Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
The major theme is the hurtful nature of cruel behavior. Babtista is a cruel father, who makes Katherine’s life miserable by antagonizing and humiliating her. He treats her unfairly, while favoring and spoiling her younger sister, Bianca. Katherine reacts by becoming a shrew to hide her hurt and to seek revenge. She inflicts her ill temper on everyone who crosses her path, striking servants, tying up her sister, and complaining about everything to anyone who is willing to listen. Petruchio decides to marry Katherine for the large dowry Baptista has given her. As soon as he makes his decision, he implements a plan to change her shrewish behavior. He treats her rudely and cruelly, mocking and exaggerating her own behavior in order to teach Katherine a lesson. Even the minor characters are seen acting cruelly. The Lord takes advantage of Sly’s drunken state and plays a cruel joke on him so the Lord can be entertained. The servants are cruel to Vincentio, striking the old man and denying that they know him. Even Bianca, known for her mild manners, acts in a shrewish manner when she calls her husband a fool and refuses to come when he calls her. By dramatizing and exaggerating the affects of cruelty, Shakespeare is clearly showing how harmful and hurtful unpleasantness can be.
The minor theme is appearance vs reality. Throughout the play, no one seems to be what they claim to be or what they project themselves to appear. Bianca seems to be a modest and mild young lady; in truth, she is a spoiled girl capable of shrewish behavior. Kate is perceived to be hot-headed, violent, and cruel, but is really a kind and gentle soul who acts like a shrew to hide her hurt. Petruchio appears to be a cruel and insensitive husband, but he is really a kind man trying to teach his wife an important lesson. Additionally, many of the characters dress in disguise and appear to be what they are not. Lucentio and Hortensio pretend to be tutors in order to have access to Bianca. Tranio dresses as his master Lucentio. The Pedant appears to be Lucentio’s father, Vincentio. These disguises do much to further the theme of appearance vs. reality.