Geographical structures

The significance of location

Rector of Padua University, sixteenth centuryThe geography of The Taming of the Shrew is significant and adds not only to development of theme and character but also to the structure of the play itself. Setting the main plot in Padua, Shakespeare was drawing attention to this city, with its famous University, as a place of learning and scholarship. Indeed, Lucentio describes the city as the ‘nursery of arts’ and the ‘pleasant garden of great Italy’:
 
Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies
                              .. for I have Pisa left

And am to Padua come, as he that leaves

A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep

And with satiety seeks to quench his thirst.
Act 1 Scene 1     
 
The swiftness with which Lucentio abandons this course of learning after he sees Bianca is not only a reflection of his character; Shakespeare could also be satirising the social pretensions of many people who thought that education made them superior to those around them. Interestingly, it is Petruchio, who comes to Padua to wive and thrive, who is the one who teaches the most important life lessons to those around him.

Journeying to the new

In the main plot, geography similarly reflects on the developing relationship between Petruchio and Katherina. After the wedding, Petruchio takes Katherina away from her family and friends in Padua on an arduous journey to his own house. Here Katherina encounters a new culture in a household run by a volatile man and his unruly servants, as well as a new series of lessons she must learn as Petruchio carefully monitors her behaviour, her appetites and even her sleep. 
 
The outward journey, in wet and stormy weather, is the start of Petruchio’s plot to ‘tame’ his wife. Katherina is refused any opportunity to display her characteristic shrewish behaviour and is also refused any help from her husband or the servants – a clear indication of who is in control. 
 
More importantly, the journey takes Katherina away from the mesh of social conventions and family dynamics which trap her into shrewish behaviour. The people who treat her like a shrew are gone and, isolated with someone as strong-willed as she is, she is given the chance to change. 
 
The return journey starts to build on the relationship that has developed between them during the short time they have been away from Padua. Petruchio’s harsh regime brings Katherina to a realisation of how they can live together peaceably and her acceptance of the new rules – shown as they both agree that the sun is the moon or the old man is a beautiful, young woman – is the start of their new relationship.
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