illustration of Kate and Petruchio standing and staring at one another

The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare

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Winfried Schleiner (essay date 1977)

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SOURCE: Schleiner, Winfried. “Deromanticizing the Shrew: Notes on Teaching Shakespeare in a ‘Women in Literature’ Course.” In Teaching Shakespeare, edited by Walter Edens, Christopher Durer, Walter Eggers, Duncan Harris, Keith Hull, pp. 79-92. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977.

[In the following essay, Schleiner examines the characterization of Katherina from a feminist perspective.]

The new discipline of women's studies brings home more clearly than many others that history is part of what we are. While Renaissance literature is apparently becoming more and more remote to undergraduates—a recent poetry anthology entitled Ancients and Moderns1 begins with John Donne—the relevance of Shakespeare in a “women in literature” course will go undisputed. More importantly, consideration of his plays from this perspective is, as one might expect, an undertaking that provides both intellectual and existential stimulation.

Attention to Shakespeare's female characters is of course not new. Looking through Robert C. Steemsma's (by now dated) bibliography of Shakespeare and women,2 one might feel the despair that Virginia Woolf experienced as she consulted the British Museum's catalogue entry on women and wondered: “How shall I ever find the grains of truth embedded in this mass of paper?”3 But most of these works have only incidentally considered the questions that will be asked by the generation of students emancipated by Germaine Greer's Female Eunuch.4 The older works, if they are anything more than journalism (like Heine's Shakespeares Mädchen und Frauen), usually limit themselves to drawing character portraits, sometimes impressively written from a performer's point of view (such as Shakespeare's Female Characters by Helen Faucit, Lady Martin). But often they are marred by excessive adulation of Shakespeare the man, defensiveness about women, and facile judgments about the Elizabethan age. Thus Anna B. Jameson writes in Shakespeare's Heroines: “If the freedom of some of the expressions used by Rosalind or Beatrice be objected to, let it be remembered that this was not the fault of Shakespeare or of women, but generally of the age.”5 Nevertheless as T. J. B. Spencer has shown, these works provide useful information for a history of the reception of Shakespeare's female characters.6 Germaine Greer observes that “it is still to be proved how much we owe of what is good in the ideal of exclusive love and cohabitation to Shakespeare” (p. 204).

Instead of pursuing so ambitious a topic I would like to present one way in which I have considered Shakespeare in a general course on the image of women in literature. Original stimulants for this section of the course were Greer's book, particularly the chapter “Romance,” and two brilliant but seemingly perverse arguments recently advanced: that Shakespeare's Kate is a “romantic” shrew,7 and that his romantic comedies expose romantic susceptibilities to ridicule.8

Although the value of theme and motif studies has been questioned9 and some scholars believe they are “most often apprentice work of young literary historians,”10 I organized my course according to motifs relating to the presentation of women characters. Practitioners of this method believe that a close comparison of versions of similar motifs against the background of a longitudinal cut through literary history can sharpen the observer's attention to detail in the individual work.11 And ideally the new light generated is not shed upon the individual work alone, showing it finally in radiant isolation, but also upon the nexus between the theme and the society for which the author wrote. Furthermore, it would be a mistake to think of all motifs as conceptually “neutral,” as empty receptacles to be endowed with meaning at the will...

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of the author. There are some that are “loaded,” and one of these is the motif I call “wives willfully tested.”

Kate the shrew was not a favorite of the earlier admirers of Shakespeare's women—Jameson, Martin, and Heine manage to avoid discussing her altogether. But if we open our diachronic lens wide enough we can hope for some insight even from one of Shakespeare's more controversial creations.

I began my survey of women willfully tested with Enide, the heroine of Chrestien's romance Erec and Enide, and ended it with Rennie, the unfortunate wife in John Barth's The End of the Road. In between there is the best-known English elaboration of the theme, Chaucer's “Clerk's Tale” (a version of Petrarch's Griselda story) and its derivative, the Elizabethan Patient Grissill by Dekker, Chettle, and Houghton, and then there is Margret the lodge-keeper's daughter of Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Of course the list does not aim at completeness: if space (or in a course, time) permitted it could easily be doubled. But the examples are sufficient to point up the curious fact that these works never deal with male-female relationships in social isolation, but in the context of hierarchies of social rank.

Enide, the heroine of Chrestien's romance, is the daughter of a poor vavassor. Of course it is not her upbringing in poverty that causes her tribulation. But it may not be an accident that the poet thought this background fitting for his paragon of wifely obedience and love. Even at the end of the romance, after she has shown her willingness to follow every caprice of Erec's will and has been reinstated as his dame, her submissive love retains an element of gratitude to him for having lifted her out of poverty.12 The disparity of wealth and rank between male tester and tested wife in Chaucer's “Clerk's Tale” is so obvious that I would hardly need to mention it except to note the interesting circumstance that Chaucer further heightened the disparity of wealth that he found in his source.13 Splendor is Walter's attribute as much as poverty is Griselda's.

While Chaucer does not entirely condone Lord Walter's cruel treatment of his low-born wife, the Elizabethan play on the same subject forces the most out-spoken critic of the husband's actions to admit finally: “None else but Kings can know the hearts of Kings, / Hence foorth my pride shall fly with humbler wings” (Patient Grissill, V.ii.217-218). This may also be the message of the Margret-Lacy subplot of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, where after being wooed by Lord Lacy, the lodge-keeper's daughter receives a stunning letter from him, denouncing his affection and announcing his engagement to a high lady of the court. As she is about to become a nun Margret learns that the letter was only a device to test her constancy. She passes the test and marries happily, and we must assume that in the eyes of Greene's audience, a lord who stooped to woo a lowly maid was justified in testing her.

I have argued elsewhere that such disparities of rank are not simply reflections of the societies for which the respective authors wrote, but that they enter very deeply into the construction of these works, affecting the sense of verisimilitude and probability, the choice of characters, and the shape of the plot. Renaissance versions of the theme of a low-born girl marrying beyond her rank can be viewed in another way as well, from another perspective, as instances of the kind of “romance” whose survival in our times has been so well documented from modern literature and sub-literature by Germaine Greer. By romance she means a sex-specific and stereotyped fantasy about the marriage partner, and shows that such projection, in spite of its vicarious nature, is potent enough to distort actual behavior: “The lover in romance is a man of masterful ways, clearly superior to his beloved in at least one respect, usually in several, being older or of higher social rank and attainment or more intelligent and au fait.” And again a few pages later, “The strength of the belief that a man should be stronger and older than his woman can hardly be exaggerated. I cannot claim to be fully emancipated from the dream that some enormous man, say six foot six, heavily shouldered and so forth to match, will crush me to his tweeds, look down into my eyes and leave the taste of heaven or the scorch of his passion on my waiting lips. For three weeks I was married to him” (pp. 170, 171).

There is no disparity of rank in The Taming of the Shrew; nor is there any difference of wealth between Kate and Petruchio. It may seem, then, as if the tests to which Kate is subjected are generated purely by an assumed male superiority. Many readers take the play this way. Some of them find Kate's final speech on matrimonial obedience unbearable and therefore, assuming that what should not be cannot be, go beneath the letter to interpret her disquisition ironically.14 Actresses sometimes underscore this interpretation with smiles or flippant gestures.

But Kate's shrewishness and its cure must be taken seriously. In Germaine Greer's view, “Kate is a woman striving for her own existence in a world where she is a stale, a decoy to be bid for against her sister's higher market value, so she opts out by becoming unmanageable, a scold” (p. 205). This reading projects too much modern sensibility and motivation into her. A more likely meaning of the word “stale” in the context where Kate uses it (I.i.58) would be laughing-stock. To see virtue in her shrewishness goes against the drift of the play. Not only is she described from the beginning as “stark mad” and “wonderful froward” (I.i.69), but the spectator witnesses her defying her father's request (I.i.102-4), torturing her sister, and maltreating her presumed music teacher. Therefore I think that in his attempt to see Kate as a “romantic shrew” Charles Brooks overemphasizes Shakespeare's “humanizing of the shrew” (giving her attractive traits that temper her shrewishness)15 when he points to Kate's sense of shame and her pity for the servants abused by Petruchio. The shame and pity are fruits of Petruchio's “cure,” and mark stages in her transformation from the shrew she was at the beginning. Her shrewishness is conceived of as a condition of dissonance or intemperance.

The medical concepts of humoral psychology are quite appropriate here. Summarizing a host of earlier views in his usual fashion, Robert Burton describes a distemper to which young women (notably virgins) are prone, listing among the symptoms “perverse conceits and opinions” and “preposterous judgement. They are apt to loathe, dislike, disdaine, to be weary of every object, etc., each thing is almost tedious to them.”16 Young women living at ease “in great houses” are especially likely to be afflicted by this malady, which is said to be caused by “vicious vapours” arising from excess menstrual blood in a physically and sexually inactive woman who is not bearing children. (Nuns and widows are also prone to this “feral” condition.) Again basing himself on his sources, Burton suggests that in serious cases “labour and exercise, strict diet, rigour and threats may opportunely be used, and are able of themselves to qualify and divert an ill-disposed temperament” (I, 417).

Petruchio's diagnosis of Kate as choleric or distempered is clear from his description of her at their first meeting, once we read his words in their ironically intended reverse sense:

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.


We must also take note of Petruchio's reference to Kate's “mad and headstrong humor,” especially since it occurs in a soliloquy, where he can be assumed to be speaking his mind:

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,
And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humor.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak; 'tis charity to shew.


His “killing kindness” consists in pretending to take her for more seriously affected by choler than she is (he hints at this pretense in the same monologue). Thus the details of his therapy are in a sense mere show: they are intended to wear her out physically and at the same time make her aware of her eccentricity.

In the scene preceding his central monologue, Petruchio had shown a sample of his technique in throwing the food at the servants before Kate could touch it and claiming,

I tell thee Kate, 'twas burnt and dried away,
And I expressly am forbid to touch it;
For it engenders choler, planteth anger,
And better 'twere that both of us did fast,
Since of ourselves, ourselves are choleric,
Than feed it with such overroasted flesh.


The servant Grumio's subsequent refusal to serve her certain food because “I fear it is too choleric a meat” (IV.iii.19, 22) is a variation of the same idea.

The anonymous The Taming of a Shrew likewise has Grumio's analogue Sander refer to Kate's choler in this scene (scene xi), the only reference to Kate's “humor” in that play.17 Thus this passage (or its antecedent in a possible common source) may have been a source of stimulation for Shakespeare. More importantly, the difference between the plays in this respect tends to support my idea about the significance of medical concepts in Shakespeare's conception of Kate.18 The leading idea of the plot seems to be to show how a woman is changed from a shrew into a “second Grissel” (II.i.295). The fact that Shakespeare presents us at the outset with a singularly obnoxious shrew suggests a clear line of progression. In the anonymous Shrew play, Sly walks away, after partly watching the play and partly sleeping through it, thinking that he now knows how to tame his wife if she should become shrewish. I cannot imagine that Shakespeare's audience was expected to react very differently, although some of my students have objected that Sly may not be the most reliable informant.

It would seem that Shakespeare deliberately ruled out a simple “romantic” interest as Petruchio's primary motive for attempting a cure. He states programmatically that his only requirement for a prospective wife is wealth, be she “curst and shrowd / As Socrates' Xantippe” (I.ii.70-71). (Romantic habits of thinking being what they are, many readers and spectators will object that Petruchio has not yet met Kate at this point, and that he falls in love with her as soon as he sees her.) Moreover, in contrast to the other works presenting female testing that we reviewed briefly, the two protagonists are not differentiated in any scale of rank or wealth: there is none of the disparity which in later versions of the testing theme (Gerhart Hauptmann's Griseldis of 1909 might also be considered), and in such modern popular spectacles as Love Story and Five Easy Pieces serves as the source of “romance” in the wider sense. But there is a sense of male-female hierarchy at the center of the play. Petruchio excels Kate not only in physical strength but also in intelligence, as is evidenced by his resourcefulness in manipulating people. Whether we experience this superiority as crushing depends partly, as I have tried to show, on how seriously we take Kate's shrewishness. Of course such male-female disparity is by itself potentially a source of romance (and probably in any modern work actually its source). But the female obedience advocated by Kate in her final plea is based not on a mythic belief in male dominance but on a social conception of male-female hierarchy. As M. C. Bradbrook has rightly seen, “her grand oration does not evoke the muddled theology which winds up The Taming of a Shrew, but recalls man's social claims as a bread winner, protector and temporal lord.”19 In a central passage Kate says a husband is

                                                                      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,
Whilst thou li'st warm at home, secure and safe.


Surely these elements of her speech are based on a social order so natural and commonplace to the playwright and his audience that the presence of romance is ruled out. Kate's cure has enabled her to represent the old hierarchical view of marriage as a beneficial relationship in which the husband rules, protects, and “husbands,” and the wife submits, supports, and produces.

Since the result of our consideration of the Shrew in relation to romance was essentially negative, I decided to illustrate the functioning of romance in one of the comedies usually called “romantic.” I started with M. A. Shaaber's stimulating suggestion that for several of Shakespeare's romantic comedies, among them As You Like It, the stress in the term should be on the noun rather than on the adjective: “And in fact—what should be no surprise at all—the comic view of life in these plays is largely a comic view of love” (p. 172). Comparing As You Like It with its source, Lodge's Rosalynde, Shaaber found a world of difference in the dialogue of the courting situations. The difference was not merely one of euphuistic prose style versus dramatic presentation: “The truth is that Shakespeare's characters are Laodiceans in the religion of love. Not heretics: there is nothing in their conduct or their ideals which is clearly repugnant to its tenets, but they are perfunctory and indifferent worshippers at its altars” (p. 169).

From a number of plays Shaaber compiles a chorus of witty disparagement of love and says:

In As You Like It this gibing at love reaches a peak, for Rosalind's undertaking to cure Orlando of his infatuation, to wash his liver as clean as a sound sheep's heart, that there shall not be one spot of love in it, affords an unparalleled opportunity to canvass the affectations of lovers. She describes the marks of a lover—his lean cheek, his sunken eye, his unsociableness, his neglect of his dress—and the changeableness of women, “longing, and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles.” She admonishes Orlando that “Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love,” that love lasts not “for ever and a day” but a day without the “ever,” that the wiser a woman is, the waywarder. … The indictment is quite comprehensive.

(p. 174)

I cannot agree with this reading of Rosalind's words, although I recognize that Shakespeare added a new dimension to the plot by introducing the Touchstone-Audrey and Jacques subplots. If there is a hint of an indictment of women and romantic love in the words of Lodge's Rosalynde, there is even less in Shakespeare's Rosalind's speech; while Lodge's Rosalynde as she makes some of these remarks is playing a boy, posing as a girl, in Shakespeare's play the seriousness is one more step removed: the girl pretending to be a boy, now on a stage playing a girl, is played by a boy actor. It is curious to find even Germaine Greer taking Rosalind's false claim that she can cure love by pretense seriously: “In As You Like It Rosalind finds the means to wean Orlando of his futile Italianate posturing, disfiguring trees with bad poetry” (p. 204). But Shakespeare signals clearly that Rosalind is serious neither in word nor in action when she announces in an aside: “I will speak to him [Orlando] like a saucy lackey, and under that habit play the knave with him” (III.ii.295-97). The later “indictment” of women and love is likewise spoken “like a saucy lackey.” Rosalind immensely enjoys the “playing” she refers to—it allows her an even greater level of control over Orlando than a simple courting situation would. If Germaine Greer is right that at the center of the female view of romance is the dream of being “the mistress of all she surveys, the cynosure of all eyes” (p. 182) as summarized in a courting situation, then Rosalind's play represents the ne plus ultra of romantic fantasy.

Shakespeare's reworking of the dénouement of one strand of the main love intrigue from his source seems to confirm this emphasis. I have argued elsewhere that Lodge's technique in his romance, despite his supposedly egalitarian setting, consists in playing with certain differences in rank among his characters.20 In terms of implied hierarchical values, the final revelation scene on the eve of the wedding day deserves attention, since it is the conclusion of the love story between Saladyne and Aliena (Shakespeare's Oliver and Celia). Rosalind has just revealed that she is the princess, and has fallen into the arms of Saladyne's brother, the noble Rosader. The shepherdess Phoebe has finally accepted the shepherd Montanus as her groom. (There is no need to regret her lack of passion for the shepherd; both she and the reader know him to be her peer in wealth and beauty, and we are to assume that they are well matched.) Along with these weddings a third is to occur: the noble Saladyne will wed the shepherdess Aliena, who has not yet made known her noble parentage. How is this love affair to be brought to an aesthetically pleasing conclusion?

Aliena seeing Saladyne stand in a dumpe, to wake him from his dreame, began thus. Why how now my Saladyne, all a mort, what melancholy man at the day of marriage? perchaunce thou art sorrowfull to thinke on thy brothers high fortunes, and thyne owne base desires to chuse so meane a shepheardize. Cheare vp thy hart man, for this day thou shalt bee married to the daughter of a King: for know Saladyne, I am not Aliena, but Alinda the daughter of thy mortal enemie Torismond.

(AYLI, New Variorum, p. 385)

The reader who would expect Saladyne to protest against the suggestion that “base desires” led to the choice of “so mean a shepherdess” is disappointed. Saladyne does not protest. Nor is there any reason to suppose that he is not sad about the prospect of marrying a shepherdess while his brother's fiancée has turned out to be a princess. Saladyne is “in a dump.” In terms of later love theory he seriously mars the entire love experience that has gone before. Of course the idea that love can transcend social rank has since become a staple of romance. A later writer might, for example, have viewed Aliena's presumed low status as proof of the sincerity and power of Saladyne's love. For Lodge, however (if we exclude the possibility that he blundered), the aesthetic satisfaction of matching two persons of comparable rank overruled other considerations.

We cannot determine why the passage did not appeal to Shakespeare, whether because of its unromantic quality or because it did not seem dramatic enough: for whatever reason, he left it out. Led by Hymen, Celia (Lodge's Aliena) and Rosalind simply enter the stage undisguised, whereupon Hymen then pairs off the lovers. Thus our impression of Oliver's love for the lowly shepherdess (“Neither call the giddiness of it in question, the poverty of her, the small acquaintance, my sudden wooing,” etc.—V.ii.5-7) remains intact. We never leave the realm of romance.

Observing the projection of male and female fantasy and its nexus with senses of social hierarchy in Shakespeare's plays can be a stimulating experience. Differences of rank at the core of most versions of female testing (potentially a source of “romance” in Greer's sense) are absent in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Male-female hierarchy as advocated by Kate at the end of the play can of course also be a romantic projection, but I resist this interpretation because Kate's eccentricity at the opening is extreme and her cure dominates the action, and further because her final submission appears to be couched in conceptions commonplace to the Elizabethans. While I thus find Kate not romantic, not even in Brooks's sense of good-natured shrewishness, I see Rosalind and Celia of As You Like It, who thrive on the courting situation which makes them “mistresses of all they survey,” as truly romantic heroines. The approach requires an attention to the self and to the text, and most interestingly highlights the problem of historical perspective.


  1. Ed. Stewart A. Baker (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).

  2. “Shakespeare and Women: A Bibliography,” Shakespeare Newsletter 12 (1962), 12. The most important recent book on the subject is by Juliet Dusinberre, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (London: Macmillan, 1975).

  3. A Room of One's Own (New York: Harcourt, 1957), p. 27.

  4. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970).

  5. (Philadelphia: H. Altemus, n.d.), p. 66. First ed. London, 1832.

  6. “Shakespeare and the Noble Woman,” Shakespeare-Jahrbuch (1966), 49-62.

  7. Charles Brooks, “Shakespeare's Romantic Shrews,” Shakespeare Quarterly 11 (1960), 351-56.

  8. M. A. Shaaber, “The Comic View of Life in Shakespeare's Comedies,” in The Drama of the Renaissance: Essays for Leicester Bradner, ed. E. M. Blistein (Providence: Brown Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 165-78.

  9. In his chapter “Stoff und Motivgeschichte,” which summarizes trends in this field of studies, Ulrich Weisstein cites the serious reservations of some of the ancestors of comparative literature, Baldensperger and Van Tieghem, and also of Wellek (Einführung in die Vergleichende Literaturwissenchaft [Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1968], p. 71).

  10. Reported by Manfred Beller, “Von der Stoffgeschichte zur Thematologie: ein Beitrag zur komparatistischen Methodenlehre,” Arcadia 5 (1970), 1.

  11. See Beller, p. 8. Also Adam J. Bisanz, “Zwischen Stoffgeschichte und Themathologie: Betrachtungen zu einem literaturtheoretischen Dilemma,” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 47 (1973), 148-66.

  12. For details see my “Rank and Marriage: A Study of the Motif of ‘Woman Willfully Tested,’” Comparative Literature Studies 9 (1972), 365-75.

  13. Schleiner, pp. 365-75.

  14. Margaret Webster sees in Kate's speech a “delicious irony,” and to prove her point supplies an interlinear gloss for it in Shakespeare Without Tears (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1942), p. 142. Although Juliet Dusinberre does not follow such a reading, she maintains in a somewhat similar vein that the very end of the play “casts a shadow of ambiguity across its conclusions” (p. 108).

  15. Brooks, p. 352.

  16. Anatomy of Melancholy, (London: Dent Everyman, 1932), I,415-16. For Burton any distemper comes to be subsumed under “melancholy” in a broad sense. John Draper, in The Humors and Shakespeare's Characters (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1945), p. 112, briefly refers to Petruchio's treatment of his choleric “patient.”

  17. Theories about The Taming of a Shrew as possible source of The Taming of the Shrew are briefly summarized by Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, I (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1964), 57-58.

  18. In her Voices of Melancholy (London: Routledge, 1971), p. 54. Bridget Gellert Lyons notes that according to the Induction the play proper is put on as Sly's “cure” of melancholy. There is no analogue of this idea in A Shrew either.

  19. “Dramatic Rôle as Social Image: A Study of The Taming of the Shrew,Shakespeare-Jahrbuch 94 (1958), 145.

  20. “‘That virtue is not measured by birth but by action’: Reality versus Intention in Lodge's Rosalynde,” Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik 23 (1975), 12-15.


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The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew was likely written in the early 1590s, although estimates have ranged from the late 1580s to 1600. No specific source has been identified for the play. Scholars once believed the anonymous The Taming of a Shrew (1594) to be the source, but most critics now regard the anonymous piece as a “bad” quarto, likely an erroneous and possibly pirated version of the play known today. The premise of The Taming of the Shrew was apparently appropriate material for comedy during Shakespeare's time, but most modern audiences find the notion of Petruchio “taming” his spirited wife Katherina (Kate) neither amusing nor acceptable. Katherina, forced by her father to marry Petruchio, is subjected to a variety of disciplinary tactics considered demeaning and cruel by most playgoers today. Commentators are particularly interested in Katherina's submission at play's end, which so offends modern beliefs on gender equality that sexual politics often become the focus of critical concern.

One of Petruchio's taming techniques involves control of Katherina's access to food. Brian Morris (1981) notes that: “Katherina is denied her bridal dinner (III.ii), starved at Petruchio's house (IV.i), mocked with the promise of food by Grumio (IV.iii), and not finally satisfied until Lucentio's banquet in V.ii.” Joseph Candido (1990) also highlights the emphasis on eating and drinking throughout the play, describing the deprivation of food as an essential part of the taming process and Petruchio's refusal to partake in his and Katherina's wedding feast as a marker of his own social iconoclasm. Another means of subduing Katherina employed by her husband involves the dispute over her wardrobe. Margaret Rose Jaster (2001) discusses Petruchio's control over Katherina's apparel, commenting that although critics and audiences often consider the dialogue in these scenes to be harmless banter, the exchanges are not as benign as they may seem, since clothing is so closely associated with identity—both personal and social. “Although Petruchio employs less physical abuse than traditional tamers, we cannot blithely disregard any attempts by one party to control another's identity through this most intimate device,” maintains Jaster.

Frances E. Dolan (see Further Reading) surveys the critical controversy surrounding the relationship between Katherina and Petruchio, contending that even “in its own time the play was one text among many in heated debates about women's status, marriage, and domesticity.” Modern critics and audiences alike are inclined to consider Petruchio's behavior harsh, domineering, and offensive rather than amusing and romantic. Some scholars, however, have attempted to recast Petruchio's behavior into more acceptable categories for contemporary audiences. Morris, for example, considers Petruchio's role as that of a teacher, rather than a tamer; he acknowledges that education “is a means of reducing the individual to social conformity through the imparting of approved knowledge and acceptable skills,” but contends that it is also “designed to liberate and bring to full fruition the innate capabilities of the pupil.” Similarly, many scholars have reinterpreted Katherina's submission as ironic and refuse to accept her final speech as a sincere expression of her willing subordination. Some critics, according to Dolan, “argue that Katharina goes so far in her insistence on women's subjugation that she offers a critique of Petruchio's goals and desires.” Others take a lighter view, arguing that her servility is a joke shared by Katherina and her husband at the expense of the other couples; such an interpretation suggests not only a happy ending for the romantic comedy, but casts the couple in the roles of romantic hero and heroine. Winfried Schleiner (1977), however, resists interpretations that posit Katherina as a romantic heroine in the same vein as Rosalind of As You Like It. According to Schleiner, the language of Katherina's submission at the end of the play is “based on a social order so natural and commonplace to the playwright and his audience that the presence of romance is ruled out.”

Modern stagings of The Taming of the Shrew reflect the problematic nature of the play's central premise, often taking unusual casting and staging approaches in an effort to recapture the play's comic elements. Ann Blake (2002) claims that although the work was frequently produced in the twentieth century, “it was rarely staged straight.” Recent unconventional productions include the Yale Repertory Theatre's use of an all-male cast in 2003. Wayne and Dorothy Cook (2003) comment on director Mark Lamos's attempt to “recapture the original vigor of the play,” an attempt that was unfortunately, according to the critics, “thwarted by a cast of mediocre players.” Similarly, in the 2003 Shakespeare's Globe Theatre production, director Barry Kyle attempted to move the audience beyond the usual preoccupation with sexual politics by featuring an all-female cast. Kyle left the company during rehearsals, however, and was replaced by Phyllida Lloyd, who put together a production “that relishes the broad comedy of the play,” according to reviewer Sarah Hemming (2003). “Rather than struggle with this troublesome piece,” claims Hemming, “the girls' strategy is to have fun with it.” In another gender-bending production, the Rude Guerrilla Theater Company cast women in the men's roles (and vice versa) in an attempt to restore the comic tone of the work. Kristina Mannion (see Further Reading) reports that the result of this interpretation was “delightfully comical” as “women step in to portray the major male characters with all the swaggering gusto this often testosterone-fueled script calls for.” Laurel Graeber (2002) reviews a more conventionally cast production directed Stephen Burdman for the New York Classical Theater. Graeber notes that Garth T. Mark's tenderhearted Petruchio “makes you forget about sexism and just revel in the fun.” However, such attempts to appease the egalitarian sensibilities of modern audiences are not always successful. Toby Young (2004) criticizes Gregory Doran's politically correct 2004 production as a “touchy-feely, sentimental interpretation.” According to Young, “Doran has got round the usual objection to the play, namely that it is unabashedly misogynistic, by presenting it as a touching love story in which two social misfits, each nursing a cluster of psychological wounds, find salvation in each other's arms.”

Joseph Candido (essay date June 1990)

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SOURCE: Candido, Joseph. “The Starving of the Shrew.” Colby Quarterly 26, no. 2 (June 1990): 96-111.

[In the following essay, Candido examines motifs of eating and drinking in The Taming of the Shrew.]

… it is clear that newly caught shrews always eat about their own weight of food daily. … What is astonishing is that the shrew should require so much food of such high energy content. … their physiology is adjusted for a rapid turnover of energy, and when supplied with excess food, they are unable to ‘change gear’, but continue to burn up energy as they did when it was necessary to search for food. Whenever awake they will be either feeding, burrowing, or rushing about poking their noses into everything.1

There is a lot of eating and drinking in The Taming of the Shrew. One may be justly accused of rhetorical impertinence for saying that the play is marbled with such concerns; yet the fact remains that everywhere we look someone is either talking about food or getting ready to eat or drink. Rabbits stuffed with parsley (IV.iv.100), doughy cake (I.i.108; V.i.132), sweet hazelnuts (II.i.252), porridge bowls (IV.iii.64)—these and other such commonplace allusions dot the rhetorical landscape of Shakespeare's Padua and, as so much else in the play proper, direct us back to the English countryside of the Induction and the person of Christopher Sly.2


“I smell sweet savors, and I feel soft things” (Ind.ii.71), exclaims Sly, relishing at once his new identity as lord and the ensuing company of his beautiful and neglected lady. The remark is more pertinent than it may at first appear, underscoring as it does Sly's blunt and shameless hedonism. Here is a country mechanical rudely possessed of what may be called a thoroughly material imagination, capable of seeing things, when he sees them at all, only through a glass of small ale darkly. Sly's strategy for letting “the world slide” involves no fanciful or imaginative play of mind; instead he simply slips groundward and into sleep simultaneously, adorned with few words (“paucas pallabris”) and even fewer thoughts (Ind.i.5). Seldom in Shakespeare do we find ourselves in a physical or intellectual environment so obstinately steeped in sense as that of the Induction, yet this atmosphere is by no means attributable solely to the presence of Sly. Into this world of broken glasses and dozing rustics step the Lord and his retinue, bringing with them a far more cultivated habit of mind than Sly's, yet one oddly analogous to it, grounded just as surely as Sly's, if more luxuriously, in material reality. It is worth noting how the Lord's briskly concocted program for altering Sly's intellectual perception assaults the drunkard—with a sort of methodical deliberateness—through each of his five senses:

What think you, if he were convey'd to bed,
Wrapp'd in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes,
Would not the beggar then forget himself?
.....Carry him gently to my fairest chamber
And hang it round with all my wanton pictures.
Balm his foul head in warm distilled waters
And burn sweet wood to make the lodging sweet.
Procure me music ready when he wakes,
To make a dulcet and a heavenly sound.
And if he chance to speak, be ready straight
And with a low submissive reverence
Say “What is it your honor 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?”


With the exception perhaps of Cleopatra's Egypt, no Shakespearean setting is so perfectly rooted in day-to-day material sense as that of the Lord's great house. Here the buttery stands endlessly open, pouring forth its store of sack and delicate conserves both for playfulness' sake and the sake of the visiting players (Ind.i.101-03). And amidst it all is Christopher Sly, at once the butt and focal point of a materialist fantasy that, in more respects than one, shows the way to Shakespeare's Padua.

On the face of it Sly's experience in the Induction contains some of the key features of Shakespearean romantic comedy. As the drunken tinker moves from the country alehouse to the Lord's estate, he crosses from one distinct physical and psychological environment into another. A beggar in one locale, a Lord in the next, Sly, like so many of Shakespeare's comic heroes and heroines, appears to lose himself in the mysterious wonder of a heightened world and a new identity. There is at times something almost formulaically de rigueur in the rhetoric of Sly's comic amazement:

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,
I smell sweet savors, and I feel soft things.
Upon my life, I am a lord indeed,
And not a tinker nor Christopher Sly.


But is there any more to this than just romantic rhetoric? What gives the comic transformations that occur in Arden, Illyria, or Prospero's island such emotional validity is that they are in fact transformations; they do not merely alter one's sensory perceptions for a time (as is the case, for example, with Bottom's “Dream”), but actually help effect a permanent and salutary reformation of the self. The young lovers of A Midsummer Night's Dream or Ferdinand and Miranda are not only made to feel different at play's end, they are different. Their exclamations of amazement wield emotional force because they reflect the new—if tentative—stirrings of genuinely altered and reformed personalities. The same cannot be said of Sly. The tinker's neo-Ovidian “dream” of transformation is merely the trumped-up linchpin of a colossal practical joke that produces good fun but poor comedy. This is perhaps too obvious a point to make, yet it is one frequently overlooked by those who see the Sly scenes and the play proper as linked by the theme of “illusion” and the related idea of the acquisition of a new identity. Sly's “illusion” leads to no self-knowledge and he acquires no new identity, unless putting on another man's clothes and falling into self-delusion implies such authentic psychological changes. The drunkard's repeated calls for a pot of small ale and his unseemly yet happily deferred request to his “wife” to “undress you now and come to bed” (ii.114) indicate how far from real comic transformation poor Sly really is. And this, of course, is just the point. All Sly experiences as a result of the Lord's joke is an abrupt dislocation of sensibility that ends in mere sense, carries no hope of sexual consummation, and dissolves with the beginning of a play. He slips, to use his own word, into a world of fruitless self-deception. And there we leave him, full of drink, nestling closer to his “wife,” captured in a wondrous material dead end, as The Taming of the Shrew begins.3


The Padua that opens to Sly and to us is above all else a place of material pleasure, a “pleasant garden” to use Lucentio's term for it, where eating, drinking, and ostentatious hospitality are serious and daily preoccupations. Part of the ease with which Lucentio and Tranio blend into their new environment is no doubt attributable to the fact that they enter the city with a distinctly “Paduan” habit of thought. There is something overtly material about Lucentio's notion of learning that seems psychologically appropriate to a world with its mind set on pleasure:

And therefore, Tranio, for the time I study,
Virtue and that part of philosophy
Will I apply that treats of happiness
By virtue specially to be achiev'd.
Tell me thy mind, for I have Pisa left
And am to Padua come, as he that leaves
A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep
And with satiety seeks to quench his thirst.


The young scholar who sees philosophical speculation as a sort of voluptuary liquid immersion is perhaps not as psychologically removed from the drunken tinker as his father, grave Vincentio “come of the Bentivolii,” would wish him (I.i.13).4 But the youth fits Padua like a glove. Armed with the consenting wisdom of Tranio (“No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en”), Lucentio stands ready to “suck the sweets of sweet philosophy” on his own terms, rhetorical and psychological (I.i.39, 28). Few prospective university students seem so well-equipped emotionally as Lucentio to abandon a course of study at the earliest opportunity—a fact that invests his later disguise as a school master with a wry appropriateness. He is in every sense a whimsical youth impersonating a serious lover of learning.

The cultural environment that so quickly deflects Lucentio from scholarship to wooing is, among other things, a world where the mind repeatedly fashions images of culinary sense. We may smile condescendingly at Sly's echoing requests for small ale; but listen to some of the casual talk in Italy's great nursery of arts: “we … fast it fairly out. Our cake's dough on both sides” (I.i.107-08); “There's small choice in rotten apples” (I.i.134); “I would I were as sure of a good dinner” (I.ii.215); “my super-dainty Kate, / For dainties are all Kates” (II.i.188-89); “What, have I chok'd you with an argosy?” (II.i.373); “A custard-coffin, a bauble, a silken pie” (IV.iii.82). These commonplace and often proverbial expressions may seem insignificant enough in isolation, yet taken collectively (the play is peppered with them) they help create a picture of a whole society emotionally absorbed, at more than just a metaphorical level, with the integral and powerfully denotative significance of food and drink. But what does food—and hospitality, its inseparable social counterpart—actually denote in Padua?

Some indication of the social and psychological attitudes inherent in hospitable behavior appears in the actions of Tranio and his Paduan acquaintances just after the young servant (disguised now as Lucentio) announces his intention to vie for Bianca's hand. The pursuit of Bianca brings with it certain financial obligations, not the least of which is remuneration to Petruchio for clearing a way to the younger sister for her anxious admirers by first marrying the elder. Tranio understands his role in compliance with the male code here, particularly after Hortensio clarifies for him precisely what it means to enter the wooing club: “You must, as we do, gratify this gentleman, / To whom we all rest generally beholding” (II.i.270-71). Thus fully alerted to his financial and social obligations, Tranio demonstrates how easily a Pisan visitor can move with the rhythms of Paduan life:

Sir, I shall not be slack, in sign whereof,
Please ye we may contrive this afternoon
And quaff carouses to our mistress' health,
And do as adversaries do in law,
Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.


And off they go, rivals and accomplices, for a celebratory feast in anticipation of marital success. The scene is a minor one, easily ignored or forgotten; yet so often in Shakespeare it is just this sort of casual action that enables us to view the whole in a delicately altered light. Here the act of eating and drinking together becomes more than just an occasion for simple comradery; it also forms the psychological core of a compulsory and ostentatious act of self-fashioning by which one establishes a respected place in male society. In this context friendships can sidestep romantic squabbles by a sheer act of robust magnanimity even when the game is being played for stakes as high as Bianca. Little wonder, then, that few activities in Padua, social or otherwise, are effected with more self-conscious care or more rigidly codified than the proper entertainment of one's male friends. Nothing else is likely to make a host more proud—or more nervous—than the quality and extent of his social ostentation in welcoming another. It is with glee that Hortensio (himself an unaccountable guest in Petruchio's house later in the play)5 explains to his old friend before the ensuing meal, “Petruchio, I shall be your ben venuto” (II.i.279). In Padua warm and showy welcome is a social ceremony that one is careful to observe, and one for which a generous host requires vocal and public credit.

The common chatter of Padua is full of such concerns, and were it not for its unusual frequency, this is just the sort of thing that might slip obscurely into the play's dim rhetorical background. But Shakespeare will not let it drop. At one moment there is Petruchio inviting himself to Baptista's house, then receiving the old man's warm invitation to dinner (II.i.51, 61, 112). At another there is the newly arrived Vincentio, expecting a hearty welcome at his son's lodging, and immediately entreating Petruchio, “You shall not choose but drink before you go. / I think I shall command your welcome here, / And, by all likelihood, some cheer is toward” (IV.v.11-13). Most revealingly of all there is Tranio (still disguised as Lucentio) inviting Baptista to his lodging on short notice for the formal approval of the marriage agreement. The young imposter's remarks to Baptista are both disarmingly natural and absolutely transparent; there is little else like them in the play for the unobstructed glimpse they provide into the ethical heart of Padua. Tranio is caught off guard by a sudden change of plans; for once his statements are spontaneous, completely without forethought or guile, and all the more instructive on that account:

The worst is this, that at so slender warning
You are like to have a thin and slender pittance.
.....Welcome! One mess is like to be your cheer.
Come, sir, we will better it in Pisa.

(IV.iv.60-61; 70-71)

In Padua, where personal worth is linked to opulent board, it is a ticklish and embarrassing business to be caught unawares with only meager fare to offer an important guest. Old Gremio, surely the most seasoned materialist in the play, takes us metaphorically to the heart of the matter when he expresses disbelief to Tranio that his (i.e., Lucentio's) father would have already promised his son enough wealth to outbid the older man for Bianca:

Sirrah young gamester, your father were a fool
To give thee all, and in his waning age
Set foot under thy table.

(II.i.397-99, emphasis added)

To be sure, Gremio is no ordinary Paduan; even in this avidly materialistic landscape he stands out as a moral grotesque. Yet his barb (and the thinly disguised fear beneath it) is rooted firmly enough in the metaphorical and literal reality of his world. Straining his ancient wits to imagine the ultimate disintegration of a male personality, he envisions the moment that the old father (victimized by his own sort of Learian folly) must seek food at his son's table. In this psychological context, where a man's social and personal worth is measured quite literally by his relationship to the table, ostentatious hospitality (particularly eating and drinking) touches the moral nerve center of a whole world. Such is the emotional and physical space Petruchio invades unannounced, seeking welcome at the home of an old friend, to begin his “wooing dance” (II.ii.67).


At first glance Petruchio appears conformable enough to Padua and its values. He has, by his own admission, “friends” in the city, the “best beloved and approved” of which is Hortensio (I.ii.2-3), a point Shakespeare makes with deft clarity by casting the good friends' initial greeting into a ceremonious Italian that isolates the moment linguistically from the regular idiom of the play. Not unexpectedly, the emphasis here is on a mannered and ostentatious welcome, yet one that by no means excludes sincerity:

Con tutto il cuore, ben trovato, may I say.
Alla nostra casa ben venuto,
Molto honorato signior mio Petruchio.

(I.ii. 24-26)

Clearly, Petruchio belongs in Padua; in a literal as well as metaphorical sense he speaks the language. And as chance would have it, he even knows Baptista, since Katherina's father and his were old acquaintances (I.ii.100-01). Like Lucentio before him, this new visitor to the city seems psychologically at home in Padua; indeed, nothing could be more characteristic of the place than Petruchio's unreservedly materialistic reasons for marriage: “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; / If wealthily, then happily in Padua” (I.ii.74-75). The idiom is worthy of Gremio at his worst, and hardly bettered by Petruchio in his remarks to Katherina during the wooing episode. What could be more appropriate in a world with its mind fixed on dinner than to imagine, as Petruchio does, the object of his romantic interest as a tasty morsel? The easy pun on Kate's name as a sweet confection or culinary delicacy reverberates through Petruchio's wooing dance with metronomic regularity and, in fact, forms the rhetorical basis (much to Katherina's vexation) of the newcomer's brusque and immediate familiarity with her.

But as many actors and directors have seemed to recognize, something begins to happen to Petruchio and Katherina in the course of their noisy wooing.6 The marital bounty hunter who seems so ethically attuned to Padua upon first entering the city is not the same man who returns there on his wedding day after a brief shopping spree in Venice. Unforgivably late and ignominiously dressed, this changed Petruchio flouts every mannerly convention, capping his outrageous display of social indecorousness by whisking away his wife from the couple's marriage feast before either has had anything to eat. Petruchio's fantastically orchestrated return is, as many have noted, the first step in a deliberate and self-consciously didactic program in public theatrics that begins at the marriage ceremony. Gremio describes the scene:

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,
Having no other reason
But that his beard grew thin and hungerly
And seem'd to ask him sops as he was drinking.


Petruchio's shocking treatment of the sacramental bread and wine surely represents the nadir of his social iconoclasm; but putting aside for a moment the admittedly large matter of blasphemous behavior, one notices how curiously Petruchio's actions reflect the normal activities both of Sly's alehouse and respectable Paduan society. Embedded, so to speak, in Petruchio's anti-marriage (I shall return to this point later) are the drunken irresponsibility and loud male fellowship that mirror the material ugliness of two strangely joined worlds. The drunken bridegroom embodies the characteristics of a Paduan gentleman and Sly simultaneously (he both carouses heartily to his friends and acts with antisocial relish towards others),7 limning out for all to see the busy moral vacuity of the life that late he led—and the life from which he and Katherina will soon quite literally flee.

This process of detachment begins with the couple's arrival at the marriage feast. Petruchio's first act after greeting the company is to announce that he and his bride will not partake of food:

I know you think to dine with me today,
And have prepar'd great store of wedding cheer,
But so it is, my haste doth call me hence,
And therefore here I mean to take my leave.
.....Dine with my father, drink a health to me,
For I must hence; and farewell to you all.


Katherina's entreaty to her husband that they not leave without eating—in short, her attraction to the feast—is in part an attraction to the comforts of her Paduan world and the ostentatious hospitality it represents. The first marital spat between Katherina and Petruchio is, significantly, about their relationship to food; and behind this dissension lies a whole complex of social (and sexual) meanings implied by the couple's participation at the wedding feast. The marriage banquet symbolically ratifies the social union just as the sexual act literally consummates the sacramental one, no doubt the reason that a key symbolic moment at gatherings of this kind occurred when the bride and groom ate together.8 Katherina's determination at first to participate in the feasting with her husband can thus be seen as more than the mere avoidance of a social embarrassment; she rightly perceives the couple's joint participation at the feast as a richly symbolic expression of their new social and sexual identities. When, however, she realizes that Petruchio will not stay even at her behest, she resolves—with a penchant for stagy impulsiveness reminiscent of Petruchio himself—to effect a sort of culinary divorce that underscores the emotional brittleness of the bond just forged in church: “The door is open, sir, there lies your way; / You may be jogging whiles your boots are green” (III.ii.209-10). But Petruchio has an altogether different culinary program in mind; appearing to consent to his wife's wishes, he orders the company in to dinner, then with feigned gallantry forces Katherina from the feast and straight into the gastronomical rigors of his taming school:

They shall go forward, Kate, at thy command.
Obey the bride, you that attend on her.
Go to the feast, revel and domineer,
Carouse full measure to her maidenhead,
Be mad and merry, or go hang yourselves.
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 my own.


Despite the broad slapstick here, the episode marks the beginning of a serious comic movement that continues until the end of the play. Not enough critical attention has been paid to the joint goings and comings of Petruchio and Katherina; for no less than the romantic couples of A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, or even The Merchant of Venice, the “madly mated” pair (III.ii.242) move from one distinct physical and psychological locale to another when they leave urban Padua for Petruchio's house in the country. And like so many of Shakespeare's other romantic lovers, they return to their point of origin altered forever, the source of admiration and amazement for those who remain behind. In the case of Petruchio and Katherina the journey outward and back has a neat circularity, the course of which is shaped by their presence at the two separate yet oddly joined wedding feasts that mark the tangible and metaphorical loci of their going and coming. Often overlooked in the bustling verbal competition between the pair is the fact that theirs is very much a joint progress. I cannot think of two lovers in Shakespeare so seldom apart or more frankly “present” to each other as Petruchio and Katherina. This latter point is an important one, for what happens at Petruchio's taming school is by no means (as some critics want to see it) a trendy social compromise that results in a separate peace.9 Petruchio's program for marital compatibility is a joint one, centered quite literally at times around the dinner table (that linchpin of Paduan society), by which both he and Katherina find terms to define their marriage as a relationship uniquely apart from those in the world they leave behind. To be sure, Petruchio's country house is no idyllic Shakespearean green world; it is nonetheless a heightened world of altered perceptions where one discovers, through an abrupt psychological suspension of normal expectations, new possibilities for locating the other and the real self. The process begins when the couple arrives for supper.


A common response to Petruchio's harsh treatment of Katherina at their first meal together is to see his behavior as little more than an elemental assertion of male dominance, aptly located in a sort of Darwinian great house where the stronger animal always prevails.10 Brian Morris, who by no means takes so extreme a view of the matter as this, nonetheless clearly outlines the metaphorical structure on which such interpretations are based. He points out that the play evolves from two primal images, of the shrew and the hawk, and that these are “the basic raw material from which story, character and poetic structure are formed.”11 There is a good deal of evidence in the play for seeing things in such elemental terms, particularly in light of Petruchio's explicitly stated method for “manning” his wife:

My falcon now is sharp and passing empty,
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorg'd,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper's call:
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat and will not be obedient.
She eat no meat today, nor none shall eat.


