The taming of the shrew, written, possibly, in 1593 or 1594, is a play within a play. At least it starts out so with what Shakespeare calls an "Induction" ("Introduction") representing the frame within which the play proper is presented.
… Richard Conqueror
The Induction begins with Christopher Sly, more than half drunk, being thrown out of an alehouse by an irate landlady who demands money for the glasses he has broken; money he refuses to pay.
With the owlish gravity of drunkenness, he rejects the names she calls him. He says:
… the Slys are no rogues.
Look in the chronicles: we came in with Richard Conqueror.
– Induction, scene i, lines 3-4
Christopher Sly is, as he says later, a tinker, a profession lost to the modern world. A tinker was a solderer and repairer of kettles, pots, and other such household metalware, the name of the profession coming from the tink-tink of a small hammer against the utensil.
It did not take much capital or much intelligence to be a tinker, and while tinkers acted as though they were general handy men, they usually couldn't go much beyond solder or a nail, so that we now have the verb "to tinker," meaning "to fiddle with, rather unskillfully."
Tinkers could scarcely make a living if they sat in one place and waited for neighbors' kettles to come apart. They were usually itinerant, carrying their few tools on their backs and going from village to village. They were distrusted, as strangers usually are, and perhaps a number of them used the tinker's equipment only as a blind and were really beggars, or even smalltime thieves and con men. At any rate, tinkers were traditionally considered rascals and rogues.
Christopher Sly, then, being a tinker, and showing himself in costume and action to be an utter no-account, is amusing in claiming to be descended from one of the Norman barons who conquered England in the eleventh century.
What's more, Sly's amalgamation of William the Conqueror and Richard the Lion-Hearted (the latter was the great-great-grandson of the former) helps the humor with the audience. Even the least sophisticated of the Elizabethans would surely catch the error.
… for Semiramis
Christopher Sly falls into a drunken slumber, just as a Lord and his hunt-tag party come on the scene. Finding Sly, it occurs to the Lord to play an elaborate practical joke. They are to take Sly, dress him in fine clothes, and, when he wakes, convince him that he is a great nobleman who for many years has been mad and thought himself a pauper.
This is done, and in the second scene of the Induction, Sly, awakening with a call for small beer, finds himself attended by a variety of obsequious servants who wait on him with the greatest tenderness and with a wealth of classical allusions. The Lord himself plays a role as servant and says respectfully:
… wilt thou sleep? We'll have thee to a couch
Softer and sweeter than the lustful bed
On purpose trimmed up for Semiramis.
– Induction, scene ii, lines 37-39
Semiramis is the legendary Queen of Assyria who had become a byword, among the Greeks, for luxury (see page I-403).
Among other things, they offer Sly a choice of paintings dealing with mythological subjects. Thus, one servant says:
… We will fetch thee straight
Adonis painted by a running brook
And Cytherea all in sedges hid,
– Induction, scene ii, lines 49-51
This refers to the myth of Venus and Adonis, concerning which Shakespeare had written a long poem a year or two before he wrote this play (see page I-5).
Cytherea is an alternate name for Venus, derived from the fact that an important seat of her worship was the island of Cythera, just off the southeastern corner of Greece.
We'll show thee Io. ..
The Lord offers a second choice:
We'll show thee Io as she was a maid
And how she was beguiled and surprised.
– Induction, scene ii, lines 54-55
Io was a daughter of the river god Inachus in the Greek myths, and Jupiter fell in love with her. The myth has nothing to say about how Io was "beguiled and surprised," though Jupiter used guile on other young ladies, notably Europa (see page I-44). The myth concentrates instead on the manner in which Jupiter's jealous wife, Juno, persecuted Io afterward (see page I-86).
… Daphne roaming. ..
A third choice is presented:
Or Daphne roaming through a thorny wood,
Scratching her legs that one shall swear she bleeds,
And at that sight shall sad Apollo weep,
– Induction, scene ii, lines 57-59
Daphne was a nymph sworn to virginity whom Apollo loved. She rejected his advances and fled from him when he tried to seize her. He pursued and would have caught her, but at the last minute, her mother, Gaea (the earth goddess), turned her into a laurel tree.
Little by little, then, Sly is convinced that after all he is a lord. He even begins to speak in blank verse instead of the usual prose. And to cap the climax, a play is presented for his edification, and it is this play which is what we usually think of as The Taming of the Shrew.
