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

Summary

In this final scene, all the characters come together to celebrate Bianca and Lucentio's wedding. Hortensio has arrived with his new wife, the Widow, and the three couples begin to converse. Petruchio notes how Hortensio appears to be afraid of his wife, with the Widow offering a few particularly nasty retorts. Kate and the Widow exchange words, and shortly thereafter the three women exit, leaving the men to their devices.

The men decide to wager on who has the most obedient wife. They bet one hundred crowns and one by one send for their wives. Lucentio is immediately refused by Bianca. Hortensio is next to be refused, with his wife adding the command he should come to her. Finally Petruchio takes his turn, and all are surprised when Kate comes to do his bidding. Petruchio sends Kate to fetch the other women and, upon their arrival, tells Kate to destroy the hat she wears (which she does) and then lecture the women on "What duty they do owe their lords and husbands" (135). After Kate delivers an elaborate speech about a woman's duty to her husband, the party-goers are left dumbfounded, and Petruchio and Kate leave the party, headed to bed.

Analysis

Some critics regard this scene as one of the more enigmatic in Shakespearean comedy, but such a claim is really unwarranted. Oftentimes people are surprised at Kate's speech (some even claim it sours an otherwise good play), but upon closer inspection it appears clear that her speech is in no way a concession; rather, it carries a much stronger message and brings the play to a clever resolution. Shakespeare gives us ample suggestions that audiences should not take Kate's soliloquy at face value but instead should look beyond the literal to the deeper meaning this passage contains.

One of the first clues that Shakespeare intends Kate's speech not be taken literally is that the soliloquy comes in the context of an entertainment. Although Kate appears to speak earnestly, we must remember that she is playing a role in a game. The notion of husbands betting on their wives, in fact, is laughable and adds an air of merriment to the feast.

After the women leave, the men are left to their devices. Petruchio clearly stands above all the other men in that he is gracious and dignified, offering a toast not only to the health of the newlyweds, but also "all that shot and missed" (51). The general consensus among the men, however, is that Petruchio has fared the worst of all, ending up with the woman Baptista himself calls "the veriest shrew of all" (64). Knowing the joke will be on the men, Petruchio calls for a wager. He even demands the ante be increased to an amount worthy of his wife. His willingness to wager on Kate is not mercenary or dehumanizing, as some critics might think, but rather, is a testament to his faith in her. He is, in essence, trusting her with his reputation. He's not the sort of man who would enter a contest so boldly if he weren't sure of winning. He is confident in his ability to understand Katherine, and she does not let him down.

Lucentio begins the contest by summoning Bianca. Although just hours earlier she was demure and willing to do his bidding, Bianca is now headstrong. Her denial of Lucentio, in fact, serves as a hint of what's to come. Bianca, who's name means "white" and is associated with purity, is not at all pure of spirit. In fact, she has been disguised all along and after catching her husband, she is quick to abandon her false front.

Hortensio takes up the challenge next, and after Bianca's refusal to appear, we are not at all surprised to find the Widow will not come when beckoned. In fact, the Widow insists "She will not come. She bids you come to her" (96). The Widow is no fool and is unwilling to give up even an ounce of her power. Why did she marry Hortensio, then? Most likely because of economic reasons. The tide is turned on Hortensio who thought he was gaining economic independence (plus revenge on Bianca) by marrying the Widow.

All eyes are on Petruchio when he calls his wife. He commands her presence (as opposed to Lucentio's bidding (79) and Hortensio's entreating (90)), and much to everyone's surprise she appears. At this point, the crowd is flabbergasted, and their surprise provides Kate and Petruchio just the opportunity to get the best of all of them. Kate is aware Petruchio is not only staking his reputation on her, but he is giving her the opportunity to have power over all others present. By asking Kate to go get the other women, Petruchio gives her an opportunity to lord over the others. Later, in getting her to stomp on her hat, the couple works together to give the illusion of Petruchio having control, while in reality, they share power together and reap the mutual rewards (remember, what is real and what is illusory is a large theme in this play and must not be forgotten in the end).

Kate's soliloquy on wifely obedience is, perhaps, the most important of the play. Throughout the play, Shakespeare has been careful to poke fun at the institution of marriage and here is no exception. Also, we know from the other comedies that Shakespeare is particularly empathetic to female characters. A truly anti-feminist reading would be unlikely, given what we know of other Shakespearean heroines. Further, this is the longest speech of the play — Shakespeare wouldn't give Kate the final word unless we were to feel affection for her — something that is not possible if you read her as being defeated and broken. Finally, facility with language is considered a masculine trait, and for Kate to exhibit such linguistic aptitude suggests that she has not totally abandoned her masculine ways.

Exploring the language of Katherine's soliloquy shows, too, that she is having fun. Many of her expressions are hyperbolic, not unlike much of the rhetoric Petruchio used earlier on her. She repeats the sentiment of the time — a sentiment she knows will please the ears of her listeners (thereby giving her an advantage as well as an opportunity to get whatever she desires). She does make an interesting distinction, though, between obeying one's husband blindly and obeying with discretion. She claims that one should be "obedient to his honest will" (162), which has the implication that, when the husband's will is not honest, his will is not to be obeyed, an important distinction when considering whether Kate has been truly "tamed."

After Kate finishes her speech, Petruchio asks again for a kiss, and this time Kate gladly complies. Petruchio then suggests they head off to bed, with the obvious implication of consummating their marriage, thereby making it official. Kate is glad to agree, and so the two exit together. All the others are left to ponder what they have just seen, while we can likely reason that Kate and Petruchio will live happily ever after, working together to dupe and gull the world around them, two players in a game only they understand.

Glossary

scapes (3) escapes.

respecting (32) compared to.

"Ha'to thee" (37) "Here's to thee."

butt (39) to strike or bump against; to bump with the head.

"Have at you for" (45) "Be on guard against."

health (51) a wish for a person's health and happiness, as in drinking a toast.

slipped (52) unleashed.

gird (58) gibe; scoff; jeer.

galled (60) injured or made sore by rubbing; chaffed

sadness (63) seriousness.

"I'll be your half" (81) "I'll cover half your bet (for half the winnings)."

"by my halidom" (103) "by my holiness."

swinge (108) to punish with blows; beat; whip.

aweful rule (113) authority commanding awe or respect.

pass (128) state of affairs.

"Confounds thy frame" (144) "Ruins your reputation."

watch (154) spend or pass.

simple (165) having or showing little sense or reasoning ability.

"Unapt to" (170) "Unfit for."

big (174) boastful; pompous; extravagant.

"vail your stomachs" (180) "lower your pride."

boot (180) profit, use.

"go thy ways" (185) "well done."

toward (186) obedient.

sped (189) done for.

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