Study Guide

The Taming of the Shrew Transformation

By William Shakespeare

Transformation

Induction, Scene 1
The Lord

LORD
I know the boy will well usurp the grace,
Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman.
I long to hear him call the drunkard husband,
And how my men will stay themselves from laughter
When they do homage to this simple peasant. (Induction.1.136-141)

Part of the Lord's elaborate plot to turn Sly from a "swine" into a nobleman involves the transformation of his servants (and himself) into role-playing characters, a reminder that all actors (including Shakespeare) undergo transformations each time they set foot on stage.

O monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies!
Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image!
Sirs, I will practice on this drunken man. (Induction.1.35-37)

The Lord's decision to punish Sly, by transforming him from a "beast" to a "nobleman," anticipates the way Petruchio will force Kate to change from a "shrew" to an "obedient wife." Both of these forced metamorphoses raise Kate and Sly to more acceptable social roles, but Shakespeare calls into question whether these changes are permanent or even genuine.

Act 1, Scene 2
Grumio

GRUMIO, to Hortensio
I pray you, sir, let him go while
the humor lasts. O' my word, an she knew him as
well as I do, she would think scolding would do little
good upon him: (1.2.108-111)

When Grumio notes that Katherine doesn't have a chance against Petruchio, he lets on that perhaps Petruchio's (future) transformation from an average guy to a domineering bully, who is more of a "shrew" than Kate, is more common than Petruchio lets on. It seems that P has played this game before.

GRUMIO
I'll tell you what,
sir, an she stand him but a little, he will throw a
figure in her face and so disfigure her with it that
she shall have no more eyes to see withal than a cat.
You know him not, sir. (1.2.113-117)

When Grumio assures Hortensio that Petruchio will beat Kate in a verbal battle of wits, he suggests that Petruchio's words, his "figures" of speech, have the power to physically alter Kate's appearance. (Like acid might burn and transform a person's face.) This anticipates Kate's transformation from railing shrew to an obedient wife. And though Petruchio never lays a hand on Kate, his taming tactics – starvation, forced sleep deprivation, etc. – do cause Kate to physically suffer, just as acid would.

Gremio

GREMIO
And you are well met, Signior Hortensio.
Trow you whither I am going? To Baptista Minola.
I promised to inquire carefully
About a schoolmaster for the fair Bianca,
And by good fortune I have lighted well
On this young man, for learning and behavior
Fit for her turn, well read in poetry
And other books—good ones, I warrant you. (1.2.165-172)

Gremio has no idea that the tutor he hired for Bianca is really Lucentio, a young man who has fallen in love Bianca. In the play, physical disguises are modes of deception that suggest all forms of transformation are temporary and not to be taken at face value.

Act 4, Scene 5
Katherine Minola

KATHERINE
Young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet,
Whither away, or where is thy abode?
Happy the parents of so fair a child!
Happier the man whom favorable stars
Allot thee for his lovely bedfellow. (4.5.41-45)

It's no surprise that the moment of Kate's so-called "transformation" (the moment Petruchio breaks her will and tames her) occurs when she and Petruchio transform an old man into a "budding virgin." Part of what makes Kate a new kind of person is her ability to pretend, just like an actor.

Act 5, Scene 1
Lucentio

BAPTISTA
Why, tell me, is not this my Cambio?
BIANCA
Cambio is changed into Lucentio.
LUCENTIO
Love wrought these miracles. Bianca's love
Made me exchange my state with Tranio,
While he did bear my countenance in the town, (5.1.125-129)

Change and disguise are central to the Bianca plot, as just about all of her suitors don disguises to win her love. Here, Bianca cleverly puns on the word cambio, meaning "change" in Italian. We're also interested in the way Lucentio blames his bad behavior (playing dress-up and lying to everyone) on "love." Sounds like a lame copout for sure, but he might be telling the truth. In his opening speech in Act 1, Lucentio seems hell-bent on studying and making his family proud of his "virtuousness." The moment he sees Bianca, however, he transforms into a man without scruples. Perhaps it's true that love really does change a man, but not necessarily for the better.

Act 5, Scene 2
Bianca

BAPTISTA
How likes Gremio these quick-witted folks?
GREMIO
Believe me, sir, they butt together well.
BIANCA
Head and butt! an hasty-witted body
Would say your head and butt were head and horn. (5.2.40-43)

Baptista and Lucentio are in for quite a surprise when they learn that Bianca is not as sweet and silent as she appeared to be. Here, Bianca plays off of Gremio's comment that the wedding guests are butting heads (bickering and insulting one another). Bianca jumps in and calls Gremio a horned animal (that's code for "cuckold" – a man who is cheated on by his wife). It turns out, though, that Bianca's husband is the chump because he's married to a shrew. In a way, Kate is vindicated. On the other hand, the overall assertion doesn't change – any woman who talks like a man is a "shrew."

Baptista Minola

BAPTISTA
Now fair befall thee, good Petruchio!
The wager thou hast won, and I will add
Unto their losses twenty thousand crowns,
Another dowry to another daughter,
For she is changed, as she had never been. (5.2.124-128)

Baptista describes Kate's outward transformation from shrew to ideal wife as though the change in his daughter's behavior is so dramatic that she is unrecognizable. We're reminded of the fact that Baptista never really knew his daughter at all, which hardly places him in a position to judge her so-called transformation. The fact that Baptista believes outward behavior is the thing that defines one's identity gets him into trouble throughout the play. His inability to look beyond appearances leaves him open to being deceived by Bianca, Lucentio, and Tranio. (Tip: This is also a great quote to consider of you're interested in the theme of "Marriage" and dowries.)

Petruchio

HORTENSIO
Confess, confess, hath he not hit you here?
PETRUCHIO
He has a little galled me, I confess.
And as the jest did glance away from me,
'Tis ten to one it maimed you two outright. (5.2.61-64)

Here again a character implies that painful words and insults have the ability to physically transform one's appearance. In this case, the thing that "maims" Hortensio and Lucentio is an accusation that their wives are disobedient and unruly. Petruchio implies that a wife's behavior has the ability to alter her husband's reputation or street cred. (It certainly leaves him open to insults from other guys and business associates.) Petruchio also alludes to the idea that Hortensio and Lucentio have married castrating women. Ouch.

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