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. Many adaptations do something to undercut the Kate-submits-to-Petruchio ending.
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 play was adapted to film several times. A 1929 version starred Hollywood power couple Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks in her second talking film and his first, and the only film they appeared in together. Probably the most well-known adaptation is the 1967 version, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring another Hollywood power couple, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (it's the source of the page image). The movie 10 Things I Hate About You is a High School A.U. adaptation of the story, treating it as a teen comedy. It also inspired the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me Kate.
The Taming of the Shrew contains the following tropes:
- Abduction Is Love: Petruchio essentially kidnaps Kate after the wedding ceremony.
- 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.)
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: 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.
- Artistic License – Geography: 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.)
- Bad Boss: Petruchio treats his servants pretty horribly.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Essentially how Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) dupes a random passerby and passes him off as Vincentio—he asks the guy where he's from, and on his reply (Mantua) claims that the dukes of Mantua and Padua are feuding, and that any citizens of one city found in the other would be arrested and executed. It would've worked, too, if the real Vincentio hadn't shown up.
- 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.
- Comedic Spanking: Traditionally Kate receives one from Petruchio, although the text itself doesn't do more than suggest it (such as making a pun on the wasp having a "sting in his tail.") They both slap each other around as well.
- The Confidant: Tranio to Lucentio, who compares him to a famous example of the trope in Virgil's The 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.
- Decoy Protagonist: Lucentio is set up as the main character in the first scene. He's not.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Kate
- Denied Food as Punishment
- Deuteragonist: Tranio is The Protagonist of the B-plot, trying to get Lucentio and Bianca together. In terms of lines, he's second only to Petruchio.
- 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]
- 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.
- Forgotten Framing Device: The play starts off with a wealthy man deciding to pull a prank on the drunkard tinker Christopher Sly 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 forgotten, and outside of one of them remarking on the play briefly as they're watching, this beginning is never brought up again. Possibly 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. These scenes are often left out of modern performances.
- 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".
- Friendly Rivalry: Bianca's suitors maintain this throughout. Tranio at one point offers to take the other to a tavern, advising that they may "strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends." In other words, fight tooth and nail for Bianca's affections but still be on friendly terms with each other.
- 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.
- Gold Digger: Petruchio, oh so much.
- Guile Hero: Tranio, who manages to arrange a marriage between Lucentio and Bianca through a series of bluffs and manipulations.
- 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."
- In-Series Nickname: Kate for Katarina. When she first meets Petruchio, she tells him not to call her Kate; so of course he does for the rest of the play, just to annoy her.
- The Jeeves: Tranio, to Lucentio—in stark contrast to Petruchio's oddball servant Grumio.
- Kid Sidekick: Biondello.
- Likes Older Women: Hortensio, who ends up marrying a widow.
- 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:
- "Bianca" means "white", referring to the purity of her nature (this could be an Ironic Name depending on your interpretation).
- "Tranio" and "Grumio" were named after a pair of slave characters in Plautus's play Mostellaria—a well-bred, clever town slave with Gentleman Snarker tendencies and a low-born, much-abused country slave, respectively.
- Meta Fiction: Is this a misogynist play? Or an overblown farce about how men like watching misogynist plays? Thanks to the induction, either interpretation is up for grabs.
- 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.
- 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.
- Show Within a Show: The main plot is contained in a play being performed for the tinker.
- 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.
- Two Plus Torture Equals Five: For a very mild form of torture, anyway, but Petruchio does withhold food and drink in order to bring Kate to heel. The turning point comes when she submits to him and agrees with his insistence that it's 7 am and time to go out, when it's really no later than 2 am. Shortly thereafter she agrees with his insistence that the sun is really the moon and that an old man passing them on the road is really a young maid. Kate gives Petruchio no trouble thereafter.
- 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.
- 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 punningnote )
- Writers Cannot Do Math: Look for it during the placing of the bets near the end. However the mistake has also been interpreted as intentional because it is done by Lucentio, who is not all that bright.
- 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:
- Adapted Out: Christopher Sly and the framing device usually aren't included in adaptations.
- Demoted to Extra: In the abridged book made for 30 Minutes, every character that isn't Kate, Petruchio, Baptista, Lucentio or Tranio.
- Establishing Character Moment: In the 1929 film Mary Pickford is introduced throwing various pieces of furniture and artwork at servants as they flee in terror.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Roof Hopping: In the Zeffirelli version Kate tries to flee from Petruchio's wooing by roof hopping across the mansion. Petruchio gives chase, and they wind up falling into the storeroom (fortunately onto a load of cotton) when the roof gives way.
- "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.
- Silent Snarker: One famous way of handling the ending is, after her speech, having Kate turn and wink silently to the audience as she leaves with Petruchio, establishing that her entire speech was sarcastic. Whether it works or not depends solely on how the dialogue is spoken; it requires no change to the text whatsoever.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Certainly not arguable in the 1929 version. Kate chucks a stool at Petruchio and hits him square on the forehead.