Today we explore one of Shakespeare’s most playful and controversial characters, Petruchio, from Taming of the Shrew. This short monologue from Act 2 Scene 1 is one of my favourite male monologues from Shakespeare. Though this play remains a problematic text, the monologues are fantastic for actors to work on for practice or for auditions. So let’s set aside the controversy for now, and unpack Petruchio’s iconic monologue from Act 2 Scene 1.
Where are we in the play?
While alone, Petruchio primes himself for his first encounter with Katherine ‘the shrew’.
Prior to this moment, Petruchio has met with Katherine’s father, Baptista who informs Petruchio of Kate’s demeanour and unwillingness to be woo’d. Unperturbed by this, Petruchio is resolved to win her.
But he has to have a plan…
Language and Thought Breakdown
You may notice the opening of the speech is not a full line of iambic pentameter and you’d be right – it is not. Shakespeare has put this pause in the metre to give all the other actors on stage the opportunity to exit, leaving Petruchio alone on stage with the audience. This is a nice clue – he’s going to be honest and share his plan with us. When he begins, Petruchio falls into his rhythm and his thought pattern is very clearly laid out. His argument is simple and straight to the point and the perfect iambic pentameter supports this.
I did notice one tricky line in the metre however. The line “And say she uttereth piercing eloquence” appears as if it may have more than ten syllables. This often happens with Shakespeare. What he’s asking of the actor is to use the rhythm to decipher which words to condense and those to express more fully. In this case, turning ‘uttereth’ into a two syllable word and giving ‘piercing eloquence’ it’s full and colourful weight makes sense. By leaning on the beautiful vowel sounds in the verb ‘piercing eloquence’ you can help the sentence make sense but also give Petruchio an attitude… to me, he almost seems proud of his own choice of words.
Let’s break down the language into thought and beat changes to see what it reveals about Petruchio’s character.
Thought Change: /
Beat Change: Space
Feminine Ending: (F)
[FULL TEXT]: Petruchio: I’ll attend her here…
I’ll attend her here, /
And woo her with some spirit when she comes. /
Say that she rail, / why then I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale: /
Say that she frown, / I’ll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly wash’d with dew: /
Say she be mute and will not speak a word, /
Then I’ll commend her volubility, /
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence. /
If she do bid me pack, / I’ll give her thanks,
As though she bid me stay by her a week: /
If she deny to wed, / I’ll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns, / and when be married. /
But here she comes, / and now, Petruchio, speak. /
I will wait for her here,
And woo her with vigour when she comes.
If she yells and screams at me, I’ll tell her straight,
That she sings as beautifully as a nightingale.
If she scowls at me, I’ll tell her she looks as perfect
As morning roses still wet with dew.
If she stays silent and doesn’t say anything,
Then I’ll praise her for being really talkative,
And say she speaks with moving expression.
If she tells me to pack my bags and leave, I thank her,
As though she’d asked me to stay with her for a week.
If she refuses to marry me, I’ll demand the day
When our marriage is publicly proclaimed, and then our wedding.
But here she comes. And now, Petruchio, speak.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Woo: Court, or to seek favour.
Spirit: Vigour, with force. However, in this case there is a double meaning in ‘spirit’. Shakespeare uses this word to also refer to ejaculate. Therefore there is sexual innuendo to be found in “Woo her with spirit when she comes”. This could be read as intentionally playing on the sexual joke.
Rail: Protest strongly, complain against.
Clear: Faultless and serene.
Piercing: Moving, emotive.
Eloquence: Fluent or persuasive speaking.
Pack: Leave, in other words ‘pack your bags and leave’.
Banns: A notice read out publicly proclaiming the intended marriage.
Short, sharp and to the point, this little cracker of a monologue is a wonderful insight into how Petruchio’s mind works. Planning for all the possible outcomes of his first encounter with Kate, it appears he is somewhat of a strategist.
Following his logic, it is almost as if Petruchio is preparing for battle. He knows that he is going to be utterly challenged and will need all of his wits about him.
He has a strong plan, one that he intends to stick to no matter what. This monologue also sets up all of the gags in the scene that follows, when the pair finally do meet. The audience is in on the joke and Katherine is left wondering why the hell this guy is being so nice despite her best efforts to put him off.
There are many ways to play this monologue. One way of thinking about it is the ultimate ‘guy meets girl’ opening scene. Imagine Petruchio standing in front of a mirror psyching himself up for the biggest date of his life. When he reaches his final line: “and now Petruchio, speak”, It feels as if the man is literally telling himself to do what he is good at, speaking and using his wit to win Kate.
If you’re interested, find this speech in the play and then keep reading the scene that plays out between Petruchio and Kate. It’s a fantastic battle of wits between two great minds and a lot of fun to play. Have fun with this one!
Want to investigate some more Shakespeare monologues? Check out Monologues Unpacked.