The Taming of the Shrew abbreviated

This zany love-comedy, set in “fair Padua, nursery of the arts, the pleasant garden of great Italy,” opens when the well-heeled, happy, over-reaching Lucentio, a young man from Pisa, tells his servant, Tranio, how pleased he is to be in Padua.  He has come to Padua to immerse himself, as he says, in the happiness branch of philosophy that leads to virtue.  Being young men, the more skeptical Tranio suggests that Lucentio tone down his dreams and that while in Padua he should “resolve to suck the sweets of sweet philosophy,” but “in brief, sir, study what you most like.” (Enchantment, Act 1, Scene 1) Lucentio responds “Thanks, Tranio, well dost thou advise.”

As these two are talking, Baptista Minola, his daughters, and two of his younger daughter’s suitors enter, Bianca being the younger daughter. Lucentio and Tranio step aside, Lucentio having fallen for Bianca at first sight. Baptista lets Bianca’s suitors know that he is resolved “not to bestow my youngest daughter before I have a husband for the elder.” (Infatuation, Act 1, Scene 1) As Baptista sends Bianca inside their home, she says “my books and instruments shall be my company, on them to look and practice by myself.”  After Baptista and his daughters exit, Bianca’s suitors, Hortensio and Gremio, agree that if either one of them is to win Bianca, they must find a way to “get a husband for her sister.”  Lucentio and Tranio have overheard it all. How these guys, Lucentio included, go about competing to win Bianca, knowing they first have to find a husband for Katherine, is the essence of the comedy, Katherine being the older sister, the ‘shrew.’ She is also known as “Katherine the curst.” 

Hortensio and Gremio have now left the stage.  The smitten Lucentio and his buddy Tranio try to develop a strategy as to how he (Lucentio) might go about getting to meet Bianca, spend some time with her and woo her.  Tranio suggests that he “be a schoolmaster and undertake the teaching of the maid,” Bianca, as we say, having told her father that her books and instruments would keep her company.  We learn that Baptista happens to know Lucentio’s father, Vincentio of Pisa, and since Lucentio has really taken an interest in Bianca, the two of them decide that it might be in Lucentio’s best interest if they disguise themselves, Lucentio as a teacher; Tranio as Lucentio.  A note here: Shakespeare often runs rampant with disguises.  By adding this kind of mischief to his plays, Shakespeare makes keeping track of who is who in his plays a challenge.  The challenge he offers in this play is as tough as any.

By sheer happenstance, Petruchio, a young man from Verona, enters, coming to Padua to visit his friend Hortensio (one of Bianca’s suitors).  Petruchio’s servant Grumio is with him.  Petruchio tells Hortensio that “I come to wive wealthily in Padua; if wealthily, then happily in Padua.”  Hortensio tells Petruchio that he has the perfect wife in mind for him, and that he may “thank me but a little for my counsel, yet I’ll promise thee she shall be rich, and very rich.”  Hortensio tells him the young woman he suggests is Katherine Minola. (Confidence, Act 1, Scene 2.1) Petruchio says, “I know her father, though I know her not.”  Hortensio lets Petruchio know of Baptista’s plan for his two daughters, and that he has a real interest in the younger one.  Petruchio likes what he hears.  Following a discussion of how they might pull this off, Petruchio agrees to help disguise Hortensio as a teacher, and that not only will he introduce the disguised-as-a-schoolteacher Hortensio to Baptista, but that he’ll suggest to her father that he hire him as a teacher for his daughter Bianca.  Meanwhile, Gremio enters with Lucentio, now disguised as Cambio, a poetry teacher, and introduces the disguised-as-Cambio Lucentio to his friend Hortensio as a “schoolmaster for fair Bianca,” Hortensio having now disguised himself as Litio, a music teacher.  Hortensio in turn introduces Petruchio to Gremio as a gentleman who “will undertake to woo curst Katherine;” Gremio being, as we say, his friend and fellow Bianca-suitor.  Gremio says to Hortensio, “Have you told him all her faults?”   Overhearing the question, Petruchio says “I know she is irksome, but I hear no harm.” (Confidence, Act 1, Scene 2.2)

