices she may have assumedly greater predilection for than he himself). There is a split at the very heart of the romantic code, then, quite obvious if we follow the language starting at its inception in the Neoplatonism of the Renaissance, and going on, almost without a break, to the great Romantic tradition in the nineteenth century. In ‘She was a phantom of delight’ Wordsworth's famous lines describe

A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright,
With something of angelic light’

Woman the guiding light that also has to be guided and commanded by the biologically, rationally, socially, superior male—here is the rift at the heart of the romantic code, an attitude to woman that shows its own unresolved contradictions.

The defeat of Katherina's rebellious assertion of freedom and independence foreshadows much of the ambivalence of the mature comedies and the later tragedies. In this early comedy the rebel's personal, psychological conflict is resolved by a conventional, somewhat oversimplified comic resolution: in Katherina's final speech we return to the truisms about man and woman in general. Having recovered from her shrewdness, Katherina offers praise to domestic happiness as an illustration of an authoritarian, hierarchical concept of order and harmony. Yet, the very fact that the ‘happy ending’ makes so many readers wonder, that they feel compelled to justify its conviction and validity, implies that Katherina's original assertion of ‘I will be free’ created a resonance difficult to forget. In effect, in spite of the two-dimensionality of the characters—as a comedy, a farce, or even an allegory to illustrate the Elizabethan truisms of woman's dependence on the male—Katherina's words hit a chord which anticipates the far more disturbing and evocative reverberation raised by the truly unforgettable voices of Emilia and Desdemona in Othello, of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, of Edmund in King Lear—all of them questioning, challenging the authoritarian world order, all of them in search of equality, independence, individuality, all of them tragic voices.


In the past two decades Feminist criticism has been paying close attention to many of Shakespeare's woman characters and to the male-female relationships within various plays, concentrating in each case on the questions of sexual politics, on the problems of power and powerlessness. Valuable as the corrective vision of feminist criticism may be, it often ignores the characters' own ideological framework, overlooking the fundamental influence of the Great Chain of Being as it illuminates the cosmic, political, social, and even psychological aspects of the powerplay between Shakespeare's males and females.

Irene Dash, for example, draws attention to the changes in the sexual politics between Othello and Desdemona as the couple leaves behind the first phase of their relationship established at the wooing, and enters a new stage in marriage. Dash suggests that Othello's tragic mistake follows from a psychological block that develops between him and Desdemona due to the fact that after marriage he suddenly comes to see her as property, and therefore no longer an autonomous human being.14 Although no sensitive reader would disagree with this observation, Dash's interpretation remains incomplete until we realize that the tragic error in Othello's behaviour is by no means an exclusively private, personal error, a shortcoming restricted to Othello alone. Othello's behaviour to his wife as his property he is responsible for is an attitude sanctioned by the entire ideology of the Chain of Being, an ideology advocating the unquestioned authority of the superior over his dependent. Desdemona's own repeated admission of unconditional obedience and willingness to put up with even the most unreasonable moods of her Lord only underlines the orthodox, conservative affirmation of Othello's absolute authority due to his position as her husband.

Yet, Othello, like The Taming of the Shrew, also offers a highly controversial documentary evidence of Shakespeare's ambivalence to woman's assertion of independence and her plea for equal rights. It is Emilia's speech about the wife's right to be unfaithful to a husband who is unreasonably jealous, or himself unfaithful to his marriage vows:

But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties
And pour our treasures into foreign laps;
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us: or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite,
Why, we have galls; and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know,
Their wives have sense like them: they see, and smell,
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do,
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth. Is't frailty that thus errs?
It is so too. And have not we affections?
Deisres for sport? and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well; else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.

(IV, iii, 86-103)

Emilia's logic may appear so irrefutable to us modern readers that we may be tempted to accept her speech as a mouthpiece for Shakespeare's own opinion. Most likely even the Elizabethan audience must have responded to some of its ingenuous arguments for woman's infidelity with a smile of recognition, the way we may respond to the insights of a clever, precocious, but basically naive child. But whatever the audience may think or have thought about these ideas in themselves, the speech can reveal its true meaning only when we look at it in context of the rest of the play, and not in isolation.

Although Emilia's plea for woman's right to be as unfaithful to her vow as the male is may seem to us a rather amusing suggestion, Desdemona's response of outraged innocence and genuine sadness should immediately establish for the audience that Emilia is not to be taken seriously. ‘Good night, good night: God me such usage send, / Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend’ (IV, iii, 104-105). It is Desdemona's highminded vision with the higher truth of orthodox religion which should override the apparent, false attraction of Emilia's argument.

Emilia's view is irresponsible in the wider view of the world order which relies on the undisputed superiority of the male over the female. The falseness of Emilia's position in terms of this ideology is also supported by her role as a character in the play. As a rebel, she is proven a traitor both to her mistress, Desdemona, and to her own words when she obeys Iago's dishonest demand and lets him take Desdemona' handkerchief (although she knows that it means a great deal to Desdemona).

Both Juliet's Nurse and Emilia can rant and rave against women's subordinate position to man, and introduce, as it were in their naivete', the piquant new notion of male-female equality. They are uneducated, socially inferior, and, of course, they are also women. Hence their words are not taken quite seriously by the Elizabethan audience. To bear this out, in the context of the dramatic action they are both shown as flawed, irresponsible, confused, even treacherous. In their own lives they are actually quite complacent to the existing rules of social-sexual politics and have learnt to take advantage of it.

There can be little doubt that in spite of Shakespeare's power to evoke our sympathy with those who challenge the restrictions preventing men and women from becoming autonomous, individual beings, the concepts of the Great Chain of Being form a moral guide in Othello. Othello is not blamed for brutally killing Desdemona; what he is blamed for is killing her innocent of the crime of adultery. Even in the moment before his suicide, that is in the depth of his grief and regret over having lost her, Othello insists on having been ‘An honourable murderer … For naught I did in hate but all in honor.’ (V, ii, 289-291). In other words, had Desdemona been indeed unfaithful, Othello should not blame himself for killing her: to revenge himself on an unfaithful wife would be simply a matter of defending his honour.

It is also interesting to see that some of Desdemona's misfortune is due to her loving Othello too much. Having rebelled against her father's authority by marrying Othello, now she is becoming suspect of rebellion, of treachery against man's authority in general. Once Othello is made to turn against her, he himself will regard Desdemona's rebellion against her father as proof of her unreliability.

As a matter of fact, women caught in open rebellion, like Emilia, or in the conflict of loyalty or obedience to two authorities—that is caught between their ‘bond’ to their husband and to their father at the same time—are to lose inevitably. Cordelia is in such a double bind between Lear and her future husband, and Desdemona between her father and Othello.

Putting Desdemona's and Katherina's plight in the wider ideological framework of the Great Chain of Being would also help us to see their predicament in a perspective that has philosophical and aesthetic significance beyond the boundaries of male- female relationships. Although Katherina, for example, may be still regarded as predominantly a type her predicament already anticipates Shakespeare's preoccupation with the conflict between traditional, dogmatic definitions and their challenge by the individual, the growing creative tension between the powerful ideology inherited from the Middle Ages and the emerging consciousness of a subjective, multi-dimensional, psychologically ‘modern’ feeling for the individual character.

Going even further, we may even argue that this conflict, this duality, is not exclusive to Shakespeare, or even to literature alone. In the visual arts, for example, the medieval emphasis on design and two-dimensional representation finds itself in conflict with the Renaissance emphasis on perspective, the three-dimensional presentation of figures in space, a greater emphasis on detail, close observation, verisimilitude.

As for the Renaissance artist's own ambivalence to his inherited tradition, the analogy with Shakespeare seems to be most obvious in the case of Michelangelo, in Michelangeo's ‘furious and all-consuming effort to attain an equilibrium between past and present, religion and self, humility and spiritual pride [which], gives his work much of its extraordinary dynamism and edge’.15

It seems to me that what is the experience of space and three-dimensionality to the Renaissance artist is the experience of psychological space and three-dimensionality, that is, an awareness of character as more than simply a type, an awareness of the individual as more than his definition according to his fixed position in the Chain of Being.

One could develop the parallel even further by looking at Michelangelo's use of contraposto, which, related to literature, seems to me surprisingly close to some basic elements of dramatic conflict, concepts relating to tension, suspense, the expectation of movement.

For Michelangelo ‘creating movement depended on the kind of paradoxical thinking reflected in the term of contraposto. Balancing different pictorial and sculptural elements against each other was the key to movement and volume, which were, in turn, the key to the experience of three-dimensional space’. It is through the ‘paradoxical thinking’ behind contraposto that Michelangelo is determined to accomplish his ‘final goal … to make the stone or the fresco alive, to give the human figure the appearance of life.’16

Although we would be hard put to define exactly what this pictorial ‘appearance of life’ consists of, there is no doubt that all subsequent great painters demonstrate a desire to achieve it. Just so in the world of drama. Although we may have trouble defining how Shakespeare's mature characters have achieved their ‘appearance of life’, one cannot really argue that subsequent writers have been trying to accomplish the effect of psychological complexity and verisimilitude in ways which are strikingly and recognizably different from the interpretation of reality established in the Middle Ages.

Although we have been warned by scholars of Elizabethan literature not to expect an abrupt, radical break between Medieval and Renaissance world pictures both Lovejoy and Tillyard17 would agree that the coherence of this medieval world picture had been threatened by the New Philosophy of the Renaissance, a Philosophy which will, eventually ‘call all in doubt’. Nowhere is this struggle more dramatic, more complex, than in the dynamic world of Shakespeare's plays, both in his characters' energetic challenge of the authoritarian, hierarchical, static ideology of the Great Chain of Being, and in his own return, play after play, to the traditional, conservative ideology of this same world order in the resolution of the dramatic conflict.

In the mature comedies and later tragedies the challenge of this New Philosophy is often carried out by characters who quite openly and consistently plead for equality, rights equal to those above them in rank, characters who knowingly challenge the justice of the authoritarian, hierarchical world order. It is ironic that it happens to be the Feminist critic who overlooks the fact that Katherina's argument for her right to resist the authority of a superior puts her in the company not only of Emilia and Desdemona, but also of Shylock and Edmund.

When Edmund, for example, chafes against the right of Edgar, his older brother, arguing that neither Edgar's legitimacy nor his ascendance in age should justify his sole right to their father's wealth and title, his argument for equality echoes the feelings of Emilia and also those of Shylock. Examined in itself, that is in isolation from the rest of the play, Edmund's idea carries even greater philosophical and psychological conviction than did the pleas of Katherina or Emilia:

                                                                                                    Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me.
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? Wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to th' creating a whole tribe of fops
Got 'tweem asleep and awake? Well then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to th' legitimate. Fine word ‘legitimate’!
Well. my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th' legitimate: I grow, I prosper.
Now. gods, stand up for bastards’!

(I, ii, 1-22)

Challenging the authority of the old over the young in general, Edmund is ready to overthrow the authority of his old king, Lear, and of his own old father, Gloucester, cynically admitting the necessity of their destruction for his own advancement: ‘The younger rises when the old doth fall’ (III, iii, 23).

Put in a modern context, Edmund's argument may sound ‘legitimate’ indeed when he denies the supremacy of his brother. We may even understand some of his antagonism to his father, especially if we interpret the first scene in a way that allows Edmund to overhear Gloucester's tactless remarks about his bastard son. Our modern, liberal tendency for identifying with the underdog may encourage sympathetic or at lest understanding attitudes to Edmund when he challenges his father's supremacy, just as we may find ourselves tempted to assume that Shylock's well-known speech on the equality between Jew and Gentile may represent Shakespeare's personal views on religious tolerance:

Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, psssions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? and if you wrong us shall we not revenge?

(III, i, 52-60)

In this famous challenge to the supremacy of Gentiles Shylock argues—and most modern readers feel that he argues with eloquence and irrefutable logic—for the equality of Jews based on their equal sensibility, their demonstrably common humanity with their oppressors.

Yet, if we return the speeches into their context in each play, as soon as we look at the role of the character in the play, we have to realize that our sympathy was immature, or indeed misplaced in both cases. There is no doubt that Edmund's tremendous ambition for power goes together with the energy and vitality of the Machiavellian villain-hero. But this energy is destructive; he is treacherous as a brother, as a son, as a lover, as well as a political subject to his king. Although his explicit challenges to the cosmic order and to the body politic are eloquent, even heroic challenges to assert the right of the individual to break the social mold, the aims and energies of individualism are intended to benefit no one else but himself. In spite of Edmund's seeming vitality, in his case the individual rebel is proven to be destructive and ultimately self-destructive.

As for the role of Shylock in the play, there is no doubt that he is the ‘blocking character’ in the comedy, standing in the way of all the major characters' happiness, his own daughter included. In other words, both in the context of the play as a dramatic convention and in context of what has been called Shakespeare's ‘allegorical impressionism’18, there is no doubt that Shylock represents the Old Law of Justice versus the New Law of Mercy, and since the first is considered by the Elizabethan audience clearly inferior to the latter, Shylock simply has to be defeated, or rather, the terms of his contract have to be defeated. In effect, Shylock is probably the only one of Shakespeare's father characters who is not only defeated, but also proven to be morally wrong. Although Desdemona's father is humiliated by her marriage to Othello, and he dies, assumedly, of a broken heart, even in his bitterness and frustration he carries a sense of nobility and dignity. As for Lear, although he is defeated he has the audience's sympathy in his misfortune as a man, as a father ‘more sinned against than sinning’.

In itself either Edmund's or Shylock's speech challenging the cosmic order may inevitably engage our sympathy as a plea for equality coming from the downtrodden, as an assertion for the right of the individual. However, in the context of the whole play we are asked to consider that rebellion is short-sighted, that the idea of equality may have disastrous consequences, destroying the security of order and harmony in the family circle, in the body politic, indeed in the whole cosmos. Because, as already Katherina's speech has indicated, at the bottom of the acquiescence to the ideology of the Chain of Being lies the religious argument. God has created the Chain of Being as a means for universal order and a proof of divine benevolence. Hence removing a single link at any level of the chain is equivalent to challenging the whole structure, threatening its collapse. Therefore, railing against one's position in the hierarchical structure is tantamount to railing against the ordering Intelligence beyond it all. Thus the rebel against one's king and sovereign is inevitably a traitor, and almost as inevitably, representative of spiritual evil. By the same token, pleading of equality, that is, for the overthrow of authority within the family is also equivalent to political treachery. Although we may find both Shylock's and Edmund's argument for equality moving, for the Elizabethan audience the attraction of the idea of equality must have been short-lived, indeed. Upon examination, the propositions of equality carry only a partial truth, inferior to the higher truth of the cosmic order established in accordance with the dominant religious beliefs.

Representative of the emerging consciousness of Renaissance man as an individual, Shakespeare is compelled to make some of his most unforgettable characters express doubt, challenge the validity of the static, hierarchical world system based on uncritical obedience to rank and authority. Nevertheless, as a thinker whose values and conceptions are still based on the reassuring system of order and harmony inherent in the Chain of Being, he cannot negate or reject the fundamental concepts of this ideology in the end. Hence the motivating force of deeply felt and often unsolvable dramatic conflict, the individual caught in the need for rebellion to assert his integrity and uniqueness, and the almost inevitably tragic or melancholy solutions to this conflict.

The Taming of the Shrew introduces Shakespeare's ambivalence to the idea of equality, and his ambivalence to the challenger of authority. Although Katherina happens to be one of the most outspoken and verbal of Shakespeare's challengers of authority, the play traces the troubling question of equality in the relationship between a young man and a young woman, in a situation where Katherina's rebellion is clearly not a matter of life and death. Also, the conflict between rebel and authority is enacted in a situation where the seriousness of the potential clash is modified by the healthy sexual appetite of both opponents who are supposed to be developing a mutual attraction for each other in the course of the resolution of their conflict. As a result, although the idea of equality is certainly rejected after Katherina's initial attempt to assert her self our sense of her defeat is blunted by Shakespeare's emphasis on marriage as a legal, and therefore mutually binding contract, including both pragmatic and romantic terms both partners should honour and accept.

It is a conservative emphasis that offers mutuality to substitute for equality in the relationship between master and servant, superior and inferior, and it is to the entrenched position of a conservative authoritarian ideology that Katherina is forced to retreat in order to assure us of a ‘happy ending’. Nevertheless, it was through her spirited exploration of asserting herself as a free human being that she has come to anticipate the spirit, the complexity, and the vitality of some of the most unforgettable, most vividly realized characters in the mature comedies and in the great tragedies.


