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The Taming of the Shrew, written around 1596, first appeared in print in The First Folio of 1623. The play’s theme of disciplining a headstrong wife is an old one. "A Merry Jest of a Shrewd and Curst Wife Lapped in Morel’s Skin for her Good Behavior" was a folk ballad of the mid-sixteenth century; it told the story of ‘taming’ a wife in a brutally violent manner. Shakespeare, on the other hand, presents the taming of Katherine through psychology.
The source of the main plot of the play, that centers on Katherine and Petruchio, is The Taming of a Shrew, a drama by an anonymous playwright; the original play was first published in 1594, but had been performed earlier, probably by Shakespeare’s own acting company. The shrew in the earlier version is Kate, and she has two younger sisters rather than a single sister like Katherine; but the personalities of the two women are duplicates.
The source of the subplot of the play, that centers on Bianca and Lucentio, is an early Italian comedy entitled I Suppositi, written by Ariosto; the Italian play was translated into English by George Gascoigne in 1566 and became known as The Supposes. Although Shakespeare borrowed characters and situations from the English translation of the play, he added his own humor and humanity to the characters.
Farcical plays were very popular with Elizabethan audiences, and The Taming of the Shrew is clearly a farce, especially in the development of the main plot. Petruchio’s taming of Katherine is developed as a humorous comedy of situation with intended exaggeration meant to entertain the audience. Although the play is filled with farcical exaggeration, Shakespeare also rises above farce, for he does not allow the physical abuse of Katherine that would normally appear in a pure farce. In addition, Shakespeare does not develop his characters as mere farcical stock entities; instead, he gives them human traits and even makes the audience sympathize with Katherine. The subplot also contains elements of farce, including stock characters and exaggerated situations. The subplot, however, is not nearly as sophisticated or humorous as the main plot.