… fair Padua…
The play within a play opens with two young men, Lucentio and his servant Tranio, entering. Lucentio summarizes the situation:
Tranio, since for the great desire 1 had
To see fair Padua, nursery of arts,
I am arrived for fruitful Lombardy,
– Act I, scene i, lines 1-3
Padua is a city in northeastern Italy a little over twenty miles west of Venice and noted for its university.
Medieval Italy was, in fact, famous for its universities, for learning had taken new root there while it was still all but dead in the countries beyond the Alps. The first medieval university was established in Bologna, eighty miles southwest of Venice, in 1088. It specialized in the study of Roman law and remained the great center of legal studies for centuries afterward.
Bologna had its quarrels and problems and, on occasion, its schisms. In 1222 a group of its professors and students broke away and established a competing university at Padua, and it was this which made that city the "nursery of arts." It, as well as Bologna, supported a great law school and the two were great rivals.
Padua was an independent city-state through the Middle Ages but in 1405 it was absorbed into the territory of the Venetian republic and was still part of it in Shakespeare's time (and remained so till 1797). Padua was not actually part of Lombardy in the medieval or modern sense. Lombardy is located in northwestern Italy with Milan as its chief city, and even at its closest approach, Lombardy is fifty miles west of Padua.
This, however, is not as bad as it sounds. In the eighth century all of northern Italy was under the control of the Lombards and the term might therefore be used in a poetic sense for northern Italy generally. (Nevertheless, Shakespeare may well have been a little hazy on the fine points of Italian geography. This shows up more clearly elsewhere.)
Lucentio has come to Padua for an education, but he pauses also to announce his birthplace:
Pisa, renowned for grave citizens,
Gave me my being…
– Act I, scene i, lines 10-11
Pisa is located on the western coast of Italy, about 140 miles southwest of Padua. During the Middle Ages it was for a time a great commercial city, the rival of Genoa and Venice. It was at its height between 1050 and 1250, and in 1173 it built what is now its leading feature, a bell tower that, through some flaw in its foundation, settled out of the vertical. It is the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Toward the end of the thirteenth century Pisa was defeated in a long war with Genoa and began a steady decline. In 1406 it was captured by the forces of the city of Florence, forty-five miles to its east, and remained under Florentine domination through Shakespeare's time (and, indeed, until 1860). In fact, Lucentio describes himself as:
Vincentio's son, brought up in Florence,
– Act I, scene i, line 14
Florence, the home city of Dante, was the very epitome of Renaissance culture. It was the Athens of Italy, and one would boast of being brought up there as one might boast of having been brought up in Athens in ancient times or in Paris in modern times.
As Ovid …
Tranio is a little nervous at Lucentio's grandiloquent speech, for he views with some concern the prospect of a close course of study. He says:
Let's be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray,
Or so devote to Aristotle's checks
As [to make] Ovid be an outcast quite abjured.
– Act I, scene i, lines 31-33
Tranio's distaste for Stoics (see page I-305) or for Aristotle (see page I-104) is not so puzzling in a merry young man.
As for Ovid, whom he prefers, his best-known work is his Metamorphoses (see page I-8). However, a more notorious piece of work was his Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love), which gave, in witty and amusing style, a course in seduction for young men.
Ovid insisted it was intended to deal only with the relations of young men and women of easy virtue, but it could easily be applied to anyone, of course, and the Emperor Augustus, a very moral man, was outraged at its publication. It was one of the reasons why Ovid was banished to a far corner of the Empire a few years later.
It is undoubtedly The Art of Love of which Tranio is thinking, and he is urging Lucentio not to be so wrapped up in his studies as to forget to have a little fun now and then.
… hear Minerva speak
Tranio need not have worried. Lucentio is, actually, all on the side of Ovid too, and something comes up at once to prove it.
A rich merchant of Padua, Baptista, comes on the scene with his two daughters, Katherina (or, for short, Kate) and Bianca. Trailing him are two other men also, the aged Gremio and the younger Hortensio.
Both Gremio and Hortensio are clamoring for the hand of Bianca, the younger daughter, a gentle girl, who stands with eyes cast down and rarely speaks. (Her very name means "white," as though to emphasize her color-lessness.)