  1. H. B. Charlton, Shakespearean Comedy, London, Macmillan, 1938, p. 46

  2. For a short discussion of some recent commentaries, see Robert Heilman, ‘Introduction’ to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, Signet Classics, 1966, pp. xxiii-xiii

  3. For psychoanalytical interpretations, see Norman Holland, Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare, New York, McGraw Hill, 1964, p. 269

  4. Irene Dash, Wooing, Wedding and Power: Women in Shakespeare's Plays, New York, Columbia University Press, 1981, pp. 61-64

  5. Northrop Frye, A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance, New York, Harcourt, Brace 1965

  6. Maynard Mack, ‘Engagement and Detachment in Shakespeare's Play’, in The Taming of the Shrew, Signet, p. 215

  7. E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture, New York, Vintage [n. d.] p. 10

  8. Richard Hooker, Excerpts from The Laws of Ecclcsiastical Polity in The Conservative Tradition in European Thought, ed. by R, E. Schuettinfer, New York, Putnam, 1970, p. 129

  9. Sir Thomas Hoby, The Courtier, translation of B. Castiglione's II Cortegiano, in Tudor Poetry and Prose, ed, J. W. Hebel and al., New York, Appleton-Century Crofts, 1953, p, 702

  10. Ibid.

  11. Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1951, p. 69

  12. Dash, p. 64

  13. Hoby, p. 702

  14. Dash, Ibid.

  15. Michael Brenson, ‘Seeing Contemporary Art in the Light of Michelangelo’, The New York Times, Aug. 19, 1984, p. 23

  16. Ibid.

  17. A. O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, Cambridge; Harvard U: P. 1936, p. 101; Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture, p. 100. lia Formigiari, ‘Chain of Being, in Dictionary of the History of Ideas; Scribner, 1972, v. l, pp. 325-333

  18. Nevil Coghill, ‘The basis of Shakespearean Comedy’ in The Taming of the Shrew, Signet, p. 182

Barry Weller (essay date 1992)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12156

SOURCE: Weller, Barry. “Induction and Inference: Theater, Transformation, and the Construction of Identity in The Taming of the Shrew.” In Creative Imitation: New Essays on Renaissance Literature in Honor of Thomas M. Green, edited by David Quint et al., pp. 297-329. Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1992.

[In the following essay, Weller examines Shakespeare's sources for The Taming of the Shrew, traces affinities between the play's induction scene and main plot, and highlights the play's themes of theatricality, shifting identity, and metamorphosis.]

The title of The Taming of the Shrew both announces its major action and points to its concern with the shaping, or reshaping, of identity. This concern is echoed, repeated with a difference, and qualified in the subplot and induction of the comedy. The paradoxes of Katherina's conversion, of the shrew's “metamorphosis” into a wife, can best, perhaps only, be understood in the context of Bianca's tutelage and courtship and of Christopher Sly's transportation into another reality, framed for his reception. The play—or certain performances of the play—may tease, even encourage, the audience to draw inferences about Katherina's formation of a new identity, but when the entire text of the play is performed, its subsidiary actions, with their abortive, incomplete, or explicitly theatrical attempts to reshape identity, put the finality and fixity of these inferences, and of the “new” Katherina, in question. The opacity of the theatrical medium—its inability simply to declare or unambiguously to present a realm of “reality” and truth beyond its play of appearances—makes it unable to confirm the inferences, whether positive or negative, of readers and spectators about whether Kate has changed or merely assumed a new role, either temporary or continuous (and about whether, if the role is indeed continuous, there is any substantial difference between such a choice of a public face and authentic change). The events of Katherina and Petruchio's courtship, of Bianca and Lucentio's courtship, and of Christopher Sly's “dream” are saturated with allusions both to the theatrical situation, which undercuts the promise of a definitively legible conversion, and to Ovidian metamorphosis, with its intimation that true change, however fanciful or nightmarish its figurations, can occur. The constraints of theater on knowledge—that is, the situation of seeing and hearing from the outside—persist and cannot be escaped, but the dream of new beginnings also persists and refuses banishment.


In the Prologue to Supposes, Shakespeare's source for the subplot of The Taming of the Shrew, Gascoigne tells us that “this our suppose is nothing else but a mistaking or imagination of one thing for another.” Since this definition paraphrases one version of theatrical experience, a sometimes serious game of as ifs, it permits one to anticipate revelatory reversals in the course of Gascoigne's play:

For you shall see the master supposed for the servant, the servant for the master: the freeman for a slave, and the bond-slave for a freeman: the stranger for a well knowen friend, and the familiar for a stranger.1

Resonant comic make-believe makes us question, at least fleetingly, how we ever distinguish master from servant, stranger from friend, but Supposes is too much in love with the reality principle to invite much genuine surmise. Gascoigne's “nothing else but” is not at all ironic in its statement of limitation or reductive in its simplicity. “Supposes,” in Supposes, are false premises, and the printed text of the play maintains a kind of epistemological (and often moral) book-keeping in the margins, noting the introduction or dissolution of each separate suppose. At moments the language of the play hints that the notion of supposing might be expanded, as when the parasite assures the senex that “Erostrato shall never have her [Polynesta, the heroine] unless it be in a dream.” At the end of the play Erostrato does possess the heroine, and the parasite can be confirmed only if the play itself is seen as a dream, but there is little in Supposes that encourages us to hear Pasiphilo's “unless it be in a dream” as more than a turn of phrase.

Supposes (1566), essentially a prose translation of Ariosto's I Suppositi (1509), merits Bullough's description as a “hard, dry classical comedy,”2 but it is “classical” in the harsh style of Machiavelli's classicism. It shrewdly analyzes and presents the calculations of self-interest (including frankly sexual self-interest). Contractual obligations and the kind of social selves that must meet those contracts are kept firmly in place. The daylight of Ferrara, where the play is set, is inhospitable to dreamy speculation about alternative worlds or selves. The Taming of the Shrew is also “classical,” but its affinity with antiquity is stronger and more nostalgic than that of Supposes. For Shakespeare's play the ancient past, at once miraculous, heroic, and erotic, is crystallized above all in Ovid, whom Tranio somewhat superfluously commends to Lucentio as the tutelary genius of his stay in Padua:

Let's be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray,
Or so devote to Aristotle's checks
As Ovid be an outcast quite abjur'd


The explicit references to Ovid in the plot which traces Lucentio's courtship of Bianca also inform the comedy's other actions, where Ovid goes unmentioned but where metamorphosis (or its possibility) constantly announces itself.

The appearance of the characters in The Taming of the Shrew changes incessantly; that is, they assume disguises with a bland ease that recalls the language of Gascoigne's Prologue (“you shall see the master supposed for the servant, the servant for the master”). Tranio guesses his master's plan:

                                                                                You will be schoolmaster,
And undertake the teaching of the maid:
That's your device.


Lucentio tells Tranio:

We have not yet been seen in any house,
Nor can we be distinguish'd by our faces
For man or master. Then it follows thus:
Thou shalt be master, Tranio, in my stead,
Keep house, and port, and servants, as I should;
I will some other be, some Florentine,
Some Neapolitan, or meaner man of Pisa.
'Tis hatch'd, and shall be so. Tranio, at once
Uncase thee, take my colour'd hat and cloak.


Hortensio enlists Petruchio's aid in a similar scheme:

Now shall my friend Petruchio do me grace,
And offer me disguis'd in sober robes
To old Baptista as a schoolmaster
Well seen in music to instruct Bianca,
That so I may by this device at least
Have leave and leisure to make love to her,
And unsuspected court her by herself.


In words which directly recall Gascoigne's play, Tranio contrives the proliferation of new fictions from already established ones:

I see no reason but suppos'd Lucentio
Must get a father, call'd suppos'd Vincentio.
And that's a wonder. Fathers commonly
Do get their children; but in this case of wooing
A child shall get a sire, if I fail not of my cunning.


Yet the plethora of disguisings merely brings into relief the question of what a true transformation would look like. Although a masquerade may figure the possibility of change in human nature, it does not accomplish it. From beggar to lord is not the first transformation that Christopher Sly has undergone:

Am not I Christopher Sly, old Sly's son of Burton-heath, by birth a pedlar, by education a cardmaker, by transmutation a bear-herd, and now by present profession a tinker?


His pudding gravity allows him to remain forever himself, immune or at least indifferent to the “transmutations” of fortune. Just as his adjustment to life in the grand manner anticipates Bottom's aplomb in fairyland, so the vicissitudes of his career suggest Autolycus' account of his own history:

I know this man well; he hath been since an ape-bearer, then a process-server (a bailiff), then he compass'd a motion of the Prodigal Son, and married a tinker's wife within a mile where my land and living lies; and, having flown over many knavish professions, he settled only in rogue. Some call him Autolycus.4

Autolycus' autobiography (which feigns that he is not its narrator as well as its subject) asserts the constancy of character amid varying circumstances more explicitly than Sly's tale of his fortunes, but both appear to deny that human plasticity is infinite.

Lucentio's conversion into a schoolmaster implies a more Ovidian metamorphosis than disguise alone could provide. As a supposed tutor, Lucentio calls himself Cambio, a name which declares both his own changeling status and the more general motif of love's transforming power. Scanning Bianca's prospective curriculum, old Gremio admonishes this double agent,

Hark you, sir, I'll have them very fairly bound—
All books of love, see that at any hand—
And see you read no other lectures to her.


Lucentio responds as if the identity he was exchanging for Cambio's were not his own but Gremio's:

Whate'er I read to her, I'll plead for you
As for my patron, stand you so assur'd,
As firmly as yourself were still in place,
Yea, and perhaps with more successful words
Than you, unless you were a scholar, sir.


The name Cambio—familiar to every tourist who has ever cashed a traveler's check in Italy—indicates that the play is not merely about changes, but about exchanges: Tranio for Lucentio, the pedant for Vincentio, Cambio for Gremio—and a new Kate for an old one. This amphitryonic theme, the usurpation of identity, links it strongly with The Comedy of Errors. The comic crisis of Act III of The Comedy of Errors, Antipholus of Ephesus' exclusion from his home, is reiterated in Act V, scene i, of The Taming of the Shrew. (The story by which Tranio persuades the pedant to play Vincentio's part also links the two plays. The commercial warfare of Syracuse and Ephesus is playfully repeated in a fictional feud between Padua and Mantua. Tranio asserts:

'Tis death for any one in Mantua
To come to Padua. Know you not the cause?
Your ships are stay'd at Venice, and the Duke,
For private quarrel 'twixt your Duke and him,
Hath publish'd and proclaim'd it openly.
'Tis marvel, but that you are but newly come,
You might have heard it else proclaim'd about.


The building blocks of the plots echo and mirror each other no less than the plays' shared preoccupations with identity.)

A particularly dense and tangled network of allusions to Ovid occurs in the context of Lucentio's attempts to instruct Bianca. As a teacher he is potentially an agent of metamorphosis, someone who can transform the understanding and, by extension, the very identity of his pupil, but the Ovidian texts evoked are the Ars amatoria and the Heroides, and not the Metamorphoses—as though the connections between education, love, heroism, and transformation were being posed as a riddle. Indeed, puzzles and gamesmanship dominate the conduct of these scenes.

The dialogue between Lucentio/Cambio and Bianca in Act IV.ii, alludes directly to Ovid's Ars amatoria.

Now, mistress, profit you in what you read?
What, master, read you? First resolve me that.
I read that I profess, The Art to Love.
And may you prove, sir, master of your art.
While you, sweet dear, prove mistress of my heart.


The text the lovers pretend to construe in Act III.i, is, however, the first of Ovid's Heroides, a letter from Penelope to Ulysses. With moderate elegance Lucentio accommodates his sub rosa communication to the syntax and meaning of his passage.

Here is Lucentio's lesson:

Hic ibat, as I told you before—Simois, I am Lucentio—hic est, son unto Vincentio of Pisa—Sigeia tellus, disguised thus to get your love—Hic steterat, and that Lucentio that comes a-wooing—Priami, is my man Tranio—regia, bearing my port—celsa senis, that we might beguile the old pantaloon.


Hic ibat” supplies primarily the past tense to “as I told you before,” with the imperfect mood hinting that this information has been offered more than once before. The subject, “Simois,” is deferred to coincide with the tutor's own naming, “I am Lucentio.” The “hic est” becomes like id est, an explanatory expletive, “that is,” which introduces the amplification “son unto Vincentio of Pisa.” “Hic steterat” brings in a new personal subject, as though “hic” were here a personal pronoun; perhaps “steterat” even carries a hint of Tranio's declaration of himself as a suitor.5 Again a proper name, “Priami,” heralds the introduction of another proper name, “is my man Tranio.” “Regia,” antecedent to “bearing my port,” makes Tranio's embassage more stately. The only obvious joke is reserved for the last, when “‘celsa senis,’ that we might beguile the old pantaloon” invites us to compare the dignity of the senex Priam with the ridiculous behavior of Gremio as senex.

A more amorous flavor may be added to these lines from Ovid by their close resemblance to a passage in book 2 of the Ars amatoria where Ulysses draws the campaign of Troy in the sand for the seductive Calypso.

“Haec,” inquit, “Troia est,” muros in littore fecit:
          “Hic tibi sit Simois; haec mea castra puta.”


Amores I.iv.20 (“verba leges digitis, verba notata mero”)7 also suggests that clandestine messages of love can be traced in stray drops of wine, and this sly flirtation comes closest to the spirit of the scene which is occurring between Bianca and the disguised Lucentio. In Penelope's letter these lines evoke the heroic deeds of Troy mapped in spilt wine. It is a compelling image for the union of high aspiration and sensuality which guides young men like Lucentio in Shakespeare's early comedies.

Penelope explains that Nestor has told the tale of Ulysses' glory to his son Telemachus, presumably awakening him to thoughts of high achievement. Like the Lucentio who first arrives in Padua, the King of Navarre and his bookmen in Love's Labor's Lost seek fame by the contemplative route, ascending through self-renunciation to the “living art” of philosophy; Valentine, who “after honour hunts,”8 perhaps plans to pursue immortality in a more active way when he leaves Verona for Milan. All these youths, however, find that the quest for glory ends abruptly in the less heroic games of love. The plays never chivalrously suggest that the ladies' favors will spur their lovers to greater adventures than those of courtship; instead, love itself has become the heroic adventure. Hercules at the crossroads discovers that he need not choose between arduous virtue and pleasure; the two have somehow melted into one. Hercules is in fact the favored image of this conversion from heroic ambition to love:

For valour, is not Love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?(9)

Love itself will, however, absorb all the available valor, and the king leads off his companions, proclaiming, “Saint Cupid, then! and, soldiers, to the field!” (IV.iii.362).

Petruchio's reply when Hortensio asks, “What happy gale / Blows you to Padua here from old Verona?” (I.ii.47-48) suggests that he may belong among this group of youthful adventurers:

Such wind as scatters young men through the world
To seek their fortunes farther than at home,
Where small experience grows.


Instead, his swift declaration of what fortunes he expects in Padua mocks the ambitions of other squires-errant. They must discover where their heroic hopes will settle; he already knows.

                              Were she as rough
As are the swelling Adriatic seas,
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua.


The prospect of danger in capturing a shrewish bride parodically preserves the questing spirit of the other would-be heroes. A miles gloriosus in the battle of the sexes, Petruchio sustains this note of bravado:

Have I not in my time heard lions roar?
Have I not heard the sea, puff'd up with winds,
Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat?
Have I not heard great ordnance in the field,
And heaven's artillery thunder in the skies?
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,
That gives not half so great a blow to hear
As will a chestnut in a farmer's fire?
Tush, tush, fear boys with bugs!


Even while he depreciates the peril to be faced (and he clearly doesn't believe a woman is a challenge for a hero), his comparisons reinforce the impression that this courtship will be a daring enterprise, and his claim to valor is jokingly confirmed by Gremio when Petruchio warns Tranio/pseudo-Lucentio away from wooing Katherina:

Yea, leave that labour to great Hercules,
And let it be more than Alcides' twelve.


Perhaps Gremio foresees or hopes that Petruchio will end up in the ridiculous posture of “Hercules, painted with his great beard and furious countenance, in a woman's attire, spinning at Omphale's commandment,” a picture which, according to Sidney in A Defence of Poetry, “breedeth both delight and laughter: for the representing of so strange a power in love procureth delight, and the scornfulness of the action stirreth laughter.”10 Benedick predicts a similar humiliation for the victim of that subtler “shrew,” Beatrice: “She would have made Hercules have turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire too.”11 The image of Hercules' subjection evokes the more absurd and bathetic aspects of the conversion from heroic aspirant to lover; at the same time such indignities are presented as part of a heroic career.

