Summary and Analysis
The action shifts back to Baptista Minola and his daughters. Katherine enters, dragging her sister behind her, and proceeds to question Bianca about which man she loves. Bianca, a bit frightened by her sister's actions, offers to give Kate whichever man she wants. Their father enters and tries to placate the fighting sisters. He chastises Kate cruelly and rescues Bianca, wondering why he is plagued by such an unruly daughter.
Gremio, Lucentio (disguised), Petruchio, Hortensio (disguised), Tranio (disguised), and Biondello enter. Petruchio announces his intent to court Kate and presents Hortensio (disguised as Litio) as a music tutor to the two women. Seeing Baptista's easy acceptance of Litio's services, Gremio quickly advances his man, Cambio (the disguised Lucentio), as a scholar for Baptista's daughters. He, too, is welcomed into the house. Tranio announces himself as a suitor for Bianca; then the two tutors are taken inside to begin their work.
Petruchio claims he is ready to draw up the marriage contract, but Baptista insists he must first get Kate's love. As Petruchio and Baptista discuss the likelihood of Petruchio's wooing successfully, Hortensio re-enters with his lute hanging around his head, courtesy of Kate. When Petruchio and Kate are finally left alone, Petruchio insists Kate is the most demure, lovely woman on earth, but she is not drawn in by his rhetoric. They banter and exchange quips until Kate, having had enough, hits Petruchio. He does not strike her back but threatens he will do so, if need be. Petruchio remains undaunted in his quest for a wealthy wife, though, and vows to marry her despite her obvious objections.
When the men return to check on Petruchio's progress, he announces the wedding will be on Sunday. Kate raises her voice in protest, which leads Petruchio to make up a story about how in private Kate is coy and gentle but they have come to an agreement that "she shall be curst in company" (303). Baptista agrees to the match and Petruchio exits.
Baptista then turns his attention to Bianca's suitors. Gremio and Tranio vie for her by outlining for Baptista all they can offer her. Whatever Gremio offers, Tranio offers more, until Baptista has no choice but to accept Tranio's dower, provided he can provide proof that he does, in fact, possess the riches he claims. Tranio now realizes that he must get someone to impersonate Vincentio, Lucentio's father, in order to continue the masquerade and win Bianca for his master.
Act II, Scene 1 is the longest scene in all of The Taming of the Shrew. In fact, it comprises the entire act. It is, as its size alone would dictate, an important scene and does much to advance both the story's action and the characterizations of the principle players. In it both daughters are betrothed (although not yet wed), and the primary disguises are set in place.
The first person we learn more of is Kate. In fact, this is our first real opportunity to see her for ourselves, and, once we are able to judge for ourselves, we see that, although she may behave rudely, even viciously at places, there is an obvious reason for her behavior. Her confrontation with Bianca in the scene's opening lines makes clear two important elements of her character. First, we see that Kate does, quite likely, want to be wed. Her attack on Bianca is essentially precipitated because Bianca has an abundance of suitors while Kate has none. Compounded on top of this is Baptista's clear preference for Bianca. He calls Kate a "hilding of a devilish spirit" (26) and wonders what he has ever done to be "thus grieved as I" (37). Is it any wonder Kate rebels against her father? Together they seem to be caught in an endless cycle of dysfunction; the more he favors Bianca, the more Kate acts defiantly, causing him to favor Bianca. Kate even goes so far as to call her father on his favoritism (31-36) and seethingly waits until she can "find occasion of revenge" (36).
Kate and Petruchio's private exchange also gives us a clearer indication of what each of these characters is like. Katherine, to be sure, has never met up with a man like Petruchio before. She insults him, and he speaks sweetly. She goads him, and he offers clever replies. She belittles him, and still she is treated with patience and kind words (granted, they are occasionally delivered a bit sarcastically). Kate is used to throwing a tantrum and either being punished and spoken harshly to, or getting her own way. How unusual that someone would treat her differently. It is only when she strikes Petruchio that she is able to vary his response. He does not strike out at her but warns if she hits him again he will strike back. Apparently the warning is enough, for she does not resort to physical violence again in this scene.
