The Taming of the Shrew Act 4 Scene 1

Synopsis of Act 4 Scene 1

Petruchio and Katherina arrive at Petruchio’s house late at night after a long, cold journey, Grumio having already arrived to ensure the servants have food and a fire ready for them. He recounts the events of the couple’s journey, in particular how Katherina fell off her horse into the mud whilst Petruchio just rode off. 
The servants line up to attend Petruchio’s and Katherina’s arrival but are berated for not being ready. Next, Petruchio angrily demands food to be brought for them, then throws it away saying it is burnt, to the disappointment of a starving Katherina. Petruchio sends away all subsequent food, claiming that it isn’t good enough for his wife, regardless of her wishes. Exhausted, she goes to bed. 
In a soliloquy, Petruchio tells the audience that he intends to stop Katherina from sleeping. He is using the techniques of a falconer, who tames hawks by depriving them of food and rest until they are dependant, in order to tame Katherina.

Commentary on The Taming of the Shrew Act 4 Scene 1

The journey undertaken by Petruchio and Katherina is one which takes Katherina far away from her family, city and accustomed culture. It is an arduous journey and is used by Petruchio as part of the ‘taming’ process. 
Ultimately Katherina is on a journey of self-discovery as well. Travelling is part of her education, as it was for medieval pilgrims (see The world of Chaucer > making sense of the tangible world > Pilgrims and pilgrimage; Big ideas from the Bible > Pilgrims and sojourners). 
Was ever man so rayed? Grumio is complaining that he has never been so cold or muddy. He speaks in prose and utters a complaint typical of stock character servants.
a little pot .. belly: Grumio echoes the language of two Psalms which each express extreme suffering (Psalms 22:15) and distress at exile (Psalms 137:6) out of all proportion to his own. 
hot: Angry and hot-tempered.
three inch fool .. thy horn is a foot: Curtis jokes about Grumio’s shortness of stature, which he accepts in preference to having Curtis’ foot long ‘horn’ – a horn was the sign that a man had been cuckolded (his wife committing adultery).
coney-catching: Trickery.
rushes strewed: Fresh reeds to cover the floor.
imprimis: In the first place. 
thou shoulds’t have heard: Grumio goes into such detail about the tale which he refuses to tell that in fact Curtis hears all of it!
to pluck him off me: Katherina is learning compassion for others even whilst suffering herself.
he is more shrew than she: Petruchio is more bad-tempered and rude than Katherina is.
How now: Hello.
Cock’s passion: ‘God’s passion’. Taking the name of God in vain (i.e. not reverently) contravened the third of the Ten Commandments, but adapted oaths like this were common. The original ‘God’s passion’ refers to the acute suffering of Jesus in the thirty-six hours leading up to his crucifixion.
knaves: Servants; also untrustworthy people.
logger-headed: Stupid.
malthorse drudge: Slow horse.
Will you let it fall? The servant has already served water and it is likely that Petruchio deliberately upsets it then blames the servant. He is creating chaos, then complaining, yet the servants are doing exactly as they should.
heedless joltheads: Clumsy fools.
engenders choler: It is ironic that the apparently furious Petruchio’s rejects the meat in case it makes him or his wife angry! Burnt meat was associated with creating anger or choler (one of the four humours which was believed to affect temperament).
He kills her in her own humour: He is giving her a taste of her own medicine.
sits as one new risen from a dream: Katherina is as bemused with the ‘reality’ Petruchio is creating as the watching Sly is with his new life as a ‘Lord’.
politicly begun my reign: Petruchio alerts the audience to the plan behind his subterfuge of madness in a soliloquy which is central to the whole plot.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty: Petruchio describes his scheme to ‘tame’ Katherina using the analogy of falcon training. He uses hunger (sharp) and sleeplessness as well as other terms taken from the register of falconry.
man my haggard: Tame my wild bird.
watch her: Keep her from sleeping.
bate and beat: Try to fly away.

Investigating The Taming of the Shrew Act 4 Scene 1

  • Consider Petruchio’s treatment of Katherina.
    • Why does he treat her so harshly?
    • What effect does this have on her?
    • As a director, how would you advise an actor to play Petruchio’s role?
  • Read Petruchio’s soliloquy at the end of this scene. Make notes on:
    • The content of his soliloquy
    • The delivery of his soliloquy
    • His attitude towards Katherina
    • His relationship with the audience
  • Make a mind map or spider diagram of all the different strands of plot which have been introduced in the play so far
    • What elements of the ‘taming’ plot reflect on the themes and issues raised in the rest of the play?
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