The complicated allusion to a submerged, half-remembered past is extended in even more devious ways as Bianca and Lucentio/Cambio pretend to continue their lesson. Ostensibly the tutor and his pupil are arguing over the interpretation of the next line in Heroides, “illic Aeacides, illic tendebat Ulixes”:

Mistrust it not—for, sure, Aeacides
Was Ajax, call'd so from his grandfather.
I must believe my master, else, I promise you,
I should be arguing still upon that doubt.


The quibble on Bianca's part is not a mere ruse. Lucentio/Cambio is almost certainly wrong in explaining “Aeacides” as Ajax, and he probably espouses this reading for the sake of the customary Elizabethan pun on Ajax (a jakes), an insult directed sideways at his rival Hortensio/Litio. On the other hand, his construction of the passage is supported by Ajax's defense of his right to Achilles' arms in the thirteenth book of the Metamorphoses.12 This complicated allusion once again obliquely states the heroic theme, because in this speech Ajax asserts not only his divine lineage, but his father Telamon's fellowship-in-arms with Hercules. Ajax goes on to say that Achilles is his cousin, and he is also the grandson of Aeacus, hence also “Aeacides.” The genealogy of the lion and the ox is the same; hero and buffoon can have the same descent.

Lucentio is not only a questionable version of the hero (the substitution of Ajax for Achilles suggests a false or flawed claim to heroic succession), but his pretensions to intellectual mastery, to the tutor's authority as agent of transformative growth, are also undercut. Most competent readers of the Heroides would think of Achilles' tent as a more prominent landmark on the fields of Troy than Ajax's, and thus identify “Aeacides” as Achilles. In addition to supplying a commonsense reading of the denomination, Bianca's dissent from her tutor (for which he has of course given her the cue) hints that she has been reading other books by Ovid. In line seventeen of the Ars amatoria it is unambiguously Achilles who is called “Aeacides.” Although Lucentio “professes” “the Art to Love,” it is Bianca who is its more sedulous student.

The context in which the Ars amatoria (I.17) mentions Aeacides is also significant:

Aeacidae Chiron, ego sum praeceptor Amoris.
Chiron was Achilles', I am Love's tutor.(13)

Both Lucentio and Petruchio lay claim to the role of “praeceptor Amoris.” Lucentio is the tutor as seducer, a wayward Abelard, but his masquerade signals the presence in the play of

the ideal of ‘intelligent’ love, according to which the deepest and truest relationship that can exist between human beings is pedagogic. This relationship consists in the giving and receiving of knowledge about right conduct, in the formation of one person's character by another, the acceptance of another's guidance in one's own growth.14

Petruchio is the sterner schoolmaster of the two. Tranio tells Bianca and Lucentio that Hortensio, intent on marrying a widow,

                                                                                is gone unto the taming-school
The taming-school? What, is there such a place?
Ay, mistress, and Petruchio is the master,
That teacheth tricks eleven and twenty long,
To tame a shrew and charm her chattering tongue.


An audience to whom Ovid was familiar would have had less trouble than modern readers or spectators in understanding that a “taming-school” could also be a “school of love.” In the lines immediately after the poet has identified himself as “praeceptor Amoris,” the Ars amatoria proceeds:

Sed tamen et tauri cervix oneratur aratro,
          Frenaque magnanimi dente teruntur equi;
Et mihi cedet Amor, quamvis mea vulneret arcu
          Pectora, iactatas excutiatque faces.


Yet even the bull's neck is burdened by the plough, and the high-mettled steed champs the bridle with his teeth; and to me Love shall yield, though he wound my breast with his bow, and whirl aloft his brandished torch.

(trans. J. H. Mozley)

Two lines from the second book of “the Art of Love” would serve as an apt device for Petruchio's wooing:

Militiae species amor est; discedite, segnes:
          Non sunt haec timidis signa tuenda viris.


Love is a kind of warfare; avaunt, ye laggards! these banners are not for timid men to guard.

(trans. J. H. Mozley)

All education aims, however partially or gradually, to refashion the self which submits itself to instruction. The ambitions of Renaissance educators were comprehensive and programmatic. Thomas Greene has traced the ways in which the pedagogic rhetoric of the period frequently implies metamorphosis as its ultimate goal: “Humanist formation first assisted in, then gave way to, metaphysical transformation.”15 Lucentio's disguise as a schoolmaster evokes, but only formally, the power of education to reshape the pupil: Bianca seems not only disconcertingly self-confident about her own preferences and prerogatives but ready for love almost before Lucentio begins his ministrations. It is left to Petruchio, with his fiercer lessons, to expose both the imperial scope and the disturbingly radical object of love's schooling.

Impelled by eros, Petruchio creates a new being out of the destruction of the beloved. This essential paradox, that the gods' power to create is founded on the razed identities of the paramours to whom their love has proved fatal, is the true story of metamorphosis, embracing loss and terror as well as compensatory gain and transfiguration.


Ovidian metamorphosis is most directly represented in the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew. The tales of Daphne, Io and Adonis are suggested by a series of tableaux which the lord's servants describe to Christopher Sly (Induction.ii.50-61):

SECOND Servant:
Dost thou love pictures? We will fetch thee straight
Adonis painted by a running brook,
And Cytherea all in sedges hid,
Which seem to move and wanton with her breath,
Even as the waving sedges play with wind.
We'll show thee Io as she was a maid,
And how she was beguiled and surpris'd,
As lively painted as the deed was done.
THIRD Servant:
Or Daphne roaming through a thorny wood,
Scratching her legs that one shall swear she bleeds,
And at that sight shall sad Apollo weep,
So workmanly the blood and tears are drawn.

It is worth remarking that in all three of these scenes the human protagonist is depicted before his or her metamorphosis, even in the flight of Daphne where traditional iconography would have authorized an image of the nymph becoming a tree. It is as though the actual moment of mysterious change has been deliberately withheld from inquisitive eyes, even when the passion (in a double sense) which precedes it can be viewed. Yet the presence of a beholder is emphasized. Two of the three scenes which are evoked give special importance to the god who is to witness the metamorphosis—and to the audience. Venus as voyeur crouches panting in the sedge, and even Apollo is less pursuer than spectator. The tears of the god and the blood of the victim seem to be given equal status in the final line of the description.

There is no moment in Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis which closely matches the first vignette. The play's understated transition from the previous discussion of hunting (“Or wilt thou hunt? / Thy hounds shall make the welkin answer them / And fetch shrill echoes from the hollow earth,” Induction.ii.45-47) to the depiction of Venus and Adonis permits the understanding that Adonis is here setting out for the hunt, although the hunter has become the hunted, the erotic prey. The sense of Venus as predatory is fundamental to Shakespeare's narrative poem (see, for example, lines 55-60), but lying in wait, as here, she is more threatening still, almost a proleptic version of the boar. The association is important because it establishes a link between Venus' gaze and Adonis' death and transfiguration similar to that which exists between Apollo's regard, at once compassionate and unrelenting, and Daphne's ultimate fate.

The central of the three scenes substitutes “thee” for any spectator within the picture's frame. (It should be noted, at least in passing, that the third tableau is ambiguously presented. Apollo can be imagined as a spectator of the picture, not of Daphne's actual distress, so that both “blood and tears” would belong to the nymph.) “Thee” is of course Sly, but the pronoun's necessarily indefinite reference also invites the participation of a less specified audience. The substitution of “thee” for the gods, not malevolent in intention but destructive in effect, implies that the role of the spectator cannot be assumed without a shadow of culpability. Both Sly and the spectators who have witnessed his incomplete metamorphosis are being prepared for the metamorphosis of the shrew, but this preparation hints at two propositions: 1) we as spectators will witness the crisis which leads to the transformation, but not perhaps the event of transformation itself, and 2) we will be implicated in the metamorphosis; that is, as subsequent discussion will suggest, identity, a new self (or, for that matter, an old one), is not an autonomous entity, but the product of communal construction, in which the beholder shares with the beheld: we “countenance” others so that they may claim a countenance of their own.

The change in Christopher Sly's identity, not so much a transformation as a dislocation, is achieved by making him the unconscious center of a theatrical event—not Shakespeare's Induction, but the improvisation which makes him the cynosure of the lord and his household. As in a true metamorphosis this process begins with effacement. Sly's prior identity must be made a blank, so that it can be reinscribed at the will of the stage-managing lord. Sly enters the play as a kind of Pistol:

Y'are a baggage, the Slys are no rogues. Look in the Chronicles; we came in with Richard Conqueror. Therefore paucas pallabris, let the world slide. Sessa!


The note of swagger anticipates Petruchio in the main body of the play, and the aristocratic airs that Sly takes upon himself preempt the trick the lord will soon undertake to play on him. On the whole, he is a much livelier aristocrat than the one into which the lord tries to transform him. The existence of that fictive noble is as formal as a tapestry, and the responses within it are prescribed not just by the lord who transports Sly from his alehouse, but by the gravity of an entire way of life:

And if he chance to speak, be ready straight
And with a low submissive reverence
Say ‘What is it your honour will command?’
Let one attend him with a silver basin
Full of rose-water and bestrew'd with flowers,
Another bear the ewer, the third a diaper,
And say, ‘Will't please your lordship cool your hands?’
Some one be ready with a costly suit,
And ask him what apparel he will wear.
Another tell him of his hounds and horse,
And that his lady mourns at his disease.


The only time that the force of the specific enters this generalized world which the stage-managing lord inhabits is when he talks about his hounds:

Huntsman, I charge thee, tender well my hounds.
Breathe Merriman, the poor cur is emboss'd,
And couple Clowder with the deep-mouth'd brach.
Saw'st thou not, boy, how Silver made it good
At the hedge-corner, in the coldest fault?
I would not lose the dog for twenty pound.
FIRST Huntsman:
Why, Belman is as good as he, my lord.
He cried upon it at the merest loss,
And twice today pick'd out the dullest scent.
Trust me, I take him for the better dog.
Thou art a fool. If Echo were as fleet,
I would esteem him worth a dozen such.


This lord who discriminates so nicely the different qualities of his dogs and addresses his servant as “huntsman” or “boy” finds it more difficult to distinguish between death and sleep, humanity and beastliness, in “this drunken man” (line 34), who has lost his name and is, for him, not Christopher Sly but “the beggar” (line 39). The proper gloss on this passage is Macbeth's reply to the murderers' ambiguous assertion of dignity, “We are men, my Liege”:

Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
As hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves are clept
All by the name of dogs: the valu'd file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one,
According to the gift which bounteous Nature
Hath in him clos'd; whereby he does receive
Particular addition, from the bill
That writes them all alike; and so of men.

(Macbeth, III.i.90-100)16

In the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew the dogs have distinguished themselves; Christopher Sly has not, in the lord's eyes, differentiated himself from the ordinary mass of humanity. Macbeth's oblique exhortation to murder may suggest that the royal notion of what distinguishes one from the anonymous commonalty is not altogether benign, but the lord of the Induction lives in a society where all classes are equally nameless. When Sly asks him what to call his wife, the Lord replies, “Madam” (Induction.ii.110). Sly urges the question further, wanting to make his wife at least as real as Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of Wincot, and asks, “Al'ce madam, or Joan madam?” but the lord tells him firmly, “Madam, and nothing else, so lords call ladies” (Induction.ii.111-12).

To the lord it is the role, social or theatrical, which matters and not the individualizing mark of the name; identity for him is generic, not particular, and he countenances only so much of the self as proves serviceable to disposing it in a network of social relations. When players arrive to offer him service, as to some provincial Hamlet, he welcomes them, saying:

                              This fellow I remember
Since once he play'd a farmer's eldest son.
'Twas where you woo'd the gentlewoman so well.
I have forgot your name; but, sure, that part
Was aptly fitted and naturally perform'd.


The player, to whom the name does matter, reminds him, “I think 'twas Soto that your honour means” (Induction.i.86).

Just as the actors attempt to generate a human reality, particular enough to be named, from roles which are prescribed and to assert their own autonomy within fixed outlines, so the characters of the drama try to assert individual identities within roles which they create for themselves and each other. Katherina has invented the shrew. The status of a shrew is socially privileged, because she dominates those around her, and she can ignore the social expectations which generally govern the conduct of a young, unmarried woman. However, these privileges fade as those around her pronounce her “the shrew.” She no longer has the freedom to act outside a role, even though it is one which she has chosen or even manufactured herself. When Petruchio proposes a change of role, she is ready to see (but reluctant to accept) this suggestion as a means of escape, even though it proceeds from someone else. Appropriately enough Petruchio presents this new identity as the adjunct of a new name—but a name which in some sense already belongs to her. Kate the wife is latent in Katherina the shrew as nicknames are latent in a name.

Good morrow, Kate, for that's your name, I hear.
Well have you heard, but something hard of hearing;
They call me Katherine that do talk of me.
You lie, in faith, for you are called plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst;
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,
Kate of Kate-Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation,
Hearing thy mildness prais'd in every town,
Thy virtue spoke of, and thy beauty sounded,
Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs,
Myself am mov'd to woo thee for my wife.


The paradox that Katherina can find a renewal of freedom in submission to Petruchio is fundamental to the comedy, and not necessarily dependent on the alignment of mastery with male prerogatives and of obedience with feminine subjection. When Hortensio warns that the bride he is about to suggest to Petruchio is not in all regards an ideal mate, Petruchio replies,

                              if thou know
One rich enough to be Petruchio's wife—
As wealth is burthen of my wooing dance—
Be she as foul as was Florentius' love,
As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd
As Socrates' Xanthippe, or a worse,
She moves me not, or not removes at least
Affection's edge in me.


Florentius' story is told in the Wife of Bath's Tale (although the name of the protagonist is borrowed from the version in Gower's Confessio amantis), and his “love” is the old hag who claims his hand in marriage. The knight who begins as a rapist is brought to a moment when he relinquishes “sovereynetee” to his wife:

“My lady and my love, and wyf so deere,
I put me in youre wise governance;
Cheseth youreself which may be moost plesance,
And moost honour to yow and me also.
I do no fors the wheither of the two;
For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me.”(17)

It is precisely through this surrender that the knight achieves all that he desires in his marriage: his wife is transformed into a young and beautiful woman, who swears she will remain faithful and virtuous. (At first glance Florentius' relation to his bride is simply antithetical to Petruchio's relation to Katherina: it is Kate who must surrender sovereignty before the transformation occurs. However, there is at least one moment in the play when Petruchio places his fate in Katherina's hands. It is not merely a hundred crowns but his pride and reputation which Petruchio stakes in his wager against Lucentio and Hortensio at the banquet. A production which failed to convey some suspense on Petruchio's part about the outcome of the gamble would destroy much of the scene's dramatic force.)18 The identity which Lucentio so promptly renounces when he arrives in Padua is that of master. To bring his love for Bianca to fruition he must set aside the prerogatives of command, although at the same time that he passes his role of master on to his servant Tranio, he himself ceases to be a student and becomes a schoolmaster. Apparently the location of mastery, or “sovereynetee,” is not only ambiguous, but results from a play of forces rather than from a fixed social hierarchy (of the sort, for example, which Kate expounds in the final scene of the play).

The adjustment of relationships within the play, though it may take the form of a power struggle between Petruchio and Katherina, more fundamentally involves a recognition of mutual dependence and of belonging to a human community. Kate and, later, Petruchio, when he begins to be “more shrew than she” (IV.i.76), offend against civility in both the narrowest and the widest sense. Rudeness violates the bonds of social cohesion, the very system of mutual accommodations and reciprocal consideration that makes a community civilized. “The poorest service is repaid with thanks,” Petruchio admonishes Kate, “And so shall mine before you touch the meat” (IV.iii.45-46). The values of such a society, which take the everyday form of manners, are festivally celebrated and ratified at a marriage, and the mountebank garb in which Petruchio apparels himself for his wedding is an “eyesore to our solemn festival,” “unreverent robes” (III.ii.99, 110), in short, a breach of civility. Manners also clothe the self for its presentation to the world, and Katherina's sense of their insignificance is mocked when the finery she hopes to wear to Bianca's wedding is marred as Petruchio plays the shrew with tailor and haberdasher. The wider social implications of uncivil behavior are felt when Kate says,

Beggars that come unto my father's door
Upon entreaty have a present alms,
If not, elsewhere they meet with charity.
But I, who never knew how to entreat,
Nor never needed that I should entreat,
Am starv'd for meat, giddy for lack of sleep. …


“To me she's married, not unto my clothes” (III.ii.115), Petruchio tells his father-in-law. One may be reminded for a moment of Christopher Sly, who is married only to his wife's clothes, since his “wife” is an appropriately costumed boy (and so, if one suspends the convention of the play, is Petruchio's wife). Even if the play wholly validated Petruchio's proposition, it is unclear that identity which owes nothing to the tailor is any more secure or stable than the vicissitudes of fashion. Identity is not an autonomous possession, but at least in part a social artifact. This fact is expressed in the deployment of “countenance” as a key word of social recognition in The Taming of the Shrew. Its ambiguity is exposed in the dialogue between Grumio and Curtis which precedes Kate and Petruchio's homecoming. Curtis calls to the other servants:

Do you hear, ho? You must meet my master to countenance my mistress.
Why, she hath a face of her own.
Who knows not that?
Thou, it seems, that calls for company to countenance her.
I call them forth to credit her.


