THE TAMING OF THE SHREW begins with an Introduction in two scenes, the only time Shakespeare used this framing device.

The Hostess of an Alehouse drives out a disruptive guest, Christopher Sly, who collapses in a drunken heap. A great Lord, returning from a day’s hunting with his hounds, decides to play a trick on Sly: he will have his servants move the drunkard into his mansion, ply him with fine wines, and in every way convince him that he is, in fact, a wealthy gentleman. When Sly awakes he comes to accept that he’s been delusional for years, and settles down with his “wife,” actually the Lord’s Page, to watch a play.

Lucentio, a wealthy young man, arrives in Padua to study at the university, accompanied by his servant, Tranio. They overhear a quarrel: Baptista, a rich merchant, has a daughter, Bianca, whom two gentlemen of Padua, Hortensio and Gremio, wish to woo and marry. But Baptista insists that he will not let Bianca marry, or even receive suitors, until her older sister, Katherina, is married. Katherina, or Kate, is notorious and feared as a shrew: a fierce and ungovernable woman with a wild temper and tongue. Hortensio and Gremio are in despair at the possibility of ever finding someone—anyone—who would be willing to marry cursed Katherina, but as Baptista will admit scholars to his home to instruct his daughters, each vows to find a teacher for Bianca to demonstrate their devotion. Lucentio has fallen in love with Bianca at first sight, and resolves to disguise himself as a tutor so he can infiltrate Baptista’s house. His servant, Tranio, will pretend to be “Lucentio” and spy on the activities of the other suitors.

Another gentleman arrives in Padua: Petruchio, with his servant Grumio in tow, has come visit his friend Hortensio and, more importantly, to marry wealthily. Hortensio tells him about Kate, both that she is an heiress and that she is a shrew. Petruchio, nothing daunted, proclaims that she’s perfect for him.

Inside Baptista’s lavish home, Kate thrashes Bianca until stopped by their father. Lucentio, disguised as “Cambio,” a scholar, and Hortensio, disguised as “Litio,” a music master, arrive and are dispatched to instruct the girls. Hortensio soon returns with a bloody head: Kate has cracked him with his lute. Petruchio presents himself to Baptista, declaring his entire willingness to marry Kate as soon as possible, and Baptista sends his daughter to meet this extraordinary man. Left alone, Petruchio plans how he will proceed: however she behaves, he will respond in the opposite manner to what she would expect. A brilliant contest of wits develops between them, Kate making no secret of her mistrust and dislike of the very strange stranger, Petruchio praising her beauty and intelligence, and generally blind-siding her with his unstoppable if seemingly irrational talk. Her father is amazed and delighted to have unloaded her at last, and promptly turns to the disposal of Bianca. Gremio promises enormous riches, but Tranio, disguised as Lucentio, tops any offers the older man makes. Baptista promises to let “Lucentio” marry Bianca IF Lucentio’s father will guarantee all of the riches his “son” has promised. So now the fake Lucentio needs to find a fake father, Vincentio, to make a fake guarantee.

The wedding day of Kate and Petruchio has arrived, but the bridegroom has not. Kate fears that she has been make a laughing stock by this madman. When Petruchio finally does arrive, everyone is appalled by how shabby he looks and how unconventional his behavior is. After a wild wedding, the couple departs without even staying for the wedding feast.

Petruchio brings his bride not to his sumptuous mansion in Verona but to a primitive hunting lodge, cold and remote, staffed with rough, untrained servants. In this atmosphere he, with Grumio’s help, will attempt to change Kate from a disagreeable shrew into a kind and loving woman. Petruchio mirrors her bad behavior, abusing the servants, ranting night and day, and generally demonstrating what it is like to live with a shrew.

In Padua, Hortensio has given up on Bianca, who seems to only have eyes for her tutor “Cambio.” Gremio bides his time, sure that Lucentio’s father will never sign away his fortune to his son. Another of Lucentio’s servants, Biondello, has discovered a wandering scholar, whom he and Tranio trick into believing that it would be a good idea for him to play along with them and pretend to be Lucentio’s father, Vincentio, and promise anything at all to Baptista.
While Bianca’s wedding to “Lucentio” is planned, Bianca and the real Lucentio sneak off to be secretly and irrevocably married.

Petruchio and Kate set off from the country to attend her sister’s wedding in Padua. On the road they meet a gentleman, in fact the real Vincentio, also journeying to Padua. Petruchio begins playing one of his outlandish games, addressing Vincentio as a young maiden, and Kate joins in. When her husband then says that this is no maiden but an old man, Kate follows his lead, and continues the jest. Now their intellects and themselves come into sinc: they are both unusual people who have found their perfect mates. Petruchio has found love that he did not expect, and so has Kate.

In Padua Vincentio calls at his son’s inn, only to be repulsed by the false “Vincentio” and the false “Lucentio,” stalling for time until Bianca and her new husband return. When they do, they are forgiven and embraced, and all go to the wedding feast in Baptista’s mansion. The wedding party celebrates three couples: Baptista’s two daughters and their husbands, and also Hortensio, who has married a rich widow. A wager is proposed to determine which of the three new wives is most obedient. The best wife of all is revealed: the woman who is true to herself, her husband, and their future very jolly life together.

©2004-2010 ShakespeareNYC



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