The Taming of the Shrew

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Marriage Theme Analysis

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Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy Theme Icon
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Taming of the Shrew, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
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The plot of The Taming of the Shrew hinges on the marriages of Baptista's two daughters. Over the course of the play, there is a significant tension between different understandings of what marriage is. One understanding of marriage is that it is simply a union of two people in love. This is what Lucentio seems to desire with Bianca and, as the two develop affection for each other, their relationship seems to exemplify this idealistic version of marriage. But, throughout the play, marriage is often more a matter of economic exchange than reciprocal love. As Baptista negotiates dowries and dowers (what the wife is entitled to if the husband dies), he appears to be almost selling off his daughters, rather than marrying them away. While he approves of the match between Lucentio and Bianca, he will not let the marriage happen until he is guaranteed of Lucentio's financial status. And the speed with which Hortensio abandons his love for Bianca and marries a wealthy widow (who is never even named in the play!) suggests that money is his first priority in finding a wife.

Another way of understanding marriage is provided by the example of Petruchio and Katherine. In this case, marriage is simply a power structure, a way of enforcing female obedience to a male husband. In her long, final speech, Katherine summarizes this idea of marriage, telling Bianca and the widow that "Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / Thy head, thy sovereign," (v.2.162-163).

Still another version of marriage can be seen when Petruchio greets Vincentio as his father-in-law and when Lucentio greets Petruchio and Katherine at his wedding banquet as his brother and sister. Here, marriage is a way primarily of uniting families, rather than individual spouses. It serves to connect family units and, in this case, link together different wealthy, powerful families.

Ultimately, marriage isn't definitively any one of these versions. Different couples create different unions that function in their own ways. While marriage can be a way for a father like Baptista to "sell off" his daughters or for a man like Petruchio to exercise control over his wife, the very fluidity of what marriage is means that marriage doesn't always have to be either these things. Even if Lucentio and Bianca's marriage doesn't necessarily live up to the ideal union of young lovers (as their squabbling at the end of the play might suggest), Shakespeare's play shows that marriages are not all alike, and can be as much of an economic exchange, loving partnership, or hierarchical power structure as an individual couple makes it.

Marriage ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Marriage appears in each scene of The Taming of the Shrew. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Marriage Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew

Below you will find the important quotes in The Taming of the Shrew related to the theme of Marriage.
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

And I have thrust myself into this maze,
Happily to wive and thrive, as best I may.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.56-57
Explanation and Analysis:

Petruchio has arrived in Padua and met with his friend Hortensio. Petruchio announces that his father has died, and that he has come to Padua "to wive and thrive." In other words, he hopes to find a wife from a wealthy family and make money. He reveals that a large dowery is his focus in finding a wife and that he believes it's simply time to get married; he does not express romantic ideals about love or a soulmate.

Hortensio, who is one of Bianca's suitors, realizes if he can get Petruchio to marry Katherine, according to Baptista's rules Bianca will be eligible for marriage. Below, Hortensio tells Petruchio about Katherine in the hopes that he will win Bianca for himself. Petruchio's introduction and desire for a wealthy wife set in motion one of the key plots and marriages in the play.

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I can, Petruchio, help thee to a wife
With wealth enough, and young and beauteous,
Brought up as best becomes a gentlewoman.
Her only fault, and that is faults enough,
Is that she is intolerable curst,
And shrewd and forward, so beyond all measure
That, were my state far worser than it is,
I would not wed her for a mine of gold.

Related Characters: Hortensio (speaker), Katherine, Petruchio
Page Number: 1.2.86-93
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Hortensio tells Petruchio that there is a potential wife for him, "With wealth enough, and young and beauteous." She is attractive and will cary a large dowry, and she is of an acceptable social status. But there is a problem with her: "she is intolerable curst"; she is a shrew. Hortensio says that even if he were poor, he would not wed Katherine "for a mine of gold." Kate's shrewishness and unwomanliness make her an unacceptable choice for Hortensio and other male suitors, but all that Petruchio cares about is wealth. What's more, he seems eager to take on the challenge of interacting with, marrying, and ultimately taming Katherine. 

Here we see the characterization of Kate as a shrew continue to develop. It's important to recognize what the characteristics of a "shrew" were: speaking out of turn, forwardness, self-confidence, and basically any behavior by a woman that involved her not obeying the men in her life (father or husband). In other words, the idea of a "shrew" would certainly be seen today as profoundly sexist. Yet in the world of the play, it is taken as a simple matter of course that Katherine must be changed and brought under control.

Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Nay, now I see
She [Bianca] is your [Baptista's] treasure, she must have a husband,
I must dance barefoot on her wedding day
And, for your love to her, lead apes in hell.
Talk not to me. I will go sit and weep
Till I can find occasion of revenge.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Baptista Minola, Bianca
Page Number: 2.1.34-39
Explanation and Analysis:

This strange scene begins with a striking interaction: Katherine has tied up Bianca and is hitting her, demanding that she say which of her suiters she most prefers. When Baptista enters to discover the scene, he unties Bianca and calls Katherine a devilish spirit, yelling at her for abusing her sister. This scene can be interpreted literally, or playfully. Many modern productions choose to make the violence humorous, making it a kind of ironic parody of Katherine's eventual taming and lightening the themes of abuse and starvation that follow.