Meanwhile, Tranio enters, now disguised as Lucentio.  He asks Gremio and Hortensio (disguised as Litio) how to get to the Minola home.  Both react quickly, being concerned that he might be a competitor for Bianca’s attention, both telling him that she doesn’t need another suitor.  Tranio-as-Lucentio says “So, Helen of Troy had a thousand wooers.”  When asked if he knows that Baptista has two daughters, Petruchio, having stepped aside, jumps in saying “The first’s for me; let her go by.”  Tranio-as-Lucentio then says, “One may do as adversaries, but eat and drink as friends.”  Tranio-as-Lucentio, Gremio and Hortensio end up getting along just fine, each having the common objective of finding a way to match-up Petruchio with Katherine. 

In the Minola home, an angry Katherine binds Bianca’s hands, demanding that she tell her which one of her suitors “she would fancy more than the other.”  Their father unties Bianca’s hands asking Katherine why she “wrongs her.”  Katherine responds “Her silence flouts me, and I’ll be revenged.”  Meanwhile the charming Petruchio enters, introduces himself to Baptista as Antonio’s son, and introduces his friend Hortensio to Baptista as Litio, “a man most skilled in music and the fine sciences of mathematics.” Smooth-talking Petruchio uses the opportunity to ask Baptista for permission to woo his older daughter Katherine. (Persuasion, Act 2, Scene 1) A pleased Baptista, having told Petruchio how much he admires his father Antonio, says “Well mayst thou woo, and happy be thy speed.”  Gremio then enters and introduces Lucentio (disguised as Cambio) to Baptista, telling him he is “as cunning in Greek and Latin as in music and mathematics.”  Baptista hires both Litio and Cambio as his daughters’ teachers. (Proposal, Act 2, Scene 1.1) Tranio-as-Lucentio, to complete the ruse, then introduces himself to Baptista as Lucentio, the son of Vincentio. Grumio (Petruchio’s aide) earlier had said “Here’s to knavery!  See, to beguile the old folks, how the young folks lay their heads together.”

All did not go well during the first music lesson Litio offered Katherine; Katherine having broken the lute over Litio’s head.  Trying to bring peace to the family, Baptista suggests he offer his music lessons to Bianca.  Litio tells Baptista that the lute-over-the-head issue happened when he told her “she mistook her frets and with that word she struck me on the head while she did call me ‘rascal fiddler’ and ‘twangling Jack,’ with twenty such vile terms, as had she studied to misuse me so.” Separately, Katherine does her best to irritate Petruchio, but he pleasantly persists, telling us how he plans to woo her. (Proposal, Act 2, Scene 1.2) With the two of them having been together for but a brief time, Petruchio, when asked by her father “Now, Signior Petruchio, how speed you with my daughter” proceeds to announce to all that he and Katherine are to be married on Sunday, which ignites a scramble between Gremio and Tranio-as-Lucentio for Baptista’s approval to woo Bianca, now that Katherine plans to get married. (Tease, Act 2, Scene 1)

Baptista decides to set-up an auction of sorts for Bianca, saying he who “can assure my daughter greatest dower shall have my Bianca’s love.” Gremio acknowledges he is ‘outbid’ by Tranio, still disguised as Lucentio.  But ever cautious Baptista tells Tranio-as-Lucentio that his father Vincentio must “make her the assurance,” since Tranio-as-Lucentio’s proposal depends on his inheritance from his “father.”  Tranio quickly realizes that he might be in trouble since a “supposed Lucentio must beget a father called supposed Vincentio.”

