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Royal Shakespeare Company, 1962

Taming of the Shrew

Katherine doesn't want to get married; Petruchio marries her and compels her to be obedient; everyone is happy? The end.

Taming of the Shrew Summary

Lucentio loves Bianca but cannot court her until her shrewish older sister Katherina marries. The eccentric Petruccio marries the reluctant Katherina and uses a number of tactics to render her an obedient wife. Lucentio marries Bianca and, in a contest at the end, Katherina proves to be the most obedient wife.  


More detail: 2.5 minute read

Act I

Taming of the Shrew begins with a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly who is tricked, by a group of hunting noblemen, into believing he is a Lord. Sly is given a disguised young page as his supposed wife and is entertained at the noblemen's house with a play by a group of travelling actors. The play which takes place is as follows. 

taming of the shrew 2003
Taming of the Shrew, RSC, 2003

If I be waspish, best beware my sting

— Taming of the Shrew, Act 2 Scene 1

The student Lucentio arrives in Padua to further his studies. He hears that the merchant, Baptista, has two daughters; but the pretty younger girl, Bianca, may not be married before her strong-willed sister, Katherina. On seeing Bianca, Lucentio decides he must woo her. Bianca already has two suitors, Gremio and Hortensio, although she cares for neither. After hearing that Bianca's father, Baptista Minola, will hire tutors for Bianca, the elderly Gremio hires Lucentio, disguised as a Latin tutor, to woo Bianca on his behalf. Lucentio, for his part, plans to woo Bianca himself. Hortensio also disguises himself as a musician to obtain access to her. Tranio, Lucentio's servant, dresses as Lucentio in order to convince Baptista to let him marry Bianca. 

Act II

At the same time, Petruccio, a young confident man from Verona, arrives to visit Hortensio, his friend. He learns about Katherine and resolves to court her, aided by both Gremio and Hortensio. Baptista is enthusiastic about Petruccio's suit, since Katherine is a burden to him and is continually quarrelling with her sister and father. Although she is resistant to Petruccio's advances, he will not be deterred and fixes their wedding day. 

Taming of the Shrew 1888 Ada Rehan
Ada Rehan as Katherina, 1888

Act III

While everyone prepares for Katherine's wedding, Hortensio and Lucentio (disguised as tutors) vie for Bianca's affections. At the church the next day, Katherine unwillingly awaits her bridegroom. Petruccio finally arrives late, dressed in outlandish clothes and causing a scene. After the ceremony, he immediately leaves for Verona with his new wife.

Act IV

On reaching home, Katherine is mistreated by Petruccio and his servants, and is refused food and rest. Petruccio's aim is to 'tame' Katherine, while pretending to act out of a desire for her benefit. Eventually, worn down by her husband's waywardness, Katherina submits and agrees to all Petruccio's whims in exchange for his permission to visit her father in Padua. On the journey, the couple meet Vincentio, Lucentio's wealthy father. Petruccio also again tests Kate's obedience, asking her to say that the sun is the moon and that an old man is a beautiful young woman.

My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break.

— Taming of the Shrew, Act 4 Scene 3

Act V

The three eventually reach Padua, where Hortensio, rejected by Bianca, has married a wealthy widow. They also find that Tranio, still dressed as Lucentio, has succeeded in convincing Baptista to let him marry Bianca, while a peasant has posed as Vincentio to give his blessing to the match. Meanwhile,  Lucentio has organised a secret wedding with Bianca, which they carry out. When the real Vincentio turns up and discovers a peasant posing as him, as Tranio in his son's clothes, Lucentio is forced to confess to the whole affair, and to his new marriage to Bianca. 

Royal Shakespeare Company, 1962
Taming of the Shrew, RSC, 1962

Undismayed, Baptista holds a wedding feast for both his daughters. As the men relax after their meal, Petruccio devises a scheme to prove whose wife is the most obedient. Bianca and the widow fail to come to their husbands when called, while Katherine returns immediately and firmly tells the women the proper duties of a wife.

Back in the real world, the visiting players leave, and Christopher Sly is abandoned to sleep off his dream of the taming of a shrewish wife.

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness

— Taming of the Shrew, Act 4 Scene 1

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