This is no easy statement in which to locate the seeds of romantic comedy; yet a good deal of the Petruchio-bashing that characterizes so much of the criticism of the play fails to take into account one important aspect of the tamer's abusive program for ensuring marital harmony—the fact that he subjects himself to exactly the same physical deprivations he inflicts upon his wife.12 Jan Harold Brunvald, who effectively traces the origin of Shakespeare's taming plot to oral tradition, notes that in narrative folk tales on the taming of shrewish wives the husband customarily asserts his dominance by starving his wife while dining heartily himself. Brunvald reproduces a typical version of the basic source for the Petruchio-Katherina episodes, a subtype of a widely known Northern European folk tale, Tale Type 901:

When they [the husband and wife] arrived [home] they sat down to a beautifully set table and servants brought in a meal that smelled wonderful. The man took a hearty serving, for he was hungry and thirsty. His wife, however, received not a bite and not a sip of wine although she too was hungry and thirsty after that long trip. When the man finished eating he struck all of the utensils from the table to the floor with his hand.

(Germany, No. 12)13

Here is a husband at a very large psychological remove from Petruchio; for in precisely the same situation Shakespeare's wife-tamer not only acknowledges his emotional likeness to his wife, he also takes her cure. Implicit in Petruchio's diagnosis of Katherina's problem is the notion of a shared malady that requires shared treatment. His explanation for rejecting the hastily prepared supper could hardly state the point more clearly:

I tell thee, Kate, [the meat was] burnt and dried away,
And I expressly am forbid to touch it;
For it engenders choler, planteth anger,
And better 'twere that both of us did fast,
Since, of ourselves, ourselves are choleric,
Than feed it with such overroasted flesh.
Be patient. Tomorrow 't shall be mended,
And, for this night, we'll fast for company.
Come, I will bring thee to thy bridal chamber.

(IV.i.158-66, my italics)

In a manner analogous to his behavior at the marriage ceremony, Petruchio here links the search for psychological common ground to the flouting, and ultimate rejection, of the conventional hospitality associated with Padua. The progress that ends with the newly married couple going fasting to the bridal chamber, where the husband will favor his wife with “a sermon of continency” (IV.i.171), originates literally in a cold house whose inhabitants violate every cardinal rule of Paduan welcome. Petruchio's reception at his own residence would hardly be believed in Padua:

Where be these knaves? What, no man at door
To hold my stirrup nor to take my horse?
Where is Nathaniel, Gregory, Philip?
.....What, no attendance? No regard? No duty?
Where is the foolish knave I sent before?


And so it continues, through the spilling of the water, the sloppy removal of the riding boots, the beating of the servants, all ending with the meat on the floor and the hungry couple's abstinence from sexual consummation.14

On the face of it nothing could seem more anti-comic (there are even disturbing elements here that take us back to the Sly scenes); yet it is important to see Petruchio's insistence on iconoclastic social behavior and the flouting of food as psychologically linked ideas vital to his program for the couple's emotional development. Both actions merge in his mind with a renunciation of Padua. In a place apart, on their own brash terms, Petruchio and Katherina participate in an orchestrated anti-Paduan fantasy through which the couple asserts its detachment from one life and a determination to embrace a new one founded on values other than those of the old city. Shakespeare's slapstick scenes in Petruchio's country house are much more than coarse comedy on the theme of “wife-taming”; they also dramatize a serious process of self-discovery (on the part of both Petruchio and Katherina) that links amorous growth and emotional maturity with the systematic renunciation of the material practice of a failed world. Like Hamlet, whose “Mousetrap” is both an outward public denunciation of Claudius and a desperate self-injunction, Petruchio orchestrates for Katherina and himself a fanciful dramatic exercise that objectifies, through creative play, an earnest journey inward to the self.

The key role of food and hospitality, symbolically and actually, in the working out of this process, can hardly be overemphasized. In a provocative study of the significance of food to women of the Middle Ages, Caroline Walker Bynum explores some of the powerful psychological meanings implicit in one's relationship to eating and fasting. In addition to the more commonly recognized purposes of fasting (i.e., as a means of moderating lust, cleansing of mind and body, or preparing the soul for inspiration), Bynum demonstrates how refraining from food could acquire various meanings depending on the practitioner's situation or intent. One of the most interesting of these for our purposes is the usefulness of fasting as a means for expressing one's renunciation of the world; in this context it “was often specifically a response to guilt over the wealth and conspicuous consumption of merchant families.”15 Instructive also in this regard is the idea that the sin of Adam linked pride with gluttony, and thus by fasting the Christian joined with Christ, who, in His suffering, “kept the rule of abstinence that Adam had violated in paradise” (p. 35). My purpose in citing Bynum here is not to Christianize Petruchio's program for the domestic education of his wife, but rather to emphasize with what systematic detail he seems to be working toward his own secular equivalent to the long-standing spiritual discipline that saw fasting as a means toward the reconstruction of a new personality through detachment from a self-indulgent and materialist world.16

The sense of personal disequilibrium that inevitably results from such a program is apparent in Katherina after her first sleepless night in the taming school. When next we see her she is alone with Grumio, frustrated and famished, trying to persuade the reluctant servant to give her something to eat in violation of Petruchio's orders. The episode is a virtual reprise of the earlier one at supper; again the focus is specifically on food, and again just below the surface lies an implicit contrast between the hospitality of Petruchio's house and that of Padua:

What, did he marry me to famish me?
Beggars, that come unto my father's door
Upon entreaty have 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 name of perfect love;
As who should say, if I should sleep or eat,
'Twere deadly sickness or else present death.
I prithee go and get me some repast,
I care not what, so it be wholesome food.


The opinion of George Walton Williams regarding Petruchio's regimen for Katherina's “taming” is pertinent here. In an allusive and wide-ranging article on food, sport, and rest in Shakespeare (particularly as these reflect the playwright's indebtedness to the influential Italian school of medicine at Salerno which endorsed moderate use of the three activities as keys to good health), Williams points out that because Katherina's shrewishness is “an artificial condition,” her emotional disorder is “cured” by withholding the three medicatives rather than by administering them.17 There is much to recommend this view; and rather than attempting to refute it, I would like to modify it only slightly. In depriving Katherina of food Petruchio can also be seen as following, in some measure, a specific practice of The School of Salerno, particularly as this practice was reflected in some of the most popular medical handbooks of the day.

One essential aspect of the Salernian prescription for physical well-being was an insistence upon moderate diet. The most widely known and influential statement of Salernian medical practice was the rhyming poem Regimen Sanitatis Salerni, which appeared in over three hundred separate editions from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century, and was actually committed to memory by many medieval and Renaissance physicians. In keeping with The School of Salerno's emphasis on dietary regulations and general restraint, the Regimen gives the following counsel to Robert, son of William the Conqueror, who was cured of a wound at Salerno in 1101:

If thou to health and vigor wouldst attain,
Shun mighty cares, all anger deem profane;
From heavy suppers and much wine abstain. …(18)

Precisely this advice, or very slight variations of it, became a staple of the English medical handbooks of the sixteenth century. Thus it is hardly surprising to find Sir John Harington, in his often reprinted translation of the Regimen (1624 ed.), reaffirming a key element of the revered old treatise with prosy straightforwardness:

… take your meate in order, as is before said, and sometimes also intermit the vse of meats for a whole day together, because through hunger, the faults of the stomacke which have beene taken eyther by much drinking or surfetting, or by any other meanes, may be depelled and removed.19

Whatever moral dimension is implicit here becomes far more obvious in William Harrison's Description of England (1577, 1587). In his enormously informative and entertaining chapter on food and diet, Harrison frequently criticizes his countrymen's modern habit of “long and stately sitting at meat,” affirming repeatedly that is is better, both for one's body and mind, to eat sparingly rather than excessively.20 For Harrison the whole matter has a moral as well as physiological side to it:

In the scripture we read of many suppers [light evening meals] and few dinners [heavier afternoon meals], only for that dining was not greatly used in Christ's time but taken as a thing lately sprung up, when pampering of the belly began to take hold, occasioned by idleness and great abundance of riches.

We are not very far from Padua here; indeed, Harrison's rigorous pronouncement ties food to ostentatious materialism in a fashion very analogous to that of Shakespeare's play. The line that goes from Salerno to Harrison is clear enough, and it leads us directly back to Katherina's suggestive question: “What, did he marry me to famish me?” (IV.iii.3).

The answer, of course, is an uneasy “yes”; yet despite our aversion to Petruchio's methods, the complex of moral, psychological, and medical ideas that informs his program can shed fresh light on his blunt cruelty. The wife-tamer's treatment of Katherina will seem no less offensive to moderns on that account (there is, incidentally, no real reason to assume that sensitive Elizabethans saw the matter much differently than we do); but even so unseemly a process as Petruchio's may be modified somewhat by recognizing the deep-seated intellectual constructs that give it symbolic life. Viewed in this light it can be seen as an earnest attempt to locate emotional and moral health—the grounds of any authentic relationship—in a re-formed psychological landscape purged of old ills, yet nonetheless founded on old values. And it always remains an emphatically joint program. This point is made with unmistakable clarity just as Katherina and Petruchio prepare for their second attempt at dinner. Katherina's entreaties to Grumio for food have brought only derisive taunts on her choler and its origins in tripe, beef, and mustard (IV.iii.17-31), but her ordeal seems to end happily when Petruchio and Hortensio enter with a platter of meat. What follows as the three get ready to dine together is a dramatic tableau that sharpens even further the moral and behavioral distinctions between Petruchio's world and Padua. At his host's request Hortensio devours the meat by himself (“Eat it up all, Hortensio, if thou lovest me” [IV.iii.50]), leaving Petruchio and Katherina separate and unfed, figuratively distanced from the behavior of a world they have already begun to leave behind. Petruchio's graceless taunts (“Kate, eat apace”; “What, hast thou din'd?” [ll.52,59]) are the last twists of a rhetorical knife that only heighten by contrast the other possible rhetorical self he presents to his famished wife as he imagines a joint re-entry to Padua reflective of two genuinely changed natures:

                                                                      And now, my honey love,
Will we return unto thy father's house
And revel it bravely as the best,
With silken coats and caps and golden rings,
With ruffs and cuffs and farthingales and things,
With scarves and fans and double change of brav'ry,
With amber bracelets, beads, and all this knav'ry.



The revelry to which Petruchio and Katherina return is pure Padua. Before their arrival in the city they have already settled the business about the sun and the moon, the sex of Vincentio, and kissing in public. Now at last they seem ready to enjoy a meal together. They have spent a long day feasting at the wedding celebration of Lucentio and Bianca and followed the company to the bridegroom's lodging for dessert, the ceremonial capstone to the day's culinary exercises. In the best Paduan fashion, Lucentio welcomes his guests with mannered panache:

My fair Bianca, bid my father welcome,
While I with self-same kindness welcome thine.
Brother Petruchio, sister Katherina,
And thou, Hortensio, with thy loving widow,
Feast with the best, and welcome to my house.
My banquet is to close our stomachs up
After our great good cheer. Pray you, sit down,
For now we sit to chat as well to eat.


The atmosphere is thick with studied graciousness, and Petruchio already is cloyed with it; his irritation finds terms that carry a moral dimension lost on his friends: “Nothing but sit and sit, and eat and eat” (V.ii.12). Shakespeare makes the point with such delicacy that we almost miss it, too; even as Petruchio participates in the ordered conventionality of a world he sits uneasily in it, psychologically distanced from its most cherished values, skeptical of its terms for defining social and emotional bonds.

But the symbolism of the episode is broader than this. In returning to Padua for a wedding banquet Petruchio and Katherina reappear in the city, so to speak, in the same physical and psychological space where they left it. The point is emphasized not only by the obvious social similarities between the two celebrations but also by a curious detail regarding the wedding feast of Petruchio and Katherina often overlooked by critics. After the peremptory exit of the newly married couple, Baptista looks hurriedly for symbolic substitutes for the pair so that the party can continue. With characteristic Paduan unctuousness he simply inserts into the vacated places of Katherina and Petruchio the couple whose marriage he most earnestly desires:

Neighbors and friends, though bride and bridegroom wants,
For to supply the place at the table,
You know there wants no junkets at the feast.
Lucentio [Tranio disguised], you shall supply the bridegroom's place,
And let Bianca take her sister's room.
Shall sweet Bianca practice how to bride it?
She shall, Lucentio. Come, gentlemen, let's go.


In more than merely symbolic terms this marriage feast is Bianca's and Lucentio's, since Katherina's and Petruchio's places are usurped by stand-ins whose position of importance at the celebration represents a paternal wish-fulfillment fantasy of social and financial fruition. Part of the fault, of course, is Petruchio's; his outrageous behavior in church, his failure to break bread with Katherina and her family, and his deliberate isolation from Paduan community all contribute to a sense of a frustrated anti-marriage. The couple leaves Padua unhouseled, disappointed, unfed, while two willing substitutes (one of them, fittingly, an imposter) merrily take their place.

The details of the couple's return, however, could hardly be more different. Although the wedding feast that brings Petruchio and Katherina back to Padua is not literally theirs, they usurp the places of the bride and groom here just as surely as theirs had been usurped at their own celebration. And in typically Petruchian fashion, they do it on their own terms, with an elaborate public ceremony of their own devising that figures forth the elements of real union. Fittingly, too, they choose for their ceremonial medium the chief vehicle of ostentatious display that Padua affords, an elaborate public feast. This is clearly the banquet at which, literally and figuratively, the couple is most “present”; for it is here that they fashion in the most psychologically immediate terms both the strength of their mutual trust and its location in an ideological world apart. Their behavior gives every indication how easily they can move in Padua, but also how detached they can remain from its ethical heart. In this context Katherina's impressive rhetorical tour de force becomes no false public compromise or grandiloquent exercise in insincerity; it is her own ceremonial “amen” to a man and a process that has not tamed her hostility for Padua so much as given it an ideological base, thus redirecting it, along with Petruchio's, into a mutual and meaningful detachment from an empty world.22 In this mutual detachment the pair find a sort of wise companionship that allows them to move jointly in the city without falling moral prey to it. We need only view the lovers with whom Petruchio and Katherina share the banquet table to see the full success of their joint program. Petruchio's “Come, Kate, we'll to bed” (V.ii.186) is his own triumphant “amen” to Katherina's public assent. This time there will be no sermon on continency.


  1. Peter Crowcroft, The Life of the Shrew (London: Max Reinhardt, 1957), pp. 25-26. Crowcroft's book is cited by Brian Morris in his Arden edition of the play (London: Methuen, 1981), p. 121. My citations of The Taming of the Shrew are to David Bevington's The Complete Works of Shakespeare, third edition (Glenview, Ill.: Scott Foresman, 1980).

  2. The determination to find connections between the play proper and the Induction has produced some of the liveliest and most controversial criticism on The Taming of the Shrew. One of the most provocative statements is that of Sears Jayne, “The Dreaming of the Shrew,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 17 (1966), 41-56, who identifies Sly with Petruchio, arguing that after I.i Sly should take the part of Petruchio in the play proper, thus acting out in a dream sequence his own wish-fulfillment fantasy about how a wife should be trained to submit to her husband. On the other side of the issue is H. J. Oliver, who, in his edition of the play for The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), expresses scepticism about thematic readings that link ideas of personality or identity found in the Induction with action in the play proper. He sees the Sly scenes as distancing us from the action of the play proper, enabling us to see it as a “none-too-serious comedy put on to divert a drunken tinker” (p. 42). But see also Morris, who argues that “Shakespeare clearly intended the comic incidents of the Induction to throw a forward light on the main play's concern with the development of love in marriage” (p. 138).

  3. I say “leave him” advisedly. It is true that Sly does intrude very briefly into the action of the play proper at I.i.248-54, but this can hardly be considered a significant appearance (at least not in the sense that it alters in any way our view of Sly). For the possibilities that the Sly “frame” was completed in some earlier version of The Taming of the Shrew, see Morris (pp. 39-45); Oliver (pp. 28-29); G. R. Hibbard, The Taming of the Shrew (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), pp. 40-44; and Karl P. Wentersdorf, “The Original Ending of The Taming of the Shrew: A Reconsideration,” SEL, [Studies in English Literature 1500-1900] 18 (1978), 201-16.

  4. Like Lucentio here, Sly also insists upon his aristocratic heritage. As he points out to the Hostess, “The Slys are no rogues. Look in the chronicles; we came in with Richard Conqueror” (Ind.i.3-4). An interesting sidelight to the emphasis on excessive drinking in the play is the fact that drunkenness increased everywhere in the sixteenth century and became a major social problem. See Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible, tr. Siân Reynolds (New York: Harper and Row, 1981), pp. 236-39.

  5. Oliver, in his discussion of the relation of The Taming of a Shrew to The Taming of the Shrew (pp. 22-29), argues that Hortensio's presence at Petruchio's house may be accounted for on textual grounds. Building on the work of G. I. Duthie, Oliver argues that A Shrew is likely a reported version of an earlier, Shakespearean, form of The Shrew “in which Hortensio was not disguised as Litio” (p. 27). In this version of the play Hortensio “remained in open, undisguised, competition with Gremio for the hand of Bianca” (p. 23). His presence late in The Shrew at Petruchio's house is thus a remnant of this earlier stage of the text unsatisfactorily integrated by Shakespeare into his later version of the play. Morris, however, finds no inconsistencies in Hortensio's role in The Shrew. See his discussion of the matter (pp. 37-39).

  6. For some examples of this phenomenon in the stage history of the play, see Tori Haring-Smith, From Farce to Metadrama: A Stage History of The Taming of the Shrew, 1594-1983 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985), pp. 30, 39-40, 82-87, and passim. See also Anne Barton's Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew in The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), p. 107.

  7. For the most lengthy and detailed examination of the connection between Sly and Petruchio, see the article by Sears Jayne cited above. See also Ruth Nevo, Comic Transformations in Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1980), p. 39.

  8. See Peter Farb and George Armelagos, Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980), pp. 4-5; 97-103. For other treatments of the relationship of food to sexual identity, see Mary Douglas, “Deciphering a Meal,” Daedalus, 101, 1 (Winter 1972), 61-81, and Kurt W. Back, “Food, Sex, and Theory,” Nutrition and Anthropology in Action, ed. Thomas K. Fitzgerald (Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 1977), p. 31.

  9. See, for example, Ralph Berry, Shakespeare's Comedies: Explorations in Form (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 54-71. Permutations on this point of view, as well as a variety of other critical perspectives on the play, are treated by Tita French Baumlin, “Petruchio as Sophist and Language as Creation in The Taming of the Shrew,SEL, 29 (1989), 237-57; see particularly pp. 253-57. One prominent approach to this problem, emphasizing Katherina's playful detachment from Petruchio even as she appears to obey him, is part of both the stage history and critical tradition of the play. See, for example, Marianne L. Novy, “Patriarchy and Play in The Taming of the Shrew,ELR, [English Literary Renaissance] 9 (1979), 264-80, and Coppélia Kahn, Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1981), pp. 104-18. Also emphasizing the element of “play” in the Petruchio/Katherina relationship is Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), pp. 41-62. Leggatt, however, does not see this playfulness as necessarily implying emotional separation; rather Kate at the end of the play is “simply enjoying herself” (p. 61). Sport and playacting in this context become “genuine sources of strength and enjoyment” (p. 61). This and related questions are treated briefly by Ann Thompson in her edition of the play (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), pp. 36-41.

  10. This is essentially the view, if not the rhetoric, of Robert Ornstein, Shakespeare's Comedies: From Roman Farce to Romantic Mystery (Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1986), pp. 63-72, but particularly pp. 71-72.

  11. Morris, p. 119.

  12. Some critics, of course, do make the point, most notably Thompson (p. 28), Baumlin (p. 246), and E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Early Comedies (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1965), p. 82.

  13. “The Folktale Origin of The Taming of the Shrew,Shakespeare Quarterly, 17 (1966), 358.

  14. Most critics regard Petruchio and Katherina's marriage as unconsummated. In her gloss on “continency,” Ann Thompson observes, “It is important that the marriage is not actually consummated until after the last scene of the play” (p. 117). See also her note on Petruchio's statement at V.ii.184, “Come, Kate, we'll to bed” (p. 153).

  15. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987), p. 120. Subsequent references to Bynum's study are noted parenthetically in the text.

  16. An interesting sidelight to this matter that also has implications for the Petruchio/Katherina relationship is that joint fasting can be regarded as an expression of solidarity by which the members of the fasting group separate themselves from others. See Back (pp. 31-32).

  17. “Shakespeare's Metaphors of Health: Food, Sport, and Life-Preserving Rest,” The Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 14 (1984), 187-202; see note 30, p. 197.

  18. Joh. Hermann Boas, Outlines of the History of Medicine and the Medical Profession, tr., rev., and enlarged by H. E. Handerson (Huntington, N.Y.: Robert E. Krieger, 1971), I; reprint of the 1889 edition, p. 261. For other summaries of the medical principles of The School of Salerno, see Arturo Castiglione, A History of Medicine, tr. and ed. by E. B. Krumbhaar (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947), second edition, pp. 309-11, and Williams, passim.

  19. Manners and Meals in Olden Times, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, EETS [Early English Text Society] (London: N. Trübner, 1868), p. 258.

  20. The Description of England, ed. Georges Edelen (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1968), pp. 141-42. For other statements on the subject, see Thomas Starkey, England in the Reign of King Henry the Eighth: A Dialogue between Cardinal Pole and Thomas Lupset, Lecturer in Rhetoric at Oxford, ed. J. M. Cowper, EETS, Extra Series, no. 32 (London: N. Trübner, 1878), pp. 87-88, 95; Sir Thomas Elyot, The Castel of Helthe (1541), intro. Samuel A. Tannenbaum (New York: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1937), pp. 53-54; and Andrew Boorde, A Compendious Regyment or A Dyetary of Helth, ed. F. J. Furnivall, EETS (London: N. Trübner, 1870), pp. 250-51, 300.

  21. The vision is, of course, withdrawn after the episode with the tailor (IV.iii.165-77); but there is absolutely no evidence in the play that Petruchio and Katherina arrive in Padua with anything other than correct attire. We do not hear, for example, anything resembling Biondello's description of Petruchio's dress as he arrives for his wedding (III.ii.43-70).

  22. One of the most thorough examinations of “mutuality” in the play is William C. Carroll, The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1985), particularly, pp. 52-53.

Laurel Graeber (review date 16 August 2002)

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SOURCE: Graeber, Laurel. “Kiss Him, Kate.” New York Times (16 August 2002): E35.

[In the following review, Graeber praises director Stephen Burdman's energetic 2002 New York Classical Theater production of The Taming of the Shrew in Central Park, New York.]

New York Classical Theater may inspire you to add to the list of things you normally take to an outdoor performance in Central Park. As well as blankets and mosquito repellent, its productions call for sneakers, or at least comfortable shoes.

That's because the theater treats Shakespeare as a movable feast. Having performed Twelfth Night this summer, it is now offering The Taming of the Shrew. All the park's a stage, so to speak, and though the play takes place within three blocks of 97th Street and Central Park West, spectators get a workout running after the actors.

This slightly abridged production (105 minutes), fast-moving in all senses, is a delight for families. No one has to—or can—sit still, and if a child grows restless, it's possible to escape discreetly. Like Petruchio, however, I'll make a risky wager and bet that no one will. Directed by Stephen Burdman, the production makes the most of the play's physical comedy, with lots of tumbling in the dust and mingling with the audience, not to mention a Petruchio who arrives for his wedding in a red jock strap worn over green shorts.

The bonus for adults, though, is that this Shrew [The Taming of the Shrew] makes you forget about sexism and just revel in the fun. Garth T. Mark lets tenderheartedness shine through Petruchio's maneuvers, so you don't feel that Kate, richly played by Nikki E. Walker, has gotten a raw deal. Suzy Meyers gives Bianca some spunk, and Michael Nathanson, as Tranio, conveys a world of comic meaning with his eyebrows alone.

There's also the joy of Shakespeare amid the grass and trees. As someone cried while the audience sprinted last Sunday: “Run! This isn't the Delacorte!”

Margaret Rose Jaster (essay date 2001)

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SOURCE: Jaster, Margaret Rose. “Controlling Clothes, Manipulating Mates: Petruchio's Griselda.” Shakespeare Studies 29 (2001): 93-108.

[In the following essay, Jaster explores Shakespeare's use of apparel in The Taming of the Shrew as a marker of personal identity, manipulated by Petruchio as a means of controlling Katherina.]

One of the most hilarious—or hideous—scenes in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew occurs in act 4, when Petruchio, with the aid of Grumio and Hortensio, symbolically addresses Katherina in apparel he chooses for her. Throughout the scene, Petruchio in effect undresses his new wife by contradicting enough of her sartorial desires to the delight of the assembled males, and to Katherina's manifest discomfort. Editors and playgoers have usually relished the banter among the men and Katherina's resultant frustration; they have often been relieved that Petruchio chooses to tame his new wife in so innocuous a manner.1

But apparel is too potent a tool in any power dynamic to dismiss its manipulation as a benign taming game. In early modern England, as today, any contention about apparel raises issues of personal and social identity. Although Petruchio employs less physical abuse than traditional tamers, we cannot blithely disregard any attempts by one party to control another's identity through this most intimate device, even if those attempts are made by Shakespeare's “humane” husband.

“Dress defines not only who one is, but how one is: that is, how one fits into a culture's moral and religious value system.”2 Female dress was complicated for early modern women by legal and social codes that, when they mention women at all, subjected wives to the personal taste and generosity of their spouses. This essay will examine the potency of apparel as a battle-site in gender relations in early modern England through an analysis of texts that retell the Griselda story. We can then return to Shakespeare's Shrew [The Taming of the Shrew]—perhaps to re-vision the controversial tailor scene.

Christiane Klapisch-Zuber has characterized the economic and social implications of nuptial arrangements in early modern Italy as the “Griselda Complex.”3 The term derives from Boccaccio's tale of the Marquis who chooses to wed a poor peasant girl and proceeds to test her worthiness through a series of emotional ordeals that rival Job's. Her image in cassone (wedding chest) paintings popularized her for patrician Italians; and the early modern English public would have been familiar with the tale through versions by Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Petrarch, as well as contemporary ballads, prose pamphlets, and plays.4

Klapisch-Zuber appropriates the fictional character to illustrate a social system that bridled women in an increasingly complicated pattern of trafficking in women.5 The exclusion of daughters as heirs in favor of their brothers effectively subjected wives to husbands—who managed, then, to control the entire conjugal estate. The considerable expenditure on apparel in this time period had the very real effect that the lady sported her husband's estate on her person; he was also responsible for her dressing within her class.

The very fact that the husband presents his bride with gifts of expensive clothing suggests a pecuniary one-upmanship between the father of the bride, who dowers his daughter, and the new husband, who expensively clothes her. The effect of this counter-trousseau is to restore the economic imbalance (of giver over recipient) that occurs when the wife's father establishes his superiority by paying the dowry. That the new bride's clothing might have been rented or borrowed by the husband for the wedding6 points up the symbolic character of the exchange, even as it reminds us of the material considerations.

A husband's investment in clothing his wife has resonances far beyond its significance as a fact of material culture. Indeed, the present study is most interested in Griselda's betrothal as a ritual act that uses apparel to mark her transformation from daughter of one male to the wife of another. This transformation, her vestizione, places the husband's gifts of apparel in the symbolic sphere where we can best analyze their use by Griselda's Walter and Katherina's Petruchio.

I noted above that a woman's garb defines her place in society's moral and religious value system, and that as the early modern bride dons her husband's gift of apparel, she is symbolically integrated into her husband's household and lineage. By accepting her husband's gift of wedding apparel, a bride assumes a new social identity, one that is, to a great extent, manipulated by her new spouse.

Thus, Griselda's plight emblematizes early modern women's sartorial subjugation; while Griselda's story is admittedly extreme, and fictional, we may learn something of the constraints on early modern women from an analysis of these presentations of Griselda. Though the edifying principle of an obedient wife accounts for a certain amount of the tale's popularity,7 its use of the ritualized exchange of clothing, a shared code among the various versions, may also be significant in the reception and dissemination of the story. Similarities among the accounts of Griselda's transformation also suggest that the tale's several audiences recognized in the depiction their own attitudes toward marriage, clothing, and identity.

Because the tale of Griselda is so salient to an understanding of how apparel figured in early modern gender relations, I will summarize her story here. In most versions, Griselda's dilemma derives from the commonplace in a patriarchal society that it is an aristocratic male's duty to provide an heir to rule after his death: Walter, the Marquis of Salusa, is prevailed upon by his court to marry, and so produce an heir. Walter agrees to marry if his nobles agree to his choice, sight unseen. They do. Walter then chooses to wed Griselda, the daughter of the poorest man in his region. She bears him a daughter, then a son. Though in all versions Griselda is an exemplary spouse, Walter tests his wife's loyalty by removing each infant from its mother. He fabricates the children's deaths, with the explanation that Griselda's low birth makes her an unfit mother. These horrors, and her eventual replacement by a younger aristocratic woman, are borne by Griselda with resilient patience. The tale ends happily ever after when Walter reveals that Griselda's replacement was, in fact, his own daughter, and the family is reunited.

In all versions of the tale, there are three occasions in which apparel figures significantly: the moment of Griselda's metamorphosis from peasant girl to noble lady; the point when Walter returns her to her father's house; and finally when she is reinstated as Walter's wife. For the sake of clarity, I will anglicize the names to Griselda, Walter, and Janicola (her father) though they vary in the different versions; for the sake of brevity, I will concentrate exclusively on Griselda's first transformation—from peasant to “princess.”8

In Boccaccio's tale (1353), Griselda's garments have been made for her long before the wedding, before she is aware of her destiny. Walter has

made … readie most riche and costlie garments, shaped by the body of a comely young Gentlewoman, who he knew to be equall in proportion and stature, to her whom hee had made his election.9

Walter is the sorcerer who effects a magical metamorphosis: “Presently he took her by the hand, so led her forth of the poore homely house, and in the presence of all his company, with his owne hands, he took off her meane wearing garments, smocke and all, and cloathed her with those Robes of State which he had purposely brought thither for her, whereat every one [stood] amazed. …”10

Walter's actions here are particularly significant for an understanding of Griselda's predicament. He removes her garments with his own hands, and in the presence of his company. Walter's direct intervention heightens the dramatic moment. Singularly, Boccaccio insists that Walter takes off “smocke and all,” emphasizing her vulnerable nudity. He then clothes her in Robes of State: Griselda is no longer a peasant girl, her father's daughter—she has become her role as Walter's consort, and a reflection of his status, not her own.

After Walter finishes her, we are told, everyone stood amazed—that their new mistress has been created from such coarse material? They need not have worried. Shortly after this, Boccaccio asserts the power of apparel to affect one's personality: “And the young bride apparently declared, that (with her garments) her mind and behavior were quite changed.” Boccaccio's Griselda is an example of how apparel contributes to the erasure of a peasant woman; the Griselda everyone knew has been subsumed into one who can more acceptably fill the shoes of “her whom he had made his election.”11 Walter's confidence in the relieved response of his court suggests a society in which the ceremony of investiture symbolically transforms an inadequate individual into a suitable public servant; Walter's attitude would have been approved by the courtly readers of Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Petrarch, as well as by Shakespeare's audience.

While Boccaccio's Walter personally fashions Griselda by stripping off her old apparel and providing her with a new identity with his new clothing, Chaucer's Walter seems threatened by contamination through contact with Griselda's personal possessions. Chaucer's version of the betrothal scene.12 offers hints at Griselda's future humiliation:

                              And for that no thyng of her old geere
                    She sholde bryng into his hous, he bad
That wommen sholde dispoillen hire right theere;
Of which thise ladyes were nat right glad
To handle hir clothes, wherinne she was clad.
          But nathelees, this mayde bright of hewe
Fro foot to heed they clothed han al newe.
                    Hir heris … they kembd, that lay untressed
Ful rudely, and with [their] fyngres smale
A corone on hire heed they han ydressed,
And sette hir ful of nowches grete and smale.
Of hir array what sholde I make a tale?(13)
Unnethe the peple hir knew for hir fairnesse
Whan she translated was in swich richnesse.


Griselda is “despoillen.” Glossed as “undressed” by the Riverside editor, the word is used elsewhere by Chaucer in its other Middle English usages: “to strip of possessions by violence”; and “to spoil or plunder, especially the arms or clothes of an enemy, or the skin of a beast.”14 Although modern readers might not figure Griselda as enemy or beast, we cannot ignore these implications present to earlier audiences, which implied violence or deprivation.”15

Chaucer himself seems unsure about Griselda's worth: despite the courtly ladies' scorn, Griselda is “a maid bright of hue” before she is “clothed all anew.” However, following Boccaccio, the people know her fairness only after she is translated into such richness.

Griselda alludes to this mutation of her identity later in the poem, when Walter rejects her:

                              “For as I lefte at hoom al my clothyng,
          Whan I first cam to yow, right so,” quod she,
“Lefte I my whyl and al my libertee,
          And took youre clothyng; wherfore I yow preye,
Dooth youre plesuance; I wol youre lust obeye. …”

(653-58; my emphasis)

Griselda's assertion reinforces the link between clothing and social identity—she relinquished her will, a part of her previous social role—when she accepted Walter's apparel.

That this scene of transformation is depicted on early modern cassone may help to emphasize the resonances of the literary Griselda in the lives of early modern women. Cristelle Baskins, in a study of images of Griselda on cassoni argues that any interpretation of these artifacts “must be located … in the strategic interconnections between textual narrative, pictorial narrative and the construction of gender difference.”16 She notes that the chests formed part of society's acknowledgement of the couple's new status in the community: a circumstance that is as public as the chest, and as private as the trousseau it contained. Baskins also reminds us that in the newlyweds' living quarters, the cassoni served as a “permanent reminder of the physical, material, and familial transformations produced by that marriage.”17

Explications of these cassoni as texts categorize them as either allegorical (relying on conventional readings and authoritative texts) or descriptive (considering the depictions as culturally and socially accurate). The paintings Baskins discusses render only the betrothal scene—a nude Griselda—and Baskins notes that her redressing—the transformation—is never depicted, but that “the thematics of dress and undress continue in the text and affect our understanding of her as a ‘bare bride.’”18

The choice of Griselda as a subject to decorate cassoni lays bare the power dynamics of early modern marriage. In these paintings, Walter suggests the complete submission that occurs with Griselda's advancement to her new role: he offers the spectacle of his nude wife to the court; this action foreshadows his later truculence when he will insist that Griselda return to her father's house in her smock. The paintings also operate outside the accepted discourse by displaying Griselda's nakedness—portraits of early modern women normally celebrate the wealth of their families, not the nude accessibility of their women.19 Furthermore, the familiar image of Griselda would have been a chronic reminder of the darker side of marriage: the depiction of Griselda's compulsory nudity recalls Walter's tyranny during the marriage, which, though it provided an exemplum for the new spouse, was problematic, as both Boccaccio and Chaucer conceded.20

Griselda's shadow over the English stage projected forcefully into the cultural conversation on matrimonial matters. Although we know of only two plays that claim to tell her tale—both designated as “comedies” in their print versions—Griselda's image impacts a number of tormented female characters. Shakespeare's Hermione, Imogen, Helena, Hero, Julia, Desdemona, and Marina among the females who shared Griselda's fate of waiting patiently as “the injustices done to them by their menfolk are painstakingly resolved.”21

Let us look more closely at the betrothal scene in the two Griselda plays, observing the role of apparel in these theatrical versions. We can then return to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, examining Katherina's transformation, with attention to the use of apparel in Shakespeare's treatment of marriage, women, and identity.

Unfortunately we have no record of any performance of John Phillips' 1565 play The Commody of Pacient and Meeke Grissill, though the printed text carefully instructs would-be directors how “eight persons maye easely play this Commody.”22 Griselda's transformation from peasant to princess takes place after Walter is convinced of his need for a wife; he falls in love with the grieving Griselda, whose mother has just died.

Although the dramatic convention of boy-actors playing women's parts precludes the stripping of Griselda in the stage versions of this tale, the betrothal scene remains pivotal. In this version, both Janicola and Griselda resist Walter's sartorial metamorphosis. Griselda uses their peasant attire to prove their unworthiness for the great honor women intends to bestow—and, one could argue, to avert imminent tragedy. Early in the play, Griselda argues:

My poore estate my missery, the tyme doth forth unfould,
What better profe can be here of, than these our ragges so torne,
These pante and shoe our penurie, which wee to bide were borne. …


But Walter argues that humble raiment signals noble virtues:

Thy ragged clothes the[y] argue not, in poore estate to lyve,
Thy vertues noble doe the[y] make, such Fate doth Fortune give. …


Walter's flattery reimagines the fantasy of reciprocity implicit in every fairy tale wherein the peasant girl is actually a princess by birth; but unlike Shakespeare's Marina or Perdita, Griselda is only a princess because Walter makes her one. Walter's praise renders her a metaphorical princess, made noble by virtue, but society will recognize only the princess created when his clothes transform her.

Soon Walter tells his ladies to dress Griselda; when Griselda returns with the ladies, she protests that she is uncomfortable with the new finery:

O noble Lord, these costlye Robes, unfittly seeme to bee:
My ragged weed much more then this, doubtles contented mee.


Walter's contradiction reminds us that, in all of these versions, Griselda discards her earlier social role—and her contentment—when she exchanges her ragged weeds for his costly robes:

These garmentes nowe to thine estate belong, my lady deare,
Disdaine them not, but for my sake refuse them not to weare.


Walter reminds Griselda that the garments belong to her estate, another reminder of the elevation in status wrought by marriage. In addition, the use of the word “disdaine” betrays his apprehension that by elevating Griselda's status, he has rendered himself vulnerable to rejection. So these lines also illustrate that while the changes in Griselda accommodate the needs of Walter and his domain, the alterations in both characters are not due entirely to Walter's decision to marry out of his class but are, rather, the expected result of entering into the state of matrimony.23

Although in all versions of this tale Griselda gracefully acquiesces to her new station, it is also true that she seemed content in her poverty. That Walter has the most to gain from plucking Griselda from her peaceful penury is admitted in the betrothal scene from the 1599 play The Pleasant Comodie of Patient Grisill by Thomas Dekker, William Haughton, and Henry Chettle.24 In the betrothal scene, this Walter says:

Ile gild that pouertie, and make it shine,
With beames of dignitie: this base attire,
These Ladies shal tear of, and decke thy beautie
In robes of honour, that the worlde may say,
Vertue and beautie was my bride today.


Significantly, Walter boasts that he is wedding the embodiment of womanly qualities, virtue and beauty, and Griselda is defined by those personifications. As her base attire is torn off and replaced with Walter's robes of honor, Griselda becomes a reflection of her husband's wealth, status, and interests.

While in Phillip's play the betrothal transformation occurred off-stage, in the 1599 version we witness the betrothal, but our attention is deflected by the shenanigans of Janicola's servant, Babulo. Babulo trenchantly metonymizes his objections to social intercourse between the classes:

Its hard sir for this motley lerkin, to find friendship with this fine doublet.


When Babulo verbalizes the impossibility of a friendship between Walter and himself, and advises Walter that he himself would make a better consort for Griselda (line 315), he underscores Griselda's double indemnity: she is distanced from Walter by the impediments of gender as well as status.

In act 2, scene 1 of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew (1593?), Petruchio promises the world a second Griselda, linking Griselda's hapless image to the fate of his betrothed. The allusion occurs in Petruchio's boast to Baptista and his guests that, despite what they know of Katherina, and what the audience has just observed of her, he has won the consent of the recalcitrant Katherina. As Petruchio's lie incorporates the figure of the unfortunate Griselda, his false narrative of the events of the “courtship scene” (2.1.177-267) presages his manipulation of the rhetoric of apparel through the rest of the play. In the only reference to Griselda in the entire Shakespeare canon, Petruchio declares to the assembled males that “For patience she will prove a second Girssel …” (2.1.284). with that telling allusion, Petruchio alerts the attentive interpreter to the shaping of Shakespeare's Griselda which occurs when Petruchio exploits apparel to realize his boast.

So we return now to the dilemma with which I opened this essay: how is one to react to the tailor scene (4.3)? In order to address that question, we must recognize that the signals Shakespeare sent to his original audience do not suggest a sympathetic Katherina, one who is worthy of the reward of a humane husband. The play's title arouses the expectations of his early modern audience, and the playwright does not disappoint: from our first view of her through her wedding scene, Katherina is the very caricature of a “shrew.” She threatens violence to Hortensio (1.1.63-65) and is physically abusive to her sister, Bianca, whose hands she ties while she verbally attacks her (2.1.1-22); she even strikes Petruchio at their initial meeting (2.1.213).

As other interpreters have noted,25 Shakespeare's audience would understand her unbridled speech as “shrewishness”; in order for Petruchio to prove to an early modern audience that he has tamed Katherina, he must silence her. He begins that process shortly after the “wooing scene” (2.2.177-267), when he convinces her father that he speaks for the two of them; he continues it at the wedding, where he cuts off Katherina's protestations by claiming her as his “goods” and “chattel” (3.2.219), and finally silences her in the tailor scene (4.3).

Although I realize, as I mentioned earlier, that this scene is admired for its good-natured humor, let us consider it anew in relation to the figure of Griselda, which Petruchio has introduced. First, the scene occurs immediately after Grumio, a servant, then Petruchio, with Hortensio's aid, bait Katherina with food. Are we constrained to laugh along with the Gentlemen as Katherina, apparently fasting since the wedding, begs for food (4.3.1-60)?

The tantalizing that Petruchio began with victuals continues with clothes, when Petruchio promises Katherina that they will return to her father's house

          And revel it as bravely as the best,
                    With silken coats and caps, and golden rings,
With ruffs and cuffs and farthingales and things,
With scarves and fans and double change of brav'ry,
With amber bracelets, beads and all this knav'ry.(26)


Petruchio had already pulled a sartorial bait-and-switch before the wedding. He promised that for the wedding he and Katherina “will have rings, and things, and fine array” (2.1.312), only to arrive at the wedding in a mockery of wedding attire that even the obtuse Baptista noted was “a shame to your estate, / An eyesore to our solemn festival” (3.2.90-91).

In the tailor scene, Petruchio employs apparel to continue his mockery of Paduan society that had begun in the wedding scene, and he further humiliates his spouse. The leering courtiers who scrutinized the nude Griselda are replaced by an audience of servants and salesmen. Alone in the presence of these males, Katherina must endure slurs to her social position and her chastity, comments that provoke Katherina's final speech of resistance.

As in the Griselda tales, the solicitous husband has already ordered his wife's postnuptial apparel; by this action Petruchio reasserts his right to control his wife's image, the embodiment of his estate to the world.27 In his denunciation of the new hat, Petruchio taunts Katherina with food words as well as sexual innuendoes. He says,

                    Why, this was moulded on a porringer—
A velvet dish! Fie, fie, 'tis lewd and filthy …
A knack, a toy, a trick, a baby's cap.


“Porringer” and “dish,” and “knack” remind her of her empty stomach, while “lewd,” “filthy,” and “trick” have sexual connotations. Linking the images of sex and food reminds Katherina and the audience that in his role as husband, Petruchio controls the necessities of Katherina's life. Petruchio's behavior throughout the play insists on his right to “husband” the goods and chattels of his household, including his wife, in whatever manner he sees fit.

But Katherina likes the hat, insisting that it is both fashionable and fitting for a gentlewoman (line 70)—to which Petruchio retorts that when she is a gentlewoman, she shall have one, too. Petruchio's play on Katherina's words slights her social position and intimates that she thwarts her master with her supposed recalcitrance.

In the next short speech (lines 73-80) Katherina pleads to be heard; she reminds Petruchio that his “betters” have endured her speaking her mind (line 75). Her tongue, she says, will tell the anger of her heart—or else it will break. Unfazed, Petruchio returns to a linguistic maneuver he has used frequently in the play: he pretends to misunderstand her, agreeing with her dislike of the hat, telling her he loves her more because she hates it.28 Katherina appears to win this round. She retorts,

Love me or love me not, I like the cap
And it will have or I will have none.


But he ignores her remarks and moves to the gown:

Thy gown? Why, ay …
What's this—a sleeve?
'Tis like a demi-cannon.
What, up and down carved like an apple-tart?


Again, Petruchio's words suggest bawdy connotations (“sleeve,” “cannon,” “carved,” and “tart”) and remind her of her hunger. Katherina's plea for this dress reminds us of a woman's spousal subjection in matters of her wardrobe. She asserts,

I never saw a better-fashioned gown,
More quaint, more pleasing, nor more commendable.
Belike you mean to make a puppet of me.


When Petruchio contradicts her, asserting that it is the tailor who tries to make a puppet of her, Katherina is silent.29 She stands by while the men discuss her raiment—at one point her chastity is impugned again when the dress is described as “a loose-bodied gown,” a term for prostitutes' dresses, which allow easy access and conceal the results of the women's labors.

Finally, Petruchio decides that they will proceed to her father's house in their old clothes:

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.


In the light of his previous manipulations, Petruchio's proselytizing seems a yet another strategy in the subjugation of the mind through the subjugation of the body. In adding this sartorial humiliation to the traditional shrew tale, Shakespeare is surely drawing upon the tale of Griselda. In both stories, reshaping the body is imperative before one can reshape the mind.

At the same time, Petruchio's insistence on humble apparel at this point is yet another blow at the social status of Katherina and her family: as newlyweds, Petruchio and Katherina were entitled to demonstrate their elevated marital status through sartorial display. To return to Padua dressed in “garments poor” may not be the exact equivalent of sending Katherina naked to her father's house, but Petruchio does strip Katherina of her social position, and the sartorial slight is an attempt to demonstrate to all that Katherina's identity and will are now subject to her husband.30 The gesture is, at the least, an echo of Petruchio's “eye-sore to [the] solemn festival” that was their own wedding.

The connection between apparel and social identity is again apparent in act 5, and contributes to the image of a Katherina who has completely capitulated to her husband. When Petruchio needs to prove his wife's subservience, he orders her to publicly destroy her cap. His behavior is unnecessary; she has already obeyed him—she has come at his call, and has left and returned with the less-compliant wives. But Petruchio persists, again masking his tyranny under solicitousness:

Katherine, that cap of yours becomes you not:
Off with that bauble—throw it underfoot!


