The Taming of the Shrew

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Animals Symbol Icon

The title of the play already contains an animal metaphor, implicitly comparing Katherine to an unruly shrew. Similar imagery pervades the play. Katherine is often called a shrew and Gremio calls her a “wildcat,” (i.2.198). Petruchio builds on this pun with “cat” and “Kate” when he tells her he will “bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate / Conformable as other household Kates,” (ii.1.292-293). This notion of Katherine as a wild animal that must be tamed continues over the course of the play, as when Petruchio compares his method of taming her to that of a falconer taming a falcon. These insulting comparisons symbolize Katherine’s wild temperament, but also the misogyny with which the play’s male characters regard her. Simply because she doesn’t adhere to a strict definition of a noblewoman, she is denigrated as animal-like.

It is not just Katherine who is compared to animals. The lord in the Induction calls Christopher Sly a “monstrous beast,” and “a swine,” (Induction 1.35), further exemplifying animal imagery as insulting. Throughout the play, animal imagery is used to degrade various characters who are seen as of a lesser status, often because of gender or social class. But no one is the object of these animal insults more than Katherine, as the imagery of a wild animal and a tamer has particular symbolic significance for the play’s sexist portrayal of male-female unions and traditional gender roles.

Animals Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew

The The Taming of the Shrew quotes below all refer to the symbol of Animals. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Taming of the Shrew published in 2004.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

But will you woo this wildcat?

Related Characters: Gremio (speaker), Katherine, Petruchio
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.198
Explanation and Analysis:

Gremio, another of Bianca's suitors, has entered with Lucentio, who is disguised as Cambio. Gremio plans to use Cambio to convince Bianca to marry him, not knowing that Cambio is really Lucentio and also wants to marry Bianca. Hortensio, Petruchio, and Grumio enter, and inform Germio of the plan for Petruchio to marry Katherine. Gremio is shocked, and asks Petruchio if he knows about all of Kate's faults, before delivering the line in this quote: "But will you woo this wildcat?" Gremio doesn't at first believe that Kate can possibly be tamed, though Petruchio responds with confidence.

Note also that Katherine is described here as an animal instead of a person, and that wildcat puns on 'wild Kat,' a nickname for Katherine. Naming and renaming will be a crucial tool that Petruchio uses in his "taming school."


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Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Say that she [Katherine] rail, why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown, I'll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly washed with dew.
Say she be mute and will not speak a word,
Then I'll commend her volubility
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.
If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks
As though she bid me stay by her a week.
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns, and when be married.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.178-188
Explanation and Analysis:

Petruchio delivers this soliloquy moments before he will meet Katherine for the first time. In it, he describes his plan for wooing her and taming her. If she gets angry and yells, he'll say that she's singing sweetly; if she frowns, he'll say she looks beautiful; if she's silent, he'll praise her for her eloquence; if she tells him to leave, he'll thank her for the invitation to stay. In short, he'll act as though her actions and words are not her own. He will not allow anything she says to carry the meaning she ascribes to them. Instead, Petruchio will ascribe his own meaning to her words and force his own reality upon Katherine, regardless of her experience.

This technique will be the crux of his taming. During their first interaction, the two exchange witticisms and puns in a humorous back and forth, and Katherine ends up hitting Petruchio. Again, we are faced with the question of how to interpret the dark notes of the play. Does Katherine relish in meeting a challenge to her wit and finally having someone who can go back and forth with her? Is her slap playful? Or is this a violent courtship in which the dominant male asserts his will forcefully upon his unwilling bride?

For I am he born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.291-293
Explanation and Analysis:

Just a few lines earlier, Petruchio told Katherine's that her desires are meaningless (and she will marry Petruchio whether she wants to or now), here Petruchio says that he is the man who was born to tame Kate, and bring her from a "wild Kate to a Kate / Comfortable as other household Kates."

Earlier, Gremio asked Petruchio if he could woo the "wildcat," treating Katherine as a kind of animal. Here, Petruchio again "animalizes" Katherine, figuring her as a beast that needs to be tamed. By suggesting that he is the only one to tame her, he elevates his status among the other men of the play and reinforces his role as Katherine's singular master.

Note that the social hierarchy depicted in the play is extremely rigid and narrow: lords rule over servants and men rule over their wives, but there is no Duke or extra-powerful political figure to overrule unfair treatment. In this way Petruchio's power over Kate is made even more absolute.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

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 anything.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 3.2.235-238
Explanation and Analysis:

Responding to those that would try to limit his control over Katherine, since they want her to stay for the feast that follows her wedding, Petruchio says that he owns Katherine, and is master over her. In a stunning, horrifying list and very direct language, he characterizes her as his property: "my goods, my chattels." She is also his "house" and all of his "household stuff." She is his "field," his "barn," and, in a series of animal comparisons, his "horse," "ox," and "ass."

Describing his wife as property, fields, and beasts of burden is cruel, but the final item in his list demonstrates the full extent of is control. He concludes, she is "my anything." Whatever Petruchio desires her to be, she will be. He is saying that his words and his will shape her reality, her identity, and her very being, until she is nothing more than a fluid "anything" – whatever he desires – that he completely owns.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

Thus have I politicly begun my reign,
And ‘tis my hope to end successfully.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty,
And, till she stoop, she must not be full-gorged,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper's call.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 4.1.188-194
Explanation and Analysis:

Katherine and Petruchio have made it home to Petruchio's house after a difficult journey. Petruchio continuously berates his servants to irritate Katherine and to act insane; he has taken her to her bedroom, and here in a soliloquy outlines in greater detail the next stages of his "taming." Using more animal imagery, he calls her a "falcon" which needs to be trained, saying that he will not allow her to eat or sleep until she is well trained. He will keep here "haggard, / To make her come and know her keeper's call."

Again, as readers, we may question whether Petruchio's plan is meant to e taken literally. Treating a woman like a hunting animal in training (recall the Lord from the Induction just returned from a hunt) is cruel, but what is the true extent of the cruelty. Does Petruchio really starve Katherine and keep her sleep deprived. Is this taming comedy or torture, or both?

Petruchio's basic plan going forward is to find something wrong with all her food and her bedding, so that in the name of caring for her and her best interests, he will keep her from comfort and food. In this way he intends to "kill a wife with kindness."

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Animals Symbol Timeline in The Taming of the Shrew

The timeline below shows where the symbol Animals appears in The Taming of the Shrew. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 2
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
...asks if Petruchio is aware of Katherine's faults and wonders if he can "woo this wildcat," (i.2.198). Petruchio is confident that he can. (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
...politicly begun my reign," (iv.1.188). He says that he will train Katherine as falconers tame falcons: he will not let her eat or sleep until she obeys him. He will pretend... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...the news about Hortensio. He also tells them that Petruchio is a master at taming shrews. Biondello arrives and tells Tranio that he has found a merchant who may be able... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 2
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
...the banquet trade jokes and jibes, the widow teases Petruchio for being married to a shrew, offending Katherine. The women leave, and Tranio also teases Petruchio, saying he is ruled by... (full context)