The battle of wits: Petruccio's educational methods

Term Paper, 2003

16 Pages, Grade: 2



Shakespeare explores the theme of comic sexual warfare between men and women in The Taming of the Shrew, says Francois Laroque (1997, p. 64). Shakespeare’s play consists of a frame tale which introduces two interlinked plots. The frame story deals with a poor tinker, Christopher Sly, who is found drunkenly by a nobleman. This nobleman enjoys to play a joke on the poor tinker’s expense making him believe he is a nobleman with all the luxury of servants, a wife, fine food and drink at his command. In this way, Christopher Sly comes into the joy of watching a troupe of players enact a “comedy of courtship and marriage involving two lines of action” on the order of the true nobleman. The first line of action is concerned with Katherine, the elder sister of the Minola siblings, who “is ‘tamed’ by a strong-willed, fortune-seeking suitor named Petruchio” (Howard, J.E., 1997, p. 133). The second, however, deals with Bianca Minola, the younger daughter of Baptista Minola, the father of the two. She is wooed by three different adoring suitors at a time and “eventually elopes with one of them without her father’s knowledge or consent.” (Ibid). Catherine Bates (2002, p. 108), however, regards The Taming of the Shrew as being a brisk comedy which is laid on to entertain the drunken Christopher Sly. Edward Berry (2002, pp. 123-138), nevertheless, sees Katherine being the shrew who is “mocked, abused, and tormented into submission by Petruchio (Ibid, p. 124). Edward Berry also states that “the play in which Katherine is tamed is a play within a play, performed at the request of a hunting lord, who uses it to show the beggar, Christopher Sly, how grand it is to live his kind of life”(Ibid, p. 132). The relationship between Kate and Petruchio is meant to be the most intriguing story line of the play (Howard, J.E., 1997, pp. 134f):

“It is the relationship between Kate and Petruccio, however, that has long been regarded as the play’s most riveting story line,”

for they both “loom powerfully over the other characters” (Cahn, V. L., 1991, p. 542), and “shine like beacons” (Ibid, p. 543). Other sources see this very relationship as easily misunderstood because of its subtleness and complication (Ibid, p. 541).

“…Petruccio woos Kate by contradicting her every word and taming her, like a hawk, by making her go hungry and sleepless. The language of blood sport permeates both the Induction and the Petruccio scenes…Petruccio repeatedly compares the taming of a wife to the transformation of a wild hawk into a docile hunting falcon.” (Howard, 1997, p. 135).

Main Part

To understand Petruchio’s educational methods taming Kate, one has to emphasize that she is condemned as a shrew because her wilfulness and peremptoriness “elicits scorn [and] derision” (Howard, J.E., 1997, p. 134). Kate saying ‘I pray you, sir, is it your will/ To make a stale of me amongst these mates?’ (1.1.57-58) displays her completely unhappiness and frustration of her present life, and also her hopelessness for the future (Cahn, V. L., 1991, p. 543). This made her a furious person towards life in general, who “takes out her resentment on her sibling and anyone else available” (Ibid, p. 545). M. Leigh-Noel (p. 181), lists up an understandable reason for the Minola-sisters being so different in character: Kate and Bianca both grew up in Padua in wealth and luxury. Both got more “than an average share of beauty, grace and wit.” The only thing both were missing was the “tender care and gentle overshadowing influence of… a mother’s love.” So it came that without this mellowing influence both sisters ran into extremes: “Katherine, with her restless energy and buoyant spirit, became a termagant; Bianca, with her gentle disposition and intellectual bias, settled down into a bookworm…” Accordingly, Kate’s termagant lay in her mouth, where most women’s natural weapon of defence can be found. According to Elizabeth Wormeley Latimer (p. 201), Baptista, the father of Kate and Bianca, is not affable and courteous a gentleman as one could easily mistake him to be, but in reality is “calculating, selfish, unfatherly, and indelicate”. So it is “no wonder he bred Katherine to scorn him, and Bianca to deceive him.” When Kate is openly scoffed at in front of her father - who being her father should protect her but does not - it is not surprising that she instinctively returns scornful and despising in self-protection. “A woman left to fight her own battles, with even her household against her, can hardly fail to be rough and rude.”

Petruchio, as a person of some wit, is in a similar mood. He does not get any pleasure from his cleverness. In contrast, “he [only] uses it to smooth his way through society he finds distasteful.” (Cahn, 1991, p. 543) In this way, he is determined to marry a rich wife:

‘ I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;

If wealthily, then happily in Padua. ’ (1.2.72-73)

When he hears of wealthy, young, beautiful, and shrewish Kate, he is even more

intrigued than discouraged, and that’s why he decides to actually woo her instead of having been put off. (Ibid, p. 544) He is a bored man who is in need of a fresh spark (Ibid, p. 545). The fact that all other men show awe of Kate, might reflect on him as being this needed fresh spark. Similarly, Kate is in the same need of a fresh spark. The only difference between them is, Petruchio, being unhappy, gets cynical and Kate angry. As he learns to know that Kate smashed Hortensio, a companion of his, with a lute he is genuinely taken (Ibid, p. 546):

‘ Now by the world, it is a lusty wench!

