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 Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew
And I have thrust myself into this maze,
Happily to wive and thrive, as best I may.
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.
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.
Then tell me, if I get your daughter's love,
What dowry shall I have with her to wife?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee.
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.