The Taming of the Shrew | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Taming of the Shrew | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

In this scene, which takes place at Baptista Minola's house, Katherine's violent temper is on full display. She has bound her younger sister Bianca's hands and insists Bianca tell her which of her suitors she likes best. Bianca refuses, Katherine strikes her, and Baptista intervenes.

Into this family scene arrive Gremio, Lucentio, Petruchio, Hortensio, Tranio, and Biondello. True to the plan, Hortensio is disguised as a music teacher ("Litio"), and Lucentio is disguised as a classics tutor ("Cambio"). Tranio continues to pose as Lucentio. The tutors are introduced and sent offstage with the daughters. Petruchio announces his intention to marry Katherine and asks Baptista what kind of dowry he can expect. As the two men discuss the terms of the marriage, Hortensio runs back onstage, pale with fright. Katherine has flown into a rage and hit him over the head with his lute.

Now it's Petruchio's turn. He strikes up a conversation with Katherine, whom he insists on calling "Kate," and proceeds to contradict everything she says. Katherine at one point grows so offended by Petruchio's uncouth jokes that she hits him. Despite this seemingly obvious rejection, Petruchio tells Baptista he and "Kate" have hit it off so well that they have decided to marry next Sunday. Baptista is amazed by the good news. Katherine's protests are ignored.

With Katherine taken care of, Baptista turns his attention to Bianca's suitors. Whoever can provide the largest dower for Bianca—the largest share of his estate—will be her husband. Gremio and Tranio (still in disguise) engage in a bidding war over who can supply Bianca with greater wealth. Tranio wins the contest by promising huge amounts of land and money, along with an entire fleet of merchant ships. Baptista accepts the offer but insists on meeting with Lucentio's father (Vincentio) to get his approval for the match. To keep up the deception, Tranio realizes he will have to find somebody to pose as Vincentio.

Analysis

Of all the scenes featuring Petruchio and Katherine, this is the closest to a conventional courtship scene. In later acts Petruchio will resort to deception and abuse to get his way, but here he and Katherine are on a more or less equal footing, engaged in a battle of wits that Katherine seems to win. Her jokes and insults are, for the most part, just a little bit cleverer than Petruchio's.

About halfway through their dialogue, Katherine strikes Petruchio, bringing an awkward but momentary halt to their sharp-tongued exchange. This action confirms the impression of Katherine as a violent person: she has already hit her sister and cudgeled Hortensio with a musical instrument. (It's worth pointing out, however, that she strikes Petruchio only after he makes an extremely rude joke.) But the blow backfires in at least two ways: in the short term, it piques Petruchio's interest and makes him even more determined to "tame" Katherine. It also provides him with a pretext, albeit a flimsy one, for treating Katherine poorly after their marriage. At the beginning of the play, Petruchio was only after Baptista's money. From this point on, however, Petruchio sees Katherine as an adversary to be overpowered by whatever means necessary. Additionally, though he does not admit this directly, he may want revenge for Katherine's scornful behavior.

This scene also offers some insight into Katherine's violent temper and distrust of men. Rightly or wrongly, she seems to believe that Bianca is her father's favorite, his "treasure" who "must have a husband." Katherine, meanwhile, sees herself as doomed to "lead apes in hell," which was the proverbial punishment for women who died without ever marrying. Baptista Minola may be trying his best to find a husband for Katherine, but he does a poor job of communicating with his daughters and is frequently at a loss to understand them. Thus, Katherine lives under a perceived double standard—enough to make anyone a little bit shrewish. The lack of a mother-figure in the Minola household has also caused some speculation among critics about Katherine's behavior. What, if any, guidance about being a woman has she received living in an apparently all-male household?

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