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Theatre: The Taming of the Shrew

And kiss me, Kate; we will be married a Sunday!
Petruchio:, The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew is one of William Shakespeare's more famous comedies and an interesting exploration of historical Values Dissonance in the realm of gender relations.

In the play (within a play) there is a man with two daughters: kind, beautiful Bianca, sought by suitors everywhere, and loud, shrewish Katarina (sometimes spelled "Katherine," but in any case shortened to Kate), whom nobody likes. Their father declares that he will not marry Bianca off unless someone marries Kate first, which seems unlikely. However, a man named Petruchio is attracted by her large dowry and marries her over her objections.

Petruchio strives to tame her to his will, which ultimately succeeds in breaking her spirit, proving to her the existence of woman's natural need for man. When Petruchio returns to Kate's family, they do not believe in her new obedience, and he wins a second dowry from her disbelieving father. The play ends with three happy marriages, and a speech from Kate about the need for women to obey their husbands.

It's hard to find a story more prime for Alternative Character Interpretation. Some readers see 'sweet' Bianca as a little manipulator who's got their father twisted 'round her finger, and Kate 'acts out' just to get some of his attention. It is also clear that though it is the thought of a fat dowry that initially attracts him, Petruchio is also enchanted by Kate's quick wit. His challenge is to break what has become a conditioned reflex.

Shakespeare's play is based on older works. Significantly, these versions emphasized women's inferiority, and built up to a Humiliation Conga that was truly shocking in its violence. Shakespeare's Kate, on the other hand, argues that women should be obedient to their husbands because said husbands love them and want only what is best for them. Admittedly an arguable proposition, but it puts her in a different category from the patient Griselda who endured any kind of mistreatment as a duty.

The Taming of the Shrew contains the following tropes:

