The Taming of the Shrew Summary

The Taming of the Shrew is a play by William Shakespeare in which the wealthy Molina sisters become embroiled in romantic conflicts.

  • Bianca Molina has many suitors, but her father insists that her shrewish older sister Katherine marry first.
  • Lucentio trades clothes with his servant so he can woo Bianca directly by posing as a tutor.
  • Petruchio marries Katherine in hopes of helping his friend Hortensio marry Bianca. He attempts to make Katherine obedient by depriving her of food and sleep.
  • Lucentio and Bianca marry secretly. Hortensio marries a rich widow.
  • Katherine wins a contest to determine the most obedient wife, having been tamed by Petruchio.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1638

Written between 1590 and 1592, Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy about the unconventional marriage between Petruchio and Katherine. Disreputable Petruchio is paid to woo cantankerous Katherine so that her younger sister, Bianca, is eligible for marriage. Through a series of cruel psychological games, Petruchio attempts to tame the shrewish Katherine into becoming a model wife. Though presented as a comedy, The Taming of the Shrew is a controversial play for modern audiences. Some view it as a relic of antiquated gender roles, while others view it as a quirky love story between two stubborn, strong-willed characters.

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Induction

The induction takes place before the first act of the play. It is cut from many performances as it has little bearing on the rest of the play. The induction introduces Christopher Sly, a drunken beggar. Sly falls asleep in a local tavern just as a great lord comes back from his hunt. The lord and his men decide to play a prank on Sly: they will pretend that Sly is a great lord who lost his mind. They move the beggar to the lord’s chambers and hire a traveling band of actors to perform a play for Sly when he wakes up. The Taming of the Shrew is the play that the actors perform.

Act I

Act I opens as Lucentio and his servant, Tranio, arrive in Padua. Lucentio, a merchant’s son, has come to Padua to study philosophy. As they discuss Lucentio’s studies, Baptista and his two daughters, Bianca and Katherine, enter and are followed by two of Bianca’s suitors, Gremio and Hortensio. The two suitors long to marry Bianca, but Baptista refuses to marry off his younger daughter until the elder, Katherine, is wed. Neither man wants to take on this challenge as Katherine is notoriously ill-tempered. As Lucentio and Tranio watch the argument unfold, Lucentio finds himself enamored with Bianca’s mild modesty. He convinces Tranio to switch clothes with him so that he can pretend to be a school teacher and woo Bianca in disguise. Tranio agrees to the plan, as he is bound by his love for Lucentio and a promise to Lucentio’s father to be obedient.

Meanwhile, Petruchio and his servant Grumio arrive in Padua to visit Petruchio’s friend Hortensio. Petruchio tells Hortensio that he left Verona after his father died and is in search of a wife. Hortensio proposes that Petruchio should marry Katherine. He argues that even though Katherine is ill-tempered, she is very rich. Petruchio agrees to this plan, since his main motivation is to marry a rich woman to obtain wealth. He claims not to care how horrible Katharine is as long as he can marry into money. He also agrees to help Hortensio disguise himself as Litio, a music teacher, so that he can secretly woo Bianca. Gremio and Lucentio, who is now disguised as Cambio the language teacher, enter. Hortensio tells Gremio about his plan to have Petruchio marry Katherine, and the men all agree that it is a good plan. Finally, Tranio enters, disguised as Lucentio, and asks the way to Baptista’s house. He is pretending to be a suitor to Bianca in order to distract Baptista from the real Lucentio’s deception.

Act II

As act II begins, Katherine binds Bianca’s hands and torments her about her suitors. Assuming Katherine is jealous, Bianca agrees to give Katherine any suitor that she wishes to have. Katherine strikes her as Baptista enters. Baptista frees Bianca and confronts his elder daughter. Then, Petruchio and all of Bianca’s suitors enter. Petruchio introduces himself to Baptista and expresses his desire to marry Katherine, claiming that he has heard about her good nature and sweetness. Baptista is surprised and warns Petruchio that Katherine is not as he has described. Baptista still welcomes Petruchio, as he knows Petruchio’s father well. Baptista tells Petruchio that he can marry Katherine only if she decides that she loves him in return. Petruchio then presents the disguised Hortensio as a music teacher named Litio, and Gremio presents the disguised Lucentio as a teacher of languages named Cambio. Baptista agrees that both men will teach Bianca.