Whether or not this cap is the same one that Petruchio denied her in act 4, scene 3, it is the cap she chose to wear on this special occasion. The jubilant tone of the remaining comments from the males suggests that Katherina divests herself of the cap and tramples it underfoot, extinguishing her own desires in favor of her husband's.31

It is significant, I think, that in act 5, the other man who knew Katherina well expresses astonishment at this Katherina who has responded to her master's call, and mouthed his dictates. In her father's praise of Petruchio, we may discern Katherina's fate:

Now fair befall thee, good Petruchio!
The wager thou hast won, and I will add
Unto their losses twenty thousand crowns,
Another dowry to another daughter,
For she is changed, as she had never been.


Baptista voices the relief of all the men: the shrew has disappeared as though she never was. Like Janicola, Baptista has acquiesced to the superiority of the new husband; like Griselda, Katherina is now a woman nobody knows.

In conclusion, Shakespeare's introduction of the image of Griselda recollected Griselda's ritual sartorial submission, which emphasized Katherina's eventual compliance—absolutely essential to the comic ending. Petruchio's behavior can then be understood in the light of a husband's duty to transform a headstrong woman into an obedient wife, a transformation that required control of his wife's sartorial desires.32

But Shakespeare's use of the Griselda tale also complicates the connection between clothes and matrimonial dominion in early modern England. While Petruchio, following Walter, controls his wife's public persona through her apparel, by emphasizing the clothed body (rather than Griselda's nude or smocked body), Shakespeare's character suggests that clothing forms the essential being. Instead of proffering his unclothed wife to ogling courtiers, in 4.3 Petruchio invites the audience of merchants and servants to fantasize Katherina's nudity and her marital relations with him by sexualizing Katherina's wardrobe. His dominance in marriage is more obvious and more subtle than Walter's: Petruchio dispenses with the redressing that signals Griselda's reentry into society. At the play's end, Katherina is appareled in whatever “mean habiliments” (4.3.167) Petruchio permitted. Echoing early modern sumptuary regulations and marriage homilies, Shakespeare maintains that the clothed person matters most, and that marital authority supersedes society's expectations of the well-dressed wife. From the moment that Petruchio conceives of the notion to take a wife, he asserts his rights as a husband, including especially his prerogative—and duty—to dress his wife as he will. He does not submit to the expectations of the wedding guests at his own or Bianca's celebration: his complete sartorial control in both instances authenticates his dominion. Once she dons her husband's chosen apparel, Katherina mouths his words—the words of a patriarchy in whose interest it was to transform stubborn women into submissive wives. As he boasted in act 2, Petruchio has created a second Griselda, her existence powerfully proven by Katherina's complete sartorial submission.


  1. In her New Cambridge edition of the play (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), Ann Thompson comments that critics frequently defend Petruchio's methods, which are “positively kindly when compared with what happens in most of the other medieval and Renaissance versions of the shrew-taming plot where violence is commonplace” (28). Elsewhere, Thompson herself admits to being “less sanguine” than feminist apologist critics (“The Warrant of Womanhood: Shakespeare and Feminist Criticism,” in The Shakespeare Myth, ed. Graham Holderness [Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988], 74-87, 78).

  2. Ruth Barnes and Joanne B. Eicher, Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning (New York: St. Martin's, 1991), 2.

  3. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy, trans. Lydia Cochrane (London: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 228.

  4. The most comprehensive treatment of the impact of the Griselda tale from Boccaccio until the present is Judith Bronfman's Chaucer's “Clerk's Tale”: The Griselda Story Received, Rewritten, Illustrated (New York: Garland, 1994).

  5. Klapisch-Zuber, Woman, Family, and Ritual, 214, and passim.

  6. Klapisch-Zuber, 224, 227-28.

  7. See, for example, Linda Woodbridge, Women and the English Renaissance (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), who utilizes the Griselda myth as an exemplum of the formal controversy about women; Edward Pechter also recognizes the use of Griselda in homiletic domestic dramas (“Patient Grissil and the Trials of Marriage,” The Elizabeth Theatre XIV: Papers Given at the International Conference on Elizabethan Theatre held at the University of Waterloo in Ontario in July 1991 [Toronto: P.D. Meany, 1996], 83-108, especially 84 n. 4).

  8. I will limit the study of nondramatic versions to those by Boccaccio and Chaucer, which enjoyed greatest dissemination in their own century and in ours. Three other nondramatic texts—Petrarch's De insignia obedientia et fide uxoria (1374), which directly influenced Boccaccio's version; Thomas Deloney's ballad “Of Patient Grissell and a Noble Marquis” (1586?); and an anonymous English pamphlet of 1619—also utilize apparel to signal the changes in Griselda's status. The ritual of sartorial transformation is handled similarly in these texts.

  9. Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, translated into English 1620, vol. 4, ed. Edward Hutton (New York: AMS Press, 1967), 295-312, 298.

  10. Boccaccio, Decameron, 299.

  11. Boccaccio, Decameron, 229.

  12. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 137-53.

  13. As Carolyn Dinshaw illustrates, the clerk does spend an inordinate amount of time on Griselda's apparel (Chaucer's Sexual Politics [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989], 134, 144, and passim). Also see Kristine Gilmartin Wallace, “Array as Motif in the Clerk's Tale,” Rice University Studies 62.2 (Spring 1976): 100, and passim.

  14. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “despoil.”

  15. William Caxton also links undressing with despoiling in The Golden Legend: “He … wold not relece hir obdeyence til that she was destroyed to hir smocke.” While this linguistic linkage might seem to normalize the activity, we should note that being stripped to one's smock is, once again, connected to a woman's submission.

  16. Cristelle Baskins, “Griselda, or the Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelor in Tuscan Cassone Painting,” Stanford Italian Review 10.2 (1991): 153-75, 156.

  17. Baskins, “Griselda,” 160.

  18. Baskins, “Griselda,” 161, 164, 175.

  19. In “Women in Frames: The Gaze, the Eye and the Profile in Renaissance Portraiture,” Patricia Simons discusses early modern portraiture as a cultural event participating in the construction of gender rather than a naturalistic reflection of its society (History Workshop 25 [1988]: 4-30).

  20. See Lee Bliss, “The Renaissance Griselda: A Woman for All Seasons,” Viator 23 (1992): 301-43, for a comprehensive study of the tale's influence and controversy. Laura Lunger Knoppers persuasively links a woman's nudity and her ritualized degradation in “(En)gendering Shame: Measure for Measure and the Spectacles of Power,” English Literary Renaissance 23 (1993): 450-71.

  21. Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1983), 184.

  22. John Phillip The Play of Patient Grissell [1565], ed. Ronald B. McKerrow (London Malone Society Reprints, 1909), Ai,r. The title page suggests the multiple parts each actor can play, including Griselda doubling as the midwife.

  23. As Wallace points out, Chaucer also emphasizes that Griselda and Walter assign different symbolic significance to her changed clothes: while she obviously sees her transformation as perfect acquiescence to his will, Walter sees only that she has been raised to his high estate (“Array as Motif in the Clerk's Tale,” 102).

  24. The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, ed. Fredson Bowers, vol. 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1953). The title page, dated 1603, states “it hath beene sundrie times lately paid.” The play was owned by the Admiral's Men and performed at the Fortune in 1600 (Andrew Gurr, The Shakespearean Stage, 3rd ed. [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980], 240).

  25. See Barbara Hodgdon, “Katherina Bound; or, Play(K)ating the Strictures of Everyday Life,” PMLA 107.3 (May 1992): 538-53; Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters, esp. 121-33; and Karen Newman, Renaissance Family Politics and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew,English Literary Renaissance 16.1 (Winter 1986): 86-100, among others.

  26. All citations from New Cambridge edition of The Taming of the Shrew. The play was owned by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, and performed at the Globe, Blackfriers, and possibly the Theatre (Gurr, Shakespearean Stage, 241).

  27. In scene ten of the anonymous play The Taming of the Shrew (1594; ed. Stephen Roy Miller [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998], Kate has chosen her own clothes, to which her husband objects, piece by piece; this dissension typifies that play's theme of the perpetual battle of the sexes. In contrast, as Katherina admires the new clothes, Petruchio objects to the clothes that he himself has chosen; his petulance demonstrates his belief that within matrimoney, he is entitled to determine his wife's appearance.

  28. Karen Newman details the devastating effects of Petruchio's deliberate misunderstanding. She reminds us that Katherina has established the connection between the use of language and one's independence during the altercation over staying for the wedding dinner (“Renaissance Family Politics,” 94). Newman continues, “Kate is figuratively killed with kindness, by her husband's rule over her not so much in material terms—the withholding of food, clothing, and sleep—but the withholding of linguistical understanding” (95).

  29. Carolyn E. Brown (“Katherine of The Taming of the Shrew: ‘A Second Grissel,’” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 37.3 [Fall 1995]: 285-313) comments that Katherina is quite unshrewish in this scene, clearly pleased with the tailor's work (303).

  30. Patricia Cramer notes the connection between ritual stripping and destruction of the will in “Lordship, Bondage, and the Erotic: The Psychological Bases of Chaucer's Clerk's Tale, Journal of English and Germanic Philology (October 1990): 505.

  31. Petruchio's expectation that his wife will relinquish her sartorial preferences to his is echoed in spiritual conduct books of the time. Consider, for example, William Gouge's dictum on the matter in Of Domesticall Duties: Eight Treatises (1620):

    For as it well beseemeth all women, so wives after a peculiar manner, namely, in attiring themselves, to respect rather their Husbands place and state, then their own birth and parentage, but much rather then their own minde and humour.

    On the contrary, such proud dames as must have their owne will in their attire, and thinke it nothing appertaineth to their husbands to order them therein, who care not what their husbands ability, or what his place and calling be, they show little respect and reverence to their husbands. …

    (Third Treatise, 164; italics mine)

    While the main concern here is that the wife choose apparel appropriate to her husband's status, his command, desire, and example must clearly take precedence over her “minde and humour.”

  32. In her powerful discussion of the predicaments of Griselda and Katherina, Carolyn E. Brown cites linguistic and sartorial proof that Katherina's future looks bleaker than Griselda's. Chaucer's Walter, she reminds us, has at least admitted “this is ynogh” (line 1052); Petruchio offers no such guarantee.

This paper was originally delivered at the March 1993 Symposium on Women and the Arts in the Renaissance, under the auspices of the National Museum of Women and the Arts, Washington, DC. I am grateful to Jane Donawerth, Theresa Coletti, Ann Rosalind Jones, Peter Stallybrass, Elizabeth Welles, and Linda Woodbridge for their helpful comments on various revisions of that paper.

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

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SOURCE: Morris, Brian, ed. Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare, pp. 1-149. London: Methuen, 1981.

[In the following excerpt from the introduction to the Arden edition, Morris provides an overview of the structure and themes of The Taming of the Shrew.]


The history of the text through its various adaptations is important because it focuses critical attention on what successive generations of actors and dramatists considered essentially dramatic in it. Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio dominated this transmission, suggesting that in the theatrical structure the taming plot makes the play's most powerful dramatic statement. It is, after all, The Taming of the Shrew, not Lucentio and Bianca, or Sly's Dream.

As we have seen, Garrick stitched together the large set pieces of the taming plot: the bargain between Petruchio and Baptista, the lute-breaking, the wooing, the wedding, the reception at Petruchio's house, the Tailor and Haberdasher scene, the sun and moon scene, and the last part of the final scene in which Petruchio displays his wife's obedience and makes his peace with her. A radical selection, made for purely theatrical purposes, it nevertheless lays bare one of the basic structures and rhythmic patterns of Shakespeare's play, and the enchaînement of the scenes isolates the process of domestication and reduction to conformity which lies at the heart of it.1 After the Induction, Shakespeare's Act I is composed of relatively short episodes with little stage action (except for Petruchio's boisterous assault on Grumio), and mostly concerned with exposition or the creation of the various intrigues. Then follows what is by far the longest scene in the play (II.i), stretching to over four hundred lines, and presenting a four times repeated pattern of contest and recuperation, rising to a climax in the parodic ‘wooing’ and descending through the ‘auction of Bianca’ to the mundanities of plotting and intrigue. Balancing this overarching structure is a subsidiary pattern which contrasts physical violence with the eloquence of persuasions and the rituals of debate. The first contest opens the scene violently. Bianca, her hands tied, is haled about and struck by Katherina in a piece of stage action which reiterates and emphasizes the previous, lesser, conflicts between the Hostess and Sly, and Petruchio and Grumio. It is an angry episode, and when Baptista parts them Katherina leaves the stage in an outburst of frustration. Tension is released by the formal presentation to Baptista of the disguised lovers, Lucentio, Hortensio and Tranio, with civilized introductions and the giving of gifts until the ‘tutors’ are sent to meet their pupils off-stage. This leaves Petruchio and Baptista to begin the second contest, a brisk bargaining about Katherina's dowry (they are like merchants chaffering over a parcel of goods), which lacks the direct violence of the episode between the sisters. When the bargain is made, Hortensio enters ‘with his head broke’ and relates Katherina's off-stage attack on him. For the audience this is not a contest, since they are watching Hortensio's recuperation, but it repeats Katherina's propensity to violence, and creates anticipation for the third contest, the wooing, which is cunningly prepared and delayed by Petruchio's soliloquy—a moment of physical rest when he daringly reveals the first stage of his taming strategy. The wooing begins with a wit-bout, or, rather, a fast exchange of fairly crude insults, until Katherina takes an advantage by striking Petruchio. This provokes his reply: ‘I swear I'll cuff you, if you strike again.’ Katherina senses the danger and resumes wit-play: ‘So may you lose your arms. …’ It is a point of climax, marking a boundary in the dispute; this will not, we appreciate, be a matter of simple strength and brutality. The verbal jesting continues, Petruchio puts his plan into action, and so bewilders Katherina that she can offer only token resistance to his outrageous claims, made when Baptista, Gremio and Tranio enter. Recuperation follows, since Petruchio's announcement of the result of his wooing and his arrangements for the wedding go virtually unopposed. When Petruchio and Katherina leave the stage we witness the last contest, between Gremio and Tranio for the hand of Bianca. Baptista conducts this as a long, deliberate auction, and sells to the highest bidder. Tranio, having topped Gremio's bid, bandies a few words with the loser, plans how to make good his boast, and the scene ends.

Structurally, it is a theme and variations, the basic motif of a contest being repeated and modulated into different keys: a physical fight, the bargaining for a marriage contract, a contentious wooing, and an auction. And, each time, the form is related more and more obliquely to the content. The fight is natural, the marriage contract less so (since Petruchio talks of money and Baptista insists on love). The wooing is most abnormal, comprising insults, anger and the clash of wills, and the auction of Bianca's hand would have seemed as inappropriate to an Elizabethan audience (however well accustomed it was to hard bargaining over marriage contracts) as a broadly similar episode did to the first readers of Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge. The scene moves from the normal to the fantastic through repeated contests, separated by ever briefer episodes of rest, so that its pace increases steadily. As Jones says (of a scene in Titus Andronicus):

If we look back for a moment to the scene just discussed, we can hardly fail to be struck by the bold simplicity of its shape. … Shakespeare's big scenes are usually founded on such powerfully simple devices as this.2

Even in so early a play as The Shrew [The Taming of the Shrew] Shakespeare's constructive art is displayed in his elegant manipulation of such simplicities.3

The second big scene in the taming plot (a scene given full value in Garrick's adaptation) is the wedding scene (III.ii), which might be described as a ‘displacement’ scene, since the important action takes place off-stage, and is reported by witnesses. Petruchio's progress to Padua and the wedding itself are not allowed on the stage, and the two are linked only by the comparatively brief appearance of Petruchio, fantastically dressed, to claim his bride. The scene begins with Baptista's complaints about Petruchio's lateness, and Katherina's outburst of shame and anger. Biondello's entry, with his long description of Petruchio's grotesque clothing and knackered horse, builds up his eventual appearance on stage, but also allows the audience to realize that the bridegroom is approaching his marriage disgracefully unprepared. Petruchio's point is that so is the bride. He displaces her emotional unpreparedness on to his own garments and means of transport, just as the dramaturgy of the scene displaces the simple sight of him so arrayed on to the more explicit and telling verbal description. The same is true of the wedding. Gremio reports Petruchio's antics at the ceremony, cuffing the priest, stamping and swearing ‘As if the vicar meant to cozen him’, when the action itself (or something like it) would have made a most effective stage spectacle. The displacement of the action by the description reflects Petruchio's displacement of the solemn ‘union of this man with this woman’ with a violent, disrespectful travesty of it—which is what he believes marriage to an unreformed shrew to be. It is both an image of his belief and a part of his treatment, and the displacement technique opens up a receding perspective of great dramatic depth.

The pattern of ‘taming’ scenes in Act IV (which Garrick's version excerpts into an unbroken sequence) forms the very heart of the play in the theatre. This process of taming, teaching and testing, by various and unexpected dislocations of normality, is strongly visual and comparatively direct.4 In stage terms it is the busiest part of the play, with servants bustling about, food brought, meat thrown round the stage, the Haberdasher disdained and the Tailor abused, and all the preparations for the return to Padua as well as the journey itself. The climax comes at IV.v, in the form of what Jones recognizes as a ‘transformation’ or ‘conversion’ scene.5 Either from weariness or because she at last recognizes the game her husband is playing, Katherina turns from a contradicting shrew into an utterly compliant wife, agreeing with him that the sun is the moon, or the moon the sun:

What you will have it nam'd, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katherine.

This is the turning-point of the plot and the play, suitably and tellingly marked by the metaphor in Hortensio's line: ‘Petruchio, go thy ways, the field is won.’6 But, as before and after in the play, there is one more test than seems strictly necessary, and Katherina has to agree that Vincentio is either a budding virgin or an old man, whichever Petruchio decrees. Like many other of Shakespeare's transformation scenes, this climactic scene has a compelling effect in the theatre. We recognize triumph, we sympathize with surrender; we experience satisfaction in the completion of a long pattern, and we regret that an interesting fight seems finished.

Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio makes short work of Shakespeare's final ensemble scene, V.ii. By replacing Vincentio (in IV.v) with Baptista, Garrick telescopes the closing scenes. He omits both the feast and the wager, and severely cuts Katherina's long ‘obedience’ speech, redistributing parts of it to Petruchio. The result is brisk and bright, and it entirely falsifies Shakespeare's sense of an ending. Shakespeare, in V.ii, is at pains to have as many characters as possible on stage and involved in a series of rituals. The scene opens with a banquet7 at Lucentio's house (almost the first time in the play anyone has had anything to eat). Hospitality and generosity are the keynotes, but witty conversation soon gives rise to a verbal contest between Katherina and the Widow. This, in turn, slowly moves on to the idea of a larger contest and a formal wager on the obedience of the three wives. This produces the thrice-repeated ritual of the summoned wife and her response, culminating in the dutiful appearance of Katherina and her obedient departure to bring in the other wives. Petruchio has won his wager, but again there is the superfluous, and theatrically suspenseful, test. She must take off her cap and trample on it, and she must ‘tell these headstrong women / What duty they do owe their lords and husbands’. She obeys. This part of the scene is complex and vitally important to any interpretation of the play, and it is fully discussed below (see pp. 143ff.). For the moment, considering only its place in the theatrical structure of the taming plot, it is sufficient to say that the play ends with a long, full, formal, developed, public statement by Katherina, and Petruchio's recognition of the significance of that statement. This final ensemble scene, then, recapitulates the contests and the testings of the earlier Acts, in a strongly ritualized action, and guarantees the truth of the transformation brought about in IV.v, which was the climax of Petruchio's taming technique based on the dislocations of normal expectance and displacements which the wedding scene (III.ii) exemplifies and enacts. Shakespeare develops these various ‘scenic patterns’ in various ways throughout his dramatic career, but as they are deployed here they create a strong theatrical structure, forming the central statement of the play.

The strength of this structure is in no way vitiated by its refusal to employ the maximum of narrative suspense. We are told what is to happen, and we watch to see if it will. The theatrical pattern of ‘the fulfilled declaration’ creates a particular kind of audience participation. Petruchio's two soliloquies (II.i. 168-81 and IV.i. 175-98) make us privy to his intent as no one else in the play is permitted to be, and we watch the working out of his proposition, in two stages, like the demonstration of a mathematical proof. This places Petruchio squarely at the centre of the plot, and he is the focus of audience attention (it is surprising how small Katherina's part is, in terms of lines spoken). In the taming plot our principal concern is with the falconer, not with the bird.

Of all the post-Shakespearean adaptations of The Shrew only Lacey's Sauny the Scott has any use for the sub-plot, with its disguises and intrigues. The verdict of the theatre seems to have been that it is inferior, detachable and dispensable. As we have seen (p. 99), it was not until the Victorian period that it was restored to performance. Yet, almost alone among the early critics, Dr Johnson recognized that it is essential to Shakespeare's purposes. He says:

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.8

Modern critics concur, virtually with one voice, and Hibbard is typical when he says, ‘the first audience to witness a performance of the play … were seeing the most elaborately and skilfully designed comedy that had yet appeared on the English stage’.9 Agreement about Shakespeare's constructional skills, however, should not blunt our recognition that the sub-plot is in quite a different key—less direct, less robust, more conventional in its characterizations, and by turns flatter and more ornate in its language. It does not work through such large set-piece scenes as the taming plot does. The lute-breaking episode in II.i and the scene (III.i) where Lucentio and Hortensio instruct Bianca in music and Latin are theatrically important and memorable, but for the most part the plot is conducted in comparatively brief episodes of scheming and deception. Shakespeare's skill in exposition may be illustrated from his delaying and integrating technique at the opening of the play. The title creates an expectation of conflict between a man and his wife, but the Induction10 offers us immediately a dispute between the Hostess and a Beggar, followed by a long episode in which a Lord and his train plan to deceive the sleeping Beggar that he is a Lord. This is interrupted by the arrival of the actors, after which the Lord's plot is seen in operation, with Sly deceived for over a hundred lines until the actors come to play their comedy. The play-within-the-play then begins with the sub-plot, Lucentio and Tranio arriving in Padua to pursue a course of study and meeting Baptista, his daughters and suitors at I.i.47. Until this point (350 lines into a play only 2750 lines long) there is no hint of a shrew, yet all that has taken place proves, in the end, to be thematically and structurally relevant. At I.i.48, Baptista firmly links the two plots by his initial announcement:

Gentlemen, importune me no farther,
For how I firmly am resolv'd you know;
That is, not to bestow my youngest daughter
Before I have a husband for the elder.

It is from this decision that all the scheming of the sub-plot flows, with Hortensio, Lucentio and Gremio pursuing their various ways to win Bianca. As Alexander Leggatt has suggested,11 the taming plot, by coming later, may be seen as, in part, ‘a reflection of it at a deeper level’, but the contest for Bianca is also a parallel to the contest between Petruchio and Katherina. In both cases courtship is seen as a struggle, a conflict, and Shakespeare signals this by the way in which, after I.i, the plots interweave.

Shakespeare derived several advantages from his choice of Gascoigne's Supposes as his sub-plot's source (see pp. 78-84). Italian literature was fashionable, Roman comedy was academically respectable, but not many vernacular plays had been built on these bases. As Charlton remarked, ‘Not many English comedies of the sixteenth century are built directly on Italian models’,12 so that Shakespeare's work had the advantage of novelty. By a discreet ‘italianizing’ of the taming plot—giving the characters Italian names, setting the play in Padua, and so on—and by integrating it with Gascoigne's efficient translation from the popular Ariosto, Shakespeare, as M. C. Bradbrook says, adjusted ‘native popular traditional art’ to the ‘socially more esteemed classical and foreign models’.13 The title of the play, The Taming of the Shrew, would have sounded very like a contribution to the growing debate on the status of wives and the rights and duties of marriage, and the added Italian flavour provided a dash of sophistication.

The use of Supposes also adds a dimension of intrigue and indirection to The Shrew, counterpointing Petruchio's direct methods of courtship. Baptista's ban (I.i.48) on direct competition for Bianca makes subterfuge necessary, and brings about the disguises of Hortensio and Lucentio. These create both confusion and deception, prospering the action of the play, but they also imply a significant enlargement of Bianca's part. Polynesta (her original in Supposes) has been seduced two years ago, and is pregnant by Erostrato, but she rarely appears in the play. By making her a virgin, Katherina's younger sister, and by adding a third (Hortensio)14 to the list of her suitors, Shakespeare can increase the element of romance in the play (as with Lucentio's rapturous ‘love at first sight’ in I.i), and permit the younger sister to have a personality of her own, to complement the Shrew's. The development of Bianca is subtle. In I.i she appears the dutiful, submissive daughter, all ‘mild behaviour and sobriety’, though her first words, to Katherina, are beautifully barbed: ‘Sister, content you in my discontent.’ She obeys her father, suffers physical violence from her sister (II.i), and publicly accepts the appointment of her ‘tutors’. When she is alone with them, however, she is in complete, cool command:

Why, gentlemen, you do me double wrong
To strive for that which resteth in my choice.
I am no breeching scholar in the schools,
I'll not be tied to hours nor 'pointed times,
But learn my lessons as I please myself.


It comes as small surprise, when she is married to Lucentio, that she assumes many of the characteristics of her shrewish sister when she is sent for in the final scene. The treatment of Bianca is typical of the ‘room for development’ which Shakespeare gives himself when he integrates the two plots.

The intrigues and the romantic quality of the sub-plot also allow Shakespeare to make comparisons and contrasts which clarify and deepen the thematic development. Leggatt points out that the two plots ‘present a contrast in conventions, both social and dramatic’.15 And the contrasts are not simple. Leggatt adds: ‘The courting of Bianca follows literary convention: and this is played off against the social conventions followed by her father, the romanticism of the one contrasting with the realism of the other.’

Lucentio's rapturous passion in I.i is contrasted not only with Petruchio's realistic declaration ‘I come to wive it wealthily in Padua’ (I.ii.74) and with his brisk financial bargaining over Katherina's dowry (II.i.119-27), but also with Baptista's thoroughly commercial auction of his daughter later in the scene. Contrasts of social and dramatic convention of this kind are the staple of the play's development, and they comment ironically one on the other, refusing to allow any single attitude to love and marriage to go unchallenged.16 But the sub-plot is patient of other kinds of contrast, some superficial, some deep. From its Roman and Italian sources comes the opposition of youth and age: Baptista, Vincentio, the Pedant and Gremio are the targets of the scheming young men, Lucentio, Tranio and Hortensio, made explicit in Grumio's comment: ‘Here's no knavery. See, to beguile the old folks, how the young folks lay their heads together’ (I.ii.137-8). Then there is the direct comparison between Petruchio and Lucentio as the principal wooers in their respective actions. Petruchio is superficially direct, simple, overbearing and business-like (though, on inspection, his methods are seen to be more subtle and based on a shrewd psychological appreciation); Lucentio, on the other hand, is lovesick, devious (employing Tranio in disguise to do all his real work for him),17 and proceeds by expediency rather than plan. There is also the larger contrast between the stock, stereotyped characters, inherited from the sub-plot's sources, and the more highly-individualized personalities of the taming plot (though in this group we may include Bianca, created by Shakespeare from mere hints in his source). Lucentio, in this respect, is little more than the romantic young man of Italian comedy, and Tranio displays his origin as the resourceful slave of Roman drama. Baptista is a type of the anxious father (we know nothing more of him except that he is a rich merchant), the Pedant is not even allowed the dignity of a name, and Gremio is specified in the stage-direction at I.i.47 as ‘a pantaloon’, the stock ‘old man’ character of the commedia. Such characters are circumscribed, they act in predictable ways and within defined limits. Against them are ranged the individualized, unpredictable, developing figures of Katherina and Petruchio. The creative tension set up between the conventions and the different modes of characterization in the two plots is epitomized in the climax of the sub-plot (V.i), when the true and false Vincentios at last come face to face, and the intrigues are resolved. Shakespeare is careful to place Katherina and Petruchio (who have resolved their differences and come together in the previous scene) as eavesdropping witnesses to this action: Petruchio says, ‘Prithee, Kate, let's stand aside and see the end of this controversy’, and from a position of dramatic superiority they watch the events of the dénouement.

The two plots comment on each other at a deeper level as well. The most obvious example is in the matter of disguise. Lucentio and Hortensio are disguised as private tutors simply to gain access to their mistress; Tranio is disguised as Lucentio to further his master's designs by his own ingenuity. These are simple changes of identity. But Petruchio disguises his true nature by his assumption of the ‘tamer's role’, for it is a role, a performance, for a particular purpose, and this is made perfectly clear at the end of the play (though there have been hints before) when he is asked what his reform of Katherina implies. He answers:

Marry, peace it bodes, and love, and quiet life,
An awful rule, and right supremacy,
And, to be short, what not that's sweet and happy.


Mutatis mutandis, a similar case might be made for the emergence of Katherina from her disguise as a shrew, a role forced on her by a neglectful father, a sly sister and an unsympathetic society.

It has also been argued that the plots are united by the pervasive presence of ‘supposes’, or mistakings, but since this concerns the Sly material as well it is discussed below (see p. 19). In his chapter on ‘Double plots in Shakespeare’ Salingar sums up the structural importance of the sub-plot and its integration with the story of Petruchio and Katherina:

Above all, he applies the lesson of the balanced and interconnected double plot, which he is more likely to have learned from Supposes than anywhere else. In his first act, the marriage of Kate is introduced only as a means to another end, the release of Bianca, and the rivalry over Bianca occupies most of the dialogue, although Shakespeare ensures the momentum of his double plot by interesting the audience more in Kate. He maintains the latent contrast between the two halves of his plot by devising scenes dealing with the pretended tutoring of Bianca before he comes to Petruchio's ‘schooling’ of Kate in Act IV. He then links the two plots causally together, first by making Hortensio and his real or pretended rivals join in offering Petruchio inducements to ‘break the ice’ for them [I.ii.265] by wedding the elder sister, and then by making Tranio point out to Lucentio ‘our vantage in this business’ in the midst of Kate's marriage-scene [III.ii.142], before he brings the two marriages together (with Hortensio's added) for comparison in the final scene. This is not mere imitation of New Comedy or Italian plots, but the application of Italian methods to new purposes.18

One might only add that the union of the two plots is not, in Johnson's phrase, ‘distracted by unconnected incidents’ to appreciate the subtlety and complexity of Shakespeare's constructional art.

What Hosley has described as ‘the brilliant threefold structure of induction, main plot, and subplot … perhaps all the more remarkable for being without parallel in Elizabethan drama’19 is completed by the two Induction scenes and the episode which ends I.i.20 This ‘Sly framework’ is at once the most realistic and the most fantastic and bewildering structure in the play, closely related as it is to the play it encloses, in matters of theme, tone and proleptic irony.

Sly himself is a memorable creation21—earthy, addicted to ale, fond of ease, firmly rooted in the Warwickshire countryside, and garrulously eloquent either as beggar or supposed lord. Yet he is only one part of what is the widest social spectrum in the play, comprising a beggar, an innkeeper, huntsmen, actors, a page, servants and a lord (to say nothing of Stephen Sly, and old John Naps of Greece). This social group is strongly contrasted with the narrower, bourgeois-mercantile society of Padua where money is master and marriage is commerce, just as the rural English setting of the Induction guarantees a certain artificiality and sophistication to the main play's locations in Italy. We move easily from realism to romance, just as Sly assumes the role of ‘a mighty lord’ with alacrity, remembering that ‘the Slys are no rogues. Look in the Chronicles, we came in with Richard Conqueror.’ To explore the relationships between the Induction and the play is to skin an onion, or open a set of Chinese boxes, so interwoven are the anticipations of the one in the other. This is a vital part of The Shrew's larger strategy.

The most obvious link is between Sly's assumption of a new personality and Katherina's translation into a loving wife. In each case, the victim is ‘practised upon’, deluded, and the result is bewilderment. ‘What, would you make me mad?’ asks Sly (Ind. ii. 17), enumerating his friends by name to prove his sanity, but a little later it is ‘Am I a lord, and have I such a lady? / Or do I dream? Or have I dream'd till now?’ and then ‘Upon my life, I am a lord indeed’. We may compare Katherina's stunned incomprehension at Petruchio's behaviour in the wooing scene (II.i), her ineffectual resistance after the wedding, and her few and feeble words before the Haberdasher and the Tailor. Once Sly is convinced that he is a lord he adopts what he feels to be an appropriate utterance (‘Well, bring our lady hither to our sight’), and Katherina, after Petruchio's ‘field is won’, learns gradually to speak the dialect of the obedient wife. Katherina's new role is anticipated by the Page's description of a wife's duties (the more ironic as the Page is not what he seems): ‘My husband and my lord, my lord and husband’. In different ways, both Sly and the Page parody what Katherina is to become.

The Induction's use of music similarly foreshadows the play's concern with it as a part of the action and a metaphor for harmony. The Lord commands his huntsmen to ‘Procure me music when he wakes, / To make a dulcet and a heavenly sound’, and in the following scene music is called for in a stage-direction, when the Lord suggests:

Wilt thou have music? Hark, Apollo plays,
And twenty caged nightingales shall sing.

Here music is a means to deception, just as in the play Hortensio is disguised as a musician to gain access to Bianca, who is described as ‘the patroness of heavenly harmony’, and there follows all the business of the lute-breaking and the music lesson, the wedding music (III.ii) and Petruchio's scraps of old songs (IV.i).

The sense of gracious living created in the Induction (with its music, its soft beds, its fine pictures, its perfumed rooms) includes hunting with hawk and hound. The Lord first enters ‘from hunting’, and the talk of Silver, Belman and Echo opens the play with an extended evocation of field sports. Sly is told that his ‘hounds shall make the welkin answer them’, and if he prefers hawking, ‘Thou hast hawks will soar / Above the morning lark’. All this gives a local habitation and a name to the hunting imagery of the main play, both in Petruchio's taming methods and all that is summed up from the sub-plot in Tranio's comment in V.ii:

O sir, Lucentio slipp'd me like his greyhound,
Which runs himself, and catches for his master.

Once again, the comparison produces a bewildering mixture of fantasy and reality, since the Lord's hounds and huntsmen are credible and real, while Sly's are imaginary, and Petruchio's and Lucentio's hunting is in the field of courtship only. Petruchio calls for his ‘spaniel Troilus’ (IV.i), but it never comes.

The Induction makes great play with actors and acting. The Players are courteously and expansively received, the Lord clearly knows something of their art, and Sly himself, although we are told he has never seen a play, garbles a phrase from The Spanish Tragedy in his opening lines. As Anne Righter points out,22 ‘The theatrical nature of the deception practised upon the sleeping beggar is constantly stressed’: the huntsman promises ‘we will play our part’, the Page will ‘well usurp the grace’ of a gentlewoman, and the Players promise to contain themselves, ‘Were he the veriest antic in the world’. This foreshadows the main play's concern with plays and the acting of parts, from Tranio's belief in I.i that Baptista and his party represent ‘some show to welcome us to town’, through the various disguises and performances of Tranio, Lucentio, Hortensio and the Pedant.

These analogies, anticipations and ironic prolepses between the Induction and the main play subserve a larger purpose—the relentless questioning of the boundaries between appearance and reality. As we shall see (pp. 133ff.), The Shrew is deeply concerned with processes of change, metamorphosis and transformation, and the movement through the Induction into the play itself deliberately dislocates our sense of what is true and what is fiction. As Stauffer puts it:23

Most of the conflicts here between appearance and reality, between shadow and substance, are generated from the outside. How can Christopher Sly be sure he is a drunken tinker when all those around him assure him that he is a lord? And is not the old father Vincentio almost justified in doubting his identity when everyone on the stage is crying away to prison with the dotard and impostor?

Tillyard sees the conflict between appearance and reality as the play's overriding theme, and says:24

There is exquisite comedy in Sly, newly awakened in his gorgeous surroundings, demanding a pot of the smallest ale; and there is the hint, through his bewilderment and his final acquiescence in the reality of the moment, that the limits of the apparent and the real are not easily charted. Such thoughts would well occur in an age of allegory, with Spenser the chief poet, to any thoughtful man.

Marjorie B. Garber argues that the formal device of the induction affects the play as a whole especially because the Induction purports to tell a dream, and the dream metaphor, like the stage metaphor, ‘presents the audience with the problem of comparative realities and juxtaposes a simple or “low” illusion with the more courtly illusions of the taming plot itself’.25 She adds:

The ‘dream’ to which the lord and his servants refer is Sly's conviction that he is a tinker named Christopher Sly. Thus, what they call his dream is actually the literal truth, while the ‘truth’ they persuade him of is fictive.26

Shakespeare's Induction sets up the problem of appearance and reality as a puzzle, a corridor of mirrors, and this conditions our experience of the whole play. Leggatt sums it up:27

it would certainly be too simple to say that each new perspective takes us one step closer to reality, or one step further away from it. … The audience remains detached from Sly's experience when he becomes a lord, but begins to share it when he watches the play. … The barriers that separated different experiences of life in the earlier plays are now less tight, and there is more traffic across them.

This has ramifications for our understanding of the play as a whole, which, in one sense, may be no more than ‘Sly's Dream’, and it is the direct result of Shakespeare's decision to preface the story of the taming of the shrew with the story of ‘the waking man's dream’ as well as undergirding it with the sub-plot of intrigue, competition in courtship, and romance. These structures are brilliantly reticulated, or interwoven, both at narrative and thematic levels, to create a seemingly seamless web of story (The Shrew is dazzling, but not difficult to follow, in the theatre). Its structural unity may well be compared to that of plays like The Merchant of Venice or Twelfth Night.

Examination of structures and sources has also revealed what is widely felt to be the feature which unifies the three plots and informs Shakespeare's whole dramatic intention. C. C. Seronsy has proposed the idea that ‘the sub-plot, with its theme of “supposes” which enters substantially into both the shrew action and the induction … will account in large measure for Shakespeare's superior handling of all three elements of the plot’.28 As Gasciogne's Prologue states, a ‘suppose’ is ‘nothing else but a mystaking or imagination of one thing for an other’ (see p. 80), and he indicates twenty-four of them in his play, marking them carefully in the margins of his text. Seronsy argues that the term need not be so confined as to mean only one character disguised as another, and if we accept a wider sense for the word—‘supposition’, ‘expectation’, ‘to believe’, ‘to imagine’, ‘to guess’, ‘to assume’—we may see how it becomes ‘a guiding principle of Petruchio's strategy in winning and taming the shrew’. He sees the Induction, too, as ‘a steady play of suggestion, of make-believe, and of metamorphosis’: Sly is to be persuaded that he has been lunatic, the Page is subtly transformed into his supposed new identity, the Players are to join in the Lord's game and imagine that they are not playing before a drunken tinker but before a lord. Sly's transformation comes when he wakes in the second scene, and though it is never complete, it forms the central action of that scene. Seronsy concludes that The Shrew's artistic success ‘lies chiefly in the union of the three strands, in their having a fundamental likeness, the game of supposes or make-believe’. This is a strong argument, and it provides insights into many areas of the play. It links and contrasts Sly's assumption of his false lordly role with Katherina's final conformity to the image Petruchio has made of her: thinking has made it so. And it connects each of these with the comedy of errors and misprisions in the sub-plot. Nevertheless, I feel it does not fully comprehend the organic unity of the play; it relates principally to the narrative and constructional conduct of the action, and pays less than full attention to the deeper and more primitive structures of the play. To these we must now turn.

The play grows from two primal images—the shrew and the hawk. These are far more than metaphors to illustrate the vagaries and varieties of human behaviour. They are the basic raw material from which story, character and poetic structure are formed. In places, the very scenic structure of the action arises from the natural characteristics of the animal and the bird. And it is not a simple matter of character-correspondences: Katherina is both shrew and haggard; Petruchio is both falconer and fool. We need to see how both images are rooted in myth and nature and folklore to appreciate how organic the play's unity is.

The play's title sounds proverbial, but, surprisingly, neither Tilley nor Smith and Wilson records it. There are many proverbs about shrews (e.g. Tilley, A9, E229, I59, M684, S412-14), but they are concerned with the habits of the animal, and ‘Every man can rule a shrew but he that has her’ (M106), the closest to Shakespeare's phrase, is not recorded before 1546. In this context ‘shrew’ clearly means ‘a woman given to railing or scolding’ (OED, sb.2 3), but the word has many earlier meanings. Originally, of course, it referred to any animal belonging to the genus Sorex (OED, sb.1 1), and occurs in Old English as early as c. 725. But by the middle of the thirteenth century it had come to mean ‘a wicked, evil-disposed, or malignant man’ (sb.2 1), and by the end of the fourteenth century it was regularly applied to the Devil.29 The earliest recorded example of its application to a woman ‘given to railing or scolding’ is in Chaucer's Epilogue to The Merchant's Tale: ‘But of hir tonge a lobbyng shrewe is she.’ By the end of the sixteenth century this had become the dominant meaning, but behind Shakespeare's use of the word lies a long sense of the shrew as evil, malign, even satanic, and this must inform our understanding of what Shakespeare meant by it.

In natural history, too, the shrew has had a uniformly bad and wholly undeserved report.30 Topsell gives a fair idea of what Shakespeare's contemporaries would have believed:31

It is a rauening beast, feygning it selfe to be gentle and tame, but being touched it biteth deepe, and poisoneth deadly. It beareth a cruell minde, desiring to hurt any thing, neither is there any creature that it loueth, or it loueth him, because it is feared of al. The cats as we haue saide do hunt it and kil it, but they eat not them, for if they do, they consume away in time. … They go very slowely, they are fraudulent, and take their prey by deceipt. Many times they gnaw the Oxes hooues in the stable. They loue the rotten flesh of Rauens. … The Shrew being cut and applyed in the manner of a plaister, doth effectually cure her owne bites. … The Shrew falling into the furrow of a Cart wheele doth presently dye: the dust thereof in the passage by which she went being taken, and sprinkled into the woundes which were made by her poysonsome teeth, is a very excellent and present remedy for the curing of the same … if horses, or any other labouring creature do feede in that pasture or grasse in which a Shrew shall put her venome or poyson in, they will presently die.

So absorbed were the natural historians with these (totally imaginary) venomous and maleficent qualities of the shrew that they failed to record what every countryman would have observed as its dominant peculiarities. Shakespeare was country-bred, and his play virtually ignores the old wives' tales, but shows striking affinities with what modern mammalogists have identified as the true characteristics and behaviour patterns of the shrew.

Corbet's standard work summarizes what is now generally believed:32

Shrews are very active, solitary, surface-dwellers. … They are very voracious and suffer from lack of food within a few hours. … Shrews are preyed upon extensively by birds, but much less so by mammalian carnivores. … Dispersion is maintained by aggressive behaviour at all times except during the brief period of oestrus and copulation. The fighting is stereotyped and involves great use of the voice, resulting in ‘squeaking matches’.33

These primary characteristics, energy, irascibility and noise, have their analogies in Shakespeare's play.

The Shrew is much concerned with the search for food. In the Induction the Lord proposes ‘a most delicious banquet’, and Sly (to whom drink is food) calls for it repeatedly; conserves are offered, and Sly smells ‘sweet savours’. Katherina is denied her bridal dinner (III.ii), starved at Petruchio's house (IV.i), mocked with the promise of food by Grumio (IV.iii), and not finally satisfied until Lucentio's banquet in V.ii, where there is nothing to do ‘but sit and sit, and eat and eat’. From Act I she is presented as vigorously active, in contrast to Bianca's ‘mild behaviour and sobriety’: she is a ‘fiend of hell’, whose ‘gifts are so good here's none will hold you’. She fights with Bianca in II.i, strikes her, ‘flies after her’, breaks a lute on Hortensio's head, strikes Petruchio, weeps on her wedding day, and opposes Petruchio on the matter of the bridal dinner because ‘a woman may be made a fool / If she had not a spirit to resist’. Her raging energy is amply demonstrated throughout the play's first three Acts.

We are left in no doubt about her fiery temperament and irascibility. Gremio (I.i.55) says at once ‘She's too rough for me’, and five lines later Hortensio rejects her, ‘Unless you were of gentler, milder mould’. She threatens ‘To comb your noddle with a three-legg'd stool’, as we have seen she attacks both Bianca and Petruchio physically, and her anger is even more emphasized in word than in action. The long verbal dispute with Petruchio in II.i has been inaccurately described as a ‘wit-bout’; it is far more of a flyting match, in which the contestants vie in vilification. As it concludes, Petruchio sums up her temperament in ironic inversions:

                                                  I find you passing gentle.
'Twas told me you were rough, and coy, and sullen. …
Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look askance,
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will,
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk.


These are, of course, precisely the qualities she has just displayed. We have already heard of her as ‘an irksome brawling scold’ (I.ii) and Petruchio describes her as ‘a wasp’ (II.i), and as late as III.ii, after the wedding, she has an outburst of anger which draws from her husband the mockingly suave request: ‘O Kate, content thee, prithee be not angry.’ She insists, even at this late stage, on her right to free expression of wrath: ‘I will be angry; what hast thou to do?’ In Acts IV and V things are different, but until then Katherina's shrewish nature is predominantly emphasized by her shrew-like irascibility. She is, as Hortensio says, ‘Renown'd in Padua for her scolding tongue’.

Although not averse to using her fists, Katherina fights principally by noise. We are told that Petruchio's ‘taming-school’ (IV.ii) exists ‘To tame a shrew and charm her chattering tongue’. Tranio's first comment on her (I.i) notes how she

Began to scold and raise up such a storm
That mortal ears might hardly endure the din.

She loses no opportunity for verbal contest, with Bianca, with Petruchio, or with her father, when Petruchio is late arriving on the wedding day (III.ii):

No shame but mine. I must forsooth be forc'd
To give my hand, oppos'd against my heart,
Unto a mad-brain rudesby, full of spleen,
Who woo'd in haste and means to wed at leisure. …

Her freedom of speech is almost the last liberty she surrenders, making a spirited stand for it as late as IV.iii:

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.

Her resistance is ignored, her angry words silenced, and her most ‘shrewish’ quality subdued to the tamer's hand.

