The Taming of the Shrew (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

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William Shakespeare edited by Barbara Hodgdon

DOI: 10.5040/9781408160299.00000010
Acts: 5. Scenes: 12. Roles: Male (24) , Female (4) , Neutral (0)

The story of a ‘shrewish’ woman who is roughly courted and subjugated by her husband cannot fail to be controversial, and often disturbing. The Taming of the Shrew has been considered a portrait of the trials of marriage, a love story, a historical treatise on the treatment of women, a sexist polemic, and an exuberant farce - the perceived balance between misogyny and sympathy changing with every production and interpretation. The text is further complicated by its stress on fiction and performance.

The likely period of composition is between 1590-1594. This text is based on the 1623 First Folio text, as the 1594 quarto of an anonymous play entitled The Taming of a Shrew is here considered related but independent.

The drunken Christopher Sly is thrown out of a pub and falls asleep, and a Lord decides to play a trick on him. The Lord’s servants dupe Sly into believing that he is a rich Lord. A group of players act ‘a kind of history’ for him, and the story of Christopher sly becomes a ‘frame narrative’ for their performance.

The play-within-a-play begins with the arrival of Lucentio and his servant Tranio in Padua. Lucentio hopes to court the beautiful Bianca, as do Hortensio and Gremio, but Bianca’s father will not allow her to marry until her sharp-tongued older sister Katherina is married. Both Lucentio and Hortensio disguise themselves as tutors in order to woo Bianca in private, while Tranio takes the place of his master Lucentio.

Petruccio is also newly arrived in Padua and, hearing about Katherina’s wealth, decides that he will marry her. Their combative first meeting ends in Petruccio announcing their engagement. He turns up to their wedding late and ludicrously attired, and whisks Kate away to his house. There he deprives her of food and sleep in order to tame her.

After having the true identities of Hortensio and Lucentio revealed to her, Bianca choses Lucentio. So that they can be married, Tranio tricks a Merchant into pretending he is Vincentio, Lucentio’s father. The plan works for long enough for Bianca and Lucentio to marry; it is spoiled by the appearance of the real Vincentio, but Lucentio confesses and all is settled. At a banquet that evening, Petruccio reveals the newly obedient Katherina.