The Taming of the Shrew
Summary and Synopsis

The Taming of the Shrew Setting

The setting of The Taming of the Shrew is complex. The induction happens somewhere in the English countryside, and it concerns a prank played on a drunken beggar named Christopher Sly.

Sly is in a heated argument with a hostess at an alehouse over glassware he broke in his drunkenness. As the hostess goes to get the authorities, Sly passes out.

A lord at the alehouse notices and decides to have some fun, so he orders his men to take Sly back to his house and treat the beggar as a lord.

When Sly wakes up, the lord’s servants begin to convince him that he is actually the owner of the house and try to get him to sleep with his “wife”, who is a servant boy dressed as a woman.

They then have a group of traveling actors put on the following play for Sly and his “wife.”

One of the theories around this strange set up to The Taming of the Shrew is that Shakespeare wanted to subtly show the audience that Sly, the lord, and the servants are audience members as much as they are parts of the show.

The Taming of the Shrew Plot Timeline

The Taming of the Shrew Summary

Act 1 Summary

As the “show” begins, Lucentio, son of a rich Pisan, arrives in Padua to further his studies. His servant, Tranio, reminds him to incorporate personal pleasure with learning. As they stand conversing in front of Baptista Minloa’s house, a bickering group exits the house. Baptista tells Gremio and Hortensio, suitors of his daughter, Bianca, that he will not give her hand in marriage until her older sister, Katherina, is married.

The two suitors throw insults at Katherina, who, in return, unsparingly mocks them. Lucentio is enamored and falls in love with Bianca. Baptista tells Bianca’s two suitors that he is looking for home tutors for his daughter and requests their help. When left alone, Gremio and Hortensio decide to work together and find someone to marry Katherina so they can then continue to fight over Bianca.

Lucentio tells Tranio of his newfound affection for Bianca. He plans to dress as a Latin tutor, Cambio, to woo Bianca and keep her father unaware of his advances.

At this moment, Sly re-appears and admits that though he’s enjoying the show, he’d like to be alone with his “wife.”

A new visitor, Petruccio, appears with his servant Grumio, having traveled from Verona. He has come to Padua to visit his friend Hortensio. When they meet, Petruccio informs his friend that he is seeking a wife. Hortensio immediately tells him of Katherina and her wealth, but also of her shrewish nature. Petruccio is unbothered and cares only about the money.

Hortensio asks Petruccio to introduce him as a schoolmaster (Litio) when he meets Baptista . Lucentio enters, dressed as Cambio, and has fooled Gremio into believing that he will woo Bianca in his stead. Hortensio announces that he has found someone (himself) to teach music and that Petruccio has agreed to wed Katherina.

Tranio (in the guise of Lucentio), arrives with Biondello, Lucentio’s other servant. He claims that though he has never seen Bianca, he will win her heart. The other two suitors, Hortensio and Gremio, are concerned at the appearance of such a young and charming opponent.

While they fret over the competition, Petruccio manages to get payment from all of Bianca’s suitors, seeing as his marrying of Katherina is most urgent.

Act 2 Summary

Meanwhile, in Baptista’s house, Katherina torments her sister to find out which of her suitors she likes best. Bianca refuses and Katherina chases her, threatening violence. Baptista enters swiftly and saves his youngest daughter from her sister’s temper, berating Katherina for her behaviour. The blatant favouritism angers her even more and the two sisters exit.

The group of suitors and “schoolmasters” arrive at Baptista’s and begin to make their cases. In exchange to see Katherina, Petruccio presents Litio (the disguised Hortensio) to be a music instructor. Baptista accepts, and as he begins to kindly say that Petruccio must be crazy to want to see her, Gremio interrupts him and offers up his tutor. He introduces Cambio (the disguised Lucentio) as a scholar of classical languages. Baptista accepts his present as well, and then Tranio, in the guise of Lucentio, gives the gifts of a lute and books to gain permission to see Bianca.

As the two disguised tutors rush to subtly woo Bianca, Petruccio asks Baptista for more information on Katherina. When an appropriately high dowry is set, Petruccio reassures Baptista that he is aptly skilled to handle Katherina’s temper. At this time, Hortensio abruptly enters with a head wound. He explains that he tried to teach Katherina how to play the lute and she swiftly beat him with the instrument. Petruccio is not concerned and waits patiently to meet his shrewish bride-to-be.

