The play opens in front of a tavern in the English countryside, where Christopher Sly, a drunk beggar, goes toe-to-toe with the tavern hostess over Sly's disorderly conduct. Sly passes out on the ground and, when a local Lord happens along, he decides to teach Sly a lesson. Sly is carried to the Lord's nearby mansion, where he's dressed up like a nobleman and convinced that he is a "mighty Lord." Sly tries to hook up with the kid pretending to be his wife, but gets shot down. A group of traveling actors then perform a play in Sly's bedroom.
This inset or, play-within-the-play, is set in Padua, Italy, where Lucentio, a rich guy from Verona (along with his trusty servant Tranio), arrives to top off his education. Tranio and Lucentio end up eavesdropping on a little family drama that's happening nearby. Baptista Minola, his daughters Kate and Bianca, and Bianca's suitors bicker about marriage. Baptista lays down the law and says that Bianca's admirers should scram – Bianca's not getting married until Baptista can get Kate off his hands. The suitors whine that this is no fair because Kate is a total witch and nobody wants to marry her.
Lucentio, our little eavesdropper, falls in love with Bianca on the spot and hatches a plan to get with her. He dresses up like a tutor named Cambio so he can infiltrate Baptista's house, Trojan horse style, and be near Bianca. The servant Tranio dresses up like Lucentio.
Petruchio, another rich bachelor from out of town, arrives at his pal Hortensio's house with his servant Grumio. Hortensio is in lust with Bianca and convinces Petruchio that he needs to marry Kate so Bianca will be available. Petruchio is all over this plan – Baptista has lots of money so Kate will come with a big ol' dowry. Petruchio also sees himself as a "shrew tamer," so he's not worried about Kate's attitude. Hortensio disguises himself as Licio the music tutor, so he too can get close to Bianca.
The ridiculously old suitor, Gremio, has hired Cambio (really Lucentio in disguise) to tutor Bianca as a gift to Baptista. The fellas (Hortensio, Lucentio, Gremio, Tranio, and Petruchio) meet up and decide that they will finance Petruchio's quest to "wed and bed" Kate. That settled, they head over to Baptista's house, where the "tutors" successfully gain access to Bianca. On the way, they stop at a bar for a round of shots.
Baptista immediately agrees to Petruchio's plan to marry Kate, as she's a total pain. When Kate and Petruchio meet, all hell breaks loose as they fight it out in a kind of verbal Friday Night Smackdown. Katherine totally rejects Petruchio, but she's as quiet as a mouse when Petruchio tells her dad that she's interested him and wants to get hitched. She also says nothing when Petruchio lies that Kate couldn't keep her hands and lips off of him when they were alone. A wedding date is set.
That being settled, Baptista agrees to hand over Bianca to the highest bidder, Tranio (who is disguised as Lucentio). Meanwhile, Hortensio (as Licio) and Lucentio (as Cambio) "tutor" Bianca – they both declare their love but Bianca plays it cool and doesn't commit to either man.
On Sunday, everyone comes together for the wedding of Kate and Petruchio, who arrives late and is dressed in a wild, totally inappropriate outfit. Petruchio causes a big scene during the ceremony and then drags Kate off to his house before they can go to the reception for a slice of cake. Kate's family and friends shrug it off a little too quickly and party on without her. Kate is made miserable the second they hit the road and, when they arrive at Petruchio's house, she's starved, deprived of sleep, and psychologically manipulated by Petruchio, who has launched a campaign to "tame" Kate of her evil ways by acting like an even bigger shrew than Kate.
Back at Baptista's, Bianca and Lucentio get rid of Hortensio by making out in front of him. Hortensio decides Bianca is not such a nice girl, so he will marry the Widow instead. Tranio then finds a random old guy and tricks him into pretending to be Lucentio's father, who is needed to sign some contracts before Lucentio can marry Bianca.
Meanwhile, Petruchio continues to mess with Kate's head. They set off for Padua to attend Bianca's wedding and Petruchio makes her wear dirty old rags instead of the clothes the tailor made for her. On the way to Padua, Kate finally breaks down and agrees to go along with whatever Petruchio wants from her. When Petruchio wants to pretend the sun is the moon she says fine. When Petruchio pretends an old man on the road is a young virgin, she plays along with that, too.
The old man turns out to be Lucentio's real dad, Vincentio. So the crew heads over to Lucentio's house. Meanwhile, Lucentio and Bianca have run off to elope (at St. Luke's church), while Baptista signs documents with the fake Vincentio. The real Vincentio shows up on the scene and looks like a madman. Before he can be carted off to the clink or the asylum, Lucentio and Bianca show up and apologize for being the worst kids ever. All disguises are removed and true identities are revealed. Oh well, the fathers decide. Let's have some cake and celebrate the marriage of Lucentio and Bianca. Kate and Petruchio have been watching the whole thing go down. They make out on the street and then head in to join the party.
At the banquet, people sit around doing what they do best in this play (talking smack) and the guys make a bet to see whose wife is most obedient. Petruchio wins when Kate runs out and delivers a long speech about her obedience to her Petruchio. Kate fondles his feet and then they make out again before running off to bed.