Shakespeare's presentation of Katherina subsumes several of the available characteristics of the shrew. From the history of the word comes the sense of her as a devil: the word (and its derivatives) is applied to her no less than fifteen times. As Hortensio says (I.i.66): ‘From all such devils, good Lord deliver us!’ From the observed characteristics of the animal itself come the distinguishing features of energy, irascibility and (above all) noise. By dramatizing Katherina in this way in the first movement of the play Shakespeare puts down deep roots into social, verbal and natural history.

Shrew imagery dominates the first half of the play. Petruchio's first soliloquy (II.i.168-81), outlining his plan for dealing with his shrew, says nothing about taming her. He will ‘woo her with some spirit when she comes’ and the only bird mentioned is a nightingale. His technique will be to oppose reality with a created fiction, and make the appearance more real than the fact:

Say that she rail, why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as the nightingale.

The plan is to confuse, to baffle, to bewilder her by presenting her with a perpetual image of what he thinks her behaviour ought to be. And it is important that Katherina should fail to understand what he is doing. Throughout the play she is presented as not particularly intelligent, and she never stops to analyse his behaviour, to plan, to counter. She simply reacts, violently, to stimuli. In this respect, too, she is like the animal: her reactions are ‘shrewish’.

The play's title, The Taming of the Shrew, is, in the literal sense, an absurdity. Men tame animals either for companionship or for use. In Shakespeare's day there is no evidence to suggest that men ever kept shrews as pets34 and such a tiny beast could do no useful work. At one level, Petruchio is a fool for making the attempt, and his technique is certainly seen by others as eccentric and fantastic. Katherina, not surprisingly, enquires after his ‘coxcomb’ (II.i), and refers to him as ‘one half lunatic’, ‘A madcap ruffian’, ‘a mad-brain rudesby’ and ‘a frantic fool’, but Bianca points out, after the wedding (III.ii), ‘That being mad herself, she's madly mated’. It is left to Tranio, commenting on Petruchio's fantastic clothing as he arrives for his wedding, to make the crucial point: ‘He hath some meaning in his mad attire.’ Petruchio is playing the Fool, just as Lear's Fool does, presenting unpalatable truths under the cloak of entertainment, displacing his master's folly on to himself. It is Katherina who is ill prepared for marriage, and Petruchio, in his foolishness, is telling her so. To ‘tame the shrew’, then, is, in one sense, to exorcize an evil and irascible spirit (in this case by outdoing it—he ‘kills her in her own humour’), and in another, to reduce a wild bird to obedience, so that she can hunt for you and with you. It is this taming image, the reclaiming of the haggard, which controls the second half of the play.

Falconry was so well known and so widely practised in Shakespeare's day that little needs to be said about it.35 As Lascelles says: ‘To the reader or playgoer of Shakespeare's time the technical terms describing the training of hawks for the sport of falconry were household words.’ In The Shrew, however, Shakespeare focuses attention almost exclusively on one part of that training: the watching, or ‘manning’36 of the wild bird, by keeping it awake day and night, and by limiting its food, until from sheer fatigue it settles down into docility and tameness.37 This is often a long, exhausting process, but, when successfully completed, it sets up a close and special relationship between the falconer and his bird which makes them an efficient hunting team. It is as if Shakespeare's imagination focused as narrowly and intensively on the ‘hawk’ image as it had ranged extensively when exploring the ‘shrew’. His dramatic presentation of it alerts a particular kind of audience attention by its directness, explicitness, and an almost Euclidian insistence on stating a theorem and proceeding to prove it. It is also surprising that it is introduced so late in the play.

Allusions to falconry are not absent from the first three Acts of the play, but they are slight, passing, almost incidental. The Induction is strongly concerned with hunting, but mainly it is hare coursing, with only one direct bird-image:

Dost thou love hawking? Thou hast hawks will soar
Above the morning lark.(38)

Apart from the buzzard at II.i.206-8 (which comes in for its value in word-play) the allusions to falconry before Act IV are oblique, and apply to Bianca, not Katherina. Gremio asks Baptista ‘will you mew her up … ?’39 and Tranio explains to Lucentio that her father has ‘closely mew'd her up’, but the term carries little metaphoric force. The first overt reference to taming does not occur until II.i.269-71 (concerning Katherina), when Petruchio intends to ‘bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate / Conformable as other household Kates’, and the allusion is to cats, not birds. At III.i.87-90 Hortensio, suspecting Bianca of inconstancy, refers to her as ‘ranging’, and casting her ‘wandering eyes on every stale’, which probably refers to a straying hawk stooping to any lure,40 and at IV.ii.39 he calls her a ‘haggard’, Shakespeare's usual word for wildness and inconstancy.41

All this amounts to very little compared with Petruchio's direct declaration of intent in the soliloquy at IV.i.175-98. This arises quite naturally from the ‘displacement’ activity in the earlier part of the scene, when he beats the servants, flings the meat about, and refuses to allow the weary, bemoiled Katherina anything to eat.42 He announces that ‘this night we'll fast for company’, and Curtis reports that the ‘manning’ has begun with Petruchio ‘Making a sermon of continency to her’ so that she ‘Knows not which way to stand, to look, to speak’. Petruchio's soliloquy begins with a reference to his hierarchical position vis-à-vis his wife (‘Thus have I politicly begun my reign’) which foreshadows Katherina's words in V.ii (‘Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / Thy head, thy sovereign’), and he then develops at length his metaphor of Katherina as an untrained falcon who must be ‘manned’. What follows is an extended, almost conceited, image, addressed directly to the audience, and introducing the technical terms of the ‘manning’ technique: the bird must be ‘sharp’, and not ‘full-gorg'd’ until she has ‘stooped’, he will man his ‘haggard’ by watching, and so on. The force, the directness of this speech impart a new impetus to the play's action, and in the scenes which follow we witness a clear, relentless demonstration of the programme which has been announced. This is carried out in the terms of the metaphor, applied plainly—there is no dense ‘hawking’ imagery in Acts IV and V. In IV.iii we see Katherina, starving, tempted with the prospect of food by Grumio and Petruchio. Then her natural inclinations towards fashionable dress are systematically checked and frustrated in the scene with the Haberdasher and the Tailor. Even her speech is checked by Petruchio's resolute attention to her desires—his ‘reverend care of her’. By the end of the scene she is not even allowed to say what time it is, since Petruchio interprets this as ‘crossing’ him. She relapses into silence, baffled, thwarted, and, above all, weary. This is the first stage of ‘manning’.

Once tameness and docility are assured, the hawk must be taught and tested in obedience. Lascelles describes the process:

… in a few weeks our hawk will display no fear of men or dogs, even when bareheaded in the open air. … When this stage has been reached, there is no more in the way of training to be done but to accustom the hawk to fly to the lure … and not to leave it on the falconer's approach. At first she is for safety's sake confined by a creance or long light line, but ere long she is flown loose altogether and … is ready to be entered to the quarry which she is destined to pursue.43

This process is reproduced in human terms in a series of scenes which show Katherina being tested, and permitted to operate at steadily increasing distances from her handler's control. It begins in IV.v, on the journey to Padua, when Petruchio comments provocatively on the brightness of the moon. A dispute arises:

The moon? The sun! It is not moonlight now.
I say it is the moon that shines so bright.
I know it is the sun that shines so bright.
Now by my mother's son, and that's myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or e'er I journey to your father's house.

This is a simple test in obedience, taking up the ‘what time is it?’ test which ended IV.iii. Katherina has not learned her lesson, however, and Petruchio threatens to go back to square one and begin the process all over again. Hortensio provides her the clue: ‘Say as he says, or we shall never go.’ Katherina shrugs, obeys, and the journey is resumed. Petruchio naggingly insists that she repeats her lesson—‘I say it is the moon’—and she does as she is told. The second test, the encounter with Vincentio, follows immediately. This is a more advanced examination since it involves a third person and exposes her to more than private ridicule. But Katherina has learned what is expected of her; as we have seen (pp. 107-8) the fulcrum is placed between these two episodes in IV.v. In the following scene (V.i) Petruchio and Katherina witness and eavesdrop on the climax of the sub-plot; having made their own peace they watch the resolution of the other intrigues. But the scene ends with yet another test of Katherina's education: she must kiss her husband in the public street. She demurs, he threatens, she obeys. But what is far more important, she offers a tiny gesture of affection: ‘Nay, I will give thee a kiss. Now pray thee, love, stay.’ This is not lost on Petruchio. There is great depth of implication in his question ‘Is not this well?’; in the theatre it can be a most moving and expressive moment, a moment of reconcilement, replete with unspoken understanding. The final scene represents the greatest test, because it is not only the most extensive but the most public. Katherina must display her obedience before the entire household, and Petruchio insists on the most rigorous standards:44

Katherine, that cap of yours becomes you not.
Off with that bauble, throw it under foot.

[She obeys.]

This comes perilously close to a public degradation, and, theatrically, it provides no small element of suspense, from which the ‘obedience’ speech issues almost as a release.

The twofold pattern of manning and testing, announced in Petruchio's soliloquy and systematically applied in a cumulative sequence of scenes, dominates the second part of the play and creates its dramatic form. So beneath the complex organization of the narrative—Hosley's ‘brilliant threefold structure’—lies a deeper, contrasting, two-part organization arising from the controlling symbols of the shrew and the hawk. These anchor the play in the realities of man's commerce with nature, his dealings with birds and animals, following God's command to Adam that he should have dominion ‘over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’. The first three Acts of the play explore the peculiar characteristics of the shrew, ranging extensively through the analogies between human and animal behaviour; the last two Acts focus intensively on the single action of manning a wild hawk, translating it relentlessly into human terms. What unites the two symbolic patterns, at this deeper level, is the concept of all life as contest—the noisy, fighting shrew opposed by another of her kind, the battle of wills between the bird and its tamer. The result, in this case, is a particular and peculiar kind of peace, a resolution of conflict, that happy issue out of all our afflictions which is the essence of comedy.



All formal education is, in some sense, a reduction to conformity, a restraint upon freedom. The child is subjected to experiences not of its own choosing, introduced to preferred patterns of social behaviour, expected to comply. Before anything can be drawn out of the individual mind, much is put in, and the line between liberal education and socio-cultural indoctrination is difficult to draw and harder to hold. Elizabethan educationists were less concerned with liberating the pupil's consciousness by encouragement to free-ranging enquiry than with inculcating an approved body of knowledge in the context of a serenely accepted social order, to the end that the young might grow up literate, useful citizens of the commonwealth, and, if possible, good and wise as well. The Shrew both illustrates this and explores its limitations. But the accepted background must be borne in mind.45

The Induction offers the theme obliquely. In his ‘practice’ upon Sly the Lord conducts an experiment in human nature, so that Sly is offered a picture of himself as a cultured English gentleman—hunting, hawking, but also taking delight in music, pictures, and the performance of plays.46 Sly, however, remains resolutely himself, rural, vulgar and illiterate, although vastly attracted by the pleasures of gentility, illustrating the truth that education cannot be imposed, it must be achieved. Sly belongs with Barnadine and Caliban in Shakespeare's gallery of the incorrigible and ineducable, upon whose natures nurture can never stick. The opening of the main play sets up a strong contrast. Lucentio comes to Padua to institute ‘A course of learning and ingenious studies’ and seeking the ‘happiness / By virtue specially to be achiev'd’.47 Padua was famous throughout Europe as a university city, the centre of Aristotelianism, and a debate ensues between Lucentio and Tranio about the curriculum to be followed. Tranio advocates a wide syllabus, philosophy, logic, rhetoric, music, poetry and mathematics, balancing the discipline of Aristotle against sweet witty Ovid on the doubtful principle that ‘no profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en’, and ends with the permissive prescription ‘study what you most affect’. We feel that this intellectual voyage ‘is but for two months victuall'd’.48 The entry of Bianca with her family puts an end to this academic planning and we never hear of it again. But the brisk bargaining and match-making which follows in I.i creates a contrast between the world of romantic love, allied to cultural and intellectual pursuits, and the world of realistic marriage contracts, made in a society of merchants and adventurers.

Education has a high social value in Padua, as we see from the stately conduct of the episode (in II.i) in which the disguised suitors are presented to Baptista as tutors. Both are described as ‘cunning’ men, and he is careful to instruct that they should be ‘used well’. Yet the formal lessons we hear of or witness are parodies of instruction. Hortensio's impatient pupil breaks his lute over his head, and when he and Lucentio wrangle over who shall instruct Bianca first (III.i), the pupil seizes the opportunity to assume the master's role. Lucentio makes his Latin lesson a cover for declaring his love, and Hortensio puts his music to the same use. The effect of all this is to depreciate the value of book-learning, or, at least, to show that artistic and intellectual pursuits have little attraction against the pull of ‘love, first learned in a lady's eyes’.49 This is precisely the demonstration Shakespeare makes in his most intellectual and erudite comedy, Love's Labour's Lost. It is epitomized in The Shrew at the opening of IV.ii, where Tranio and Hortensio overhear the brief love-conversation between Lucentio and Bianca:

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.

The point is that Ovid's Ars Amatoria is anything but a manual for romantic lovers.50 It is a witty, cynical textbook for seducers, offering here an ironic comment on Lucentio's wooing methods and Bianca's mixture of naïveté, sentiment and calculation.

The play makes clear that the true paths to learning are not those of the school or university. Formal education is contrasted to its detriment against the practical academy of experience. Here, as elsewhere, Petruchio stands at the centre of the stage. He is the teacher, Katherina is his pupil. His task is to inculcate such knowledge and instil such behaviour as will fit her to take a useful place in the existing society. The play gives his qualifications, and is significantly concerned to demonstrate his teaching methods in an exemplary way. His first appearance, in I.ii, shows him ready to use his fists to teach Grumio how to knock at a door when he is told; this teacher is direct, practical, distinctly rough and very ready, and intent on being master. When presented with the prospect of educating Katherina into conformity he presents his credentials:

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 ordance 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!


He has faced many things, and his experience gives him confidence that he is a strong candidate for this post.51

His teaching technique is a rich and strange mixture of the academic and the practical. At the heart of it lies the most commendable pedagogic principle of presenting his pupil with an image of what he wants her to become:

Take this of me, Kate of my consolation,
Hearing thy mildness prais'd in every town,
Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded,
Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs,
Myself am mov'd to woo thee for my wife.


Throughout the play this ideal picture is constantly kept before Katherina, and she is gradually wooed and induced into conformity with it. Part of Petruchio's technique is coercive: he gives as good as he gets in the flyting match of II.i, he subjects his pupil to disgrace and humiliation in the wedding scene, and he deliberately keeps her without food or sleep in the testing scenes of Act IV. But it is significant that he never physically assaults or chastises her, and this sharply distinguishes The Shrew from earlier plays on the taming theme like Tom Tyler and his Wife. The larger part of Petruchio's teaching method is puzzlement. Katherina is reluctantly fascinated by his energetic and outrageous behaviour (there is no precedent for it in the Padua of her upbringing), and she only gradually comes to recognize it as a travesty of her own wild behaviour. The audience, duly instructed by Petruchio's two explicit soliloquies, can watch the series of lessons from a position of informed superiority. Katherina has to work out, incident by incident, the significance of the instruction she is being given. All this is so unlike the normal processes of Elizabethan education, with its rote learning of grammar and syntax, its translation and retranslation, its imitation of approved literary and philosophical models, that it hardly looks like a teaching process at all. But the subject, the bringing to conformity of an aberrant member of a social group, was no part of any school curriculum, though it was the first premise and ultimate object of all schooling. Petruchio's teaching task, self-imposed, is to bring Katherina into conformity with the acceptable social image of a marriageable young woman in ‘Paduan’ society. No one has analysed this aspect of the play better than M. C. Bradbrook in the essay I have already cited.52 She says:

In real life, to see persons as merely fulfilling one or two rôles, as merely a lawyer, a priest, a mother, a Jew, even as merely a man or a woman is to see them as something less than images of God; for practical purposes this may be necessary. … Assigning and taking of rôles is in fact the basis of social as distinct from inward life.

She goes on to describe the unique way in which Petruchio instructs Katherina in the assumption of the role he, and her society, have decreed for her:

The wooing of Katherine takes up rather less than half the play, and her part is quite surprisingly short; although she is on the stage a good deal, she spends most of the time listening to Petruchio. The play is his; this is its novelty. Traditionally, the shrew triumphed; hers was the oldest and indeed the only native comic rôle for women. If overcome, she submitted either to high theological argument or to a taste of the stick. Here, by the wooing in Act II, the wedding in Act III, and the ‘taming school’ in Act IV, each of which has its own style, Petruchio overpowers his shrew with her own weapons—imperiousness, wildness, inconsistency and the withholding of the necessities of life—combined with strong demonstrations of his natural authority.

The unorthodoxy, and novelty, of this educational programme is the central point of interest in the play's exploration of teaching and learning, and all the other lessons are subservient and contributory to it.

Katherina, however, is not Petruchio's only pupil, and he varies his methods according to his students. Grumio, in I.ii, is taught by the most direct method, a box on the ear. Hortensio and Lucentio, the pupil-teachers, are given the example of the ‘taming school’, and exhorted to follow it. These are the traditional and time-honoured techniques; Petruchio's innovation in educational methodology lies in his treatment of Katherina. It is still capable of raising heated debate when the play is performed on the stage, and perhaps this is because it presents with alarming directness the dichotomy which underlies all educative processes. On the one hand, education is designed to liberate and bring to full fruition the innate capabilities of the pupil. On the other, it is a means of reducing the individual to social conformity through the imparting of approved knowledge and acceptable skills. To some extent it is always a taming procedure, at odds with the very human desire for liberty. But it also works on the deep human need to conform and to be socially approved within the tribe. The tension between these contrary impulses is always present. The Taming of the Shrew makes them uncomfortably evident.


Education is one way of transforming a person into someone else, but it is not the only form of change the play investigates. The theme of transformation, of metamorphosis, raises perhaps some of the subtlest questions in the play but it does so through the medium of very direct allusion and reference, and in some of the play's most obvious stage action. It is notable that most of the reference to classical mythology takes place in the early part of the play, where it serves a variety of purposes. Douglas Bush points out:53

Even in such a boisterous farce as the Shrew (which has much less, and less detailed, allusion than A Shrew) the sophisticated Lucentio can speak to his man-servant with stilted irrelevance—‘That art to me as secret and as dear / As Anna to the queen of Carthage was’ [I.i.153-4]—or with the undramatic elaboration of the allusion to Europa in [I.i.168-70]. … Now and then Ovidianism is less high-flown and more dramatic. The luscious pictures offered to the drunken Sly in the Induction to the Shrew have their point.

They have their point indeed, and they are very firmly placed to make it. At the very opening we are presented with the spectacle of a man transformed into a beast.54 The Lord, approaching the sleeping Sly, comments: ‘O monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies.’ He at once resolves to ‘practise on this drunken man’ and transform him into a lord, asking his huntsmen: ‘Would not the beggar then forget himself?’ Such transformations, up and down the social scale, with the participants either losing their old identities or shrewdly retaining them, are to become essential ingredients of the play's action. No sooner has the transformation of Sly been agreed than the actors enter, themselves professional shape-shifters, and they are enlisted to take part in the sport ‘Wherein your cunning can assist me much’. The scene ends with instructions sent to ‘Barthol'mew my page’ to transform himself into a lady and play the drunkard's wife. In the second scene of the Induction Sly stubbornly resists the possibility that he has been metamorphosed into a lord, until he is seduced by the images of Cytherea, Io and Daphne, all taken directly from Ovid's Metamorphoses, into exclaiming: ‘Upon my life, I am a lord indeed.’ The comic significance of what he then says and does in performance of his new role lies, of course, in his inability to play the part. His metamorphosis must be imperfect because he is ignorant of how to behave. But the whole game of shape-changing in the Induction is proleptic of the metamorphoses in the main play. One character after another assumes a disguise, practises to deceive, and takes on a new identity. As we have seen (p. 116), the disguised Page of the Induction prefigures the obedient and compliant wife which Katherina becomes in V.ii. The bewildered Sly, incapable through ignorance of changing himself, contrasts with the Katherina who slowly and painstakingly learns her part.

As the main play opens, Lucentio hopes, by the study of Aristotelian virtue, to transform himself into a scholar, but Tranio reminds him that this might be a barren role if ‘Ovid be an outcast quite abjured’, which links the poet of the Metamorphoses with that of the Amores, which is to be the lovers' textbook. The first sight of Bianca transforms Lucentio instantly into a lover, and he likens her beauty to that of ‘the daughter of Agenor’. According to Ovid (Metamorphoses, ii. 846-75) Agenor's daughter, Europa, was the beloved of Jupiter, who appeared before her transformed into a snow-white bull. And so the transformation game goes on, through allusion and action. The love-plot brings about the exchange of clothing and identity between Lucentio and Tranio (the first of the ‘disguisings’ in the play), and Tranio becomes his master for most of the rest of the action. In II.i Lucentio becomes Cambio, and Hortensio becomes Litio, so that, through the central Acts of the play, nearly half the cast are not what they seem. These metamorphoses are relatively simple, parts of the machinery of the plot, and true identities can be resumed by so simple a device as the changing of clothes. Like the Pedant, and Vincentio, later, they are all, as Biondello says, ‘busied about a counterfeit assurance’, and no one of them is ever in doubt about his true identity.

Sly, however, is unsure of himself. If, as I believe, the play originally contained Induction, episodes and Epilogue (see p. 44), it seems clear that he was intended to remain bewildered. Reluctantly, and because it seemed the best thing to do, he assumes the identity of the Lord, and at the end of the play he equally reluctantly becomes a beggar again. He is perpetually bewildered, and in this he is the prefiguration of Katherina, who, once Petruchio accosts her, is never allowed to be sure of her own nature until she surrenders to the character he has created for her. She is secure, if discontented, as the typical ‘shrew’ in II.i, and this is the identity she offers to Petruchio in the flyting match. But, in spite of the evidence, he refuses to believe her, assuming that she is ‘pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous, … sweet as spring-time flowers’. This is the dislocating picture, held up to her as a mirror to nature for the rest of the play. And the mutation of her personality which takes place is achieved not with the ease of a change of clothes, but with difficulty, with reluctance, with recalcitrance. Yet the metamorphosis is permanent. Just as the changes in Ovid's Metamorphoses are mutations which preserve the life of the subject, or apotheosize his or her state, so the change in Katherina is shown as a development into a better, and enduring, condition. And, in keeping with the bewildering changes in which the play abounds, Petruchio brings her change about by himself assuming a variety of roles. The bluff, rough wooer of Act II is succeeded in III.ii by the fantastic bridegroom, coming to his wedding ‘in a pair of old breeches thrice turned’. The purpose of this disguise is to enforce upon Katherina her own unpreparedness for marriage, just as the roistering bully Petruchio becomes in IV.i and IV.iii is a means of displaying to his wife her own inability to manage a household and command her servants. As Peter says (IV.i), ‘He kills her in her own humour’.

Although the majority of references to Ovid occur in the earlier scenes of the play, the poet maintains a presence as late as Act IV. In III.i Lucentio invites Bianca to construe a passage from the Heroides, and in IV.ii he instructs her in the Ars Amatoria. It is as if the mythological Ovid of the Metamorphoses gives place, as the play progresses, to the sweet, witty poet of love. The play's development is in tune with this, for the dazzling changes of identity in the manifold disguisings take place, for the most part, in the first two Acts, while the later part of the play is concerned with the longer rhythms of the change of personality which overcomes Katherina. It is upon her transformation that we focus, though we may note the foil which Shakespeare provides for her in her sister. Bianca is the only major character who assumes no disguise, and achieves no development. She begins, in I.i, with her own form of covert and clever shrewishness to her sister, securing herself the sympathy of her father and all his household, and she ends the play bidding fair to take up where her sister left off. The morality of The Shrew is a morality of change.


Unlike Love's Labour's Lost and the later comedies, Much Ado, As You Like It and Twelfth Night, The Shrew is concerned with both love and marriage. It takes the romantic action on beyond the wedding, contemplating not only the coming together of lovers but the relationship between man and wife. It belongs with The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice. Once again, this theme is explored in a rich mixture of modes: romance, a kind of knockabout farce, realism and parody.

The Induction offers extensive and subtle parody of all the play's attitudes to love. As we have noted already (p. 110), the opening lines offer what appears to be the Shrew of the play's title roundly berating an unfortunate man. It looks like a version of the traditional quarrelling between Noah and his wife in the Moralities, and echoes of this persist in the attacks made by Katherina on Bianca and on Hortensio, and in the flyting match between Petruchio and Katherina in II.i. Sly is the befuddled victim of the Hostess's outburst, and he falls asleep as bemused and bewildered as Katherina is, at several points in the main play, when faced with expressions of Petruchio's outrageous energy. The Lord and his huntsmen, with their elaborate talk of the chase, suggest the play's concern with the royal hunt of love, culminating in Tranio's greyhound image at V.ii.52-3. Petruchio sums up the two kinds of hunting when he says of the wager:

I'll venture so much of my hawk or hound,
But twenty times so much upon my wife.

The actors, in the Induction, are welcome, and remembered, because one of them had previously played a romantic lead—‘'Twas where you woo'd the gentlewoman so well’—and the main play's element of romance is thus delicately introduced in the Lord's memory of a player's play. It is carried through in Induction ii, by the proffers to Sly made by the Lord and his servants: ‘Apollo plays’, ‘twenty caged nightingales do sing’, ‘the lustful bed / On purpose trimm'd up for Semiramis’, and the evocative pictures of Adonis, Cytherea, Io and Daphne.55 But the most prolonged and direct anticipatory parody occurs in the Lord's instructions for the behaviour of ‘Barthol'mew my page’, who is to enact Sly's wife:

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?’

This precisely predicts the compliant and obedient Katherina of V.ii, who enters with the line: ‘What is your will, sir, that you send for me?’ In the same way the Page, in Induction ii, says:

My husband and my lord, my lord and husband;
I am your wife in all obedience.

And this pre-echoes Katherina's phraseology:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign. …

The analogies are too close and too numerous for coincidence or accident. Shakespeare clearly intended the comic incidents of the Induction to throw a forward light on the main play's concern with the development of love in marriage.

But the technique of parody is not confined to the Induction. Petruchio's arrival at his wedding, fantastically dressed, is a deliberate parody of the bridegroom's approach. The uneaten feast, in IV.i, is a parody of the wedding breakfast, and the night spent in fasting and watching, with Petruchio ‘Making a sermon of continency to her’, is a travesty of the wedding night. The purpose of parody in the play is to illuminate by distortion the true lineaments of love, by imbalance to suggest balance, by impersonation to propose the truth of nature, by comic exaggeration to seek out the lovers' real estimate of one another.

Realism56 adds a second dimension to the presentation of love. In The Shrew there are neither seductions nor adulteries, love is indissolubly linked with marriage, and marriage with money. John Russell Brown,57 after examining Errors, turns to The Shrew and says:

In this play love and commerce are brought closer together. Petruchio, as he determines to woo Baptista's elder daughter Katharina, blatantly identifies the two:

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

Grumio immediately and brutally underscores Petruchio's statement: ‘Why, give him gold enough and marry him to a puppet or an aglet-baby, or an old trot with ne'er a tooth in her head.’ Hortensio maintains the commercial imagery in describing his love for Bianca:

For in Baptista's keep my treasure is.
He hath the jewel of my life in hold.

In the following scene the exchange between Baptista and Tranio sets the scene for the ‘auction’ of Bianca in appropriately mercantile terms:

Faith, gentlemen, now I play a merchant's part,
And venture madly on a desperate mart.
'Twas a commodity lay fretting by you,
'Twill bring you gain, or perish on the seas.

The ‘auction’ itself, with its catalogues of plate and gold, Tyrian tapestry, ivory coffers, cypress chests, apparel, tents, canopies, and the like, may appear fantastic to modern sensibilities, and it is certainly comic, since the audience knows that Tranio has no title whatever to the wealth he bids, but it would not have seemed very odd to the Elizabethans. Marriages depended upon satisfactory contracts being agreed between the participating families. A manuscript in the Shakespeare Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare's Birthplace Record Office, Willoughby de Brooke Collection, DR 98/1027A) records ‘Articles of agreament Indented hadd and made betweene Elianor Peyto widowe … And William Jeffes of Walton’, dated ‘20 May, 10 James I’, in which William agrees to marry Elinor ‘before the feast of St John Baptist next ensuinge’. In consideration of this marriage the said William Jeffes to the intent ‘that he may haue possesse & enioye … all the goodes chattels cattles household stuffe money & plate wch shee the said Elianor hath or claimeth to haue as administratrix to the said William Peyto hir late husband’, and that he may ‘quietly & peaceably likewise haue hold possesse & enioy all such landes tenementes pastures meadowes groundes comons & comodities whatsoeuer’ which William Peyto in his lifetime conveyed to Elinor, seals and delivers ‘Sixe seuerall obligacions … in the seuerall sommes in such obligacions appearinge’. These obligations amount to some £3000 in all, and so Elinor agrees to make an absolute deed of gift of all her goods and chattels to Jeffes before they marry. Such a marriage contract is typical of thousands in Shakespeare's day, and the original audience of The Shrew would have seen nothing strange in hard bargaining over money and domestic possessions before a marriage. In The Shrew, as nowhere else, Shakespeare roots his presentation of romantic love in the rich soil of finance.

If the fiscal background to courtship is strongly presented in the first part of the play, the domestic realities of the married state are made crystal clear in Acts IV and V. The first three Acts offer only a sketchy outline of Baptista's household. It is true, as Bradbrook says,58 ‘Katherine is the first shrew to be given a father, the first to be shewn as maid and bride; she is not seen merely in relation to a husband.’ But, like almost all the heroines of Shakespearean comedy, she is not shown to have a mother. Baptista is a rich merchant who has two daughters. Beyond this, we know nothing of him. The domestic dimension does not appear until IV.i, with Grumio's arrival at Petruchio's house, but this scene marks a turning-point in the play, with its insistence on the daily duties and drudgeries of domestic life, a life into which Katherina is pitched as precipitately as she had been pitched from her horse on her journey (IV.i.65-6). It is a world with servants concerned with practical household tasks: there are fires to be lit, the cook to be enquired after, and Grumio asks:

Is supper ready, the house trimmed, rushes strewed, cobwebs swept, the serving men in their new fustian, their white stockings, and every officer his wedding-garment on? Be the Jacks fair within, the Jills fair without, the carpets laid, and everything in order?

This realistic presentation of the details of everyday living is maintained in Petruchio's concern for his boots, his spaniel, his slippers and his supper, and (in IV.iii) with the cut, colour, fashion and material of Katherina's dress. Realism depends upon the convincing evocation of relevant detail, and the last two Acts are full of such things. In a different key it even enters into the plotting between Lucentio and Biondello in IV.iv, where Biondello, with superb irrelevance, says: ‘I cannot tarry. I knew a wench married in an afternoon as she went to the garden for parsley to stuff a rabbit.’ It is this constant presence, throughout the play, of concrete, unromantic detail about love and marriage—whether it be dowries or marriage contracts, pots, pans or parsley—which creates the strong sense of actuality. As Hibbard has said:59The Taming of the Shrew, unlike most of Shakespeare's other comedies—the nearest to it in this respect is All's Well that Ends Well—deals with marriage as it really was in the England that he knew.’

The idea that The Shrew is in any sense a farce derives less from the text than from the history of that text in the theatre. As we have seen (pp. 91-9), Worsdale's A Cure for a Scold and Bullock's The Cobler of Preston are farces derived from parts of Shakespeare's play, and Kemble's adaptation of Garrick's version of the play is responsible for popularizing the ‘whip-cracking’ Petruchio and sacrificing everything to vigorous, knockabout stage action. But the essence of farce is the dramatist's intention to provoke laughter in his audience, and laughter is by no means our dominant response when watching or reading The Shrew. Anne Barton's estimate is judicious:60

There are undeniable elements of farce in the Katherina/Petruchio plot, as well as a robust glee in that age-old motif of the battle between the sexes which Shakespeare does, at moments in the play, exploit for its own, eminently theatrical, sake.

The elements of farce are ‘eminently theatrical’, no doubt, but they occur only ‘at moments in the play’. Apart from the opening exchanges between Sly and the Hostess the two scenes of the Induction are not farcical. Neither is the opening scene of the main play. Knockabout begins in I.ii, with Petruchio wringing Grumio by the ears, and by then the other tones of the play have been firmly set. It is continued with Katherina's assault on her sister in the following scene, but, far from developing, it is thereafter subtly controlled and diminished. In the same scene, Katherina's attack on Hortensio with her lute takes place off-stage, and the battle between Katherina and Petruchio is conducted verbally until the crucial moment when ‘She strikes him’, and he replies: ‘I swear I'll cuff you, if you strike again.’ Katherina backs down, faced (and outfaced) by the utterly serious prospect of superior physical strength. This is a point of inner and lesser climax in the play. From this moment on it becomes clear that the traditional methods of shrew-taming are not going to be used, and the traditional methods, the ‘Punch and Judy’ methods, are matter of farce.

Farce is not exploited, but transcended. Nevertheless, the basic situations and techniques of farce remain. Petruchio's entry to his wedding, fantastically attired, would be farcical if it were not obvious that he is playing the fantastic in order to teach Katherina how inappropriate is her approach to marriage. Similarly, when he abuses and beats his servants in IV.i, and throws the food around the room, he is employing farcical methods to teach his new wife the true order of domesticity. Even this is subdued in the Tailor and Haberdasher scene (IV.iii), where the lesson continues, though no one is beaten and the only abuse is verbal. The relationship between Petruchio and Katherina is too serious, too delicate, for farce, and the play's strongest strain of farce is reserved for the association of master and servant between Petruchio and Grumio. This obviously has its source in the beatings regularly inflicted on the clumsy or impertinent zanni in Italian comedy, and the knockabout, verbal abuse and jest, and the general low comedy which opens IV.i clearly derive from this tradition. It is not surprising that Lacey's farcical adaptation Sauny the Scott (see pp. 89-91) is centrally concerned with developing the comic possibilities in the character of Grumio. Love and marriage, in The Shrew, are too important to be presented as farce.

Romantic love is a presence in the play from beginning to end, and it functions as a kind of prolonged and delicious illusion, sustained in the face of a plethora of contrary facts. Not the least of the achievements of Shakespeare's dramaturgy is the way in which he interweaves the passion of Lucentio for Bianca with the Katherina-Petruchio plot. Nothing could be more patently Petrarchan than Lucentio's confession of love at first sight in I.i:

Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio,
If I achieve not this young modest girl. …
Tranio, I saw her coral lips to move,
And with her breath she did perfume the air.
Sacred and sweet was all I saw in her. …
And let me be a slave, t'achieve that maid
Whose sudden sight hath thrall'd my wounded eye.

Through all the disguises and deceptions of the lovers' plot he maintains this tone, and at the dénouement in V.i he is still singing in the same key:

Love wrought these miracles. Bianca's love
Made me exchange my state with Tranio,
While he did bear my countenance in the town,
And happily I have arriv'd at the last
Unto the wished haven of my bliss.

It is not until he loses the wager in V.ii that Lucentio is undeceived, and even then he is let down easily, with little more than a grumble:

The wisdom of your duty, fair Bianca,
Hath cost me a hundred crowns since supper-time.

Romantic love is allowed full weight in the play. It is not mocked. It is seen as the source of endless ingenuity, invention and youthful exuberance. It invites adventure and collusion: ‘Here's no knavery. See, to beguile the old folks, how the young folks lay their heads together.’ But the illusions and delusions of romantic love are seen as essentially a young man's passion. One thinks of Petruchio as somehow older than the other characters. When he became a man he put away the adolescent fantasies of romance, and learned to see his mistress not through a glass, darkly, but face to face. And, by contrast with Lucentio's romanticism, this makes his few, hard-won moments of tenderness all the more moving and convincing. At the end of V.i he demands a kiss from Katherina in the middle of the public street (see p. 128). After some demur, she kisses him, and he says:

Is not this well? Come, my sweet Kate.
Better once than never, for never too late.

‘Is not this well?’ establishes, in one brief question, a mutuality, a gentle and loving concern for union which shows that the teaching is over, the pupil has graduated, and all that is left is love.

The last scene of the play marks the climax of its exploration of the theme of love and marriage, and this scene has given rise to more differences of interpretation than anything else in the play. The earliest adaptations were uneasy with it. Lacey's Sauny the Scott, though vastly more brutal than Shakespeare's play, omits Katherina's ‘obedience’ speech entirely, and the same is true of Worsdale's A Cure for a Scold. As we have seen (p. 95), Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio distributes the ‘obedience’ speech between Petruchio and his wife, presumably on the grounds that what Shakespeare wrote represented an unacceptable presentation of marriage at the end of a comedy, and Garrick's judgement held the stage until Shakespeare's text was reinstated in the nineteenth century. But the restoration of the text meant the restoration of the problem. What was taken to be the abject and unconditional surrender, in public, of the ‘tamed’, broken-spirited wife was uncomfortable to the male self-esteem of the Victorian or Edwardian gentleman. Though he might, privately, most powerfully and potently believe it, yet he held it not honesty to have it thus set down. Shaw was offended:61 ‘the last scene is altogether disgusting to modern sensibility’. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch was embarrassed:62

the whole Petruchio business … may seem, with its noise of whip-cracking, scoldings, its throwing about of cooked food, and its general playing of ‘the Devil amongst the Tailors’, tiresome—and to any modern woman, not an antiquary, offensive as well.

Later in the twentieth century the robustly feminist view of the final scene as essentially an ironic performance by Katherina was first and most strongly argued by Margaret Webster,63 but perhaps most persuasively expressed by Harold C. Goddard:64

the play ends with the prospect that Kate is going to be more nearly the tamer than the tamed, Petruchio more nearly the tamed than the tamer, though his wife naturally will keep the true situation under cover. So taken, 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. This interpretation has the advantage of bringing the play into line with all the other Comedies in which Shakespeare gives a distinct edge to his heroine. Otherwise it is an unaccountable exception and regresses to the wholly un-Shakespearean doctrine of male superiority, a view which there is not the slightest evidence elsewhere Shakespeare ever held.

More recent critics have seen it as part of Petruchio's wooing dance,65 an example of ‘the Games People Play’,66 or even as Petruchio's reward,67 and it is not surprising, in the light of the recent importance of feminist studies, that this final scene should be the subject of critical dispute.

There can be no question but that the ‘obedience’ speech is meant to be a final statement on the subject of love and marriage.68 It is forty-four lines long, and only ten lines after it the play is finished. It is a great set piece and no one challenges it. So it is important to be quite clear what Katherina says, and what implications her words would have had for the play's original audience.

She begins by rebuking the Widow for darting scornful glances designed ‘To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor’. Straight away this establishes her argument on the basis of degree, status in ‘the chain of being’, and this is one theory which Shakespeare endorses totally from the first scene of 1 Henry VI to The Tempest, where it is the principle which disqualifies Caliban's claim that ‘This island's mine’.69 When Ulysses, in Troilus and Cressida, I.iii, enunciates the theory at length he is simply establishing the norm from which the Greek army has declined with such disastrous results. What has been called ‘the Elizabethan world picture’ asserted a hierarchy, a series of correspondences, which descended from God to inanimate nature, and on this ladder a wife stands one rung lower than a husband. Katherina's speech accepts this, and reiterates it:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign.

As the lord is to the servant, as the head is to the body, as the sovereign is to the subject, so is the husband to the wife. Katherina goes on to emphasize the benefits which accrue to accepting your place in the hierarchy of degree. When you accept your status you enter into the enjoyment of its rights and privileges; a dutiful wife may lie ‘warm at home, secure and safe’ for no other tribute than ‘love, fair looks, and true obedience’. It cannot be too strongly stressed that this does not make a husband into some kind of ‘lord of creation’. Katherina states the relationship with perfect clarity:

Such duty as the subject owes the prince
Even such a woman oweth to her husband.

The wife is vassal to the husband, the husband is vassal to the prince, the prince is vassal to God, the only Lord of Creation. If a wife denies her duty to her husband, if she is not ‘obedient to his honest will’, Katherina has very strong words for her:

What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord.

Shakespeare's audience would have seen the heads of rebels exposed in public places; they would have heard in their parish churches the Homily Against Wilful Rebellion. ‘Graceless’ meant not only ‘unpleasing’ but ‘lacking the grace of God’. In emphasizing a wife's duty ‘to serve, love, and obey’ Katherina clearly alludes to the well-known phraseology of the Book of Common Prayer, where, in the Marriage Service, the priest says to the woman: ‘Wilt thou obey him, and serue him, loue, honor, and kepe him in sickenes and in health?’70 Even Katherina's reference to woman's comparative physical weakness finds an echo in so impeccably orthodox and familiar a source as the Homily ‘Of the State of Matrimonie’, first published in the Second Book of Homilies (1563):

For the woman is a weake creature, not indued with like strength and constancy of minde, therefore they bee the sooner disquieted, and they bee the more prone to all weake affections and dispositions of minde, more then men bee, and lighter they bee, and more vaine in their fantisies and opinions.71

The ‘obedience’ speech, taken as a whole, is completely in accord with normal Elizabethan opinion on the rights and status of wives. This opinion assumed, as we do not, that a wife was inferior in degree to her husband, and owed him submission and obedience which he repaid with protection and maintenance. For this opinion there was the authority of Holy Writ: ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.’72 The speech is rooted and grounded in well-known, sacred and serious expressions of the duty of wives. Shakespeare cannot possibly have intended it to be spoken ironically.

So the great final speech of The Shrew is a solemn affirmation of the great commonplace. The play's exploration of the theme of love and marriage comes to rest in that. But there is more to this final scene than one speech, and Shakespeare's dramaturgy personalizes what Katherina expresses generally. The real irony lies in the context. We, the audience, know from the last lines of V.i that Katherina and Petruchio have made their peace, and that she is in love with him as he is with her. Act V, scene ii opens with a wit-bout in which Petruchio attacks the Widow and Katherina surreptitiously comes to his aid. The alliance between them is, to the audience, another example of their developing trust, though to the other characters on stage it shows no more than the ‘shrewish’ Katherina acting aggressively to another woman, just as she had to her sister in II.i. Petruchio supports his wife, ‘A hundred marks, my Kate does put her down’, honouring the new alliance, but betraying nothing of it to the other characters. When the women withdraw the men agree upon the wager. It is important to note the terms in which Petruchio proposes it:

… he whose wife is most obedient,
To come at first when he doth send for her,
Shall win. …

It is to be a simple test of obedience, nothing more. There is a continuing flicker of irony in Petruchio's comment on the amount of the wager:

I'll venture so much of my hawk or hound,
But twenty times so much upon my wife.

It hints that the falconer's training, the manning and the coming to the lure, forms the basis for his confidence. Nevertheless, he is taking a risk, he is giving his wife the freedom to humiliate him if she chooses to do so. The three women are together off-stage, ‘conferring by the parlour fire’, and so Katherina has ample opportunity to see what the game is, as Biondello summons first Bianca and then the Widow. When Grumio comes for her she obeys her husband's command, but it is no cowed, broken-spirited compliance, but a duty which she does and a gift which she offers freely. It is a gift which Petruchio values highly because, as Germaine Greer has pointed out:73 ‘The submission of a woman like Kate is genuine and exciting because she has something to lay down, her virgin pride and individuality.’ With the stage-direction ‘Enter Katherina’ the test is over, the suspense is lifted, the wager is won, and the love relationship triumphs. As Anne Barton puts it:74

What Petruchio wants, and ends up with, is a Katherina of unbroken spirit and gaiety who has suffered only minor physical discomfort and who has learned the value of self-control and of caring about someone other than herself.

What follows may appear to be a stern continuation of the testing and humiliation, but it is in fact a willing ‘display’ by Katherina in response to a series of coded messages from her husband, which have a secret meaning for the two of them alone. Petruchio enquires after the Widow and Bianca, and instructs Katherina to ‘fetch them hither’. But he adds: ‘If they deny to come, / Swinge me them soundly forth unto their husbands.’ In other words, he offers her the chance to use physical violence on the Widow who has insulted her, and the sly and shrewish sister she has been itching to beat since Act II. And it would all be legitimate, praiseworthy and ‘obedient’. Katherina sees and appreciates the clever, generous point he makes. When she returns with the ‘froward wives’ Petruchio makes what looks like an impossibly humiliating demand:

Katherine, that cap of yours becomes you not.
Off with that bauble, throw it under foot.

The audience, and Katherina, recall the episode with the Haberdasher in IV.iii, when, in her unregenerate state, she stubbornly insisted on keeping the cap, and Petruchio refused to allow her to do so because she was wild:

I'll have no bigger. This doth fit the time,
And gentlewomen wear such caps as these.
When you are gentle, you shall have one too,
And not till then.

Now she has learned the pointlessness of such selfish stubbornness, and the gesture of throwing down her cap when told to do so has a deeper, private meaning for the two participants, the shared secret bringing them closer together. Petruchio's third order to his wife is the most subtly and brilliantly phrased of all:

Katherine, I charge thee, tell these headstrong women
What duty they do owe their lords and husbands.

He does not say ‘Tell the assembled company what duty you owe your husband’, nor does he say ‘Rehearse the duties of wives to husbands’. He deliberately abstains from humiliating her in any way. He offers her the opportunity publicly to instruct her cunning little sister and the Widow who has been insulting her in their marital duties. He offers her a position of superiority from which to lecture. And the tiny exchange before she begins permits Petruchio covertly to direct his wife's performance even more carefully:

Come, come, you're mocking. We will have no telling.
Come on, I say, and first begin with her.
She shall not.
I say she shall. And first begin with her.

The angry Widow is pointed out as the target for the regenerate shrew, and Katherina can begin with a just rebuke: ‘Fie, fie!’ The particular form of Petruchio's command, ‘tell these headstrong women’, allows Katherina to avoid any reference to her own changed state. She does not have to say anything about her relationship with her own husband. She is permitted and encouraged to take refuge in the most bland and incontrovertible generalities—‘What duty they do owe’.

She is grateful for the delicate way in which he has handled the situation. And she expresses her gratitude in the full and expansive exposition she gives not only of the duty of the Widow to Hortensio, but the duty of all wives to their husbands. She gives more than Petruchio asked. She gives full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. And she ends by doing something that was never required of her. She refers openly to her own situation, ‘My mind hath been as big as one of yours’, and to her own change of heart: ‘But now I see our lances are but straws.’ Finally, and quite gratuitously, she offers a public gesture of subservience freely and unasked:

                    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.

