Advancement through learning

Setting The Taming of the Shrew in Padua, a famous university town, fittingly highlights the play’s theme of the importance of education. Lucentio makes it clear when he first arrives that he wants to educate himself in ‘Virtue’. His servant admires his master’s aim to ‘suck the sweets of sweet philosophy’, but Tranio also reminds him that the lessons of the lecture room need to be applied in daily life if they are to be of benefit. Baptista also believes that education will enhance his daughters’ lives, spending liberally on tutors to extend their learning and therefore enjoyment of life.
Ironically, all this talk of life-changing education is cast aside by the disruptive effect of passion. Once Lucentio catches sight of Bianca, she puts all thoughts of study out of his mind, to the surprise of his servant. Within the plot, figures of learning become valued merely for the proximity their tutoring role gives them to the beloved, whilst what they attempt to teach is made fun of (Cambio’s Latin lesson is merely a coded proposal, Litio’s music lesson ends in a smashed lute).
What the rest of the play espouses is that real education is about individuals learning how to relate successfully to one another. The play illustrates the varying degrees of success with which this is achieved. 

Types of learning

Katherina is the character who undertakes the most dramatic education in Petruchio’s ‘taming school’ and she is the one who changes the most through her ‘studies’. By Act 4 Scene 5, Katherina begins to understand Petruchio’s methods and starts to comply with him to the extent that Hortensio is impressed and congratulates Petruchio as a victor:
Katherina: Then, God be bless'd, it is the blessed sun:

But sun it is not, when you say it is not;

And the moon changes even as your mind.

What you will have it named, even that it is;

And so it shall be so for Katherina.
Hortensio: Petruchio, go thy ways; the field is won.     
Bianca and Lucentio, who seem to be the perfect couple when they fall in love at first sight, also must learn hard lessons about obeying and respecting others. Perhaps this education is an ‘unlearning’ of the conventions of courtly love. Lucentio is the typical courtly lover who pines for his mistress and who describes her in terms of poetic conventions which are stereotypical and hyperbolic. By the end of the play the romanticism of courtly love gives way to a sober reflection of reality: Bianca is not the romantic goddess she appeared and Lucentio is forced to confront the disparity between appearances and reality.
Hortensio also undergoes a different kind of education. He has been an enthusiastic onlooker in Petruchio’s ‘taming school’: 
Well, Petruchio, this has put me in heart.

Have to my widow! And if she be froward,

Then hast thou taught Hortensio to be untoward.
Act 4 Scene 5     
However, he and his new wife also need to learn lessons about each other at the end of the play because Petruchio’s approach to ‘taming’ Katherina has as its goal a deeper relationship than the simple behaviour modification Hortensio envisions when he plans to meet ‘froward’ behaviour by being ‘untoward’. Petruchio’s friend has not understood the sense in which real education needs to transform the inner heart rather than just external behaviour (echoing a believer’s understanding of how God transforms a person in Ezekiel 36:26).


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