Induction.1 The Lord sets about concocting what amounts to a play, to be performed for a company of players, who do not know it is pretense, and in which they and their talents are unwittingly enlisted (89-100).
By enlisting Bartholomew to play Sly's wife, to kiss him and lay his head upon Sly's breast and cry, the play calls attention to its own practice of employing boys to represent women on stage. Usually the play requires that we regard such boys as ladies, but in this little drama, we are invited to laugh at the thought of Bartholomew in bed with Sly, and Sly taking him for a wife. Oddly the play then invites a mockery of itself and a level of conscious collusion with the play not usually expected of audiences.
If the Lord can succeed in making Sly into a gentleman by changing his clothes and surroundings, can he also succeed in making Sly believe a boy is his Lady? The play invites us to compare gender performance and class performance. Does it intend to upset one's notions of the naturalness of gender and class distinctions?
Induction.2 Why do the Lord and servingmen insist so much on images of the standard objects of heterosexual male desire? Nightingale's song, lustful bed, pictures of women adored (and raped) by gods according to Ovid's Metamorphoses. See the story of Io in Metamorphoses 1; that of Daphne also in book 1; that of Philomela in book 6.
Everything has been building towards line 115, but the play manages to keep hold of its humor by deferring the punch line, as it were.
1.1 Lucentio appears to be a reader of Aristotle's ethics (18-19); the Nicomachean Ethics teaches that the life of active virtue is the path to happiness. The play appears to invite some gentle mockery of Lucentio, as a man just a bit too devoted to the pleasures of virtue and less aware of the virtues of pleasure. Not surprisingly, he falls for Bianca (whiteness) in all her virgin modesty and is particularly attracted by her ready obedience to her father.
Tranio refers to Bianca as a Minerva (84), alluding to a story in book 6 of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Later he compares her to Agenor's daughter, Europa (165), whose story Ovid tells also in book 6. It certainly appears that Ovid has displaced Aristotle in his love-struck brain. What are the most immediate effects of this?
So Sly watches a play in which master and servant exchange roles by exchanging clothing. Has Lucentio literally been enslaved by love (217)?
1.2 Grumio should remind readers of Dromio S. in The Comedy of Errors in that he insists on punning on literal senses; Dromio was fooling, but Grumio apears genuinely doltish and literal-minded to a fault. He also mistakes Italian for Latin (28)--rather farcical for an Italian character to mistake Italian for Latin? What are we to imagine is his native language--English?
Compare line 66 to Bassanio's similar announcement in The Merchant of Venice 1.1.164-79. Is marriage primarily about money and property? relations between men negotiated with women? Why the discourse and rhetoric of love and consent?
According to Grumio, Petruchio can stand a good deal of scolding and will give as good as he gets, but he also alleges that Petruchio will disfigure her with his rhetoric (figures) and tear out her eyes (figuratively?) (111-112). Recall that Antipholus E. threatened to claw out his wife's eyes when he thought her unruly, and to disfigure her as well (Errors 4.4.122 and 4.5
This scene invites us to compare the relative manliness of Hortensio, Gremio, Lucentio, and Petruchio. Gremio is, of course, a Pantaloon or clown, Hortensio a kind of a buffoon, and Lucentio very clever, but devious rather than candid, bluff and manly. Petruchio is clearly the manliest man--he appears to have a military past and boasts about his strength and fortitude (195-207). Gremio and Hortensio fear being out-talked by Tranio, a servant, so they come off badly in the competition for most manly.
In general it seems Petruchio's preference for Kate, though he says it is entirely pecuniary, marks him as more of a man than those who are frightened by a woman's unruly tongue. Tranio's apparent learning and Lucentio's bookishness may count as classy, but hardly as manly. Compare to Henry V's disdain for polite learning and his offensively blunt wooing practices (Henry V 5.2). Clearly Kate's the proper object for a soldierly manly man, and modest Bianca attracts the courtly, or courtly wannabes. Wooing Kate is a labor fit for Hercules (252).
2.1 Why does Kate torture her sister in this particular way--binding her hands and insisting she perform subjection to her? Is Kate a kind of mannish woman, insisting not only on insubordination, but outright domination? Her unruliness is hardly feminist then, is it? Does she mock Bianca's willingness to be subordinate? Maybe she suspects it is insincere?
Is Kate as uninterested in marriage as she indicated to everyone in 1.1.62? Why does she think Bianca is her father's favorite?
Gremio thinks Petruchio is too "forward" (73), too bold, in his suit. The words forward and froward are often used to characterize scolds and shrews. Is Petruchio a shrew of sorts? He says he's rough (137); he calls that "special thing"--Kate's consent--"nothing" (128-130). If Kate is rough, he'll prove rougher. Calling her consent "nothing" may either mean he intends not to wait for consent or he has no doubts about obtaining it. Either he won't wait for a "Yes" or he'll work one out. But here he's talking about marriage and NOT so much about its consummation.
The war of wits follows. In this war the winner gets to have his or her meaning of things and words prevail. This starts with the name Kate. Can he call her Kate against her will? Can she successfully insist on Katherine? Can he keep pace with her punning insults, turning her turned meanings once again to his intentions?
The wasp image asks for particular attention. Kate's waspish stinger is her tongue, the mannish woman's phallic weapon. But Petruchio insists her sting is in her tail, and winds up articulating an image of HIS tongue in her tail, proving the more able wasp, and more capable scold. But the sexual image of his tongue in her tail suggests quite another set of roles as well, roles that might catch Kate's fancy, though she doesn't let on so.
At this war of words, Kate can hold her own, even prevail, and she demonstrates her advantage by striking Petruchio; should he strike back, she'd win the game of words for he would lose his role as gentleman. Losing his "arms" he'd lose his standing and so lose the battle of intentions and meanings.