When Petruchio and Katherine meet, they exchange witty dialogue and rapid insults. Petruchio has met his match in Katherine’s sharp mind. She is not as impressed with Petruchio. She denounces him to her father as a “madcap.” Yet, Petruchio convinces Baptista to give him Katherine’s hand in marriage. He tells Baptista that Katherine loves him but has decided to pretend to hate him in public. The marriage date is set and then Baptista hears dowry offers from both Gremio and Tranio, who is disguised as Lucentio. Baptista asks the disguised Tranio why he came to woo Bianca. Tranio tells him that his father is Vicentio of Pisa. Since Vicentio is famous, Baptista accepts Tranio’s suit. Tranio wins out against Gremio in guaranteeing a higher dowry for Bianca. Baptista agrees to allow the disguised Tranio to marry Bianca as long as Vincentio, Lucentio’s father, guarantees the dowry. Tranio sets out to find someone to pretend to be Vincentio.

Act III

Act III begins with Lucentio and Hortensio both in disguise as Bianca’s teachers, trying to woo her. Hortensio, unaware of Lucentio’s true identity, is offended by Bianca’s affection for Lucentio. He believes Lucentio is a teacher and below Bianca’s social class. Hortensio decides that he will abandon his pursuit of her if she reciprocates the lesser man’s advances.

Petruchio and Katherine’s wedding gets off to a rocky start: Petruchio shows up late, dressed in ridiculous clothing. He claims that Katherine should not care about his clothing, as she is marrying the man and not what he wears. Petruchio swears at the priest during the ceremony, causing the priest to drop his Bible in surprise. When Petruchio goes to kiss Katherine, he kisses her so forcefully that the sound of their kiss echoes in the church. His actions are purposefully inappropriate. Not only does he behave rudely towards Katherine, but he also refuses to attend the dinner celebration after the wedding. He drags Katherine off to his country estate while the rest of the wedding party stays to enjoy the dinner celebration without them.

Act IV

Act IV takes place in the countryside at Petruchio’s estate. Grumio tells a fellow servant, Curtis, about the journey back from Padua. It was a rocky journey in which Petruchio and Katherine fought and Grumio was punished for everything that went wrong. When Katherine’s horse stumbled, Petruchio would beat Grumio.

When the couple arrives at the house, they are met by Petruchio’s servants and a banquet. Katherine is very hungry, but Petruchio seems to take issue with everything. He claims that the food is burned and throws it to the floor. He abuses his servants physically and verbally. When he and Katherine finally go to bed, Petruchio comes back on stage to tell the audience that he intends to break Katherine by starving her and preventing her from sleeping, just like a falconer tames a falcon.

Back in Padua, Hortensio, disguised as Litio, and Tranio, disguised as Lucentio, spy on Cambio, who is really Lucentio, and Bianca’s lesson. They witness Bianca and Cambio kiss. Horrified, Hortensio reveals his identity and rejects Bianca. He resolves to marry a rich widow instead and sets off for Petruchio’s house in the country. Tranio finds a traveling merchant to play the role of Vincentio in order to ensure Bianca’s dowry.

Meanwhile, Katherine is suffering at Petruchio’s house. Grumio keeps promising to bring her food that never arrives. Petruchio finally brings her food, but he demands that she thank him in return. When people arrive to prepare Katherine’s hat and dress for Bianca’s wedding, Petruchio sends them away. He tells Katherine that they will not go to Bianca’s wedding unless she agrees with everything that Petruchio says, even if what he says is evidently wrong; Petruchio praises the moonlight in the middle of the day, and Katherine must agree with him that the sun is the moon. During their journey, Petruchio and Katherine meet the real Vincentio and travel with him to Padua.

Baptista believes that the merchant impersonating Vincentio is the real man and agrees to marry Bianca to Tranio, who is disguised as Lucentio. Baptista sends Cambio, who is the real Lucentio, to tell Bianca the good news. With everything arranged properly for the marriage, Bianca and the real Lucentio elope.

Act V

In act V, Petruchio, Katherine, and the real Vincentio arrive at Lucentio’s house only to be met by the fake Vincentio and Tranio, who is still disguised as Lucentio. Chaos ensues and the real Vincentio is almost arrested. However, the real Lucentio arrives just in time to explain everything. He reveals all of the disguises and begs his father, Vincentio, to pardon him for eloping without his consent. Vincentio assures Baptista that the dowry will be paid and all will be well.

The play concludes at the wedding banquet held in Lucentio and Bianca’s honor. Hortensio and Lucentio tease Petruchio about being married to a shrew. So, Petruchio wagers a bet: each man will summon his wife, and Petruchio claims that Katherine will be the most obedient. Each man summons his wife and Bianca and the widow refuse to come. Katherine comes immediately. When she arrives, Petruchio instructs her to go gather the other two wives. Katherine brings Bianca and the widow to their husbands and proceeds to lecture them about wifely duties. Petruchio says the famous line “kiss me Kate” and then the couple exits. The final two lines are spoken by Hortensio and Lucentio, who wonder at how Katherine was tamed.

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