According to Grumio's narrative, Kate has already been discountenanced on the journey home, with her “bemoiled” face (IV.i.67) signalling her loss of social status. Even if Petruchio aims eventually to “restore” that which belongs to her, some principle of identity (or self-identification) latent even in her shrewish masquerade, her condition at this moment is outcast, liminal—between identities. Thrust out into a world of strangers, she has no identity but that which is imputed to her. Her face belongs to others, and they must countenance her. Later repetitions of “countenance,” in the episode involving the true and false Vincentios, also indicate that while a countenance may be thought of as a personal attribute (the pedant is “in gait and countenance surely like a father,” IV.ii.65), it is in fact a social commodity. “I believe a means to cozen somebody in this city under my countenance” (V.i.34-5), the usurping Vincentio complains, and later in the scene Lucentio confesses that Tranio has borne his “countenance in the town” (V.i.115).

Even when it is acknowledged that the beholder has a share in the identity of those whom he regards, it is not always easy to assign the necessarily interchangeable roles of beholder and beheld. Who are the actors and who the audience, whether civil community or theatrical spectators, is often a slippery question in The Taming of the Shrew. Although the “practice” of the Induction, the plot which reinvents Sly's place in the world, is theatrical, various definitions of its audience are possible. The contrivance is performed at the behest of, and for the pleasure of, the lord, but he can be spectator of the play only insofar as its director can also be its audience. In fact, he is also an actor in the play, and delivers a speech about the picture portraying Io's seduction, addressed to a beholder who may or may not be Christopher Sly. His participation in the contrivance does supply one important answer to the question of who constitutes the audience: the actors in the drama of the Induction form a community who play to one another, even though authority within that community may not be equally distributed.

Since Christopher Sly is the only character in the Induction who does not self-consciously embrace the status of either professional or amateur actor, he is perhaps the most obvious candidate for the role of audience. The theatrical action centers on and includes him, but he remains essentially a spectator of his own new fortunes. One may also doubt, however, whether the lovingly detailed enactment of the joke can be solely for his benefit. Astonished by unaccustomed pleasures, he would be the easy and willing dupe of a much cruder deception.

Sly is the hub of a kind of court entertainment, where he usurps (but according to the entertainment's fiction, fulfills) the role of king and is at once spectator and passive participant. As in a court masque, the dramatic action implies an ideal vision of how the central figure should embody his part. The Induction's version of such an entertainment is of course abortive, because the imaginatively implied aristocrat and literal presence of Sly clash too directly. (Although the gap between conception and performance confirms the social distance between lord and tinker, the comic disparity is only partially the result of Sly's bumbling; it is always a latent possibility of the masque. “What goes wrong in Oberon is that we are suddenly required to see [King] James enthroned in all his physicality among ‘bright Faies, and Elves,’ creatures of no substance, ‘formes, so bright and aery.’ Thus described, the unfortunate monarch may remind us of Bottom.”19 While the contrast between Sly's corporeality and the substance, or insubstantiality, of those around him is not so great as that between Bottom and the fairies, he is, as argued above, more insistently real and individual than the other characters of the Induction.) The sense of the Induction as court entertainment may be strengthened by the analogy between the lord and Hamlet which suggests itself when the players make their appearance. Both the lord and Hamlet chat knowingly about the players' personnel and past performances, and both have their own decisive ideas about theatrical decorum.

If one regards the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew as a clever but fundamentally trivial frame for the major dramatic action, the introduction of the players will seem an unnecessary complication. In her early book on Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play, Anne Righter assumes that The Taming of a Shrew is the ground-plot upon which Shakespeare erected his comedy. Many scholars have questioned this assumption (see footnote 26), but the contrast she draws between the Folio text of The Taming of the Shrew and The Taming of a Shrew (whatever its history or textual character) remains relevant:

Truncated though it is, Shakespeare's adaptation of the Sly scenes from the earlier Shrew is nevertheless remarkable in the way it emphasizes play elements only hinted at in the old comedy. The theatrical nature of the deception practiced upon the sleeping beggar is constantly stressed.20

The appearance of the players conspicuously doubles the theatricality of the situation in Shakespeare's comedy. While actors are of course needed to perform the story of Katherina and Petruchio, performers might well have been drawn from the lord's household, an arrangement hinted at by the lord in the early Shrew when he tells the players, “Say you are his men and I your fellow.” Instead, Shakespeare chooses to emphasize the professionalism of the actors who visit his lord.21

The lord only partially elucidates the circumstances under which the players are to act. He tells them:

There is a lord will hear you play tonight;
But I am doubtful of your modesties,
Lest, over-eyeing of his odd behavior—
For yet his honour never heard a play—
You break into some merry passion,
And so offend him; for I tell you, sirs,
If you should smile, he grows impatient.


The lord's emphasis on sobriety and gravity in the conduct of his private comedy is already familiar. He has admonished his servants, “It will be pastime passing excellent, / If it be husbanded with modesty” (Induction.i.65-66). In dealing with the actors, however, the lord deliberately omits the reason for his lordship's “odd behavior” or lack of exposure to the theater. The actors thus become another possible audience for the theatrical deception. The audience of their play is playing for them, as they are playing for the audience, and while the actors present themselves as actors representing the true lie of art, the character of the audience as deception goes unacknowledged. The audience, not the play, is an illusion. The actors actively participate in the construction of a drama, a structure of illusions, for Sly, whose social location, both as lord and spectator, is fabricated (because the “true” lord both masters and observes, with a playgoer's pleasure, Sly's illusory placement). At the same time they are themselves passively constructed as “audience” for the fiction that Sly is a genuine, if rustic and unsophisticated, lord (Induction.i.91-97).23 Even without such explicit concealments and suppressions, every audience participates in an analogous exchange of positions. As paying customers, they exert economic power at the gate, and throughout the performance they retain, in principle, the capacity to withhold assent from the fiction, to judge both what is represented and the representation itself. Elizabethan theatrical companies found it advantageous to endorse, even flatter, the audience's sense of their free and individual authority: “But release me from my bonds / With the help of your good hands.”24 On the other hand, it is the magus Prospero who utters the words just quoted, and in the fluid and always volatile passage of “power,” the event of a play always constructs the spectators as audience—dependent, passive, and collective—and suspends, if not usurps, their imaginative autonomy.

If, in the Induction, no single perspective on the manifestations of theatricality and the location of the audience is wholly secure or satisfactory, that fact should make one cautious in assumptions about the scenes in The Taming of the Shrew where one character performs for another. In particular it should refocus attention on the most grandly theatrical scene of all, the wedding banquet which concludes the comedy's action. The banquet (though a dessert-like, after-dinner repast, less grand and solemn than it sounds to modern ears) stands for the Renaissance feast, which is a secular communion, the manifestation of a civil community's harmony and mutual affection. As noted earlier, the giving of food and its acceptance with gratitude are the actions which symbolize the condition of civility (and it is their disjunction which, in Timon of Athens, marks the decadence of Athenian society). When the purpose of the feast is to celebrate a wedding, its associations as an emblem of concord are strengthened. It is, in this case, a benign expression of the social forms and expectations which bear the collective name of Padua, and it is before Padua that Petruchio and Katherina play out the scene which testifies to the “taming of the shrew.” It does not matter in this context whether Kate's conversion is genuine or strategic. At Petruchio's instigation a scene is to be enacted. There must be a showing forth. Does Katherina play her part for the benefit of her family and friends because she and Petruchio are now one, belonging to one another, and thus her pride will not allow her to have the union mocked? Does she play “against” Bianca and the widow, but for the entire assembly, making her superiority in wifely submissiveness an ultimate and sublimated expression of her shrewishness? Does Kate play for Petruchio, as Bartholomew the page plays for his lord, demonstrating her mastery of the role, or does she play for him as a genuine gift of the self? Speaking ostensibly to Bianca and the widow, Kate declares:

My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown.
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot.
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.


It is the final two lines which permit the speech to modulate towards a longing tenderness, in which Kate's avoidance of second-person address to Petruchio seem as much the effect of shyness in declaring her love as of her sustained address to Bianca and the widow. The context seems to privilege this possibility, because it is the interpretation of her words which the assembled Paduans accept and it is the one which Petruchio delightedly affirms, crying out in his pleasure, “Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate” (V.ii.181).

Yet the alternative colorations of this moment by no means vanish, and Petruchio himself is not a detached auditor but shares the stage with Katherina. Like a king at a court masque or Christopher Sly watching the comedy, he is as much to be observed as Kate's delivery of her grand monologue. Do Kate and Petruchio play the scene for one another, with their mutual understanding a sign of true and achieved union? Do they play, rather, in complicity against the smug certainties of Padua?

No single account of the situation can be preferred over another in terms of the play itself, any more than one could verify Hamlet's claim that he has that within which passes show (an assertion which the theatrical situation itself immediately belies—and also confirms, in a sense of which Hamlet the character could have no conception). An actor who tries to convey Hamlet's inner anguish or an actress who wants to dramatize Kate's sincere submissiveness can only give us the expression on the mask. Since the actor and the character can never coalesce, these emotions are by definition untrue, and they cannot be an index to that within which passes show, because they are being shown.

Inaccessibility to psychological investigation becomes the essence of the theatrical situation and strangely enough, uncertainty about motive and character does not impoverish the play but protects it from reductiveness, maintaining that hospitality to competing interpretations which has been the distinguishing feature of Shakespearean drama for four centuries.25


The Induction provides two models for Katherina's behavior in the final scene of The Taming of the Shrew, and each undercuts the status of her transformation from shrew to wife as a final psychological reality. Both rely upon the similarity between Petruchio and the lord of the Induction as figures who assert mastery over the conditions under which others play their parts (and the theatrical situation, in this regard, merely doubles their authority within the social hierarchy). Depending on whether one focusses on the lord's provision of a role for Christopher Sly or for Bartholomew the page, different understandings of Kate's response to Petruchio's direction emerge.

The Lord supplies a new identity for Christopher Sly, just as Petruchio supplies one for Katherina. Sly sleeps his way into his lordship, his dream lengthening out the comedy of identities both without and within the story of Katherina's conversion. If Sly does not accord the players his full attention, in his passivity he at least refrains from disrupting the coherence of their theatrical illusion. Presumably Sly's ennoblement is temporary: the lord will tire of his joke and restore Sly to his beggarly condition. However, the failure to awaken Sly at the end of the play (or to return to the characters of the Induction) should be attributed to neither a lacuna in the text nor an oversight by Shakespeare. Despite long-standing critical controversy on this matter, the divergence from the earlier The Taming of a Shrew is deliberate. The absence of an epilogue, or of any completion of the dramatic “frame,” has stimulated extensive critical speculation,26 but it is not necessary to assume that its omission (or divergence from The Taming of a Shrew, if that text is earlier) is inadvertent. The Induction is precisely and appropriately named; it does not frame the story of Katherina and Petruchio, but leads one into it.

The parallel between the Induction and the central plot of the comedy allows the reader or spectator to see Kate's assumption of wifehood as a waking dream. Her transformation too can be understood as a sleep and a forgetting. The automatism of social roles makes her a sleepwalker, and her new identity a prolonged unconsciousness, like Sly's slumber. Will she waken from this trance? If the comparison between Petruchio and the lord is apt, the shattering of Sly's illusory identity, the interruption of his dream, might intimate a similar fragility in Kate's new-found domestic virtue.

In fact, the suspension of Sly's story raises the same questions that its completion might have raised. Since one of the multiple plots which the play encompasses is manifestly (i.e., formally) incomplete, is it not possible that the other plots, though formally complete, are no more resolved than that of Sly's transformation? The marriages which conventionally crown the comedy supply at once closure and a degree of openendedness, for marriages are both endings and beginnings, a point which is neatly stressed by the fact that Petruchio and Kate's marriage occurs halfway through the play. As Byron commented on the norms of genre,

All tragedies are finish'd by a death,
          All comedies are ended by a marriage;
The future states of both are left to faith,
          For authors fear description might disparage
The worlds to come of both, or fall beneath,
          And then both worlds would punish their miscarriage;
So leaving each their priest and prayer-book ready,
They say no more of Death or of the Lady.

(Don Juan, III.9)27

Even if the question of Petruchio and Kate's final accommodation is set aside, the last scene of the play invites the skepticism expressed by Byron by suggesting an incipient shrewishness in Bianca (and, less surprisingly, in Hortensio's widow).28

However, Christopher Sly is not the only actor in this drama to whom the lord devotes considerable attention. His contrivance also requires the casting of a suitable wife for the newly created lord. He sends instructions to his page:

Sirrah, go you to Barthol'mew my page,
And see him dress'd in all suits like a lady.
That done, conduct him to the drunkard's chamber,
And call him ‘madam’, do him obeisance.
Tell him from me, as he will win my love,
He bear himself with honourable action,
Such as he hath observ'd in noble ladies
Unto their lords, by them accomplished.
Such duty to the drunkard let him do,
With soft low tongue and lowly courtesy,
And say, ‘What is't your honour will command,
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her love?’
And then with kind embracements, tempting kisses,
And with declining head into his bosom,
Bid him shed tears, as being overjoy'd
To see her noble lord restor'd to health,
Who for this seven years hath esteemed him
No better than a poor and loathsome beggar.
And if the boy have not a woman's gift
To rain a shower of commanded tears,
An onion will do well for such a shift,
Which in a napkin being close convey'd,
Shall in despite enforce a watery eye.


After this last knowing touch, the lord predicts a successful performance from his pupil, and the Induction ends with its accomplishment. The Taming of the Shrew, one might say, ends the same way. The gestures which the lord prescribes for Bartholomew are aptly performed by Kate as well. The dialogue which the lord supplies, with its insistence on “command” and “duty,” anticipates Kate's final speech, and allowing for the different circumstances, the submissive attitude he delineates is hers as well. (No tears are needed in the final scene. If they were, Kate would have the “woman's gift” to produce them without mechanical contrivance. Yet “Kate” is a boy, too. For the spectator who remembers the theatrical realities of Shakespeare's playhouse, the echo of the Induction in the final scene is still more exact.)

Needless to say, Kate's acute consciousness of herself as actress performing a part would be antithetical to the somnambulistic sense of self suggested in the preceding pages, although both descriptions of her awareness are antagonistic to an interpretation which asserts the uncomplicated coincidence of self and role in Kate's final scene. In either case the role is given, and prior to any effort which Katherina may or may not make to assimilate it to her own consciousness.

The fact that Kate's role at the conclusion of the play, unlike her initial role as shrew, has been created by someone else (whether Petruchio, Shakespeare or a social collectivity) not only constrains her but allows her the possibility of ironic distance. There may be no distance whatsoever between her emotional condition and the part she plays, but the explicit discontinuity which must always exist between the performance and the script, the actress (or actor) and the originating consciousness creates a space, the dimensions of which are indefinite but which provides a version of choice and a psychological, though by no means social, freedom. A role which had both its source and its fulfillment in the same person would more truly seem to specify and delimit the self, and others—the world—could more legitimately derive and justify a sense of knowledge from the identity which was thus presented. There is some danger in this formulation of overstating the value or extent of the “freedom” conferred by Kate's (possible) non-coincidence with her role, and feminist criticism has richly detailed both the social limits against (and within) which Katherina's capacity for even partial self-assertion seeks to find room.29 Yet the more fully these stringencies are recognized, the more Kate's potential achievement in negotiating and eluding the script of a determinate social destiny and a fixed “character” (that is to say, a social type, such as the good wife or the shrew) might be valued. Still, her freedom occupies no more than the space of a doubt—a doubt as to whether the staging of Katherina's discourse can define or enclose her relation to what she utters, to the (re)production of her speech.