He takes to affectionately calling her “Kate” and smoothly counters anything she says with a gentle nature. She flies into a rage from the moment they meet, however, her insults and wit are evenly matched. Frustrated by Petruccio’s ability to withstand and participate in verbal sparring, Kate begins a war of the words between them. They take turns trading jabs and making metaphors of the other’s retorts, and Petruccio manages to twist all of Kate’s threats and scathing insults into various innuendos. She grows so angry she hits him, but he is determined to marry her.

Tranio, Baptista, and Gremio come to check on Petruccio’s progress, and they are shocked to hear him declare that they’ve agreed to be married. Despite her initial protest, Kate remains quiet, and the wedding date is set for that Sunday.

Bianca’s suitors begin to make their plans now that Kate is settled. Baptista says that whoever can care for her the best, in other words whoever has the most money, can marry Bianca. Tranio, dutifully playing the part of Lucentio, claims that he has endless wealth, and Baptista agrees to grant him permission to marry Bianca. The condition is that his father can provide proof of the money he claims to have. Feeling assured of his ability to round up a “father” for Lucentio, Tranio is confident he will secure Bianca for his master.

Act 3 Summary

It is the day before Katherina and Petruccio’s wedding, and Bianca is caught in a tug of war between Lucentio and Hortensio, disguised as tutors, for her attention. Bianca has obviously grown fonder of one over the other, and that’s made clear when she decides to have her Latin lesson first, sending Hortensio off to work with his instrument.

Lucentio and Bianca begin their lesson, and he reveals his intentions in a paragraph of Latin for Bianca to study. She responds, with the same method, that she has indeed become quite keen on the young man but she doesn’t trust him yet. Throughout their “lesson”, Hortensio repeatedly attempts to interrupt, but is turned away.

The Latin lesson concludes, and Hortensio begins his own wooing of Bianca. He presents a sheet of music with a hidden message, proclaiming his love and how he’ll die unless she shows mercy on him. Unimpressed, Bianca shuts him down, greatly contrasting her reaction to Lucentio’s confession.

Left alone in the room, Hortensio ponders his chances at winning the girl’s heart, and observes his opponent’s determined adoration. He decides that, should Bianca refuse him, he can simply seek out another woman to wed.

The day of the wedding comes, and everyone is ready and gathered. Except for the groom. Kate, worried that she’s been jilted at the altar, leaves in tears. As she exits, Biondello rushes in and says that Petruccio is coming, but he is dressed horribly and is travelling on an old diseased horse. Petruccio arrives, fitting Biodello’s description, and, though Baptista pleads with him, he refuses to change and goes searching for his bride.

Tranio and Lucentio converse privately about their plan, and Tranio tells his master that they must procure a father. Lucentio believes it may just be easiest to elope. Gremio enters, having left the wedding, and tells the two of the disastrous event. Petruccio cursed at the altar, violently hit the priest, and destroyed the food. Regardless, the marriage has been officiated, and the group arrives for the reception.

Before the feast begins, Petruccio assertively says that he must take his wife and leave. Kate declines, saying she’ll leave when she’s ready, but is nonetheless carried away by her new husband, who is acting as though he’s saving her from thieves. The wedding party is astonished at the chaos, but moves on. Baptista and Lucentio discuss the latter’s marriage to Bianca.

Act 4 Summary

Gremio gets to Petruccio’s house first and tells another servant what happened during their travels. On the journey, Kate ruined her dress by falling into mud, Petruccio ranted and raved, and the horses left them stranded.

When they arrive at his house, Petruccio rails on his servants for not serving him well enough, and though they try, he is never happy with their efforts. After commanding them to make dinner, he harshly rejects it and criticizes how it’s made.

Kate, exhausted and starving, asks him to be patient, but he tells her that he’s doing it for her benefit so everything is perfect. After sending Kate to bed hungry, Petruccio has a moment alone where he reveals his carefully thought out plan. When they go to the bedroom for rest, he will destroy the bed for it’s imperfections and prevent her sleep. He intends to keep her without food and sleep to combat her strong willed nature.

In Padua, Tranio and Lucentio, in their disguises, plot to gain Bianca’s hand in marriage for Lucentio. Hortensio, having realized his loss, tells Lucentio (Tranio) of Bianca courting her Latin tutor, Cambio (Lucentio). Tranio acts shocked when he witnesses the real Lucentio with Bianca, and rescinds his interest in her, cleverly influencing Hortensio to do the same.

