Introductory Lecture and Objectives

The Taming of the Shrew eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

One of Shakespeare’s earlier plays and published for the first time in the First Folio (1623), The Taming of the Shrew was a success with audiences when it was originally performed. Its main plot focuses on the “taming” of Katherine—a woman no one will marry because of her strong personality and sharp tongue. Petruchio, eager for a challenge and for Kate’s sizable dowry, sets out to wed Kate and make her into an obedient wife. The secondary plot concerns the love affair of Lucentio and Bianca—the latter of whom is courted by several men and controlled by a dominant father, leading Lucentio to resort to disguise and deceit in order to make Bianca his own.

Shakespeare structures The Taming of the Shrew as a play within a play. Preceding the appearance of any of the central characters, audience members watch the Induction—explanatory scenes that stand apart from the main action—in which a drunken member of the working class, Christopher Sly, is the subject of a lord’s elaborate joke: If Sly is treated as a lord and told he is a lord, will he believe it? As part of the ruse, the lord compels Sly to watch a play performed by a traveling troupe; thus the stories of Kate and Petruchio and of Lucentio and Bianca are framed through the eyes of Christopher Sly. “Induction,” therefore, takes on a double meaning, as will so many words throughout the play. Sly is being “inducted” into the aristocracy, just as the audience is introduced to the play’s action. Shakespeare also seems keen to remind his audience they are only watching a play, not real life, and they should not take anything at face value.

The Elizabethan audience who first watched The Taming of the Shrew would have expected an enormous imbalance of power in any marital relationship. Men were firmly entrenched as heads of their households, and women were subservient. By the Elizabethan period, the “shrew” had become a well-established stereotype. A comic figure in popular farces and tales, she also acted as an admonitory symbol of “unnatural” women who did not recognize their subservient place in a male-dominated society. So common was her type that among the fifteenth-century wood carvings in the choir stalls of Shakespeare’s own church (Holy Trinity in Stratford), there’s a carving of a woman known as the “bridled scold”: She has a bit in her mouth to punish her for shrewishness. Thus, Shakespeare’s audience would have laughed at Petruchio’s treatment of Kate and probably would have agreed with the other characters that any abuse she receives from Petruchio or any other man is well deserved.

It goes without saying that gender roles have changed significantly in the four centuries since The Taming of the Shrew was first performed. What is less obvious is why the play has endured despite its outdated premise. The answer may lie in Shakespeare’s original intent for the play. Did he mean for the play to be taken at face value—or is it a typical Shakespearean comedy filled with characters whose behavior the audience could learn from and laugh at? Educated Elizabethans knew that comedies, in accordance with classical theory, were supposed to mirror ridiculous human behavior that the audience should not emulate. Did he intend it as a farce, wherein behaviors are so exaggerated and ridiculous that the audience is free to laugh without taking the characters and their dilemmas seriously—or did he intentionally include elements to suggest that Kate’s “taming” could be interpreted as the death of a free spirit?

Some critics have pointed to the way the play is framed as a sign that Shakespeare was signaling to his audience that the whole play is just a play and that they shouldn’t take its message seriously. Critics also have pointed to a famous passage wherein Petruchio, during the light of day, tells Kate, “I say it is the moon that shines so bright.” Kate corrects him, “I know it is the sun that shines so bright.” Undeterred, Petruchio says, “Now, by my mother’s son, and that’s myself, / It shall be moon, or star, or what I list.” Petruchio’s assertion is plainly ridiculous. Does Shakespeare mean to indicate that Petruchio, too, is ridiculous?

Regardless of Shakespeare’s original intent, directors have seized many opportunities to take the language of the play and make the meaning their own, which also may contribute to its endurance. In Kate’s speech at the end of the play, she concedes to her husband’s authority, but how she delivers that speech speaks more powerfully to the efficacy of her “taming” than the words can. Is she speaking sarcastically, and thus mocking Petruchio in front of others—or is she speaking somberly, showing an awareness that she knows what she says isn’t true, but she is trapped and hopelessly dominated by her husband? Is she showing she can live in society and act with dignity now that someone values her—or is this a moment of growth and affection, wherein Kate and Petruchio are working as partners in their own ridiculous world? Directors can interpret Petruchio’s role in different ways, as well. He can be presented as a frightening man who abuses his wife or as Kate’s equal, an intelligent match for an intelligent woman. Although the dialogue never changes, their relationship, like their characters, is subject to interpretation; it can be seen as serious or humorous and presented as such on the stage, depending on how the actors physically interact with each another and in what manner they deliver their lines.

Though The Taming of the Shrew is not performed as frequently as several of Shakespeare’s plays, it has endured nonetheless; it has been produced on the modern stage and adapted in television programs and motion pictures. It inspired a popular 1948 musical by Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate, which was subsequently made into a movie in 1953. Though Christopher Sly doesn’t appear, the plot nevertheless follows Shakespeare’s play-within-a-play structure, as a production company struggles to put on a musical production of The Taming of the Shrew. As the liberties taken in Kiss Me Kate show, The Taming of the Shrew may in fact endure because of the freedom it gives its directors, actors, and audience to make it their own. This may have been Shakespeare’s intent all along.