Since the audience knows that Kate's role in the final scene is given—has in fact seen her coached and rehearsed for the rendition—the possibility that she performs with detached and parodic fidelity to the demands of the role is preserved, even while the possibility that she authentically assents to the words she utters is not denied. She acts her part with gratuitous and lavish dedication, which can with equal plausibility awaken the conviction that she speaks with fullhearted sincerity and the suspicion that she speaks with the satirist's edge of hyperbole:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labour, both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince
Even such a woman oweth to her husband.
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?


Even the stage history of The Taming of the Shrew testifies to the fact that audiences have always sensed something more to the combative honeymoon of Kate and Petruchio than meets the eye. In recent times the most popular exponents of the leading roles have been husband-and-wife acting teams—Fairbanks and Pickford, Lunt and Fontanne, Burton and Taylor—as though the real drama lay backstage and the theatrical performance were a kind of marital game that approximated, burlesqued or rewrote and reversed the actors' relationship to one another. (The ultimate expression of the surmise that the plot of the shrew's taming is doubled by another unwritten drama is Sam and Bella Spewack's book for Kiss Me, Kate, which undertakes to write the second play and incorporate it in the first. Behind this venture dawns the possibility of infinite regress.) The essence of this dramatic tease lies in the uncertain proportion between what is represented and the ever-receding but always beckoning horizon of a final human truth, which eludes representation not only in the theater but in a world where the coincidence of appearance and reality is metaphysically impossible. Theater prolifically generates occasions for metamorphosis, for a change of bodies which is at least inferentially a change of identities; and it also excites a craving for new beginnings, for unambiguous, authentic conversions, which, in its own terms, it cannot gratify. It mimics the plasticity of selves and the true “faining”30 that such flexibility will be consummated (find an end, in both senses) in transformation, but unable to disentangle faining from feigning, it cannot rescue metamorphosis—a change of bodies which not only figures but is a change of souls—from the agnosticism of the theatrical medium.


  1. Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 1 of Early Comedies, Poems, Romeo and Juliet, ed. Geoffrey Bullough (London, 1966), 112.

  2. Ibid., 66.

  3. The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Brian Morris (The Arden Shakespeare, London, 1981), 172-73. Subsequent references to this edition will be indicated by act, scene and line numbers.

  4. The Winter's Tale, ed. J. H. P. Pafford (The Arden Shakespeare, London, 1963), IV.iii.91-97.

  5. Cf. Valentine's “I'll stand affected to her,” Two Gentlemen of Verona, II.i.80.

  6. The Art of Love and Other Poems, ed. J. H. Mozley, Loeb Classical Library edition (Cambridge, Mass., 1947), 74.

  7. Heroides and Amores, ed. Grand Showerman, Loeb Classical Library edition (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1921), 328.

  8. Two Gentlemen of Verona, ed. Clifford Leech (The Arden Shakespeare, London, 1968), I.i.63. Subsequent references to this edition will be indicated by act, scene and line numbers.

  9. Love's Labour's Lost, ed. Richard David (The Arden Shakespeare, London, 1968), IV.iii.337-37. Subsequent references to this edition will be indicated by act, scene and line numbers.

  10. Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones and Jan van Dorsten (Oxford, 1973), 115-16.

  11. Much Ado about Nothing, ed. A. R. Humphreys (The Arden Shakespeare, London and New York, 1981), II.i.236-38.

  12. Atque ego, si virtus in me dubitabilis esset,
    nobilitate potens essem, Telamone creatus,
    moenia qui forti Troiana sub Hercule cepit
    litoraque intravit Pagasaea Colcha carina;
    Aeacus huic pater est, qui iura silentibus illic
    reddit, ubi Aeoliden saxum grave Sisyphon urget;
    Aeacon agnoscit summus prolemque fatetur
    Iuppiter esse suam: sic ab Iove tertius Aiax.

    (13. 22-28; Metamorphoses, vol. 2, ed. Frank Justus Miller [Cambridge, Mass., 1922], 228, 330.)

    And though I wanted valiantnesse, yit should nobilitee
    Make with mee. I of Telamon am knowne the sonne to bee
    Who under valeant Hercules the walles of Troy did scale,
    And in the shippe of Pagasa to Colchos land did sayle.
    His father was that Aeacus who executeth ryght
    Among the ghostes where Sisyphus heaves up with all his myght
    The massye stone ay tumbling downe. The hyghest Jove of all
    Acknowledgeth this Aeacus, and dooth his sonne him call.
    Thus am I Ajax third from Jove.

    (13. 26-34, translated by Arthur Golding, 1567; ed. John Frederick Nims [New York, 1965].)

  13. Ovid, The Art of Love and Other Poems, trans. and ed. J. H. Mozley (Cambridge, Mass., 1921), 12. Subsequent references to this text are cited by book and line numbers.

  14. Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (Cambridge, Mass., 1972), 82. Cf. Trilling's similar discussion of this ideal in his preface to Austen's Emma (Boston, 1957, xxiii), significantly a later, novelistic treatment of the “taming of the shrew,” that is, of the “education” of a high-spirited but socially transgressive young woman. The phrase “intelligent love” is borrowed from an anonymous 1870 discussion of Austen's work in The North British Review.

  15. “The Flexibility of the Self in Renaissance Literature,” in The Disciplines of Criticism, ed. Peter Demetz, Thomas Greene and Lowry Nelson, Jr. (New Haven, 1968), 252.

  16. Macbeth, ed. Kenneth Muir (The Arden Shakespeare, London and Cambridge, Mass., 1962), III.i.90-100.

  17. D 1230-35, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson (Boston, 1957), 88.

  18. Cf. Coppélia Kahn's account of the role of women in constituting masculine identity within the patriarchal structures of Renaissance society (Man's Estate, Berkeley, 1981, esp. chap. 2, “Coming of Age: Marriage and Manhood in Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew”).

  19. Stephen Orgel, The Jonsonian Masque (Cambridge, Mass., 1967), 90.

  20. Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1967), 95. In her introduction to the Riverside Shakespeare text of The Taming of the Shrew, Righter (now writing as Anne Barton) notes that The Taming of the Shrew is “now generally believed to be either a pirated and inaccurate version of Shakespeare's comedy or else a ‘bad’ quarto of a different play” (The Riverside Shakespeare [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974], 106).

  21. Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 1:71.

  22. The lord in The Taming of a Shrew offers slightly different advice to the players about their prospective auditor:

    Hees something foolish, but what so ere he saies,
    See that you be not dasht out of countenance.

    (scene i, 69-70; Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 1:71)

    He appears to fear less the sophisticated laughter of this theatrical troupe than their discomfiture (like that of the amateurs in Act V of Love's Labour's Lost). The actors remain on stage while the lord instructs his page in how to play the part of Sly's wife, but this dialogue gives them no further clue to what is actually occurring. Sander (or Saunder), that is, the actor who is to play Grumio's counterpart, merely reiterates to his comrade the lord's somewhat perfunctory briefing:

    O brave, sirha Tom, we must play before
    A foolish Lord, come lets go make us ready.

    (scene i, 83-84; ibid.)

    Anne Righter emphasizes the distinction between these players and those in Shakespeare's play:

    In the older play, the travelling players who arrive so opportunely had been distinctly ludicrous figures. They were illiterates who blundered pathetically over the word ‘comedy,’ and required crude assistance in the matter of properties from the lord who engaged their services. Shakespeare's actors, on the other hand, are men of a different stamp. … The players speak with dignity and grace, and although their reception falls short of the one later accorded by Hamlet to the tragedians of the city, it nevertheless prefigures that scene.

    (Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play, 94)

  23. A similar, though less elaborate, deception is practiced on Biondello in the course of the comedy. He is told that his master Lucentio and Tranio have changed roles to save the former's life. Like the actors, he is aware that some deception is being practiced, but its true motive is suppressed, perhaps so that he will believe that sustaining his part is a matter of life and death.

  24. The Tempest, ed. Frank Kermode (The Arden Shakespeare, New York, 1964), Epilogue, lines 9-10.

  25. For further discussion of this topic, see my essay on “Identity and Representation in Shakespeare,” ELH 49 (Summer, 1982): 339-62.

  26. Brian Morris's introduction to the Arden Shakespeare edition of The Taming of the Shrew provides a particularly helpful and thorough survey of critical comment on the copy for the Folio text, the relationship of The Taming of the Shrew to The Taming of a Shrew, and the putative gaps in the Sly framework (see pp. 1-50). On p. 40, following Sears Jayne, he summarizes the primary critical hypotheses about the absence of a closing scene for Sly: i) that Shakespeare wrote such a scene but that the text is defective; ii) that Shakespeare did not write a final scene because he intended that it be improvised; iii) that Shakespeare abandoned the framework “for artistic reasons; e.g., because it would have been anticlimactic to return to it after the resounding conclusion of the play about Kate and Bianca”; and iv) “it was conventional for a play to have an induction without any corresponding dramatic epilogue.” My own interpretive hypothesis comes closest to the third category, although I am less concerned with the play's formal or “artistic” exigencies than with its theatrical epistemology—that is, its presentation in theatrical terms with what can or cannot be known about human behavior or motives in a firmly specified social setting.

    My argument is not affected by whether The Taming of a Shrew represents a bad quarto of The Taming of the Shrew or a memorial reconstruction of an entirely separate play. (Morris concludes, p. 64, that the weight of twentieth-century critical opinion “has moved steadily” towards the former view.) In neither case is there a need to infer that the final scene of The Taming of a Shrew represents Shakespearean material. Like Morris, H. J. Oliver, in the introduction to the Oxford Shakespeare edition of The Taming of a Shrew (Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1984) reviews the textual arguments about the play, and on textual grounds he declares that “it appears reasonably certain that the parts of the Sly story that are not in The Shrew are not simply lost” (29). He comments skeptically that it “is, of course, possible to convince oneself that the ‘additional’ Sly scenes of A Shrew are too good to have been the invention of a reporter. … What should, however, be resisted is the temptation to believe that if the fuller form of the Induction is held to be the better, Shakespeare must necessarily have written it” (ibid.).

  27. Lord Byron, The Complete Poetical Works, vol. 5, ed. Jerome J. McGann (Oxford, 1986), 163-64.

  28. Bianca's refractory behavior in this scene should not be a complete surprise. In Act III, scene i, she teases both her disguised suitors. Her reply to the “instruction” of Lucentio masquerading as Cambio the Latin tutor, shows both her spiritedness and her adeptness at games of intrigue:

    Now let me see if I can construe it: Hic ibat Simois, I know you not—hic est Sigeia tellus, I trust you not—Hic steterat Priami, take heed he hear us not—regia, presume not—celsa senis, despair not.


    Later she rebukes Hortensio, who has presented himself as Litio the music master:

    Call you this gamut? Tut, I like it not.
    Old fashions please me best. I am not so nice
    To change true rules for odd inventions.


    Even as she declares herself an old-fashioned girl, she shows that, like Katherina, she finds contrariness an agreeable seasoning to her social intercourse. Her elopement, though ultimately sanctioned by a paternal blessing, is yet another sign that though she plays the game more prudently that Katherina—more, as she tells Litio, within the old rules—she too is capable of asserting herself in the face of masculine imperatives. The surprised reaction of the male wedding guests to her refusal to come when she is summoned in the final scene reveals their thoroughly conventional understanding of character. Bianca has the best disguise of all.

  29. See especially, on the restricted linguistic freedom of women, Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Brighton, Sussex, and Totowa, NJ, 1983) and Karen Newman, “Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew,ELR 16 (Winter 1986): 86-100. Newman comments that while The Taming of the Shrew “both demonstrated and produced the social facts of the patriarchal ideology which characterized Elizabethan England, … representation gives us a perspective on that patriarchal system which subverts its status as natural. The theatrically constructed frame in which Sly exercises patriarchal power and the dream in which Kate is tamed … [call] attention to the constructed character of the representation rather than veiling it through mimesis” (92-93).

  30. See As You Like It, ed. Agnes Latham (The Arden Shakespeare, London, 1975), III.iii.14-18, and William Empson's discussion of the pun on “fain” and “feign” in Some Versions of the Pastoral (Norfolk, Conn., 1960), 130-32.

Gary Schneider (essay date spring 2002)

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9463

SOURCE: Schneider, Gary. “The Public, the Private, and the Shaming of the Shrew.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 42, no. 2 (spring 2002): 235-58.

[In the following essay, Schneider presents a feminist-materialist assessment of the social world depicted in The Taming of the Shrew, and maintains that in the play, the theater becomes a site of “social control” where Katherina becomes the mouthpiece for patriarchal rhetoric.]

Relatively late in the action of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew (1592), Tranio tells the pedant of a fictional private quarrel that has been made public, and is, therefore, a potential threat to the pedant's safety in the city of Padua:

'Tis death for anyone in Mantua
To come to Padua. Know you not the cause?
Your ships are stayed at Venice, and the Duke,
For private quarrel 'twixt your Duke and him,
Hath published and proclaimed it openly.
'Tis marvel, but that you are but newly come,
You might have heard it else proclaimed about.(1)

Tranio's “warning” marshals several pertinent implications of the interrelationship between the public and the private: there is a manifest danger when the private becomes public; private actions (the two dukes' personal quarrel) inform public life; and the dynamic interaction between ostensibly separate spheres creates a politicization of the private. In early modern England a theoretical distinction between the public and private spheres existed—one which imagined them as wholly distinct and self-contained; in practice, however, there was a dynamic relationship between the spheres—one which has potential repercussions for the citizenry, as the danger to the pedant suggests. One ignorant of the proclamation, that is, of the “publicizing” of the restrictions, might face serious consequences.

Publicizing has a similar role in controlling aberrant women. For a woman to be publicized means to be confronted with the social role appropriate to her gender and class—one which is informed by patriarchy and its social, economic, and political imperatives. The bulk of The Taming of the Shrew, in fact, bears on the publicizing of Kate. This publicizing effort is enacted by public ceremony and social ritual that, in the play, frequently revolve around marriage customs. In addition to weddings, other social customs also inform the publicizing of Kate, much in the same manner as public shaming rituals such as skimmington, bridling, and cucking threaten Kate as an aberrant, uncontrollable woman.2 In essence, The Taming of the Shrew presents a temporal process of taming that is also spatially oriented: on one hand, the processes, actions, and manipulations that publicize Kate in Padua and that are designed to tame shrewishness are intertwined with producing public shame; on the other hand, as evidenced by the spatial movement of Petruccio and Kate to Petruccio's country house, privacy and privation also mediate shrew taming.

A few studies have investigated the meaning and function of the public and the private in Shrew, but these studies examine only tangentially the public and private dichotomy as it functions in the play, typically as a self-evident binary.3 The interrelationship of the spheres is extremely complex, and the early modern perception of them exceedingly ambiguous. I begin this study, then, by examining the specific emphases, associations, and resonances of the private and the public. I continue by investigating the “publicizing” of Kate, and consider the relationship between marriage, social customs, public ritual, and shame. I observe the play's consequent movement to the private, and take up an investigation of the maneuvering of the principles of asceticism and civility. Finally, I mark the return to the public as a spatial reorientation that is energized by the performative, by the metatheatrical, and which serves as a consolidation of the civilizing process.


Jürgen Habermas states that, although there was a distinction between publicus and privatus, “an opposition between the public and private spheres on the ancient (or the modern) model did not exist.”4 There was an emerging, but by no means clear, distinction between public and private in the Renaissance. Habermas locates a nascent distinction in the movement from feudalism to a centralized monarchy, which culminated in a relatively well-defined dichotomy late in the seventeenth century.5 Since the emergence of the modern state engendered the division of the public and the private, it is no surprise that the private was largely informed by political processes. The interrelationship between private and public spheres was embodied, for instance, in the commonplace that the household was a “little commonwealth.”6

Whereas in practice a strict division between the spheres was not viable, the theoretical speculations of Renaissance thinkers frequently sustained a rigorous separation between private and public based on a very broad spatial demarcation: the walled, enclosed space (such as the individual household or the monastery) on the one hand, and the outside-the-enclosed-space on the other.7 The strict, theoretical dichotomy through which early modern England negotiated the public and the private is exemplified by treatises such as Sir John Harington's The Prayse of Private Life (probably composed between 1603 and 1605). Such rather philosophical treatises tend to idealize the private life as utterly non-political. The Prayse of Private Life, for instance, sharply divides the public (politics, business, the city) from the private (religious contemplation, solitude, the country).8 It is clear that when Harington writes of the private life, he means a life of solitude. The movement of Harington's thesis is toward an ethic of asceticism, expressed, for instance, in chapter 18: “For ‘beholdinge the face of God’ is the ende of our desires and wishing … Instead of temporall fastinge, there is celestial feastinge. In supplie of povertie there is true riches. For rurall silence there is heavenly musicke.”9 The private man “eateth moderately” whereas the public man consumes “all sortes of delicates to please the taste”; the private man lives in a hermitage, a “house … made of claye, the walles cleane, and poorely cladd,” while the public man lives surrounded with “Dogges, Men, Familiers and Flatterers.”10 The virtues of silence, temperance, and chastity should be rigorously engaged if one is to live the private life.

