The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy by William Shakespeare. It was one of his earlier plays, probably penned in 1594.
An introductory Act, called by Shakespeare an "induction", sets up Shrew as a "play within a play". A Lord decides to play a joke on a sleeping drunk named Christopher Sly. Dressed as a lord and slipped into a fine bed, Sly is told when he awakes that he is a great lord who has lost his memory, and his ale-house rambles were but a dream. Some players offer for his entertainment the comedy of Kate the Shrew.
After these scenes, Sly has only two lines and Shakespeare all but abandons the "play within a play" device. The conceit is frequently omitted from productions. However, there is a version, printed in 1594 and entitled The Taming of a Shrew, that closes off the device with Sly waking up outside the tavern and saying he has learned how to tame a shrew. This version, which has many other differences from Shakespeare's, is generally considered to be a rewrite of his play by another playwright, but some modern stage productions have used its additions to the Sly framework.
The wealthy merchant Baptista Minola enters, with his daughters, the shrewish Katherine (called "Kate") and the sweet-tempered Bianca. Baptista tells two suitors of Bianca, Gremio and Hortensio, that none may marry Bianca until after Kate has a husband. The rivals agree it will be hard to find a someone for Kate, for even though her dowry will be large, her temper is volatile. Meanwhile, Lucentio vows to woo Bianca himself.
Kate and Bianca are at home fighting. Kate has tied up Bianca and hits her, when the pack of suitors arrive. Hortensio has disguised himself as a music teacher, so he can spend time with Bianca and woo her secretly. Gremio has another plan; he has hired a literature tutor for Bianca, leaving himself free to negotiate dowry terms with Baptista. He does not know that this tutor is actually his rival Lucentio. Meanwhile, Tranio has disguised himself as Lucentio so he can negotiate dowry terms with Baptista. Petruchio comes as himself.
Baptista sends the tutors to instruct the girls, while he discusses financial arrangements with Petruchio. Hortensio soon emerges with his lute broken over his head, courtesy of Kate. Petruchio expresses admiration at her spirit. Kate herself comes to dissuade him, but for once has met her equal with words. Baptista approves the match.
Next, Baptista considers whether Lucentio (who is actually Tranio) or Gremio shall marry Bianca. Each claims to love her, so the deciding factor is the wealth they bring. No matter how much Gremio promises, Tranio can outbid him by claiming that he will inherit much more from his father Vincentio. Baptista agrees that Bianca will marry Lucentio, provided Vincentio confirms the inheritance within a week.
The disguised tutors continue their wooing, until Bianca is called away to help Katherine dress for her wedding. The wedding of Katherine and Petruchio is a very strange affair; Petruchio dresses oddly, breaks nearly every custom, and departs with Katherine even before the wedding-feast. Bianca observes that her sister "being mad, is madly mated".
At Petruchio's country estate, he begins his "taming" of his new wife. He keeps her from sleeping, invents reasons why she cannot eat, and buys her beautiful clothes only to rip them up. When Kate, profoundly shaken by her experiences, is told that they are to return to Padua for Bianca's wedding, she is only too happy to comply. By the time they arrive, Kate's taming is complete and she no longer resists Petruchio. She demonstrates her complete subordination to his will by agreeing that she will regard the moon as the sun, or the sun as the moon, if he demands her to do so.
There is great confusion as all disguises collapse. However, everyone ends up married; Lucentio to Bianca and Hortensio to a rich widow. During the banquet, Petruchio brags that his wife, formerly untamable, is now completely obedient. Baptista, Hortensio, and Lucentio are incredulous and the latter two believe that their wives are more obedient. Petruchio proposes a wager in which each will send a servant to call for their wives, and whichever wife comes most obediently will have won the wager for her husband. Baptista, not believing that his shrewish Katharina has been tamed, offers an enormous second dowry in addition to the wager.
Neither Bianca nor the widow respond to the call. Kate does, winning for Petruchio a second dowry. Kate ends the play with a monologue explaining that wives should always obey their husbands and lords.
The Taming of the Shrew has been the subject of much criticism. In particular, feminists have attacked the play, and in particular the play's final scene, as offensively misogynistic. Others have defended the play by highlighting the (frequently omitted) induction as evidence that the play is not meant to be taken at face value and the fact that Petruchio submits himself to the same treatment that he submits Kate to.
A number of later works have been derived from The Taming of the Shrew, including the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate; the Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari opera Sly; the classic 1952 film The Quiet Man; the 1999 teen motion picture 10 Things I Hate about You; the 2003 motion picture Deliver Us From Eva; and the 2000 Brazilian soap opera O Cravo e a Rosa ().
Shakespeare's contemporary John Fletcher wrote a comedic sequel titled The Tamer Tamed in 1611, just 20 years after Shakespeare wrote the original. It is said Fletcher wrote this play to attract Shakespeare's attentioncitation needed, and it seems to have worked — the two went on to collaborate on at least three plays (Fletcher wrote about 42 plays in his life, 21 of which were collaborations with other known dramatists).
The BBC One ShakespeaRe-Told series sets the story in modern-day Britain, with Katherine (played by Shirley Henderson) as an abrasive career politician who is told she must find a husband as a public relations exercise.