The Taming of the Shrew: one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays. It is hard to ignore the misogynist themes, the blatant domestic violence, and a myriad of other problems. However, though we continue to debate the relevance of this play, and whether or not it should be performed at all, it still offers actors a lot that is worth exploring. The fiery relationship between Katharina and Petruchio is one of Shakespeare’s best, and leads to some incredible repartee. And across the play, there are some fantastic scenes and monologues to explore. So whether you have been cast in a production, are working on a monologue for an audition, or just want some great Shakespeare text to tackle, let’s look a little closer at the play.
No matter what piece, scene or speech you’re working on, understanding the story and the context is always the most important starting point.
The play begins with what is known as an “induction”; it’s basically a little play within the play, but often this is cut entirely and, in the most recent production I saw, it was not featured. So we won’t delve into it here.
The play begins in earnest with the arrival of Lucentio to Padua, accompanied by his servant Tranio. They have come to seek an education, which is quickly thrown out the window when Luenctio comes across Bianca Minola. Bianca is the beautiful daughter of the rich Baptista Minola and is the most sought after young woman in town.
However, Lucentio is not the only one who is interested in Bianca. He is competing for her love with Hortensio and the older Gremio. All of these have no hope of marriage, as Baptista makes it very clear no one will be marrying Bianca until his other daughter Katharina (the “Shrew”) is married. Katharina is strong-willed and fiercely independent, and the prospect of her getting married seems inconceivable.
But then here comes Petruchio!
Petruchio, a friend of Hortensio, is fresh home from the wars, and is eager to get himself a rich wife. Hortensio cannot believe his luck, and Petruchio takes very little convincing to come around to the idea of marrying the feisty Katharina. He loves the challenge of wooing Katharina and in one of the most famous scenes of the play (Act 2 Scene 1) featured below, Petruchio does woo Katharina (sort of).
In one of the strangest and most entertaining marriage proposals ever written, Petruchio seems to get what he wants and a date is set for their marriage.
After all the melodrama of the courting, the wedding day finally comes and we begin to believe that Petruchio has abandoned Kate. Eventually, he arrives, dressed up in silly clothes and mocking the whole event. Though this is incredibly insulting, the wedding goes ahead. The feast is underway and celebration ensues before Petruchio abruptly pulls Kate away and takes her back to his house.
Lucentio and Hortensio have in the meantime decided the only way to continue wooing Bianca is to pretend to be teachers. Baptista has recently asked for teachers to further Bianca’s education and so both men dress up as teachers. Eventually, Bianca and Lucentio fall for each other (much to the chargrin of Hortensio). Baptisa gives permission for them to be married, if the promised dowry can be settled on, and so Tranio (Lucentio’s servant) decides to dress up as Lunceitos father Vincentio to give promise of the dowry.
This is where the torture begins and Petruchio proceeds to torment Kate. After continual abuse from Petruchio she is beginning to be “tamed”. Eventually, they come back to Padua for Bianca’s wedding. In a famous scene, Petruchio makes Kate admit the sun is in fact the moon, and it seems finally the mind-washing/abuse is instilled.
At the end of the play, all the couples test their new wives and place a wager on who will be most loyal (Hortensio since married a rich widow ). Kate is the only one to be truly loyal and comes back and gives a famous monologue (listed below) reprimanding the other wives and telling them to honour their husbands.
As always, the best way to understand the play is the READ it. But if you do struggle reading Shakespeare plays there is a fantastic 1967 Shakespeare film with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor that is worth checking out.
Taming of the Shrew Honest Video Synopsis
Katherina Minola (often called Kate – she is the “shrew”)
Bianca Minola (Katharina’s sister)
Baptista Minola (Their father)
Lucentio (suitor to Bianca)
Tranio (his servant)
Biondello (also, his servant)
Vincentio (Lucentio’s father)
Petruchio (suitor to Katherina)
Grumio (Petruchio’s servant)
Hortensio (suitor to Bianca)
Gremio (suitor to Bianca)
There are a bunch more characters, but these are the core roles.
