Taming of the Shrew

Creation of the play

The Taming of the Shrew has been dated as early as 1589, which would make it not only Shakespeare’s first comedy but also his first play. The available evidence supports a very early date for the play’s creation, and 1590-1591 is often suggested. The Taming of the Shrew must be dated in relation to the anonymous play The Taming of A Shrew, entered on the Stationers’ Register in 1594 and printed the same year.

The 1594 edition of The Taming of A Shrew is now generally thought of as a ‘bad’ quarto of Shakespeare’s play. It appears to be a memorial reconstruction by actors of The Taming of the Shrew, with assistance from an unknown writer, and was probably written in 1592. Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew quotes from Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, for which the earliest recorded performance is in 1592, although Kyd’s play was probably written between 1587 and 1590.

Andronicus’ Complaint. Richard Johnson, The Golden Garland of Princely Pleasures and Delicate Delights
A 'bad' quarto? A Pleasant Conceited Historie, Called the Taming of a Shrew, 1596. British Library, 161.b.8, sig. B3r. Larger image

Early performances

There are virtually no records of performances of The Taming of the Shrew. Henslowe’s Diary records that ‘the tamynge of A Shrowe’ was among the plays performed at Newington Butts in June 1594. The Admiral’s Men and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were there at that time, so Henslowe may have been referring to Shakespeare’s play. The Master of the Revels, Sir Henry Herbert, recorded a performance before the King and Queen at St James’s Palace on 26 November 1633, followed two days later by John Fletcher’s sequel The Tamer Tamed. The titlepage of the 1631 quarto refers to The Taming of the Shrew being ‘acted by his Maiesties seruants at the Blacke Friers and the Globe’, but no evidence survives of these performances by the King’s Men.

Publication in quarto and folio

The Taming of the Shrew appeared in two editions before 1642.

  • First folio, 1623. Perhaps printed from a transcript of Shakespeare’s foul papers, which had been annotated by the book-keeper. The folio text lacks an epilogue, to complete the Induction action with Christopher Sly. The Taming of A Shrew includes such an epilogue, which might have been cut from Shakespeare’s play because of a shortage of actors.
  • Quarto, 1631. Printed from the first folio.

The only quarto edition of The Taming of the Shrew was printed by William Stansby for the bookseller John Smethwick in 1631. Smethwick was a member of the syndicate that printed the first folio, apparently because he held the copyright of some of Shakespeare’s published plays. The Taming of the Shrew and The Taming of a Shrew seem to have been treated as identical for copyright purposes. The latter had been first entered on the Stationers’ Register on 2 May 1594, and was printed by Peter Short for Cuthbert Burby that year. There was another printing in 1596. On 22 January 1607, The Taming of a Shrew was transferred from Burby to Nicholas Ling. On 19 November 1607 the Stationers’ Register recorded the transfer of The Taming of a Shrew from Ling to John Smethwick. Smethwick’s copyright in The Taming of a Shrew apparently gave him copyright in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, allowing the play to be printed in the first folio and the 1631 quarto.

British Library copies of The Taming of the Shrew contains detailed bibliographic descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.

Shakespeare’s sources

Shakespeare’s principal sources for The Taming of the Shrew were probably among the many popular oral and written versions of stories involving either the taming of shrewish wives or tricks played on drunken beggars. Only one direct literary source has been identified.

  • Lodovico Ariosto, translated by George Gascoigne, Supposes in The Whole Woorkes of George Gascoigne Esquyre (1587). A translation of Ariosto’s I Suppositi. Shakespeare drew on Supposes for his sub-plot in which Bianca is wooed by Lucentio.

Story of the play

The Taming of the Shrew is set in Padua and the countryside near Verona. It has been suggested that the induction scene is really set in Shakespeare’s native Warwickshire.
(Induction) A drunken tinker, Christopher Sly, is tricked by a group of noblemen into believing he is a lord. In his false status, he is entertained with a play by a group of travelling actors.

(Act 1) Lucentio arrives in Padua as a student. He sees the merchant Baptista and his two daughters, and immediately falls in love with the younger, Bianca. Baptista declares that her elder sister Katherina, a shrew, must be married before Bianca. Lucentio decides to pose as a schoolmaster to woo Bianca. Petruchio arrives in Padua, looking for a rich wife. Hortensio, a would-be suitor to Bianca, tells Petruchio of Katherina. Petruchio decides to court her.

(Act 2) Petruchio asks Baptista for Katherina’s hand in marriage. When they meet, Petruchio and Katherina quarrel, but their marriage is agreed and the day fixed.

(Act 3) Lucentio, diguised as a Latin master, and Hortensio, disguised as a music master, court Bianca. Petruchio arrives for his wedding with Katherina dressed in old and fantastic clothes. As soon as they are married, he insists on returning to his country house near Verona.

(Act 4) When Petruchio and Katherina arrive at his house, he rejects the supper served to them and sends Katherina to bed hungry. Back in Padua, Lucentio’s wooing of Bianca proves successful, and Hortensio resolves to marry a rich widow instead. Petruchio ill treats Katherina, refusing her food, rest, and new clothes. As they travel back to Padua, he torments and contradicts her until she gives in and agrees to whatever he says.

(Act 5) Lucentio and Bianca have secretly married. Hortensio has married his rich widow. When Petruchio and Katherina arrive in Padua, Baptista holds a banquet for the newlyweds. After the women have left the table, Petruchio proposes a wager on the most obedient of the new wives. Each husband sends for his wife in turn. Bianca refuses to come to Lucentio, saying she is busy. Hortensio’s wife refuses, bidding him come to her. When Petruchio sends for Katherina, she comes immediately. He sends her back to fetch the other two, which she does. Katherina tells the assembled company the duties of a wife.


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