Meanwhile, with Katherine’s wedding set for Sunday, Lucentio-as-Cambio and Hortensio-as-Litio, both still pretending to be school teachers, both still most interested in Bianca, aggressively compete to win the younger sister.  Sparring verbally in her presence, Bianca says “To cut off all strife, here set we down.”  She deals with both diplomatically, soon leaving them to help her older sister get ready for the wedding.  Later, Baptista and others enter near the church, Baptista saying “This is the ‘pointed day that Katherine and Petruchio should be married” and asks “yet we hear not of our son-in-law.”  Katherine says “No shame but mine. I must be forced to give my hand.”  But Petruchio soon arrives on a broken-down horse along with his servant Grumio, both absurdly dressed. (Tease, Act 3, Scene 2) Baptista says “I am glad he’s come, howsoe’er he comes.”  Petruchio is upbeat, asking “But where is Kate?”  They soon marry.  We quickly learn second-hand that during the wedding ceremony Petruchio embarrassed everyone with his lack of deportment. (Humor, Act 3, Scene 2.1) Shortly after the ceremony, Petruchio announces that he has to leave and does.  When pressed, Petruchio tells all not to worry; that he’ll defend and protect his wife; that she is his, as is his horse and house.  He exits, saying “Fear not, sweet wench.”  (Humor, Act 3, Scene 2.2) Gremio says “Petruchio is Kated.” 

At his home in the country, Petruchio continues with his plan to ‘tame’ Katherine, being generally obnoxious, abusing his servants while denying his wife food and sleep.  (Humor, Act 4, Scene 1) Meanwhile, back at the Minola home, having observed Lucentio (still disguised as Cambio) kissing and whispering to Bianca, Hortensio gives up his masquerade and effort to woo Bianca, vowing to marry the Widow “who hath loved me from my call long ago.”  (Envy, Act 4, Scene 2) He leaves to join Petruchio.  Separately, Biondello, another servant to Lucentio, meets a Merchant and suggests to Lucentio that the Merchant would make a good stand-in for Lucentio’s father, Vincentio.  Lucentio likes the idea. The Merchant readily agrees to play the role. 

Petruchio and Grumio continue to tease and taunt Katherine over food, a gown, and a cap, showing little mercy.  They make plans to leave for her father’s home. (Husband to Wife, Act 4, Scene 3) Later, the Merchant, who is playing the role of Vincentio beautifully, fears that Baptista, when they are introduced, might recognize him for who he really is.  He need not have worried. (Humor, Act 4, Scene 4) Hearing the Merchant out, Baptista agrees that Vincentio’s ‘son,’ Lucentio, may marry Bianca, conditioned “that like a father you will deal with him and pass my daughter a sufficient dower.”  They prepare to call the priest.  Lucentio understandably worries how his having been disguised as Cambio will set with Bianca, once Bianca recognizes him and the others for who they really are.  Again, he need not have worried. 

While Petruchio, Katherine and Hortensio are on their way to the Minola home they meet the real Vincentio (Lucentio’s father), who just happens to be headed for Padua “to visit a son of mine which long I have not seen.”  The four of them travel together to Padua, Petruchio saying “Happily met, the happier for thy son.”  Hortensio and the Widow return to Padua and marry.  Lucentio and Bianca marry.  The real Vincentio shows up at Lucentio’s home looking for his son.  As one might imagine, Petruchio and Vincentio have a lively who-is-really-who confrontation with the Merchant, still disguised as Vincentio, and Tranio, still disguised as Lucentio, and with Baptista.  Gremio, having earlier been considered somewhat of a fool, in true Shakespeare fashion, finally steps in, saving the moment.  All principals gather for Lucentio and Bianca’s wedding reception where Lucentio heals recent verbal wounds, saying “At long last, our jarring notes agree, and time to smile at escapes and perils past.”  The party ends when Petruchio, who has ‘tamed’ Katherine, has her tell Bianca and the Widow, to everyone’s total astonishment “what duty they owe their husbands.” (Love, Act 5, Scene 2)

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