I love her ten times more than e ’ er I did O, how I long to have some chat with her! ’ (2.2.158-159)

At their first meeting, both Kate and Petruchio start their chat “in terms of angry wit” - it certainly is a swift raillery of both sides. Neither gives in without taunting right back on the other, but after a while the tone of conversation changes. Petruchio is delighted with Kate’s wit and spirit in coming back on him. He realises she is worth the effort of taming not only for the money, indeed. He has found an “equal [partner] in intellect and energy.” (Cahn, p. 547). According to Alexander Leggatt (2002, p. 140) Katherine and Petruchio, at their first meeting, play a game where they both taunt each other ‘Women are made to bear, and so are you,’ ‘No cock of mine. You crow too like a craven’ (2.1.198, 223). These jokes suggest a sexual chemistry going on between the two of them. Their words meet on equal terms and Katherine is so eloquent she sometimes manages to guide the conversation as to her will - she sets the rules. A further fact Leggatt points out in this paragraph is that in the play Shakespeare lets never hit Katherine by Petruchio - no matter what actors do on stage. On the contrary, she hits him when his sense of humour goes to far saying: ‘What, with my tongue in your tail?’ (2.1.213) As she slaps him she does not mean to hurt him but to insult him in a way both understand. This is a subtle situation for Petruchio, because he, easily being able to hit her back, realises that “to be fair [towards a woman] he must subdue her by less painful means.” (Leggatt, 2002, p. 140). A few more sentences later Petruchio comes back on her speaking:

‘ No, not a wit. I find you passing gentle.

‘ Twas told me you were rough, and coy, and sullen, And now I find report a very liar,

For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous, But slow in speech, yet sweet as springtime flowers. Thou canst not frown. Thou canst not look askance, Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will, Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk, But thou with mildness entertain ’ st thy wooers, With gentle conference, soft, and affable. ’ (2.1.235-244).

Somehow this sounds to be the truth though its immanent ironic undertone. Both Kate and Petruchio happen to mutually understand this, and by returning towards him - ‘Where did you study all this goodly speech?’ (2.1.255) - Kate “seems to reveal reluctantly her admiration of his style.” After a while, when the other men return to the scene, Petruchio announces the wedding:

‘ And to conclude, we have ‘ greed so well together

That upon Sunday is the wedding day. ’ (2.1.288-289)

Now that Kate is totally surprised by this abrupt decision, she can’t

surrender her “long-standing personality without a struggle: ‘I’ll see thee hanged on Sunday first’ (2.1.291), (Cahn, 1991, p. 548). As a matter of fact, her protest stops immediately hearing Petruchio saying: ‘If she and I be pleas’d, what’s that to you?’ (2.1.295). In this context, Cahn thinks she is likely to be grateful to be spoken of as an ally to him - a thing she has never heard any man speak of her. A second reason for her being taken with might as well be the little imaginary tale of Petruchio kissing her with passion as in (2.1.299-302), “for deep down she wishes that such events actually occurred” (Ibid, p. 548).

With the wedding scene comes a new mood to the play. Here Petruchio changes his tactics according to the fact that fair Kate’s personality is not being

expected to change overnight - he “still has lessons for her to learn.” (Cahn, 1991, p. 548). The first lesson is his coming late to his own wedding wearing “outlandish” clothes, which naturally upsets Kate:

‘ Now must the world point at poor Katherine And say ‘ Lo, there is mad Petruchio ’ s wife, If it would please him come and marry her. ’ (3.2.18-20)

Here her mortification only consist of the public humiliation waiting for her bridegroom in front of the guests. Petruchio’s intention of his first lesson for Kate is that he tries to teach her “to judge not by appearance, but by substance.” His next lesson follows prompt after the wedding when he wants to depart with Kate immediately after church service leaving the festivity to the family and guests alone. Kate’s natural answer is her total resistance. She refuses to come with him “insisting that her own priorities take precedence:”

‘ Nay, then, do what thou canst, I will not go today, No, nor tomorrow - not till I please myself. ’ (3.3.79-80)

‘ I will be angry. What hast thou to do?

Father, be quiet. He shall stay my leisure. (3.3.87-88)

‘ Gentlemen, forward to the bridal dinner. I see a woman may be made a fool

If she had not a spirit to resist. ’ (3.3.90-92)

Petruchio, realising her emphasis on her own will and the personal pronoun “I”, starts into the other extreme and comes right back on her claiming his possession

- her:

‘ 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,


Excerpt out of 16 pages


The battle of wits: Petruccio's educational methods
University of Kassel  (Anglistik)
W. Shakespeare - The Taming of the Shrew
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ISBN (Book)
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Investigates the educational methods of Petruccio in taming Kate - the shrew
Petruccio, Shakespeare, Taming, Shrew
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Andreas Hohmann (Author), 2003, The battle of wits: Petruccio's educational methods, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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