The Taming of the Shrew Act 2 Scene 1

Synopsis of Act 2 Scene 1

At home, a jealous Katherina has tied Bianca to a chair to interrogate her about her suitors. Baptista arrives, dismisses Bianca and tells Katherina off, which she sees as favouritism towards her sister and leaves the room in a temper. Gremio and Petruchio arrive with two new ‘tutors’ for Baptista’s daughters as a means of securing his favour - Lucentio in disguise as bookish Cambio, and Hortensio, now disguised as Litio, a music tutor, so that he can gain access to Bianca and convince her of his love.
 
Baptista is also introduced to a third suitor, ‘Lucentio’ (Tranio in disguise), who gains favour with gifts of books and a lute. When the ‘tutors’ leave to meet the sisters with these gifts, Baptista discusses marriage arrangements with Petruchio, who is interested in Katherina’s dowry and wants to meet her. They are interrupted by Hortensio/Litio’s sudden return with a broken lute, which Katherina has smashed over his head. This increases Petruchio’s interest in meeting her as the other men depart.
 
Petruchio tell Katherina he wants to marry her. He pays her extravagant compliments and engages in witty verbal sparring when she taunts him both verbally and by slapping him. When Baptista arrives, Petruchio pretends that they are getting along really well and that they both want to get married on the coming Sunday.
 
Meanwhile, Gremio and Tranio/‘Lucentio’ have been proving their wealth and status to Baptista in order to secure Bianca’s hand in marriage. Her father is impressed by Tranio’s potential to inherit wealth and wants to have assurances from his ‘father’, when he will then agree to the match, on the Sunday following Katherina’s wedding. Tranio soliloquizes that he now needs to procure a father.

Katherine hits the music master, image available through Creative CommonsCommentary on The Taming of the Shrew Act 2 Scene 1

Minion, thou liest!: Although Katherina has a physical advantage over her younger sister, the balance of power is with Bianca who taunts her sister with the ‘offer’ of her many suitors.

hilding of a devilish spirit!: Good-for-nothing. Baptista tells Katherina off and sympathises with Bianca.
 
lead apes in hell: The patriarchal society of the time believed that having children helped a woman enter heaven; unmarried and thus childless, Katherina fears the reverse, that she will be ushered into hell by apes (though her words might also be an apt description of having to dance with undesirable partners at Bianca’s wedding).
 
Baccare! … I would fain be doing: ‘Stand back!’ Elderly Gremio is offended by Petruchio’s haste, whilst he is tired of talking and wants to be introduced to Katherina, after all he has heard about her.
 
myself .. freely give unto you: The audience understand the dramatic irony that Gremio is willingly introducing to Bianca the man who will be his undoing.
 
I’ll assure her of / Her widowhood: Petruchio ensures Baptista he will look after Katherina financially in the event of his own death.
 
Let specialties be therefore drawn between us: Petruchio and Baptista are negotiating the legal terms of the marriage contract. Marriage is a central theme in The Taming of the Shrew (see Themes > Marriage). It impacts not only the private relationship between a man and woman but also has broader social and cultural aspects. In this play marriage is seen by different characters variously as:
  • A means to get rich
  • A means to increase social status
  • A way of having power
  • A way to escape family or poverty
  • The way to true love. 
as peremptory as she proud-minded: Petruchio is confident that he is as assertive as Katherina and that he will be able to convince her to marry him. Alliteration features frequently in the following dialogue.
 
break .. broke: Shakespeare puns with the meanings of break ‘to introduce’ and break ‘to destroy’.
 
sooner prove a soldier: Katherina’s forceful character echoes the idea of Petruchio being arm’d.
 
on a pillory: The pillory was a form of public punishment where an offender’s head and hands were clamped, enabling others to throw refuse at them.
 
Kate .. Katherine: Katherina dislikes being called by the familiar diminutive of her name, by the use of which Petruchio asserts control.
 
movable: Changeable and unstable person, also any small item of furniture.
 
joint stool: It was a common insult to be called a joint stool (a lowly wooden stool).
 
buzz: Scandalous rumours.
 
buzzard .. turtle: Buzzards were considered worthless for falconry, so this is an insult, which Petruchio turns to his advantage as any bird of prey can outfly a turtle-dove, the symbol of love.
 
arms: Katherina refers both to Petruchio sustaining bodily damage and to losing his coat of arms as a gentleman (who would never hit a lady).
 
crest .. coxcomb: The insignia of a gentleman and the tuft on a bird’s head, which Katherina relates to the red ‘comb’ on a cockerel’s head, the same shape as the cap worn by fools.
 
askance: To look at someone with scorn.
 
Dian: Petruchio refers to Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting and chastity.
 
extempore: Made up on the spot. Petruchio is boasting about his quick wit, which, in this battle of wits, is his weapon. His intention is to woo her ‘with some spirit’ and to contradict whatever she says or does and thereby both provoke conflict and ensure he has the upper hand
 
will you, nill you: Whether you want to or not. Having been physically constrained by Petruchio (you scape not so) and with the consent of her father, Katherina has no economic, physical or social choice to refuse Petruchio.
 
a second Grissel: Chaucer’s The Clerk’s Tale was just one of many accounts of ‘patient Griselda’.
 
Roman Lucrece: According to Livy, Lucretia was a modest wife who, when raped by a house guest, stabbed herself out of shame, after extracting a promise of vengeance from her relatives.
 
merchant’s part: Having ‘sold off’ Katherina at a loss, Baptista now intends to ‘sell’ Bianca to the bidder offering the greatest dowry for her.
 
Tyrian tapestry: Tyre was renowned for richly coloured cloth.
 
argosy: Now associated with the idea of treasure, the term originally applied to the largest merchant ship available.
 
have I pinched you: There is humour as the young and old men try to outdo each other in terms of the extravagance of their wealth, which only hits reality when Baptista insists on having a reality check with ‘Lucentio’s’ father, whom Tranio will suddenly have to procure.
 

Investigating The Taming of the Shrew Act 2 Scene 1

  • In this scene Baptista and the other men are negotiating the terms of marriage with regard to both Katherina and Bianca. What does this say about love, money, power and relationships?
  • Analyse Petruchio’s method of wooing Katherina. What methods of persuasion has he used to get her attention in terms of:
    • What he says?
    • What he does? 
      • What internal stage directions indicate the latter?
  • The exchange between Petruchio and Katherina once alone has sometimes been called a battle of wits. Look at their use of language and find examples of:
  • Who would you say had the upper hand in the exchange? 
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