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The Taming of the Shrew

William Shakespeare


Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Important Quotations Explained

Signor Hortensio, ‘twixt such friends as we
Few words suffice; and therefore, if thou know
One rich enough to be Petruchio’s wife—
As wealth is burden of my wooing dance—
Be she as foul as was Florentius’ love,
As old as Sibyl, and as curst and shrewd
As Socrates’ Xanthippe or a worse,
She moves me not—or not removes at least
Affection’s edge in me, were she as rough
As are the swelling Adriatic seas.
I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;
If wealthily, then happily in Padua.

Petruchio speaks these lines to Hortensio to explain his intention of finding a bride in Padua. He frankly states that his main goal is to marry for money, equating wedding with wealthy results—that is, marrying a rich wife—with wedding happily. Apart from his prospective wife’s wealth, Petruchio says that he does not care about any of her other qualities. He says that the woman may be as “foul as was Florentius’ love,” referring to a story in which the knight Florent was forced to marry an old woman who saved his life. She may be as “old as Sibyl,” a mythic prophetess who lived forever, but who continued to grow older and older. Or she may be as unpleasant as “Socrates’ Xanthippe,” a woman traditionally reputed to be a great shrew. Indeed, she may be any or all of these things, and Petruchio cares not so long as she is rich. This speech exemplifies Petruchio’s brash, robust manner of speaking. He is blatantly honest about his materialism and selfishness, and he also straightforwardly acknowledges the economic aspect of marriage—something that everyone in the play is keenly aware of but which only Petruchio discusses so frankly and openly and with so little concern for romantic love.

Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp, i’faith you are too angry.
Katherine: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then to pluck it out.
Katherine: Ay, if the fool could find where it lies.
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
Katherine: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Katherine: Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail?

This exchange between the two main characters occurs during their first meeting. Their conversation is an extraordinary display of verbal wit, with Petruchio making use of lurid sexual puns in order to undermine Katherine’s standoffishness and anger. Other characters frequently compare Katherine to a dangerous wild animal, and in this case, Petruchio calls her a wasp. She replies angrily that if she is a wasp, he had better beware her sting. He replies confidently that he will simply pluck her sting out, rendering her unable to harm him. In saying this, Petruchio basically throws down a challenge to Katherine, acknowledging his intent to tame her. Katherine, disgusted, says that Petruchio is too much of a fool even to know where a wasp’s sting is. Katherine’s comment refers to her sharp tongue, but Petruchio turns her statement into a sexual innuendo by insisting that a wasp wears his sting in his tail. Katherine then hastily contradicts him and says, “In his tongue.”

Katherine refers to wasps that bite, and Petruchio makes reference to bees that have stingers in their abdomens. Katherine’s metaphor implies that she will sting him with her wit, but Petruchio’s metaphor implies that he will “pluck out” the stinger from Katherine’s “tail,” a reference to her genitals. When Petruchio asks “Whose tongue?” Katherine replies, “Yours, if you talk of tales,” implying that if he continues to pursue her, she will sting him on his tongue, painfully. But Petruchio again turns this into a sexual image, pretending to be surprised at the picture of “my tongue in your tail.” This passage embodies not only the fiery conflict between Petruchio and Katherine, but also the sexual attraction underlying it. It also extends the play’s ruling motif of domestication, as Petruchio yet again describes Katherine as a wild animal that he will tame.

Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife, your dowry ‘greed on,
And will you, nill you, I will marry you.
Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn,
For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty—
Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well—
Thou must be married to no man but me,
For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.
Here comes your father. Never make denial.
I must and will have Katherine to my wife.

Petruchio speaks these lines to Katherine shortly after his “my tongue in your tail” comment (see quotation 2). Petruchio confronts the reluctant Katherine with his intentions: since her father has agreed and the dowry has been settled, he will marry her whether she likes it or not (“will you, nill you, I will marry you”). Petruchio even explicitly declares that “I am he am born to tame you, Kate,” further employing the language of animal domestication by calling her a “wild Kate”—a pun on “wildcat”—that he will “tame.” Not only does this speech set the terms for Petruchio and Katherine’s later relationship, but it is also important for what immediately follows: Katherine, fully aware of Petruchio’s intentions, implicitly consents to marry him by failing to protest against his false claims that she has already agreed to do so.

Then God be blessed, it is the blessed sun,
But sun it is not when you say it is not,
And the moon changes even as your mind.
What you will have it named, even that it is,
And so it shall be still for Katherine.

Katherine makes this contrite speech after Petruchio orders her to say that the sun is really the moon. Tired, hungry, and weary of their conflicts, Katherine at last relents and declares that, for all she cares, Petruchio might as well define reality for her from this point forward. In terms of Kate’s consciousness, even celestial events and objects submit to Petruchio’s will. With this, Petruchio’s victory over Katherine becomes inevitable: after this, she can resist his authority only halfheartedly, and her taming is nearly complete.

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe,
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience,
Too little payment for so great a debt.
. . .
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband’s foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease.

Kate makes this long speech at the end of the play. It indicates a shocking transformation of her opinions about marriage and men, and it stuns everyone who hears it. The once shrewish Katherine now declares that Bianca and Hortensio’s widow are ingrates for looking angrily at their husbands—whom Katherine describes as their lords, kings, and governors. She says that a woman’s husband protects her and supports her, living a life of danger and responsibility while the woman is “warm at home, secure and safe.” In return, she says that the husband asks only for his wife’s kindness and obedience, which represents but tiny payment for “so great a debt.” A husband is to his wife as a prince is to his subject, and if a woman proves shrewish (“froward, peevish, sullen, sour”), then she is like a traitor to a just ruler.

Katherine says that women’s bodies are soft and weak because their inner selves should match them and that women should thus yield to their men. She then tells Bianca and the widow that, in her time, she has been as proud and as headstrong as they are (“My mind hath been as big as one of yours, / My heart as great”), but now she understands that “our lances are but straws,” implying that their weapons prove insignificant and improperly used. A woman should prepare herself to do anything for her husband, including, as Katherine does now, kneel before him and hold his foot. This speech indicates the extent of Katherine’s character development over the course of the play—she began the play by fighting against her social role, but now she offers a forty-three-line defense of it. The speech also summarizes the play’s view of marital harmony, in which husbands provide peace, security, and comfort to their wives, who, in return, provide loyalty and obedience.

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The Taming of the Shrew (SparkNotes Literature Guide)