The Taming of the Shrew: Synopsis
In the English countryside, a Lord, out hunting, finds Christopher Sly, a tinker, dead drunk. The lord has his men take Sly to his house, dress him in rich clothes and convince him that he is really a lord who has recovered from years of delusion. Sly, soon convinced, wants to be left alone with his supposed wife, actually the Lord’s page, but he agrees to watch a play being presented by a travelling troupe of actors. Their performance makes up the main action.
In Padua, Lucentio, a rich young man, arrives with his servants, Tranio and Biondello, to attend the local university but his priorities change the moment he sees the beautiful Bianca, younger daughter of the rich Baptista Minola. There are two problems: Bianca already has two suitors, Gremio and Hortensio, and her father has declared that Bianca may not marry until her older sister, Katherine the shrew, is married. Lucentio disguises himself as Cambio and becomes Bianca’s Latin tutor as an excuse to spend time with her. Hortensio disguises himself as her music teacher for the same reason. While Lucentio is disguised, Tranio dresses up as Lucentio and begins to convince Baptista he should marry Bianca.
Hortensio’s friend Petruchio, with his servant Grumio, arrives in Padua from Verona to find a rich wife and agrees to marry Katherine sight unseen. After his first meeting with Katherine, he claims they have agreed to marry immediately and the wedding is set for the next Sunday. Meanwhile, Lucentio has won Bianca, wooing her while pretending to teach her Latin. Hortensio abandons his suit and marries a wealthy widow. Tranio, disguised as Lucentio, secures Baptista’s approval for Lucentio to marry Bianca by outbidding Gremio over the marriage settlement but Baptista wants confirmation from Lucentio’s father before the marriage. Tranio and Lucentio have to find someone to play the role of Lucentio’s father, Vincentio, and they trick a visiting schoolmaster into pretending to be Vincentio.
On Sunday, Petruccio is late for his own wedding, arriving in a ridiculous outfit. No sooner is the wedding over than Petruchio forces Katherine to leave for his country house before the wedding-feast. Once there, Petruccio continues the process of “taming” Katherine by keeping her from eating or sleeping, pretending that he loves her so much he cannot allow her to eat inferior food or to sleep in the unmade bed.
Katherine and Petruchio head back to Padua to visit Baptista. On the way, they meet the real Vincentio. In Padua, Vincentio is shocked to find Tranio masquerading as Lucentio and Tranio pretends that Vincentio, not the schoolmaster, is the fake father At last, Bianca and Lucentio arrive and admit to their marriage and both fathers give their consent. At the banquet, everyone is astonished to see that Katherine seems to have been “tamed”. When the three new husbands (Petruchio, Mucentio and Hortensio) bet on whether their wives will come when summoned, Bianca and the Widow refuse to appear while Katherine enters at once and speaks at length of the duty a wife owes her husband. The others acknowledge that Petruchio has won the wager, and Katherine and Petruchio leave the banquet to go to bed.
- Peter Holland
McMeel Family Chair in Shakespeare Studies, University of Notre Dame