Petruchio responds to this unsolicited act of love and generosity with one of the most moving and perfect lines in the play, almost as if he is lost for words, taking refuge in action: ‘Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate.’ I believe that any actor striving to represent Petruchio's feelings at this moment in the play should show him as perilously close to tears, tears of pride, and gratitude, and love.


  1. In considering the ‘scenic structure’ of The Shrew I have been much indebted to Emrys Jones's Scenic Form in Shakespeare (Oxford, 1971), especially chs 1-4.

  2. Jones, op. cit., p. 13.

  3. Other contrasting or distinguishing patterns might, of course, be observed: the double frustration of Katherina, silenced by her father in her rage, then stunned into acquiescence by Petruchio's behaviour; the contrasted marriage contracts, the one almost a parody of the other; or the central, cameo episode of the lute-breaking, an almost emblematic presentation of the union of comedy and violence which informs the taming plot.

  4. There are some displacements, as when Petruchio's anger at Katherina's intransigence is directed at his offenceless and obedient servants. This may come from the folk-tale sources, where the husband kills his innocent dog or horse instead of beating his recalcitrant wife. Such obliquities seem to have attracted Shakespeare's imagination.

  5. ‘Another powerful device used by Shakespeare is a pattern of human transformation from one polar extreme to the other’ (Jones, op. cit., p. 14). Cf. the Forum scene (Caes., III.ii); the Lady Anne scene (R3, I.ii); the temptation scene (Oth., III.iii).

  6. The metaphor is immediately modified by Petruchio's following lines: ‘Thus the bowl should run, / And not unluckily against the bias.’

  7. A banquet, in this context, is a dessert course served after the principal meal (which must have been served at Baptista's house). See OED, Banquet, sb.1 3. The play has several examples of the ‘broken feast’ motif. Cf. Err., III.i; Mac., III.iv; Tp., III.iii.

  8. Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. Raleigh (1908), p. 96. It is curious to note that Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare (1807) tells the story of The Shrew, omitting the Sly scenes entirely and making only minimum mention of the sub-plot.

  9. Hibbard, pp. 11-12.

  10. It was Pope who labelled the first two scenes ‘Induction’. The word does not occur in the Folio text, which begins ‘Actus primus. Scoena Prima.’

  11. Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (1974), p. 49.

  12. H. B. Charlton, Shakespearian Comedy (1938), p. 88. See also R. W. Bond, Early Plays from the Italian (Oxford, 1911); Leo Salingar, Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy (Cambridge, 1974). As Charlton says (p. 76): ‘The sub-plot of The Shrew is one of the few English plots immediately traceable to a sixteenth-century Italian comedy.’

  13. ‘Dramatic Role as Social Image’, SJ [Shakespeare Jahrbuch] (1958), p. 134.

  14. By also making Hortensio Petruchio's friend Shakespeare creates a strong narrative link between the two plots. For the alleged ‘inconsistencies’ in the presentation of Hortensio see pp. 37-9.

  15. Leggatt, op. cit., pp. 46-7.

  16. Cf. the central scenes of AYL (III.i-IV.iii).

  17. Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) is a major character in the play. He creates almost all the intrigue in the sub-plot; it is he who ‘propels the action and who of all the characters best corresponds with Petruchio in the Katherina plot’. See E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Early Comedies (1965), pp. 92ff.

  18. Salingar, op. cit., p. 225.

  19. Hosley, HLQ [Huntington Library Quarterly] (1964), p. 294. See also Donald A. Stauffer, Shakespeare's World of Images (New York, 1949), p. 46; Maynard Mack, ‘Engagement and Detachment in Shakespeare's Plays’, in Essays … in Honor of Hardin Craig, ed. Hosley (Columbia, 1962), pp. 279-80.

  20. I believe there were other episodes, and an epilogue. See pp. 39-45.

  21. It is noteworthy that he attracted considerable attention from the early adaptors of the play, especially Johnson and [Christopher] Bullock [The Cobler of Preston (fourth edn., 1723; reprinted Cornmarket Press, 1969)]. See pp. 92 ff.

  22. Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (1962), p. 105. See her perceptive remarks on ‘the play within the play’ in The Shrew, pp. 104ff.

  23. Shakespeare's World of Images, p. 46.

  24. Shakespeare's Early Comedies, p. 106.

  25. Dream in Shakespeare (New Haven and London, 1974), p. 27.

  26. Ibid., p. 29. Cf. Brooks's note on Lyly's interest ‘in the idea that his plays were “unreal”’, in his Arden edn of MND [A Midsummer Night's Dream] (1979), p. cxlii.

  27. Leggatt, op. cit., pp. 43-4.

  28. C. C. Seronsy, ‘“Supposes” as the Unifying Theme in The Taming of the Shrew’, SQ [Shakespeare Quarterly] (1963), pp. 15-30.

  29. OED, sb.2 1b. See Langland, Piers Plowman, A. x. 209; Chaucer, Can. Yeo. Tale, 364. For the transference from male to female in the medieval period cf. Witch (OED, sb.1, sb.2). Derivatives like ‘shrewd’, ‘shrewish’, originally meant ‘rascally or villainous’; the verb ‘to shrew’ meant ‘to curse’. Cf. beshrew.

  30. See Emma Phipson, The Animal-Lore of Shakespeare's Time (1883); H. W. Seager, Natural History in Shakespeare's Time (1896); C. Plinius Secundus, The Natural Historie, trans. Philemon Holland (1601; 1634, 43e, 50i, 55e, 56m, 71e, 167a, 168m, 277c, 322k, 360m, 361a); Gordon Corbet, The Terrestrial Mammals of Western Europe (1966); Peter Crowcroft, The Life of the Shrew (1957).

  31. Edward Topsell, The Historie of Foure-footed Beasts (1607), pp. 536-40. See also Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things (1579, 1601, etc.); John Swann, Speculum Mundi (1635); Robert Plot, The Natural History of Stafford-shire, vi. 51 (1686), p. 222; Gilbert White, Natural History of Selborne (1776); OED, Shrew, sb.1 2, for shrew-ash, shrew-bitten, shrew-running, shrew-struck, etc.

  32. Corbet, op. cit., pp. 106-10.

  33. Cf. Crowcroft, op. cit.: ‘It is typical of the animal's general behaviour that when it digs, it digs furiously and with a great show of energy’ (p. 36); ‘it is clear that newly caught shrews always eat about their own weight of food daily’ (p. 25); ‘What is astonishing is that the shrew should require so much food of such high energy content’ (p. 26); ‘The explanation seems to be that their physiology is adjusted for a rapid turnover of energy’ (p. 28); [a shrew] ‘having disembowelled a comrade, attacked with equal ferocity snakes, slow-worms and vipers, from an unequal conflict with which it was removed unhurt in body and unsubdued in spirit’ (p. 20, quoting Barrett-Hamilton); ‘most “fights” do not involve actual physical contact, the outcome being decided by screaming contests. If one shrew encounters another and the other does not give way, the first raises its muzzle and squeaks loudly. When a shrew is squeaked at … its reaction is to return the compliment—or insult—and a screaming contest takes place, the two animals only a few inches apart, facing one another. Many fights are decided without anything more serious than the one contestant apparently becoming intimidated by the squeaks of the other’ (p. 51); ‘whereas [rodents] usually fight in grim silence, shrews continue to squeak loudly’ (p. 52); ‘The noisy nature of the fighting of shrews is its most prominent feature’ (p. 61); ‘It has a particularly scolding and complaining note, which immediately convinces the hearer that a fight is going on’ (p. 48); ‘the various species of Sorex utter sounds of at least two distinct types: (1) staccato squeaks and (2) soft twittering sounds’ (p. 62).

  34. The best-known of the few recorded modern attempts to tame a shrew is in Konrad Lorenz, King Solomon's Ring, trs. Wilson (1952), ch. 9.

  35. See Hon. Gerald Lascelles, in Shakespeare's England (Oxford, 1916), vol. II, pp. 351-66, who lists and describes the principal Elizabethan authorities.

  36. ‘To man’ is ‘to accustom (a hawk, occas. other birds) to the presence of men’: OED, Man, v. 10.

  37. See Commentary on IV.i.175-98.

  38. Probably flight ‘at the high mountee’ as opposed to ‘at the river’. See Lascelles, op. cit., p. 359.

  39. A hawk was ‘mewed up’ (confined in a ‘mew’ or cage) at moulting time: OED, v.2 1.

  40. See OED, V.1 8, quoting Shr.; cf. Caes., II.i.118, ‘So let high-sighted tyranny range on’.

  41. Cf. Oth., III.iii.264-7; Ado, III.i.35-6.

  42. It was not normally considered advisable to starve hawks during manning (see Lascelles, op. cit., p. 357), but obviously a full-fed hawk would not respond so readily to the technique.

  43. Op. cit., pp. 357-8.

  44. Among all the hunting, sporting and gaming images of V.ii there is only one allusion to hawking, but its irony is important. Of the twenty crowns' wager Petruchio says:

    I'll venture so much of my hawk or hound,
    But twenty times so much upon my wife.
  45. See Louis B. Wright, Middle Class Culture in Elizabethan England (Ithaca, 1958).

  46. Cf. the image of himself which the Lord offers Sly with the image of herself which Petruchio offers Katherina in II.i and later.

  47. The principal concern in Aristotle's Ethics.

  48. Cf. the response evoked by Navarre's ‘edict’ in LLL, I.i.

  49. LLL, IV.iii.323.

  50. It was considered so licentious when it appeared that it was made the pretext for the poet's banishment.

  51. He adds enthusiasm to his credentials in his self-recommendation to Baptista at II.i. 130 ff.

  52. ‘Dramatic Role as Social Image; a Study of The Taming of the Shrew’, SJ (1958), pp. 132-50.

  53. Douglas Bush, ‘Classical Myth in Shakespeare's Plays’, in Elizabethan and Jacobean Studies Presented to F. P. Wilson in Honour of his 70th Birthday (1959), pp. 68-9.

  54. A possibility which Shakespeare takes up later, and in greater detail, in MND.

  55. Cf. Marlowe, 2 Tamburlaine, I.ii.31ff. (Plays, ed. Gill, pp. 126-7):

    Choose which thou wilt; all are at thy command. …
    The Grecian virgins shall attend on thee,
    Skillful in music and in amorous lays,
    As fair as was Pygmalion's ivory girl
    Or lovely Iö metamorphosèd. …
    And as thou rid'st in triumph through the streets,
    The pavements underneath thy chariot wheels
    With Turkey carpets shall be coverèd,
    And cloth of Arras hung about the walls,
    Fit objects for thy princely eye to pierce. …
    And, when thou go'st, a golden canopy
    Enchas'd with precious stones, which shine as bright
    As that fair veil that covers all the world,
    When Phoebus, leaping from his hemisphere,
    Descendeth downward to th' Antipodes.
  56. In using this vexed critical term I intend no more than ‘a powerful illusion of actuality, a sense of conformity to real life’.

  57. John Russell Brown, Shakespeare and his Comedies (1957), pp. 57-8; see also pp. 94-9.

  58. [M.C.] Bradbrook, [“Dramatic Role as Social Image: A Study of The Taming of the Shrew, SJ (1958)], p. 139.

  59. Hibbard, p. 30.

  60. Anne Barton, Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew (Riverside edn, Boston, 1974), p. 107.

  61. Shaw on Shakespeare, ed. Edwin Wilson (1961; reprinted Penguin, 1969), p. 198.

  62. NCS, p. xvi.

  63. Margaret Webster, Shakespeare Without Tears (New York, 1942), p. 142.

  64. The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago, 1951), vol. 1, pp. 68ff.

  65. Michael West, ‘The Folk Background of Petruchio's Wooing Dance: Male Supremacy in The Taming of the Shrew’, Shakespeare Studies (1974).

  66. Ralph Berry, Shakespeare's Comedies (Princeton, 1972), p. 7.

  67. Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (New York, 1971), pp. 220-1.

  68. See Ruth Nevo, Comic Transformations in Shakespeare (1980), esp. p. 50.

  69. See The Tempest, ed. Kermode (Arden edn, 1954), pp. xxxivff.

  70. In ‘The Forme of Solemnizacion of Matrimonie’, The First & Second Prayer-Books of Edward VI (Everyman's Library, 1910), p. 253.

  71. Quoted in Helen Gardner, The Business of Criticism (Oxford, 1959), p. 71, in the context of a discussion of Donne's ‘Air and Angels’. This poem, and the recent extensive critical debate about it (see The Elegies and The Songs and Sonnets of John Donne, ed. Gardner (Oxford, 1965), pp. 75 and 205) are very relevant to any full understanding of Katherina's final speech.

  72. Ephesians, v. 22-3.

  73. Greer, op. cit., p. 221.

  74. Anne Barton (Riverside edn, Boston, 1974), p. 106.

Abbreviations and References

The abbreviated titles of Shakespeare's works are as in C. T. Onions, A Shakespeare Glossary, 2nd edn (1919). Passages quoted or cited are from the complete Tudor Shakespeare, ed. Peter Alexander (Collins, 1951).


Hibbard: The Taming of the Shrew, ed. G. R. Hibbard, 1968 (New Penguin Shakespeare).

Johnson: The Plays of William Shakespeare … To which are added Notes by Sam. Johnson, 1765.

NCS: The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and John Dover Wilson, Cambridge, 1928 (New [Cambridge] Shakespeare).

Other Works

OED: Oxford English Dictionary.

Onions: C. T. Onions, A Shakespeare Glossary, 2nd edn, revised, 1919.

Smith and Wilson: The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, compiled by William George Smith; 3rd edn, ed. F. P. Wilson, Oxford, 1970.

Tilley: M. P. Tilley, A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1950.

Barbara Hodgdon (essay date May 1992)

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SOURCE: Hodgdon, Barbara. “Katherina Bound; or, Play(K)ating the Strictures of Everyday Life.” PMLA 107, no. 3 (May 1992): 538-53.

[In the following essay, Hodgdon discusses notions of sexual differences and gender roles in The Taming of the Shrew.]

When Kate delineates a wife's duties to “her loving lord” within a hierarchical configuration of marriage, Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew ends in a “frenzy of the social” (cf. Comolli 121), putting on offer an image of “woman” that the play's male characters use as a means of speaking to one another about themselves. As one among many texts, nondramatic as well as dramatic, that participate in a conversation about the organization of sexual difference in early modern England,1Shrew [The Taming of the Shrew] demonstrates precisely the “fine surge of historical intelligibility” that Roland Barthes attributes to Sade's writing (Sade/Fourier/Loyola 10). Today, the anxiety over gender roles and attributes that characterized Shrew's original historical moment is once again the focus of intense cultural negotiation. Given the increasing difficulty of standing outside the containments and contradictions of representation and history, Shrew's obsessive attempt to circumscribe woman's “place” has especially fatal attractions for late-twentieth-century feminist readers and spectators.

What are the conditions of readability for a play in which the “problem” of woman is not her exclusion but her radical inclusion? Reading Shrew against the grain to resist its heavily gendered stereotyping has certain limitations. After all, if this particular play can be reconfigured progressively, why should its seemingly coercive no-choice politics matter?2 My interest lies in mapping the trajectory of the grain, in rethinking how Shrew not only manipulates its textual subjects but gets caught up and shaped, at particular historical moments, to secure or contest the sociocultural subjectivities at work in women's lives. I explore a layered reading of Shrew's continuing cultural renewal as a popular pleasure (see Gledhill 67-68, 87), first, by unpacking several texts that lurk in its margins and, then, by considering a number of film and video performances. By multiplying the texts that adhere to Shakespeare's play and paying special, though not exclusive, attention to the ending, I want to extend the questions Shrew raises. What figures of “woman's” position in the order of things does it make available? to whom are they addressed? and what purposes do they serve? What I propose is akin to Michel de Certeau's “poaching,” which Henry Jenkins characterizes as “an impertinent raid on [a canonical] preserve that takes away only those things that seem useful or pleasurable to the reader” (86). Insofar as such plundering is a figure for rape, that metaphor suits the “overreading” with which I wish to begin—the “reading in excess” that goes beyond “acceptable” structures of representation (N. Miller 274; Neely, “Constructing” 15).


Noting traces of sadistic violence in Shrew's taming plot, Shirley Nelson Garner sees the play as a spectacle of dominance mapped out on a (cross-dressed) female body and concluding with a woman's abject submission to male mastery (107-08). Moreover, the Induction—with its “wanton pictures,” images of hunt-and-chase violence, and erotic Ovidian lures of near rape (Ind. 1.43, 2.45-56)—incorporates what Linda Williams terms the most distinguishable feature of sadomasochistic fantasy: “the education of one person in the sexual fantasy of another through complex role-playing cued to works of art and imagination” (224). Elsewhere, too, Shrew evokes the classic pornographic repertoire. The image of Bianca tied and bound, at the mercy of Kate the torturer (2.1), hints at a mild “sadie-max” lesbian fantasy; and at the “taming school,” which editors often locate in a “country house” reminiscent of remote Sadean territories, Petruchio displaces his sadistic fantasies by humiliating his servants and by verbally (in the theater, literally) dismembering Kate's dress (4.1, 3). However playfully Shrew suspends sadomasochism in fantasy, it shares affinities with pornographic films in “relentlessly repropos[ing] sexuality as the field of knowledge and power [and] woman as scene, rather than subject, of sexuality” (de Lauretis 193-94). Ultimately, however, this exercise in “aesthetic sadomasochism” concerns its characters' relation to and use of sadomasochistic images to negotiate their shifting sexual identities (Williams 224-25). While the phallus articulates meaning and difference symbolically, Shrew collapses the sexual into the social to keep “verité” sex just beyond representation. But in his 1974 play The Shrew, which alternates selected scenes from Shakespeare with exchanges between a present-day bourgeois woman and her working-class lover, Charles Marowitz lashes sexual and social scenarios together, exploiting the possibility of reading the one through the other.

Following Kate's acknowledgment that Petruchio's word has the power to turn sun to moon (transforming nature “naturalizes” Kate [4.5]), Marowitz's collage ends with a dream sequence based on Shrew's Induction and finale (177-80). In this Grimms' fairy tale of sinister archetypes and hopeless victims, Petruchio embraces Kate, kisses her, and, Sly-like, commands, “Madam, undress you and come now to bed.” When Kate gives the excuse Sly's cross-dressed “madam wife” offers—to pardon her yet for a night or two, at a physician's charge—the men's faces turn grim, Baptista exclaims, “O monstrous arrogance!” and

Kate is backed over to the table and thrown down. While the servants and Baptista hold her wrists, Petruchio looms up behind her and whips up her skirts ready to do buggery. As he inserts, an earpiercing, electronic whistle rises to crescendo pitch: Kate's mouth is wild and open, and it appears as if the sound issues from her lungs.

Following a blackout, lights reveal a surreal tribunal, with Petruchio as judge. Baptista ushers in Kate, wearing a shapeless institutional garment: “her face is white; her hair drawn back, her eyes wide and blank” (178). She delivers her obedience speech hesitantly—Petruchio must prompt her to say “obey”—as if another speaks for her. At “My mind hath been as big as one of yours, / My heart as great, my reason haply more,” the young couple from the present-day plot, dressed in formal wedding attire, enter; as Kate concludes (“My hand is ready, may it do him ease”), they frame her figure, “incline their heads to one another and smile out to invisible photographers for a wedding picture” before the final blackout (180).

By juxtaposing an image of the “hoked-up, endlessly-spoofed Magic Ritual of marriage” to Shrew's uncovered pornographic plot (19), Marowitz's collage views both gender and class as categories occupied by powerless victims and proposes connections between sadism and male dominance, which, in the sixteenth century as in the twentieth, masquerades as an acceptable social practice, legitimated by ancient ceremony. Intended as a “head-on confrontation with the intellectual substructure of the play” and a challenge to its classical status (24), Marowitz's Shrew alters the generic reading rules institutionalized in “romantic comedy” or “knockabout farce,” turning the play into a parallel text for Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish that threatens to take “Shakespeare” out of “Shakespeare as culture.” At best, by stripping away Shakespeare's mantle, Marowitz unsettles the value systems authorized by “high art” and so interrupts dominant interpretations (cf. Holderness 94); at worst, by emphasizing brainwashing and concentration-camp brutality he deprives sexual relations of any humanity or intersubjectivity and thus questions, if not erases, their association with pleasure.


Just as “woman,” in her mixed functions of activity and passivity, most interests the genre of heterosexual pornography, so does this oscillation between dominance and submission interest the Elizabethan comedy of remarriage called Shrew. In its Elizabethan guise, played out on a stage that “takes boys for women” (Orgel 7), the play can be imagined as particularly multivalent: “pleasing stuff,” says Sly, that “let[s] the world slip” (Ind. 2.134, 138). The Induction not only authorizes such slippage within class as well as gender (at the Lord's will, as a joke on Sly) but teaches that there is no such thing as a discrete sexed or classed identity. Such identifications, Shrew's frame insists, are themselves constructed in fluid relation to fictional “others” (Williams 279; see also Freedman). In the taming plot, gender codes move with equal ease across the boy actor's androgynous presence and the adult player's male body. On at least three occasions, the space of “woman-shrew” is doubly occupied, doubly gendered: when Petruchio outdresses Kate at her wedding and turns ceremony to carnival (3.2) and when he assumes a shrewish guise, first, on the journey to his house (“By this reckoning he is more shrew than she,” remarks Curtis [4.1.63]), and, later, with his servants and with the haberdasher and tailor (4.1; 4.3). Yet however bizarre his behavior, Petruchio, like the boy actor who plays Kate's role, can move between masculine and feminine positions because his own subjectivity is never at risk. On the one hand, such cross-coding disperses “shrewness” and the attendant social anxieties onto the male body; on the other, it hollows out the category “woman” and suggests that no unified model of female subjectivity exists, while contradictorily affirming shrewness as the ground of feminine representation. For by the play's “law,” shrewness must be seen and spoken as feminine: only when Kate slips out from under the sign of the shrew and moves toward that of the phallus can “she” be admired as a spectacle (“a wonder,” according to Lucentio [5.2.189]) and given a serious hearing.

I want to pause at this spectacle because, like the Induction, it calls particular attention to the boy actor. Here, claiming to be female is equivalent to claiming from the female. Part homily, part marriage rite, part confession, this curiously acrobatic speech, authored by a man for a boy to speak in order to sustain the illusion of femininity, recuperates male subjectivity by mapping the prerogatives of “good husbandry” onto the body of a newly obedient wife. Since this is not soliloquy, the boy actor playing Kate is already set off, “her” difference (and that of the other “wives”) clearly distinguished by the presence of adult male actors (see Helms 198). Why, then, does the speech insistently rehearse women's attributes and include such special pleading—“bodies soft, and weak, and smooth”; “soft conditions and our hearts” (5.2.165, 167)—on behalf of the female body's “truth”? Such excess betrays an intense anxiety to mark the speaker's body as feminine, and to do so, it pulls out all the culture's—and the theater's—available capital. Toward the end of the speech, however, the illusion of femininity teeters on its head, threatening to tip “woman” into the androgynous identity of the boy actor:

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.


Throughout, extraordinary syntactic clarity and balance characterize Kate's speech. Why, now, introduce a couplet requiring considerable sense-making effort? “That seeming” elides the “we” one assumes to be its subject; subject and object risk conflation; “most” transforms to “least”; comparisons fail altogether. Is it just accident that “least are,” together with other lines mentioning women's negative attributes, falls outside the iambic-pentameter beat and so would be called, in the Elizabethan age and (until fairly recently) in our own, “feminine rhymes”? Spoken by the boy actor, these lines say that he is indeed the thing he is not, and they say it twice. He is the thing without a working phallus as well as the thing with nothing—that is, a woman.

The difficulty of taming these phrases analogizes the difficulty central to both play and culture: the improbability of constructing a female subject (even a Queen?) except across a male identification and as a realization of male desire. Framing the shrew-taming spectacle as a “kind of history” staged, at the Lord's direction, for Christopher Sly's benefit (Ind. 2.136), the play seems specifically directed toward a male subject's “visual pleasure.”3 Although it also conceptualizes, in Kate (and the wives she addresses), a female spectator, Kate is curiously silent and watchful, only occasionally protesting her assigned place in its victimizing economy. But, whether for the figure of “woman” that Shrew constructs or for the real women who attended the theater (Gurr 57-58; Howard 440), pleasure remains a somewhat muted term. Pleasure, Shrew teaches, is not owned by “woman” but is arrived at secondhand: it depends on relative differentiations, not on absolute difference. Whether male or female, Shrew's spectators remain conscious not just of power's unavoidable role in sex, gender, and representation but also of how oscillating gender identities may, on occasion, unfix that power and jostle it loose.


It is one thing to reconstruct past acts of comprehension with imaginary bodies and theorized spectators; it is quite another when Shrew is played out by and on the bodies of real women and observed by historically situated spectators of either gender.4 The difference lies in what Paul Smith calls “discerning” the patriarchal symbol of “woman” from the historical sociocultural experience of women. For twentieth-century representation, the ambivalent syntax that threatens to expose the gender-bent conventions of the Elizabethan stage marks a possible point of subversion. Like the shrew herself, the contention that we seem “to be most [strong,] which we indeed least are” could turn to accommodate its opposite: we seem “to be most [weak,] which we indeed least are.” However tempting, such momentary resistance seems only thinkable, not playable—an attempt to own property in a speech that, although it purports to negotiate an identity for “woman,” finally finds that identity non-negotiable, fixed rather than fluid. Indeed, Kate's speech resembles Stanley Fish's “self-consuming artifact.” While in the Elizabethan theater it appears to be an instance of speaking herself in his body, present-day representation reverses those terms. The address to froward wives reads like recipe discourse for a patriarchal dish to be swallowed whole, like a TV dinner; once Kate ventriloquizes the voice of Shakespeare's culture and lets it colonize her body, she never speaks again. Looking for a Kate other than this apparently conformable one is like scanning the “before” and “after” images in ads for weight-loss programs. Both are inescapably there: a viewer searches for the one in the other, wonders (like Lucentio) whether they do represent the same person, and attempts to merge the two images into a single, recognizably discrete entity.

Observing a similar phenomenon, Carol Neely cites the tendency of recent feminist readers to tame Kate's taming in order to fracture the play's patriarchal panopticism. Although, Neely writes, “feminists cannot … fail to rejoice at the spirit, wit and joy with which Kate accommodates herself to her wifely role,” neither can they “fail to note the radical asymmetry and inequality of the comic reconciliation and wish for Kate, as for [themselves], that choices were less limited, roles less rigid and unequal, accommodations more mutual and less coerced” (Broken Nuptials 218-19). Caught between a resistant desire for social equality and the conformist demands of comic form, Neely anticipates what Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, borrowing W. E. B. Du Bois's term, calls a “lived twoness,” the dialectic of sundered identity, the doubled consciousness of individuals who simultaneously identify with the dominant culture and with the marginal community or group to which they belong or to which that culture assigns them (139-41). It is a curious place in which to live and from which to view Shrew's finale—a spectacle (always) already endowed with enough accumulated cultural capital to enable women readers or spectators, stranded between incommensurable identities, to buy into its normative gender economy.

By crystallizing images of dominance and submission in marriage, Shrew's logic teaches that a shrew-wife has neither use- nor exchange-value and traces an especially canny broker's success in rolling over his initial investment. To find pleasure in this ending, a woman spectator must discover that Shrew inextricably weaves voyeurism, fantasy, and consumerism together to produce a dazzling constellation of viewing positions. If she takes the direct route that the play offers male spectators (through Sly), desiring herself as a fetish, she acknowledges not only the masculinity that conceptualizes her access to activity and agency but the twists and turns in a woman's often circuitous route to pleasure (Rose 183). Shrew can also entice a woman spectator to regress imaginatively, responding as many do to Gone with the Wind or as a particular reading community does to Harlequin romances (see Radway). By either gliding over the signs of the father in Kate's speech (accepting them as “natural”) or assuming that Kate is merely performing and does not believe what she says, readers can produce a scene similar to the happy rape, the fully authorized scene for female sexuality—authorized precisely because it is mastered and controlled. In such scenarios, Kate does not so much defeat the power of the phallus as take over its power in drag to play the “good girl” and so get the “bad girl's” pleasure;5 moreover, since she achieves pleasure as if against her will, she remains a good girl. Theoretically, Shrew's aesthetic sadomasochism turns into a more acceptable social masochism through which one may negotiate pleasure from a position of relative powerlessness. In one way or another, each of these options is a self-consuming fantasy: as Lynne Joyrich observes of all present-day representation, perhaps the consumer's viewing role is the only one that remains stable (Spectatrix 193).

But the trouble is not that, by taking such pleasures in Shrew's ending, one disavows critique and becomes the culture's dupe rather than its analyst. Instead, the danger is that such ethnographies of reading buy Shrew for a shared feminine mystique through which women may even further mystify their cultural positioning (or fate) as a trap, however tender. Thus women neutralize, in pleasant dreams or in nightmare fantasies that lie beyond the play's representational limits, whatever legitimate grievances they perceive, not only in Shrew's Elizabethan patriarchy but in late-twentieth-century conditions of lived twoness. In 1594, when Shrew was first entered in the Stationers' Register, it was called “a pleasant Conceyted historie,” and its long performance history, through many alternative guises, suggests that it gives good conceits as well as good pleasure. It can also claim, like Othello, to have given the state some service. In the twentieth century as in the sixteenth, the public spectacle of a woman behaving properly stamps her with the culture's prerogatives, and being looked at, whether by male or female spectators, reconfirms her meaning.

How Shrew's cultural capital has been reproduced, repackaged, and spent as a twentieth-century commodity is my concern in the rest of this essay. Because the models of “looking” the play presupposes—voyeurism, fantasy, and consumerism—are all metaphors for film and television viewing, and because the viewing regimes of these media resonate with social and psychic codes of sexual difference, it is appropriate to consider how modern representations remarket and sanction Shrew's social contract.6 After all, however carefully academic gender studies may construct or deconstruct images of women, in this more public territory Shrew continues to enfold “woman,” as well as “women,” within representation to make and remake new patriarchies and new cultural myths with which to negotiate her use.


Famous as the first sound film of a Shakespearean play, Columbia Pictures' Taming of the Shrew (1929), starring the legendary Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, is perhaps even more infamous for its credit line, “by William Shakespeare with additional dialogue by Samuel Taylor,” the director. (A contemporary cartoon shows a bust of Shakespeare at the Library of Congress being replaced by one of Taylor [Windeler 160-61].7) Intriguingly, in the distribution of verbal property, Shakespeare's poetry goes to Fairbanks while Taylor's additions—except for a version of Kate's author-ized obedience speech—fall to Pickford, who complained that Fairbanks (once a Shakespearean actor) took advantage of her. According to Pickford's autobiography (and to her sympathetic biographers), Fairbanks tamed the “shrew” in real life as well as dominated her before the cameras: he not only played jokes, delayed shooting schedules, and failed to learn his lines, wildly increasing production costs, but relegated his costarring wife (also his coproducer and cofinancer) to a lower place in the production hierarchy. Writes Pickford, “The making of that film was my finish. My confidence was completely shattered, and I was never again at ease before the camera or microphone” (312). Yet the film opens up contradictions in this confessional portrait of a woman at the mercy of both her husband and the camera apparatus. When the performer known for her golden curls and for a whole bag of coy “Pickford tricks” first confronts Fairbanks's Robin Hood-Black Pirate Petruchio, a frieze depicting Herod's slaughter of the innocents frames her figure, perfectly troping her image as a grown woman pretending to be a little girl as well as her self-characterized victimization. But her costume—a black skirted riding habit, boots, and a sweepingly feathered picture hat—draws on an equally familiar published identity, that of the androgynous tomboy (Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm [1917]), according her the power associated with male masquerade; she, not Petruchio, cracks a mean whip.8

However much the image of Fairbanks—clad in rags, a jackboot on his head, slouching against a column, and crunching an apple during the wedding—codes Petruchio's bravado, glossing his shrewish display with his already commodified identity, the film also mocks the alien, romantic manliness associated with his previous roles.9 After escorting Kate to her bridal chamber, Fairbanks's Petruchio returns to the dining table and attacks the food and drink he had previously rejected. Meanwhile, following a dissolve that transforms Pickford's dirtily dressed Kate into a bride wearing a virginal peignoir, she appears on a balcony overlooking the great hall, where she sees Petruchio sharing his taming strategy with a dog that has replaced her at the table; smiling mysteriously, she disappears before Petruchio asks, “Dost thou know better how to tame a shrew?” and the dog barks in reply. Later, on finding Kate asleep, Petruchio slams the bedroom door, scatters the bedclothes, and bellows at Kate, who applauds his performance; then, after each opens a window, the couple argue over whether they're looking at the moon or the sun and quarrel over who gets the best bed pillow. If this Noel Coward-like bridal night offers audiences a voyeuristic glimpse of “the most popular couple the world has ever known” (Herndon), its finale also restages the gender codes of Shakespeare's Shrew: after bashing Petruchio's head with a stool, Kate coos, “O Petruchio, beloved”; pats his face to revive him; and, cradling him in her arms, throws her whip into the fire and murmurs a soothing “There, there” as he lays his head on her bosom. Gazing up at her with a puzzled look, Petruchio asks, “The sun is shining bright?” and, reassuringly, Pickford's motherly Kate replies, “Aye, the blessed sun.”

In the final wedding-banquet sequence, Petruchio, his head bound with a raffish bandage and looking immensely self-satisfied, sits with one leg hooked over his chair while Kate, standing beside him, swears to love, honor, and obey. As she finishes her vow, a cut to mid-close-up isolates her broad wink, which Bianca, in an ensuing mid-shot, acknowledges. Just as Petruchio is a son playacting the role of husband, Kate is a mother who plays a wife. By turning men into braggart boys with knowing mothers, Taylor's Shrew gives the oedipal scenario a curious gender spin: while the son may get his mother, articulating that resolution from a woman's point of view turns the familiar plot into a variant of the Freudian joke, with women, not men, having the last laugh. Yet, although the wife's seizing the comic advantage and the mythic power of a heavily coded subject position skews the film's final deshrewing, it only momentarily dismantles the call of Shakespeare's patriarchal culture. In playing out what appear to be competing instructions for marital pleasure, Taylor's Shrew simply gives the emperor's text new (and newly contradictory) robes, cut from the cloth of a regressive fantasy about occupying—and performing—infantile roles. If Pickford's wink clears any space for real women spectators within Shrew's ending, that space, like the entire film, is already traversed with questions of ownership, whether of Fairbanks's exotically masculine image or of Pickford's identity as “America's Sweetheart.”10 Possessing either, however fleetingly, would effectively (and conventionally) mask whatever cultural tensions remained concerning those who, only a short ten years before, had been enfranchised. But any anxiety the film prompts about Kate's momentary “triumph” is allayed when Petruchio pulls Kate across his lap for a final kiss, Baptista begins a song in which all join, and the camera pulls back, revealing the entire wedding party, to conclude on the sight—and sound—of full social harmony.11

A rather different doubleness—or, more appropriately, a “lived twoness” within what Richard Dyer calls “star discourse”—informs Franco Zeffirelli's 1966 Shrew, a vehicle for the equally legendary couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Like other Shrews, Zeffirelli's circulates around the use- and exchange-value of a shrewwife. But locating this image of “woman” in Taylor's body—itself a site (or text) of sexual spectacle and spectatorly desire—lends particular resonance to this Shrew's hyperactive narrative. As “the most expensive, most beautiful, most married and divorced being in the world,” Taylor both stands for the type “star” and calls into question the ontological distinctions separating stars from “ordinary people.” Her star category not only ignores how her offscreen experience models the late-twentieth-century crisis within heterosexual monogamy but fails to account for either her “commonness” or her frequent successes in “bitch” roles. Nevertheless, the star system, and Taylor within it, figures “the decadence, sexual license and extravagance” that characterize 1950s and 1960s American culture and anticipate Foucault's designation of sexuality as the area of human experience where we can learn the truth about ourselves (Dyer, Stars 49-50; see also Morin; Walker). As a fathomless icon of femininity, with stories in her eyes, her body carries meanings that may supersede, or fuse with, stardom's ability to embody social categories, especially to promote the idea (and ideal) of individual agency within culture by suggesting that a private self resides behind the role and that “truth” lies just beyond the image (Dyer, Heavenly Bodies 11, 18).

Shrew and the Taylor-Burton team are ideally suited to mapping this contradictory web of discourses and its equally contradictory pleasures. Most intriguingly, Zeffirelli's film grounds its particular negotiation between textual and social subjects, not just in Shakespeare's play but in reverberations of two other productions starring the couple: Cleopatra (1963; dir. Mankiewicz), whose filming embraced what Burton called le scandale that broke up both stars' previous marriages (Sheppard 299), and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966; dir. Nichols). Certainly the teaser for Virginia Woolf—“You are cordially invited to George and Martha's for an evening of fun and games”—applies equally to Shrew. For the game in Zeffirelli's film is to exchange “Hump the Hostess” for “Get the Guests” and, by treading the edge of the madonna-whore dichotomy, to transform not just the unruly Kate but Taylor herself from a published “scarlet woman” to a legitimate wife.

Appropriately, the film's first image of “woman” is that of a blowsy whore, who replaces the figure of Lent in the opening spectacle of Paduan Carnival, which replaces Shakespeare's Sly Induction and thematizes the licensed inversions of Shrew's narrative. Aptly characterizing Shakespeare's Shrew as “a play not for a sober Monday morning but for a drunken Saturday night,” Jack Jorgens calls Zeffirelli's film a version of Saturnalian Revel, with Burton and Taylor reigning as the Lord and Lady of Misrule (67, 73, 78). Not only is Burton's smashed Welsh Petruchio (a parody of Charles Laughton's portrayal of Henry VIII in Alexander Korda's 1933 film) seldom without a wine goblet in his hand, but he throws away Shakespeare's lines with a panache that overpowers Taylor's more hesitant delivery. As with the Pickford-Fairbanks Shrew, the male star's ownership of Shakespeare's language reifies the text's linguistic logic; whereas Petruchio owns the words, silence codes his wife's presence until the play's end, when Kate talks and talks and talks.12 Here, however, Taylor's body language overmatches Burton's facility with Shakespeare: the film not only eroticizes her spectacular body but capitalizes on her attraction for Burton. Following the wooing scene, an extended romp that ends with the pair falling into a pile of feathers, a close-up sequence not only privileges Kate's point of view but, by including an extreme close-up of one of Taylor's famous violet eyes, turns her gaze into a spectacle in which viewers can meet their own voyeurism. Her look keys a high-angle full shot of Burton's Petruchio bragging to the other men that he has won her; then, drawing back from the window's “eye,” Kate sinks into a thoughtful pose; and a smile crosses her face as the sound track's soft, romantic music expresses her private pleasure, inviting spectators of either gender to share and, perhaps, extend her fantasy.

That fantasy culminates at Bianca's wedding banquet, where, following an exchange of side-long glances between Kate and Petruchio, Kate's point of view keys a shot of several children playing; after a cut-in mid-shot of Kate, they reappear, this time with a large dog. She smiles fondly at them, then gazes tenderly at a bored, wine-drinking Petruchio and, with expressively downcast eyes, raises her own cup to her lips. Moments later, she disdainfully leads the women away from the men's locker-room talk about the Widow. In her eyes, marriage should breed increase, not bawdy puns: this Kate would “keep / By children's eyes, her husband's shape in mind” (Shakespeare's sonnet 9). Indeed, this spectacle of fortunate issue seems to motivate her later obedience speech and so bends Shrew's ending toward familial myth—and this particular Shrew's intertextual connections.

For both Kate's mothering instinct and her refusal to listen to dirty jokes flood outward, encompassing Virginia Woolf's loud-mouthed Martha and George and their imaginary child as well as Taylor's own history. After three cesarean sections, Taylor had decided, on the advice of her doctors, not to have another child, and during Cleopatra's early filming, she arranged to adopt a severely crippled infant girl (Sheppard 299-300). Then, as her dangerous liaison with Burton became worldwide news, an open letter in the Vatican City weekly, L'osservatore della dominica (implicitly if not officially speaking with a papal voice), accused her of being “an erotic vagrant and an unfit mother” (Sheppard 309-10). Three years later, Shrew's ending seemed specifically Taylor-ed to address those slurs and to prove her moral worth. When Taylor's Kate reappears at Petruchio's command, tugging Bianca, the Widow, and a train of (presumably) marginal wives, her spectacle of obedience becomes a serious pledge of wifely duty, complete with a cut-in mid-shot of a weeping peasant woman. As Kate kneels before Petruchio, joyful applause breaks out; after Petruchio raises her, the film cuts to a close-up kiss and then to a full shot of the entire assembly, smiling and applauding this conventional romantic-comedy ending. In close-up, Petruchio addresses his final lines to the less fortunate husbands and to the camera, but when he turns, expecting Kate to be at his side, she has disappeared, and he is trapped in a crowd of other wives. Kate-Taylor's desire for Petruchio-Burton, and for children, has apparently transferred to all women; and Burton's newly eroticized body must fight through this unruly mob to make his exit, much as Burton and Taylor were plagued by intrusive Roman paparazzi wherever they went. Finally, Grumio holds up his hands, as though to say “that's all” and to stop the camera as well as the women from invading an imaginary offscreen bedroom. But it is not all, for outtakes from the hectically paced wooing scene provide a coda that not only restores farcical gaiety but shows what the filmed sequence does not: a pair of jolly, thriving wooers, a model star marriage that appropriates Shakespeare to authenticate a beautiful woman's transgressive body as that of a faithful wife and to confirm the jet-setting couple's Italian, if not international, respectability. “All is [indeed] done in reverend care of her” (4.1.175): within this Shrew's doubled carnivalesque, that ideology prevails precisely because it awards pleasure to both textual and spectatorly subjects.


However much its box-office success capitalized on viewers' voyeuristic fascination with its stars, Zeffirelli's Shrew falls within a high-art tradition of filmed Shakespeare. But more popular representations of Shrew—by distancing, dispersing, or redirecting Shakespeare's cultural authority—can more easily accommodate the possibility of containment as well as of resistance: the “double movement” of popular culture (Hall 228). Although Shrew is (always) already popular culture, George Sidney's 1953 film of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate (1948) moves “Shakespeare” even more definitively toward its popular origins. Adapted to show how Lilli and Fred, a divorced star couple, come together (again), this Shrew quite literally swings to another tune. Like most musicals about making a musical, this one equates a couple's ability to perform together onstage with their successful offstage sexual performance, a convention well suited to address the decade's preoccupation with sexuality (1953 marked Playboy's inaugural issue and Kinsey's report on American women's sexual behavior) and to tinsel the pleasures and dangers of sex with a discourse of “pure” entertainment.

Ultimately, Kate is less interested in shrewing around than in placating, through song and dance, the cultural tensions of screwing around: wiving it wealthily in Padua takes second place to floating desire, affecting unruly women (“I will take … any Harry, Tom or Dick,” sings Bianca-Lois) and ex-husbands alike (marriage is fine by day, “But oh what a bore at night,” mourns Petruchio-Fred). Although Kate-Lilli's “I Hate Men” deconstructs macho stereotypes—Jack the Ripper; the athlete “with his manner bold and brassy, / [Who] may have hair upon his chest but, sister, so has Lassie”; the traveling salesman “who'll have the fun and thee the baby”; the executive whose “bus'ness is with his pretty secretary”13—she finally accepts the contradictory “twoness” of lived experience: “from the mind, all womankind should rout 'em, / But ladies, … what would we do without 'em?” Taking any Dick is not for Kate-Lilli, whose love-hate for Petruchio-Fred's philandering phallus makes her seem willingly complicit in repeated humiliations, including a public spanking (“So taunt me and hurt me, / Deceive me, desert me, / I'm yours 'til I die”).14 However playfully Kate extends Shrew's brief to express women's and men's grievances against monogamy's material circumstances, it not only rigorously polices excessive desires but tolerates no ruptures within male dominance. A well-stuffed codpiece, a whip, and a banana code Petruchio-Fred's high visibility; and the film's original 3-D version heightens his subjectivity (never Kate-Lilli's), as well as his self-reflexive performance, through the emergence effect, which makes him seem about to break from the screen to become one with the viewers' reality.15 Whereas Marowitz turns Shrew's discipline-and-punish regime to pornographic excess, Kate reworks Shakespeare as sadistic bard through two Sly-surrogate hoodlums, whose advice—“Brush up your Shakespeare, and they'll all kow-tow”—brushes in the tangled links between Shakespeare's titular erotics16 and mid-twentieth-century misogyny to recirculate Shrew's discourse of phallic potency:

If she says she won't buy it or tike it,
Make her tike it, what's more, “As You Like It,”
If she says your behavior is heinous,
Kick her right in the “Coriolanus”
.....Just recite an occasional sonnet,
And your lap'll have “Honey” upon it,
When your baby is pleading for pleasure,
Let her sample your “Measure for Measure.”

Somewhat predictably, Lilli “kow-tows,” canceling her proposed elopement with the travestied Texan cowboy whose limousine sports giant cattle horns and using Shakespeare's obedience speech (set to Porter's music) to tell Fred she loves him. When she waves Fred's little black book in his face, he laughs (“A pox on the life that late I led”) and, as Lilli tosses away his record of past conquests, segues into the finale's “Kiss Me, Kate,” further confirming the myth of heterosexual monogamy and cheerfully accepting its strictures as structure. Superimposed over their playground-stage, the figures of Lilli and Fred, once again through the emergence effect, project into the “eternal present” of both the film's phantom and its live spectators,17 joining two cultural spaces in a wedded bliss that has been mediated by, but finally suppresses, a dominant-submissive undertext. All are included guests at this celebratory marriage between the playwright Hollywood calls “Billy Big Boy” and the big-hit, stage-to-screen musical.

