The Taming of the Shrew

Because The Taming of the Shrew deals with relationships between several different "courting" couples, it can capture the attention of adolescents. The lively comic plot and appealing characters make it an excellent introduction to Shakespeare. This guide includes a brief overview, suggestions for teaching the play, and extended learning activities.
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Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew

Below are several techniques you can use to introduce The Taming of the Shrew to students:

1. Tell the story of the play, introduce the main characters and explain how the Induction and Bianca-Lucentio subplots fit into the Kate-Petruchio story. You may want to refer students to the Dramatis Personae to help them identify characters and their relationships.*

2. Ask students to think about ways society expects them to behave. Ask the students: Do you ever feel torn between the expectations of others and your own expectations for yourself? Do teachers expect unfair or uncomfortable behavior from you? When faced with peer, society, or school pressure to conform, how do you react?*

3. Discuss the title The Taming of the Shrew. Ask the students to define shrew. Webster defines shrew as "a vexatious, scolding, or brawling woman." Kate is also described in the play as headstrong, cursed, mad, and choleric. Ask the students: What images do you get from the word taming? Webster defines tame as "changed from the wild state, domesticated." Ask: What is suggested by the word domesticated? Webster offers, "converted to the home life; tame." Students can see that the play will be about "a scolding, brawling woman who is changed from the wild state and converted to home life." That idea alone ought to prompt a lively classroom discussion.

4. Like most of Shakespeare's plays, The Taming of the Shrew was based on familiar plots and employed theatrical conventions (accepted practices) Shakespeare's audiences understood that may seem strange to modern viewers. It is important to help students identify and understand these conventions before they read the play.

a. The play mixes English comedy with Italian comedy heavily influenced by Commedia dell'arte.

b. Both styles are considered to be farce, a broad comedy employing simple plots, stereotyped characters, and physical comedy or slapstick. Today, many movies and TV situation comedies are farces. Cartoons and short films, such as the Three Stooges, use slapstick, a kind of action where there is a lot of violence, but no one actually gets hurt. Ask students to identify farcical films, sitcoms, or cartoons. Discuss the comedy found in them to determine the elements of a farce. This discussion will enable students to better visualize the action of the play as they read it.*

c. It might be helpful to provide students with a brief introduction to and picture of traditional Commedia productions. Commedia dell'arte was an improvisational theater. Companies presented a series of standard plots or scenarios. Each actor and actress specialized in a particular type of character called a stock character: sweet and innocent lovers-juvenile, male lover and ingenue, female lover; the stingy old man-Pantaloon, generally after the sweet young thing; the Braggart Soldier-more talk than action; befuddled parents; impertinent servants; and tricksters. Students can look for these stock characters as they read the play.# ~

5. Most students are familiar with the idea of conventional plot. Ask the students: What do you expect to see in a buddy film or a disaster movie? What do you think are the conventions of romantic comedies? What do you think of when you hear the term battle of the sexes? Students can use their answers to anticipate the action in The Taming of the Shrew.* More mature students can identify and discuss elements of sexual tension existing between characters in romantic comedies on TV or film. Ask the students: What elements combine to create these tensions? Why and how do relationships between characters change when they become sexual? (Later, students can discuss why Kate and Petruchio apparently do not consummate their marriage until the end of the play.)#

The Taming of the Shrew also includes a subplot-the courtship of Bianca. Ask students to consider how this plot, which follows a more traditional romantic comedy format, fits the title The Taming of the Shrew.*

6. If this is the first Shakespearean play students have read, they should be introduced to the conventions of the Elizabethan stage.* Below are ones you may wish to introduce:

a. The play-within-a-play - A play performed as part of the story for some dramatic purpose. For example, in Hamlet, Hamlet asks a group of players to perform a play with a plot similar to what he suspects are the actual events of his father's murder. The main action of The Taming of the Shrew is a play-within-a-play.

b. The use of disguises - A character puts on a disguise to hide, trick, or spy on others. Shakespeare's audience accepted the fact that none of the other characters ever recognized the person disguised. Students can look for examples of this in the play.

c. Love at first sight - This is a common device in romantic comedies.
Lucentio falls head over heels the minute he sees Bianca. Students may be
asked to look for other examples in the play.

d. Fluid action - Shakespeare's stage used little in the way of set or props; everything was portable. Modern critics called Shakespeare's plays filmic, since the action can move quickly from one locale to another in much the same way a movie script can. The action of this play shifts between various locations in Padua and Petruchio's house.

e. Asides - Shakespeare's characters often make comments to each other or to the audience the other characters never hear. These asides usually comment on the action. For example:

•Hortensio. I promised we would be contributors and bear his charge of wooing, whatsoe'er.
•Gremio. And so we will, provided that he win her.
•Grumio. [Aside] I would I were as sure of a good dinner. - (I, ii, 214-217) [p. 74]

f. Soliloquy - Speeches in which characters think out loud, alone on stage,
for the benefit of the audience. Sometimes they are talking directly to the
audience, sometimes not. Petruchio does this prior to his first meeting
with Kate:

