Questions on Shakespeare’s Comedies
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. (Norton Comedies, 2nd ed. 175-244).
1. In the Induction Scenes 1-2, how is Christopher Sly’s metadramatic presence connected to one or more themes relevant to the main story of the play (i.e. the men’s pursuit of Katherine and Bianca)?
2. In Act 1, Scene 1, why has Lucentio come to Padua — what does he hope to gain by traveling to this Italian city? Where is he from and what are his circumstances? How does the text describe the young man’s first sight of Bianca — what effect does she have on him and his plans? What new scheme do he and his servant Tranio cook up to win her?
3. In Act 1, Scene 1, what is life like for Katherine and Bianca at the play’s beginning? Why isn’t their father, Baptista, willing to allow his youngest daughter Bianca to marry at this point? What seems to be the quality of his relationship with his daughters, and how can you tell?
4. In Act 1, Scene 2, why has Petruccio made his way to Padua? What are his circumstances, and what is his attitude towards romantic love and the institution of marriage? How does he differ from Lucentio in circumstances and attitude?
5. In Act 1, Scene 2, what is Hortensio’s angle in his dealings with his old friend Petruccio? How honest is he with the man, and what plan do the two of them come up with to advance their respective agendas?
6. In Act 2, Scene 1, what is Petruccio’s first move in his quest to make Katherine as his bride? How does he introduce himself to her, and how does he manage their first conversation? In what sense do the two of them already seem appropriate for each other?
7. In Act 2, Scene 1, what do Gremio and Tranio offer by way of a dowry for Bianca? How does Baptista handle this competition? To what extent, up to this point in the play, has anything like “true love” or genuine erotic passion come into view?
8. Act 3, Scene 1, how does Lucentio woo Bianca in the guise of a schoolmaster — what creative “device” does he employ to make his wishes known to her, and how effective is it, based upon her response?
9. Act 3, Scene 1, why does Hortensio forswear any further interest in Bianca at the scene’s end — what has she supposedly done to lose his interest? What fear or anxiety does this response on Hortensio’s part betray?
10. In Act 3, Scene 2, Petruccio makes quite a fool of himself as the wedding ceremony is about to take place, and then during it (Gremio reports what happened during the actual ceremony). What exactly does he do, and why does he do it, as you infer from his own words and actions?
11. In Act 3, Scene 2, why does Kate react as strongly to his stratagem as she does — what was she evidently expecting the ceremony to be like, and what, by implication, might she be expecting from marriage itself, both in the personal sense of relations with Petruccio and in the broader, institutional sense that marks a person’s status in the community?
12. In Act 4, Scene 1, what happens on the trip home to Petruccio’s estate after the wedding? How does Petruccio, in soliloquy, further explain to us his methodology in dealing with Kate thus far? On what principles about male-female relations and about human nature has he been operating? Petruccio is hardly a feminist, but to what extent might his strategy and actions show a certain respect for Kate?
13. Act 4, Scene 3, how much of Petruccio’s behavior does Kate seem to understand — to what extent, that is, does she comprehend the principles underlying his madcap behavior towards her? How well would you say she has held up under this onslaught so far, and what evidence can you find for your response?
14. In Act 4, Scene 6, how does Petruccio continue his plan to conquer his new bride Kate — what further outrageous demands does he make of her, and how much of a fight does she put up? How much progress, to judge from this scene and the third scene, has Petruccio made towards his goal of a truly “conformable Kate”?
15. In Act 5, Scene 1, Lucentio’s father Vincentio has been impersonated by a gullible “Pedant” (at the instigation of Tranio) and now finds himself nearly hauled off to prison as an imposter when he arrives in Padua. Parental authority is often a major consideration in comic plays; how has Shakespeare dealt with that authority in the present play? Consider the present scene, but also briefly reflect on Baptista’s role as father to Kate and Bianca.
16. In Act 5, Scene 2, when the three couples at last get together for a feast at Lucentio’s, how do the wives of Lucentio and Hortensio show themselves to be “froward”? What does Hortensio’s wife apparently mean by the quip, “He that is giddy thinks the world turns round”? (5.2.20)
17. In Act 5, Scene 2, Petruccio wins his bet with the other men when Kate speaks with ringing clarity about the supposed nature of women and about relations between the sexes. What views does she set forth regarding these issues? Does the play as a whole merely perpetuate the conventional view of marriage, or does the courtship battle between Petruccio and Katherine redeem that view and make it seem worthwhile?
Edition. Greenblatt, Stephen et al., eds. The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd edition. Four-Volume Genre Paperback Set. Norton, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-93152-5.
Copyright © 2012 Alfred J. Drake