Transformation is one of the most important and pervasive themes in Taming of the Shrew. Closely related to the theme of "Art and Culture," it can involve physical disguise, changes in attitude and behavior, psychological changes, and even linguistic mutation. Unlike the kinds of transformation we're used to seeing in books (like, say, the Twilight saga – once a human turns into a vampire, she stops growing and developing and there's no turning back to her previous state), metamorphosis in Shrew is not always permanent and it's rarely genuine. To complicate matters, it's virtually impossible for us to pin down the play's attitude toward transformation – its stance toward the theme is just as slippery as the characters that undergo change. This seems to be Shakespeare's point – identity and meaning are never fixed.
Marriage incites or brings about the most dramatic and profound transformations in both men and women.
Katherine's transformation from shrew to obedient wife is not genuine or permanent.
The Taming of the Shrew is an elaborate meditation on the workings of the theater and performance. Also known as meta-theatricality, this kind of self-reflective behavior is pretty common in all of Shakespeare's works, even the sonnets. From the play's frame structure to its inside jokes, Shrew is chock full of representations and references to acting, directing, staging, and spectatorship. In such moments, Shakespeare draws our attention to the fact that we are spectators at a performance while also blurring the boundaries between the stage and the audience. The audience is constantly forced to recognize the "theatricality" of everyday life, including the relationship between social roles and traditional stage roles. Of course, Shakespeare also manages to get in a few jabs at critics of the theater. (Those pesky old 16th-century Puritans who thought theater-goers were at risk for moral contamination and physical illness.)
The Taming of the Shrew intentionally blurs the boundaries between audience members and stage actors during the play, a reminder to the audience that they are, in fact, watching an artistic performance.
Characters' participation in frequent public spectacles emphasizes the theatricality of everyday life.
Gender, of course, is a huge theme in the play, especially as it relates to power. The Taming of the Shrew examines the way 16th-century ideas about gender and hierarchy are tested and reinforced in turbulent heterosexual relationships. While patriarchy appears to prevail at the play's end, it's important to consider all the ways the play works to undermine sexist assumptions about a woman's proper place in marriage and society. The play seems to recognize that gender is a social construction and can be "performed" by men and women. Aside from the obvious look at women's roles, Shrew seems interested in exploring ideal forms of masculinity and, to some extent, male bonding.
The Taming of the Shrew brings to our attention the limited number of social roles available to women.
In the play, a husband's masculinity is dependent upon his ability to control and dominate his wife.
The Taming of the Shrew takes a good hard look at marriage and, to a large extent, makes fun of the power struggles that occur within marital relationships. On the one hand, the story line and structure seem to promote typical 16th-century ideas toward matrimony and proper relations between husbands and wives. Yet, the play also goes out of its way to criticize and call into question some of the pervasive attitudes toward marriage arrangements (brokered between men without any input from women) and the ways men and women struggle for power positions once wed. One thing's for certain, most male characters treat marriage as a financial or business transaction, where women are commodities to be traded.
Despite the play's fixation on bringing together young couples, its overall outlook on the state of marriage is bleak at best.
In the play, marriage is portrayed as a business transaction meant to bring profit to the families involved.
The Taming of the Shrew is interested in the uses of education – not necessarily what can be learned inside a formal classroom, but what can be gained from real world experience. In the play, the theme is closely linked with deception and punishment. Unruly characters are often tricked so that they can be taught important social "lessons" about their proper function in society. At other times, education is literally a cover used to dupe unwitting figures that typically uphold social order. The play also points to the difference education can make in characters' lives – in many (but not all) cases, those privileged enough to have some kind of formal education seem to also have all the power.
The Taming of the Shrew suggests that worldly experience is much more valuable than formal, classroom education.
In the play, learning can be a humiliating and painful experience.
Although we often think of The Taming of the Shrew as being solely interested in the nuances of the 16th-century bourgeois elite, it does much to highlight differences between social classes. In the frame story, Shakespeare goes out of his way to demonstrate the discrepancies between the powerless and lower class Christopher Sly and the noble Lord. Attention to such social disparity carries over into the inset play, where we're asked to recognize the similarities between class hierarchy and the gender hierarchy within the merchant class.
In the play, the Lord's elaborate practical joke emphasizes the social disparity between the nobility and the lower-classes.
The similar circumstances shared by Kate and Christopher Sly suggest that even noblewomen are viewed as second-class citizens.
Familial relationships are an important theme in The Taming of the Shrew. Aside from the obvious husband-wife relations, the play also portrays tumultuous father-daughter bonds, sibling rivalry, and power struggles between fathers and sons. As a comedy, the play seems to be outwardly working toward the reunification of the family, and it's true that by the end, order seems to have been restored. Yet, Shrew also leaves open the possibility that all is not well. Kate and Bianca never come to terms as siblings, fathers seem to forgive their children a bit too easily, and we're not quite sure what will happen off-stage when married couples return to the privacy of their own homes.
In The Taming of the Shrew the typical hierarchy of families is subverted and then reestablished by the end of the play.
The Taming of the Shrew would be a completely different play if Shakespeare had given Kate and Bianca a mother.
In The Taming of the Shrew it's nearly impossible to talk about language without discussing power. In the play language is often synonymous with physical violence and, in some cases, speech acts are more harmful than combat or physical means of torture. Even when witty arguments are used as a device for comic relief or functions as a stand in for sexual foreplay, its relationship to power and hierarchy is undeniable. Language also goes a long way to characterize various figures in the play. As in any text, one's rhetorical skill can reveal a character's social standing, motivations, fears, and attitudes.
In the play, characters often demonstrate their power by controlling other people's speech.
The Taming of the Shrew often portrays language as though it is capable of causing physical damage.