By the end of the unit the student will be able to:

1. Determine why The Taming of the Shrew has endured throughout time.

2. Describe the play’s two central conflicts.

3. Identify the primary themes and motifs.

4. Define and describe the roles of the ideal woman, the ideal man, and the ideal couple in the play.

5. Explain Shakespeare’s possible motivation for framing the play with the Induction scenes.

6. Describe the forms of disguise and manipulation used in the play.

7. Discuss the different interpretations of Kate’s transformation.

8. Explain the role of the servant and how Tranio and Grumio embody that role differently.

9. Understand how alliteration, puns, classical allusions, metaphors, and similes contribute to the meaning of the play.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Study Guide

• The Study Guide is organized for an act-by-act study of the play. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.

• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each act and to acquaint them generally with its content.

• Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.

• Study Guide vocabulary...

(The entire section is 779 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. Petruchio says of his proposed union with Kate, “Where two raging fires meet together / They do consume the thing that feeds their fury.” Is he right? Do two strong personalities typically cancel each other out?

2. Kate’s willful behavior at the beginning of the play is viewed disparagingly by the other characters, and Shakespeare’s audience most likely agreed with them. How would it be viewed today? Can you think of any situation where outspoken women are still considered “shrews”?

3. Why might Kate be so outspoken, compared to the “ideal” woman? What might have made her strong-willed instead of compliant?

4. The different ways...

(The entire section is 552 words.)

Induction, Scene One


anon: archaic shortly

an’t: archaic if it

baggage: archaic an immoral woman, especially a prostitute

balm: archaic to bathe

charge: order

counsel: to give advice to someone

induction: an introductory act in a play (in context)

loathsome: causing hatred or disgust

obeisance: respectful behavior

rogue: a dishonest person

stocks: an instrument of punishment in which arms and legs are confined

swine: a person regarded with disgust (in context)

want: lack

Study Questions


(The entire section is 543 words.)

Induction, Scene Two


Apollo: Greek mythology god of music

bestraught: archaic out of my mind

Cytherea: Greek mythology alternate name for Venus, goddess of love

hawking: hunting with hawks

tinker: a person who travels from place to place mending pans, kettles, and other metal utensils as a way of making a living

Study Questions

1. Describe Sly’s evolution from disbelieving his elevated station to accepting it. What finally convinces him to accept he is a lord?

When Sly first awakens, he is completely convinced he is himself; he references his livelihood, his heritage, and even people in his life who could vouch that he is who...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Act One, Scene One


Aristotle: ancient Greek philosopher who established strict rules to keep tragedy and comedy separate

bestow: to give in marriage

dowry: a bride’s family’s gift to her bridegroom

grave: archaic learned

importune: to urge

Minerva: goddess of wisdom

mi perdonato: Italian pardon me

Ovid: a Latin poet whose writing was both comedic and sophisticated

pantaloon: a character in Italian comedy (a very thin man of advanced years who is easily tricked)

plash: archaic pool

stoic: noun someone who is unemotional, especially...

(The entire section is 919 words.)

Act One, Scene Two


brawl: to fight noisily

chide: scold or rebuke

come roundly: to speak plainly

compound: archaic to settle

ere: before

fray: noun a situation of intense activity

Hercules: Greek mythology hero who carried out twelve impossible tasks

in jest: archaic as a joke

irksome: annoying

knock: to hit repeatedly; to strike with a hard blow

Leda’s daughter: Helen of Troy, thought to be the most beautiful woman in the world

liberality: generosity

scold: noun a person who rebukes others


(The entire section is 824 words.)

Act Two, Scene One


affability: state of being good-natured

chafe: to annoy

conformable: compliant, obedient

crave: to demand (in context)

cuff: to hit

dainties: delicacies (in context)

dissemble: to put on a false appearance; to conceal one’s true motives, feelings, or beliefs

extempore: without rehearsing

flout: to show contempt for a law or convention by openly disobeying it

fret: noun a ridge on a fingerboard such as that of a guitar or sitar

haste: great speed

hilding: archaic good-for-nothing

lusty: archaic lively

lute: a plucked string...

(The entire section is 1365 words.)

Act Three, Scene One


chamber: archaic a private room

conster: to translate

forbear: to hold back from something

gamut: the musical scale

jars: quarrels

knave: archaic a dishonest or unscrupulous man

ordained: created

pedant: a schoolmaster

pedascule: a little pedant (see definition for pedant, above)

pithy: brief and to the point

prays: archaic requests

stale: a decoy, a false lover (in context)

withal: archaic with

Study Questions

1. What is the relationship between Lucentio and...

(The entire section is 563 words.)