  • Abduction Is Love: Petruchio essentially kidnaps Kate after the wedding ceremony.
  • Aborted Arc: The play starts off with a wealthy man deciding to pull a prank on a drunkard, by fooling him into thinking he's suffering from amnesia and is actually incredibly wealthy, and the play itself is provided for his amusement. After this, the entire setup is pretty much forgotten, and outside of one of them remarking on the play briefly as they're watching, this beginning is never brought up again.
    • Probably the scenes resolving this subplot are lost to history, along with quite a bit of Shakespeare's work thanks to the fact that he didn't bother to preserve his plays himself in any form and many of the written texts of the period were bad knockoff versions penned by others. It's also been speculated that the frame story was added to the play later, probably by someone other than Shakespeare.
    • In some collections, a resolution to the Christopher Sly arc IS added (though it's unclear whether it was actually written by Shakespeare or by someone else). In the ending in The Norton Shakespeare, Sly falls asleep before the end of the Play Within a Play and the men dress him back up in his regular clothes and when he wakes up, he's back where they found him. He thinks it's a dream, and the bartender tells him that he should go home to his wife. Sly agrees, and muses that in the dream, he learned a thing or two about taming a shrew, and maybe he'll try it out.
      • These scenes are from Taming of A Shrew, a play that, for complicated reasons, may either be based on or be a basis of Taming of THE Shrew. Much debate occurs over this stapling on of another (much worse) play's ending.
  • The Alleged Steed: The horse Petruchio rides to his wedding has just about every disease a horse could possibly have, and the moth-eaten saddle and broken bridle probably don't help appearances. (Sadly, this being a stage show, we never actually get to see it.)
  • Artistic License - Geography: Averted, though not obviously so. Tranio’s father was a ‘sail maker’ from land-locked Bergamo. Bergamo is the nearest large city to Lake Iseo and close to Lake Como, creating a Bergamo boat-making and sail-making industry which started long before the 16th century and continues to this day.
    • And then played straight. Lucentio claims Padua is in Lombardy, when in fact it is in Veneto.
  • As You Know: Lucentio's opening speech to Tranio. For some reason, feels the need to tell his servant where they are, why they're here, where he was born, and where he was raised. We later find out that Tranio was taken in by Lucentio's family at the age of three. There is no excuse for him not to know any of this.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: In the play outside the play, the tinker Christopher Sly is lusting after a page who the local lord has dressed up as a woman as part of an elaborate joke. (This is Meta Humor, of course.)
  • The Beard: Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) and Bianca fake being a couple so successfully that they have all the other characters fooled. Meanwhile, Bianca's in love with the real Lucentio, who's disguised himself as her tutor.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Most interpretations of Petruchio and Kate.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Kate, in some interpretations.
  • Beta Couple: Bianca and Lucentio (though they seem like the Official Couple at first), if you think the Zany Scheme below is the actual main plot, as 99% of directors do.
  • Break the Haughty
  • Cat Fight: Kate almost gets into one with the unnamed widow in the last scene; Petruchio heartily cheers his wife on.
  • Commedia dell'Arte: Quite a few elements of the plot are linked to Commedia situations and character types. Gremio is actually referred to as "a pantaloon", and Lucentio and Bianca serve as the innamorati, with Tranio as the trickster servant who gets them together and Vincentio and Baptista as their respective forbidding fathers. Meanwhile, Grumio and the rest of Petruchio's wacky household staff engage in zanni-like slapstick and pratfalls.
  • The Confidant: Tranio to Lucentio, who compares him to a famous example of the trope in Virgil's Aeneid: "That are to me as secret and as dear/As Anna to the Queen of Carthage was."
  • Could Say It But: Grumio not telling Curtis all about what happened on his journey with Petruchio and Kate.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Kate
  • Demotedto Extra: In the Abridged book made for 30 minutes every characters that isn't Kate, Pertuchio, Baptista, Lucentio or Tranio
  • Denied Food as Punishment
  • Does Not Like Men: Kate
  • Double Entendre: The first conversation Kate and Petruchio have consists of practically nothing but one after another.
    Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp; i’ faith, you are too angry.
    Katrina: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
    Petruchio: My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
    Katrina: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies.
    Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
    Katrina: In his tongue.
    Petruchio: Whose tongue?
    Katrina: Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.
    Petruchio: What, With my tongue in your tail? Nay, come again. Good Kate; I am a gentleman.
    [Kate slaps him]
    • Some productions merely have Petruchio giggle at the innuendo, as was the 1980s version with John Cleese as Petruchio.
  • Double Standard: This is a comedy. Now hundreds of years later the other way round is played as comedy, whereas this written now would be played for drama and angst.
  • Emergency Impersonation: Tranio stands in for Lucentio, who is busy courting Bianca. A merchant stands in for Vincentio.
  • Enemy Mine: Bianca's suitors work together to get Katerina married off.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: If you take the text of the play literally instead of subversively.
  • Fan Fic: The Woman's Prize, or The Tamer Tamed a play written by John Fletcher in 1611. Shakespeare apparently approved of the work. The play reverses the gender politics of the original (where Petruchio is tamed by his new wife after Kate's death) and indicates that even in Shakespeare's day, the play was considered a bit too misogynistic for comfort
  • Fourth Date Marriage: All three of the couples; several lampshades are hung. Petruchio arranges to marry Kate on Sunday after one conversation ("Was ever match clapp'd up so suddenly?"), Lucentio and Bianca sneak off to the altar shortly afterward, and Hortensio's widow is, according to Tranio, "wooed and wedded in a day".
  • Framing Device: A drunken tinker has been made to believe that he is really a lord, and the play is being put on for his amusement.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Tranio specifically advises Lucentio to be one of these (for instance, to get some friends to discuss logic with and practice rhetoric on, rather than simply studying his life away and not having any fun).
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Kate even hits her sister, and binds her hands. Incestuous BDSM or what?!
