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.
Katherine:Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell.
Petruchio:What, with my tongue in your tail?
(II.i. 207– 214)
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.