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

Summary

The wedding day arrives, and everyone is in place — except for Petruchio. As the wedding party waits for the tardy groom, they become more and more uneasy. Katherine, believing she is being stood up at the altar, refuses to be humiliated publicly and leaves. Biondello approaches and announces Petruchio is on his way, dressed in worn, mismatched clothes and riding an old, diseased horse. Grumio travels with him in much the same attire. When Petruchio arrives, he insists he will not change to more appropriate clothing. Kate, he reasons, will be married to him, not his clothes. The principals go to the church, while Lucentio and Tranio remain behind, discussing their need for someone willing to assume the role of Vincentio, Lucentio's father, and confirm the availability of the riches Tranio has promised Baptista in order to win Bianca.

Gremio enters with news of the commotion at the church. The wedding has taken place, but not without a struggle (complete with Petruchio striking the priest). At the wedding reception, Petruchio declares the wedding feast shall take place but without the bride and groom. Kate, furious, demands they stay, but Petruchio will not hear of it. He will leave, he says, and he will take all of his possessions with him — Kate included. The couple leaves, and the remaining wedding guests marvel at what they have just witnessed.

Analysis

Marriage ceremonies generally mark the end of Shakespearean comedy — but in this case the ceremony is only the beginning! In Act III, Scene 2, roughly the play's mid-point, Shakespeare gives us one of the most unusual (and unpleasant) weddings in literary history.

As the scene opens, all the preparations have been made, the guests have arrived, and Baptista and his household are ready for the ceremony to take place. The only thing missing, however, is the groom. Right away we know that something unusual is about to happen. We know Petruchio is eager to wed and make his fortune, so it does not follow that he would not show for the wedding (particularly since the banns, the public proclamation of intent, had been read, in effect announcing the marriage contract). For him to back out at this point would bring great public shame, as well as a more immediate loss of riches.

Both Katherine and Baptista are painfully aware of the repercussions for Petruchio's breaking of the banns. Baptista declares it will be a "mockery" (4) if Petruchio doesn't show. Kate sees things even more clearly and worries about what effect being left at the altar would have on her. In fact, she trivializes her father's apparent fear of public humiliation, declaring it shall be "No shame but mine" (8). She reasons that not only is she being cornered into marriage against her heart, but she is being forced to marry an indecisive, cowardly madman in addition.

Interestingly it is Tranio who comes to Petruchio's defense, declaring he knows the man well and is sure he will arrive shortly. Tranio's response is curious on two accounts. First, Tranio appears in this scene as Baptista's right hand man and advisor. The audience is in on the joke, of course, that the man providing council is, in fact, a servant. So much for Baptista's socially discriminating judgment. On another level, Tranio's response is curious because he and Petruchio have had only minimal contact with each other (in Act I, Scene 2 and Act II, Scene 1). In fact, Tranio knows Petruchio no better than Baptista himself. In addition, Tranio and Petruchio's brief contact could not allow Tranio to judge Petruchio's character as well as he suggests. His line is, in fact, just another of his many fabrications — and why not? It is entirely in Tranio's best interest (and therefore Lucentio's best interest) to see Katherine married. His remark, then, becomes a way to buy time for the intended groom.

The groom does, indeed, arrive, but before he even reaches the church, people are talking about him. There is no denying Petruchio knows what is considered proper behavior for a wedding — especially his own — yet he purposely flouts convention at every turn. He is savvy enough to realize the distinction between how one acts in private and how one acts in public, as well as what is appropriate for a gentleman and what is appropriate for a beggar. Much to his credit, though, he purposely upends all custom. His purpose, of course, is to dish up to Katherine exactly what she has been serving to those around her. Part of her headstrong behavior is really a lack of understanding (or an unwillingness to understand) the rules and regulations which regulate society. She is unable to see from anyone's perspective other than her own and, in so doing, seriously handicaps her ability to impact the world around her in any way other than the most juvenile. Petruchio's lateness, his completely inappropriate dress, his disease ridden horse, his attack on the priest, and his insistence at leaving his own wedding feast are all carefully calculated measures meant to signal that his reign has begun.

Part of Petruchio's plan for besting Kate rests on providing her with a mirror image of herself in order that she may recognize her own infantile behavior. He works hard in this scene (and the next) to disorientate his bride and wear down her resistance. He deliberately enacts egregiously inappropriate public behavior, such as leaving the wedding feast, likely hoping that Kate will not miss the message he is sending her. While she may miss a more subtle text, his overt, outlandish, and inappropriate action will, in time, show Kate the error of her own actions. As if to say "See how ridiculously demanding your own way can be?" Petruchio places his own reputation on the line, temporarily (at least he hopes temporarily) acting outrageously in order to drive home a point.

As we move out of Act III, Scene 2, it is important to remember that in the time of Shakespeare, marriage ceremonies had three parts: the reading of the banns, the ceremony proper, and the consummation. Until all three parts had been completed, the marriage was considered incomplete. Here, it would be reasonable to infer the banns have been read from the few passing comments; in addition, the priest's willingness to conduct the ceremony suggests, with some degree of certainty, that the banns have been read. However, reading the banns (contractualizing the marriage to the public) and conducting the ceremony (validating the contract in front of God) comprise only two-thirds of the wedding. Until the consummation, the marriage isn't considered complete.

Glossary

rudesby (10) unmannered fellow.

"fortune stays him from his word" (23) "misfortune keeps him from fulfilling his promise."

turned (44) turned inside out in order to get more wear from the material.

candle-cases (45) discarded boots, used only as a receptacle for candle ends.

chapeless (47) without the chape, the metal plate or mounting on a scabbard, especially that which covers the point.

hipped (48) wounded in the hip.

glanders (50), chine (50), lampass (51), spavins (52), fives (53), staggers (54) diseases that afflict horses.

windgalls (52) soft swellings of the fetlock joint of a horse.

yellows (53) jaundice.

bots (54) the larvas of the botfly.

near-legged (55) with knock-kneed forelegs.

half-cheeked bit (56) one in which the bridle is attached halfway up the cheek, thus not giving the rider sufficient control over the horse.

crupper (60) a padded leather strap passed around the base of a horse's tail and attached to the saddle or harness to keep it from moving forward.

kersey boot-hose (65) coarse, lightweight woolen cloth for wearing under boots.

list (67) a strip of cloth.

prodigy (96) an extraordinary happening, though to presage good or evil fortune.

"steal our marriage" (140) "elope."

"took him such a cuff" (163) "gave him such a blow."

list (165) choose.

forwhy (167) because.

rout (181) a group of people; company (ie: a wedding party).

jolly (213) arrogant; overbearing.

"stay my leisure" (217) "wait until I'm ready."

action (234) legal action by which one seeks to have a wrong put right; lawsuit.

"wants no junkets" (248) "lacks no sweetmeats."

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