Notes on The Taming of the Shrew
The Taming of the Shrew is a play set in Padua and Verona within a play set in Warwickshire England, performed for Christopher Sly. The spectator, though, is never brought back to Warwickshire, but is simply left within the play performed for Christopher Sly. It seems, then, that the play is about the capacity of man for delusion, The spectator is left with the delusion that the obedience of Petrucio’s Katherine the Shrew is better than the liberty of Lucentio’s Bianca. Petruchio of Verona is very much like a relative or descendant of Mercutio. Unlike the philosophic Lucentio, Petruchio is martial, like King Henry V, and not a romantic, not a lover. Lucentio has come to Padua to institute a program of liberal studies, of virtue, of Aristotle and, Tranio adds, Ovid, or love. The statement is quite astonishing, as this is just what we say Shakespeare is up to. Lucentio tells Tranio he, the son of Vincentio the merchant of Pisa, has arrived in “fruitful Lombardy/ The pleasant garden of great Italy” to institute a course of learning and ingenious study, and so he is studying:
Virtue, and that part of philosophy
That treats of happiness
By virtue specially to be achieved.
But first, he must overcome the political problem exemplified in Socrates and Xantippe (I,ii, 68-69): Philosophy cannot govern the irrational by persuasion, and it is unwilling to use force. The play, then, is about using the capacity of man for delusion to address the fundamental political problem, so that one might, in these most liberal Italian cities, introduce the best education, or, the liberal arts.
Lucentio falls in love with Bianca, but must first overcome two inconsiderable competing suitors and the circumstance that she cannot, by the will of her father, be married until her elder sister the charming Kate is married.
It is at the home of Petruchio in Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, that the Shrew is tamed, the scene (IV, i) having shifted from Padua. From the start, Petruchio has used the true desire of the Shrew for a husband, and now has dragged her through trials until she loves him. As with the delusion of Sly, the obedience of Kate is a vast improvement. Her sorrow and envy of her sister were based upon this desire, more fundamental than her shrewishness, and the martial Petruchio is just the man to tame her.