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On Sunday, outside Baptista’s house, everyone has gathered for the wedding of Kate and Petruchio. The groom, however, is late, and Baptista has begun to worry. Kate frets that Petruchio habitually woos women only to leave them standing at the altar, and she runs off in tears. Just then, Biondello rushes in to announce that the groom is on his way, dressed in a ridiculous, mismatched, and shabby costume, riding up the street on an old, broken-down horse riddled with diseases. Grumio rides at his side, similarly attired. When Petruchio finally arrives, the crowd, horrified, sees that Biondello’s description was accurate. Baptista begs him to change into a more fashionable outfit before marrying Kate, in order to avoid further public humiliation. Petruchio says he will do no such thing and rides off to find Kate at the church. Most of the crowd follows in a kind of horrified fascination.
Read a translation of Act III, scene ii →
Tranio and Lucentio stay behind, alone. They briefly discuss the status of their plan to win Bianca. Tranio informs his master that they must find a father for him, and Lucentio suggests that the simplest solution may be for them to elope. They do not speak for long before Gremio returns to tell the story of what happened at the marriage. Apparently, Petruchio swore at the altar, struck the priest, threw food, and, in general, proved such an embarrassment that Gremio felt compelled to leave early. The marriage has been completed nonetheless, and the rest of the company soon arrives. However, before they can even begin the wedding feast, Petruchio announces that he must leave at once and take Kate with him, not even giving her time to receive congratulations from her friends and family. At this ridiculous suggestion, Kate tries to draw the line, saying she will leave only when she wishes, but Petruchio remains as persistent as ever. He says that since she is now his wife, he claims her as his property, and, pretending to defend her from jealous thieves, exits quickly with her and Grumio. The rest of the party can only watch in amazement and laugh at the day’s events, wondering how two such people could ever put up with one another. They resume the wedding feast, and Baptista moves to discuss the marriage of Bianca to Lucentio.
In this scene, Petruchio makes it clear that although he has won Kate’s hand in marriage, his efforts to tame her are far from complete. Apparently, he has every intention of contradicting her will at every point, even after she has consented to marry him. Now we can see that he doesn’t want just her dowry—he really wants a tamed wife. By embarrassing her with his ridiculous costume, crass behavior in the church, and their abrupt exit, he robs her of her dignity even as he overcomes her resistance. He almost seems to mock the fact that she has allowed herself to be wed, making her wish that she could retract the decision. She laments, “I must forsooth be forced / To give my hand opposed against my heart” (III.ii.8–9).
This scene raises the question of whether Kate, like Sly, has any agency in her situation. It returns to the theme of authority in marriage and to the foreshadowing exhibited during the play’s Induction. Kate’s proven capability of standing up to her father and the other suitors, through words and even violence if necessary, does not manifest itself here with Petruchio. Surely, if she did not wish to marry Petruchio, she would have found a way to resist—she could simply have refused to go to the church or to take the vows once there. Even when she does offer resistance—for instance, when Petruchio demands that they leave immediately after the wedding—she does not respond with the same vigor. Kate does exert some agency by choosing not to fight, but she appears to make this choice because she is cowed by Petruchio’s unyielding stance. Thus, if Kate is powerless to stop the actions of others upon her, just as Sly is, then it seems that there will be little equality in this marriage. Petruchio completely subjugates Kate’s will. Indeed, Petruchio speaks his most misogynistic lines of the play in this scene as he prepares to pull Kate away from the marriage feast: “She is my goods, my chattels. She is my house, / My household-stuff, my field, my barn, / My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything” (III.iii.101–103).
Petruchio’s words are not, however, spoken in all seriousness. First, they are not his original thoughts—they are a list of a man’s possessions from the Bible’s Ten Commandments, which Petruchio simply relates to his new wife. By quoting precisely from another text, Shakespeare creates the possibility that Petruchio speaks with self-conscious irony. Furthermore, in the context of the rest of the scene, his little diatribe appears just like his outlandish outfit—a possibly malicious way to embarrass not only Kate but everybody else there. Petruchio’s outlandish, exaggerated pronouncement of the social convention of women’s inferiority might be interpreted as a satire of the idea that a woman is really a man’s property. Petruchio’s ironic take on marriage becomes particularly clear when we consider the fact that Petruchio utters his commandments while simultaneously disrupting and dishonoring the traditional Christian marriage rites themselves.
Moreover, Petruchio gives another, very different opinion of married life when Baptista asks him to change his clothes:
To me she’s married, not unto my clothes. Could I repair what she will wear in me As I can change these poor accoutrements, ‘Twere well for Kate and better for myself. (III.ii.110–113)
Here, he is not materialistic but idealistic, not condescending to Kate but self-deprecating—a contrast to the sentiments he expresses in Kate’s presence. Petruchio’s true feelings might lie somewhere in between these two extremes. He is certainly not willing to treat Kate as an equal, but he also may not be as misogynistic as he appears.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Taming of the Shrew!