However, theoretical treatises such as the Prayse, those that rigidly demarcate public and private, often betray a slippage in conceiving the spheres. Harington amends, for instance, his construction of solitude to include friends in order to comprehend agape or charity: “And what can be more pleasinge to God then to healpe other Men.”11 Revising an earlier, stricter assertion, Harington backtracks: “I said the concourse of men, not accesse of frendes shoulde be shunned.”12 As Harington's revisions suggest, it is exceedingly difficult to separate the private from the social in practice. An even more startling elision of public and private occurs some sixty years later in another theoretical treatise. George Mackenzie, in A Moral Essay, Preferring Solitude to Publick Employment (1665), uses a distinctly social metaphor to describe a private space: “The world is a Comedy, where every man acts that part which providence hath assigned him; and as it is esteemed more noble to look on then to act, so really, I know no securer box, from which to behold it, then a safe solitude, and it is easier to feel then to express the pleasure which may be taken in standing aloof, and in contemplating the reelings of the multitude, the excentric motions of great men.”13 Contemplation and solitude are located within the public realm (the theater) in Mackenzie's treatise. Mackenzie reserves for himself a privileged position as observer somehow existing outside of society while “passively” observing it.

The merging of the public and private in Mackenzie's and Harington's commentary is also evident in Shrew. Such an elision is part and parcel of the structure and function of the dominant ideology. In other words, the private is informed by the ascendant ideology even as that ideology separates itself from the private sphere in order to control it (yet without appearing to control it). The rules of civility, those which were brought to bear on the private life, clearly constitute instances of the politicization of the private. Hence, the ideological overlay of civility on the private life also informs the dynamic between public and private. Jacques Revel, for instance, maintains that the “sixteenth century was a time of intense effort to control social intercourse through rules of civility … Behavior was judged by the group. The rules of civility were in one sense a technique for limiting or even negating private life.”14 Considering the association between women and the private sphere (as “household Kates,” for instance) these prescriptions produced terrific pressures for women to behave in accordance with specified social norms. Thus, the interrelationship of public and private, and the subsequent pressure toward civility that was generated around (aberrant) women, inform The Taming of the Shrew to a great extent. In Shrew what appears to be private is, in fact, frequently a function of the public. In Renaissance England, private problems arose and were dealt with in a public manner. Lynda Boose, Karen Newman, David Underdown, and others have described the public punishment of private behavior, those public shaming rituals such as cucking, carting, and the skimmington. Kate's taming is likewise engineered within the public and private spheres; but, whereas Kate is socialized within the dynamic between public and private, Bianca is not “indoctrinated” in the same manner as Kate—hence, she remains shrewish at the play's end.

Some of the critical literature on Shrew has examined the public/private dichotomy as relatively well-defined and ready-made. For instance, Laurie E. Maguire asserts that “Petruchio and Katherine have found a mode of conjugal behaviour for public display and a mode of behaviour for private rapport”; Kate “conforms to a social norm for the sake of appearance, while remaining free to be her own person in private.”15 But Maguire reads outside the bounds of the play, imagining an extratextual existence for Kate and Petruccio in order to structure her rigid public/private dichotomy. Indeed, since private behavior is defined and engineered by social criteria, it is unlikely that Kate would be able to claim the type of independence Maguire asserts. As Roger Chartier maintains, the very distinction between private and public behavior was a function of the internalization of “social norms”; “the ‘private’ is a product of the modern state.”16 Such a “private” mutuality, in the sense that Maguire has it, is not possible between Petruccio and Kate.17 Likewise, Coppélia Kahn seems to argue for a rigid distinction between Kate's private and public personae: that Kate engages in “public display,” yet that “her spirit remains mischievously free.”18 Like Maguire, Kahn is forced to read beyond the text proper to maintain her argument; moreover, Kahn neglects to consider that the taming of Kate is comprised of both public shaming and private mortification.

Finally, it should be reiterated that the relationship between household and state was a dynamic one. As Georges Duby maintains, “it must be acknowledged that the opposition between private life and public life is a matter not so much of place as of power.”19 Duby's observation is accurate in describing the interaction between public and private spheres as one mediated principally by power. However, Duby's formulation does not recognize the early modern perceptions of public and private, those theoretical distinctions which differentiated the spheres—for, clearly, the public and private were imaginatively bifurcated and physically spatialized in the early modern period, as Harington's treatise suggests. Duby's formula does not allow one a critical paradigm by which to examine the early modern conceptualizations of the spheres. Nevertheless, it is extremely useful to keep Duby's statement in mind since power relations largely inform The Taming of the Shrew.


Marriage in early modern England comprised two extreme situations: those based on the purely material and those on the purely romantic. Most marriages, however, appeared to exist somewhere on the continuum between these polarities. Ralph A. Houlbrooke asserts that a marriage “had to be built on material foundations”; these arrangements were sometimes engineered by the couple themselves, but often by parents or guardians solely for economic and financial reasons (Baptista's “sale” of Bianca and Kate, of course, demonstrates such an arrangement).20 Alan Macfarlane suggests that children had substantial freedom to choose a mate based on the ideology of romantic love rather than on purely economic considerations.21 Apparently, any marriage contracted between individuals aged seven or older was legal even if there was no parental consent.22 Certainly, this situation would constitute another extraordinary arrangement. Such extremes were typically mediated by the ideology of a child's duty to his or her parents, one in which moral and religious imperatives were propounded.23 It is crucial to remember, therefore, that marriage was a comprehensive social phenomenon which, as David Cressy puts it, “involved a series of ritual actions with strong legal, cultural, and religious connotations that take us to the heart of Tudor and Stuart society.”24

I would like to apply these “legal, cultural, and religious connotations” to a consideration of the public and private in the play since marriage “was a social process with both public and private dimensions,” as Cressy observes.25 In Shrew itself, there is an emphasis on public ceremony and social ritual, particularly on those surrounding marriage customs. Marriage is the primary public ritual, the social “trope” in Shrew, which unites the public and private realms. Unlike Margaret Loftus Ranald, who asserts that matrimonial practices are merely subsidiary to Shrew, I argue that they are integral and form a sociopolitical structure within which both shaming and taming are practiced.26 Marriage in Shrew comprises both the features of the public (ceremony, ritual) and the assumption of a private component (consummation). Hence, Lawrence Stone's outline of the five stages of the marriage process for propertied people includes both public and private elements: “The first step was a written legal contract between the parents concerning the financial arrangements. The second was the spousals … the formal exchange … of oral promises. The third step was the public proclamation of banns in church, three times, the purpose of which was to allow claims of pre-contract to be heard (by the seventeenth century nearly all the well-to-do evaded this step by obtaining a license). The fourth step was the wedding in church, in which mutual consent was publicly verified … The fifth and final step was the sexual consummation.”27 Publicizing occurs at almost every step. The final step is even publicized by the public kiss that symbolizes consummation. I do not mean to imply that marriage and its concomitant ceremonies were always or inherently manifestations of shaming rituals. In Shrew, however, the representation of marriage rituals suggests that they may be associated with shaming rituals.

I would like to concentrate first on the phenomenon known as the proclamation of the banns. In Shrew the proclamation of the banns is alluded to twice.28 The first mention occurs, significantly, in Petruccio's soliloquy when he announces to the audience his proposed method of taming:

If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks
As though she bid me stay by her a week.
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns, and when be married.


In this soliloquy lie the roots of the shaming/taming process, the publicizing process as contained in the public announcement of marriage. By wide report, Kate is a well-known shrew. As Hortensio asserts, Kate is “Renowned in Padua for her scolding tongue” (I.ii.96). The proclamation of the banns, therefore, is negligible as a practical measure; there is certainly no possibility of a pre-existing contract. The banns are, rather, a reference to the public context of shaming that Petruccio will utilize in taming Kate. Likewise, by proclaiming the banns a sense of (archaic) propriety and decorum is maintained.

Clearly, Kate perceives her wedding—that is, her publicization within her new social role—in terms of shaming. When it appears that Petruccio is not going to show up at the church, Kate laments her future social shame:

He'll woo a thousand, 'point the day of marriage,
Make friends, invite them, and proclaim the banns,
Yet never means to wed where he hath wooed.
Now must the world point at poor Katherine
And say, “Lo, there is mad Petruccio's wife,
If it would please him come and marry her.”


The reference to the banns here suggests they may be employed as a shaming tool in that they act to publicize Kate's humiliation; the proclamation is equated with public punishment since cucking and carting employ the same brand of public shaming. Kate, indeed, admits that this is “No shame but mine” (III.ii.8). As Stone notes, the proclamation of the banns was not a necessary step in the marriage process; yet in terms of publicizing Kate, it is clearly a functional taming tool.

The proclamation of the banns, as a practical custom, was a somewhat antiquated procedure. The play also alludes to other archaic public customs, which, in turn, are allied with the shaming process. The impending marriage of Bianca, for instance, threatens Kate with the possibility that she “must dance barefoot on her Bianca's wedding day” (II.i.33). This statement refers to the custom of elder, spinster sisters performing a humiliating ritual at their younger siblings' wedding feasts.29 Furthermore, Boose has pointed out that in the final scene there is a representation of an antiquated marriage ritual in which the bride is expected to prostrate herself and place her hand under her husband's foot.30 According to Boose, in Shrew, this ceremony is enacted after the final lines of Kate's final speech:

And place your hands below your husband's foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.


Hence, components of various marriage rituals themselves, those which Shakespeare incorporates into the play, serve to publicize Kate.

William Bradshaw, in A Marriage Feast (1620), specifically links public celebration and public punishment: “a marriage is accounted no marriage if it be not solemnized with beastly and profane songs, sonnets, jigs … so that it becomes as ignominious and reproachful as if it were the day of one's public penance or execution.”31 Although Bradshaw is expressing a Puritan's distaste for festive celebration, he is also outlining the publicity associated with each set of social practices. Furthermore, Daniel Fabre notes that “in many segments of society the most common way of publicizing and punishing infractions of custom was part and parcel of the ritual of social transition itself … The rite of passage bestowed a new role and at the same time reflected a judgment of conformity, the obligatory counterpart of its integrative function.”32Shrew also identifies public marriage with public punishment. The play is concerned with the public mode of punishment of shrews as a method of re-integration, and, in Kate's case, to internalize behavior proper to a woman of the gentry.

Additional methods of public humiliation and shame mentioned in the play include carting, also known as “riding a whore”—another form of public punishment in which a woman suspected of prostitution is carted through the streets and mocked.33 The reference to carting is directed toward Kate in the court/cart pun in I.i. Baptista says: “Leave shall you have to court her at your pleasure.” Gremio replies: “To cart her rather” (I.i.54, 55). Helge Kökeritz recognizes this pun and the sound similarity between “cart” and “court”; it is likely that these were homonymic since Kökeritz maintains that “harm” rhymed with “corn.”34 Hence there is a resonant aural echo of “carting” every time “courting” is mentioned. The echo is sustained in the next scene; when Hortensio plots to get Bianca alone, he desires to “unsuspected court her by herself” (I.ii.131).35 The same aural pun is also activated when Hortensio and Tranio observe Bianca and Lucentio (as Cambio) shamelessly courting in public, when Hortensio exclaims, “See how they kiss and court” (IV.ii.27). Here a public shaming process is reliant on the verbal echo and audience recognition of the associations of that echo.36 Unlike the shaming of Kate, the shaming of Bianca is not done to her, but rather “toward” her with the aid of the audience.

Public shame was, of course, a powerful social instrument for controlling women. In order to comprehend fully how shame is functioning in Shrew, it is necessary to distinguish between the two senses of shame which the English language comprises in a single word. Kurt Riezler suggests a distinction evident in the French: “Pudeur is shame felt before, and warning against, an action; honte is felt after an action.”37 The shame Kate is made to endure—and that other aberrant women undergo in cucking, bridling, and carting—is honte; it is instilled by publicizing so that “shame will burn in memory,” as Riezler puts it.38 Pudeur is proactive and inhibits one from committing ungenteel, inappropriate, or uncivilized acts in the future. Kate is, therefore, indoctrinated to feel pudeur after she experiences honte. That Kate has internalized pudeur is evident in the shame she feels at the idea of kissing Petruccio in public (V.i. 124-31).39 Bianca, on the other hand, feigns pudeur at the beginning of the play through a meek, silent, obsequious demeanor; since she turns out to be a shrew, Bianca needs to be shamed with honte (as she might have been in IV.ii after kissing Lucentio in public) in order to feel pudeur truly. Both terms, it should be emphasized, are highly dependent on social structure.40

The social theories of Norbert Elias provide a useful tool in understanding the relationship between shame, power, and behavior in the period. Shame “is fear of social degradation or, more generally, of other people's gestures of superiority.”41 Shame is a social construct whereby unfamiliar constraints are transformed into naturalized self-restraints; the shaming process, therefore, advances the civilizing process.42 In order to bring “a wild Kate to a Kate / Conformable as other household Kates” (II.i.269-70), it is necessary for a sense of shame to be internalized through “social degradation”; “a consolidation of the automatic inner anxieties” by “gestures of superiority” and “the compulsions that the individual now exerts on” oneself are primary in behaving civilly.43 After Kate and Petruccio are married, then, the question becomes this: what actions produce those compulsions which the individual exerts on herself? In short, how does the movement to the private sphere, that is, to Petruccio's country house—to which Kate is “banned” by Petruccio—in turn continue the civilizing process? Furthermore, how does this movement relate to Revel's formula that “The rules of civility were in one sense a technique for limiting or even negating private life”? At the country house Kate is deprived of food, sleep, sex, and ostentatious clothing; ironically, the privation to which Kate is exposed aids in civilizing her: “mortification” in both its senses is ultimately inflicted on Kate.


In the early modern period, the private sphere was frequently associated with secrecy and covertness; a personal desire for privacy often produced suspicion and distrust. The potential subversiveness of the private realm obviously had political reverberations. Even as the private sphere evolved under the aegis of a centralized state, the private was perceived as threatening to this state. As Habermas expresses it, “interiorized human closeness … challenged the established authority of the monarch.”44 Certainly the fear of men and women in private was one of the reasons for the dissolution of the monasteries, and anxiety about people in secret places remained much a part of what constituted “Popery” in Tudor and Stuart England. In 1529, Simon Fish exhorts Henry VIII to remove monks from their monasteries and “Tie these holy idle thieves to the carts to be whipped naked about every market town,” thus publicly exposing them.45 In a 1635 sermon Thomas Turner, likewise, mocks the “Monks and Friars” who “sequester themselves from all Company, and (as it were) bury themselves alive in their cloister”; unlike “These speculative men … the Practical man hath more opportunities of doing good.”46 Appraisals such as these span the early modern period, sense danger in the private sphere, and require some sort of public exposure of those secret evils; the term “private” in these commentaries appears synonymous with “social and political threat.”47

But was the public sphere really so threatened by the private? Here we must recall the distinction between theoretical and practical assessments of the spheres. Although Harington, Fish, and Turner may not admit it, there was a complex interaction between the public and the private spheres. Henry Chadwick, for example, makes explicit the public reliance on the private sphere, fundamentally in terms of material benefits: “the prudence and strong work-ethic of monks brought them a commercial success to which they were by prime intention indifferent, and so provoked the envy of worldly laymen whose main goal was making money but who were less canny and less industrious.”48 “The root question,” Chadwick continues, “concerns the validity of the ascetic ideal, and whether its pursuit is inherently superior to an active Christian life in a vocation lived out in the secular world.”49 The most consequential public benefit of the private sphere, of the contemplative life, as suggested by Chadwick, is that many of the characteristics associated with the private life—ascetic principles such as fasting, chastity, verbal moderation, simplicity in dress—had social value.