Baptista will have none of this, however. He will not allow Bianca to marry until the elder sister, Kate, is married. The two suitors can have their chance at her. If one marries her the other may woo Bianca.
But it turns out at once that Kate is a furious shrew, whose every word is a threat, whose eyes flash fire, and who is ready at a moment's notice to commit mayhem. The two suitors climb over each other in an attempt to get away from her.
Tranio and Lucentio are watching from the sidelines. Tranio is amazed at the shrewishness of Kate, but Lucentio has eyes only for the gentle Bianca. When Bianca humbly accepts her father's delay of her marriage, Lucentio is ravished with her modest words. He says to Tranio:
Hark, Tranio, thou mayst hear Minerva speak.
– Act I, scene i, line 84
Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom (her very name may be related to mens, meaning "mind") and is the analogue of the Greek Athena.
Baptista and his daughters go off, but not till after the father mentions in passing that he is looking for a music teacher for Bianca.
Gremio and Hortensio look after them in chagrin and decide that the only way they can manage to pursue their suit of Bianca is to find some madman, somehow, who will be willing to marry Katherina. After all, Baptista is enormously rich, so that Katherina (considering her shrewishness and the difficulty of getting rid of her) would command a huge dowry.
They leave too, and Lucentio comes out of his wide-eyed trance to find himself deeply in love at first sight with Bianca. He says to Tranio:
But see, while idly I stood looking on,
I found the effect of love-in-idleness.
– Act I, scene i, lines 150-51
Love-in-idleness is the pansy, which was thought in Elizabethan nature folklore to have the effect of a love potion (see page I-34). Lucentio decides to be utterly frank about his feelings and plans, for he says to Tranio:
Thou art to me as secret and as dear
As Anna to the Queen of Carthage was,
– Act I, scene i, lines 153-54
Anna was the sister of Dido (see page I-20) and her confidante. Lucentio goes on to say:
… / saw sweet beauty in her face,
Such as the daughter of Agenor had,
That made great Jove to humble him to her hand
When with his knees he kissed the Cretan strand.
– Act I, scene i, lines 166-70
Agenor was a mythical king of Tyre and his daughter was Europa, for whose sake Zeus (Jupiter, or Jove) turned himself into a bull and with her swam to Crete (see page I-44).
Love gives Lucentio an idea. He will impersonate a schoolmaster and get the post teaching Bianca. While he is doing this, his servant, Tranio, can pretend to be Lucentio, performing the educational and social tasks that the real Lucentio ought to be doing (and concerning which his father, Vincentio, back in Pisa, will expect to hear of now and then).
… Would 'twere done
At the end of the first scene, attention is suddenly drawn to Christopher Sly, the tinker, sitting in the balcony. He is dreadfully bored, but doesn't like to say so. When the page, who is pretending to be his wife, asks how he likes it, he says:
'Tis a very excellent piece of work, madam lady.
Would 'twere done!
– Act I, scene i, lines 252-53
But Christopher Sly is done, for we hear no more of him ever. From this point on, the play within a play is the play itself, while Christopher Sly, the Lord who fools him, and all the play-acting servants vanish from the scene.
It's possible that Shakespeare simply forgot about them. Shakespeare had, apparently, borrowed the device from an earlier anonymous play, The Taming of a Shrew ("a" rather than "the"), which used the play within a play technique. It may be, however, that Shakespeare got so interested in the play about the shrew that he grew impatient with the outer frame as merely serving to get in his way and dropped it.
Why, then, did he not go back and cross out the Induction and these few lines at the end of the first scene? In this connection, we must take into account the legend that Shakespeare prided himself on never revising.
Another possibility is that Shakespeare did keep the frame but that the later parts were omitted by accident from the particular copy that survived and was used as the basis for the first collection of his plays.
Verona, for a while.. .
The second scene opens with the entrance of Petruchio, the hero of the play. He says:
Verona, for a while I take my leave
To see my friends in Padua. ..
– Act I, scene ii, lines 1-2
Verona is another city of northern Italy and is located some forty miles west of Padua. In Shakespeare's time, Verona, like Padua, was part of the Venetian republic.
… Florentius" love
Petruchio is accompanied by his servant, Grumio, and together they are on the doorstep of Hortensio's house, Hortensio being one of the friends Petruchio has come to see.
