Summary and Analysis
Petruchio, Kate, and Hortensio are on their way to Baptista Minola's house in Padua. It is midday, yet Petruchio notes the moon shines brightly. When Kate contests his claim, insisting it is the sun which shines, Petruchio threatens to force the party to return to his home, insisting "It shall be moon, or star, or what I list / Or ere I journey to your father's house — " (7-8). At this point, Katherine begins truly to understand the elaborate game Petruchio is playing. She learns that if she humors him, she will get something she wants, and so she agrees with whatever Petruchio says. Kate's willingness to compromise is quickly put to the test when old Vincentio, father to Lucentio, meets the travelers. Petruchio, as if testing his wife, asks her whether she has ever seen a "fresher gentlewoman." Kate, aware she is being tested, plays Petruchio's game with good-natured zeal, no matter how many times Petruchio changes his mind.
Once the couple is through playing their game, Petruchio gets Vincentio to explain what brings him toward Padua. Vincentio notes that he is on his way to visit his son. Petruchio, now assuming the dignity and kindness which befits a man of his status, notes that Lucentio has married his wife's sister. He speaks well of Bianca but leaves Vincentio marveling at what he's just heard. Despite their earlier joking, Petruchio insists he speaks the truth. The party moves on, leaving Hortensio behind to marvel at the change he has just witnessed in Katherine. He ends the scene by suggesting that he will follow Petruchio's lead and tame his widow, if need be.
Although Act IV, Scene 5 is the shortest scene of the play, it is clearly the most important one so far. Here we see Kate coming to understand that, when she agrees to let Petruchio have his way, she reaps the benefits. It is not at all certain that Kate is tamed by her husband; rather through the situations he involves her in, she develops, moving from a selfish girl lashing out in defense against her father's favoritism, to a more mature woman who finally sees adult life is made of compromises.
Many critics see Act IV, Scene 5 as marking the point of Kate's defeat. In reality, she is not defeated at all. The game which she has played expertly up until the time of her marriage (getting her way through ranting and bullying) has changed and become far more sophisticated. Rather than succumbing to Petruchio's demands, she learns that marriage is built around give and take; it is a compromise. When she chooses to follow the rules, she is rewarded — and so is Petruchio. By humoring Petruchio in his purposely outlandish demands that the sun is the moon, the moon is the sun, and that the old man a young woman, Kate's life runs much more smoothly.
Petruchio, on the other hand, will gladly give Kate anything she desires, as long as she is willing to humor him. In some senses, perhaps, this game gives Petruchio power, but it is power he is willing to share with her. He, too, is glad to compromise once the initial rules are met. Further, he knows Kate has come to understand what he's up to; her good humored and elaborate replies clearly reveal she is willing to play his game and perhaps best him at it, too. Petruchio knows he has an especially wise wife who can match his wit and will if she so desires. In the end, Kate has not lost anything. Rather, a new world has opened to her — an adult world with adult compromises and consequences. Her increased maturity is, in fact, quite becoming.
Vincentio's arrival on the scene moves us toward the play's inevitable intertwining of the primary and secondary plots. With all the disguising which has occurred in the play, Vincentio's arrival isn't totally unexpected. As with all good comedies of mistaken identity, an outsider (or person innocent of the disguising which has taken place) is needed to reveal the masquerade and set the action toward the path of resolution. Interestingly, Vincentio is momentarily taken aback by the travelers' news, however, since they strike him more as a team of practical jokers than a powerful husband lording over his submissive wife (a distinction that we must remember as we head toward the play's denouement).
Finally, this scene, like the third scene in Act IV, makes a point of including Hortensio. There is, of course, no likely reason he would need to journey to Petruchio's house prior to wedding his widow, but his appearance here has two distinct effects. First, when Kate and Petruchio call Vincentio a "fair lovely maid" (33) and "Young, budding virgin, fair, and fresh, and sweet" (36) Hortensio frets "@'A will make the man mad, to make a woman of him." (35). The couple, though, continues in jest, signaling Hortensio is an outsider to their game. He worries about Vincentio taking offense, whereas Petruchio and Kate are caught up in their own world and are unconcerned with upsetting the old man. In short, through Hortensio's offhand remark, Shakespeare shows us how in this scene Petruchio and Kate come together as a team.
Hortensio, through his comment at scene's end, also helps us see that Petruchio is admired for his accomplishment. Hortensio marvels: "Well, Petruchio, this has put me in heart. / Have to my widow! And if she be froward, / Then hast thou taught Hortensio to be untoward" (76-78). He is clearly impressed by Petruchio's ability to enact such a change in Katherine. He has come to realize that the feat which he thought impossible at the end of Act IV, Scene 3 has come to pass; Petruchio is able to command the sun. In keeping with his shallow nature, however, Hortensio recognizes little about what has unfolded before him. All he knows is that he wants to emulate Petruchio so as to get his wife to follow him as well as Kate follows Petruchio. Little does he realize that being "untoward" (78), or unmannerly, is only part of the trick. A firm foundation in sincere affection, as we shall see in Act V, is crucial as well.
list (7) wish.
or ere (8) before.
"Where away?" (27) "Where are you going?"
green (46) fresh; new.
"by this" (62) "by this time."
esteem (63) favorable opinion; high regard; respect.
beseem (65) to be suitable or appropriate.
"break a jest" (71) "play a joke."
jealous (75) very watchful or careful in guarding or keeping.
"put me in heart" (76) "encouraged me."