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Petruchio, Kate, and Hortensio journey back to Padua. On the way, Petruchio continues his relentless attempts to coax Kate to submit to his authority as her husband. Though it is midday, Petruchio comments on how brightly the moon is shining, and when Kate responds that the sun is shining, he refuses to continue the journey until she admits that it is the moon. Having no more energy or patience to put up resistance and anxious to return to Padua, Kate concedes. Then, however, Petruchio reverses his claim and says that it is in fact the sun. Hortensio finally persuades Petruchio that he has tamed her, and they continue the journey.
After they have gone a short way, a similar incident occurs. They pass an old man on the same road to Padua, and Petruchio claims that, in fact, the old man is a young maid. Furthermore, he entreats Kate to embrace the maid. This time, Kate immediately obeys, but Petruchio then says she is mistaken, for the maid is really an old man. Kate continues to play along.
The old man turns out to be Vincentio, the true father of Lucentio. He tells the trio that he has come to visit his son in Padua. Petruchio happily tells him of the marriage expected between Bianca and Lucentio and realizes that this will make Vincentio Petruchio’s father-in-law. A bit confused, they all continue their journey to Padua together in order to sort things out there.
Read a translation of Act IV, scene v →
Back in Padua, Biondello hurriedly takes Lucentio and Bianca to the church, where the priest is ready to marry them. Lucentio is no longer disguised as Cambio the schoolmaster. Just as they leave, Petruchio’s party enters along with Vincentio, and they knock on the door of Lucentio’s house, where Tranio and the pedant currently reside in their respective disguises. When the pedant answers, Vincentio says that he is Lucentio’s father, but the pedant claims to be the true father and calls for the imposter’s arrest. Just then, Biondello arrives, turning white when he sees his old master, Vincentio, who recognizes him. Biondello pretends not to notice Vincentio, as Baptista, Tranio, and the pedant come out of the house. Vincentio also recognizes Tranio in Lucentio’s clothing, and he is further enraged when Tranio pretends not to know him.
The crowd turns against Vincentio and prepares to escort him to jail, when Lucentio and Bianca, newly married, arrive from the church. Biondello, Tranio, and the pedant take this moment of confusion to run away from the scene, knowing that the game is up. Lucentio can do nothing but beg his father’s pardon and disclose the scheme to everyone present. He explains that his deception stemmed from his love for Bianca, which pacifies the two fathers somewhat. Nevertheless, they depart to seek some small revenge on the men who fooled them.
Kate and Petruchio stand in amazement at the proceedings. They follow the rest inside to see the conclusion, but not before Petruchio demands one more thing of his wife. He asks her to kiss him, there in the middle of the street. Initially, Kate refuses, saying she is ashamed to do so. But when Petruchio threatens to turn them around and return to his home, Kate kisses him. Petruchio finally seems satisfied with her, and they go in.
These scenes essentially set up the conclusion of both the main plot and the subplot by illustrating the apparent completion of Kate’s taming and the unraveling of Lucentio and Tranio’s scheme. The disguises that gave great power to Lucentio and to Tranio finally fall away, embarrassing the two young men. No outfit can forever conceal a man’s true nature, as Tranio unintentionally reveals in his hasty chiding of Vincentio: “Sir, you seem a sober, ancient gentleman by your habit, but your words show you a madman” (V.i.61–62). Tranio soon receives his just desserts, however, when everyone sees that Vincentio is indeed “a sober, ancient gentleman,” and that Tranio is the one whose appearance obscures his true nature. Luckily for the young wedded couple, Lucentio’s true nature satisfies Baptista, who allows the marriage to stand. Again, though, how this marriage will progress now that Cambio has changed back into Lucentio remains undetermined. The passionate fire of young, naïve courtship must settle itself into the quiet flame of married life. (Incidentally, the name “Cambio” is also the Italian verb “to change.”)
The wall between Kate and Petruchio finally begins to crumble in these two scenes. Petruchio gives the impression that he will never approve of Kate’s behavior, for even when she denies what she sees with her own eyes in order to satisfy him, he insults her. After they argue about the shining of the sun and the moon, however, Kate gives him absolute power, even over the definition of reality: “What you will have it named, even that it is, / And so it shall be still for Katherine” (IV.vi.22–23). Petruchio finally seems pleased, but soon he tests her again, asking her to kiss him in public. After her initial resistance and subsequent concession, Petruchio makes a remark that seems to signify the conclusion of the taming: “Is this not well? Come, my sweet Kate. / Better once than never, for never too late” (V.i.130–131). He seems to mean that it is never too late for her to lose her shrewishness for good and become his “ideal” wife.
While frustration certainly plays a part in Kate’s final submission, she does not simply allow Petruchio to have his way with her out of desperation. After Kate kisses him in the street, she says, “Now pray thee love, stay” (V.i.129). She calls him “love,” not in her usual cynical tone, but with an authentic desire for his company, even despite his recent treatment of her. Finally satisfied, Petruchio responds by calling her “my sweet Kate” (V.i.130). Whereas their previous battles ended in a standoffish tone, here, for the first time, the couple shows genuine, kind feelings for each other. Moreover, the entire exchange concerning the kiss seems more flirtatious than the others, if for no other reason than Petruchio’s potentially self-deprecating line when Kate refuses to kiss. He says, “What, art thou ashamed of me?” (V.i.126). Kate actually begins this exchange by illustrating her acceptance of their union by calling Petruchio “Husband” (V.i.122). Ultimately, this short exchange suggests an interpretation of their entire journey as a struggle against the confines of marriage. Kate still obeys Petruchio and calls him husband, and Petruchio still has the ability to make them go home should she refuse. But there, in the middle of the public street, Petruchio asks her to forgo custom, and when she does, they find love.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Taming of the Shrew!