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Come, come, you wasp, i’faith you are
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Taming of the Shrew!