If Kate vents sadomasochistic fantasies in soft-shoe routines to teach that fighting phallic power can be fun, it also suggests that managing monogamy's double-toil-and-trouble standards is strictly women's business. Similarly, in the televised Shrew that Paul Nickell directed for Westinghouse Studio One (1950), Lisa Kirk's Kate, wearing a fashionably boat-necked, off-the-shoulder Bianca-like dress (“the look is definitely 1950,” claims the video's jacket blurb), borrows Pickford's wink as she ends her obedience speech—articulated here in close-up, played directly at viewers who have just seen Charlton Heston's rugged matinee-idol Petruchio turn away. Her behind-the-back gesture (“We women own the real power, but let's keep it secret,” says her look) functions both as a compensatory fantasy and as a classically authorized reply to sociology's then current scientific dissection of marriage. Some twenty-five years later, Kate's wink would ground Maribel Morgan's Total Woman strategies for covert domination of husbands, aimed at keeping them in their place—that is, in their wives' beds—as well as Phyllis Schlafly's Power of the Positive Woman, which uses the rhetoric of disenfranchisement to mobilize suburban housewives into an effective political force against the perceived onslaught of radical feminism (see Kipnis 164). But however circuitously it represents Kate's route to pleasure, Studio One's attempt to market its high-culture image generates additional pleasure through representing electricity's transformative powers in yet another form of commodified discourse that reveals Shrew as a limitless text; no boundary separates Shakespeare's fictional product and its born-to-shop heroine (Boose, “Taming”) from its sponsor's commercial products.

Attached to Shrew's narrative through television's seamless flow of discourse, the show's commercial spots not only aim Westinghouse's up-market Shakespeare at variously aged and gendered viewers but endeavor to construct a family, with Betty Furness as its arbiter (see Williamson; Haralovich). The first, positioned just after Petruchio takes Kate away from her wedding reception on his bike, hawks a Westinghouse portable three-way radio with an AC/DC long-life battery; the second, which follows the scenes at Petruchio's “taming school,” begins with Furness saying, “Do you live in a hothouse? You don't have to, you know.” The solution: a Westinghouse Mobile Air Fan with “deep-pitched Mycarta blades, explosive air rings and an exhaust fan that adjusts to any window.” If these address, respectively, American Bandstand's teenage fans and “good huswifery,” the last commercial, placed after Kate's obedience speech and the romantic embrace that follows, obviously assumes a male spectator, his interest piqued by updated Shakespeare. Here, a man watching night baseball on a (Westinghouse) TV introduces scenes in which Westinghouse magic lights an entire world: highways, a filling station, a backyard barbecue—all the (male) amenities of postwar suburban landed leisure, where a man's home may indeed be his castle and where Westinghouse products contribute to enclosing his wife within it. Clearly, Shrew had found its ideal venue: the home.

Even more strikingly, the first commercial spot for Moonlighting's 1986 radically rewritten Shrew (dir. Caron) displaces the propertied gender relations of Shakespeare's original onto potential consumers, further erasing any barriers between the fictional text and commercial social reality. Primarily, though not exclusively, addressed to women, each of the four segments invites surrogate Kates to create (or re-create) themselves from multiple products and gendered subject positions. The first opens with a male voice-over (“Satisfying your family is what General Foods is all about”) and shows a man teaching a woman that Grape Nuts contains health, “natural” taste, and sex: “That's a big crunch for such a little thing,” she concludes, savoring a bite. In the second, an ad for designer coffees, a mother and daughter look at keepsakes, and the daughter asks, “What was my first word?” “Daddy,” replies the mother. “Well, my second must have been ‘Mom,’” the daughter says, laughing; “No,” her mother says, “I think it was chocolate.” But if this captured moment invites viewers to remember patriarchal primacy (with the absent father's position filled by the product), the third segment, for Kentucky Fried Chicken, tells a more radical story, in which a cartoon hen bops the narrating rooster's head and takes him off, captive to her desires, in a wheelbarrow. The final commercial, the teaser for an upcoming show about TV stars and their mothers, concludes, “Mothers always have the last word.” Curiously and uncannily, this commodified gender map functions much like foreshadowing (as if some “guide to quality drama”) to presage what is to come.

As part of the “merry war” between Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) and David Addison (Bruce Willis), Moonlighting's Shrew recirculates the relations between body and voice, between parodic gender display and subterranean pornographic connections, that characterize Shakespeare's original, weaving them into a late-twentieth-century kaleidoscope of popular gender fantasies.18 In her first appearance, Shepherd's Kate polishes off Padua's entire male population with a long staff, sending five into a fountain and causing a line of others to fall, like dominoes, simply by puffing at them. Wearing sunglasses, Willis's Petruchio rides a white horse and, like any macho Western hero, inhales a roast pig, guzzles a wine keg, fights two swordsmen, and, finally, eliminates four Kung Fu masters. “If you're a man, you're gonna love the sixteenth century,” he tells viewers, just before he breaks down Katherina's door with an ax, pokes his head through the opening, à la Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's Shining, and announces with a leer, “Here's Petruchio!” At the wedding ceremony, where a bound and gagged Katherina kneels at the altar, Petruchio rides into church (here, the horse also wears sunglasses), comments, “How well doth she look in bondage,” and puts on a spectacular show. Backed up by a rock combo, he sings, “I've got the fever, you've got the cure,” complete with a Mick Jagger strut and harmonica solo, before throwing Kate over his shoulder and storming out. Refusing to sleep with him, Kate claims, “I havest a headache”; later, however, after a male voice-over narrates her change from house afire to housewife, she promises, if he “respects her and holds her in high esteem as a wife and partner,” to share his bed. Following the conventional PG-13 pan over rumpled sheets and intertwined legs, the pair confess their love. “In spite of your boorishness and bluster,” says Kate, “you're a good man, Petruchio”; and he returns the compliment: “In spite of your shrillness and shrewishness, you're a rather remarkable woman.”

As in Shakespeare's Shrew, Moonlighting's finale, entitled “The Big Finish,” documents a crisis in subjectivity, but exactly whose subjectivity is at stake is not altogether clear. Interrupting Petruchio's prenuptial counseling of Lucentio, Baptista mentions hearing a rumor that Kate just pretends to be tamed and claims, “Marriage is fifty-fifty.” Looking worried, Petruchio summons Kate, and when she comes, he preaches to her before the assembled company, “Thy husband is thy Lord, thy life, thy keeper,” and asks her, by way of a test, to agree that the moon is shining bright. Following an intercut exchange of pregnant looks, Kate crosses past him, gazes at the sky, and says, “You are mistaken, husband; it is the sun that shines so bright.” “The sun, you say?” replies Petruchio. “Then I have but one choice—to look again.” After admitting, “I was wrong, and I have learned it from a woman,” he renounces his “deal” with Baptista and claims as his only reward “thy company, as long as we both shall live. For Kate didn't need to be tamed—just to be loved” (for similar moves, see Thompson's comments in Shakespeare 20; Levine 15). At this, Kate responds, “Kiss me, Petruchio,” and pulls him into a 1940s dip as the camera booms up to a high-angle shot of Padua's newly franchised marital community.

Initially, this ending seems willingly responsive to, even productive of, currents of social change. Renegotiating the gendered exchange of visual pleasure in Shakespeare's Shrew, it takes Kate and Petruchio's privately agreed-on bedroom contract into public space and so redefines that space, apparently in other than performative terms. By giving up his “deal,” Petruchio rejects owning Kate as property, thus according with Joan Kelly's utopian move toward reconstructing gender relations as personal relations among freely associating individuals (15). But a number of contradictions play through this seductive discourse. Intriguingly, while Moonlighting's finale returns the patriarchal text to its foundational male body, acknowledging that source also returns to Petruchio the power to name obedience, secure his dominance, and turn Kate into a smiling spectator, whose downcast eyes show her submission to his will or, perhaps more accurately, to Will Shakespeare's masquerading in Willis. Although projecting Kate's voice into Petruchio's body means rewriting the marriage vows to her tune, the newly gendered lyric buys into another myth of male subjectivity: that a woman's love is all a man needs and vice versa. More troublingly, these regendered relations between body and voice position Kate where, in Josette Feral's words, “she says Nothing because she has Nothing to say and because there is Nothing to say about whatever she may say, since it means Nothing” (551-52). If, as Joel Fineman writes, Shakespeare's Shrew portrays “woman” as porous, capable of admitting male discourse and speaking it as her own (138-59), then what is Shepherd's “Kiss me, Petruchio,” with its accompanying sweeping gesture, but a readmission of that? And though Moonlighting also veers toward suggesting that only Kate can make Petruchio a man (Kahn 117-18) or, in this case, a “liberated” man, a male narrator has the last words. Retitling the play “Petruchio and Kate,” his voice-over reaffirms the primacy of the gendered male subject, erases the contradictions the videotext has produced, and brings voice and image together to mute woman's “unruly member” (see Boose, “Scolding Bridles”).

Nevertheless, Moonlighting's gestures toward sociosexual equality do clear a space, even though that space cannot be fully occupied without remystifying the terms of the social contract on a woman's body. While this Shrew sends up Marowitz's pornographic morphology, it also exploits and eroticizes another border realm where gender roles remain questionable or unstable. Moonlighting's frame, however, reinvents the trope of dominant-submissive gender relations at Shrew's center and repositions the plot's arbitrary gender politics. That frame begins with a ten-year-old boy's desire to watch “that show about men and women,” at which his mother warns, “Watching TV won't help you on the Shakespeare test; you've got a lot of reading to do.” Just as Shakespeare's Shrew pretends to address Christopher Sly, Moonlighting's Shrew sells itself as the boy's imagined version of “Atomic Shakespeare” (by William “Budd” Shakespeare). Yet it has no explosive effect on the boy; rather, since it substitutes for a “real” (even more desirable?) Moonlighting episode, it demonstrates his competency in reading, not Shakespeare, but other Moonlighting episodes, where Maddie Hayes invariably “wins.” Rushing downstairs after shutting his rewritten Shrew text, the boy—whose face, like his mother's, viewers never see—asks, “Is Moonlighting still on?” And his mother, ignorant of the reading he has produced, replies, “It's just over.” Rising from the couch to turn off the TV, she adds (referring to the absent Moonlighting text), “It wasn't very good, anyway.”

Somewhat anxiously, and in keeping with television's domestic contract of containment, this frame not only encloses Moonlighting's Shrew but offers another representation of “woman” to viewers who may have enjoyed the episode's potentially subversive pleasures. Finally, in an America ruled (at least on TV) by moms in highly authoritative high heels and by absent dads, everything is in place in late-twentieth-century structures of cultural authority. As this last riff on bodies and voices suggests, it all depends on whether you like your patriarchy visible or, as in this case, invisible—spoken by a froward mom, not a former shrew. At its close, Moonlighting's Shrew teaches just how thoroughly Shakespeare's Shrew ties Kate up. Whether in its Elizabethan guise as a tale of “good husbandry” or in this recent thrust at historicized counterdiscourse, the play always represents Katherina bound—even in a (mis)reading that seems to invite its spectators, of whatever gender, to reappropriate another screen idol's most famous line, “Here's looking at you, kid.”19


  1. For documents and analysis, see Henderson and McManus. On Shrew, see Kahn 104-18; Jardine 59-61; Woodbridge 206-10; Neely, Broken Nuptials 28-31; Boose, “Scolding” and “Taming”; and Newman 33-50.

  2. On reading against the grain, see Barthes, “From Work to Text”; see also the responses from Byars, Fischer, Mellencamp, and Morris in Spectatrix 117, 150-51, 235, and 245.

  3. The now famous phrase is Mulvey's. Since her influential essay appeared, her formulation of gendered spectatorship has been criticized for not acknowledging a wider range of cross-gendered and marginalized spectator positions: see Spectatrix.

  4. I agree with Berger about the privileging of imaginary bodies over real ones, though I would not claim, as he does, that the theater entirely limits the play of (critical) representation (“Bodies,” “Text,” Imaginary Audition); see also Peterson, “Straw Lances”; Yachnin.

  5. For connections between this reading and slasher films, see Clover; for a critique of Clover, see Williams 206-08. On masochism, see Deleuze; Studlar.

  6. For example, none of these Shrews reconstructs Bianca as shrew-wife; by reserving that identity for Kate, each assumes that her conversion resolves a “universal” problem.

  7. Library of Congress collection print. On film production, see Manvell 24-25.

  8. On masquerade, see Riviere; Heath. Williamson discusses important contradictions within gendered masquerade, noting that present-day fashion images privilege women's “boyish” figures (“It's Different for Girls”).

  9. Especially in The Mark of Zorro, The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood (all, 1921), The Thief of Baghdad (1923), and The Black Pirate (1926).

  10. My formulation applies only to heterosexual viewers. For the theoretical debate on gendered spectatorship, see Spectatrix.

  11. The BBC-TV Shrew, directed by Jonathan Miller, closes with an image of ideal Puritan marriage: part books appear, and all sing Psalm 128, which connects fear of the Lord with a peaceful family life. For the social contexts of song production, see Horner. On Miller's TV and stage Shrews, see Holderness 95-120. On the BBC series as a cultural product, see Collick 52-57. See also Bulman and Coursen, esp. 80-81, 188-89, and 266-68.

  12. In Rutter's first chapter, “Interpreting the Silence,” several recent Royal Shakespeare Company Kates discuss this topic (1-26).

  13. The film bowdlerizes some of Porter's lyrics in the staged version of Kiss Me, Kate, where the original line is “His bus'ness is the bus'ness which he gives his secretary.”

  14. Peterson's “Boys Will Be Boys” further explores Kate's sadism.

  15. Appropriately, the short-lived 3-D technology derived from an interlock mechanism devised for military missile-tracking systems (see Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson 245, 251, 359-60, and 474-75).

  16. Memorialized in the perennial joke: wet (A Midsummer Night's Dream); dry (Twelfth Night); miscarriage (Love's Labour's Lost); 3 inches (Much Ado about Nothing); 6 inches (As You Like It); 12 inches (The Taming of the Shrew).

  17. See Feuer 81, 84-85. Paul connects the emergence effect to Weimann's locus and platea stage positions (73-85, 215-46).

  18. See also Joyrich; Oruch.

  19. Versions of this essay were presented at Dartmouth College, the Shakespeare Association of America, and the Society for Cinema Studies. My thanks to those audiences for helpful comments.

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Wayne and Dorothy Cook (review date spring/summer 2003)

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SOURCE: Cook, Wayne and Dorothy. Review of The Taming of the Shrew.Shakespeare Bulletin 21, no. 2 (spring/summer 2003): 22-3.

[In the following review, the Cooks contend that director Mark Lamos's 2003 Yale Repertory Theatre production of The Taming of the Shrew was disappointing, caused in part by the mediocre performances by the all-male cast.]

Mark Lamos' production of The Taming of the Shrew at the Yale Repertory Theatre was disappointing. His intention, expressed in pre-production interviews, was to recapture the original vigor of the play. It was thwarted by a cast of mediocre players, by allowing horseplay to eclipse the energy of the language, and by naturalistic scenes that descended into the squalor of a filthy tenement kitchen. And, in this all-male, Latino version, attention was often drawn to men playing women. However, except for the best scene of the evening, with a gay tailor, there was little or no South Beach camp. This restraint was, unfortunately, lost in the employment of farce.

Scenic designer Leiko Fuseya's brightly colored set conveyed both the street and indoors. Material poverty was offset by attitude, evident in boisterous sound and movement, as well as in day-glo hues of red, orange, yellow, and purple. The many entrances blurred outside and inside; exterior walls were decorated with pictures, mostly religious. A central balcony, with a broken spindle in its railing, promised as much the view of a courtyard as it did a busy thoroughfare. A Moorish arch over one door further evoked a southern climate, which initially featured a cutout palm tree outlined with lights. To the left was a hole-in-the-wall bar, its metal shutter up for business and its mismatched table and chairs upright. At stage right was a window framed with Christmas lights and filled with devotional statuary. Above at either side were vertical neon signs for cheap hotels and, evidently, a neighborhood social club, which flashed from men to women at the end, when hotel “Amor” also lit up. Four or five TV screens located variously above (with one in the lobby) broadcast Univision during the intermission. Without the Introduction, the theme of transformation was relegated to a rowdy crowd tossing a basketball, awkwardly, then snatching clothes from two lowered lines across the stage. A hefty man who later played the Widow held a dress to himself and pranced to the jeers and hoots of the locals.

To the rhythms of a range of familiar Latin music, choreographer Seán Curran bridged nearly every scene with dancing, illustrating his gift of wit and sense of mockery. A conga line snaked to an exit with stooping men, looking like a happy, singing caterpillar, or perhaps something out of a Wildean revue. Thus Lamos began by suggesting that sexual insecurities may be more prevalent in Puritanical societies than in the easy going landscape of contemporary Mediterranean culture and its kind of machismo. And certainly Curran began by giving to human movement sheer joy; his contribution gave this production what genuine lift it had. For the novelty of the all-male cast wore off, giving way to contrivance and mannered, humdrum exaggeration, marked by forced slapstick and cornball romance.

Thus, in Puerto Rican colors, Lucentio acted the eager suitor, with his man Tranio the all too recognizable sitcom wiseguy. Stricken by the sight of Bianca, Lucentio danced with her in a blend of tango and foxtrot. As tutor, he adopted the approach of Hollywood lovemaking reminiscent, say, of Ricardo Montalban. He managed but one moment of sullen reality when he finally discovered a wife different from the one wooed. Caught by his master's father, Tranio squirmed, then shrugged, playing the comic butt as if before a studio camera. Pappas Baptista and Vincentio went through the motions of hapless and moneybags authority, the one in heavy black plastic glasses, looking like a mafia don, and the other a Wall Street tycoon. That other old man, Gremio, was a young man acting old by means of doddering in ill-coordinated garb, and, oddly, he found everything amusing.

Petruchio entered Padua in white shirt and jeans, with a laid-on masculine black belt and boots. His sidekick Grumio won the battle of knocking by pinching his master's nipples, hard. Another example of foolery and of Petruchio's comic-strip stature was his reaction to Gremio's warning that winning the shrewish Kate would be like “labor to great Hercules” (1.2.255). Slapped on the back by the old man, Petruchio fell forward and gasped and gasped. And, after Kate pulled-about her sister in a parody of Beckett's Pozzo and Lucky, she roped and tied the poor girl. In the wooing scene (2.1.182f), Petruchio feigned deafness when slapped, buckled when bitten on the knee, and found his arm held high by a referee Kate, in an image of it's-a-tie match, despite his having felled his opponent many times. Of course, these hijinks were loved by the audience, whose members could hardly hear the lines. As for the “monster” Petruchio, introduced in rattling Spanish by Biondello of the backward baseball cap, he was, yes, another tedious Elvis lookalike, which he remained through the taming scenes.

Indeed, the only relief from the chaotic, unspeakable clowning at Petruchio's place was the gay tailor. His every look and twitch was an invitation, yet, in superb control, he caught the tone of a skillful and sincere artisan, misprized by others if a prize to himself. Here a hapless and enduring Kate, his moon face surrounded by a sunburst of spiraled black hair, made a credible female presence. He began by standing at a slant, hand on hip, but he broke free from a predominant scowl, wondering stare, and open-mouthed surprise to speak with animation. Lamos said he wanted to stay away from feminist debate just this once, so his Kate delivered her last speech straight, until finished, when he rolled his eyes to loosen the audience.

Far more successful was the deft coquetry of Bianca. In off-the-shoulders white blouse and teal ruffled skirt, he whirled and twirled, often partnered by several men, doing now the can-can and then a dance-film glide-and-trot. He was the subtle tart, the ballroom queen, and consummate flirt. Aloof from the final competition between his sister and the Widow, he calmly claimed the role of perpetual diva. While Kate and Petruchio faced each other across the sidewalk table, about to arm-wrestle, Bianca led the company offstage, in control of a rich, disgruntled, but subservient husband.

With all the trappings of the Mariachi and the brittle glamour of Carmen Miranda, Lamos failed on this occasion to add to his record of distinguished directing of Shakespearean drama. In John Bull's Other Island, G. B. Shaw blames the Irish for so often presenting themselves as caricatures, willing to satisfy with stereotypes public expectations. Lamos and his Hispanic cast succumbed to familiar notions of Latino life, using Shakespeare's Shrew as a means to that end. The result was sometimes silly and often flat.

Margaret Maurer (essay date 2001)

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SOURCE: Maurer, Margaret. “Constering Bianca: The Taming of the Shrew and The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed.” In Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, edited by John Pitcher, pp. 186-206. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2001.

[In the following essay, Maurer explores emendations in Shakespeare's play that substantially alter the characterization of Bianca, resulting in a less complex character than the playwright originally intended.]

Ovidius Naso was the man. And why indeed “Naso,” but for smelling out the odoriferous flowers of fancy, the jerks of invention? Imitari is nothing: so doth the hound his master, the ape his keeper, the tired horse his rider.

Love's Labor's Lost, 4.2.123-27

The early seventeenth-century sequel to Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew is the return, not of the shrew, but of her little sister Bianca. In The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed, it is Byancha who instigates Petruchio's new wife Maria's defiance; and it is Byancha and Tranio who manage the intrigue, parallel to the one they inhabit in the Shakespearean play, that prevents the marriage of Maria's sister Livia to old man Moroso, her father's choice for her.1 Yet while Byancha is a principal character in The Woman's Prize, her importance in perceiving the relationship between the two plays is not generally recognized.2 A major reason for this is that the text of the Shakespearean Shrew [The Taming of the Shrew] has been substantially emended in the two scenes structured around her, with lines exchanged between her and her suitors redistributed and the business that marries her to one of them simplified.

These changes serve the comprehensive interpretive effect of tidying Bianca's character into a figure simply opposed to that of her sister, the shrew. Now there can be no doubt that Bianca and her wooing action are drawn in contrast to her sister's. Katerina the shrew is loud-mouthed and physically unruly, defies her father and repels suitors, is wooed by being humiliated in front of other people, and wins at last a great deal of money for her husband when, against all expectation, she obeys him and professes the importance of wifely submission. Bianca is low-voiced and properly behaved, respects her father and attracts men with her charms, is married in secret to an ardent suitor, and then, at the moment of the shrew's turnabout, loses a wager for her new husband when she says she is too busy to come at his command. The Bianca intrigue as it unfolds, however, particularly in the First Folio text, suggests that Shakespeare conceived Bianca more intricately than these basic oppositions suggest. In this he takes his cue from Ovid, whose witty invention in Heroides I imagines a rather different character under the few words and ostensibly compliant behavior of Homer's chaste, silent, and obedient Penelope.

Ovid's letter of Penelope to her absent husband Ulysses is an exemplary case of what can be called fanciful imitation: “fanciful,” to distinguish it from the witless kind that Shakespeare has a character in Love's Labor's Lost say (see my epigraph) is “nothing.” The construal or translation of a passage from Ovid's poem enters Shakespeare's Shrew just after the marriages of both the shrew and her sister (tentative in Bianca's case) have been agreed upon; and I take this allusion as Shakespeare's acknowledgment of Ovid's influence on him—on his imagination in general and on his conception of Bianca in particular. Heroides I does not challenge the broad outline of Homer's representation of Penelope's actions, but within the limits set by his predecessor, Ovid rearranges the details of the Odyssey around a decidedly un-Homeric conception of the hero's wife. Ovid's Penelope is still exemplum pudicitiae, but her letter to her husband betrays an unpleasantly reproachful core to her faithful heart.3 The reader enjoys Ovid's witty reconfiguration of details of the Odyssey and winces for Ulysses at the prospect of his homecoming.

F1's text of Shrew is a similarly inventive reworking of the stock features of Italian comic intrigue. In the Bianca business of Shrew, Shakespeare is inspired by George Gascoigne's Supposes, itself a translation of Ludovico Ariosto's I Suppositi. In the source for this part of Shakespeare's play, a young man secures a woman in marriage against her father's wishes by changing identities with his own servant and posing for two years as servant in her house. The lady is responsive to her disguised suitor's attentions (Supposes suggests that it is her being pregnant by her lover that requires the hidden romance to be brought to light), so that her lover's servant's feigned bid for her hand in marriage is a necessary diversion to prevent the marriage her father wants to arrange for her with an old man. In adapting Supposes to the plot of his Shrew, Shakespeare makes its heroine the sister of the shrew and makes her husband-to-be's (Lucentio's) project of winning her a task he must accomplish quickly, there being only a little more than a week between his being introduced to her as her tutor and the wedding date set by her father for her marriage to his false self. Shakespeare also adds to the old-man suitor of Supposes an additional rival in the person of another young man (Hortensio) who, like Lucentio, disguises himself to gain access to the lady.4 Thus Shakespeare's Bianca, like Penelope before her, finds herself in the urgent circumstance of having to cope with the attentions of several men whose hopes must be kept alive while she waits on the event.

At crucial points in the development of the business in Shakespeare's play whereby Bianca is attached to the man she ultimately marries, her words and actions as recorded in F1 are almost unintelligibly indirect, and printers and editors have responded to them by gradually revising them into more straightforward configurations. The emendations did not come quickly nor all at once, but they are now an unquestioned part of the standard text. In this essay, I imagine how Bianca might be read within the terms set in F1, and I take The Woman's Prize as evidence that I am not alone in my impulse to do this. The author of The Woman's Prize, who may also, of course, have seen something like the F1 text of Shrew performed, is particularly attentive to the Bianca intrigue. The Woman's Prize gestures toward incidents from Shrew as the F1 text conveys them; further, it constitutes at large a creative imitation of Shakespeare's Bianca, offering in Byancha and Petruchio's new wife Maria two further constructions of the Penelope type.5


There are two scenes in Shakespeare's Shrew where Bianca is shown in interaction with her suitors, and both have undergone emendation. They are what the modern text calls 3.1, especially TLN 1338-56 (3.1.46-63), and the opening sequence of 4.2, TLN 1846-63 (4.2.1-15). At these two points in the action, what characters say, to whom they say it, and what they might mean to accomplish by the ambiguities of their speeches have been affected by the interventions of editors.

In my essay “The Rowe Editions of 1709/1714 and 3.1 of The Taming of the Shrew,” I review the process of the changes to 3.1 up to the decisive “regulation” of it that Lewis Theobald proposed in Shakespeare Restored (1726).6 This is the scene in which Bianca, with a disguised Lucentio offering to teach her philosophy and a disguised Hortensio offering to teach her music, manages their competing attentions. In that essay I stop short of saying what I think is true: F1's version of this scene is not only legible; it is more interesting than any subsequent version proposed by editors to resolve its apparent anomalies.7

Theobald's disposition of the line assignments through the middle of the scene in which Bianca turns her attention from one suitor to the other (TLN 1338-56) were incorporated first into Pope's edition of 1728. They represent a settlement of a portion of the text that had been rearranged three different ways before Theobald proposed his solution: first, slightly but substantively, in the Second Folio (1632), a version that persists through the third and fourth reprintings of the Folio in 1663/4 and 1685; then in the Rowe edition of 1709; and finally in the 1714 text that also bears Rowe's name. The Rowe changes, I have argued, seem to be related to, and may have been influenced by, the Restoration stage redaction of the play, Sauny the Scot, or The Taming of the Shrew by John Lacy, first performed in 1667 and printed in 1698. Biancha in that play is utterly different from her sister until late in the play when the shrew gives her advice on how to control a husband. As a lead-up to this moment, Lacy has Biancha distinctly prefer Winlove (Lucentio) by the equivalent of 3.1; and it is at the end of that scene, in Lacy's play, that Geraldo (Hortensio) has seen enough to decide that he should resort to his widow.8

Changes to Shakespeare's text effected in the 1709 and 1714 editions are consistent with Lacy's strategy of making Bianca's preference for her husband-to-be more explicit than it is in the equivalent of 3.1 in the folios, but it is Theobald's text that removes all doubts. Theobald detaches a line from the three lines that precede it in a four-line speech spoken by one of Bianca's suitors (Lucentio, until the speech is given to Hortensio in 1714):

How fiery and forward our Pedant is,
Now for my life the knave doth court my love,
Pedascule, Ile watch you better yet:
In time I may beleeve, yet I mistrust.

(TLN 1341-44)

Theobald assigns the last line, “In time I may beleeve, yet I mistrust,” to Bianca. Having given Bianca a line that had always before been spoken by one or the other of her suitors, Theobald then assigns the next two lines, which had always been hers before, to Lucentio:

Mistrust it not, for sure Aeacides
Was Ajax cald so from his grandfather.

(TLN 1345-46)

The speaker who says these lines is anticipating the next lines in the text they have taken turns translating. That “philosophy” (TLN 1308; 3.1.13) text is Ovid's Heroides I.

The passage they scrutinize comprises the two elegiac couplets in which Penelope repeats for her husband the account of the war that she has heard. It is a passage that would be a model for an imitative school exercise, summarizing the Iliad and conveniently (for pedagogical purposes at various levels) repeating forms of demonstrative adverbs:

‘hac ibat Simois; haec est Sigeia tellus,
          hic steterat Priami regia celsa senis.
illic Aeacides, illic tendebat Vlixes;
          hic lacer admissos terruit Hector equos’.(9)

Lucentio and Bianca have taken turns translating or construing (the word they use is conster10) the first couplet, he using it as a pretext to repeat that he is the disguised son of Vincentio:

Hic Ibat, as I told you before, Simois, I am Lucentio, hic est, sonne unto Vincentio of Pisa, Sigeria 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 Pantalowne.

(TLN 1325-30)

and she using it to reply. Bianca's construction of the same couplet—

Hic ibat simois, I know you not, hic est sigeria tellus, I trust you not, hic staterat priami, take heede he heare us not, regia presume not, Celsa senis, despaire not.

(TLN 1334-37)

—responds to Lucentio's lovemaking in something like the way Penelope would have had to do to Eurymachos over the head of Antinoos, keeping hope alive without committing herself.

When Hortensio presses for his share of the lesson time, Bianca's words to Lucentio must be even more intricate, expressing regard for him in terms that allow his rival to think she might mean no such thing. At TLN 1345-46, in response to Lucentio's “In time I may beleeve, yet I mistrust,” she replies, “Mistrust it not, for sure Aeacides / Was Ajax, cald so from his grandfather.” This allusion to “illic Aeacides,” the next half-line in the passage, can pass simply as a mistake, but it proves, in effect, a pointed misconstruction. In Heroides I, Aeacides refers, not to Ajax, but to Achilles, the other of the two Achaian heroes for whom Aeacides is a patronymic. In Anglicized pronunciation the names ay-ass-i-des and a-jakes convey a coarse put-down of Lucentio, mocking his description of himself as the son of his father in terms that recall Ulysses dismissing Ajax's claim to the armor of Achilles based on their common lineage in Ovid's Metamorphoses XIII.11 Bianca in Shakespeare's play at this point, negotiating with two suitors neither of whom she expressly prefers (“Vlixes” is only a few meters away in Ovid's poem, but she shows no sign of thinking his name is relevant to the situation), is drawn after the type of woman Penelope exemplifies; Shakespeare's imitation also gives her an original character. Her wit is more than a match for the men's, and its exhibition in language nice girls do not use suggests that the chastity so celebrated in Penelope might also be playfully reconstructed.12

Reading the modern text with its adjustments that diminish Bianca's sauciness, it is easy to forget that Bianca in 3.1 has been provisionally given by her father to the Lucentio who is Tranio, subject to his offer being ratified by his father, and will, in the next scene, when Petruchio takes his new bride away before her banquet, be enjoined by Baptista to “take her sisters roome,” a suggestion that Tranio, as Lucentio, construes as permission for her to “practise how to bride it” (TLN 1636-37; 3.2.250-51) with him. The modern text likewise does little to encourage imagining what Bianca might make of a situation that would have married her secretly to one man and publicly to another under the same name. Characteristically, of course, Bianca says little, so much depends on the nuances of what she says and to whom. In the other scene predominantly concerned with the disposition of her affection, the equivalent of the modern 4.2, it is again the case that precisely what she says and to whom have been affected by emendations.

An apparently defective stage direction at the point at which the modern 4.2 begins, “Enter Tranio and Hortensio” (TLN 1846), puts those two characters on stage without any notice of when Lucentio enters. Yet the dialogue that ensues in F1 involves him:

                                        Enter Tranio and Hortensio:
Is't possible friend Lisio, that mistris Bianca
Doth fancie any other but Lucentio,
I tel you sir, she beares me faire in hand.
Sir, to satisfie you in what I have said,
Stand by, and marke the manner of his teaching.
                                                            Enter Bianca.

Bianca, on her entrance, is addressed by Hortensio:

Now Mistris, profit you in what you reade?
What Master reade you first, resolve me that?
I reade, that I professe the Art to love.
And may you prove sir Master of your Art.
While you sweet deere p[r]ove Mistresse of my heart.

(TLN 1846-58)

The Second Folio reconciles the opening direction with the subsequent dialogue by giving Lucentio's first speech to Hortensio and the first two of Hortensio's to Lucentio.

Thus the speech assignments in the current form of the scene have been essentially set since 1632. Several smaller changes, however, have been longer in coming; and it is only with these changes that the speech assignments in F2 are rationalized. Bianca's entrance alone, for example, remains through all four folios, with Lucentio's entrance not marked at all in the text until the 1709 Rowe edition made his entrance accompany Bianca's. Of course, by 1709 Sauny the Scot had been played on the stage for two generations and had been in print for over a decade, and, as I have noted already, at this point in Lacy's play, Biancha is plainly devoted to her language teacher.13

In F1, the equivalent of 4.2 in the modern text is not the manifestation of Lucentio's success with Bianca, as the modern text reads, but rather the ingenious maneuver to dismiss Hortensio projected by Tranio at TLN 1530 (3.2.147). Since an entrance for Lucentio has to be supplied to F1's text, it is reasonable to assume it occurs at the opening of the scene when Lucentio disguised as Cambio enters attending Tranio disguised as Lucentio to whom Cambio has just spoken. Hortensio enters separately from them. Indeed, the first two speeches as assigned in F1 suggest that the device Tranio and Lucentio have arranged is to act as if Cambio has been telling Bianca's betrothed that she seems to be encouraging Litio (Hortensio), a reflection on Bianca's conduct that, if not true, is nonetheless credible. As a result of what he has just heard from Cambio, the false Lucentio challenges Litio:

Enter Tranio [with Lucentio] and Hortensio:
Is't possible friend Lisio, that mistris Bianca
Doth fancie any other but Lucentio [that is, me],
I tel you sir, she beares me faire in hand.

Cambio speaks next, referring to what he has just said outside Litio's and the audience's hearing:

Sir, to satisfie you in what I have said,
Stand by, and marke the manner of his teaching.
                                                            Enter Bianca.

Litio is prevented by Bianca's entrance from answering this challenge. Indeed, her entrance plays so beautifully into the device that it is tempting to think she is playing a deliberate part in it, though there is no indication of that or of the contrary.

Bianca's response to Litio, whatever it is, renders him vulnerable. If her behavior toward him is accepting, Lucentio (that is, Tranio), engaged to Bianca, will challenge him. If Bianca puts Litio off, the desired end comes even more quickly. The device works the second way. Hortensio addresses her tentatively, prompted perhaps by a book she carries, since, as she tells her father and sister earlier, she has no particular interest in any of her suitors (“My bookes and instruments” are company enough, “On them to looke, and practise by my selfe,” TLN 385-86; 1.1.82-83):

Now Mistris, profit you in what you reade?

Bianca's reply in the modern text, spoken to Lucentio with whom she has entered—“What, master, read you? First resolve me that”—differs only in its punctuation from the line in F1; but the difference in what it conveys as a response to Hortensio's address is considerable:

What Master reade you first, resolve me that?

In making master the object of the verb read, not a noun of address (its enclosure in commas was Theobald's addition, though by 1733 it is likely that he was only making explicit in print what had been an element of the scene's construction for some time), F1 allows Bianca to maintain her characteristically noncommittal strategy, leaving Litio no choice but to declare himself:

I reade, that I professe the Art to love.

Bianca's ambiguous reply,

And may you prove sir Master of your Art.

is enough of a dismissal of him to encourage the real Lucentio, who now speaks, as F1 has it, for the second time in the scene:

While you sweet deere p[r]ove Mistresse of my heart.

Some action ensues, wordless of course, that draws Hortensio's comment to Tranio-Lucentio:

Quicke proceeders marry, now tel me I pray,
you that durst sweare that your mistris Bianca
Lov'd me in the World so wel as Lucentio.

(TLN 1859-61)

This speech in F1 refers to the one that opens the scene in which Lucentio (Tranio) accosts Litio (Hortensio) about Bianca's attentions to him. It is only since the 1709 Rowe edition that “Lov'd me” has been emended to “Loved none,” the modern reading, that reconciles the line with the speeches as distributed since F2.

In what is now his feigned outrage at Bianca, Tranio-Lucentio, who sees his betrothed kissing and courting Lucentio-Cambio, professes to be doubly surprised:

Oh despightful Love, unconstant womankind,

As Lucentio, he thought she had betrayed him with Litio, but he sees now that she has turned from both of them to Cambio:

I tel thee Lisio this is wonderfull.

(TLN 1862-63)

As Tranio, of course, he is exulting in the ingenuity of the intrigue. It is a good trick, much better than what transpires in the modern version of the scene. A question lingers: to what degree was Bianca in on it and with whom?

I see no reason to expect a play to prescribe a definite answer to that question, especially not a play that features this kind of woman. On all the crucial details of her disposition in marriage, silence and ambiguity attend Bianca. In this scene, after her dallying with Lucentio precipitates the exit of Hortensio, Tranio says,

Mistris Bianca, blesse you with such grace,
As longeth to a Lovers blessed case:
Nay, I have tane you napping gentle Love,
And have forsworne you with Hortensio

Bianca replies, “Tranio you jest, but have you both forsworne mee?” (TLN 1892-97; 4.2.44-48) Her tone with him is familiar; and she does not speak directly to the genuine Lucentio in this scene. Indeed, in all of the F1 Shrew, she never speaks directly to him in his own person until she calls him a fool for “laying on [her] dutie” (TLN 2685; 5.2.129) at the play's end.

The text leaves it up to the players to make what they will of what Bianca is doing at this point in 4.2 or, for that matter, what Cambio (Lucentio) is doing with Gremio that puts Bianca's old man suitor at Lucentio's (Tranio's) house when Baptista meets the false father of the false Lucentio to sign agreement for the “dower” (TLN 2227; 4.4.45), or how Tranio is dressed in the last scene.14 At TLN 2493 (5.1.113), as she asks her father's pardon for doing what, on one level at least, was his will—marrying Lucentio—she makes room for her own will, with either or both men: “Cambio is chang'd into Lucentio” (TLN 2503; 5.1.123). In the last scene, her silence is marked for readers of the play by her new father-in-law Vincentio registering his surprise when she improves on Gremio's coarse jest: “I Mistris Bride, hath that awakened you?” Bianca reverts to her habitual condition, “I, but not frighted me, therefore Ile sleepe againe.” But Petruchio is now interested: “Nay that you shall not since you have begun: / Have at you for a better jest or too.”15 That Bianca is neither a shrew nor the simply compliant opposite of one is never more obvious than this moment. She declines to trade in coarse talk, but she takes her leave with a provocative remark: “Am I your Bird, I meane to shift my bush, / And then pursue me as you draw your Bow. / You are welcome all” (TLN 2584-91; 5.2.42-48). Ulysses's great weapon will be useless against such a quick little thing.

The First Folio says, “Exit Bianca” (TLN 2591), but it is reasonable to assume, as most editors do, that Katherine and the widow follow her off stage, making this moment look like an early manifestation of the leadership she will exhibit in The Woman's Prize. Petruchio aptly describes her use of the silence her departure creates, “She hath prevented me” (TLN 2592; 5.2.49). For Lucentio's part, his loss of the wager when she sends word that “she is busie, and she cannot come” (TLN 2630; 5.2.81) in answer to his bidding is the least of his worries. A double cross from Tranio has always been a possibility, and it would hardly be dispelled when Tranio resumes his role as servant in Lucentio's house.16


The Woman's Prize continues the adventures of three of Shrew's characters—Petruchio, Tranio, and Bianca—making the description of it as a sequel to Shakespeare's play accurate enough as far as it goes. Attention to the way Bianca is configured in the F1 text of Shrew, however, allows us to perceive how the sequel is conceived as an imitation of the earlier play. The Woman's Prize has, like Shrew, a double action combining a taming (of Petruchio by his new bride Maria) with a betrothal intrigue (devised around Maria's sister Livia to prevent her marriage to her father's choice, old man Moroso, and link her to Rowland, her heart's desire).17 Byancha is a critical element in both of these actions. She is “Colonell Byancha, [who] commands the workes” (1.3.65) of the resistance action that sets in motion Maria's taming of Petruchio, and she is called, even when her role in the subsequent elements of this action is no longer obvious, “the spirit, that inspires 'em all” (4.1.72). She is also the mastermind of the Livia action, inventing and successfully accomplishing the device that outwits the old men on the young lovers' behalf.

This Byancha is a projection of the Bianca of Shakespeare's Shrew. It is, to some extent, a matter of details, how her actions recall her analogue in the earlier play, but it is also, more generally, an incidence of invention: Byancha is a translation of Bianca as Bianca herself, in Shakespeare's play, is a translation of Ovid's Penelope, translated in turn from Homer. Byancha in The Woman's Prize is, after Penelope, married but without a husband. In this condition, she is no man's instrument but her own agent, though the circumstances of her agency are, like Bianca's in Shrew, curiously represented and consequently, on reflection, open to construction.

The Woman's Prize establishes its relationship to Shakespeare's Shrew at the start by recalling Kate's submission to Petruchio in the earlier play and taking a simple line on it. It was an assumed aspect that she abandoned at once. Characters returning from the ceremony of Petruchio's second wedding discuss how Kate and Petruchio lived out a stormy marriage until her early death freed him to marry again. This time he has chosen the docile Maria for respite from the “long since buried Tempest” (1.1.21) of Kate. Petruchio's friends pity the new bride, and Tranio suggests that Maria take refuge in shrewishness:

… if God had made me woman,
And his wife that must be—…
I would learn to eate Coales with an angry Cat,
And spit fire at him: I would (to prevent him)
Do all the ramping, roaring tricks, a whore
Being drunke, and tumbling ripe, would tremble at.


Byancha makes her first appearance in the next scene, and she also counsels resistance. She tells Maria to abandon “your blushes, / Your modesty, and tendernesse of spirit. … Twill shew the rarer, and the stranger in you. / But do not say I urg'd you” (1.2.56-65).

Postnuptial taming of the tamer will constitute one of the play's major actions and, as in the Shakespearean Shrew, it is the part of the play Petruchio inhabits, but as the counter-taming is worked out, it proves to be more than a simple replay of Kate's angry resistance. Maria tells Livia that Petruchio's first wife “was a foole, / And took a scurvy course; … I have a new daunce for him, and a mad one” (1.2.140-43). Early scenes in The Woman's Prize show Byancha involved with setting this course and taking a leading role in it. It begins with Maria's defending her maidenhood—she barricades herself from Petruchio on her wedding night—and evolves into a kind of rebellion, with other women joining Maria and Byancha in defiance of their husbands. Looking at “Maria and Byanca above,” Sophocles, a friend of Petruchio, says,

from this present houre, I never will believe a silent woman. When they break out, they are bonfires.


Yet Maria's own description of her action—“a little guarded for my safety sir” (1.3.98)—makes clear that intellect, not temperament, is setting the course of her resistance, and as it unfolds through the rest of the play, that resistance takes more subtle and ingenious forms.

The way the early scenes of The Woman's Prize depict women defying men has impressed some commentators as taking a bold, even a radical stand on the question of the relationship between men and women; and they see in this a significant contrast to the Shakespearean play that it so pointedly succeeds.18 This is to miss, I think, the deeply conceited connection between the two plays. In The Woman's Prize, the scenes showing women temporarily overturning the conventions of wifely conduct and decorum are projected by Byancha before they are realized in the women's actions; and Byancha, after Shakespeare's bookish Bianca, is inspired by epic tradition.

The rebellion begins with Byancha projecting a feminist Aeneid. Maria's sister Livia sues to join Maria and Byancha to escape her father's insistence that she marry old Moroso, and, in the one speech of any length she makes in either play, Byancha suspects a trick:

                    did their wisdomes thinke
That sent you hither, we would be so foolish,
To entertaine our gentle Sister Sinon,
And give her credit, while the woodden Jade
Petruchio stole upon us: no good Sister,
Goe home, and tell the merry Greekes that sent you,
Ilium shall burn, and I, as did Aeneas,
Will on my back, spite of the Myrmidons,
Carry this warlike Lady, and through Seas
Unknown, and unbeleev'd, seek out a Land,
Where like a race of noble Amazons,
We'le root our selves, and to our endlesse glory
Live, and despise base men.


The land across the water where women can enjoy such independence is England, or perhaps more precisely, an English playhouse. The allusion to Vergil suggests not only that Byancha's so-to-speak feminist imagination has been stimulated by her reading of classical texts but also that The Woman's Prize is constructed in the same imitative spirit that Shakespeare acknowledges in his allusion to Heroides in Shrew.

Byancha is less visibly involved in the subsequent stages of the Maria-Petruchio action: Maria's continuing to withhold herself from her husband, her negotiation of a contract that affords her extravagant privileges as a wife, her insinuation that she is considering taking other lovers, her response to Petruchio's device of feigning illness by giving out that he has the plague, her ready acquiescence to his announcement that he is leaving her to voyage abroad, and her sanguine acceptance of his (pretended) death. Yet even as the action of the play suggests that, once set in motion by Byancha, Maria carries through on her own, an encounter between Maria's father Petronius and Byancha late in the play represents other characters suspecting Byancha's pervasive influence in the action:

                    A word with you Sweet Lady.
I am very hasty sir.
                    So you were ever.
Well what's your will?
                    Was not your skilfull hand
In this last stratagem? were not your mischiefes
Eeking the matter on?
                    In's shutting up? …
                    Ile tell you.
                                                            And truly …
I would it had [been my invention], on that condition
I had but one halfe smock, I like it so well.


Byancha's quality is conveyed in the form as well as the substance of this dialogue. Dodging the interrogation in the same way that she quits the scene when Petruchio wishes to engage her in the last scene of Shrew, she replies in monosyllables and questions until at last she denies that she has hatched the scheme but says she delights in it nonetheless.

