William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a contemplation of marriage, money, and gender roles. Minola Baptista, one of the wealthiest men in Padua, Italy, has two daughters: the mild-mannered Bianca and the hot-headed Katherine. Many men wish to marry Bianca due to her impressive beauty and even more impressive dowry. None of them want to marry Katherine, despite her equally large dowry, because of her “shrewish” disposition. 

In the inciting incident of the play, Baptista establishes a rule that blocks Bianca from getting married until Katherine does. Baptista’s rule creates chaos—no man in Padua is willing to marry Katherine because she does not behave the way a young woman is supposed to in polite society. A solution arrives in the form of Petruchio, who has come to Padua to make his fortune by securing a wealthy wife. Bianca’s suitors encourage him to marry Katherine, and the cocky Petruchio, intrigued by both the challenge and Katherine’s money, decides to pursue her in spite of her disposition. 

The central conflict in the text is Petruchio’s attempt to “tame” Katherine and transform her from a tempestuous shrew into an ideal wife. He seeks to assert his authority over Katherine because social conventions dictate that wives are supposed to be obedient and submit themselves completely to their husbands. As a result, the text places a thematic emphasis on how to “correctly” or “incorrectly” be a man or a woman in society. 

Shakespeare uses the rising action portion of the play to establish the characterization of Katherine and Petruchio. He includes several scenes that showcase Katherine’s tempestuous nature and also provides some context for her anger. For example, after Baptista intervenes in the fight between his daughters in 2.1, it becomes clear that Katherine lashes out because she is hurt that her father and everyone else in Padua prefers Bianca over her simply because Katherine does not subscribe to traditional gender roles. Shakespeare also includes several verbal conflicts between Katherine and Petruchio before and immediately after they are married. These battles of wit are crucial for Katherine and Petruchio’s characterization because they highlight their complementary natures. Both Katherine and Petruchio are clever, witty, and stubborn. 

The rising action also includes the play’s comedic subplot. Lucentio and Hortensio, two of Bianca’s suitors, disguise themselves as tutors so that they can woo Bianca without Baptista learning of their intentions. Lucentio is successful, and he and Bianca fall in love. This subplot is an important feature of the play—it acts as a narrative foil for the text’s main plot. Lucentio and Bianca’s love match can be contrasted with Katherine and Petruchio’s economic match. 

The Taming of the Shrew departs from Shakespeare’s traditional narrative structure because it does not have a traditional climax, in the sense that there is no single moment of intense action in the play. Instead, Shakespeare creates a lengthy development process that culminates with Katherine’s fully changed behavior by the end of 5.2. In this section of the text, Petruchio launches a series of lessons in order to transform Katherine from a defiant shrew into a subservient housewife. His efforts to tame Katherine include weakening her spirit by denying her food and sleep and not allowing her to wear nice clothes. The most noteworthy example occurs in 4.4 when Katherine finally obeys and agrees with Petruchio when he says that the sun is really the moon. If one was trying to pinpoint a single climax in the play, this interaction is perhaps the strongest candidate because it marks the first time that Katherine submits to the will of her husband. 

The falling action includes a banquet at Baptista’s estate that is attended by all of the text’s key players. Once Katherine and Petruchio arrive, Katherine astounds everyone with her newfound obedience when she is the only wife who comes when her husband bids her. Katherine then delivers a famous and lengthy speech about female subservience in which she urges all women to submit to their husbands, who they should view as their “lord,” “king,” and “governor” (5.2.138). Her speech is famous because of the debate that it inspires. Some interpret Katherine’s speech as proof that Petruchio was able to successfully tame Katherine. However, others interpret Katherine’s speech as an sarcastic final stand against Petruchio to show that his efforts have been unsuccessful. This debate is crucial because it has drastic implications about the play’s overall message. If the speech is delivered in earnest, then the play argues that a person must change in order to adhere to their allotted role in society even at the cost of their own happiness and sense of self. If the speech is delivered in jest, then everything, even the title of the play, becomes one big joke about what happens when you try to curb someone's true nature.