There is a contretemps at once, one designed to show that Petruchio is as great a shrew in his way as Katherina is in hers. He orders Grumio to knock at the gate, but Grumio takes him to mean to strike Petruchio himself, and refuses. There is a loud clamor, at which Hortensio opens the door.
Petruchio and Hortensio embrace each other and the former explains that he has come to Padua to seek his fortune. Hortensio at once has the notion of suggesting that Petruchio marry Katherina but, remembering her shrewishness, hesitates to play so foul a trick on a friend.
Petruchio, however, urges him on. He is after money and that is the only requirement he has. Aside from that:
Be she as foul as was Florentius' love,
As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd
As Socrates' Xanthippe or a worse,
She moves me not …
– Act I, scene ii, lines 68-71
Florentius is the name of a knight in Confessio Amantis by John Gower (see page I-181). The plot is one in which a knight is forced to marry a horrible old hag who has helped him in time of need and who requires the marriage as recompense. The reward to the knight for keeping his word is that the hag turns into a beautiful maiden after the marriage.
"Sibyl" is from the Greek sibylla, their name for a priestess attached to a shrine or temple who had the ability to utter prophecies. Such a woman would fall into real or pretended fits (which may have been drug-induced) and would utter incoherent sounds which a priest would then interpret in the form of carefully ambiguous sentences.
Sibyls were supposed to attain great ages, for after all, an old woman, with her great experience, might more plausibly be expected to have arcane knowledge than a young one. Besides, prior to the nineteenth century, births of common people were not registered and individuals who lived to their seventies were rare. A wrinkled old crone was an unusual and somewhat frightening sight and it was easy to believe she had strange powers (of a sibyl in ancient times, of a witch in later times) and had lived for a century and more.
A mythic explanation is that Sibylla, beloved by Apollo, offered to give herself to him in return for the gift of prophecy and for as many years of life as the grams of sand which she could hold in her hand. When Apollo granted the wish and Sibylla reneged on her own promise, the angry god pointed out that the girl had asked for years of life and not for youth and allowed her to grow older and older and older.
As for Xanthippe, she was Socrates' wife, and the tales told of her show her to have been a scolding shrew. To be sure, any impartial person would have to admit she had some justification, since Socrates neglected his family to wander about the market place, talking philosophy and teaching rich noblemen without pay, so that his family was always in want. Nevertheless, people aren't impartial. Since Socrates is thought of as the wisest of men and as a kind of pagan saint, Xanthippe is frowned upon for complaining.
Fair Leda's daughter.. .
The complications grow. Petruchio insists he will woo and win Katherina for her money, quite without regard for her shrewishness. Whereupon it occurs to Hortensio (as earlier it had occurred, independently, to Lucentio) to disguise himself as a teacher and be brought to the house under the patronage of Petruchio. If Petruchio offers to woo Katherina, surely the delighted Baptista will accept his protege for the post of teacher and Hortensio would then be on the inside track with Bianca.
At this point, though, in comes Gremio, with no one other than the disguised Lucentio. Gremio is going to sponsor the disguised Lucentio for the post of teacher, planning to have the man plead Gremio's cause with Bianca. Then in comes Tranio, in fancy clothes, disguised as his master, Lucentio. He too is heading for Baptista's house to woo Bianca.
When Gremio and Hortensio object, the disguised Tranio says grandly:
Fair Leda's daughter had a thousand wooers;
Then well one more may fair Bianca have.
And so she shall. Lucentio shall make one,
Though Paris came in hope to speed alone.
– Act I, scene ii, lines 243-46
Leda was a queen of Sparta with whom Jupiter fell in love. He visited her in the shape of a swan with the result that eventually Leda laid an egg, out of which Helen was hatched. Helen, as the very epitome of womanly beauty, naturally had many wooers (see page I-90), but was eventually snatched away by Paris.
There are thus four men now after Bianca. There is 1) Gremio; 2) Hortensio, soon to be disguised as a teacher; 3) Lucentio, already disguised as a teacher; and 4) Tranio, disguised as Lucentio.
All understand though mat everything depends on how Petruchio fares with Katherina, and Gremio says, gloomily, that that task is liable to be harder than Hercules' twelve labors put together.
… dance barefoot.. .
In Baptista's house, meanwhile, Katherina the Shrew is cruelly baiting her younger sister, Bianca, whose hands she has bound. Katherina is demanding to know which of Bianca's many suitors the younger girl likes best, and one may easily suppose that Kate is annoyed at the ease with which Bianca gains love, while she herself remains with no one.