The Taming of the Shrew Monologues
Act 1 Scene 1
Tranio, since for the great desire I had
To see fair Padua, nursery of arts,
I am arrived for fruitful Lombardy ,
The pleasant garden of great Italy,
And by my father’s love and leave am armed
With his good will and thy good company –
My trusty servant, well approved in all –
Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies.
Pisa, renowned for grave citizens,
Gave me my being and my father first –
A merchant of great traffic through the world –
Vincentio, come of the Bentivogli .
Vincentio’s son, brought up in Florence,
It shall become to serve all hopes conceived
To deck his fortune with his virtuous deeds:
And therefore, Tranio, for the time I study,
Virtue and that part of philosophy
Will I apply that treats of happiness
By virtue specially to be achieved.
Tell me thy mind, for I have Pisa left
And am to Padua come, as he that leaves
A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep,
And with satiety seeks to quench his thirst.
Act 2 Scene 1
No, not a whit; I find you passing gentle.
‘Twas told me you were rough, and coy, and sullen,
And now I find report a very liar;
For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous,
But slow in speech, yet sweet as springtime flowers.
Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look askance,
Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will,
Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk;
But thou with mildness entertain’st thy wooers;
With gentle conference, soft and affable.
Why does the world report that Kate doth limp?
O sland’rous world! Kate like the hazel-twig
Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue
As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than the kernels.
O, let me see thee walk. Thou dost not halt.
Act 2 Scene 1
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.
Full monologue breakdown of “I’ll attend her here, and woo her with some spirit when she comes.”
Act 3 Scene 2
No shame but mine. I must forsooth be forced
To give my hand opposed against my heart
Unto a mad-brain rudesby full of spleen
Who wooed in haste and means to wed at leisure.
I told you, I, he was a frantic fool,
Hiding his bitter jests in blunt behaviour,
And to be noted for a merry man,
He’ll woo a thousand, ‘point the day of marriage,
Make feast, invite friends, and proclaim the banns,
Yet never means to wed where he hath wooed.
Now must the world point at poor Katherine
And say, ‘Lo, there is mad Petruccio’s wife,
If it would please him come and marry her.’
Act 4 Scene 1
Thus have I politicly begun my reign,
And ’tis my hope to end successfully.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty,
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorged ,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper’s call:
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate, and beat, and will not be obedient.
She ate no meat today, nor none shall eat;
Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not.
As with the meat, some undeserved fault
I’ll find about the making of the bed,
And here I’ll fling the pillow, there the bolster,
This way the coverlet, another way the sheets.
Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her;
And in conclusion she shall watch all night,
And if she chance to nod I’ll rail and brawl
And with the clamour keep her still awake.
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness,
And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak; ’tis charity to show.
Act 4 Scene 3
The more my wrong, the more his spite appears.
What, did he marry me to famish me?
Beggars that come unto my father’s door
Upon entreaty have a present alms;
If not, elsewhere they meet with charity.
But I, who never knew how to entreat,
Nor never needed that I should entreat,
Am 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,
As who should say, if I should sleep or eat
’Twere deadly sickness or else present death.
I prithee, go and get me some repast –
I care not what, so it be wholesome food.
Act 4 Scene 3
Well, come, my Kate, we will unto your father’s,
Even in these honest mean habiliments:
our purses shall be proud, our garments poor,
For ’tis the mind that makes the body rich,
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.
What is the jay more precious than the lark
Because his feathers are more beautiful?
Or is the adder better than the eel
Because his painted skin contents the eye?
O no, good Kate; neither art thou the worse
For this poor furniture and mean array.
If thou account’st it shame, lay it on me,
And therefore frolic: we will hence forthwith
To feast and sport us at thy father’s house.
– Go call my men, and let us straight to him,
And bring our horses unto Long-lane end.
There will we mount, and thither walk on foot.
Let’s see, I think ’tis now some seven o’clock,
And well we may come there by dinner-time.
Act 5 Scene 2
Fie, fie, unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor.
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman moved is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign: one that cares for thee
And for thy maintenance; commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience –
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway
When they are bound to serve, love and obey.
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms,
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown.
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot:
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.