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
A 'bad' quarto? A Pleasant
Conceited Historie, Called the Taming of a Shrew, 1596. British
Library, 161.b.8, sig. B3r. Larger
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
- 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 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
Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where
each act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos
themselves have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play
is always the earliest in the Library's collection - unless it is
a 'bad' quarto in which case it is the earliest 'good' quarto.
The Taming of the Shrew is set in Padua and the countryside
near Verona. It has been suggested that the induction scene is
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
(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.