This is made the clearer when Baptista comes in, rescues Bianca, and scolds Katherina. Katherina at once accuses Baptista of favoritism:
Nay, now I see
She is your treasure, she must have a husband;
I must dance barefoot on her wedding day,
And, for your love to her, lead apes in hell.
– Act II, scene i, lines 31-34
To dance barefoot on the wedding day symbolizes the humiliation of an older unmarried sister on the occasion of a younger sister's marriage. Leading apes in hell is the traditional fate of women who die spinsters.
Shakespeare seems to be making it quite clear that Katherina is a girl who desperately wants love and who doesn't know how to go about getting it. She lacks the natural charm that is so often visible in a quiet, simpering girl, and the fascination that goes with a spirited temper is somewhat less obvious.
Shakespeare does not give us the early history of Katherina, but it is not difficult to suppose that her temper was nothing out of the ordinary till a younger sister came along. A quieter little girl, a younger, the baby of the family, would draw the attention of the father, and with every sign of favoritism, Kate would grow wilder in her indignation and Baptista would cling all the more closely to the little one.
There is no sign that Baptista is actually cruel to Kate, and he is trying to get her a husband, but he cannot conceal the fact that he likes Bianca better, so that the vicious cycle continues till Katherina is virtually mad for lack of love and in becoming so has made it impossible for herself to receive love even if it were offered-or almost impossible.
… in Mantua
Now the pack of suitors enters Baptista's house. Petruchio tackles his Hercules' labor at once, announcing himself in affable fashion, and stating that he has come to woo Katherina, of whose mild and sweet behavior he has heard a great deal. While Baptista stands there gasping at this novel description of his older daughter, Petruchio blandly introduces Hortensio in disguise, urging his acceptance as a music teacher. Petruchio says of his disguised friend:
His name is Litio, born in Mantua.
– Act II, scene i, line 60
Thus, another north Italian city is mentioned. Mantua is sixty miles southwest of Padua.
… at Rheims…
Old Gremio has his ax to grind too. He wants his teacher (the disguised Lucentio) in the house for his own purposes (though he hasn't an inkling that his candidate for the post fully intends to double-cross him). Gremio introduces the disguised Lucentio under the name of Cambio.
Since the disguised Hortensio has been put forward as a specialist in music and mathematics, Gremio avoids those subjects in order to get his man hired as well. He introduces him, saying:
… this young scholar that hath been long
studying at Rheims-as cunning in Greek,
Latin, and other languages, as the other
in music and mathematics.
– Act II, scene i, lines 79-82
Rheims (Reims) is not an Italian, but a French city, and is located five hundred miles northwest of Padua. Its distance and its foreignness may serve to give the disguised Lucentio an exotic cachet that would be particularly valued in a teacher. Reims is chiefly noted for the fact that the kings of France were traditionally crowned there (see page II-539).
Tranio also introduces himself as Lucentio, thus (presumably) making it easier for the real Lucentio to avoid discovery and allowing a two-pronged attack on Bianca. The real Lucentio would win her love for his person, and Tranio, in the guise of Lucentio, would win her father's official permission.
… my super-dainty Kate
Meanwhile, Petruchio asks permission to woo Katherina at once, pleading haste. Hortensio, who has gone inside to teach the girls music, comes flying out with the lute broken over his head, thanks to Katherina's shrewish temper. Petruchio isn't fazed at all. As soon as Katherina enters, breathing fire, he is at her at once, insisting on calling her only by the familiar version of her name. He says:
… you are called plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst.
But, Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,
Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all Kates…
– Act II, scene i, lines 185-89
In Shakespeare's time "cates" were delicacies, luxury foods, and, of course, Petruchio is playing the pun for all it is worth.
… a second Grissel
Katherina hears herself praised in a fashion she has never experienced before, but, alas, she cannot accept it. Nothing will convince her that she is not being ridiculed, so she fights it off, in the old, old way, making it impossible for herself to receive what she most longs to receive.
But Petruchio is patient, and when after a long battle of wits, she is no less shrewish than she was at the beginning, he simply praises her to her father and announces success. He says to Baptista:
… she's not froward but modest as the dove.
She is not hot but temperate as the morn;
For patience she will prove a second Grissel
And Roman Lucrece for her chastity.