While Byancha's few words and predilection for indirection surrender center stage, particularly for readers of the play, to Maria, the similar configuration of these two women is established by the terms of Maria's reaction to Petruchio's threat to leave her. Maria says that there is a classical heroine on whom she is modeling herself and writing anew an old tale:

                              Then when time,
And fulnesse of occasion have new made you,
And squard you from a sot into a Signior,
Or neerer from a Jade into a courser;
Come home an aged man, as did Ulysses,
And I your glad Penelope.
                                                            That must have
As many lovers as I languages,
And what she do's with one i'th day, i'th night
Undoe it with an other.
                                                            Much that way sir;
For in your absence, it must be my honour,
That, that must make me spoken of hereafter,
To have temptations, and not little ones
Daily and hourely offer'd me, and strongly,
Almost believed against me, to set off
The faith, and loyalty of her that loves ye.

Petruchio's harassed response to this—“What should I do?” (4.5.168-83)—spells his defeat. The Woman's Prize conceives the tamer's taming as essentially a Penelope action, a game of wits.

Meanwhile, Byancha's business in The Woman's Prize is focused after act 2 not on Maria's but on her sister's plight. She arranges an elaborate intrigue to effect the love match of Livia with Rowland. The actual workings of this plan are kept hidden, to some extent even from the audience, until the device is successful: Livia seems to submit to her father's wish to marry Moroso; she feigns desperate illness, and Rowland is summoned to her bedside to cancel their vows with her father and Moroso as witnesses. This forswearing involves signing papers that prove, however, to be very different from what the signers understand them to be: Rowland, Livia's father, and Moroso unwittingly sign the young lovers' betrothal contract. “Yes sir, we trickt ye” (5.4.71) are Byancha's last words in The Woman's Prize.

This project, Byancha's signature scheme, is a critical element of The Woman's Prize for appreciating its relationship to Shrew, since it is a variation on the action of getting Bianca herself married in the earlier play. A passing remark of Petronius—“Hang ye, / For surely, if your husband looke not to ye, / I know what will” (4.1.97-99)—alludes to that husband and suggests that in the world of The Woman's Prize he is still alive; but Lucentio never appears in the play and is never mentioned by name. Instead, as we have seen, Byancha urges wives to resist their husbands. She also sings of cuckoldry and even has a flirtatious encounter herself with Rowland when, believing that Livia has given him over for Moroso, the young man professes his determination to forswear women altogether:

                                                                      Are ye honest?
I see you are young, and hansome. …
Had ye lov'd me—
                                                            I would I had. …
                                                                                                              This woman
Either abuses me, or loves me dearely.
Ile tell you one thing, if I were to choose
A husband to mine own mind, I should think
One of your mothers making would content me,
For o'my conscience she makes good ones.(19)
Ile leave you to your commendations:—
I am in again, The divel take their tongues.


It is fitting that Byancha be a marriage broker in The Woman's Prize because everything she says and does in this play implies that women, even married women, are impossible to tame. In fact, it is in marriage, Byancha seems to suggest, that a clever woman can enjoy her greatest liberty.

In Shrew, the scheme of Tranio masquerading as a stand-in for the man who ultimately becomes Bianca's husband invites reflections on the conduct of a married Bianca. In the last scene of Shrew, Petruchio's jesting with Tranio brings this issue to the surface of the earlier play. Prevented by Bianca's departure from making the obviously coarse reply to her image of herself as a bird shifting her bush, Petruchio turns to Tranio:

                                                            here signior Tranio,
This bird you aim'd at, though you hit her not,
Therefore a health to all that shot and mist.
Oh sir, Lucentio slipt me like his Gray-hound,
Which runs himselfe, and catches for his Master.
A good swift simile, but something currish.

(TLN 2592-97; 5.2.49-54)

Both Tranio's response to Petruchio and Petruchio's return comment will sustain insinuations to the contrary of what they appear at first to be professing.

The Woman's Prize takes for granted the camaraderie between Tranio and Petruchio implied in this exchange. Entering the later play as a gentleman friend of Petruchio, Tranio seems to have achieved a status to which he only pretended in Shrew. At the same time, he functions as if Byancha is his mistress in some sense or other. In a collaboration that the play never fully rationalizes, he takes instructions from her as he would if he were still her husband's servant, seeming to know more than other characters about her plans for Livia and even anticipating the outcome well enough to wager with Rowland that the young man will not be able to keep a vow to forswear Livia. There is also, however, a signal moment of her treating him the way she treated her lovers in Shrew.

At the critical point of the Livia/Rowland intrigue, Tranio is engaged by Byancha to arrange the scene of the forswearing:

                    Enter Byancha, and Tranio.
Faith Mistresse, you must doe it.
                                                                      Are the writings
Ready I told ye of?
                                                                                          Yes they are ready,
But to what use I know not.
                                                                                          Y'are an Asse,
You must have all things constru'd.


“Constru'd” recalls the constering exercise of Shrew's 3.1, and the coarse word “Asse” repeats the insulting syllable of Aeacides that is Bianca's put-down of Lucentio until editors, and Theobald decisively, reconfigured the speeches of the scene.

To readers of the earlier texts of Shakespeare's play, this moment in The Woman's Prize acknowledges its author's appreciation not just of Bianca herself but of the intricately conceited intelligence that could fashion a play like Shrew, an intelligence that the author of The Woman's Prize aspires to match. As it happens, it is hard not to see in this moment as well something more immediate to our experience of Shrew's text: a rebuke to readers who expect a play's language to represent its action simply and straightforwardly. Unedited, Bianca in Shrew is no mere opposite to her shrewish sister. She is a figure drawn after Penelope, constered, as Shakespeare learned after Ovid to do, in a way that seems to have suited the habit of his player's heart.


  1. The Woman's Prize is in volume 4 of The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, gen. ed. Fredson Bowers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), the edition from which I quote the play when I discuss it. It is generally attributed to John Fletcher. My epigraph from Love's Labor's Lost is quoted from The Riverside Shakespeare, 2nd ed., gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), the edition of Shakespeare I use when I quote from or refer to the modern text. Except when I am citing the modern text of Shrew for comparison, I quote that play from the version printed in the Norton facsimile of The First Folio of Shakespeare, prepared by Charlton Hinman (New York: Norton, 1968). I do not reproduce ligatures nor the long s, and I follow modern conventions for i-j and u-v.

  2. An exception is Daniel Morley McKeithan, The Debt to Shakespeare in the Beaumont-and-Fletcher Plays (New York: AMS Press, 1970), 58-82. A dissertation, printed first in 1938 by the University of Texas Press, its appreciative discussion of the close relationship between the two plays, including some good insights into Bianca and Tranio, has been generally ignored. In his critical edition of The Woman's Prize, or the Tamer Tamed, George B. Ferguson (The Hague: Mouton and Co., 1966) stresses that beyond some “rather general hints” and the names of Petruchio, Tranio, and Byancha, of whom “only Petruchio bears any resemblance to the characters of Shakespeare's play,” there is “little else to remind the reader of the Shakespeare play” (12). Comparisons disadvantageous to The Woman's Prize or the assertions that the two are not really comparable have been the dominant notes in discussions of the two plays until recently, when the later play has begun to be praised for its boldness in reconsidering the issues raised about the relationship between men and women in Shrew. Molly Easo Smith, in “John Fletcher's Response to the Gender Debate: The Woman's Prize and The Taming of the Shrew,” Papers on Language and Literature 31 (1995): 38-60, sees The Woman's Prize as going beyond Shakespeare's play, “tak[ing] Shakespeare to task for his inadequate representation of gender conflicts” (45). Smith's attention is primarily on Maria, though she acknowledges Byancha's role in Maria's resistance. David M. Bergeron, in “Fletcher's The Woman's Prize, Transgression, and Querelle des Femmes,Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 8 (1996): 146-64, says that The Woman's Prize, as an adaptation of Shrew, represents “imitation plus innovation” (147): “late Elizabethan romantic comedy has yielded ground to a harsher, more satiric Jacobean comedy” (148). Bergeron also acknowledges Byancha's role in the subversion of Shrew, but he, too, is generally more attentive to the elements of the play that are dealing directly with Petruchio. The Bianca intrigue of Shrew, if not Bianca herself, has had its admirers. See Cecil C. Seronsy, “‘Supposes’ as the Unifying Theme in The Taming of the Shrew,” Shakespeare Quarterly 14 (1963): 15-30. A relatively recent exception to the general habit of discussing Bianca only in passing is Thomas Moisan, “Interlinear Trysting and ‘household stuff’: The Latin Lesson and the Domestication of Learning in The Taming of the Shrew,” Shakespeare Studies 23 (1995): 100-119.

  3. See the commentary on Heroides I in Ovid, Heroides: Select Epistles, ed. Peter E. Knox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 86-87.

  4. A text of Gascoigne's Supposes is in Geoffrey Bullough's Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, I (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957), 111-58. With Seronsy, I think the importance of Gascoigne's play to Shakespeare's Shrew goes beyond its relationship to the Bianca intrigue. A Petruchio and a Litio are characters in Supposes. Petruchio, who never speaks, attends the man who will counterfeit the disguised servant's father; Litio is the servant of the disguised gentleman suitor's actual father. In Shrew, Petruchio is friends with Hortensio, the extra suitor to Bianca, who in disguise takes the name Litio.

  5. If, as I take it to be, the anonymous quarto play A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called The taming of a Shrew is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Shrew, its response to the Bianca business is to change it entirely to an intrigue involving the wooing of two sisters, one mild and the other shrewish, thereby setting off the shrew-taming business more emphatically and arranging from the start the set of three women needed for the last act's final test. The text of this play has been recently reprinted in facsimile by the Malone Society (1998), edited by Stephen Roy Miller. See Miller's fine essay, “The Taming of a Shrew and the Theories; or, ‘Though this be badness, yet there is method in't,’” in Textual Formations and Reformations, eds. Laurie E. Maguire and Thomas L. Berger (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998), 251-63. Adaptations of the Shakespearean Shrew are generally inclined to reduce the Bianca intrigue to make more time for the taming. John Lacy's Sauny the Scot, or the Taming of the Shrew (1667), revises the F1 version of Shrew by streamlining the Bianca business in ways I will describe, to some extent, below and using Petruchio's servant Sauny (Lacy's role) in a considerably more elaborate taming business. Subsequent Shrew adaptations through the eighteenth century (James Worsdale's A Cure for a Scold, 1735, and David Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio, 1756) shorten the play, with the Bianca intrigue minimized. The Woman's Prize is remarkable, then, for its attention to Bianca. Equally responsive to the complex double intrigue of Shakespeare's Shrew, though imitative of it to very different effect, is Ben Jonson's Epicoene, or The Silent Woman, the subtitle of which suggests that Jonson, too, had his eye on what Shakespeare was doing with Bianca. A number of features, most obviously the name of the character Moroso, suggests that Epicoene also influenced The Woman's Prize.

  6. “Regulation” is Theobald's word in his 1733 edition to describe his disposition of the speech headings in 3.1. See my essay “The Rowe Editions of 1709/1714 and 3.1 of The Taming of the Shrew,” in Reading Readings: Essays on Shakespeare Editing in the Eighteenth Century,” ed. Joanna Gondris (Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998), 244-67.

  7. I confess to an interest, as well, in F2's 3.1. The change introduced there is remarkable for two reasons. In F1, two successive speeches (TLN 1347-51 and 1352-53; 3.1.54-58 and 59-60) are assigned to Hortensio. F2 effects, probably mechanically, a correction of this anomaly by giving the second of these speeches to Bianca. This means that it is Bianca, not Hortensio, who tells Lucentio to withdraw: “You may go walk, and give me leave a while, / My Lessons make no musicke in three parts.” It is interesting to imagine Bianca saying this speech; and it interesting to realize that the passage, as printed in F2, was reprinted in F3 and F4, so readers of the play in folio for over fifty years saw Bianca in this light. See my essay, “The Rowe Editions of 1709/1714,” 250-52. In working out the interpretations that all of the versions in which these two scenes have appeared in print can sustain, I am indebted to two of my undergraduate students, now alumni, of Colgate University, Jeffrey Kaczorowski and Sebastian Trainor. My comments on Shrew 4.2 below are indebted in particular to the latter's direction of a little production that brought that scene in its earliest form to life for me.

  8. A facsimile of the 1698 printing of Sauny the Scot was printed by Cornmarket Press, 1969. A modern text of the play is available in the Everyman anthology Shakespeare Made Fit: Restoration Adaptations of Shakespeare, ed. Sandra Clark (London: J. M. Dent, 1997), 3-78.

  9. The modern text of Heroides, I.33-36 (I am quoting it from Knox's Cambridge edition), differs from the Latin of F1. H. J. Oliver makes helpful comments about the variations in his notes to his new Oxford edition (1984) of The Taming of the Shrew: “Shakespeare may have intended Lucentio's Latin to be bad; or perhaps Shakespeare was quoting from a different text of Ovid … or from memory” (158). The slight difference between what Lucentio first quotes in the Latin and what Bianca quotes back (she changes steterat to staterat) is probably not significant; but the superior way she breaks the Latin periods to insert the English words suggests that she repeats the exercise in a tone of correction.

  10. “Conster” appears seven times in the canon of Shakespeare's works, and the synonym of “construe,” meaning “interpret,” sometimes in the sense of “translate,” ordinarily fits each context. There is no reason to assume, as the Oxford English Dictionary does, that in this passage in Shrew it is used in a more limited sense of “construe”: “3[a]. Gram., To analyse or trace the grammatical construction of a sentence; to take its words in such an order as to show the meaning of the sentence; spec., to do this in the study of a foreign and especially a classical language, adding a word for word translation; hence, loosely, to translate orally a passage in an ancient or foreign author.” To take the word in this sense is to assume that Lucentio and Bianca are pretending to do one thing—that is, parsing the passage—and actually doing something quite different—conveying their own messages that have nothing to do with the Latin words. To anyone who would recognize the quoted lines, what is going on is interpretation, that is, translation, in a wittier sense. The passage is being moved from one rhetorical place to another; that is, it is being played upon or used as a pretext for invention. Lucentio uses Ovid's Penelope's description of a report of the Trojan War to assert that he is nobler than he appears to be, as was Ulysses at his homecoming. Bianca's reply enacts Penelope's notorious wariness of strangers and their claims. See Oliver's notes to this passage and Moisan's analysis of it for readings of its implications based on the line assignments in the modern text.

  11. See Ovid, Metamorphoses, XIII.1-399, especially ll. 21-33 and 140-61.

  12. The coarseness of some of the dialogue of The Woman's Prize is one of its most conspicuous features. I do not agree with those commentators who think that The Woman's Prize is bawdier than the Shrew; but I agree that the bawdiness of the later play appears more insistent and obvious to modern eyes.

  13. Lacy changes the Latin lesson to one involving a French text, “de ver fine Story in de Varle of Mounsieur Appollo, And Madomoselle Daphne” (p. 14 in the Cornmarket facsimile). The change may have been a concession to an audience he could not expect to appreciate the references to Ovid, but it is also true that it accords with a Bianca modeled on a very different mythological figure. The reference to Daphne emphasizes Winlove's pursuit and sets up the sudden transformation of Bianca at the end into something other than what inspired his passion.

  14. There is no dialogue to explain the direction that opens the modern 5.1 (TLN 2379-80), which begins with Lucentio and Bianca meeting Biondello, who tells them that the priest is ready: “Enter Biondello, Lucentio and Bianca, Gremio is out before.” At TLN 2245-49 (4.4.62-66), Baptista sends Cambio to his house to bid Bianca make herself ready for a wedding, while he signs papers at Tranio/Lucentio's house. He fears that conducting the business in his own house will be interrupted by Gremio (TLN 2233-36; 4.4.51-54). Lucentio (Cambio) apparently does something to make the interruption likely by arranging to meet Gremio where the agreement is being drawn (Gremio says, “I marvaile Cambio comes not all this while,” TLN 2386; 5.1.7); but the old man either does not see him enter or does not recognize him because he is in different (Lucentio) clothes. The interruption occurs nonetheless, however, caused not by Gremio but by the unanticipated arrival of Vincentio, Lucentio's actual father. Compare Ralph Alan Cohen's discussion of this stage direction in “Looking for Cousin Ferdinand: The Value of F1 Stage Directions for a Production of The Taming of the Shrew,” Textual Formations and Reformations, 268. The curious wording of an F1 stage direction at the opening of the final scene also seems to have made Tranio's status at the end of Shrew not altogether clear to some editors. The direction reads, “Enter Baptista, Vincentio, Gremio, the Pedant, Lucentio, and Bianca. Tranio, Biondello Grumio, and Widdow: The Servingmen with Tranio bringing in a Banquet.” The 1709 Rowe edition, notoriously careful about stage directions, prints, “Enter Baptista, Vincentio, Gremio, Pedant, Lucentio. Bianca, Tranio, Biondello, Petruchio, Katharina, Grumio, Hortensio and Widow. Tranio's Servants bringing in a Banquet.” The full stop between Lucentio and Bianca is interesting. Theobald prints, “Enter Baptista, Vincentio, Gremio, Pedant, Lucentio, Bianca, Tranio, Biondello, Petruchio, Catharina, Grumio, Hortensio, and Widow. Tranio's servants bringing in a banquet.” Tranio's status in The Woman's Prize is, as we shall see, more gentlemanly; and it may have made his promotion more likely to Rowe and Theobald.

  15. Edward Capell first printed bitter for better; and the change is accepted by most modern editors. The new Oxford text is an exception.

  16. See the comments on “Gremio is out before” in note 14 above. Tranio's assumed character as Lucentio has, from the start, made his protestations of dutiful loyalty to his master liable to be construed as expressions of self-interest. In the first scene, for example, Biondello is instructed that he must, in front of others, call Tranio and Lucentio by each other's names:

    And not a jot of Tranio in your mouth,
    Tranio is chang'd into Lucentio.
    The better for him, would I were so too.
    So could I 'faith boy, to have the next wish after, that Lucentio indeede had Baptistas yongest daughter.

    (TLN 544-49; 1.1.236-40)

    When the change-of-identity plan is first formulated, the text of Shrew is playfully ambiguous about whose idea it is (see TLN 488-515; 1.1.185-209); but by the time Bianca's wedding date to Lucentio (Tranio) is set by Baptista on the successful disposal of her sister, Tranio is clearly in charge of moving the plan forward (TLN 1511-31; 3.2.128-48).

  17. In The Woman's Prize, the old-man suitor is the threatening one, as he is in Supposes, because the woman's father prefers him. Shrew's plot, in having both a young man (Hortensio) and an old man (Gremio) be rivals for the younger sister in addition to the lover-servant combination that will eventually win her, is unusually complex, and most adaptations simplify it. Lacy's Sauny the Scot has both Woodall (Gremio) and Geraldo counted well out by the middle of the play. There is only one rival suitor for the younger sister in both Worsdale's A Cure for a Scold and Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio, and neither of these adaptations has the successful suitor employ a servant who woos in his stead.

  18. See essays by Smith and Bergeron cited in note 2 above.

  19. These last two and a half lines are a variation on Beatrice's reply to Don Pedro at Much Ado, 2.1.323-25: “Hath your Grace ne'er a brother like you? Your father got excellent husbands, if a maid could come by them.” The trick of Byancha's troping of the line comes from this same scene in Much Ado. When Don Pedro subsequently tells Beatrice he thinks she was “out a' question … born in a merry hour,” she reminds him that no man was there to know that, the man's part of the business being over for some time: “No, sure, my lord, my mother cried” (2.1.332-34). Byancha likewise changes the emphasis from a father's getting to a mother's making.

Ann Blake (essay date 2002)

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SOURCE: Blake, Ann. “The Taming of the Shrew: Making Fun of Katherine.” Cambridge Quarterly 31, no. 3 (2002): 237-52.

[In the following essay, Blake argues that the critical reputation of The Taming of the Shrew has suffered because its comedic elements have often been considered farcical.]

In The Sense of Humor Stephen Potter remembers in his youth discovering his ‘first free contemporary’ laugh in Shakespeare. This was when the ‘Hotspur humour’ plays on ‘the humourless Glendower’:

I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Why, so can I, or so can any man,
But will they come when you do call for them?

(1 Henry IV III. i. 52-4)1

Potter's reaction to Hotspur's quip, or to others like it, is no doubt a common experience of early theatre-going. I remember how it amused me, as did another rather less witty ‘contemporary’ put-down when I first saw The Taming of the Shrew. This was what Lucentio said to his rival Hortensio, then disguised as a music master, as he tried to get him out of the way of his own wooing of Bianca: ‘Spit in the hole, man, and tune again’ (III. i. 38). And from that same production I also remember Hortensio coming on with the lute not so much on his head as round his neck, like a wooden ruff. The Shrew [The Taming of the Shrew] is a play that revels in the broadest comic effects.

Not surprisingly then, in its many versions and adaptations, it has an impressive performance history, on screen as well as stage. But for all its long history of popularity, the critical standing of this early comedy has been not particularly high, since it is often found to be too close to farce. This aesthetic judgement antedates its current lack of favour on ideological grounds, for its notorious patriarchal assumptions and misogyny. Farcical elements do indeed dominate the situational comedy of the Bianca plot, with its multiple disguises and mistakings, and the reworking of the ‘Mery Jest’ of wife-taming. Though there is undoubtedly much psychological interest in the taming, in regard to both Petruchio and Katherine, and in the dynamics of Katherine's family, in comparison with later comedies, the characterisation of the chief figures is limited to their roles in the taming plot. Moreover, what is revealed is of the surface. In many of his lines Petruchio is performing an exaggerated version of what his servants recognise as his usual impatience, while Katherine is locked into her shrewishness. And of course, unlike other Shakespearean comedies, there is almost no poetic evocation of romantic feeling to sound a contrast. Lucentio's initial raptures over Bianca are at once made fun of by his man Tranio (in the fashion of slaves in Roman comedy), and when Petruchio addresses Kate, the lover's praise of the lady takes an uncourtly turn, as he suggests that she is not, after all, physically deformed but as wholesome as a country wench:

Why doth 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.

(II. i. 242-5)

Thereafter, as he promises, Petruchio is ‘rough and woo[s] not like a babe’ (II. i. 133):

For, by the light whereby I see thy beauty—
Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well—
Thou must be married to no man but me …

(II. ii. 262-4)

His efforts alone are enough to ensure that The Shrew is, as Hazlitt wrote, a play ‘full of bustle, animation, and rapidity of action’.2

Those arguing that the play transcends farce stress that the later stages of the wooing of Katherine provide more developed characterisation and situations which blend into comedy, and that, for all the farcical business, serious themes and romantic concerns—good marriages, domestic ‘peace’ (V. ii. 107)—lie underneath. Defenders of farce as a genre, and of The Shrew as a superlative example of it, reverse the second argument and ask, more interestingly, ‘how it is that themes, quite serious in other contexts, become the stuff of farce’.3 Certainly The Shrew is more thoroughly a farce than any other Shakespearean comedy, even The Comedy of Errors, because, unlike that play, as Anne Barton wrote, The Shrew has no ‘genuinely dark tones’.4 This is a judgement that many would not accept, but which in my view it is important to defend, to counteract a lack of confidence in the enjoyment of farce's innocent if unsubtle pleasures.

The opening slanging match between the drunken Sly and the Hostess is an invitation to enjoy a good fight:

I'll feeze you, in faith.
A pair of stocks, you rogue!
Y'are a baggage, the Slys are no rogues. Look in the Chronicles; we came in with Richard Conqueror.

(Induction, ll. 1-4)

With the appearance of Petruchio and his man Grumio, where Grumio quibbles on the phrase ‘knock me here’ rather than knocking on Hortensio's door as Petruchio means him to, and Petruchio wrings Grumio's ears, the fighting continues, in verbal duels and actual hitting of the servants, as in Roman comedy. But here not only servants are beaten, and not only men do the beating. Both Petruchio and Kate, like Antipholus of Ephesus in Errors [The Comedy of Errors], are volatile figures, likely to fly into rages, to abuse and strike people. When Kate leads on stage her sister Bianca, Bianca with her hands tied, and when Kate strikes her, the audience laugh: already her furious temper has become a joke. And they laugh again when they learn how Hortensio came to look pale, and have ‘his head broke’:

What, will my daughter prove a good musician?
I think she'll sooner prove a soldier!
Iron may hold with her, but never lutes.
Why then, thou canst not break her to the lute?
Why no, for she hath broke the lute to me.

(II. i. 140-4)

Later Vincentio and Grumio will join Katherine and Petruchio in lashing about them. These stage versions of human aggression in full spate, all made enjoyable because causing no actual harm, offer a pleasure characteristic of farce.5 Inspired perhaps by this same uninhibited rage, and equally exhilarating, was the episode devised by Michael Bogdanov to begin his 1978 modern-dress Shrew where a Sly-like angry drunkard abused the usherette and finally demolished the set. Lorna Sage's review acclaimed it as ‘a euphoric ritual of liberation’.6

Some of this knockabout aggression happens offstage and is related in narrative set-pieces. One such is Gremio's account of Petruchio's ‘mad marriage’ to Katherine, where he calls for wine, throws the sops into the sexton's face, and ends up kissing the bride ‘with such a clamorous smack / That at the parting all the church did echo’ (III. ii. 168-9). And there is abundant onstage, farcical spectacle of a non-aggressive sort. Most memorable here is Petruchio's much-heralded arrival for the wedding, looking like ‘a very monster in apparel’ according to the servant Biondello (III. ii. 61-2). This is one of the most entertaining visual moments in Shakespearean comedy, equalled only by the appearance of the yellow-stockinged Malvolio, and not troubled by the embarrassment which attaches to him as a victim of a practical joke. Here a confident joker plays the fool. To Baptista and his family, Petruchio is an ‘eyesore’. With a concern for propriety that seems comically fussy in the face of Petruchio's nonchalance, they urge him to shed his ‘mad attire’, his ‘unreverent robes’ (III. ii. 102), and offer him clothes to change into. At Petruchio's country house his antics succeed one another with ever-growing pace. Dishes of food arrive only to be whisked away, bowls of water are spilt, servants beaten, the tailor and haberdasher appear, only to have their work ridiculed and dismissed. And more visual comedy is to come. When the real Vincentio comes face to face with the pretend Vincentio, the confused-identity joke that sustains The Comedy of Errors has a brief revival. Even in the final wager scene the staging heightens the farcical downfall of the confident Lucentio and Hortensio, as each wife is summoned in turn and neither appears, until Kate herself does, leading the other two, to everyone's astonishment except Petruchio's.

The verbal comedy of the play, though not attempting the emotional resonance of the later comedies, offers a range of effects, from wordplay to Katherine's waspishness, all appropriate to the predominantly farcical mode. Anyone who has worked on this play for performance soon discovers that there are many passages less immediately funny than Lucentio's irreverent advice to a lutenist, ‘Spit in the hole man, and tune again’. Biondello's virtuoso description of Petruchio and his horse presents no problem. The joke here does not depend on understanding all the individual words for the defects of the horse or its harness, but on their accumulation and alliteration: ‘stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the bots’ (III. ii. 49-50). The miserable journey after the wedding, another traditional element in the folktale, is, as Grumio tells it, a comic tale of multiple disasters, enlivened by a version of the repeated interruption joke, with Grumio taking offence, and sulkily threatening not to continue: ‘Tell thou the tale. But hadst thou not crossed me, thou shouldst have heard how …’ (IV. i. 53 f.). Quibbling, as already mentioned, is rife, and aggressive, in this farcical comedy, whether between Katherine and Petruchio, Petruchio and his servants, or between the servants, Grumio and Curtis. In their initial bout, Katherine and Petruchio's duel of puns may make it hard for audiences today to keep up, but they cannot fail to sense the implications of its aggression, both ‘hostile and seductive’, in Molly Mahood's phrase,7 especially when Petruchio caps Kate's last line with ‘What, with my tongue in your tail?’ (II. i. 212).

In the nonsense game that Petruchio devises to woo Kate, ‘with some spirit’ (II. i. 165), and tame her, the play's farcical invention reaches its height. Surpassing the tamer's traditional insistence that the wife accept whatever he says, Petruchio determines to misunderstand whatever Katherine says:

If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks,
As though she bid me stay by her a week.

(II. i. 173-4)

For the wider public, he modifies this device, claiming that he and Katherine have come to an agreement that she may keep up her old ways in public, but, he assures his hearers, though she continues ‘curst in company’, in private she hangs about his neck, giving him kiss on kiss. This announcement, not surprisingly, temporarily silences Kate. Pressing on with this strategy of confusion, he denies Kate food and rest but claims to be acting for her welfare. When he insists that Kate should call the sun the moon, and greet and embrace old Vincentio as a ‘Fair lovely maid’, nonsense is the only language he will permit. Then, in the most delightfully unexpected moment in the play, Kate too produces her own nonsense address: ‘Young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet’, only to have her husband correct her:

Why, how now, Kate! I hope thou art not mad.
This is a man—old, wrinkled, faded, withered—
And not a maiden, as thou say'st he is.

(IV. v. 42-4)

And the quick-witted Kate responds at once:

Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes
That have been so bedazzled with the sun
That everything I look on seemeth green.


Petruchio and Katherine are now, in Vincentio's view, a traveller and his ‘merry mistress’, the kind of couple who ‘like pleasant travellers’ might ‘break a jest / Upon the company [they] overtake’ (IV.v.72-3), and thus, without moral emphasis, the comedy establishes a new role for Kate to play through a shared joke.

It will by now be apparent that this defence of the pleasures of farce, of not especially ‘thoughtful laughter’,8 sidesteps the arguments of those who find it impossible to laugh at this play at all. For them, the situation of Petruchio's taming of Katherine is distasteful, indeed offensive, and this is made worse when Kate's last speech is taken as Shakespeare, or the play, advocating a notion of marriage based on the wife's submission. The dramatic context of the speech, including the contrasting subplot and Kate's relationship with Petruchio at this stage, provides reasons for a more equal view of marriage, as others have argued.9 Nevertheless, it must be admitted that uneasiness about what are seen as the play's gender assumptions goes back a long way. One might expect to find an advocate of women's rights such as Shaw writing that ‘the last scene is altogether disgusting to modern sensibility’,10 but, as Tori Haring-Smith's stage history reveals, remarks in the same vein began to appear in reviews in the nineteenth century, when Shakespeare's play returned to the stage, replacing Garrick's Catharine and Petruchio. Indeed, Garrick's own version, first performed in 1754, and its later derivatives, each aiming to suit the play to contemporary manners and attitudes, by rendering Petruchio more gentlemanly, and the play more polite, or at least even-handed, testify that ‘Shakespeare's choice of farce … to dramatize the clash of gender roles’11 has ‘from the very beginning … been disturbing as well as enjoyable’.12 With the passage of time, this challenging quality has seemed ever more troublesome. As J. C. Trewin wrote in 1949, ‘it takes much now to make the Shrew acceptable’.13 Though staged frequently throughout the twentieth century, it was rarely staged straight. Productions either made the play thoroughly farcical, with additional slapstick, or softened it with sentiment, so Petruchio and Katherine obviously fall in love at first sight, or introduced comic irony, as in Kate's winking before her last speech, this last strategy transforming the play, as Goddard put it, into an early version of Barrie's What Every Woman Knows: how to get her own way by making the man think he is getting his.14

The most radical transformations date from the 1970s, when the play became a vehicle for protest against the oppression of women, and human cruelty. Charles Marowitz saw The Shrew as brutal, sadistic, and the process of taming as a horrifying anticipation of ‘the modern technique for brainwashing’.15 Marowitz made his own version, in which scenes from Shakespeare, adapted and incorporating much new stage business—including the onstage rape of Katherine by Petruchio—alternate with a sequence of scenes presenting a contemporary parallel, in which a woman subjects a man to psychological torment. Once this version had been staged, in 1973, one commentator claims, ‘no-one could conscientiously claim the play for “fun”’.16 In Bogdanov's production five years later the taming plot was again brutal, but, as Bogdanov saw it, this was Shakespeare's own exposure of the cruelty to women inherent in patriarchal marriage. This was the production that led Michael Billington to ask

whether there is any reason to revive a play that seems totally offensive to our age and our society. My own feeling is that it should be put back firmly and squarely on the shelf. Bogdanov, like any intelligent man, clearly finds The Shrew a barbaric and disgusting play. Instead of softening its harsh edges like most recent directors, he has chosen to emphasise its moral and physical ugliness … I found [the production's] sheer brutality almost unbearable.17

Feminist criticism of the play in the last thirty years has been divided in its judgement of its sexual politics. Those voicing strong condemnation tend to align the taming plot with domestic violence, as currently understood, and see Kate as a battered wife, and her attachment to Petruchio as of the kind that hostages have been known to develop for their captors.18 Alternatively, and by implication equally damning, the play is seen in a context of early modern misogyny.19 One danger with such historically influenced studies is in moving between historical records and literary narratives as if between equivalents, and therefore underestimating the effect of dramatic conventions, and audiences' responses to them. We risk losing sight of such matters when we look into the remoter past, where all records are scarce. With contemporary films we are less likely to mistake a romantic comedy for a documentary.

In this attempt to rescue the play for laughter, I have turned to the comments of women who have played the role of Kate, rather than to the social history of scold's bridles, and cucking stools, and approached it as a reworking not of the extensive material now recovered on the suppression of unruly women, but of the shrew fable in the form of a play: the taming presented at the remove of dramatic fiction. As A. D. Nuttall reminds us in his discussion of why tragedy gives us pleasure, we know what we see is not real; it would be unbearable if it were. The suffering still moves us, but in a different way. In the case of a comedy, because we know what we see is not real, we let ourselves laugh. Those standing watching the ducking of scolds had an experience of a different order from those who went to the Theatre to see The Shrew. Jokes and comedies permit us to react to situations less seriously, less generously, less responsibly, perhaps, certainly differently from how we would in real life. There is no active cruelty in watching a comedy, but there is detachment from others' misfortunes.

Though early, and farcical, The Shrew is still a complex play, the deft interrelatedness of the plots setting up reflecting images of femininity, and weighing the conflicting claims of mutuality and inequality within the much-debated topic of early modern marriage. To enjoy the comedy is not to become complicit in the enjoyment of domestic violence: to claim that it is, is in itself an offensive notion, and insults those who are indeed victims. However, to laugh at Katherine it is necessary to acknowledge that the central female figure is a woman who has something to learn. To admit this does not amount to what Peter Berek calls ‘The Plain Man's Sexist Reading of the play’.20 But it is asking a lot of some contemporary audiences, for whom all representations of women as mad or badly behaved are to be construed only in terms of misogyny and systemic oppression.21

Katherine is an unusual, even a unique, figure in Shakespearean comedy. Actors who have played Rosalind, Portia, and Viola find when they come to work on the role that she is surprisingly different, ‘not very profound or witty’, not in command of her situation, without Viola's lyricism or Beatrice's wit.22 Her role is closer to that of a dupe, who attracts attention because of some fault or foolishness, and becomes the target of what Renaissance comedy terms a ‘practice’, a plot designed to bring someone to ridicule. Petruchio's stratagem for taming Kate has similarities with such schemes. The audience knows that all that happens is part of Petruchio's plan, while Katherine knows none of this. Dupe plots typically have all the harshness of the practical joke, and show no mercy for the victim. In Shakespeare, their effect is usually softened by allowing the victim—Parolles, for instance—some escape or recovery from humiliation, or by the dupers being tricked too. Enjoyment of such practices in life and on the stage, in such thoroughgoing instances as in Volpone or The Silent Woman, requires a taste for a robust humour which, Keith Thomas and others have argued, flourished in early modern England, and which is summed up in Sir Philip Sidney's remark on comedy in his ‘Apology for Poetry’: ‘We laugh at deformed creatures.’ At a time when visiting madhouses was a London pastime, Sidney felt no need to qualify his remark.

On the evidence of the Duchess of York in Richard II and Paulina in The Winter's Tale, both talkative, forceful women, one might argue that Shakespeare plays treat the ‘railing wife’, in Hotspur's phrase, with unconventional generosity. Her independence and courage are recognised and respected. In The Shrew Kate is not seen so kindly at first. In her immediate circle she is a deformed creature, ‘curst and shrewd’, a ‘fiend of hell’, ‘a devil’. But though a target of abuse, and then the victim of Petruchio's deception, Kate is not just a dupe, nor Petruchio a duper. To him, the spirit behind her rage is attractive—‘Now, by the world, it is a lusty wench! … O how I long to have some chat with her’ (II. i. 156-8)—and his purpose is not to ridicule Kate, for his own enjoyment and ours, but to bring her out of her ‘humour’, following a comic pattern more typical of Jonson than Shakespeare. Aiming to make her ‘Conformable as other household Kates’ (II. i. 267), Petruchio manifests much more concern for the subject of his practice than is customarily shown by the duper. He does want to marry her, after all. But identifying her as needing to be tamed still consigns her to a position remote from the women who reign over the later comedies. In the final scenes, she has changed, and at this point those who can see Katherine as something other than Petruchio's victim perceive the end of a process long recognised as characteristic of Shakespearean comedy, that is, a transformation or self-discovery brought about by deception, disguise, or confusion. But the question remains: does this farcical comedy make it possible to laugh at the process that brings her to this point?

Christopher Sly is important here. The audience's engagement with Sly and his transformation distances their initial relation to Katherine. When they first see her and the rest of the players they are also observing Sly's naive reception of the ‘comonty’, and so their first impressions are marked by a greater than usual awareness of a performance, and a greater than usual degree of that detachment which is essential to comic effect. As a character in Zadie Smith's White Teeth puts it: ‘Pain + detachment=entertainment, sometimes.’ This distancing is reinforced by Lucentio and Tranio, who literally step aside to watch the first appearance of Kate and the rest. Lucentio is so smitten by Bianca he has eyes only for her, but Tranio sizes up Kate: ‘That wench is stark mad, or wonderful froward’ (I. i. 69). This initial view of the action prevents the audience getting too close to Kate and damps down any inclination to see her more sympathetically than Tranio does.

After Sly falls silent at the end of the first scene of The Shrew, the effect of distancing diminishes, and the individual comic figures should be more able to become engaging and affecting as well as laughable. However, the extremes of Kate's ‘wonderful froward’ behaviour that dominate the early scenes work to maintain the detachment. She shouts at her father, strikes Bianca, crowns Hortensio, and abuses and strikes Petruchio. When not on stage, her shrewishness is the main topic of conversation, so that Petruchio's apparent ignorance of it when he questions Baptista: ‘Pray have you not a daughter / Called Katherina, fair and virtuous?’ makes Baptista's cagey reply a joke: ‘I have a daughter, sir, called Katherina’ (II. i. 41-3). Kate's scolding is loud, unrelenting, predictable, and, for all these reasons, comic. At the end of the first scene Tranio asks Lucentio if he noticed Kate:

                                        Marked you not how her sister
Began to scold and raise up such a storm
That mortal ears might hardly endure the din?

(I. i. 162-4)

For Sarah Badel, Kate in the BBC TV production, these lines were a built-in stage direction: ‘She has to go that far, she has to be extreme to justify what's said about her. She is impossible. She's driving them all mad.’ Kate was a woman, as she put it, not ‘living in her head at all’.23 Though the 1987 RSC Katherine of Fiona Shaw was unhappy in her ‘raging’, Shaw said she could imagine a Kate who enjoys behaving as badly as she does. And the audience enjoys her rages. Indeed, a Kate ‘not living in her head’, or, in Shaw's phrase, ‘spiralling out of control’, as in the Bianca scene, demonstrates the pleasures of that unrepressed hostility which Freud detects in his category of ‘tendentious’ jokes.24 Kate is ‘possess'd with a fury’.25 Whatever happens she will reply with verbal or physical aggression, so she makes a perfect illustration of that ‘mechanical behaviour’ which, in Bergson's analysis, is essentially what makes us laugh: laughter is ‘a social gesture at what fails the requirements of elasticity and sociability’; consistency such as Kate's itself becomes laughable: ‘if I wait for it to occur and it occurs when I expect it then involuntarily I laugh’.26 Though the American critic Wylie Sypher declared Bergson's essay valuable but insufficient, in that it fails to accommodate much of Shakespeare's comedy,27 Bergson's central notion of human automatism fits Katherine remarkably neatly, and this is one measure of how unusual a Shakespearean figure she is.

All this is not to deny that, as Germaine Greer and others have noted, Kate's situation offers a psychological explanation for her fury. With her own lack of suitors blocking the marriage of her younger, mild-mannered sister, she opts out and becomes unmanageable, a scold.28 When Petruchio arrives, she rages at him, but not at marriage itself. In this she differs from Beatrice who in her defence against unwanted suitors feigns to take a stand against all men and marriage. Kate resents bitterly the prospect of dancing barefoot at her younger sister's wedding, a practice that enacted the stigma attached to the unmarried and therefore unsocialised woman,29 along with being condemned in the harsh proverb to lead apes in hell (instead of her children in heaven). Beatrice, more poised, and more confident perhaps, makes jokes about being sent by St Peter up from hell to sit with the bachelors in heaven. Though Katherine rejects her one and only suitor, sarcastically praising Baptista's ‘fatherly regard’ in wishing her ‘wed to one half lunatic, / A mad-cap ruffian and a swearing Jack’ (II. i. 275-6), she is ready for the wedding. About this, as about other significant moments, Katherine says nothing—as the women who have played her remark. Reduced to silence by Petruchio's outrageousness at the end of their first scene, and at other times left without words for no apparent reason, her feelings are not allowed to disturb the farcical comic tone. Kate rages when Petruchio does not arrive on time for the wedding, and though she exits weeping, her father's sympathy turns the moment into an involuntary joke against her:

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.

(III. i. 27-9)

When Petruchio insists on their leaving without a wedding feast she is again, and now with obvious justification, angry, but her resistance is still emphatically comic, ‘more petulant than persuasive’, as Fiona Shaw put it:30

Nay then,
Do what thou canst, I will not go today!
No, nor tomorrow—not till I please myself.
The door is open, sir, there lies your way;
You may be jogging whiles your boots are green.
For me, I'll not be gone till I please myself.
'Tis like you'll prove a jolly surly groom
That take it on you at the first so roundly.
O Kate, content thee; prithee be not angry.
I will be angry. What hast thou to do?
—Father, be quiet. He shall stay my leisure.

(III. ii. 196-206)

At ‘Father be quiet’ one editor comments: ‘Baptista has not spoken but perhaps he is about to’.31 No actor would choose to play the line like that, and miss the laugh at Katherine's lashing out, yet again, at a silent father. But since Katherine's constant rage, however ridiculously excessive, at this moment especially but also earlier, has a cause, her ‘impatient humour’ is not essential, but of the surface. Bergson again has just the phrase for it: ‘Something mechanical encrusted on the living.’32 She may change.

Petruchio sets out to make her do so. From the start he has told Katherine to her face that he was born to tame her and bring her ‘from a wild Kate to a Kate / Conformable as other household Kates’ (II. i. 266-7). This idea seems crudely patronising, and the notion of Petruchio as psychotherapist, ‘subtle Dr Petruchio’,33 has been detected hovering uneasily over the play, gaining reinforcement perhaps by the long association with the play of Jonathan Miller, the English theatre's only medically qualified director. Shakespearean characters who set out to teach people a lesson and change them for their own good, as Edgar does his father, or Duke Vincentio Isabella, for instance, are likely to prove unpopular with audiences today. Petruchio's own analogy for what he does, in his soliloquy when his scheme is well under way, is to ‘man his haggard’, to train his falcon, an arduous business for both the tamer and his highly valued hawk. If the play's human version of this process is to be enjoyable, and above all, if we are to laugh at Kate, it is crucial to admit that Kate needs to change, rather than that society needs to change to accommodate her. Contemporary stage versions of the play, inspired perhaps by social models of disability in which there are no disabled people, just a disabled society, or where Kate is a victim of patriarchy, made mad and bad by her oppression, are doomed to be unfunny, and indeed brutal.

For those who don't feel compelled to speak of Petruchio as an offensive, would-be apologist for domestic violence, there is much to enjoy in the taming scenes, beginning with the outrageousness of Petruchio's own pretended shrewish behaviour (‘he is more shrew than she’, IV. i. 63), his switching from fury to solicitous affection (‘Will you give thanks, sweet Kate, or else shall I?’, IV. i. 129), and the sheer inventiveness of his speech. As for Katherine herself, her frustration and desperation at this stage remain comic because of her resilience. Though presented by post-1970s critics and directors as brainwashed, broken, or tamed, she is not silenced, nor is her spirit crushed. That would make her situation too painful for laughter. Breaking its spirit was not the aim of training a hawk.34 Petruchio's servants pity the ‘poor soul’ and report that when she and Petruchio go to their bridal chamber, only for him to read her a sermon on continence, she

Knows not which way to stand, to look, to speak,
And sits as one new-risen from a dream.

(IV. i. 156-7)

But the Kate the audience sees continues her vehement protests:

Why, sir, I trust I may have leave to speak,
And speak I will. I am no child, no babe.

(IV. iii. 73-4)

Petruchio pays no attention to these words and continues deliberately to misunderstand her, but she is not cowed, and never afraid of Petruchio. The spirit he admired in her attack on Hortensio survives for the return journey, when she is still correcting Petruchio, telling him the hour is not seven but two, the sun is not the moon. And when she does finally capitulate, prompted by Hortensio, ‘Says as he says, or we shall never go’ (IV. v. 11), her concession is poised and crisply ironic:

I say it is the moon.
                                                                                                    I know it is the moon.
Nay then you lie, it is the blessèd sun.
Then God be blessed, it is the blessèd 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 named, even that it is,
And so it shall be so for Katherine.

(IV. v. 16-22)

And, with the arrival of Vincentio, as has now been frequently acknowledged, Petruchio's commanding and her obeying becomes a language game they play together. Hortensio sees Petruchio as victor over Kate, ‘The field is won’, but what Petruchio himself seems to say is that Kate has found herself, ‘Thus the bowl should run / And not unluckily against the bias’ (IV. v. 25). Recent players of Kate certainly understand the moment in these terms. For Paola Dionisotti, Kate in Bogdanov's production, Kate makes a discovery:

I can go further in this game than you … She picks up the images of the sun and moon and intensifies them. She dances with them. … She has finally discovered that it is a game, and that they can play it together.35

The encounter with Vincentio radiates a sense of elation, as if Kate's remark that everything she looks on ‘seemeth green’ had an all-encompassing resonance of the new, fresh, and young. Good humour and ‘merriment’ prevail, first with the ‘pleasant travellers’ pretended ‘mad mistaking’, and then with Petruchio announcing Lucentio's marriage, speaking warmly of Bianca's ‘good esteem’, and Vincentio's ‘honest son’. Even the cautious Hortensio now takes courage, convinced he may safely marry his widow, and that he knows how to deal with a shrew, his confidence already setting up the table-turning of the last scene.

