The Taming of the Shrew By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act IV: Scene 3

Summary

The third scene of Act VI opens on Kate and Grumio at Petruchio's house. A very hungry and sleep-deprived Kate attempts to convince Grumio to bring her some nourishment. Not unlike Petruchio, Grumio taunts Kate with thoughts of food, only to claim he cannot produce any food because "@'tis choleric" and therefore not good for her. In exasperation, Kate orders Grumio away after having given him a beating for tormenting her so. Petruchio and Hortensio enter, and Petruchio offers Kate some food. Until she thanks him for providing it, however, she cannot have it. Reluctantly she gives in and receives her meal.

Petruchio announces they will return to Baptista's house, dressed in the finest clothes money can by. As if to prove his intention, Petruchio calls forth a tailor with a gown and a haberdasher with a hat, both for Kate. He proceeds to berate the haberdasher's work, turning a deaf ear to his wife's declaration that the hat is perfect. After berating the work of the haberdasher, Petruchio turns to the work of the tailor, finding countless faults with the dress. In the end, the tailor is sent away with the gown (although Petruchio slyly makes arrangements to pay for the goods, unbeknownst to his wife). Petruchio turns to Kate, claiming they'll just travel in the clothes they have "For 'tis the mind that makes the body rich," not the clothes (168). He announces that it is currently 7 a.m. so they should be to Minola's around noon. Kate corrects him, stating it is almost 2 p.m. and they won't arrive until suppertime. Petruchio rants that the trip is off because his wife can't agree with what he says, and until she learns to do so, the awaited trip home is postponed.

Analysis

This scene returns us to Petruchio's house and to a Kate who is beginning to break down under Petruchio's tactics. It's important to note, though, she still retains her edge. As the scene opens, we are greeted by a ravenous Kate desperately trying to get Grumio to bring her some food. Be sure, too, that although she is hungry, she is not starving. She has not been endangered or abused, but merely kept hungry and awake for a little while. How can we be sure? She has power and strength enough to beat Grumio when he plays his malicious game of food-naming with her (a game in which he obviously delights). If Petruchio were abusing her, she would not be capable of the sorts of things she does in this scene. We must smile, in fact, at Kate's declaration she is

Starved for meat, giddy for lack of sleep,
With oaths kept waking, and with brawling fed.
And that which spites me more than all these wants,
He does it under name of perfect love,
As who should say, if I should sleep or eat
'Twere deadly sickness or else present death. (IV.3, 9-14)

Clearly Petruchio's claim that he deprives Katherine of meat and sleep because of his deep love for her is even making her think he's a bit mad. She is, of course, being treated with the same selfish, childish behavior she herself has precipitated for years — only Petruchio is, if possible, even a bit more outlandish because his treatment comes under the guise of caring too much as opposed to not enough. Again, it would not seem that Kate could miss the mirror being held up to her.

We see Kate in the process of changing in this scene, but her change is only the most superficial. When Petruchio brings her some food but is not thanked properly, he threatens to take it away. Kate realizes that, in order to get her meal, she will need to thank her provider because, as Petruchio notes, "The poorest service is repaid with thanks, / And so shall mine before you touch the meat" (45-46). At this point Kate offers "I thank you, sir" (47) but surly a less heartfelt offering of thanks could not be uttered. Although Kate is learning some of the rules of the game, she has a long way to go.

Petruchio's declaration of a visit to Baptista's house immediately sets off alarms in the audience. It is seemingly out of character with the antics Petruchio has been orchestrating, especially when he announces they will "revel it as bravely as the best / With silken coats and caps and golden rings, / With ruffs, and cuffs, and farthingales, and things" (54-56). As suspected, Petruchio is using the situation as a teaching lesson. Should Kate understand the game at this point and behave in the manner he seeks, there is no doubt Petruchio would set out for Padua immediately. He knows his wife, however, and is quite certain of her headstrong ways. He is clever, too, in the tools he chooses for this lesson. Rather than food or sleep, essentials to every human, he opts to use luxuries to gain leverage. First, a trip to Padua is exactly what Kate wants. It gets her back to a place with which she is familiar and where she is accustomed to getting her own way. Petruchio combines that motivation with lovely clothes, appealing to her vanity, for extra punch.

We know even more clearly by this point that Petruchio is genuinely good natured and is putting on a show for Kate. His hyperbolic ranting and raving at the haberdasher and the tailor is merely a spectacle to show Kate how ridiculous her own behavior has been. Notice how Petruchio is sure to draw Hortensio aside at line 159 and arrange for him to pay the tailor for his services. (Whether Petruchio expects Hortensio to pay for the work out of his own money is unclear, however. If he does, Hortensio's willingness to do so speaks loudly of Petruchio's ability to sway not just women, but men too.)

Throughout the action of this scene, Hortensio remains a curious fellow. He has arrived at Petruchio's house en route to his widow. In one sense, he seems to provide a sort of validation to the scene. With Hortensio present, we can be assured Kate will not be maltreated. He provides a somewhat neutralizing effect to Petruchio's ravings. He also provides side commentary to the action. He comes across as a nervous fellow who can hardly believe what he's seeing before him (a role he'll pick up again in Act IV, Scene 5). He also serves as an opposite to Petruchio. The two men are completely different, of course, but Hortensio is so flat and dull that Petruchio looks all the better.

As the scene draws to a close, it is time for another lesson. It is after noon, yet Petruchio insists it is seven in the morning and so they will arrive at Minola's house around noon. Kate, knowing the day is over half gone, notes it is almost two in the afternoon, placing their arrival at supper, rather than the noon dinner. Her correction is most valid and not necessarily ill intended. It is merely a statement of fact. However, Petruchio uses the occasion to rail yet again, chastising Katherine that no matter "what I speak, or do, or think to do, / You are still crossing it . . . . / I will not go today, and ere I do, / It shall be what o'clock I say it is" (188-191). Kate is a very clever woman, and there can be little doubt that she is beginning to understand what her husband is up to. Hortensio, though, has seen the whole exchange and clearly has no idea of what's unfolding before him; he ends the scene incredulously marveling at how Petruchio thinks he will command the sun. Little does Hortensio realize just how likely that is!

Glossary

neat's foot (17) foot of a bovine animal (ox, cow, etc.).

amort (36) dejected, disspirited.

"sorted to no proof" (43) "proved to be to no purpose."

bravely (54) splendidly dressed.

bravery (57) finery.

porringer (64) a bowl for porridge.

cockle (66) cockleshell.

trick (67) trifle.

custard-coffin (82) pastry crust for a custard.

demicannon (88) large cannon.

censer (91) an ornamented container in which incense is burned.

braved (109) defied.

quantity (110) fragment.

be-mete (111) measure; thrash.

"think on prating" (112) "remember this thrashing."

bottom (133) ball or skein.

trunk (137) full; wide.

"for thee straight" (147) ready for you immediately.

mete yard (148) measuring stick; yardstick.

odds (150) inequalities.

furniture (176) furnishings, clothes.

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