And to conclude, we have 'greed so well together
That upon Sunday is the wedding day.
– Act II, scene i, lines 286-91
Grissel is a variant form of Griselda, the heroine of the last tale in Boccaccio's Decameron, a tale picked up by Chaucer and included in his Canterbury Tales. The tale is of an Italian nobleman who marries a beautiful and virtuous lowborn maiden named Griselda, whom he proceeds to test. He pretends to kill the two children she bears him, pretends to tire of her and marry a younger woman, and so on. Through a set of unbelievable trials, Griselda remains unbelievably patient and is finally rewarded by being restored to her own in full with her children about her. Griselda has ever since been a byword for patience.
Lucrece is Shakespeare's favorite pattern of chastity (see page I-205).
… unto Venice
Katherina protests vociferously against the notion of marriage and those who hear this are amused. Petruchio is, however, perfectly calm. Ignoring Kate's shrewish anger, he says:
… I will unto Venice
To buy apparel 'gainst the wedding day.
– Act II, scene i, lines 307-8
Venice was the richest of the Italian cities. As a great trading center, it was bound to have merchandise from all over the world and therefore a wonderful selection of clothes.
… "supposed Vincentio"
With Katherina taken care of, Bianca must be disposed of. Hortensio is still playing his role as teacher, which leaves Gremio and the disguised Tranio (playing the role of Lucentio) as two official suitors who happen to be on the spot. Baptista offers to give Bianca to whichever of these two can offer more.
The two start bidding. Since Tranio is not really bidding on his own, he can easily raise the other's bid every time until Gremio is forced out of the competition. On the other hand, Gremio controls his own wealth, whereas Tranio, pretending to be Lucentio, has nothing at all unless his father confirms the bid.
Baptista therefore says that Tranio (the supposed Lucentio) can have Bianca if his father will guarantee what Tranio has promised; otherwise Gremio can have her.
This leaves Tranio rather in a fix. Since he's not really Lucentio, he can't really deal with Lucentio's father, Vincentio. Well then, there will have to be still another imposture:
I see no reason but supposed Lucentio
Must get a father, called "supposed Vincentio."
– Act II, scene i, lines 400-1
Indoors, meanwhile, the disguised Lucentio and the disguised Hortensio are both teaching Bianca and actually whispering love messages in competition. It becomes clear that Bianca prefers Lucentio.
To me she's married …
Petruchio now puts in his plan to tame Katherina. He is deliberately late for the wedding and when he does come, it is in an impossible costume. He was supposed to have gone to Venice for gorgeous clothing, but he arrives in old, unmatched clothes and riding a horse so old and sick it can barely move.
The gathered wedding guests are horrified. Surely he cannot mean to let Katherina see him so, let alone marry him so. But he says:
Good sooth, even thus; therefore ha' done with words.
To me she's married, not unto my clothes.
– Act III, scene ii, lines 116-17
It is the key to Petruchio's scheme. Katherina must accept him for whatever he is and even for whatever he pretends to be; but she must accept.
He continues his mad behavior at the wedding, which takes place offstage and which Gremio describes for the audience. Petruchio swears his acceptance of Katherina, strikes the priest, throws wine at the sexton, and kisses the bride with a sound like a cannon report.
Once they are back from the church, Petruchio announces he must go away at once, with Katherina. All beg him to stay for the wedding feast. He refuses. Katherina begs. He still refuses.
Whereupon Katherina falls into a fury and orders the wedding feast to proceed. Petruchio agrees, but it must proceed without them. He seizes Katherina and says fiercely to the assembled guests:
I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything,
And here she stands. Touch her whoever dare.
– Act III, scene ii, lines 229-33
There is a glancing reference here to the tenth commandment, which begins "Thou shalt not covet" (see Exodus 21:17) and in listing the examples of objects belonging to a neighbor that must not be coveted, ends with "nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's."
There is a strong temptation for males watching the play to feel pleased with Petruchio at this point, but our better natures must assert themselves. This bald assertion of male superiority that treats women as commodities, as animals, as objects, is quite out of line with modern thinking.
It is quite common to excuse Shakespeare by saying that such male domination was taken for granted in Elizabethan society and that Shakespeare was just echoing his time-but Shakespeare does not take this attitude in any other play. Shakespeare's heroines are, if anything, wiser, more capable, and better than his heroes. We can reasonably assume, then, that Petruchio is doing more than merely express a common attitude toward women-this is all part of his plan and nothing deeper than that.
