The Taming of the Shrew | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Taming of the Shrew | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

This scene opens in a bedchamber at Petruchio's Verona residence, with Grumio waiting on his new mistress Katherine. At first Grumio seems sympathetic, but he quickly reveals that he is part of Petruchio's "taming" plot. He tempts Katherine with suggestions of food, but then finds excuses for not bringing her any. Petruchio enters with a meal but threatens to take it away unless Katherine thanks him for it. She complies and sits down to eat, but Petruchio instructs Hortensio to eat as much of it as he can while he distracts her.

At that moment a tailor and a haberdasher (a seller of hats and ribbons) enter, bearing clothes Petruchio has ordered for Katherine. The haberdasher presents a cap, the tailor a fine gown. Petruchio quarrels with both, insisting that the pieces were not made according to his instructions. The tailor tries to read his instructions to him, but Grumio interrupts him with nonsense, frustrating his efforts. Despite Katherine's protests, Petruchio drives both artisans away without purchasing their wares, while Hortensio offers to the pay the tailor for his trouble. Petruchio then mockingly consoles Katherine by suggesting that "'tis the mind that makes the body rich."

Analysis

At this point Katherine's willpower is clearly flagging. Her speech at the beginning of the scene reveals that she is longing for the security of home. The short monologue also echoes the parable of the Prodigal Son in the Bible (Luke 15:11-32), who misspends his inheritance and nearly starves. In his misery he complains that even his father's hired servants have plenty to eat; Katherine, likewise, ruefully reflects on the beggars who come to her own father's door and "have a present alms" to buy food for themselves. The parallel, however, only goes so far: the Prodigal Son took his share of his father's wealth and thoughtlessly squandered it. Katherine, in contrast, has essentially been abducted by her husband and is now his virtual prisoner.

Understandably, Katherine is openly resentful of Petruchio's "taming" techniques, which she sees as spiteful and cruel. Other characters are growing uneasy as well—including Grumio, Petruchio's loyal servant, who seems to waver at the very beginning of the scene. Katherine has just asked him for food or some other small favor, but he insists he is afraid to help her: "No, no, forsooth, I dare not for my life." Even Hortensio, who has expressed amusement and even admiration at Petruchio's taming act in previous scenes, now finds that Petruchio is "to blame" for his mistreatment of Katherine. Hortensio initially accompanied Petruchio to Verona in hopes of learning some wife-taming tricks of his own. He now seems embarrassed by his friend, which may explain why he offers to pay the tailor after Petruchio rejects the gown. Notably, he does not offer the same assistance to Katherine. In Elizabethan England, what a man does with his own wife is his own business.

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