The Taming of the Shrew | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Taming of the Shrew | Act 4, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

Petruchio and Katherine are returning to Baptista's house, along with Hortensio and some servants. Although it is midday, Petruchio comments on how bright the moon is. Katherine corrects him: the sun, not the moon, is shining. Immediately Petruchio throws a tantrum and threatens to cancel the trip, ordering the servants to turn around. Seeing that she cannot win, Katherine promises to agree with Petruchio no matter how bizarre his claims: "[B]e it moon or sun, or what you please./And if you please to call it a rush candle,/Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me."

Petruchio is satisfied with this response, and the journey continues. On the road, they happen upon Vincentio (Lucentio's father). To amuse himself, Petruchio pretends that Vincentio is a young gentlewoman and forces Katherine to play along. Vincentio, who is puzzled but not offended by Katherine's "mad mistaking," reveals that he is paying a visit to his son in Padua. He is startled to learn that Lucentio has found a wife—and a wealthy, well-born wife to boot. The three agree to continue their journey together.

Analysis

Starved and exhausted, Katherine is ready to return home to her father and sister. This scene shows her losing the last bit of her fighting spirit: steering clear of Petruchio's abuse now takes precedence over everything else. This is a far cry from the proud Kate of just a few scenes ago, who delighted in matching wits with her suitors. Hortensio is worried: though he does not openly criticize Petruchio, he cautions him against going too far in his attempts to "tame" Katherine.

Petruchio, meanwhile, continues to announce his desire for absolute mastery over his wife. At this point in the play, he has already compared Katherine to livestock, pets, luggage, and furniture. This scene adds another degrading analogy to the list, although it is subtler than those in Act 3. When Katherine finally agrees to endorse Petruchio's lies, he declares, "Thus the bowl should run,/And not unluckily against the bias." The image comes from the game of lawn bowls, an outdoor precursor of modern bowling. Katherine is likened to a bowl (i.e., a weighted ball) tossed onto a lawn, with the bias being the curved path the ball follows. The player is Petruchio, who all along has seen Katherine as a tool for getting what he wants.

Vincentio's appearance in this scene is a warning signal, a flashing "Caution! Play Ends Shortly" sign. By showing Lucentio's real father on the way to Padua, Shakespeare alerts the audience to a potential flaw in the young man's scheme. Once the real Vincentio and the fake Vincentio are in the same city, a confrontation between the two is all but inevitable. Depending on the nature of that meeting, Lucentio's marriage to Bianca may be in jeopardy.

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