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These scenes essentially set up the conclusion of both the main plot and the subplot by illustrating the apparent completion of Kate’s taming and the unraveling of Lucentio and Tranio’s scheme. The disguises that gave great power to Lucentio and to Tranio finally fall away, embarrassing the two young men. No outfit can forever conceal a man’s true nature, as Tranio unintentionally reveals in his hasty chiding of Vincentio: “Sir, you seem a sober, ancient gentleman by your habit, but your words show you a madman” (V.i.61–62). Tranio soon receives his just desserts, however, when everyone sees that Vincentio is indeed “a sober, ancient gentleman,” and that Tranio is the one whose appearance obscures his true nature. Luckily for the young wedded couple, Lucentio’s true nature satisfies Baptista, who allows the marriage to stand. Again, though, how this marriage will progress now that Cambio has changed back into Lucentio remains undetermined. The passionate fire of young, naïve courtship must settle itself into the quiet flame of married life. (Incidentally, the name “Cambio” is also the Italian verb “to change.”)
The wall between Kate and Petruchio finally begins to crumble in these two scenes. Petruchio gives the impression that he will never approve of Kate’s behavior, for even when she denies what she sees with her own eyes in order to satisfy him, he insults her. After they argue about the shining of the sun and the moon, however, Kate gives him absolute power, even over the definition of reality: “What you will have it named, even that it is, / And so it shall be still for Katherine” (IV.vi.22–23). Petruchio finally seems pleased, but soon he tests her again, asking her to kiss him in public. After her initial resistance and subsequent concession, Petruchio makes a remark that seems to signify the conclusion of the taming: “Is this not well? Come, my sweet Kate. / Better once than never, for never too late” (V.i.130–131). He seems to mean that it is never too late for her to lose her shrewishness for good and become his “ideal” wife.
While frustration certainly plays a part in Kate’s final submission, she does not simply allow Petruchio to have his way with her out of desperation. After Kate kisses him in the street, she says, “Now pray thee love, stay” (V.i.129). She calls him “love,” not in her usual cynical tone, but with an authentic desire for his company, even despite his recent treatment of her. Finally satisfied, Petruchio responds by calling her “my sweet Kate” (V.i.130). Whereas their previous battles ended in a standoffish tone, here, for the first time, the couple shows genuine, kind feelings for each other. Moreover, the entire exchange concerning the kiss seems more flirtatious than the others, if for no other reason than Petruchio’s potentially self-deprecating line when Kate refuses to kiss. He says, “What, art thou ashamed of me?” (V.i.126). Kate actually begins this exchange by illustrating her acceptance of their union by calling Petruchio “Husband” (V.i.122). Ultimately, this short exchange suggests an interpretation of their entire journey as a struggle against the confines of marriage. Kate still obeys Petruchio and calls him husband, and Petruchio still has the ability to make them go home should she refuse. But there, in the middle of the public street, Petruchio asks her to forgo custom, and when she does, they find love.
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