Indeed, the desire to appropriate the ideals of private life for public use demonstrates the social functionalism of these ideals. For instance, as William Watts, the author of Mortification Apostolical (1637) suggests, bodily abstinence may help to avert the plague: “Gods anger is most strong poison: 'tis that which makes the plague to be infectious. There is no such Antidote or Preservative against it as Mortification.”50 Henry Holland, in The Christian Exercise of Fasting (1596), similarly catalogs some of the socio-economic benefits that accrue from fasting: “abstinence from flesh for some days in the week should be undertaken … for breeding and increase of cattle, and that the trade of fishing and fish markets might be continued in our land”; Holland also notes that fasting has always been employed “in times of common calamities, as wars, famine, pestilence, & c. and also when any weighty matter touching the estate of the Church or the common wealth was begun or intended.”51 C. J. Kitching maintains that, especially during times of plague, “Many Elizabethan bishops were devoted to the practice of fasting (which, of course, for more secular reasons was developed and extended by the State).”52

For early modern writers, the ascetic virtues were deeply intertwined. William Hergest, beginning his The Right Rule of Christian Chastity (1580), names six necessarily connected virtues:

1. Virginity or Maidenhood. 4. Temperance or moderation.
2. Chastity. 5. Honest & diligent labor.
3. Shamefastness. 6. Modesty in apparel.53

These virtues are what people must inculcate. In the case of women (as implied in Hergest's book) these behaviors—temperance, chastity, moderation in clothing and speech—are particularly significant for indoctrination in order to form an appropriate, civilized, public woman, and are indeed the ascetic values forced on Kate at Petruccio's country house. Peter Stallybrass states that “The surveillance of women concentrated upon three specific areas: the mouth, chastity, the threshold of the house.”54 All three of these areas of potential transgression are interrelated: “Silence, the closed mouth, is made a sign of chastity. And silence and chastity are, in turn, homologous to women's enclosure within the house.”55 Normative woman, therefore, becomes reduced to the private sphere. Yet there is a paradox in that when women transgress bounds associated with the private (adultery, husband scolding, or shrewishness), they are punished by being exposed to public humiliation; they are not shoved more deeply into the private, but carted, cucked, bridled or, in the case of Kate, publicly married.56

Of Stallybrass's three areas, it is the mouth that is perceived as most troublesome in Shrew. Kate, however, is implicated in all three either directly or indirectly: the verbal is obvious; implied sexual wantonness is evoked by the carting allusion (I.i.55) and by associating Kate with the devil and hell in the same scene;57 Petruccio's desire for a private woman is evidenced in his desire for a “household” Kate. Petruccio will “mew Kate up” at his country house, and “make her bear the penance of her tongue” (I.i.87, 89). That is, taming is accomplished in Petruccio's house not by acts that produce public shame, but by acts of severe asceticism—by private privation. The stringent application of the ideals of asceticism helps to civilize Kate. Publicizing and shame, and now the privation of Kate, test the validity of Baptista's judgment that “such an injury as Kate's shame would vex a very saint” (III.ii.28).

The “cloistering” of Kate encloses her within walls, limits her behavior, restricts her diet, and safeguards her chastity.58 In another soliloquy, Petruccio informs the audience of his intention to kill Kate with kindness by brutally forcing this brand of mortification on her:

Thus have I politicly begun my reign. …
She ate no meat today, nor none shall eat.
Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not.
As with meat, some undeservèd fault
I'll find about the making of the bed,
And here I'll fling the pillow, there the bolster,
This way the coverlet, another way the sheets.


The ethic of asceticism, which includes chastity, vigilance, silence, and temperance (fasting and, in IV.iii, moderation in dress) in Petruccio's catalog, is engineered by him. Although there is undoubtedly much anti-Catholic satire in this portion of the play, there is also the inference that these are extremely useful civilizing techniques. Indeed, William Wilkinson asserts that a general change of behavior must accompany a fast: since “abstinence is a removing of ordinary pleasures and commodities … it is meet that there should be a certain conformity and suitableness of our whole behavior all the time of the fast.”59 Of the four ascetic principles invoked by Petruccio, chastity is merely implied by the narrative retelling of the throwing of the covers and perhaps by the “sermon of continency” (IV.i.164) rather than explicitly demonstrated in the action. Anthony Horneck, in a late-seventeenth-century treatise on asceticism, however, associates abstaining from food with abstaining from sex: “Fasting in these cases, weakning the Body, weakens such Lusts and Affections too, which have too great dependance upon the Body.”60 Vigilance (watching) will be enforced in that Petruccio ascertains that “Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not” (IV.i.179); Horneck observes that vigilance is another ascetic virtue: “Abstinence from sleep and keeping our selves awake is done for Devotion sake.”61 The principle of moderate speech is demonstrated by Petruccio's sharp-tempered and insulting abuse of others; ostentation in dress is denounced explicitly in the scene with the tailor and haberdasher (IV.iii); and the principle of fasting is exampled by Petruccio's disposition of foodstuffs, particularly meat. These last three—silence, moderation in dress, and fasting—are explicitly demonstrated in the play.

The principle of fasting, of renouncing certain foodstuffs, is examined in Harington's Prayse. He associates “Cates” (“delicates”) broadly with the “outside” world. When describing the table of the “busied” public man Harington writes of food, “provided and fetched from Sea and Lande, from Mountaines Playnes and Rivers. Which cates boyled, baked, rosted, fryed and changed in their nature, doe raise a marvelous savor.”62 In the private life one should only eat what is produced in the household.63 An Elizabethan audience would have keyed into the secondary meaning of “Kate” as an expensive luxury item (of food); Harington's use of the term “cate” thus associates Kate with a consumer of rich goods from outside the household. Thus the retributive justice in being denied any such foodstuffs (or foodstuffs period) would have acted as an appropriate irony.

Moreover, the employment of meat as foodstuff is most instructive to Petruccio's maneuvering of asceticism. Elias includes a section entitled “On the Eating of Meat” in The Civilizing Process. Elias notes that in medieval Europe, even though meat was widely available, monks abstained because of self-denial while the aristocracy consumed huge quantities of meat.64 Besides the religious/secular distinction, there were class proprieties to meat consumption which are also activated in Shrew. Since many of these medieval forms were preserved longer in England than on the Continent,65 the two “meat scenes” (IV.i and IV.iii) invoke a monasterial, ascetic principle of consumption. In IV.i, Petruccio demands supper, singing of “the friar of orders gray” (IV.i.126), turns down the meat saying ‘“was burnt and dried away … It engenders choler, planteth anger, / And better 'twere that both of us did fast” (IV.i.151-4), and then lectures Kate with “a sermon of continency” (IV.i.164). Furthermore, in IV.iii there is a systematic reduction of meat offered to Kate until Grumio feeds her only “with the very name of meat” (IV.iii.32). What I believe is happening in these two scenes is that the potential of secular, aristocratic plenty is presented, then rejected as an ethic in favor of one of renunciation. Meat, as a renounced foodstuff, is, of course, associated particularly with the fasting of Lent and with the ascetic virtues of monks and nuns, as Elias suggests. Thus, Kate is not only denied “cates,” but she is also made to renounce even the humble, peasant foodstuffs of tripe, and beef and mustard. Petruccio manipulates consumption; he tames her by forcing her to renounce the cates she is accustomed to in the process of mortifying her.

Even though Petruccio's method of killing Kate with kindness is maneuvered through enforcing the ethic of asceticism, the public realm is clearly never far from the household, and the interrelationship between the realms mediates precisely how Petruccio limits Kate's speech and moderates her dress. As I have been suggesting, the public informs the private to such a degree that public “outings” such as charivaris and skimmingtons are the touchstones of private behavior. The tailor is emblematic of such publicizing of the private. Proverbially, the tailor is effeminate and the husband of a shrewish wife. In Shrew, the tailor appears in Petruccio's house to serve as an unwitting foil in Petruccio's taming process. In fact, it may be argued that Petruccio takes the role of skimmington wife when he insults the tailor, verbal excess that culminates in notable invective:

O monstrous arrogance! Thou liest, thou thread, thou thimble,
Thou yard, three-quarters, half-yard, quarter, nail,
Thou flea, thou nit, thou winter-cricket, thou.
Braved in mine own house with a skein of thread!
Away, thou rag, thou quantity, thou remnant,
Or I shall so bemete thee with thy yard
As thou shalt think on prating whilst thou liv'st.


Petruccio berates the tailor with several references to belittlement, including a systematic mockery of his penis (hence his manhood). Shakespeare's use of a well-known symbol of cuckoldry not only suggests the drama of the charivari and skimmington, but also yokes the cultural connotations of the tailor to his own private taming of Kate.66 Petruccio's subsequent refusal to allow Kate the ostentatious clothing is meant to moderate her tastes in dress. As Wilkinson puts it, “A third kind of abstinence is in the apparel … Avoid all such costliness and curiosity whereby tricking and trimming up … the flesh may take occasion of being proud.”67 Petruccio's diatribe, of course, is also meant to demonstrate to Kate her verbal excess.68 Thus, by exemplum, Petruccio engineers the ethic of silence, taming Kate's “unruly member,” as Boose expresses it.69

After the tailor departs, Petruccio signals a movement back to the public with a “sermon”—one which foreshadows Kate's own in V.ii and which presupposes the observance of the principles of asceticism. He commands,

Well, come, my Kate. We will unto your father's
Even in these honest, mean habiliments.
Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor,
For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich,
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.


The valuelessness of luxurious outer wear is now foregrounded; austerity in dress and demeanor is emphasized. In addition to preaching spiritual or mental virtue over worldly, bodily excesses, the final phrase is an allusion to Kate's new habit—in the sense of both religious costume and disposition—as she enacts, as Petruccio manipulates them, the virtues of the private life. These ascetic virtues are, indeed, a means of taming the body as a whole; as Watts asserts, it is necessary to “tame your body and to beat it under; it takes the law of you presently; it pleads custom, the Charter of its Corporation, and Reason of State with you. As, Take heed of these same tamings and these same Mortifyings.”70 Imaged by Watts in legal, economic, and political tropes, such comprehensive mortification equates taming processes with civilizing processes. Kate is now ready to return to Padua in order to be fully republicized through her final speech.

At this point I can re-approach Revel's formula, that “The rules of civility were in one sense a technique for limiting or even negating private life.” Although Revel's perception that ideological processes permeate the private life is accurate, in Shrew, the civilizing process does not so much negate or limit the private as the operations and rationale associated with the private life are, rather, appropriated by the public sphere and the ideology constructing that sphere. In the play, the taming process, the shaming process, and the training process all buttress the civilizing process.


Once Kate returns to Padua in order to celebrate Bianca's marriage, the drama of public exposure, the subsequent “cloistering,” and the return to society is completed. As Camille Wells Slights notes, Kate's “domestication is complete only when it is made public.”71 This spatialization also places Kate's “transgression” in a social context. The use of shame is precisely to expose her; after the taming process is complete, the movement aids her recomposition as a genteel, civilized woman, one firmly slotted into the hierarchical order. The public and private, therefore, function dynamically under the aegis of the dominant ideology, and this ideology manipulates Kate by invoking the civilizing process, the rules of which determine how one must act. Perhaps the best context in which to interpret Kate's final speech, therefore, is within the context of the civilizing process.

For all intents and purposes, Kate's function as a character has not increased the dramatic tension or furthered the plot of the play, arguably, since IV.iii. Therefore, by V.ii Kate is less a dramatic character than she is a sort of metatheatrical construct, a public announcement, or even a brand of “advertisement” meant to speak for the civilizing process she has just undergone.72 Her final speech is exceedingly formal, as if rehearsed; it is extremely rhetorical and didactic; it verges on the ceremonial; it is full of politicisms; it is cohesive and systematic; and Kate's punning verbal excess is neutralized and transformed into a rather dry, expansive patriarchalized rhetoric. The speech seems to serve official ends; Margaret Lael Mikesell asserts that “Kate becomes a kind of mouthpiece for tract ideology.”73 Might Kate here be designated as “Kate” since her speech (his speech, since the player is a boy?) signals this sort of metatheatrical moment?74 During the final speech, “Kate” is less a character within the play than a spokesperson of a very patriarchal rhetoric. In whatever manner the utterance is cast—as penance, as sermon, as consolidation of hierarchy, as statement of submission—“Kate's” speech is a public spectacle that concludes a process of temporal transformation, and that emphasizes the consolidation of social roles and the stabilization of rules of behavior; in short, the speech buttresses the civilizing process by acting as an exemplum to Bianca, to the Widow, and to the (female) playgoers.75 As I have suggested, the “shaming” of Bianca by way of the cart/court pun was done “toward” her through the recognition and acknowledgement of the audience. By this logic, the theater becomes transformed into a site of social control that, in The Taming of the Shrew, utilizes “Kate” as its most compelling mediator.

Indeed, throughout the play, audience “participation” is encouraged by such devices as Petruccio's soliloquies and the “shaming” of Bianca. Habermas points out that “In seventeenth-century France le public meant the lecteurs, spectateurs, and auditeurs as the addressees and consumers, and the critics of art and literature.”76 The perception that the public constitutes the auditors and spectators of theatrical performances in fact means that the publicizing process is inherently linked with audience participation. The movement of the publicizing process in The Taming of the Shrew, thus, is not only meant to re-align Kate with the proper modes of behavior, but also meant to consolidate the civilizing process within the public sphere.


  1. William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), pp. 133-201, 182, IV.ii.82-8. All subsequent citations of Shakespeare's plays will be from this edition and will appear parenthetically within the text.

  2. See D. E. Underdown, “The Taming of the Scold: The Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England,” in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, ed. Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 116-36. For a social examination of cucking and carting through investigation of local court records, see Karen Newman's chapter, “Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew,” in Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 33-50. For a detailed look at the skimmington, see Lynda E. Boose's treatment of bridling in “Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly Member,” SQ [Shakespeare Quarterly] 42, 2 (Summer 1991): 179-213.

  3. The only study to investigate the public/private dichotomy at any length in Shrew is Laurie E. Maguire's ‘“Household Kates: Chez Petruchio, Percy, and Plantagenet” in Gloriana's Face: Women, Public and Private, in the English Renaissance, ed. S. P. Cerasano and Marion Wynne-Davies (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1992), pp. 129-65. Among the studies that touch on the public and private in Shrew, in addition to those mentioned above, are: Coppélia Kahn, “The Taming of the Shrew: Shakespeare's Mirror of Marriage,” MLS [Modern Language Studies] 5, 1 (1975): 88-102; Ann Jennalie Cook, “Wooing and Wedding: Shakespeare's Dramatic Distortion of the Customs of His Time,” Proceedings of the Comparative Literature Symposium 12 (1981): 83-100; and Linda Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1982), p. 34. Frances E. Dolan gives a brief overview of the literature specific to the public and the private in the play (The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin's, 1996, pp. 24-6).

  4. Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1989), p. 5.

  5. Habermas, p. 11. Philippe Ariès, likewise, maintains that “The king's court assumed responsibility for certain governmental functions that had previously been decentralized, such as maintaining law and order, courts of law, the army, and so on” (introduction, in A History of Private Life, Vol. 3: Passions of the Renaissance, ed. Roger Chartier, trans. Arthur Goldhammer Cambridge MA: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1989, pp. 1-11, 9).

  6. Quoted in S. D. Amussen, “Gender, Family and the Social Order, 1560-1725,” in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, pp. 196-217, 200.

  7. See Georges Duby, introduction, in A History of Private Life, Vol. 2: Revelations of the Medieval World, ed. Duby, trans. Goldhammer (Cambridge MA: Belknap Press, 1989), pp. 3-31, 6-7. Lena Cowen Orlin plays with the binary but ultimately designates the private space as the household (Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1994).

  8. Sir John Harington, The Letters and Epigrams of Sir John Harington together with The Prayse of Private Life, ed. Norman Egbert McClure (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1930). The treatise is, it should be noted, largely a translation of Petrarch's De Vita Solitaria (introduction, p. 45; Orlin, p. 4). But Harington's revivification of Petrarch and his re-emphasis of Petrarch's boundaries are what should be noted and evaluated.

  9. Harington, p. 343.

  10. Harington, pp. 331, 330. The Latin tags that conclude most of the chapters—“Fastidientis stomachi est, multa degustare” (p. 334), and “Parvo contentus non eget mendicitate” (p. 341)—also suggest an ethic of asceticism.