But Petruchio, as a man, has a secret weapon though: men's words, however false, almost always carry more credit than womens, especially if the words are those everyone wants to hear and believe. Petruchio says he's been successful wooing Kate, and that's that. The bargain's done, the date set. Kate may be more masterful with her tongue, but Petruchio's speech carries the credit of a master--the man.
Bianca's consent never arises as even a slight formality (394-400). Why not?
3.1 Bianca seems quite a different character when away from her father. If Lucentio was first attracted to her for her quiet modesty, what holds his attention, now? Bianca cliams the power to choose what to attend to, music or "philosophy," but her father has not even asked her opinion about the suitors.
3.2 Why all the detailed (and humorous) emphasis on the shortcomings of Petruchio's mount (47-58)?
By "steal this marriage" (136), Lucentio means elopement, a common problem for gentle families of the period. Once a couple was married by an ordained clergyman and had consummated their marriage, it was very difficult for displeased parents to get the union annulled. Elopement would be considered the opposite extreme to arranged marriages. Arranged marriages are those undertaken with little or no regard for the woman's wishes; elopement took to account of parental wishes. Romeo and Juliet eloped.
Tranio outlines the set of obstacles that lie between Lucentio and his desired Bianca: Gremio, Minola, and Litio (141-143).
What might it mean for a man to play the shrew? If a woman is said to be shrewish when she tries to usurp rule from men (fathers, husbands, brothers), can a man reclaim that rule by being shrewish himself? Petruchio suggests other versions of gender-switching when he says he has given himself away in marriage (200).
How does Petruchio finally prevail in the argument about staying for the feast or going? He claims she is his goods or his "chattels," but that is surely not an effective argument for her obedience; rather it is an argument against anyone other than he having authority over her. If he lays hold on her at this moment, it is under the pretense of rescuing her from "thieves" (232), not taking her away by force like a child. But of course he does exactly that--he takes her away by force, but he labels his action something else, chivalry perhaps?
4.1 Petruchio likens his procedures with Kate to the practice of taming a hawk (a "haggard"). The point of such training is to make the bird serviceably obedient as a hunter. What sort of hunting does he expect of his wife?
4.2 Lucentio's plan begins to pay off as Hortensio drops out of the game to marry a widow whom, everyone presumes, requires taming. Why should they think a widow will be shrewish?
But Lucentio's plan is bizarrely complicated. He woos as Cambio (exchanger) while Tranio, disguised as him, treats with Baptista (2.1). The false identities dramatize the two, sometimes opposed, procedures in arranging a marriage. Lucentio (light) proceeds in the more modern way, by wooing the girl's affections and flattering her. He engages Tranio to perform the more traditional arrangements with the father. Tranio and Baptista arrange the marriage as if it were strictly an affair between men in which Bianca is little more than a piece of precious property. Lucentio and Bianca proceed in the more modern supposition that marriage is a contract between the lovers, a amn and a woman.
If we ask which sort of marriage procedure--the old or the new--the play appears to endorse, we notice many serious problems. We are invited to delight in Lucentio's clever wooing and his use of Ovid's Ars Amatoria (line 7), but we may also recall that Ovid's book satirizes such wooing. Lucentio and Bianca's relationship looks more like a conspiracy than a betrothal; a betrothal involving deceiet is a conspiracy. They really are "stealing" their marriage (3.2.136). In this conspiracy Lucentio encourages Bianca to deceive her father and circumvent his authority over her. If he first fell in love with her for her silent obedient manner (1.1.148-55), he is now in some danger of undermining the very character that first attracted him.
And Lucentio also circumvents his father's authority by recruiting the old pedant to stand in for his father. In a way, Lucentio even puts his own authority and position at risk by endowing his servant Tranio with his identity, his clothing, and his state. Lucentio hazards everything, even his identity, to pursue Bianca; the play literalizes the old proverb that in love one risks losing one's self. Does the play suggest that the new sort of marriage threatens authority and puts social structures and the fragile selves upon which they depend at risk?
4.3 Katharina's objections to being treated like a child, or an unruly puppy, sound reasonable and justified, do they not (73-80)? Does the play invite us to blame Petruchio at this point or to praise him? Compare Petruchio's complaint in 184-87 to Antipholus S.'s in Errors 2.2.26-33. Does he not treat her like a servant, or worse? And yet, he never lays a hand on her; he beats his servants as if they abused his lady, but never beats her.
4.4 The match is made between Lucentio and Bianca, even though Baptista actually negotiates with Tranio and some wandering pedant. Indeed Lucentio and Bianca do not "dissemble deeply their affections" from each other (42), but they dissemble much else. Note that "with consent" follows "The match is made,a nd all is done./ Your son shall have my daughter" (46-47). Sufficient dower is Baptista's chief concern.
The marriage then has all the features of a love-match, an arrangement between men, and a scurrilous elopement (95-100).
4.5 Sun is masculine and moon is feminine. This, taken together with the matter of Vincentio being greeted like a maid, implies the extremes to which Petruchio will go to insist on his will. The world will be what he says it is; is the authoritative husband the worst kind of shrew? Or does authority appear shrewish in the face of resistance?
5.2 How to measure the tone of Katharina's final speech--this is the chief hermeneutic problem in this play. Sarcastic? Practical (she wants to help win the bet)? Sincere and subdued? Convincing? Even if sincere, does she not usurp the place of authority by being the voice of authority? Isn't she still talking? Or is this the turn of the shrew--to lend her own voice to the doctrine of women's subjection? Like Eve in Paradise Lost 4.440-48.