The Taming of the Shrew Act 5 Scene 2

Synopsis of Act 5 Scene 2

The Taming of the Shrew, Act 5 Scene 2, illustration by Arthur RackhamEveryone has been invited to a wedding feast (served by Tranio, Biondello and Petruchio’s servant, Grumio) organised by Lucentio to celebrate his wedding to Bianca. Hortensio, no longer pretending to be a music tutor, is present with the rich widow he has just married. He and Petruchio are amused when their wives trade insults, watching to see who will get the upper hand.
 
After dinner, when the women have left the room, the other men commiserate with Petruchio for being married to someone they still regard as a shrew but Petruchio is so confident that Katherina has changed that he instigates a wager as to which wife is most obedient and will come when her husband sends for her.
 
Biondello summons both the rich widow and Bianca in turn, yet each refuses to come to their husbands. However, when Grumio goes for Katherina, she immediately returns with him, to the amazement of the other men, then compels Bianca and the Widow to return as well.
 
Katherina reminds the new wives that their husbands need their support and obedience. Petruchio is delighted and looks forward to a positive relationship with his wife. The others are disappointed that their own wives’ behaviour has lost them the wager, and are envious of Petruchio as he and Katherina depart. 

Commentary on The Taming of the Shrew Act 5 Scene 2

The social hierarchy has been restored as servants return to their duties serving their masters. Now the domestic hierarchy is under observation.
 
jarring notes agree: The alliteration and smooth iambic pentameter of the opening three lines convey that harmony that is now being restored, as the image suggests.
 
Hortensio fears his widow!: The Widow takes this to mean that her husband is afraid she will not be faithful; Petruchio meant that Hortensio is afraid of crossing her. Though she rebuts the former, when she understands the latter she implies (He that is giddy ..) that Petruchio is judging all wives by the shrewishness of his own, something Katherina takes issue with.

I am mean indeed, respecting you: My behaviour is good when compared to yours.
 
conceive: The Widow means ‘understand’, Petruchio jokes about the idea of conception.
 
put her down: Petruchio means ‘verbally snub’, Lucentio jokes about the idea of taking his wife to bed for intercourse. 
 
head and horn: Bianca has struggled to find an opening in the witty banter but now makes a rather ‘shrewish’ joke implying Gremio’s affections were ‘cuckolded’ (of which the horn is a symbol) whilst she stole away to be with Lucentio. 
 
bird .. bush: Bianca recognises that she is no match for Petruchio’s wit. Echoing an English proverb (‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’), rather than be available as a target of his repartee she will remove herself out of reach.
 
draw your bow .. aim’d .. shot: Hunting imagery applied to the male pursuit of women, as is slipped me like his greyhound, meaning ‘unleashed me’ and deer at bay, implying that Petruchio cannot capture his trophy.

veriest shrew: Truest shrew.
 
I'll be your half: I'll pay half the bet and get half the winnings.
 
bid .. entreat .. command: The language used by each of the husbands intensifies, a way of increasing the dramatic tension.
 
by my holidame: By the holy dame (the Virgin Mary) – the relative strength of the oath conveys Baptista’s surprise.
 
swinge me them soundly: Whip them well.
 
awful: i.e. Awe-inspiring or respectful.
 
what not that’s sweet and happy: Everything that’s sweet and happy.
 
Off with that bauble: Petruchio tells Katherina her cap doesn’t suit her and to trample it underfoot, something the other wives mock as foolish (clothing demonstrating status),  yet this is turned back on them.
 
We will have no telling: The Widow echoes Katherina’s attitude in the early sections of the play.
 
Confounds thy fame: Katherina tells the other women off and reminds them that their scornful glances and frowns destroy their reputations. 
 
meet: Appropriate.
 
ill-seeming: Out of place and ugly.
 
thy Lord, thy life, thy keeper: Katherina echoes the sentiments which would regularly have been heard in sermons, arising from biblical injunctions such as Ephesians 5:22-24 and 1 Peter 3:1-7.
 
cares for thee .. commits his body: The spirit of Katherina’s depiction of husbands also echoes the model for sacrificial love that Paul talks about in Ephesians 5:25-33.
 
simple: Unintelligent.
 
bodies weak .. soft conditions: Soft qualities. Here, rather than biblical sources, Katherina is echoing an Elizabethan Homily on the State of Matrimony, which describes women as:
 
a weake creature, not indued with like strength and constancie of minde, therefore they be the sooner disquieted, and they be the more prone to all weake affections & dispositions of mind, more then men bee, & lighter they bee, and more vaine in their fantasies & opinions.     
 
seeming to be most .. indeed least are: Aggression in a woman diminishes that woman’s standing.
 
vail your stomachs: The stomach was a symbol of pride (Elizabethan doublets were often stuffed with bombast - leading to the term ‘bombastic’ - to make the wearer seem physically dominant) but the women are being asked here to cover this, i.e. submit. 
 
boot .. foot: From this point onwards the actors speak in rhyming couplets as Shekespeare signifies that the play is drawing to a close.
 
And place your hands below your husband's foot: An action symbolic of humility and helpfulness, which Katherina recommends for women to have in relation to their husbands. She is mindful of the benefits (as stated in the Homily) of a true friendship for mutual respect and peace, rather than violence or disrespect in relationships:
 
let vs doe all things, that we may haue the fellowship of our wiues, which is the factour of all our doings at home, in great quiet and rest. And by these meanes all things shall prosper quietly, and so shall we passe through the dangers of the troublous sea of this world.      
 
go thy ways: Equivalent to ‘Would you believe it!’

thou shall ha’t: Petruchio has won the money and has gained his wish for a happy marriage.
 
sped: Done for.
 
hit the white: Petruchio puns that although Lucentio has gained Bianca, meaning ‘white’, the colour of the centre in an archery target, in fact Petruchio is the real winner. 
 

Investigating The Taming of the Shrew Act 5 Scene 2

  • How do you interpret Kate's final speech? 
    • What evidence would you select to suggest that her tone is a) sincere or b) sarcastic? 
    • Would you advise the mood of actress playing the role to be beaten down, mischievous or serious? Explain why.
  • How would you stage this scene if you were a director?
    • How would you want each character to act before, during and after Katherina’s speech?
  • According to the views upheld in this scene, what attitudes and behaviours lead to a healthy relationship?
    • Think about which marriage would be least likely to need counselling in five years’ time.
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