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The Taming of the Shrew

William Shakespeare

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1. Disguise plays a crucial role in The Taming of the Shrew, throughout both the Induction and the main story. While most of the disguises are removed in the end, those who use them to achieve a specified goal generally succeed—particularly Lucentio and Tranio. What can we infer about Shakespeare’s take on the effects of disguise? Can clothes really make the man?

Disguise in The Taming of the Shrew enables characters to temporarily change their social positions. By donning a disguise, Lucentio transforms himself in the eyes of everyone around him from a young gentleman into a scholar, and Tranio transforms himself from a servant into an aristocrat. Clothing facilitates this effect because outward appearance controls the perceptions of others: because Tranio appears to be a gentleman, people treat him as a gentleman. However, as Petruchio says, no matter what a person wears, his inner self will eventually shine through—Lucentio, for instance, may appear to be a tutor, but as soon as the courtship with Bianca develops, he must revert to himself again. Additionally, one cannot escape one’s past simply by changing one’s clothes. People are bound together in intricate webs and, interwoven as such, cannot escape their identity. The webs tend to reveal true selves regardless of attire or intent—a point that Shakespeare illustrates when Vincentio encounters Tranio in disguise.

2. The Induction plays a mysterious role in the play. In fact, we never see the conclusion of the trick played on Christopher Sly. What is the purpose of the Induction, structurally, narratively, or thematically? In the end, does the Induction serve merely a cursory role in introducing the play proper, or does it provide commentary on the themes throughout?

Many of Shakespeare’s dramas utilize the concept of “plays within plays,” in which characters in the play attend the performance of another play; prominent examples include the “Mousetrap” scene in Hamlet and the “Pyramus and Thisbe” scene at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But The Taming of the Shrew is unique in that the “play within a play” is the main play: the story of Petruchio and Kate is presented as a play viewed by the otherwise insignificant character of Christopher Sly. The Induction, the section at the beginning of the play that introduces Sly, may be narratively unsatisfying, especially as we are not privy to the conclusion of Sly’s story. However, the Induction incorporates many of the major motifs of the main play, such as that of disguise. Sly’s identity changes when his clothes are changed, just as Lucentio’s does. Sly must act according to the role in which he finds himself, just as Kate must. Finally, Sly is interested in having a wife over whom he can hold sway, just as most of the male characters in the main story are.

3. What techniques does Petruchio employ to “tame” Katherine? Why do they work? Is Petruchio’s manipulation of Kate plausible?

Petruchio uses a number of different techniques to “tame” Kate: he proves to her that he can match her verbal acuity and quick wit, then he wields his extreme confidence, and his status as a man, when he boldly tells her father that she has already agreed to marry him when, in fact, she has not. At the wedding, he humiliates her by wearing absurd clothing, arriving late, and riding a broken-down horse, and then he exerts his authority over her by forcing her to leave immediately. When they reach his house, he decides to “kill [her] with kindness,” pretending he cannot allow her to eat his inferior food or sleep on his inferior bed because he cares for her greatly. As a result, she grows tired and hungry and must depend on Petruchio’s goodwill to fulfill her needs, reinforcing in her mind the idea that he controls her. Because Petruchio couches his attempt to tame Kate in the rhetoric of love and affection, it is impossible for her to confront him with outright anger, and the possibility remains that the two will develop a genuinely loving relationship in the future. Of course, The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy, and Petruchio’s techniques are somewhat fantastical. But both Kate’s apparent willingness to comply with Petruchio’s demands and Petruchio’s desire to court Kate’s love make considerably more logical sense if we accept the explanation that, beneath their conflicts, they legitimately love one another.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. How do gender roles affect the attitudes of the characters, and how do these roles surface in the play? Most of the men seem to have a particular idea about how a wife should behave, but do their preconceptions extend to all women? How do the women react to these expectations? Are the women systematically oppressed, or do they subtly balance the men’s power?

2. The play is essentially a comedy, and yet more serious questions about social issues often overshadow its comic features. How does humor function in The Taming of the Shrew? Note especially the two wooing scenes, by Petruchio (Act II, scene i) and Lucentio (Act III, scene i). Why does Shakespeare include so many of the play’s best comic devices in these scenes?

3. Examine the characters of Hortensio and Gremio. Why do they fail where Petruchio and Lucentio succeed? Does their failure stem from their reasons for wanting to get married or from other facets of their personalities?

4. In general, the plots of Shakespeare’s plays follow a certain pattern, in which Act III contains a major turning point in the action and events that “inevitably” lead to the climax of action and the wrap-up of plot lines in the fifth and final act. How does The Taming of The Shrew conform to, or deviate from, this pattern? How substantially do the events of the third act—the marriage scene between Petruchio and Kate, and the wooing scene between Lucentio and Bianca—affect the action of the rest of the play?

More Help

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Tranio's Character in Scene 1- Act1 (scene- when he and his servant reach Padua, when they are at Baptista's house)

by TTOSfreak, September 12, 2013

Lucentio is a very kind and obedient servant. He agrees to every thing that his master Lucentio says. Lucentio's father had told Tranio to take good care of his master while in Padua [ Lucentio had come to study at a famous university, but he fell in love with Bianca later ]. Since Tranio is aware of his master's love Bianca( the youngest daughter of Baptista Minola ), he helps him [Lucentio] in all ways possible.

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3 out of 12 people found this helpful

Comparison of the nature's of Katherina and Bianca

by TTOSfreak, September 12, 2013

Katherina and Bianca are like the north pole and south pole. They both have different characteristics and different natures.

KATHERINA:- Katherina is Baptista Minola's eldest daughter. She is an intolerable, curst, ill favored and shrewd young lady. She is famous in Padua for her scolding tongue. She is so "wild", unpleasant and hot tempered that no man wants to marry her. She thinks her father loves her sister Bianca more than he loves her. Katherina does not care about marriage and does not want any man to love her. She is disliked... Read more

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75 out of 94 people found this helpful

Petruchio's "Image" on how he arrives for the wedding [Act-3, Scene-2]

by TTOSfreak, November 16, 2013

Petruchio is late for his wedding. All the family members and guests are worried about the fact if he is coming or not.
[Note: this is just an overview of the topic]

Petruchio comes dressed up in a new hat, an old jerkin, a pair of old breeches (that were turned thrice), a pair of boots, with a broken hilt an chapless, and with two broken points. Even his horse was looking messed up. The horse was hipped-- with an old mothy saddle and some stirrups of no kindred-- besides, possessed with the glanders and like to mose in chine; t... Read more

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19 out of 32 people found this helpful

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