Welcome to the final act of The Taming of the Shrew!
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At the start of act V, scene 1 Biondello leads Bianca and Lorenzo away to the chapel moments before Petruchio and Kate arrive at Lucentio’s home with his father Vicentio in tow. Vincentio invites Kate and Petruchio inside for a drink but finds the door is locked and the pedant – still pretending to be Vicentio – denies his entrance. While they argue, Biondello returns on the scene. Vincentio recognises him but Biondello claims to have never seen him before. When Vincentio starts beating Biondello, Tranio – still disguised as Lucentio – comes out to me the aggressor. Of course, Vincentio recognises him but Tranio tries to convince Baptista that Vincentio’s crazy. They try to arrest Vincentio but Gremio (who it seems has met him before) identifies him as the true Vincentio. Soon after, the true Lucentio arrives on the scene and reveals his identity. He promises to clear all of this up and the whole party leaves for Baptista’s house.
NOTE: It is best to follow along with a text, as Jay, Eric, and Miki read multiple parts, and, though they alter their voices, and we make transformer noises when they change roles, it is a bit tricky to follow – much like the majority of Taming of the Shrew.
At last, in the final scene, all of the couples gather at a banquet in celebration of Bianca and Lucentio’s wedding: Lucentio and Bianca, Petruchio and Katherine, and Hortensio and the nameless widow. The couples engage in some verbal sparring and the women leave the men alone. The boys try to get in a few digs at Petruchio’s expense, claiming that he’s got the worse and most argumentative wife of all. Petruchio then proposes a wager: each husband will call for their wife to come meet them and whoever’s wife proves most obedient will win the wager: 100 crowns. Lucentio calls for Bianca but she replies that she is busy and cannot come. Hortensio then sends for his wife and she replies that she won’t come, that Hortensio should come to her instead. Lastly, Petruchio calls for Kate. To everyone’s surprise, she comes to Petruchio’s side right away. He then sends her to fetch the other wives. When they return, Petruchio asks Kate to explain to the other wives the duties they owe their husbands.
It’s a strange way to end such a light-hearted and bawdy play. After five and a half acts of good, (dis)honest fun, the play ends with a lengthy speech on the roles and responsibilities of men and women in marriage. What we make of this speech will determine what we make of the play and how we view Petruchio and Kate’s relationship in particular.
The Brawlers have mentioned this before: The Taming of the Shrew is an incomplete play. That is, Shakespeare hasn’t given us all of the information we need to interpret his ending. It doesn’t quite work as written. Is this supposed to be a serious speech, delivered by a wife so broken as to have lost the fiery spark which made her a compelling character – and not to mention, a perfect match for the madcap Petruchio? Or is this supposed to be delivered tongue-in-cheek, as a sort of insincere moral spoken by a Kate only to happy to have the last laugh over Bianca, the widow, Lucentio and Hortensio?
As written, the speech comes out of left field. When The Taming of the Shrew is staged as is, without adding or changing something to explain the nature of the ‘happily ever after’ ending, it can make it hard to believe. That’s why this play often falls flat: it feels either incomplete or rushed. How does the strong-minded Katharine become (seemingly) so meek and subservient so quickly? Why does she put up with this?
However, the play is rarely staged or adapted as is. In fact, this quality of the Taming of the Shrew might explain why it is one of Shakespeare’s most often adapted and staged plays. The Brawlers (Daniel, Miki and Laura) have reviewed three movie adaptations over the course of recording this play: Jonathan Miller’s The Taming of the Shrew (2004), Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew (1967), and Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). As the play doesn’t provide all of the answers to the questions it raises, it invites outside intervention and re-invention. It’s practically begging for someone to come along to finish writing or editing it.
I suppose if you have to co-write something you could pick a worse partner than Shakespeare.
Let us know what you think!
Bonus sonnet 10 ready by Sonneteer Maya Pankalla.
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