But the scene can also be read as one of violence, bondage, and a bitter sibling rivalry. Such a reading may be reinforced by Katherine's lines in the quote. Bianca's obedience and conformity infuriate Katherine: she claims to see that her sister is the favorite who must be married, and that she, Katherine, must be damned and kept without a husband. She asks to be left alone, saying she'll sit and cry until she can find an opportunity for revenge. This dark desire for revenge shows the intensity of Katherine's frustration with her family and the misogynistic culture in which she lives.

Then tell me, if I get your daughter's love,
What dowry shall I have with her to wife?

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Baptista Minola, Katherine
Page Number: 2.1.126-127
Explanation and Analysis:

Katherine, after calling for revenge, has run off stage, and Gremio and Cambio as well as Petruchio and Hortensio (now disguised as Litio, a music tutor, in his own quest to woo Bianca) have entered. Tranio, too, has entered in the guise of Lucentio. The tutors are introduced, and Petruchio has expressed his interest in Katherine.

Here Petruchio cuts directly to the chase: he wants to marry Katherine and wants to know what the dowry is. Satisfied with the amount, he immediately decides he will marry her. When Baptista doubts Petruchio's ability to woo his daughter, the suitor explains that he is as insistent on obedience as Katherine is stubborn. He is "rough" and will "woo not like a babe." In this scene, Petruchio's strength of will is established, and the stage is set for a battle of wills between him and Katherine – the "taming" – to begin.

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?

Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented
That you shall be my wife, your dowry ‘greed on,
And will you, nill you, I will marry you.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Baptista Minola, Katherine
Page Number: 2.1.284-286
Explanation and Analysis:

Katherine and Petruchio have been going back and forth after first meeting. According to plan, he has denied everything she said or did and asserted the opposite, beginning with her very name. The entire scene, and the courtship in general, is extremely performative. He first calls her Kate, and when she tries to correct him, saying she is called Katherine, he calls her a liar and tells her that she is only known by Kate. Thus begins the series of witty jabs, and slaps, and innuendos.

Here Petruchio breaks off the dialogue to deliver his intentions "in plain terms." Baptista has agreed on the marriage, the dowry has been settled, and regardless of Katherine's desires, Petruchio is going to marry her. This marks a break from his usual tactic of taming, where he forces his "reality" over hers. Here Petruchio's lesson is outright: what you desire is meaningless. Her willingness or unwillingness is irrelevant, since she is the daughter and wife, and he is the husband and the man.

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

No shame but mine. I must, forsooth, be forced
To give my hand, opposed against my heart,
Unto a mad-brain rudesby, full of spleen,
Who wooed in haste and means to wed at leisure.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Petruchio
Page Number: 3.2.8-11
Explanation and Analysis:

It is the wedding day, and everyone has gathered, but Petruchio is late. When Baptista complains that the lateness brings him shame, Katherine laments that the shame is only hers, since she is forced to marry against her will and give her heart to a madman. She believes that Petruchio is insane, not even knowing the full extent to which he will extend his cruelty after the wedding. She claims that he "wooed in haste" – insisted immediately on getting married – but now wants to be married "at leisure", which is to say whenever he wants to show up to the ceremony.

Katherine here reiterates that she is being married against her wishes, that she thinks it's wrong, and that there is nothing she can do about it. Such is the lesser status of women during the play. Her emotions and her words are dismissed as the rantings of a shrew, a name which she is even called by her father as she exits crying, abandoned at the alter on her wedding day. It is worth noting that Petruchio's "lessons" that Katherine's speech and wants are meaningless are constantly upheld and reinforced by the entire society presented in the play. Katherine is an outspoken woman; everyone else in the play, from her sister, to the men pursuing her sister, to her father, to her fiancé want to make her obedient. 

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."

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

It shall be what o'clock I say it is.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Page Number: 4.3.202
Explanation and Analysis:

The household is preparing to leave for Bianca's wedding, after Petruchio insists that he and Katherine attend in their basic clothing. During preparations, he says incorrectly that it is seven o'clock. Katherine corrects him: "I dare assure you, sir, 'tis almost two." Petruchio's response is one of absolute power and control: "It shall be what o'clock I say it is."

Here he goes beyond controlling Katherine's life to dictating what her sensory experience of the world should be. Petruchio demands that the forces of nature and time itself for Katherine must all be viewed through the lens of Petruchio's will, subject to change on his whim. By continuing to assert that Katherine knows nothing without him and that her desires are meaningless, he hopes to break her and make her completely subservient. At the end of the scene, Hortensio remarks in a prophetic aside, "Why, so, this gallant will command the sun!" foreshadowing Petruchio's continued use of this technique.

