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Back in Petruchio’s house, Kate has had little food or sleep for several days now, and she entreats Grumio to get her something to eat. He refuses, and, like his master, claims that they are depriving her for her own benefit. Finally, Petruchio and Hortensio bring her a meal. (Hortensio has apparently arrived from Padua sometime in the last few days to educate himself at Petruchio’s “taming-school.”) Kate has little time to eat before Petruchio’s tailor arrives. The tailor has prepared elegant and expensive clothes for their journey back to Baptista’s house in Padua. Predictably, Petruchio finds fault with everything that Kate likes, from the cap to the gown, and he blames the tailor for poor craftsmanship. The tailor tries to deflect the blame onto Grumio, but Petruchio and Grumio indignantly force him to leave. Petruchio, however, secretly tells Hortensio to pull the tailor aside and tell him that he will be paid the following day, revealing that Petruchio’s distasteful treatment of the tailor is in jest. Petruchio then tells Kate that they will leave at once for Padua in the clothes that they have on, planning to arrive at noon. But, when Kate tells Petruchio that noontime has already passed, he angrily responds that, yet again, she is contradicting him. He declares that they will not go that day, and that, when they do go, “[i]t shall be what o’clock I say it is” (IV.iii.189).
Read a translation of Act IV, scene iii →
In Padua, Tranio has properly outfitted the pedant as Vincentio and rehearses his act with him to ensure that their stories match. When Baptista and Lucentio (still disguised as Cambio) enter, the pedant convinces Baptista that he is indeed Lucentio’s father, and that he fully approves of the marriage between Bianca and his son. Baptista, the pedant, and Tranio then leave to find a private place where they can discuss the financial details of the marriage. Lucentio (disguised as Cambio) returns to the stage with Biondello, who informs him that Baptista has requested that Cambio bring Bianca to dinner. Biondello explains that he has personally arranged for a priest and witnesses to perform a hasty marriage in a church nearby. Lucentio agrees to the plan to elope, and they quickly leave to perform their respective tasks.
Read a translation of Act IV, scene iv →
As Act IV, scene iii opens, Kate has clearly been affected by Petruchio’s treatment, especially by the excuses he continues to give for his behavior. She complains to Grumio that what particularly infuriates her is that Petruchio torments under the pretense of love. This pretense—not to mention Petruchio’s erratic and peremptory behavior—makes it hard for her to react to his actions with her typical anger, since he seems to have the best intentions and to only desire her happiness and comfort. And yet, given Kate’s obvious intelligence, it is remarkable that she does not see through Petruchio’s facade and realize that he is doing everything simply to frustrate her. Most likely, she does in fact suspect foul play, as she indicates when she says that he torments her “under name of perfect love,” implying that the “name” and the reality do not necessarily match (IV.iii.12). She simply does not wish to stand up to him on this point. The play is, after all, a comedy, and we are probably meant to believe that, despite their difficulties, Kate and Petruchio are falling in love, if they have not already done so. Under the comic influence of love, Kate is much less likely to use the full power of her critical thought to see through Petruchio’s schemes.
Of course, the attraction between Kate and Petruchio, which exists despite their social inequality and seems to stem from their intellectual equality, is central to our ability to read The Taming of the Shrew as something more than merely a troubling chronicle of sixteenth-century spousal abuse. Most readers, as Jean E. Howard notes in her introduction to the play in The Norton Shakespeare, “have seen in Kate and Petruchio’s relationship an attractive mutuality and vitality they find difficult to reconcile with the idea that the play is simply a lesson in how to subordinate a woman.” This sense of an “attractive mutuality” is what enables the play to be funny, but one of the unresolvable complications of The Taming of the Shrew is the question of how we should reconcile the apparent love story of the two main characters with Petruchio’s obviously cruel treatment of his new wife.
In Act IV, scene iii, Kate once again tries to draw the line: when Petruchio tries to throw away the cap that the tailor made, which she very much likes. She has had enough and tries to establish an autonomous position:
. . . I trust I may have leave to speak, And speak I will. I am no child, no babe. . . . . . . I will be free Even to the uttermost as I please in words. (IV.iii.73–80)
Unfortunately, not even this is enough to get her so much as the cap in the end. She may be free in words, but her words now fall upon deaf ears, which is the source of her frustration. Before she met Petruchio, even though her words were rarely taken well, at least she could be assured of a reaction to them, and she seemed to take some delight in the reaction she could wring from men. Now, her words are ignored even when she removes their edge and asks for the simplest courtesies. Now indeed she cannot choose, for though she is powerless with Petruchio, she would only endure greater shame if she fled him and returned to Padua.
Also in Act IV, scene iii, Shakespeare expands his social commentary to include a critique of the importance attributed to clothing. Petruchio says that it is “the mind that makes that body rich, / And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds, / So honour peereth in the meanest habit” (IV.iii.166–168). By “meanest habit,” Petruchio means poor attire. This speech echoes the sentiment that Petruchio expressed earlier to Baptista before the wedding, and the repetition should be noted. The Induction seemed to claim that clothes and accoutrements could in fact change the man: Sly changed from a drunkard to a nobleman. Yet, here, Shakespeare suggests the contrary: the inner nature of a person will eventually shine through, regardless of the apparel that person chooses to wear. Indeed, the ruse of Sly’s nobility will last only a short time; sooner or later, he will be put back on the street. It is not clear whether Kate shares a similar fate, however. Just as the lord dresses Sly, so does society force Kate to wear the clothing of marriage, both literally and figuratively. Unlike Sly, Kate is unhappy in the role of the wife, a role that stifles her independent spirit. In this scene, however, as Kate’s motivations and actions continue to show that she is changing, Shakespeare forces us to question whether the clothing actually does influence the person within.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Taming of the Shrew!