Hortensio decides to marry a rich widow, and is no longer any competition. As Tranio is relaying the news to Lucentio, Biondello runs in, having found a fit for the role of Lucentio’s father. Tranio cons the old man, who he learns is a teacher from Mantua, into pretending to be his father (Lucentio’s father, Vincentio) by claiming that the dukes of their respective homes are at odds and that anyone in town from Mantua will be killed.

Kate has now gone several days with little to no food or sleep, and though she begs Grumio for food, he refuses and repeats Petruccio’s words that it is for her own good. Petruccio and Hortensio (who has come to see his friend’s strategy for taming his wife) bring her food at last. She doesn’t have much time to eat before a tailor arrives to make them new clothes to visit Kate’s relatives in Padua.

Everything Kate likes Petruccio hates, so he rages at the tailor and sends him away, paying him later and having Hortensio explain the “jest”. Petruccio informs Kate that they will go as they are and arrive at noon, and when Kate points out that it is past noon he reprimands her for contradicting him and they will leave when it is whatever time he claims it be.

Back in Padua, Tranio and the old teacher align their stories, and Baptista, convinced that they are truthful, gives his blessing for the marriage. Lucentio enters with Biondello, who says that he’s set everything up for a swift marriage nearby for Lucentio and Bianca to elope. They hastily exit to prepare.

Act 5 Summary

Kate, Petruccio, and Hortensio head back to Padua to visit Kate’s family. Petruccio continues to persuade his wife into yielding to his word. In the brightness of the day, he compliments the shine of the moon, and at first Kate contradicts him. He stops their group and declares that until she agrees with him he will not continue their journey. Kate, tired of fighting and ready to be in Padua, agrees that the sun is the moon, only for Petruccio to say that it is actually the sun. Hortensio assures Petruccio of his victory, and they move forward.

As they near their destination, they pass by an old man. Petruccio informs Kate that the man is a young lady and bids her embrace the lady. She instantly acts on his words and continues to follow his instructions when he corrects her by saying that it is indeed a man.

The man, it turns out, is the real Vincentio, coming to see his son Lucentio in Padua. Petruccio tells Vincentio of his son’s coming marriage, and they ponder how they are now in-laws.

In Padua, Lucentio and Bianca rush to get married. As they head to the church, Petruccio and his group, now including the real Vincentio, stop by Lucentio’s house where the old schoolmaster and Tranio are. They knock on the door and Baptista, the teacher, and Tranio exit. Vincentio reveals that he is Lucentio’s father, and the impostor calls for his arrest, claiming fraud. Biondello arrives and pretends not to recognize his old master.

The rest of the group is convinced and threatens to send the real Vincentio to jail just as Bianca and Lucentio appear. Lucentio, having just officially married Bianca, is forced to explain his trick, and somewhat appeases the fathers’ anger by blaming his actions on his love for Bianca.

Before Kate and Petruccio join the others inside, he asks for a kiss. She refuses, ashamed, but gives in when he threatens to return to their home instead.

A celebration is held by Lucentio for the recent weddings: Hortensio to the widow, Lucentio to Bianca, and Petruccio to Kate. A fight nearly breaks out between Kate and the widow after some jokes are exchanged, but Bianca settles them and the wives leave.

Baptista, Lucentio, and Hortensio still believe that Petruccio is married to a nasty shrew and tease him relentlessly. He offers to see who has the most obedient wife by testing them. They will all send for their wives, and the husband of the wife that obeys first will win, so they all bet a large amount of money.

Lucentio sends Biondello to get Bianca, but he returns saying she is busy. Hortensio’s wife responds in a similar way. Petruccio sends Grumio to retrieve Kate and she comes at once. Petruccio then instructs her to go bring the other wives and, to the shock of all, she obeys immediately. When all three wives return, he demands that Kate throw away her hat and she does so.

The ensemble is in awe at her behaviour as she launches into a speech on a wife’s duty to her husband, again at Petruccio’s behest.

The other men accept their defeat, and Petruccio and Kate happily leave together. Hortensio and Lucentio ponder at the change they’ve witnessed.

Mika is a musician with a passion for art, literature, writing, and theatre. She loves sharing the beauty of the creative arts, and strives to encourage others to boldly explore their creativity and bring their dreams to life.