Study Guide

The Taming of the Shrew Language and Communication

By William Shakespeare

Language and Communication

Induction, Scene 1

HOSTESS
A pair of stocks, you rogue! (Induction.1.2)

It's curious that the very first line spoken in the play conjures an image of a "pair of stocks" (a wooden restraining device used to publicly punish and humiliate criminals). Sly is never thrown in the stocks but he does endure a very public humiliation at the Lord's estate. The specter of bondage and humiliation casts a very long shadow of the inset play as well. It's unsurprising when we find a similar reference to imprisonment and public taunting at the play's end. Compare this to 5.2.27 when Petruchio says Kate holds the other women "prisoner."

Act 1, Scene 1
Katherine Minola

KATHARINA
Why, and I trust I may go too, may I not?
What, shall I be appointed hours as though, belike,
I knew not what to take and what to leave? Ha! (1.1.104-106)

Kate often objects to the way her father controls her every action. Here, though, Kate exaggerates the degree to which Baptista exercises his parental authority. When he says, "And so farewell. Katharina, you may stay; / For I have more to commune with Bianca," Baptista hasn't so much ordered Kate to stay put as he has dismissed her as inconsequential. Part of Baptista's power over Kate is his ability to make her feel small and insignificant in the eyes of her only parent.

Gremio

GREMIO
Why will you mew her up,
Signior Baptista, for this fiend of hell,
And make her bear the penance of her tongue? (1.1.89-91)

This isn't the first time a suitor complains that Baptista "mews up" or cages Bianca. Here, Gremio asserts that Baptista is punishing Bianca (by not letting her get engaged) for Katherine's sins (being a shrew, which prevents her from getting married). We can't really take Gremio seriously here – he speaks on behalf of his interests, not Bianca's. It's hard to imagine that in marrying Gremio, a man old enough to be her father, Bianca's life would be any different. Still, there's a lot of truth in the statement. Bianca is not free to marry or legally make her own decisions. She does find a way though – her eloping with Lucentio is an effective way around Baptista.

GREMIO
To cart her, rather. She's too rough for me.—
There, there, Hortensio, will you any wife? (1.1.55-56)

We've mentioned this quote in the plot summary but we think it's worth discussing in more detail. Grumio mutters under his breath here when Baptista suggests he marry Kate instead of Bianca. Grumio famously utters that he would rather strap Kate to a cart and parade her around town as a form of public humiliation and punishment for being a shrew. (This was a common legal punishment for convicted "scolds.") Critics have pointed out the similarity between this moment and what actually happens to Kate in the play – she's punished by Petruchio in a very public way, as when he makes her a laughing stock at their marriage ceremony.

Act 2, Scene 1
Petruchio

PETRUCHIO
Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife, your dowry 'greed on,
And, will you, nill you, I will marry you. (2.1.284-286)

Petruchio's insistence that Kate has no choice in her marriage speaks to Kate's utter powerlessness. Despite the fact that Baptista says Kate must agree to marry Petruchio, the two men have already reached a decision about the engagement. Petruchio's play on the term "nill" is also pretty menacing. Literally speaking, Petruchio implies that whether Kate likes it or not, he's going to marry her. "Nill" can also be a play on "nil" (meaning non-existent). In this way, Petruchio implies that he'll either marry Kate or "nil" her (take her life). This is one of several creepy allusions to Kate's death.

PETRUCHIO
For I will board her, though she chide as loud
As thunder when the clouds in autumn crack. (2.1.96-97)

When Hortensio warns Petruchio of Kate's unruliness, Petruchio speaks as though Kate is a ship to be raided (boarded) by him. This suggests that Petruchio sees Kate as a conquest to be taken by force and violence.

Bianca

BIANCA
Good sister, wrong me not, nor wrong yourself,
To make a bondmaid and a slave of me.
That I disdain. But for these other goods—
Unbind my hands, I'll pull them off myself, (2.1.1-4)

Gremio's complaint that Bianca is penned up and punished for Kate's shrewish behavior (see 1.1.3) is manifested on stage in a very literal and comedic representation of sibling rivalry. We think this moment is pretty funny, especially because Shakespeare seems to mock Gremio's earlier comment about Bianca. Still, there's something disturbing about an image of a woman bound by her own sister and we're reminded that women often inflict violence on one another in a twisted imitation of patriarchal control. (See, this is what we mean when we say that the play is often simultaneously humorous and dark.)

Act 4, Scene 3
Petruchio

PETRUCHIO
It shall be seven ere I go to horse.
Look, what I speak, or do, or think to do,
You are still crossing it.—Sirs, let 't alone.
I will not go today, and, ere I do,
It shall be what o'clock I say it is.
HORTENSIO, aside 
Why, so, this gallant will command the sun! (4.3.198-203)

Hortensio admires Petruchio's ability to "command the sun," a metaphor for the way Petruchio controls how Kate will spend her time. In doing so, he elevates Petruchio's control over his marriage to a godlike state.

Act 5, Scene 2
Bianca

BIANCA
Fie, what a foolish duty call you this? (5.2.139)

Bianca's resistance to Lucentio's attempts to control her behavior at their wedding banquet not only reveals Bianca to be more of a "shrew" than Kate but also puts a kink in the "happily ever after" scenario we expect from comedy.

Petruchio

PETRUCHIO
Nay, I will win my wager better yet,
And show more sign of her obedience,
Her new-built virtue and obedience.

Enter Katherine, Bianca, and Widow.

See where she comes and brings your froward
   wives
As prisoners to her womanly persuasion.— (5.2.129-134)

As Petruchio brags to the guys about his power to summons Kate with a simple verbal command, he simultaneously casts Katherine as one who controls other women. Here, she drags the Widow and Bianca out to center stage, where she will soon punish their insubordination to their husbands with what amounts to a verbal spanking. Kate is both imprisoned and imprisoning. (Petruchio also seems to enjoy the fact that, as Kate's husband and commander, he is capable of controlling other men's wives by proxy.)

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