The Taming of the Shrew Contents
- Shakespeare, William
- 1564 - 1582: William Shakespeare's Stratford Beginnings
- 1582 - 1592: William Shakespeare's Marriage, Parenthood and Early Occupation
- 1592 - 1594: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 1
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 2
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 3
- 1611 - 1616: William Shakespeare - Back to Stratford
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- The theatrical context
- The Taming of the Shrew Induction Scene 1
- The Taming of the Shrew Induction Scene 2
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 1 Scene 1
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 1 Scene 2
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 2 Scene 1
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 3 Scene 1
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 3 Scene 2
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 4 Scene 1
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 4 Scene 2
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 4 Scene 3
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 4 Scene 4
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 4 Scene 5
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 5 Scene 1
- The Taming of the Shrew Act 5 Scene 2
Linguistic duels - a battle of wits
The Taming of the Shrew has many examples of linguistic word-play used as a means of witty attack when characters are in conflict. In Act 2 Scene 1 Petruchio and Katherina use a range of puns, metaphors and similes as they attempt to put each other down and gain the upper hand in their ‘battle of wits’. Their use of language to control meaning and significance is a reflection of their attempt to control each other and the situation in which they find themselves.
When Petruchio announces to Katherina that he is ‘moved to woo thee for my wife’, she replies with an insult that comes from a play on the word ‘moved’:
Katherina: Moved, in good time! Let him that moved you hither Remove you hence. I knew you at the first You were a moveable.
Petruchio: Why, what's a moveable?
Katherina: A joint-stool.
Petruchio: Thou hast hit it. Come, sit on me.Act 2 Scene 1
Katherina takes the conversation from an offer of marriage to an insult by a series of puns on the word ‘moved’, denigrating Petruchio to the most insignificant piece of furniture. However, he bounces back by inviting her to literally sit on him as she would a stool.
Again, when Petruchio tries to calm Katherina down he says, ‘Come, come, you wasp; i' faith, you are too angry’ and this sets off another exchange between them based on a wasp’s tail:
Katherina: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then, to pluck it out.
Katherina: Ay, if the fool could find it where it lies,
Petruchio: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting?
In his tail.
Katherina: In his tongue.
Petruchio: Whose tongue?
Katherina: Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.
Petruchio: What, with my tongue in your tail? Nay, come again,
Good Kate; I am a gentleman.
Katherina: That I'll try. She strikes himAct 2 Scene 1
The play on the word ‘tail’ moves from a wasp’s tail, to a tale, before Petruchio makes a rude remark and Katherina exchanges the linguistic battle for a physical attack. The speed of the repartee is indicated by the sharing of lines of verse between characters.
Another battle of wit and will happens in the linguistic duel between Katherina and the other wives in Act 5 Scene 2. When the Widow comments on Petruchio that, 'He that is giddy thinks the world turns round’, she is by implication insulting Katherina, who insists on an explanation:
Katherina: ‘He that is giddy thinks the world turns round’ - I pray you, tell me what you meant by that.
Widow: Your husband, being troubled with a shrew, Measures my husband’s sorrow by his woe: And now you know my meaning.
Katherina: A very mean meaning.
Widow: Right, I mean you.
Katherina: And I am mean indeed, respecting you.Act 5 Scene 2
The word play on ‘meaning’ starts with the significance of what the Widow meant, which Katherina regards as meanness/unpleasantness. When the Widow concurs that she is attacking Katherina, Petruchio’s wife replies that she has a mean/scant respect for her. Petruchio enjoys the battle of wits and is so sure of Katherina’s linguistic skill that he says, ‘A hundred marks, my Kate does put her down’.
A play on the meaning of words, often for comic effect.
An image or form of comparison where one thing is said actually to be another - e.g. 'fleecy clouds'.
An image where one thing is said to be 'as' or 'like' another: e.g. 'He jumped up like a jack-in-the-box'.
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