  11. Harington, p. 337.

  12. Harington, p. 347.

  13. George Mackenzie, A Moral Essay, Preferring Solitude to Publick Employment, in Public and Private Life in the Seventeenth Century: The Mackenzie-Evelyn Debate, ed. Brian Vickers (Delmar NY: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1986), pp. 1-120, 89-90.

  14. Jacques Revel, “The Uses of Civility,” in A History of Private Life, 3:167-205, 167. Revel cites Erasmus's De civilitate morum puerilium (1530) as the prime mover in the literature of civility. The social theories of Norbert Elias regarding the civilizing process are informative in this context and discussed below.

  15. Maguire, p. 135.

  16. Roger Chartier, “Figures of Modernity,” introduction, in A History of Private Life, 3:15-20, 16, 17.

  17. Indeed, a contemporary answer-play, John Fletcher's The Woman's Prize (composed ca. 1611) suggests that no private mutuality was achieved.

  18. Kahn, p. 98. Bamber also takes up the case: Kahn's “distinction between Kate's public and private selves seems to me a false one” (p. 34).

  19. Duby, 2:7.

  20. Ralph A. Houlbrooke, The English Family, 1450-1700 (London and New York: Longman, 1984), p. 63.

  21. See Alan Macfarlane, Marriage and Love in England: Modes of Reproduction, 1300-1840 (Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986), pp. 119-47.

  22. See Macfarlane, p. 125. His concluding remark on the English marriage system is assertive: “It is difficult to envisage a more subversively individualistic and contractual foundation for a marriage system” (p. 129).

  23. See Macfarlane, pp. 129-30, 132-3. David Cressy makes similar observations in Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), pp. 256-7.

  24. Cressy, p. 286.

  25. Ibid.

  26. Margaret Loftus Ranald, ‘“As Marriage Binds, and Blood Breaks: English Marriage and Shakespeare,” SQ 30, 1 (Winter 1979): 68-81, 73. Ranald does not investigate the ideological meaning of the public marriage rituals, but she does assume, as do I, that Renaissance dramatists “transferred English legal practice to foreign settings” in their plays (p. 69).

  27. Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), p. 31. See Cressy, pp. 305-11, for a more complete consideration of the banns.

  28. Banns are mentioned only four times in the Shakespeare corpus—twice in Shrew (see Marvin Spevack's Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1973), s.v. “banes”). The Taming of a Shrew, by contrast, lacks any mention of banns. A Shrew also has no account of the wedding scene or the phrase “kiss me, Kate”—both of which are significant in evaluating the meaning of public shame (see Ranald, p. 72). The Taming of a Shrew (1594) can be found in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, 8 vols. (New York: Columbia Univ. Press; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957), 1:68-108.

  29. See Morris Tilley, A Dictionary of the Proverbs of England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1950), p. 139, D22.

  30. Boose, pp. 182-3.

  31. Quoted in Orlin, p. 142. Act I, scene i of Shrew alludes to modes of public punishment in general. Besides carting, there is mention of whipping at the high cross and public hanging.

  32. Daniel Fabre, “Families: Privacy versus Custom,” in A History of Private Life, 3:531-69, 531.

  33. Underdown, p. 121.

  34. Helge Kökeritz, Shakespeare's Pronunciation (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1953), pp. 72, 169.

  35. See also III.i.47 when Hortensio (as Licio) recognizes that Lucentio (as Cambio) is courting Bianca: “Now, for my life, the knave doth court my love.”

  36. Other rhyming words in this scene may also sustain this echo: “art” (lines 8, 9); and “heart” (line 10).

  37. Kurt Riezler, Man Mutable and Immutable: The Fundamental Structure of Social Life (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1950), p. 227.

  38. Ibid.

  39. Of course, Kate's dilemma at this juncture marks the incredible social pressure acting on her and (gentle) women of the period: Petruccio desires Kate to feel pudeur, yet at the same time desires Kate to obey him utterly; once he has inculcated pudeur, he pushes her to repudiate it.

  40. I would argue that shame itself is both gendered and class specific in Shrew (Boose notes the gendering of punishment p. 184). The lord in the first induction, for instance, takes special care not to shame Sly when he is a lord: “Lest, over-eyeing of his Sly's odd behaviour … You break into some merry passion, / And so offend him” (lines 91-5). The lord maintains that Sly will be angered, but more specifically, Sly, were he a lord, would be shamed by their laughter.

  41. Norbert Elias, Power and Civility: The Civilizing Process, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Pantheon, 1982), p. 292.

  42. Elias, p. 293.

  43. Elias, p. 294.

  44. Habermas, p. 52.

  45. Simon Fish, A Supplication for the Beggars (London, 1529), sig. 8r.

  46. Thomas Turner, A Sermon Preached before the King (London, 1635), pp. 29, 30-1. Another assessment coeval with Shrew, Andrew Willet's Synopsis Papismi (London, 1592), likewise expresses bitterness against “the solitary life of Eremites in flying the comfortable society of men” since they are not “exhorting one another and provoking to good works” (p. 258). (I have modernized the spelling, and normalized italics and punctuation in all early English texts I cite.) The singular suspicion of women in private was even more conspicuous. Jo Ann Kay McNamara observes the parallels between women being driven out of convents, out of brothels, and, by association, out of covens (Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through Two Millennia Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1996, p. 435).

  47. The etymological link between “private” and “privation” is instructive. See OED s.v. “private”: from “L. privat-us withdrawn from public life, deprived of office.” OED s.v. “privation,” 1b: “The action of depriving of office or position.” Both words derive from a common source (L. privare), are politically informed, and, in other senses, denote a sense of “stripping away.”.

  48. Henry Chadwick, “The Ascetic Ideal in the History of the Church,” in Studies in Church History, Vol. 22: Monks, Hermits and the Ascetic Tradition, ed. W. J. Sheils (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), pp. 1-24, 1.

  49. Chadwick, p. 6.

  50. William Watts, Mortification Apostolical (London, 1637), p. 4.

  51. Henry Holland, The Christian Exercise of Fasting (London, 1596), sigs. A2v-A3r, A4r. It should be noted that treatises such as Holland's and Watts's were not necessarily the norm. Other opinions on the meaning of asceticism existed. See, for example, John Donne, Sermons, ed. George R. Potter and Evelyn M. Simpson, 10 vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1962), 7:106, 107, 145; or Willet, pp. 1054-5, for other views. Nevertheless, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth century, treatises on the benefits of renunciation and mortification were continually published. As Anthony Milton notes, “The monastic life had rarely been unreservedly denigrated in English Protestant thought—after all, it had patristic warrant” (Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600-1640 Cambridge and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995, p. 317).

  52. C. J. Kitching, “Prayers fit for the Time: Fasting and Prayer in Response to Natural Crises in the Reign of Elizabeth I,” in Studies in Church History, pp. 241-50, 245. The psychology behind such a move is that in order to avoid sociopolitical catastrophe, the state must diligently pray, fast, renounce, and do acts of charity as a counteractive measure (p. 244).

  53. William Hergest, The Right Rule of Christian Chastity (London, 1580), p. 1. William Wilkinson's The Holy Exercise of a True Fast, published the same year as Hergest's book, likewise associates the ascetic virtues of fasting, moderation in dress and speech, and vigilance (pp. 21-3).

  54. Peter Stallybrass, “Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed,” in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourse of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 123-42, 126.

  55. Stallybrass, p. 127.

  56. Indeed, a medieval formula outlines the options available to women of rank: “aut virum, aut murum”—that is, either a husband or a wall (cited in Maureen Connolly McFeely, “This Day My Sister Should the Cloister Enter: The Convent as Refuge in Measure for Measure,” in Subjects on the World's Stage: Essays on British Literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. David G. Allen and Robert A. White Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1995, pp. 200-16, 200).

  57. Stephen Booth, examining Sonnets 119, 129, and 144, notes the sexual innuendo associated with the words “devil” and “hell”—words which occur several times in reference to Kate in I.i (lines 66, 88, 105, 119, 121, 123) Shakespeare's Sonnets New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1977, pp. 499-500). See also Newman, p. 41. The epithet “Katherine the curst” (I.ii.123) and the exchange of sexual insults in II.i also indicate the perceived link between shrewishness and sexual lasciviousness.

  58. Stone notes that nunneries in pre-Reformation England, so valuing virginity, “contained considerable numbers of upper-class girls placed there by their fathers in order to get rid of them” (p. 43). This would have likely been the fate of a real-life Kate.

  59. Wilkinson, p. 21.

  60. Anthony Horneck, The Happy Ascetic, or the Best Exercise, 3d edn. (London, 1693), pp. 428-9.

  61. Horneck, p. 464.

  62. Harington, p. 330.

  63. Natasha Korda investigates Kate's position in the domestic economy as a manipulator of exchange values (purchased commodities) rather than of use values (those of home production) (“Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in The Taming of the Shrew,SQ 47, 2 Summer 1996: 109-31). Korda asserts that Petruccio seeks “to educate Kate in her new role as a consumer of household cates” (p. 112). Yet Kate never manipulates any cates; we never see her consume any (as Korda admits p. 128). Rather they are displayed, then rejected through Petruccio's agency.

  64. Elias, The Civilizing Process: The Development of Manners, trans. Edmund Jephcott (New York: Urizen, 1978), p. 118.

  65. Elias, p. 121.

  66. For a similar account of William Royser and the skimmington, see Newman, p. 35. Another Shakespearean reference to the cuckolded tailor occurs in Falstaff's lines in 2 Henry IV regarding Master Dumbleton, the tailor who refuses Falstaff's bond of security: “Well, he may sleep in security, for he hath the horn of abundance, and the lightness of his wife shines through it; and yet cannot he see, though he have his own lanthorn to light him” (I.ii.39-42). It is also instructive to find that Shakespeare's plays exhibit two additional instances in which the name “Kate” and “tailor” are associated. In 1 Henry IV, Kate, Lady Percy, asserts “I will not sing” to which Hotspur replies “'Tis the next way to turn tailor” (III.i.254, 255); and in The Tempest Stefano sings of a Kate who “had a tongue with tang.” “Yet a tailor might scratch her where'er she did itch” (II.ii.47, 50). The character of Kate is, of course, a theatrical construct; but the construction of Kate in Shrew, especially in the latter portions of the play, seems to be based less on verisimilitude than on constructing Kate as a “sign.”

  67. Wilkinson, pp. 22-3.

  68. Petruccio also employs that same verbal excess in chastising his servants. Among others, Valerie Wayne notes that Petruccio takes the role of a shrew in this scene (“Refashioning the Shrew,” ShakS [Shakespeare Studies] 17 1985: 159-88, 171). For a Romantic analogue of the shrewish diatribe, see Don Juan and the thirteen consecutive ottava rima stanzas that Lord Byron puts in the mouth of Donna Julia (canto 1, 145-57).

  69. The tongue as unruly member is ultimately derived from the Epistle of James 3:6-8. See for instance William Perkins, A Direction for the Government of the Tongue (Cambridge, 1593): “‘The moderation of the tongue is a matter of great difficulty,’ S. James saith, ‘The whole nature of beasts and of birds, and of creeping things, & c. but the tongue can no man tame: it is an unruly evil’” (p. 67). The biblical source points up the uncivilized nature of an unruly tongue by its comparison with the animal; the same comparisons of Kate to the animal are evident in Shrew.

  70. Watts, pp. 7-8. For another consideration of shame and the body see Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993). Paster deals rather with humoral theory and the body, especially bodily functions.

  71. Quoted in Dolan, p. 25.

  72. Several critics have recognized the performative aspects of Kate's final speech. Among them are Marianne L. Novy, “Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew,ELR 9, 2 (Spring 1979): 264-80, 277; Boose, p. 179; Dolan, p. 8; Kahn, p. 116; and Newman, p. 48.

  73. Margaret Lael Mikesell, ‘“Love Wrought These Miracles: Marriage and Genre in The Taming of the Shrew,RenD [Renaissance Drama] n.s. 20 (1989): 141-68, 157. Mikesell examines how Shakespeare manipulates Protestant marriage and conduct books. She concludes by insisting that the final speech advocates marriage over spinsterhood, thereby participating in the polemic of such marriage tracts (p. 158). Of course, tracts such as these affirm the civilizing process. Shirely Nelson Garner maintains that Kate “must speak patriarchal language. The Kate we saw at the beginning of the play has been silenced” (“The Taming of the Shrew: Inside or Outside the Joke?,” in “Bad” Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon, ed. Maurice Charney London: Associated Univ. Press, 1988, pp. 105-19, 116).

  74. See also the last part of n. 66.

  75. Wayne also sees the final speech as advice to women (p. 172).

  76. Habermas, p. 31.

Further Reading

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Brooks, Charles. “Shakespeare's Romantic Shrews.” Shakespeare Quarterly 11, no. 3 (summer 1960): 351-56.

Suggests that Kate is based on the same notions of feminine nature as Shakespeare's more immediately sympathetic comic heroines, and that she possesses a keen wit, a passionate nature, and a strength of will that audiences admire.

Christensen, Ann C. “Petruchio's House in Postwar Suburbia: Reinventing the Domestic Woman (Again).” Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 17, no. 1 (fall 1997): 28-42.

Considers mid-twentieth-century adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, including Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate and Franco Zeffirelli's 1966 film version of the play, as they depict new definitions of domesticity in the postwar era.

Culpeper, Jonathan. “A Cognitive Approach to Characterization: Katherina in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.Language and Literature 9, no. 4 (November 2000): 291-316.

Probes the nuances of Kate's character in The Taming of the Shrew through the application of contemporary social and cognitive psychology, arguing that she does not represent a reductively schematic shrew figure.

Dolan, Frances E. Introduction to “The Taming of the Shrew”: Texts and Contexts, edited by Frances E. Dolan, pp. 1-38. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Places The Taming of the Shrew within the context of social history, focusing on the play's depiction of male anxieties regarding feminine power.

Graeber, Laurel. Review of The Taming of the Shrew. New York Times (16 August 2002): E35.

Admires a mostly farcical abridgement of The Taming of the Shrew directed by Stephen Burdman and performed at the New York Classical Theater in 2002.

Hodgdon, Barbara. “Katherina Bound; or, Play(K)ating the Strictures of Everyday Life.” PMLA 107, no. 3 (May 1992): 538-53.

Analyzes the prevalent gender stereotypes that inform The Taming of the Shrew from the point of view of late-twentieth-century feminist criticism, with particular emphasis on modern productions of the drama.

Jayne, Sears. “The Dreaming of the Shrew.” Shakespeare Quarterly 17, no. 1 (winter 1996): 41-56.

Focuses on staging problems associated with the figure of Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew, and maintains that the play should be performed as if it were Sly's dream, with Sly playing the role of Petruchio.

Mikesell, Margaret Lael. “‘Love Wrought These Miracles’: Marriage and Genre in The Taming of the Shrew.Renaissance Drama, n.s. 20 (1989): 141-67.

Studies Shakespeare's revisions of his source material for The Taming of the Shrew, and contends that the play conforms to a late-sixteenth-century Protestant view of marriage.

Morris, Brian. Introduction to The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare: “The Taming of the Shrew,” edited by Brian Morris, pp. 1-150. London: Methuen, 1981.

Probes the principal themes of The Taming of the Shrew, including education, transformation, and the relationship between love and marriage.

Phillippy, Patricia Berrahou. ‘“Loytering in Love: Ovid's Heroides, Hospitality, and Humanist Education in The Taming of the Shrew.Criticism 40, no. 1 (winter 1998): 27-53.

Examines The Taming of the Shrew in relation to Ovid's Heroides as transmitted by George Turberville in his Heroycall Epistles (1567), contending that these works demonstrate a tradition of hospitality and humanist education that require women to submit to men's pleasure.

Sealy, Roger C. “The Psychology of the Shrew and Shrew Taming: An Object Relations Perspective.” American Journal of Psychoanalysis 54, no. 4 (December 1994): 323-38.

Offers psychoanalytic readings of Kate, Bianca, and Kate's taming by Petruchio in terms of behavioral patterns suggested by contemporary object relations theory.

Yachnin, Paul. “Personations: The Taming of the Shrew and the Limits of Theoretical Criticism.” Early Modern Literary Studies 2, no. 1 (1996): 21-31.

Categorizes and critiques various theoretical approaches to The Taming of the Shrew, including materialist-feminist theories, intentionalist, metatheatrical, and deconstructive approaches, and new historicist readings.

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