The Taming of the Shrew has grown to become one of Shakespeare's most controversial plays for its portrayal and treatment of women. Before starting the play, students may benefit from a lesson on marriage in Elizabethan timesm which would provide a better understanding of the status of women during the time of the play. Students may have difficulty with the play's format and language, so you should introduce students to the play within a play, verse, couplet, and iambic pentameter. Students should also be aware of when Shakespeare uses prose and what that change in language indicates in terms of speaker and subject matter.

Class discussion can center on social customs surrounding courtship and marriage. Students can examine how the three couples, Katharina and Petruchio, Bianca and Lucentio, and Hortensio and the Widow, illustrate different perspectives on marriage. Students can also discuss Petruchio's treatment of Katharina and whether it should be viewed as comedic. While the play can certainly be read as misogynistic by modern standards, it can also be read as a farce or satire on gender roles. Students can talk about these various readings and state their own interpretations of the play.

Summary

A local lord plays a trick on Christopher Sly, a poor tinker, and arranges for an acting troupe to put on a play called The Taming of the Shrew. Upon arriving in Padua, Lucentio falls in love with Bianca. However, Bianca already has two suitors, Gremio and Hortensio, and her father will not allow her to marry until her elder, ill-tempered sister, Katharina, weds. Hortensio's friend Petruchio agrees to marry Katharina against her wishes. After the wedding, Petruchio deprives Katharina of food and sleep to force her into submission. Meanwhile, Lucentio elopes with Bianca, and Hortensio marries a wealthy widow. At a banquet, the three men wager on whose wife is most obedient; only Katharina obeys her husband's command and proceeds to lecture the other women on the importance of wifely obedience.

Content Warning

The Taming of the Shrew contains sexual references and misogynistic elements.

Objectives for Teaching
The Taming of the Shrew

  • Describe Petruchio's use of animal imagery to explain his plan to tame Katharina; evaluate the effectiveness of Petruchio's plan.
  • Explain Shakespeare's depiction of the contrast between the role of servant and that of nobility.
  • Discuss the various reasons the male characters decide to marry.
  • Comment on the portrayal of the proper behavior and qualities of a wife.
  • Discuss the role money plays in advancing the action of the play.
  • Identify how Shakespeare uses prose to denote uneducated servants or nobility's discussing mundane matters, and rhyming couplets to stress important actions or emotions.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Aside
  • Couplet
  • Irony
  • Pun
  • Sarcasm
  • Soliloquy
  • Stock Character
  • Verse

Themes and Motifs

  • Marriage — The work explores the economic and social aspects of marriage and how courtship and marriage affect not only the romantic couple but also family, friends, and servants.
  • Gender Roles — The play centers around Petruchio's forcing Katharina into the traditionally submissive role of a wife. Many characters, men and women, do not always behave in accordance to expected gender roles.
  • Social Class —  Shakespeare focuses on the expectations of specific social positions and reveals that social class is arbitrary and can be adopted as a costume.

Related Works

Theme of Marriage

 

Theme of Gender Roles

 

Theme of Social Class

Key Facts

  • Length: 94 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1340
  • Publication Date: First performed ca. 1592; Published 1623
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10 – 11

Movies

There are numerous film adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew. Perhaps the most notable adaptations are Sam Taylor's 1929 film and Franco Zeffirelli's 1967 film, although both cut much of the original dialogue and the subplot between Lucentio and Bianca. Gil Junger's 1999 movie, 10 Things I Hate About You, is set in a high school and offers a modern retelling of the play, which may be more relatable for students.

Your students will love:

  • Seeing all the characters' disguises and transformations
  • Exploring aspects of courtships and marriage

Students may have problems with:

  • Understanding Shakespeare's language
  • Determining if Petruchio's cruel treatment of Katharina is intended to be viewed as comedic

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