The fourth act of The Taming of the Shrew was troubling for me. Katharina finds herself married to a pretty terrible guy who is using psychological and physical torture to break her of her independent will. I may be viewing this play from modern eyes, making it difficult to see the humor in Petruchio’s abusive behavior, but I just don’t see how this act was anything other than dark and disturbing.
We start the act with the newlyweds’ arrival to Petruchio’s estate. We learn that Petruchio has been physically abusive to both Katharina and his servant Grumio, and Katharina has taken it upon herself to protect the servants from Petruchio’s temper. In an aside, Petruchio tells us this is all part of his plan to break her will. Yeesh. We then move on to Baptista’s where Hortensio has given up his pursuit of Bianca, clearing the way for the false Lucentio to secure Baptista’s blessing. Incidentally, Bianca is in on the plot, but doesn’t seem particularly interested in marrying anybody, let alone Lucentio in disguise. Something is clearly brewing there. Anyway, Tranio, as Lucentio, finds a merchant of the right age to play Vincentio and blackmails him into the role so he can lie his way to Bianca’s hand in marriage.
We head back to Petruchio’s house, and he is withholding food from Katharina and dresses her in rags in an attempt to break her spirit. He then announces they will be heading to her father’s house so he can show off his newly meek wife. I’m really starting to hate Petruchio. Back at Baptista’s, Tranio and the false Vincentio set things up so that Lucentio and Bianca will be able to elope, presumably in Act V. As for the end of the fourth act, we see Petruchio and Katharina on the road to Baptista’s. Katharina has been fully subdued and broken to Petruchio’s will. As they are on their way, they come across the real Vincentio, who is on his way to visit his son Lucentio while he’s in the area. Uh-oh!
Like I said, I don’t love the whole Petruchio storyline right now, it’s leaving a very bad taste in my mouth and it’s hard to see the humor in the Bianca story as well. I am quite interested in seeing where this goes in the conclusion of the story and I hope Petruchio gets his just deserts for the crap he has put Katharina through, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Until next time!