Act Three, Scene Two


accoutrements: clothes

armoury: a place where arms (weapons) are kept

caparisoned: to be decked out in ornamental coverings

carouse: to drink plentiful amounts of alcohol

clamorous: noisily insistent

digress: to leave the main subject temporarily

forsooth: archaic in truth

jerkin: a close-fitting jacket

lackey: a servant

prodigy: a person endowed with exceptional abilities at a young age

quoth: archaic said

staggers: noun a disease of farm animals characterized by loss of balance

tedious: tiresome because of dullness or length


(The entire section is 698 words.)

Act Four, Scene One


bemoiled: covered with mud

beseech: to implore, to entreat

bolster: a long, thick pillow placed under other pillows for support

choler: anger

cock’s passion: by God’s passion (in context)

continency: self-restraint, especially in sexual matters

cony-catching: archaic trickery

coverlet: a bedspread

crupper: a strap used on horses to keep a saddle from sliding forward

dresser: a kitchen table on which food is prepared (in context)

inprimis: Latin first

lure: noun something that tempts or is used to tempt a person or animal to do something


(The entire section is 778 words.)

Act Four, Scene Two


credulous: showing too great a readiness to believe things

cullion: archaic a contemptible person

durst: archaic dared

fancy: verb to feel a desire for

forswear: archaic to reject

lusty: full of energy

marry: archaic an expression of surprise or indignation

mercatante: archaic an Italian merchant

quarrel: an angry argument or disagreement

repute: verb to consider

wonderful: extraordinary (in context)

Study Questions


(The entire section is 308 words.)

Act Four, Scene Three


adder: a small, venomous snake

alms: money or food given to poor people

amort: dispirited (in context)

apace: quickly

belike: archaic perhaps

braved: archaic defied

deluding: deceiving

entreat: to ask someone earnestly or anxiously to do something

ere: archaic before

ergo: Latin therefore

famish: archaic to cause to starve to death

farthingale: a hooped petticoat

frolic: verb to be joyous

gallant: archaic a man who pays special...

(The entire section is 743 words.)

Act Four, Scene Four


affied: archaic formally engaged

appendix: an appendage; a book (both definitions apply in context)

austerity: sternness

countenance: the face or an expression

curious: archaic particular, awkward

dally: to waste time

dissemble: to conceal

expound: to present and explain

haply: archaic perhaps

hie: archaic hurry

‘longeth (belongeth): archaic belongs

pittance: a very small amount (in context, a very small amount of food)

schooled: trained in a particular skill

scriv’ner (scrivener):...

(The entire section is 295 words.)

Act Four, Scene Five


beseem: archaic befit

bias: the weight in a ball that enables it to be bowled in a curve (in context)

entitle: to give a legal right

evermore: always

goodly: archaic attractive

grandsire: archaic grandfather

have to: archaic now for

rush-candle: archaic a candle dipped in wax

spangle: to sprinkle with shiny particles

untoward: inappropriate

Study Questions

1. What game with regard to the sun and the moon does Petruchio play with Kate? What is his purpose?


(The entire section is 584 words.)

Act Five, Scene One


bleared: archaic made dim

copatain: archaic high-crowned

cozen: to cheat

crack-hemp: a rogue who deserves to be hanged (in context)

dotard: an old fool

doublet: a man’s short-fitting padded jacket

forthcoming: ready when wanted (in context)

haven: a place of safety or refuge

spoiled: ruined

thither: archaic toward that place

withal: archaic in addition

Study Questions

1. How does Biondello greet Vincentio? Why?

Biondello swears that he does not recognize...

(The entire section is 811 words.)

Act Five, Scene Two


afeard: archaic frightened

amiable: displaying a friendly manner

awful: archaic worthy of respect

bauble: a trinket that is small and decorative but of little real value

bereft: archaic deprived or lacking something

bodes: foretells

conferring: discussing

currish: dog-like

deign: to do something one believes is beneath one’s dignity

galled: archaic angered

goodly: considerable in size or quantity

jarring: archaic disagreeing

meads: archaic meadows


(The entire section is 1219 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. Christopher Sly could best be described as

A. drunk but reasonable.

B. drunk and argumentative.

C. shrewd and cunning.

D. angry and bitter.

E. refined but rough around the edges.

2. The lord plans to deceive Sly by

A. pretending the players were sent by the queen.

B. telling him they are brothers.

C. making him believe he is a lord.

D. cutting his hair while he sleeps.

E. telling him they are best friends.


(The entire section is 1552 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Through various characters, Shakespeare raises an interesting question: Can the actions of others lead people to believe they are not themselves? Explain how this question is explored in the play and how Shakespeare answers it. Support your discussion with evidence from the text.

The idea of confusing a person’s sense of personal identity is introduced in the Induction when the lord—who is looking for laughs and entertainment—takes the drunk and unconscious Christopher Sly into his home and decides to play a trick on him. If Sly is treated as a lord, surrounded by servants and fine possessions and told he has forgotten who he is, will he believe he actually is a lord? Can Sly be convinced he is someone...

(The entire section is 3111 words.)