Act 4, Scene 5 Quotes

Now, by my mother's son, and that's myself,
It shall be moon, or star, or what I list,
Or e'er I journey to your father's house.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Baptista Minola, Katherine
Page Number: 4.5.7-9
Explanation and Analysis:

Petruchio, Katherine, and their train are traveling to Baptista's house for Bianca's wedding. Continuing with the "lesson" he gave with "It shall be what o'clock I say it is," Petruchio has said that the moon is shining, even though it is daytime. When Katherine protests that it is the sun, Petruchio offers this quote in response.

Note that he begins by swearing by his "mother's son," that is, by himself, and says that "It shall be the moon, or star, or what I list." Whatever Petruchio says shall be. He swears by himself since to Katherine, he is the absolute figure of authority. No Duke, no King, no God will supersede his authority. His will dictates her very experience of the world.

Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,
And be it moon, or sun, or what you please.
And if you please to call it a rush candle,
Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Petruchio
Page Number: 4.5.14-17
Explanation and Analysis:

In response to Petruchio swearing on his own self, Katherine seems to finally give in. When he says they'll turn back if she disagrees, he says that since they have come so far, she will call it "moon, or sun, or what you please," even "a rush candle." She vows that whatever Petruchio says the sun is, it will be for her. Katherine appears to be broken, and for the rest of the play she goes on with his jokes and his crazy assertions that things are not what they seem. As Hortensio says, the field is won; the "shrew" has been tamed.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

Let's each one send unto his wife,
And he whose wife is most obedient
To come at first when he doth send for her
Shall win the wager which we will propose.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine, Bianca, Petruchio, Hortensio, Widow
Page Number: 5.2.68-71
Explanation and Analysis:

This is in the final scene of the play; the marriages are done, the plot has been mostly resolved. All that remains is this bet, and the test of "whose wife is most obedient." Petruchio suggests that each man send for his wife, and that the man whose wife comes first when sent for wins the bet. This demeaning experiment is meant to demonstrate Petruchio's mastery, and remind the other males in the play that Petruchio is the head of the taming school. More broadly, the bet, with its emphasis on wifely obedience, implies that all women are "shrews" who must be trained, that any woman who does not show total obedience to her husband is a shrew.

The wager also sets up Katherine's controversial final speech

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker), Petruchio
Page Number: 5.2.162-163
Explanation and Analysis:

Petruchio wins the bet, as Katherine comes first and most obediently. At his request, she explains to everyone, addressing her friends, all the characters, and often the audience in a lengthy monologue about obedience. Here she explains that a husband is "thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, / Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee." Recall that Petruchio suggested that Katherine was his anything. Here she seems to suggest that he is her everything. Across various frames of reference, including life itself, the husband is the master.

Each production and reading of The Taming of the Shrew must find a way to interpret this challenging speech. For modern audiences where this kind of misogyny and sexism are taken to be antiquated and wrong (and frankly horrifying), the final speech is usually delivered ironically, with a hint or even more that Katherine hasn't been tamed either entirely or at all. But the speech can also be evidence that Katherine has been completely broken, her former character and outspokenness completely eliminated by Petruchio's taming.

I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.

Related Characters: Katherine (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.177-180
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another excerpt from Katherine's long, controversial final speech. Here she says she's ashamed that women are so simple, and that they fight their husbands when instead they should be obedient. This line could be ironic, since she describes the type of woman she has been the entire play, or dark, showing that her old personality has been erased. She continues to say that women should seek the "rule, supremacy, and sway / When they are bound to serve, love, and obey." This little rhyme suggests that she has finally conformed to Petruchio's rule and to the ideal of silent, obedient women.

Again, we must question whether this speech should be taken directly or ironically. It's length and extreme excess might suggest that it is sarcastic, and typically in modern productions the speech is delivered as a wink to the audience, implying that Katherine's true beliefs and personality have survived. But given the severity of Petruchio's tutelage and the extent to which he asserts his will over his wife's even to the point of deconstructing and rebuilding her very reality, it is also easy to read this final speech as a haunting display of a woman broken down by torture and ultimately oppressed by the misogynistic culture she lives in.

Now, go thy ways, thou hast tamed a curst shrew.

Related Characters: Hortensio (speaker), Katherine, Petruchio
Page Number: 5.2.205
Explanation and Analysis:

The wager is over, the speech is done; everyone is awed at Katherine's transformation, and the field seems to be won. After Petruchio leaves with his wife, Hortensio says that his friend has "tamed a curst shrew." While our interpretation is debatable, it is clear that the characters within the play believed the final speech to be in earnest. Katherine has become Kate, an obedient woman without any concrete beliefs or identity other than those of her husband.

Note also that Christopher Sly and the outer play are here forgotten. The play within the play ends, and with it the entire play ends. Whether forgotten by the playwright or simply considered superfluous at this point, audiences and readers are left to consider Katherine's harrowing final speech. And, in fact, there are many very different interpretations of the play. Some critics argue that it is, simply, horribly misogynistic. Others argue that the "cruelty" of the play is in fact a kind of play, a back and forth both characters, having met their match, enjoy. Still others argue that the misogyny represented in the play is supposed to make an audience reflect on the misogyny in their society; that the play is forcing an audience to see and be horrified by society's expectations for women.