The Taming of the Shrew
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW
Bianca is a manipulator as the two “tutors” battle for private time. She is arrogant in her attitude: “I’ll not be tied to hours, nor ‘pointed times, / But learn my lessons as I please myself” (III.i.19-20). She shows some subtlety in her ability to play the nasty game of courtship, stringing along “Cambio” (Lucentio in disguise) in the sotto voce portions of their Latin lesson where she picks up his technique for slipping in personal messages. Consider the effects of this ruse in playing hard-to-get:
“Hic ibat Simois,” I know you not, “hic est Sigeia tellus,” I trust you not, Hic steterat Priami,” take heed he not hear us, “regia,” presume not, “celsa senis,” despair not. (III.i.42-45)
This is the verbal equivalent to passing notes in class, and its effect is designed to keep “Cambio” trying harder. “Litio” (Hortensio in disguise) foists a “love complaint” upon Bianca, intended to be a sort of mneumonic device using the diatonic scale and adopting the stanza form Shakespeare uses in Venus and Adonis. Bianca is conventionally appropriate in her haughtiness.
Petruchio is late for his wedding. Lady Suffolk’s opinion of Edward de Vere, expressed in a letter to Burghley, seems to make its way into the discussion (III.ii.7-11). And matters of postponing a wedding are also relevant (III.ii.97-98), as it seems de Vere did not show up for the first attempt to unite him in matrimony with Anne Cecil (Ogburn and Ogburn 160). After an annoying chop-logic exchange between Baptista and Biondello, Petruchio arrives ludicrously dressed and riding the equine equivalent of a ’73 Pinto. He says all the right things not to explain anything to this batch of Paduans (III.ii.105, 117, 187, 191, 229f). He makes a spectacle of himself and of the ceremony. Thus, “Katherine is subjected to just the sort of embarrassment and annoyance that her father must have felt numerous times” (Carey 198).
From November through January in 1578-79, a comet blazed over the Elizabethan night sky, and it makes a cameo in this scene (Clark 109; Anderson 130).
The physical violence during the ceremony is narrated by Gremio, not shown at church, and is directed towards the clergyman, not Kate. “We are left in no doubt that this is all part of an act that Petruccio [sic] is putting on, just as the Lord and his gentlemen had put on an act to transmogrify Christopher Sly” (Wells 48). Later Petruchio throws food and dishes at servants, not at Kate. Bloom reports that an English manual on wife-beating (“such exercise was not recommended”) is included in one annotated edition of the play — but is this appropriate? Kate hits Petruchio (“and he does not retaliate”), not vice versa (Bloom 33).
Petruchio announces a hasty departure before the reception, again alluding reverentially to unspoken “business.” He usurps several of the honors one should be paying the bride instead of the groom:
Make it no wonder; if you knew my business,
You would entreat me rather go than stay.
And, honest company, I thank you all
That have beheld me give away myself
To this most patient, sweet, and virtuous wife.
Dine with my father, drink a health to me,
For I must hence, and farewell to you all.
He shifts suddenly into an insane “defense” of Kate, calling her his property:
I will be master of what is mine own.
She is my goods, my chattels, she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my any thing….
Petruchio drags off Kate, to the amazement of the others. “This histrionic departure, with Petruchio and Grumio brandishing drawn swords, is a symbolic carrying-off” (Bloom 31). To supply the missing places at the banquet table, Baptista appoints “Lucentio” (Tranio in disguise) and Bianca (III.ii.247-250) — probably the first time Bianca has had to function as a stand-in for her sister!