  • Gold Digger: Petruchio, oh so much.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: What makes Kate a shrew. Petruchio pretends to have one as part of his taming scheme, though it may be more real than not, depending on how he's played (the very first time we see him he's beating up on Grumio).
  • Henpecked Husband: The men assume that Petruchio will become this; however, the play's end implies that Hortensio and Lucentio have gone this route instead.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Dialogue between Kate and Petruchio.
  • The Ingenue: Bianca
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Petruchio is not at all put off by the fact that Kate has just broken a lute over someone's head - "Now, by the world, it is a lusty wench! I love her ten times more than ever."
  • The Jeeves: Tranio, to Lucentio—in stark contrast to Petruchio's oddball servant Grumio.
  • Kid Sidekick: Biondello.
  • Large Ham: Petruchio is often played as this. Check out Marc Singer's performance in the filmed 1976 production. Kate is equally hammy in this production as well.
  • Love at First Punch: Petruchio views Kate's hostility as a challenge.
  • Love at First Sight: Lucentio experiences this upon first seeing Bianca. When Tranio asks him if this is possible, he admits that he never believed in it himself before it happened to him.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: According to some interpretations, Petruchio giving Kate a "sermon of continency (abstinence)" on their wedding night is a gender-reversed example of this, just as much a taming method as withholding food and sleep. (The other possibility is that since she hasn't warmed up to him yet, he's simply showing the common decency not to force anything while continuing to feign insanity.)
  • The Masochism Tango
  • Meaningful Name:
  • Mock Millionaire: Tranio standing in for Lucentio. He ends up getting into a battle with Gremio as to which of them owns the most argosies, acres of land and big fancy houses.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Petruchio—although as in the case of Hamlet, he seems to be pretty crazy anyway and how much of it is faked depends on interpretation.
  • Overly Long Gag: Biondello describing Petruchio's attire and horse. And just when you think he's done, he gets started on what Grumio is wearing.
  • Pass the Popcorn: Tranio is manifestly entertained by the argument in the street between Baptista, Kate and Bianca's suitors, referring to it as "some show to welcome us to town".
    "Husht, master! here's some good pastime toward;
    That wench is stark mad or wonderful froward."
  • Parental Favoritism: Baptista prefers Bianca, leaving Kate as The Unfavorite.
  • Person as Verb: "I warrant him, Petruchio is Kated!"
  • The Philosopher: Lucentio's opening speech pegs him as one of these, but he instantly throws his plans to study ethics out the window when he sees Bianca, which is only a few lines later.
  • Plot Parallel
  • Property of Love: Katherine at the end, if one takes the end literally. The play ends with Kate giving a speech where she says in no uncertain terms that wives should obey their husbands.
    "Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper...Such duty as the subject owes the prince/Even such a woman oweth to her husband."
  • Private Tutor: Lucentio disguises himself as Bianca's one.
  • Pygmalion Plot: Petruchio moulds Kate into his ideal wife.
  • Servile Snarker: Grumio, and Tranio to a lesser extent.
  • Show Within a Show: The main plot is contained in a play being performed for the tinker.
  • Shipper on Deck: Tranio and Biondello for Lucentio/Bianca. Also just about everyone for Petruchio/Katherina, if only because they want Katherina out of the way.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Bianca and Kate
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Kate and Petruchio, arguably enough
  • The Social Expert: Tranio.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Hortensio and Lucentio sign up to be Bianca's tutors just so they can woo her. Cue lots of learning-based flirtation.
    Lucentio: Now, mistress, profit you in what you read?
    Bianca: What, master, read you? first resolve me that.
    Lucentio: I read what I profess, The Art to Love.
    Bianca: And may you prove, sir, master of your art!
  • Translation Convention: When Petruchio greets Hortensio in Italian, Grumio thinks he's speaking Latin.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Upon hearing Biondello's account of the bizarre getup Petruchio is wearing to his wedding, Tranio says, "oftentimes he goes but mean-apparelled." To give an idea of what an Understatement this is, the "No Fear Shakespeare" edition translated the line thus: "from time to time he has been known to dress down".
  • The Unfavorite: Katherina.
  • The Watson: Lucentio; in one scene Tranio drops him several hints about what's going on, then leaves Biondello to explain them to him (and thus the audience) in fuller detail.
  • Wealthy Ever After: When Kate and Petruchio win the already-substantial bet at the end, Baptista throws in twenty thousand crowns, "Another dowry for another daughter/For she is changed, as she had never been." Add to that Kate's original dowry, and it's safe to say that Petruchio got his wish to marry into money.
  • Wedlock Block: Bianca can't get married until Kate does.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: There's growing discussion among critics about the induction scenes with Christopher Sly — which starts the play and intermingles with it, then disappears and gets forgotten about. These scenes are often left out of modern performances.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Petruchio's "I swear I'll cuff you if you strike again." (Kate counters by telling him he'll be no gentleman if he does so, and it's never brought up again, as they just continue their punning)
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Look for it during the placing of the bets near the end (of the play; the movie corrects it).
  • Zany Scheme: Bianca's suitors disguise themselves as tutors, leaving Lucentio's servant to impersonate him in dealing with Bianca's father and dragging in another guy to impersonate Lucentio's father. It works.
    • Lucentio is not the only one to come up with this scheme; he wins because he is the only one to both be a tutor and a normal suitor.

Tropes from adaptations of this play:

  • Lysistrata Gambit: In John Fletcher's sequel The Woman's Prize or The Tamer Tamed.
  • The Musical: Kiss Me Kate, where the original frame story is exchanged for Baltimore in 1947, and a theater company is putting on a musical production of the play. Kate's actress (Petruchio/the director's ex-wife) threatens to walk out, the mob gets involved, and characters break character on stage as the "backstage" drama threatens to go out of control.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: In the Franco Zeffirelli movie version, Kate is unable to say the word "not" after "I will" during her unwilling marriage because her new husband grabs and kisses her.

Romeo and JulietClassic TheatreTartuffe
SallyFilms of the 1920sUn Chien Andalou
Romeo and JulietCreator/William ShakespeareThe Tempest
The Tales of HoffmannTheatrical ProductionsTartuffe

alternative title(s): The Taming Of The Shrew; Taming Of The Shrew
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