The play's comic trajectory closes with the triumph of Katherine and Petruchio as a couple. Their new-found harmony is dramatised in two scenes, much as that of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado [Much Ado About Nothing], the first brief and intimate, ending with the kiss in the street, the second, in the social setting of Lucentio's wedding feast. A feast and a wager, the final elements in a tale of wife-taming, offer the successful husband the opportunity to show off his docile, obedient wife. But what is played out here first is the victory of the rebels, a joint victory of the frank and unconventional over the shallow, deceitful and conventional.36 Baptista and his friends have all through the play enjoyed themselves at the expense of the ‘couple of quiet ones’ and found much amusement in the thought that they deserve each other:

Mistress, what's your opinion of your sister?
That being mad herself, she's madly mated.
I warrant him, Petruchio is Kated.

(III. ii. 232-4)

Now it is the turn of Petruchio and Katherine, and of the audience, to laugh at all of them. Petruchio, who is already fidgeting, ‘Nothing but sit and sit, and eat and eat!’ (V. ii. 12), livens up the proceedings by provocatively suggesting that Kate is kind. Hortensio and the Widow think they have an easy target in mocking that idea and begin sniping at Petruchio's chance of married happiness. Petruchio immediately turns the gibe back on to Hortensio. Katherine, loyally and ably, backs up Petruchio, forcing the widow to defend her sneer: ‘“He that is giddy thinks the world turns round.” I pray you tell me what you meant by that’ (ll. 26-7). Kate is here Petruchio's wife but, in turning on the widow, still her forceful self.

The staging of the wager, with the two wives' refusals, first

Sir, my mistress sends you word
That she is busy, and she cannot come

(V. ii. 80-1)

and then

She says you have some goodly jest in hand.
She will not come. She bids you come to her

(V. ii. 91-2)

makes Katherine's appearance a comic coup de théâtre. With her father acknowledging that ‘she is changed, as she had never been’ (l. 115), and the others either busy ridiculing her obedience or bickering among themselves, Kate, at Petruchio's request, begins her speech rebuking ‘these headstrong women’ (l. 130), recognising the mutual obligations of marriage, and recommending the role of graceful submission. As she does so, however, she dominates the stage, witty, emotionally alert, and eloquent, and also still girding at the ‘froward and unable worms’ (l. 169). When she speaks of the beauty of the amiable wife, her language moves into an elevated register, the speech's ‘pure rhythms’, Fiona Shaw suggests, marking this as her own speech, not one Petruchio has taught her. She is perhaps self-taught, not so much ‘cured’ as having learned from her experience, proving that she is not so old but that she may learn. As we laugh at Orlando writing poems and hanging them on trees, or at Romeo's lover's melancholy, so in the more farcical and more mercantile world of this play we can surely allow ourselves to laugh at the earlier Kate, reasonably confident that our laughter is not merely an ‘entrenched social attitude’.37


  1. Stephen Potter, The Sense of Humour (1954; Harmondsworth 1964) p. 35. Quotations from Shakespeare follow The Riverside Shakespeare, gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston 1974), except for The Taming of the Shrew, where the edition followed is Ann Thompson's New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge 1984).

  2. William Hazlitt, Characters of Shakespear's Plays (London 1944) p. 341.

  3. Robert Y. Turner, Shakespeare's Apprenticeship (Chicago 1974) p. 167, quoted in Russ Mcdonald, ‘Fear of Farce’, in Maurice Charney (ed.), ‘Bad’ Shakespeare: Revaluations of the Shakespeare Canon (Cranbury, NJ 1988) pp. 77-90: 89.

  4. As You Like It and Twelfth Night: Shakespeare's Sense of an Ending’, in Shakespearian Comedy, Stratford upon Avon Studies 14 (London 1972) p. 163.

  5. In direct opposition to the original audience's expectations of the taming fable, Petruchio never strikes Katherine, nor (according to the text) does he use or brandish a whip, as became customary in 19th-c. performances. The whip is first recorded in the prompt book for J. P. Kemble's Petruchio on 13 Mar. 1788. See Tori Haring-Smith, From Farce to Metadrama: A Stage History of The Taming of the Shrew, 1594-1983 (Westport, Conn. 1985) p. 24.

  6. Quoted in Haring-Smith, From Farce to Metadrama, p. 118.

  7. Shakespeare's Wordplay (1957; London 1968) p. 30.

  8. George Meredith, ‘An Essay on Comedy’, in Wylie Sypher (ed.), Comedy (New York 1956) p. 47: ‘the true test of comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter’.

  9. For instance, Marianne Novy, Love's Argument (Chapel Hill, NC 1984) pp. 58-61, and Brian Morris's introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, Arden Shakespeare (London 1981) pp. 143-9.

  10. Shaw on Shakespeare, ed. Edwin Wilson (1961; Harmondsworth 1969) p. 198, quoted in Shrew, ed. Morris, p. 144.

  11. Peter Berek, ‘Text, Gender, and Genre in The Taming of the Shrew’, in Charney (ed.), ‘Bad’ Shakespeare, pp. 91-104: 92.

  12. Introduction to Shrew, ed. Thompson, p. 17.

  13. Quoted in Haring-Smith, From Farce to Metadrama, p. 136.

  14. H. C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, 2 vols. (Chicago 1951) i. 68.

  15. The Shrew: Freely Adapted from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew (London 1975) p. 20.

  16. Penny Gay, As She Likes It: Shakespeare's Unruly Women (London 1994) p. 103.

  17. Guardian, 5 May 1978, quoted ibid., p. 107. More recent productions in this vein include Gale Edwards's for the RSC in 1995, reviewed at length by Peter Holland, Shakespeare Survey, 49 (1996) pp. 255-7.

  18. Emily Detmer, ‘Civilizing Subordination: Domestic Violence and The Taming of the Shrew’, Shakespeare Quarterly, 4/3 (1997), pp. 273-92: 284-5.

  19. Frances Dolan, The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts (Boston 1996), for instance, presents evidence of brutal ‘spousal conflict’.

  20. Berek, ‘Text, Gender, and Genre’, p. 91.

  21. For a similar argument, see Shirley Nelson Garner, ‘The Taming of the Shrew: Inside or Outside of the Joke?’, in Charney (ed.), ‘Bad’ Shakespeare, pp. 105-19: ‘The central joke … is directed against a woman. The play seems written to please a misogynist audience, especially men gratified by sexually sadistic pleasures’ (p. 106).

  22. Quoting Fiona Shaw, in Carol Rutter, Clamorous Voices: Shakespeare's Women Today (London 1988) p. 4; and Sarah Badel, quoted in Henry Fenwick, ‘The Production’, in The Taming of the Shrew, The BBC TV Shakespeare (London 1980), pp. 17-26: 24.

  23. Fenwick, ‘The Production’, p. 24.

  24. Sigmund Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (Harmondsworth 1976) pp. 144-7.

  25. Benedict's description of Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing, I. i. 191) better fits Kate.

  26. Henry Bergson, ‘Laughter’, in Sypher, ibid., pp. 73 and 81.

  27. Appendix entitled ‘The Meanings of Comedy’, ibid., p. 210.

  28. Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (1970; Frogmore, St Albans 1971), p. 208.

  29. See Camilla Wells Slights, Shakespeare's Comic Commonwealths (Toronto 1993) p. 49.

  30. Rutter, Clamorous Voices, p. 14.

  31. Thompson, note on III. ii. 206.

  32. Bergson, ‘Laughter’, p. 84.

  33. Ruth Nevo, Comic Transformations in Shakespeare (London 1980) pp. 48-9; for taming as therapy, see also Rutter, Clamorous Voices, p. 6.

  34. Thompson, note on IV. i. 161.

  35. Rutter, Clamorous Voices, p. 20.

  36. For Sinead Cusack, ‘Katherine and Petruchio were rebels and would remain rebels forever’: ibid., p. 21.

  37. Gay, As She Likes It, p. 107.

Heather Neill (review date 27 June 2003)

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SOURCE: Neill, Heather. “Shrewd Changes.” Times Educational Supplement, no. 4538 (27 June 2003): 26.

[In the following preview of The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe in London, Neill explains director Barry Kyle's decision to use an all-female cast in his production.]

That most problematic of Shakespeare's plays for feminists is about to be performed by an all-female cast, with Kathryn Hunter as Kate and Janet McTeer as Petrucchio. Director Barry Kyle says that, in any case, to see the play in terms of simple sexual politics misses the point.

Katherine's speech of submission at the end of the play, the “destination” speech to which everything appears to lead, seems to suggest that a happy woman is one who has found the right man, but, says Kyle, “it is also about the master/servant relationship and there are master/servant relationships all over The Taming of the Shrew, often with people acting in their opposite roles”.

Lucentio, suitor to Bianca, Kate's younger sister, appears as a tutor, Cambio, while his servant Tranio poses as Lucentio. Besides, this is a play within a play, performed to drunken Christopher Sly who is treated like a lord while the lord behaves like a servant. In other words, this is often a topsy-turvy world. “Disguise is a big part of the play. To a degree Katherine and Petrucchio are in disguise, playing stereotypical roles; the play deals with the slow removal of disguise.”

When the play begins, Kate is clearly what we would call depressed. “She is described as in the dumps—an expression we still use—which to the Elizabethans meant a sad song. She believes she is the victim of a mercantile way of treating women—as indeed she is—and has nothing but contempt for her younger sister who plays the game. She behaves violently to Bianca and it would be false to sentimentalise that. She has something of the quality of Shylock in that, although she is forced into her situation to a degree, she chooses to present the most extreme version of herself—and, in that respect, her behaviour in the last scene is all of a piece. She achieves a degree of freedom when let out of the identity into which she is locked, partly by herself.”

Barry Kyle is keen to point out that both Katherine and Petrucchio go “on a journey”. Any actor who plays him will tell you, he says, that Petrucchio is changed by his experience of events. “He has a growing respect for Katherine. It is true that he creates a climate of terror in his household but she finds herself mediating, taking the part of others, which is unusual for her. She is taken out of herself. Shakespeare provides private access to Petrucchio; Kate is not a soliloquy character, which accounts for why Petrucchio is the play's ‘engine’. But the parts are written with equal linguistic flair and they are both complete characters, not commedia dell'arte conventions.”

Playing the text in Elizabethan dress brings us, says Kyle, closer to how its first audiences must have perceived it. “We have to try to understand the undertext of the play in the 1590s. The country was being governed by an extremely independent, extremely powerful woman, frightening because she had no husband and thus no heir and people were anxious about what might happen next—the country could decline into civil conflict. Elizabeth herself was referred to as ‘shrew’. What does it take to partner a strong, independent woman?”

The play-within-a-play structure makes it clear that this is a group of people putting something on. “It's as if they might be trying to design a perfect man for Elizabeth.”

Although audiences tend to accept cross-gender playing quite quickly, Kyle says it is clearly relevant that, this time, the play will have, literally, a female voice.

Jay L. Halio (essay date 2002)

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SOURCE: Halio, Jay L. “The Induction as Clue in The Taming of the Shrew.” In “A Certain Text”: Close Readings and Textual Studies on Shakespeare and Others in Honor of Thomas Clayton, edited by Linda Anderson and Janis Lull, pp. 94-106. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Halio explains that the prologue to The Taming of the Shrew provides insight for a proper interpretation of the work as a whole.]

When in his otherwise excellent television production of The Taming of the Shrew for “The Shakespeare Plays,” the BBC producer, Jonathan Miller, decided to omit the induction, he erred. Although the induction in Shakespeare's play is only a part-frame, unlike its counterpart in The Taming of a Shrew (the quarto printed in 1594, about which more later), it provides an important clue to how we should understand the main action of the play proper, as close analysis of the induction and the Katherine-Petruccio plot reveals.1

The induction opens as Christopher Sly, drunk, is thrown out of a tavern for refusing to pay for breaking some glasses. As the Hostess goes to call the headborough, or parish officer, Sly falls asleep. Horns sound, and a lord enters from hunting, but Sly does not awaken; he sleeps right through the entrance of the lord and his huntsmen. When the unnamed lord catches sight of the beggar, he decides to play a trick on Sly and make him believe that he is a lord himself and the others are his servants. He therefore orders his men to take Sly up and carry him off to bed in the lord's house, clothing him richly, putting rings on his fingers, and setting a banquet near him when he wakes. This done, the lord asks: “Would not the beggar then forget himself?” (Ind. 1.39).2

Before the huntsmen carry out his commands, the lord describes the scene further as he imagines it when Sly awakes in his new environment with servants in reverent obeisance. They must “Persuade him that he hath been lunatic” (61), that he truly is what he seems, and that his situation is not a dream. For the lord and the others this will be “pastime passing excellent” (65) if done properly without exaggeration. The First Huntsman agrees, saying, “My lord, I warrant you we will play our part / As he shall think by our true diligence / He is no less than what we say he is” (67-69). Sly is then carried out as trumpets sound and a troupe of traveling players enters. The lord thereupon decides to use the players to further the trick he is playing on Sly, but without letting the players in on the fact that it is a trick. For all they know, Sly truly is a lord, but one who has never heard a play. That will explain his odd behavior to the players, who agree not to take advantage of him but to contain themselves “Were he the veriest antic in the world” (99) when they perform before him.

The lord then continues to develop his scheme. He has Bartholomew, his page, dress as a lady and pretend to be Sly's wife, overcome with joy that her lord has been restored to health, “Who for this seven years hath esteemèd him / No better than a poor and loathsome beggar” (120-21). Note that the point of emphasis is Sly's restoration, not his transformation. His true self is the self we now see, not the old self he but “dreamt.” The lord is confident that his page “will well usurp the grace, / Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman” (129-30) and longs to hear him call the beggar “husband.” By the end of induction 1, then, several impersonations have been set afoot, all suggesting the ways that appearance may belie reality.

The second scene of the induction puts everything in motion, as Sly awakens and calls for “a pot of small ale” (Ind. 2.1). He is served obsequiously by those commanded to tend on him, who offer him sack instead of ale, conserves, and fine raiment. At first Sly rejects the epithets by which he is called and the dainties he is offered, much to his attendants' dismay. They fear he has fallen back into his fit, or humor, which makes his lady “mourn” and his servants “droop” (25-26). They assail him with further blandishments, offering to provide him with horses should he wish to hunt, hawks if he would prefer that sport, and other entertainments. The Second Servingman volunteers to fetch pictures, including some scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses, continuing the theme of transformation. By treating Sly so royally, as if he truly is an aristocrat, the servants and their master convince Sly that what he seems to be he is. It is essentially the same technique that Petruccio uses in dealing with Katherine, only in that case, unlike Sly's, what he sees in her really is there. But it requires hard work, persistence, and devotion to bring it out.

Before long, then, Christopher Sly begins to believe that he is indeed a lord. Although still not sure whether he is dreaming now—or until now (68), he takes note of his surroundings and decides he certainly is a lord and not a tinker after all. At this point his servants exult that his wit is restored and he is himself again (76-77). “These fifteen years you have been in a dream,” one says (78)—which Sly accepts as true. He asks if while he slept he ever spoke of what he dreamt. The First Servingman replies:

O yes, my lord, but very idle words,
For though you lay here in this goodly chamber
Yet would you say ye were beaten out of door,
And rail upon the hostess of the house,
And say you would present her at the leet
Because she brought stone jugs and no sealed quarts.

(Ind. 2.82-87)

A good part of this alludes to the beginning of induction 1, of course, but it is made to seem a dream to Sly. All the people mentioned by name are also relegated to fictions “Which never were, nor no man ever saw” (95). Fully taken in, Sly gives thanks that he has now recovered.

Bartholomew the page enters here as Sly's wife, and the subterfuge continues. Randy Sly wants his wife to come directly to bed, but Bartholomew puts him off, saying that the physicians believe he should desist for yet a while, lest he fall into his former malady. Loath to relapse into his “dreams” again, Sly reluctantly agrees, when a messenger announces that the players, hearing of his recovery, have arrived “to play a pleasant comedy” (125) before him to help further his recovery. And so, summoning his “wife” to his side, Sly settles down to watch “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The induction thus presents enough clues both in the action and dialogue to suggest an approach to what goes on in the play proper or, if you will, the play within the play (although Shakespeare's version has no concluding frame).3 What the lord and his servants convince Sly of is that he has enacted his former identity—his dream—over a period of many years, and that he has now at last been restored to his true identity. We know, of course, from the opening lines of the induction, what Sly's true identity is. Although Shakespeare provides no counterpart to it in the main story of Kate and Petruccio, we may infer it from the action, from Petruccio's treatment of Katherine and her eventual emergence as a lovable—and well-loved—woman.

In this understanding of the play, Kate is not a shrew, though throughout much of the action she behaves as one. Her shrewishness is an assumed identity, like the role of a drunken tinker that the lord and his servants convince Sly he was playing earlier or that he dreamt he was. The absence of a concluding frame at the end suggests that Shakespeare, by not having Sly restored to his original self, wants us to forget that he has merely been the victim of a trick. That may also be the reason, also unlike A Shrew [The Taming of the Shrew], that no brief interludes appear to remind us that the transformed Sly is watching a play unfold before him, that it is all a game of mirrors. Shakespeare leaves Sly not as he originally appeared, but as a wealthy lord, not seen again, and probably not long on stage once the players begin their comedy.4 Possibly the actor who played Sly then returned as Kate. If so, the parallels would be even more compelling. Although doubling is not essential to make the point, it would establish it beyond question.

If Kate, then, is not really a shrew but impersonating one, her concluding speech becomes much more plausible and even acceptable. But why should she impersonate a shrew? Is she even conscious of the impersonation or, like Sly, has she somehow become convinced that her assumed personality is her real one? There is plenty in her experience, which the play dramatizes, to impose upon her that persona. A first child, she is not Baptista's favored daughter; Bianca is. Handsome though she may be, it is Bianca's beauty that is praised, and it is her sister, not Kate, who is wooed persistently by more than one man. Without becoming Freudian about this, we can see how such a situation might turn Katherine into an ill-tempered, angry wench—angry at her sister, her father, and men in general—despite her true nature. Might not she, like Beatrice in Shakespeare's later comedy, really want to be married, although pride prevents her from displaying her inmost feelings?5

If this analysis is correct—and some actors who have played Katherine on stage maintain that is just how they see the situation6—it places Petruccio in a different light. His role now becomes not a tamer as such, but someone who from the first insists that his future wife really is what he says she is:

… 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 cates, and therefore ‘Kate’—
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation:
Hearing thy mildness praised in every town,
Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded—
Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs—
Myself am moved to woo thee for my wife.


As further evidence that Shakespeare presents a comedy of inversions, consider the subplot: the wooing of Bianca. Baptista's younger daughter appears as a sweet young thing, adorable to every man who sees her. Gremio, Lucentio, and Hortensio are all eager to marry her and engage in various sorts of subterfuge to win her. Lucentio even goes so far as to have his servant Tranio exchange identities with him—yet another instance of deceptive impersonation in the play. (Hortensio also dons a disguise for a time, and for the same purpose.) At the end, Lucentio wins out over Bianca's other suitors, but whom does he win? Sweet, adorable Bianca, or a rather shrewish young woman who refuses to obey her husband's command at the banquet when he summons her—and by her disobedience causes Lucentio to lose a hefty wager to Petruccio?7

But we are getting ahead of the story here. How does Petruccio succeed in getting Katherine to reveal her true self? With every good reason to be suspicious of him, Kate at first and for a relatively long while, dramatically speaking, opposes Petruccio and maintains her shrewish disposition. His “taming” consists of getting her to abandon that persona and become herself. The theme of discovering or becoming one's self appears elsewhere in Shakespeare, implicitly or explicitly, as in King Lear, when after a terrible education in suffering Lear finally learns that he is “a very foolish fond old man” (4.7.59); or at the end of The Tempest, when Gonzalo marvels at how Prospero has succeeded in helping others to find themselves “when no man was his own” (5.1.215).8 A similar process is at work here, as Petruccio patiently and persistently contrives to get his wife to become herself. For he has heard, he says to her father Baptista, of Katherine's “beauty and her wit, / Her affability and bashful modesty, / Her wondrous qualities and mild behaviour” (2.1.48-50), and that is why he wants to marry her.

We know that this is not altogether true. Petruccio earlier admits that he knows her father, but not Katherine (1.2.100-1). Moreover, from what else he says to his friend Hortensio when he arrives in Padua from Verona, he has come “to wive it wealthily in Padua” (1.2.74). He is not poor; he has crowns in his purse and goods at home, but he wants a wife (1.2.55-57). It does not matter to him what she looks like, how old she is, or what kind of disposition she sports; the dowry is all, or so he says (1.2.68-73). His friend tries to warn him about Katherine's temper, but Petruccio refuses to be dissuaded. “Thou know'st not gold's effect,” he says (1.2.92).

A rich wife may—or may not—be Petruccio's primary motive; in any case, little is made of this incentive afterwards, once he has seen Katherine.9 He tells Hortensio that he has experienced travails far worse than a woman's scolding tongue (198-209), and he soon becomes intent on demonstrating that Kate is not what she seems. His problem is to find a way to let the better qualities in her character emerge. The procedures he uses are ostensibly those of the animal tamer. Or are they? Their first encounter displays an abundance of wit on both sides. At one point, however, Katherine strikes Petruccio. Nothing fazed, he retorts that he will cuff her if she does that again, and they fall to further wit sallies, not to fisticuffs.10 Petruccio then changes his tactic when she tries to depart: “I find you passing gentle,” he says.

'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,
But slow in speech, yet sweet as springtime flowers.
Thou canst not frown. Thou canst not look askance,
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will,
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk,
But thou with mildness entertain'st thy wooers,
With gentle conference, soft and affable.


Kate has been none of those things in their preceding dialogue; but in saying she has been, Petruccio is not merely engaging in wishful thinking. Underneath her shrewish attitude he perceives a woman who may really have all the qualities that he attributes to her—as she in fact proves at the end of the play she does. But first he must win her confidence, initially by letting her know that he is privy to her game.11 Later he has games of his own to play. For the present, he says:

          will you, nill you, I will marry you.
Now, Kate, I am a husband for your turn,
For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty—
Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well—
Thou must be married to no man but me. …


When her father enters to see how things are going, Petruccio states that all is well, but Katherine contradicts him. Nothing daunted, Petruccio counters with what he claims is the true situation:

Father, 'tis thus: yourself and all the world
That talked of her have talked 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.


“If she be curst, it is for policy.” What kind of “policy”? Commentators have not been very expansive on this point, some simply alluding to Kate's “Machiavellian” scheming with an ulterior motive in mind.12 If Petruccio is right, as my analysis contends, Kate's behavior is designed to test the quality of the man who woos her, to be sure he understands and truly loves her, despite the unlovely and shrewish behavior she displays. She is not interested in any other kind of lover, such as her sister Bianca attracts.13

Before departing—he says to buy apparel in Venice for the wedding to be held the following Sunday—Petruccio claims that he and Kate have made a bargain. She will appear curst only in company; in private she dotes on him and has already demonstrated her love by hanging about his neck and showering many kisses on him. This is far from true, like his statement that he is going to Venice to buy clothes; but Petruccio is engaging in some “policy” of his own here. Nevertheless, he astonishes everyone present—Gremio and Tranio as well as Baptista—who accept what he says. Significantly, for the last 25 lines before they leave, Katherine is utterly silent, exiting at the same time as—and perhaps with—Petruccio.14

Petruccio does not return until his wedding day, and then he is deliberately late, keeping Katherine and everyone else anxiously waiting to go to church. Katherine is audibly and visibly upset: she claims she has not wanted this marriage in the first place, with good reason; for she still sees Petruccio merely as “a madbrain rudesby full of spleen, / Who wooed in haste and means to wed at leisure” (3.2.10-11). Unlike Petruccio, she requires more time to peer beneath the guises her husband assumes and see the real man. And so she rants and raves against him, but not once does she suggest breaking off the match, even as she exits weeping, ashamed of the treatment she now receives. But this is only the beginning. Since speaking gently to her has not worked as yet, Petruccio adopts a different tactic. Petruccio's strategy, or “policy,” from here on until near the end is to give Katherine a dose of her own medicine;15 or rather, a double dose, so that she can recover her senses at last.

Petruccio's outrageous appearance when he does finally appear for the wedding heralds further outrages, which commence during and immediately after the wedding.16 He behaves boorishly during the ceremony (3.3.21-55), refuses to partake of the wedding feast (58-76), hurries Katherine off on the journey home against her will (77-111), and upon arrival begins the turmoil that continues until they return again to Padua. If Katherine has been violent, for example in binding and beating her sister (2.1.1-30), it is nothing compared to how Petruccio treats his servants, beating and abusing them unconscionably, or so it appears (4.1.1-3, 106-53). Even before they arrive home, aghast at his stormy behavior en route, Katherine prays as one “that never prayed before” (4.1.70-71), according to Grumio, who has suffered along with her.

With this, Katherine's alteration to a milder disposition begins, and it continues as she pleads with Petruccio to be gentler and more forgiving to his servants (4.1.142, 154-55). Having thrown away the dinner prepared for them, Petruccio brings his wife to the bridal chamber without any dinner at all and, so his servant Curtis informs Grumio, there makes

                                                  a sermon of continency to her,
And rails, and swears, and rates, that she, poor soul,
Knows not which way to stand, to look, to speak,
And sits as one new risen from a dream.


The simile is very apt: Katherine is at last awakening from her dream, just as Christopher Sly is made to believe he is awakening from his dream. Only in this instance the awakening is not fantasy; it is real, though (again like Sly's awakening) it hardly seems so at first to Katherine. If Petruccio in his soliloquy at the end of the scene admits he is using techniques on Katherine, such as fasting and sleeplessness, that are used in training falcons, he insists nevertheless that he does all “in reverent care of her” (190) and concludes: “This is a way to kill a wife with kindness, / And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humour” (194-95). He calls it the taming of a shrew, but by this time the analogy to taming a hawk must be seen as simply that—an analogy. By showing Katherine what she might otherwise become without his help, he encourages her true self to emerge.

Katherine's education continues in the episodes with the haberdasher and the tailor on the journey back to Padua for Bianca's wedding. Her milder disposition is sorely tried when, starving for food, she is confronted in 4.3 by Grumio, who offers her a variety of dishes, but only teases her. Exasperated beyond endurance, she sends him away with a beating (31-35). This is the old Kate yet. Petruccio continues the torment, with somewhat better success, as Katherine behaves more gently to him, at least at first, even though he also teases her, not only with food, but with the apparel he proposes and then disposes of violently. By the time the tailor arrives with a gown for her, she has very little to say when Petruccio disparages the workmanship and the workman, too (86-163).

Katherine is learning, however, slowly but surely, to control her own temper as she witnesses the excesses of her husband's. She therefore no longer demurs when he says they will sojourn to Padua in “honest, mean habiliments”:

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.

(168, 170-72)

Petruccio piles on analogies, the point behind all of them being that appearances are deceiving. Perhaps Katherine begins here to glimpse what he is up to and, looking inward, to see what she herself has been up to. Or perhaps not, for she still contradicts her husband. As a result, he puts off their journey until she is more agreeable to what he says, no matter what he says (185-93).

When they finally get going, the beginning is not very auspicious. Katherine again refuses to accept Petruccio's outrageous insistence that the sun is the moon (4.6.2-10), but under Hortensio's urging she yields and becomes more compliant. Some critics maintain that at last Katherine has caught on to Petruccio's game and is willing to play along with it, and they may be right.17 Whatever the case, from here on—as in her greeting of Vincentio as the young maid Petruccio first calls him, and then reversing herself after Petruccio does (28-50)—Kate the shrew vanishes and Kate the loving wife assumes her rightful position. She recognizes at last Petruccio's deep care of her and with that recognition her need to behave shrewishly disappears. When they arrive in Padua, Petruccio tests her once more before they go in to the banquet, by asking her to give him a kiss—right there in the street. Appalled at first by this outlandish request—kissing in public is just not done by respectable people—Katherine soon yields (5.1.132-41). True, she does so under threat of returning home again, but the threat does not have to be repeated. Thanks also to Petruccio's tutelage, Katherine has learned that conventions are merely that—conventions18—and far more important is the affection she shares with her husband whom, very significantly in this context, she addresses as “love” (139).

The banquet scene, the last one in the play, has aroused much controversy, centering on Katherine's long speech on marriage directed to Bianca and the widow. I do not wish to enter that controversy here, as it is not directly relevant to the argument I have been presenting, except to say that Katherine's shrewishness is no longer anywhere in evidence. Her true self has emerged in all its lovely glory, at least as Petruccio sees it, much to the dismay and expense of those other husbands whose wives refuse obedience. In her speech Katherine comments both indirectly and directly on her past behavior, as when she says:

A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty. …


A few lines later, she confesses her earlier faults, which amount to a self-deception:

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.


She ends with a plea to them to follow her in offering to place her hand beneath her husband's foot, a relic of ancient ceremony symbolizing a wife's submission to her husband.19 Whether Kate actually does so, prostrating herself in the process as in the old custom, is doubtful: no stage direction indicates such an action, and Petruccio immediately praises her and asks for a kiss (185). The play ends as her husband summons Katherine to bed, their marriage at last to be consummated, fittingly now, at the culminating moment of Kate's rebirth or recovery of her self.20


  1. In his chapter on The Taming of the Shrew in The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), Harold C. Goddard also sees the induction as an important clue to understanding the play within the play, although he focuses on Sly's relation to Petruccio and not his relation to Katherine, as I do. Other critics also point to the importance of the induction in alerting audiences to inverted identities and impostures in the play. See, e.g., Frances E. Dolan, ed., The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts (Boston: Bedford Books, 1996), 6-8. Jonathan Miller, who both directed and produced the BBC presentation, justified omission of the induction as a means of emphasizing the seriousness of the play and allowing it to “come on straight” (cited by Henry Fenwick in “The Production,” The Taming of the Shrew [London: British Broadcasting Co., 1980], 18).

  2. All quotations are from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), unless otherwise stated.

  3. For a different analysis of the significance of the induction, one that contrasts civilized and uncivilized behavior, see Camille Wells Slights, “The Raw and the Cooked,” JEGP [Journal of English and Germanic Philology] 88 (1989): 168-89.

  4. Goddard, Meaning of Shakespeare, 73, argues that the concluding frame is really unnecessary; it would be like explaining a joke, that is, blatantly pointing out the relation between Sly and Petruccio, drunkards and lovers, lunatics and lovers. Goddard does not comment on the interludes found in A Shrew.

  5. Ibid., 69. Goddard also makes the point about Katherine's position in the family, Baptista's treatment of her as compared to her sister, and her natural reaction. He contends, as I do, that Katherine's shrewishness is superficial, not congenital, and later (71) sees her as anticipating Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing. Compare Fiona Shaw's similar comments on Katherine's behavior in Carol Rutter, Clamorous Voices: Shakespeare's Women Today, ed. Faith Evans (New York: Routledge, 1989), 6. Shaw played Kate in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production in 1987, also directed by Jonathan Miller. The two love plots in The Shrew parallel those in Much Ado in other ways as well; for example, the contrast between Bianca and her insipid suitors and Petruccio's love for Katherine parallels the contrast between the shallowness of Claudio and Hero's relationship and the disguised but profounder love between Benedict and Beatrice.

  6. For example, in reply to a question, Amanda Harris, who played Katherine in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1993 production, said as much in an open forum at the Shakespeare Centre in Stratford-upon-Avon during the play's run.

  7. Compare Susan Penhaligon's comments on Bianca, whom she played in the BBC production: “I wanted to make as much as I could of Bianca and I realised that she is as strong as Kate but had probably dealt with the family situation better than Kate; she'd learned to get her own way by smiling, by being a bit sweeter, but in the fight scene she fights just as hard! … Bianca sees this goodlooking guy and decides that's what she wants, but once she's married to him she's going to be the boss. She turns out to be the shrew and she'll treat him very badly” (the BBC edition, 21).

  8. See Rolf Soellner, Shakespeare's Patterns of Self-Knowledge (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1972). Although Soellner does not treat The Shrew in detail, compare his analysis in chapter 4: “The Comedy of Errors: Losing and Finding Oneself,” 62-77. In “Shakespeare's Romantic Shrew,” Shakespeare Quarterly 11 (1960): 351-56, Charles Brooks compares Adriana and Kate. Compare also Fiona Shaw's comment: “After a while, when people are calling you a shrew, you start living the name. … So by the time we meet [Kate] she is somebody whose identity is linked to her behaviour” (Clamorous Voices, 8).

  9. Compare Slights, “The Raw,” 178: “We know that, although Petruchio decided to marry Kate sight unseen because she was rich, when he meets her he in fact responds to the actual woman.”

  10. For an analysis of this scene that emphasizes game-playing, see Marianne Novy, Love's Argument (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 47-49. Compare Slights, “The Raw,” 177-78, who argues that Petruccio wins the contest of wit.

  11. Sarah Badel, who plays Kate in the BBC production, says: “I think she's driven by fear—the overriding fear of being an old maid. … Then when she does meet a man who is for her there's the fear of the feelings he produces in her for the first time in her life. Something's got to give. … Petruchio is the only man who shows her what she's like. He is the man who stands in front of her and she goes Whack! across the face and he says, OK, but if you do it again you'll get Whack! from me: She's at liberty to do it again—he can take anything she cares to dish out, and therefore she's safe for the first time in her life. He doesn't in the least enjoy the fisticuffs but in her screams and howls and exhibitions she's making of herself he sees what others don't and he has to get through all that because he loves her” (BBC edition, 25). Compare Brooks, “Shakespeare's Romantic Shrew,” 352: Kate “is determined to be nobody's fool, and her tongue is her best defense. … She can never be bound in marriage to an inferior man for whom her sense of her own worth would allow her to feel only contempt, for the inferior men are easily scared away; she can be submissive and happy only with a man who proves to have a superior mind and spirit.”

  12. See, for example, H. J. Oliver's note to his edition of the play in the Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 150; David Bevington's in The Complete Works, 4th ed. (New York: Longman, 1997), 126; and Dolan's in her edition, 83.

  13. As an indication of Katherine's real feelings about men, see her speech at 2.1.31-36, where she fears she may have to dance barefoot at her sister's wedding—the proverbial fate of an elder sister when a younger marries first—and then lead apes in hell—the proverbial fate of an old maid (Oliver). Compare Fiona Shaw, in Clamorous Voices, 10: “Kate talks a lot about marriage and seems to want to get married, but she wouldn't marry those snot-rags Gremio and Hortensio, Bianca's suitors, and she knows they wouldn't marry her either. But you've got to believe that she's not mad, that she would marry someone who was marriageable.” On Petruccio's tactics, see Goddard's analysis, Meaning of Shakespeare, 70.

  14. Modern editions include an addition to the original stage direction, “severally” or “separately.” But what warrant is there for this addition? The Folio reads simply “Exit Petruchio and Katherine.” For an analysis of the wooing in this scene and confirmation that Kate's silence lends consent, see Ann Jennalie Cook, Making a Match: Courtship in Shakespeare and His Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991), 169-70.

  15. Compare Bianca's comment: “That being mad herself she's madly mated”; to which Gremio responds, “I warrant him, Petruccio is Kated” (3.3.116-17).

  16. As Fiona Shaw says, Petruccio's costume “should be monstrous, insulting, threatening—and a mirror for Kate to see herself in” (Clamorous Voices, 12).

  17. See Novy, Love's Argument, 54: “now Kate seems more like a partner in the game rather than an object used in it,” and Dolan, Texts and Contexts, 31. Compare Hortensio's remark: “Petruccio, go thy ways. The field is won” (4.6.24).

  18. See Slights, “The Raw,” 181-83, for Petruccio's handling of conventions and what it teaches Kate.

  19. See Lynda Boose, “The Comic Contract and Portia's Golden Ring,” Shakespeare Studies 20 (1988): 245. Boose comments on the ancient practice, which also involved a wife prostrating herself before her husband, as found in an annotated copy of the Sarum Manual. Although the practice had been banished years earlier, superseded by the ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer, which prohibited it, the ritual was probably still observed at some times and places, since ritual is notoriously resistant to change. In any case, Shakespeare's audience would have recognized Katherine's offer as an allusion to church ceremony, however anachronistically. Boose further notes that when the husband raised his wife from her prone position, it may have dramatized her symbolic rebirth into a new identity. Boose also comments that the “missing bracket” of the Sly Frame is not necessary, for reasons quite different from those I have proposed: “in a world constructed around patriarchal marriage, Kate's concession is the mediator required for success of the social, and hence also the comic, bond” (ibid.).

  20. Cook, Making a Match, 172, comments: “The marriage remains unconsummated for a week, nightly lectures on chastity substituting for a proper bedding.” Compare Coppélia Kahn's comment on the ending (Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981], 114): “Shakespeare wants to make us feel that Kate has not been bought or sold, but has given herself out of love.”

Sarah Hemming (review date 23 August 2003)

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SOURCE: Hemming, Sarah. “Girls Know How to Have Fun with Shakespeare.” Financial Times (23 August 2003): 8.

[In the following review of Phyllida Lloyd's 2003 Globe Theatre production of The Taming of the Shrew, Hemming contends that while Lloyd's all-female production “sacrifices subtlety and depth,” it “relishes the broad comedy of the play.”]

It was perhaps asking too much of fate to put a man at the helm of the Globe's all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare's notorious, apparently misogynist comedy. At all events, it was not to be. The original director, Barry Kyle, departed during rehearsals, and Phyllida Lloyd stepped in to try to tame The Shrew.

And what a play for the all-woman company to choose. This is the comedy that has the wayward Kate so brought to heel by the domineering Petruchio that she urges others of her sex to place their hands beneath their husbands' boots—a sentiment that would make even the most faint-hearted feminist burn holes in her spouse's smalls.

Rather than struggle with this troublesome piece, however, the girls' strategy is to have fun with it. Striding about the stage in doublet and hose, the cast adopts its male personas with relish, slapping each other on the back, drumming the table and lounging with their legs apart—in short, enjoying all the laddish behaviour that would still be thought unladylike today.

It works a treat. Rather than hammer home the fact that the men's attitudes are outrageous—for this is a play above all about the marriage market—it gently sends them up. It neatly puts Petruchio's behaviour into context; for while his determination to bludgeon Kate into submission may be shocking, it is at least honest, making the haggling among her sister's suitors come across as grubby. It also reminds us that everyone in the piece is disguising themselves, putting on an act, playing the part expected in the mating game.

Into all this strides Janet McTeer's Petruchio with a wild sort of integrity. McTeer makes a smashing Petruchio and has a ball with the part. She makes her entrance still groping a lusty wench from the night before, delivers her first speech fiddling with her breeches and before long is relieving herself against a column. Her swaggering bravado is absurdly comical, yet believable enough.

McTeer is delightfully paired with Kathryn Hunter as Kate. This Kate is a match for her man. Hunter plays her transformation beautifully and delivers the infamous final speech with such heartfelt sincerity that Petruchio actually weeps, until he realises she has beaten him at his own game.

This is a production that relishes the broad comedy of the play. It sacrifices subtlety and depth, which detracts from the lasting power of the play and means that we miss out on its deeper humanity. But it's fun while it lasts and, as the play so ably demonstrates, it's almost impossible to tame The Shrew completely.

Toby Young (review date 31 January 2004)

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SOURCE: Young, Toby. “A Couple of Misfits.” Spectator 294, no. 9156 (31 January 2004): 65.

[In the following excerpt, a comparative review of Gregory Doran's productions of The Taming of the Shrew and John Fletcher's sequel, The Tamer Tamed, Young criticizes the director's politically correct interpretations.]

Why is it that Shakespeare, above all playwrights, is constantly harnessed to the holy cows of the day? In the eyes of most directors, his plays aren't the repositories of universal truths, but simply a means to communicate their Most Cherished and Deeply Held Beliefs, i.e., the fashionable cant of the moment. Thus, last year Nicholas Hytner gave us an anti-war Henry V and now Gregory Doran brings us a touchy-feely, sentimental interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew. What's next? A version of Titus Andronicus designed to promote peace, love and understanding?

In fairness to Gregory Doran, he's probably the greatest Shakespearean director working today. I adored his Much Ado About Nothing. I'm looking forward to his All's Well That Ends Well and I'm seriously considering making a trip to Stratford to see his Othello, which promises to be one of the highlights of the RSC's new season. Unlike so many other contemporary Shakespeare directors—Edward Hall, for instance—he has a gift for making the plays accessible without sacrificing any of their depth or subtlety.

On the face of it, there's much to enjoy in this production of The Taming of the Shrew as well. It rattles along at a tremendous pace and every last drop of laughter is squeezed out of the text. The performances, particularly those of the two leads, Jasper Britton and Alexandra Gilbreath, are excellent, and there's fine supporting work from Ian Gelder, Rory Kinnear and Christopher Godwin.

The problem is, Doran has made far too many concessions to the egalitarian sensibilities of modern theatregoers. George Bernard Shaw famously said of the play that ‘no man with any decency of feeling can sit it out in the company of a woman without being extremely ashamed …’, and even Michael Bogdanov's famous modern-dress production in 1979 didn't go far enough to allay the anxieties of some critics. ‘My own feeling is that it should be put back firmly and squarely on the shelf,’ concluded the Guardian's Michael Billington.

Doran has got round the usual objection to the play, namely that it is unabashedly misogynistic, by presenting it as a touching love story in which two social misfits, each nursing a cluster of psychological wounds, find salvation in each other's arms. In this light, the taming scenes in which Petruchio tortures Katherine, and the final scene, in which she abases herself at his feet, are just a form of role-playing, not so different from the sadomasochistic games a modern couple might act out for their mutual gratification.

As a strategy for de-fanging The Taming of the Shrew, this is identical to the one used in a recent Hollywood film based on the play called 10 Things I Hate About You, but Doran clearly doesn't think he's gone far enough. In addition, this production is running in rep with The Tamer Tamed, a proto-feminist sequel written by John Fletcher. In this follow-up, Katherine dies and Petruchio takes a second wife in the form of Maria, a woman who gives him a taste of his own medicine. Seen in conjunction, the two plays can leave no one in any doubt as to Doran's own sexual politics. He seems to be saying, ‘I may have had the temerity to direct The Taming of the Shrew, but please don't think of me as politically incorrect. I'm really terribly modern and enlightened.’ If only he'd had the temerity to risk giving offence.

Further Reading

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Andresen-Thom, Martha. “Shrew-taming and Other Rituals of Aggression: Baiting and Bonding on the Stage and in the Wild.” Women's Studies 9, no. 2 (1982): 121-43.

Discusses the reception of The Taming of the Shrew among modern students and audiences in an era of post-feminism.

Barnett, Louise K. “Ovid and The Taming of the Shrew.Ball State University Forum 20, no. 3 (summer 1979): 16-22.

Maintains that the influence of Ovid's writings on The Taming of the Shrew has been overlooked by many critics.

Cioni, Fernando. “Shakespeare's Italian Intertexts: The Taming of the/a Shrew.” In Shakespeare and Intertextuality: The Transition of Cultures Between Italy and England in the Early Modern Period, edited by Michele Marrapodi, pp. 149-61. Rome, Italy: Bulzoni Editore, 2000.

Examines the relationship between Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, the anonymous 1594 quarto titled The Taming of a Shrew, and Plautus's Mostellaria.

Cooper, Marilyn M. “Implicature, Convention, and The Taming of the Shrew.Poetics 10 (1981): 1-14.

Explores the verbal performances of the characters in The Taming of the Shrew based on the theories of philosopher Paul Grice.

Culpepper, 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.

Analyzes the characterization of Katherina using cognitive theories of knowledge and impression formation.

Dessen, Alan C. “The Tamings of the Shrews.” In Shakespeare's Sweet Thunder: Essays on the Early Comedies, edited by Michael J. Collins, pp. 35-49. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997.

Contends that the version of The Taming of the Shrew that is produced today is faithful to neither the 1594 version of The Taming of a Shrew that appeared in the 1596 and 1607 quartos, nor the 1623 version from the First Folio.

Dolan, Frances E. Introduction to The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts, pp. 1-38. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Surveys a wide range of thematic possibilities in The Taming of the Shrew.

Fineman, Joel. “The Turn of the Shrew.” In William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 93-113. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.

Discusses The Taming of the Shrew as a seemingly subversive text that, in the end, reaffirms the established order in terms of gender relations.

Gussenhoven, Frances, Sr. “Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and Chaucer's Wife of Bath: The Struggle for Marital Mastery.” In Chaucerian Shakespeare: Adaptation and Transformation, edited by E. Talbot Donaldson and Judith J. Kollmann, pp. 69-79. Detroit: Marygrove College, 1983.

Suggests that although Chaucer's Wife of Bath is often compared to Shakespeare's Katherina, she actually has more in common with Petruchio.

Kehler, Dorothea. “Echoes of the Induction in The Taming of the Shrew.” In Renaissance Papers (1986): 31-42.

Speculates on the effect of The Taming of the Shrew on the female audience members of Shakespeare's time.

Mannion, Kristina. Review of The Taming of the Shrew.Back Stage West 7, no. 32 (10 August 2000): 18.

Discusses the directors Dave Barton and David Gallo's 2000 Rude Guerrilla Theater Company's staging of The Taming of the Shrew at the Empire Theater in Santa Ana, California, featuring women playing male characters and men in the female roles.

McGlone, James P. “Shakespeare's Intent in The Taming of the Shrew.Wascana Review 13, no. 2 (fall 1978): 79-88.

Claims that The Taming of the Shrew works better in performance than as a written text.

Mikesell, Margaret Lael. “‘Love Wrought These Miracles’: Marriage and Genre in The Taming of the Shrew.Renaissance Drama n. s. 20 (1989): 141-67.

Compares Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew with his sources in both New Comedy and the tradition of shrew-taming tales.

Perret, Marion. “A Hair of the Shrew. …” University of Hartford Studies in Literature 11, no. 1 (1979): 36-40.

Examines Petruchio's role as an amateur homeopathic practitioner attempting to “cure” Katherina of her shrewishness.


The Taming of the Shrew Literary Criticism (Vol. 77)