I'll attend her here
And woo her with some spirit when she comes.
Say that she rail, why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown, I'll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly washed with dew.
Say she be mute and will not speak a word,
Then I'll commend her volubility
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.
If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks
As though she bid me stay by her a week.
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns and when be married.
But here she comes, and now, Petruchio, speak. - (II, i, 168-181) [p. 84]

7. Students unfamiliar with reading plays may need help in learning how to read dialogue. Because characters are usually active, students need to visualize what they are doing. Shakespeare helps by suggesting their action in the dialogue. Show students an example and discuss it with them:*

But for my bonny Kate, she must with me.
Nay, look not big, nor stamp, nor stare, nor fret;
I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods. . . .
And here she stands. Touch her whoever dare,
I'll bring mine action on the proudest he
That stops my way in Padua. Grumio,
Draw forth thy weapon, we are beset with thieves.
Rescue thy mistress, if thou be a man.
Fear not, sweet wench; they shall not touch thee, Kate.
I'll buckler thee against a million. - (Petruchio, III, ii, 227-239) [pp. 106-107]

Ask the students: What are Petruchio, Kate, and Grumio doing during Petruchio's speech?

8. Shakespeare's language is often a formidable obstacle. Most students need help in learning how to use footnotes to interpret unfamiliar words and phrases. It is useful to introduce students to typical Shakespearean language:*

a. Banter/plays on words/puns - dialogue with a double meaning:

Kate. I pray you, sir, is it your will
To make a stale of me amongst these mates?
Hortensio. Mates, maid? How mean you that? No mates for you
Unless you were of gentler, milder mold. - (I, i, 57-60) [p. 59]

Often the banter has bawdy (sexual) tone:

Petruchio. Myself am moved two woo thee for my wife.
Kate. Moved! In good time, let him that moved you hither
Remove you hence. I knew you at the first You were a movable.
Petruchio. Why, what's a movable?
Kate. A joint stool.
Petruchio. Thou has hit it; come sit on me.
Kate. Asses are made to bear and so are you.
Petruchio. Women are made to bear and so are you.
Kate. No such jade as you, if me you mean. - (II, i, 194-201) [p. 85]

Characters can deliberately misunderstand each other:

Petruchio. Here, sirrah Grumio, knock, I say.
Grumio. Knock, sir? Whom should I knock? Is there any man has rebused your worship?
Petruchio. Villain, I say, knock me here soundly.
Grumio. Knock you here sir? Why, O sir, what am I, sir, that I should knock you here, sir?
Petruchio. Villain, I say, knock me at this gate. And rap me well or I'll knock your knave's pate. - (I, ii, 5-12) [p. 67]

b. Invective - vivid expression of anger:

O monstrous arrogance!
Thou liest, thou thread, thou thimble,
Thou yard, three-quarters, half-yard, quarter, nail!
Thou flea, thou nit, thou winter cricket thou!
Braved in mine own house with a skein of thread!
Away, thou rag, thou quantity, thou remnant,
Or I shall so bemete thee with thy yard
As thou shalt think on prating whilst thou liv'st.
I tell thee, I, that thou hast marred her gown. - (Petruchio, IV, iii, 106-114) [p. 125]

c. Scenes which take place offstage - description of offstage action:

Tell thou the tale. But hadst thou not
crossed me thou shouldst have heard how her
horse fell and she under her horse. Thou shouldst
have heard in how miry a place, how she was be-
moiled, how he left her with the horse upon her,
how he beat me because her horse stumbled, how
she waded through the dirt to pluck him off me;
how he swore, how she prayed that never prayed
before; how I cried, how the horses ran away, how
her bridle was burst, how I lost my crupper, with
many things of worthy memory which now shall
die in oblivion, and thou return unexperienced to
thy grave. - (Grumio, IV, i, 68-80) [pp. 110-111]

d. Types of language - Prose is generally reserved for servants or other lowborn characters. Sly, when he believes that he is himself, speaks in prose:

What, would you make me mad? Am not I Chris-
topher Sly, old Sly's son of Burton-heath, by birth
a peddler, by education a cardmaker, by transmu-
tation a bearherd, and now by present profession
a tinker? Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife of
Wincot, if she know me not. If she say I am not
fourteen pence on the score for sheer ale, score
me up for the lying'st knave in Christendom. - (Ind, ii, 17-24) [p. 51]

But when he thinks he's a gentleman, he speaks in poetry, the language of the well born:

Am I a lord, and have I such a lady?
Or do I dream? Or have I dreamed till now?
I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak,
I smell sweet savors and I feel soft things.
Upon my life, I am a lord indeed
And not a tinker nor Christopher Sly. - (Ind, ii, 67-73) [p. 53]

Most of the time, Shakespeare's dialogue is written in blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter. The rhythm of iambic pentameter (unstressed syllable, stressed syllable) is considered to be closest to conversational speech. Occasionally the characters speak in rhymed verse or couplets. A couplet often ends an act or a scene:

Have to my widow, and if she be froward,
Then hast thou taught Hortensio to be untoward. - (Hortensio, IV, v, 78-79) [p. 136]

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