… in her own humor
Petruchio brings Katherina to his country house. He has been in a shrewish rage all the way, according to his servant, Grumio, who arrives there first. When Petruchio comes onstage, he continues to seem mad with passion. Kate can't rest, eat, or sleep for his yelling and discontent with everything.
This, however, merely continues the role he has been playing since the day of his wooing. The servants who know him aren't fooled. One says:
He kills her in her own humor.
– Act IV, scene i, line 174
And Petruchio himself, in a soliloquy, tells the audience:
Thus have I politicly [calculatedly] begun my reign,
And 'tis my hope to end successfully.
– Act IV, scene i, lines 182-83
Of course, Petruchio has the money for which he married Katherina. But he wants, we may suppose, a quiet, loving wife too, and it is for this he plans his course of action.
.. .the Art to Love
Meanwhile Lucentio's wooing progresses wonderfully well. In his guise as a schoolmaster teaching Latin, he says:
/ read that I profess, the Art to Love.
– Act IV, scene ii, line 8
This is Ovid's book which had been indirectly hinted at by Tranio at the very start of the play. The disguised Lucentio says he not only reads The Art to Love, he practices it, and Bianca demurely says she hopes he's good at it.
Hortensio, in his guise as Litio the music teacher, is outraged at Bianca's open preference for someone who seems a lowborn rascal, and abandons her, saying he will go marry a widow who has long been after him.
.. .as far as Rome
But while Bianca is accepting the real Lucentio, Tranio (the false Lucentio) must find a false Vincentio to win over Bianca's father. At last an old Pedant who looks the part comes onstage and Tranio stops him and asks if he is traveling on. The Pedant says:
… up farther and as far as Rome,
And so to Tripoli if God lend me life.
– Act IV, scene ii, lines 75-76
It is a longish journey he plans. It is 250 miles overland due south from Padua to Rome, and then 600 miles across the sea to Tripoli, which is on the north African coast.
When asked where he is from, he answers:
– Act IV, scene ii, line 77
Mantua is sixty miles west of Padua, so that if he has come to Padua from Mantua on his way to Rome, he has gone at right angles to his proper course. But then, he may not have come directly from Mantua.
In any case, Tranio at once invents a proclamation in Padua, announcing death to all Mantuans in the city because of some high political quarrel, and offers to save the Pedant's life by allowing him to pose as a Pisan; that is, as Vincentio. The Pedant gratefully accepts.
… perfect love
Katherina is slowly wearing down from lack of food and sleep. She is trying to beg food from Petruchio's servant, Grumio, saying that she is
… starved 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.
– Act IV, scene iii, lines 9-12
Surely, this is a key passage. He is wearing her down and forcing her to accept whatever she is offered, not out of cruelty, but in order to force her eventually to accept the one important thing-love.
It is precisely this which is hardest for her to accept, for, as she says, she is more annoyed at being offered love than at being denied food and sleep. And it is precisely love which she must accept.
… what o'clock I say it is
For all her begging, though, Katherina continues to get no food. What's more, Petruchio promises her clothes but when the haberdasher and tailor arrive, he is utterly discontented with what they offer. Although Katherina cries out that she likes them, he will have none of them, and when Katherina protests, he calmly pretends she is agreeing with him.
They make ready to go to Padua and visit Katherina's father without new clothes, but in exactly what they are wearing. Petruchio casually says it is seven o'clock and Kate tells him, politely enough, that it is two. Whereupon Petruchio falls into a passion:
7 will not go today, and ere I do,
It shall be what o'clock I say it is.
– Act IV, scene iii, lines 192-93
That is what Petruchio is after. He must train Katherina to accept as true whatever he says, however ridiculous it must seem to her.
… moon or star …
The Pedant in the guise of old Vincentio goes through the matter of the dowry with old Baptista in very satisfactory fashion, and while the fathers are thus engaged, the real Lucentio makes ready to elope with Bianca.
Meanwhile Petruchio and Katherina (along with Hortensio) are on the road to Padua. Petruchio comments on the brightness of the moon. Katherina points out it is the sun. Whereupon Petruchio falls into a rage again, and says:
Now by my mother's son, and that's myself,
It shall be moon or star or what 1 list,
Or ere I journey to your father's house.
