A pun-filled comedy of marriage, controversial for its approach to wifely submission.
Lucentio, son of Vincentio of Pisa, has arrived in the town of Padua to attend the university - until he is sidetracked by the beautiful Bianca. Lucentio sets his heart on wooing and marrying her, but her father has declared that Bianca cannot marry until a husband be found for her older sister, Katherina. And that presents quite the problem, for Katherina is too much of a shrew for any sane man to marry.
Fortunately for Lucentio and Bianca's other suitors, Petruchio, a fortune hunter newly arrived in Padua, is no sane man. He takes up the challenge to marry Katherina, and not only to marry her, but to tame her of her shrewish nature. Will his unorthodox methods prevail against Katherina's bitter tongue?
In the introduction, or "Induction," a lord sees an unconscious drunkard and decides to play a practical joke on him; he is taken to the lord's home and told that he is a nobleman himself who has been out of his wits for years. Christopher Sly, the drunkard, is quite pleased with the turn of events. One can only wonder what he thought when the practical joke was over.
Lucentio deceives Bianca's father by disguising himself as a tutor and offering his services, in order that he may secretly woo his lady-love; another suitor uses a similar method. Lucentio's father also ends up falling into the deception and is used very badly by Tranio, Lucentio's servant.
Katherina truly is a shrew, harassing her younger sister, tongue-lashing prospective suitors, and at the same time weeping over her unmarried fate. Petruchio, who appears to only be in the business for money and a challenge, takes a controversial approach to "taming" Katherina. He embarrasses her at their wedding, keeps her from both eating and drinking, refuses her new clothes, and uses the most absurd reverse psychology - all in such a way that he seems rather to be doting upon her than tormenting her. Rather less deservedly, he rails at his servants and scorns a tailor, both in order to advance his taming of Katherina. He is certainly tyrannical, but the events are shown in a humorous light and are not meant, I believe, to represent spousal abuse.
Both God and gods are lightly mentioned (see Crude Language).
A servant tells how Katherina's horse slipped and threw her into the mud. Petruchio beats his (rather dense and irritating) manservant. What little violence is present is in comedic style.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Sly, the character for whom the play is supposedly being performed, is a drunkard; the Induction begins with him being thrown out of a tavern. Wine is mentioned.
In the Induction, the lord has his page impersonate Sly's "wife"; the page then has to invent excuses to save himself from even more awkward situations. The usual bawdy humor is found in this comedy, particularly in the first several acts (see Crude Language).
Crude or Profane Language or Content
God's name is taken in vain a number of times. Other Elizabethan insults are employed, including "w****son" and "ass." Bandying words early on, Petruchio and Katherina both use obvious double entendres.
"The Taming of the Shrew" is an extremely controversial play, and little wonder: the relationship of husband and wife that it presents runs completely counter to modern opinion. Petruchio sets out to tame Katherina of her ill temper and to make her submissive to him as her husband, and he does go about it in a tyrannical, if lighthearted, fashion. On the other hand, starting off with a mercenary bridegroom and a shrewish bride, it was extremely amusing to reach the end and find that, of the story's three couples, Petruchio and Katherina were best suited to each other.
The note on which the play ends, that of encouragement for wives to submit to their husbands, may grate on the ears of modern readers, but biblically is not far off the mark. Of course, the fact that Petruchio was in it for the money ought to make it clear that the characters are hardly role model material. All contentions regarding Shakespeare's final point aside, "The Taming of the Shrew" is really a boisterous, witty comedy of marriage and relationships and must be taken in that light in order to be enjoyed.