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Lucentio throws a banquet to celebrate the three recent marriages in Padua: Petruchio to Kate, Lucentio to Bianca, and Hortensio to the widow he had spoken of before. As they sit around the table eating and chatting, Petruchio and the widow engage in some jesting (mostly at Hortensio’s expense). Kate joins in, and she begins to argue with the widow. The argument nearly turns to violence, with the men cheering them on to fight, but Bianca calms them, and the three wives go off together to talk.
Meanwhile, the men begin to chide Petruchio—Baptista, Lucentio, Tranio, and Hortensio still think that Petruchio has been stuck with a vicious shrew, and they give him some grief for it. Petruchio confidently suggests a test to see which of the three new husbands has the most obedient wife. Each of them will send for his wife, and the one whose wife obeys first will be the winner. After placing a significant amount of money on the wager, Lucentio sends Biondello go to get Bianca, confident that she will obey at once. However, Biondello returns to tell them that she is busy and will not come. Hortensio receives a similar response from the widow. Finally, Grumio goes back to get Kate, and she returns at once, to the great surprise of all but Petruchio. Petruchio sends Kate back to bring in the other wives. Again, she obeys. Upon their return, Petruchio comments that he dislikes Kate’s hat and tells her to throw it off. She obeys at once. Bianca and the widow, aghast at Kate’s subservience, become even further shocked when, at Petruchio’s request, Kate gives a speech on the duty that wives owe to their husbands.
In the speech, Kate reprimands them for their angry dispositions, saying that it does not become a woman to behave this way, especially toward her husband. A wife’s duty to her husband, she says, mimics the duty that “the subject owes the prince,” because the husband endures great pain and labor for her benefit (V.ii.159). She admits that once she was as haughty as Bianca and the widow are now, but that she has since changed her ways and most willingly gives her obedience to her husband. The other men admit complete defeat, and Petruchio leaves victorious—he and Kate go to bed happily, and Hortensio and Lucentio remain behind to wonder at this miraculous change of fates.
Read a translation of Act 5: Scene 2.
Kate’s speech at the end of the play has been the focus of many interpretations. It is, for obvious reasons, abhorrent to many feminist critics, who take issue with Kate’s recommendation of total subservience to the husband—she says at different points that the man is the woman’s lord, king, governor, life, keeper, head, and sovereign. She also stereotypes women as physically weak and then suggests that they should make their personality mild to match their physique:
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth . . . But that our soft conditions and our hearts Should well agree with our external parts? (5.2.169–172)
Petruchio agrees with Kate’s description of the ideal relationship. He explains to Hortensio what Kate’s obedience will mean: “Marry, peace it bodes, and love, and quiet life; / An aweful rule and right supremacy, / And, to be short, what not that’s sweet and happy” (5.2.112–114). “Right supremacy” suggests that his ideal involves the complete suppression of the wife’s will. As a whole, Shakespeare’s society took this definition of gender roles for granted. After all, this was a uniformly Christian society that bowed to biblical notions of the husband as the wife’s head and the woman as the glory of the man (paraphrasing Ephesians and 1 Corinthians, respectively). In short, Shakespeare’s society believed in the hierarchy that Kate earnestly supports in her speech.
Yet, given the fact that the entire play challenges stereotypes and promotes an awareness of ambiguous appearances, both Kate’s final speech and Petruchio’s views may be open to question. In fact, in the last line of the play, Lucentio implies that Kate, in the end, allowed herself to be tamed: “’Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so” (5.2.193). Perhaps Lucentio implies that Kate and Petruchio planned the wager, and that they worked as a team to dupe the others out of their money. Throughout the play, Kate actively accepted Petruchio’s courting and taming even when she could have denied him, suggesting that here she also has the agency to say one thing and mean another. Despite her initial resistance, Kate seems to view her marriage as a chance to find harmony within a prescribed social role, ultimately implying that we should find happiness and independence within the roles to which we are assigned, not that women should subjugate themselves to men.
Read more about how each person in the play occupies a specific social position that carries with it certain expectations about how that person should behave.
Lucentio’s marriage takes a different turn, however. Through Bianca’s refusal to come when called, Shakespeare suggests that this marriage will be hard on Lucentio. Bianca might turn out to be as stubborn in her role as a wife as she was mild in her role as a maid. Thus, in his last few lines, Petruchio observes, “We three are married, but you two are sped” (V.ii.189). That is, the other two—Lucentio and Hortensio—seem destined for unhappiness in marriage, given the disobedient natures of their wives. Petruchio fought tooth and nail to finally win Kate, but he worked hard only because he wanted her to truly allow herself to accept, or choose, obedience in married life. Lucentio, deceived by Bianca’s meekness and flirtatious behavior when they were single, now finds that it is “a harsh hearing when women are froward” (V.ii.187).
Read more about how the play offers a significant glimpse into the future lives of married couples.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Taming of the Shrew!