– Act IV, scene v, lines 6-8
Finally Katherina breaks down and says, wearily:
Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon or sun or what you please.
And if you please to call it a rush-candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.
– Act IV, scene v, lines 12-15
Petruchio puts her through her paces, making her say first that the object in the sky is the moon, then the sun. When they meet an old man, he has Katherina greet him first as a young maiden and then apologize and greet him as an old man. Katherina follows the flicking of Petruchio's whip perfectly, accepting whatever he says as true.
And that prepares her to accept the one thing he has constantly been saying from the moment he met her-that he loves her.
Thus, by bending Katherina to his will, Petruchio has used a temporary brutality to force the girl to accept what most in the world she has longed to accept-the love of a man. Now, and now only, she can be content
… kiss me, Kate. ..
The old man that Petruchio and Katherina have met happens to be Vincentio, the real Vincentio, coming to Padua to see his son. Once he gets there, he goes nearly mad with frustration, for the Pedant claims he is Vincentio and Tranio claims he is Lucentio, so that the true Vincentio can't make himself believed.
He is saved only by the appearance of the real Lucentio, who is now married to Bianca. Baptista is a little annoyed at the ruse that has kept him from giving Bianca to Gremio, but the real Vincentio approves the match and the two fathers will now settle everything.
There is another wedding feast and when Katherina wants to join the happy throng, Petruchio says:
First kiss me, Kate, and we will.
– Act V, scene i, line 142
Katherina begins to object, for they are in the middle of the street in broad daylight. Petruchio, however, frowns, and Katherina hastily kisses him as nicely as you please. Petruchio says:
Is not this well? Come my sweet Kate.
– Act V, scene i, line 149
Of course, it is well. By the kiss, Katherina shows that she has accepted love. It is the triumph of Petruchio, a triumph for love and not for brutality, and Cole Porter did well to name his own musical version of the play Kiss me, Kate.
… she cannot come
At the wedding feast all is gay, and Petruchio, in perfect good humor now, has to withstand a number of quips about being married to a shrew. He waits till the women are gone and proposes a wager. The three newly married men, Lucentio, Hortensio, and himself, are each to send, separately, for their wives. The man with the most obedient wife wins a hundred crowns.
Lucentio sends first, in perfect confidence. The answer comes back by way of a servant:
Sir, my mistress sends you word
That she is busy and she cannot come.
– Act V, scene ii, lines 79-80
The widow whom Hortensio has married does even worse; for the word comes back:
She says you have some goodly jest in hand.
She will not come. She bids you come to her.
– Act V, scene ii, lines 91-92
It is not really surprising that sweet Bianca doesn't come. Why should she? She has spent her whole life being sweet Bianca, and simpering and exuding charm, for only one purpose-to catch a man (first her father, then her husband). Well, her catching days are over, at least for a while, and now she means to relax. Wouldn't anyone after a lifetime of work?
The same for the widow, doubly, since she has had to work a second time to catch a second husband.
/ command. ..
Lucentio in sending for his wife had told his servant to "bid your mistress." Hortensio, after Bianca's failure, had said "entreat" instead. Petruchio scorns all softness. He says:
Sirrah Grumio, go to your mistress;
say I command her come to me.
– Act V, scene ii, lines 95-96
And to everyone's surprise, she does come, in perfect obedience. And again, why not? She had not labored to win love. It had been Petruchio who had labored to give love, and she has every reason to be grateful.
At his command, Katherina goes back to bring in the other two wives, and the gentle Bianca, when she hears about the lost wager, says to Lucentio:
The more fool you for laying [betting] on my duty.
– Act V, scene ii, line 129
Who's the shrew now?
Petruchio orders Kate to deliver the women a long lecture on the duty they owe their husband and she does, saying in part:
/ am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
– Act V, scene ii, lines 161-62
It may seem that this final speech is one long irony and that what Katherina has learned has been to show a false acquiescence so that she can rule her husband by pretending to be ruled by him. (In the movie version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, this interpretation is implied in the very last post-speech action.)
Yet it is not necessary to suppose this. It doesn't matter who "rules." Petruchio and Katherina are in love and as long as love exists, "ruler" and "ruled" lose their meaning. Petruchio looked only for money, and got love too. Katherina looked for nothing and got love. It is a completely happy ending.