The Taming of the Shrew By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 2

Summary

Petruchio and his servant, Grumio, enter. Petruchio has come from Verona to Padua to seek his fortune. He arrives at his old friend Hortensio's house and fills Hortensio in on his financial situation. Hortensio jokingly asks Petruchio whether he would like a shrewish, yet rich, wife. Petruchio assures his friend that no woman could be too shrewish, too unattractive, or too hard to handle, as long as her dowry was sufficient and swears that day to make Katherine his. As Petruchio prepares to head to Minola's, Hortensio volunteers to accompany him because "in Baptista's keep [his] treasure is" (117). Since Bianca's father refuses to let her have suitors, Hortensio asks Petruchio to offer him, "disguised in sober robes" (131), as a music instructor to Bianca so that he might court her secretly.

Gremio arrives with Lucentio (disguised as a schoolmaster). In offering Lucentio as a tutor to Baptista's daughters, Gremio's real plan is to have the scholar (Lucentio) sing his praises to Bianca. When all the men meet, Hortensio informs Gremio that he, too, has found a tutor to send to the Minola's. He also informs Gremio he has also found a man who "will undertake to woo curst Katherine, / Yea, and to marry her, if her dowry please" (182-183). Petruchio, undaunted by the horrific tales of Kate, assures the men she will be easily won. As the scene ends, Tranio (disguised as Lucentio) appears with Biondello as they, too, head to Minola's house. Tranio informs Gremio and Hortensio that he, too, shall be considered as a suitor for Bianca.

Analysis

Shakespeare, after carefully setting up his story through the Induction and the opening scene, finally allows us to have more than a momentary look at one of the story's protagonists — however, it isn't Katherine Minola we see. Instead, Shakespeare shifts his focus away from the woman who will be at the heart of the comedy and directs our attention to Petruchio, a Veronese man who has come to Padua on a mission: to "wive it wealthily in Padua; / If wealthily, then happily in Padua" (74-75). Unlike Katherine, whom we learn about largely through the questionably biased perspectives of other characters (she speaks only thirteen lines in all of Act I — hardly enough for us to determine whether she really is a shrew or not), Petruchio appears and through his own account, we learn more about his motivation.

The initial encounter with Petruchio reveals a young man of some means who is traveling through Padua with his servant, as if on a quest. Indeed, he does seek an elusive prize — fortune. His witty banter reveals a quick mind and an even quicker tongue (although his servant Grumio does a fine job of keeping up with his master), both traits he'll need if he is to go against Baptista's shrewish daughter. Petruchio is not a tolerant man, though he is by no means an ogre. His quibble with Grumio rapidly escalates to physical confrontation, demonstrating he is not a man afraid to use force to get his point across. Petruchio is used to holding a dominant position, and his treatment of Gremio serves as a warning of that which he is capable.

Upon meeting Hortensio, an old friend, Petruchio recounts his situation and what brings him to Padua. His status, we find, is not terribly unlike other sons. After his father's death, he has come into his inheritance. "Crowns in my purse I have, and goods at home," Petruchio declares (56), but we must not read too much into that confession. Just prior he has noted his overarching goal is "Happily to wive and thrive as best I may" (55). Some critics theorize that although Petruchio has come into his inheritance, it is not of considerable quantity, and therefore he needs the financial resources of a wealthy wife in order to secure his position as one of the up and coming gentry. Hortensio seems to be aware of his friend's precarious status because he immediately, albeit half-comically, offers to fix him up with someone who is assuredly rich, although she is also hard to handle and most likely not worth even the largest fortune. Petruchio's ears immediately perk up at Hortensio's offer, and he shows us just how ready he is to marry for money.

Although Petruchio's motives may seem a bit mercenary to us today when we espouse marrying for love, at the time in which the play was written, marriage for reasons other than love was not at all unusual. Political alliances and family fortunes were often at the heart of marriages, especially in the upper classes from which people like Petruchio and Kate come. Petruchio is clearly interested in solidifying his net worth, and how better to do it than through marriage? Kate, the elder daughter of a wealthy man who has no sons (nor any promise of ever having any) is a prime catch. She brings a generous dowry and stands to inherit half her father's worth upon his death. Her personality has kept suitors from capitalizing on her economic potential, but we must wonder, given what mercenary tactics may underlay marriage, perhaps Kate's behavior is merely a defense against men seeking her fortune rather than her company (an issue which is explored further in Act II).

Shakespeare has set up two distinctly volatile personalities in Petruchio and Katherine. Although what we know of Kate so far comes largely through what other's say of her, we know her well enough to know that if their accounts are even partially correct, the action will explode when she meets Petruchio.

Just as the theme of marriage, its purposes and forms, expands in this scene, so too does the number of disguises. Hortensio, rejected as a suitor to Bianca, is determined to work his way into Baptista Minola's house. In disguising himself as a music tutor, he believes, as does Lucentio, that he can get the upper hand on the competition for Bianca's love. What he doesn't realize, of course, is that Lucentio has the same plan. (In reality, Hortensio doesn't even know Lucentio is his competition. Hortensio believes Gremio is his only rival.) Shakespeare makes sure to let the audience in on the joke, allowing us to wait for comic moment when the two tutors are welcomed into Baptista's house.

In Act I, Scene 2, we again meet Gremio, accompanied this time by Lucentio. At his second appearance in so many scenes, spectators again see Gremio's comic flatness. His lack of depth serves two distinct purposes. First it makes it impossible to identify with him and, in turn, makes Lucentio's plan to best him quite comic. Rather than doing Gremio's bidding as he is supposed to do when, disguised as a tutor, he enters the Minola household, we know Lucentio will be advancing his own case as Bianca's suitor. We have little sympathy for Gremio. Instead, we smile to see such a ridiculous old man exercising such poor judgment in his quest for a beautiful young girl. The comic flatness of Gremio also keeps spectators firmly aware that what is unfolding on the stage is, in fact, a comedy, not a slice of life (information that will need to be remembered in Act V).

Glossary

trow (4) to believe, think, suppose, etc.

"Con tutto il cuore ben trovato" (24) "With all my heart, well met."

"Alla nostra casa ben venuto, / Molto oronato signor mio Petruchio" (25-26) "Welcome to our house, my much honored Petruchio."

compound (27) to settle by mutual agreement.

pip (33) any of the suit-indicating figures on playing cards, or any of the dots on dice or dominoes.

"come roundly" (58) "speak plainly."

burden (67) a repeated, central idea; theme.

Florentius (68) a knight in John Gower's Confessio Amantis who promises to marry an ugly old woman if she solves the riddle he must answer. After fulfilling the promise, she becomes young and beautiful.

Sibyl (69) prophetess to whom Apollo gave as many years of life as she held grains of sand in her hand.

Xanthippe (70) fifth century B.C.; wife of Socrates: the prototype of the quarrelsome, nagging wife.

grace (130) goodwill; favor.

"mend it with a largess" (149) "improve with a gift or gifts given in a generous, or sometimes showy, way."

ordnance (202) cannon or artillery.

@'larums (205) alarums; calls to arms.

Leda's daughter (242) Helen of Troy.

Paris (245) a son of Priam, king of Troy: his kidnapping of Helen, wife of Menelaus, causes the Trojan War.

jade (247) a horse, especially a worn-out, worthless one.

Alcides' twelve (256) reference to the twelve labors of Hercules (reputed grandson of Alcaeus).

quaff carouses (275) drink toasts.

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