Just as Kate gains more depth, Petruchio's character is also developed more in this scene. Petruchio, anxious to secure his wealthy wife, is willing to draw up the marriage contracts — or "specialties" (126) — before having even seen Katherine. He is obviously confident in his ability to withstand Kate's purported wrath. What we see, though, when the two do actually come into contact with each other, is that, despite his original intention to marry purely for the money, there is an underlying attraction between the two. Before he even meets her, in fact, he's beginning to like her unconventional ways. When Hortensio enters, broken lute about his head, Petruchio remarks "it is a lusty wench! / I love her ten time more than e'er I did. / O, how I long to have some chat with her!" (160-162). Of course, the claim could be made that he's trying too hard to make a good impression on the men (showing he's not at all afraid of what he's getting in to), but it seems more likely that he is inwardly pleased to see Kate is a woman of high spirits.
Later in the scene, after being rejoined by Baptista, Gremio, and Tranio, Petruchio again shows us he is a quick and clever thinker. His highly comic lie about how, in private Kate "hung about [his] neck" (306) but in public she's agreed she'll be "curst" (303) brings the story's key theme of public behavior and private behavior to the forefront. Although in reality, he's merely concocting a story of what has just happened, placing himself in a good light, there's more truth in what he says than we may realize. The distinction between what denotes proper public behavior and how that may or may not differ from private behavior will drive the play, especially Act V. Petruchio's lie, too, makes it readily apparent he's the only man in the story so far who has the wit to compete with Kate.
Just as Petruchio and Kate become more dimensional in this scene, so too, does Baptista gain more depth. We know he's a good provider for his family, although not, perhaps, the most fair of fathers. He seems quite realistic about the difficulties Petruchio will have courting Kate but is willing to let him try. To Baptista's credit, though, he seems to be willing to reject Kate's only suitor if that suitor cannot earn her love (128-129). Although this speaks well for Baptista, later in the scene, we see that his concern was not really with his daughter; he agrees to the wedding despite Kate's vocal protestations. With Bianca, too, he sets aside any notion of love, entrusting his favorite daughter to the man who can offer the best dower. Baptista may like to think he is above regarding marriage as a commercial enterprise, but his actions suggest a different view. The claim could be advanced that Baptista is merely looking for the best provider for his daughter, but the fact remains that he, too, will benefit, politically and especially economically, by the allegiance his daughter makes.
Gremio and Tranio's bidding war is, in fact, Shakespeare's way of poking fun at an age-old system that is really very much like an auction where the desired object, in this case Bianca, goes to the highest bidder. Part of what makes the bidding so laughable is, of course, that Tranio, a servant, is offering up riches he does not possess. Of course, before the marriage transaction can take place, Baptista will want verification of the riches Tranio offers. But in the meantime, we must smile at the wily servant who continually ups the ante in the bidding war. Eventually, Gremio's riches are exhausted, and so Bianca is promised to Tranio, "if [he] make [his] assurance" (394) or provide proof of what he offers. If not, Gremio shall have Bianca a week after Katherine is wed. Once again we see Baptista is not much different than a merchant wishing to conduct a business transaction. He is eager to marry Bianca to one of her suitors, and, if the man who appears richest turns out not to be so, well then, the next richest will do.
affect (14) love.
belike (16) perhaps.
hilding (17) a low, contemptible person.
"suffer me" (31) "let me have my way."
orderly (45) in regular or proper order; methodically.
"Bacare!"(73) "stand back!"
grateful (76) pleasing.
orchard (111) garden.
"in possession" (122) "in immediate possession."
specialties (126) a special contract, obligation, agreement, etc.
"happy be thy speed" (138) "may it turn out well for you."
to the proof (140) in armor.
lusty (160) full of vigor; strong, robust, hearty, etc.
clear (172) serene and calm.
banns (180) the proclamation, generally made in church on three successive Sundays, of an intended marriage.
movable (197) one easily changed or dissuaded; also a piece of furniture.
joint-stool (198) a well-fitted stool made by an expert craftsman.
arms (223) coat of arms.
craven (227) a thorough coward.
crab (229) crab apple.
passing (239) surpassing; extreme; very.
"whom thou keep'st command" (254) "whom you employ"; that is, servants.
Dian (255) Diana, the virgin goddess of the moon and of hunting: identified with the Greek Artemis.
Grissel (292) Griselda; the heroine of various medieval tales, famous for her meek, long-suffering patience.
Lucrece (293) Lucrecia; Roman lady who took her own life after her chastity had been violated.
vied (307) bet; wagered.
meacock (311) cowardly.
"desperate mart" (325) "risky venture."
jointure (368) an arrangement by which a husband grants real property to his wife for her use after his death; also, the property thus settled, widow's portion.
argosy (372) a large ship, especially a merchant ship.
outvied (383) outbid.
cavil (388) to object when there is little reason to do so; resort to trivial fault-finding; carp; quibble.