The following theses and outlines are provided to help you construct successful paper topics and to organize essays which reflect the complexity of the text. These outlines can also aid your efforts to review the play’s critical themes and issues.
Many characters in The Taming of the Shrew take on different identities, while the behavior of two characters changes drastically by the end of the play. Describe three to four ways in which The Taming of the Shrew develops the idea that appearances should not be confused with reality.
I. Thesis Statement: In The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare develops the theme of appearances versus reality by means of the Induction, disguises, and changes in attitude of the major characters.
II. Appearance versus reality in the Induction
A. The Lord dresses Sly as a nobleman.
B. The Lord’s page, Bartholomew, is presented as Sly’s wife.
C. Crossdressing was used in original performances of Shrew.
1. Petruchio points to Kate as a boy twice.
2. Biondello alludes to Bianca as a boy with his pun on “appendix.”
3. Kate signals that she is really a boy in her long speech.
III. Disguises suggest that appearances cannot be relied upon.
A. Lucentio and Hortensio assume identities below their station.
B. Tranio and the Pedant pretend to be wealthy men.
C. Shakespeare uses the theme of “counterfeit supposes,” taken from another English playwright, as his own device.
IV. Remarkable shifts in behavior alert the audience to the possibility of masquerade and deception.
A. Petruchio flatters and then harrasses Kate, as if in a game.
B. Kate alters her behavior to please Petruchio, but the audience may not be convinced of her sincerity.
C. Petruchio seems interested only in appearances.
1. He explains to the men that he and Kate will fight openly while treating each other cordially in private.
2. He appears concerned more with his image before the other men than with developing a sincere relationship with Kate.
D. Grumio imitates Petruchio in an absurd way. This also suggests that Petruchio may be doing the same, but convincingly so.
E. Bianca behaves coyly, then becomes a shrewish wife at the play’s end.
V. Conclusion: Through the behavior and disguises of the characters, as well as the crossdressing on the Elizabethan stage, The Taming of the Shrew emphasizes that appearances are easily mistaken for reality, both in life and in the theater.
In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio employs various strategies to trick or to coerce his wife into obedience. Describe the methods Petruchio uses to tame his “shrew,” and evaluate his effectiveness.
I. Thesis Statement: Though Petruchio employs several means of taming Kate, it is ultimately unclear how much success he enjoys.
II. Petruchio flatters Kate and uses reverse psychology to trick her into not only believing that he loves her, but also into being obedient to him.
A. Flattery in the wooing scene.
B. Petruchio defends Kate’s image before the other men.
C. Before the wedding banquet, Petruchio defends Kate against the other men, who, he pretends, are trying to steal his bride from...
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1. How do gender roles affect the attitudes of the characters, and how do these roles surface in the play? Most of the men seem to have a particular idea about how a wife should behave, but do their preconceptions extend to all women? How do the women react to these expectations? Are the women systematically oppressed, or do they subtly balance the men’s power?
2. The play is essentially a comedy, and yet more serious questions about social issues often overshadow its comic features. How does humor function in The Taming of the Shrew? Note especially the two wooing scenes, by Petruchio (Act II, scene i) and Lucentio (Act III, scene i). Why does Shakespeare include so many of the play’s best comic devices in these scenes?
3. Examine the characters of Hortensio and Gremio. Why do they fail where Petruchio and Lucentio succeed? Does their failure stem from their reasons for wanting to get married or from other facets of their personalities?
4. In general, the plots of Shakespeare’s plays follow a certain pattern, in which Act III contains a major turning point in the action and events that “inevitably” lead to the climax of action and the wrap-up of plot lines in the fifth and final act. How does The Taming of The Shrew conform to, or deviate from, this pattern? How substantially do the events of the third act—the marriage scene between Petruchio and Kate, and the wooing scene between Lucentio and Bianca—affect the action of the rest of the play?