I know what you’re thinking. Another Shakespeare play to analyze? I get it.
Shakespeare can be hard to read. But here’s the thing… Shakespeare wrote some of the most well-known and most replicated plays. Ever. The themes he uses can be found throughout literature and film even today.
So right now, we’re going to explore some The Taming of the Shrew themes.
(If you need to write a character analysis, read Learn to Analyze These 4 Taming of the Shrew Characters.)
Choosing the Right Theme for Your Analysis
Before we get into specific The Taming of the Shrew themes, let’s talk a little bit about how to choose the one that you’re going to write about. This advice applies to any literary theme you might analyze in any work, not just themes in The Taming of the Shrew.
There are several themes in The Taming of the Shrew, and it might be difficult to pick just one. But it doesn’t have to be.
My advice: Pick the theme that’s most obvious to you.
When I read the play the first time, the theme that stood out was that of gender and gender roles. What did it mean to be a “good” woman in the 16th century?
What about a “good” man? You can find many examples of this theme in the text, including Kate’s ostracism due to her biting wit (and frankly terrible attitude).
But what else is there? The second read-through made the theme of disguises more obvious to me. It seems everyone in this play disguises who they really are at one point or another.
It shouldn’t take long to see a theme in the text, not even a full read-through. Once you think of an idea, take notes or highlight while you’re reading to mark examples that you can use as support in your analysis. (Hint: Analyze, not summarize.)
Ready to dive into three The Taming of the Shrew themes? Then let’s get started.
3 The Taming of the Shrew Themes to Look for and Write About
While there’s plenty of themes in The Taming of the Shrew, I’ll dive into three of my favorites.
As you work on identifying themes, make sure to keep other literary terms in mind—using them when appropriate will bolster your analysis.
Theme #1: Different views of marriage
The view back in the 16th century was that marriage was more of a business transaction than one of love. Women were simply to be traded from a father to a suitor.
But what did The Taming of the Shrew have to say about this?
First, the play depicts this tradition when Petruchio rolls into town. He says that he has “come to wive it wealthily in Padua,” meaning that he hopes to marry a woman who comes with a hefty dowry.
And Kate’s father, Baptista, treats marriage pretty much the same way, basically selling his daughters off to the wealthiest bidders.
But this play, being a romantic comedy, also presents an alternative view of marriage.
When Kate’s younger sister Bianca runs away with Lucentio to get married, she does so because she believes she has found her true love and doesn’t want her father telling her who she can and can’t marry.
Of course, marriage isn’t only about the act of getting married. It’s also about actually being married.
The Taming of the Shrew offers plenty of commentary about being married in 16th century England.
In 16th century England, the bachelor’s goal is to find a wife who not only comes with a good-sized dowry, but also one who will follow commands and societal guidelines about proper behavior for women.
While courting Bianca, for example, Lucentio finds her to be quiet and demure—the perfect wife. But once married, she won’t even come when called (how dare she!).
Kate, on the other hand, is every suitor’s nightmare. However, she goes through a transformation to become what others see as the perfect wife.
Some say she’s conning Petruchio to get what she wants by doing what he says. But either way, they both seem pretty happy by the end.
The play makes it clear that basing your decision to marry someone on the person’s ability to follow commands from the start is probably not the best idea.
Theme #2: The use of disguises to get what you want
The apparent transformations of both Kate and Bianca fit nicely into the theme of disguises.
On the first read-through of The Taming of the Shrew, were you thrown off by the beginning? I know I was. The main story is a play within a play.
But what does this have to do with the theme? Simply put, it demonstrates how every character is an actor (in this case, both literally and figuratively).
Every main character puts on an act or a disguise at some point throughout The Taming of the Shrew.
Kate has several disguises. She’s incredibly intelligent and witty, but she’s also jealous of the attention her sister receives. To hide this jealousy, Kate acts angrily toward just about everyone. But is this really who she is?
Once she starts her relationship with Petruchio, we see that she can be pleasant. But then he starts playing mind games with her, telling her the sun is the moon and that a man is a woman—and expecting her to agree with him.
This game certainly throws her off, but some scholars say this is a lesson in play acting. He’s showing her (through punishment when she doesn’t agree and rewards when she does) how to act like a good wife.
Kate starts playing this role, especially in public. Why? She learns that by doing so, she gets what she wants.
Petruchio is interesting because it seems like he’s a pretty straightforward kind of guy. After all, he outright says that he’s in the marriage game for the money. But he’s attracted to Kate because she’s his intellectual match.
He’s putting on the mask of someone who wants to follow the social rules and marry for money when, really, he wants someone who’s a little feisty and can keep up with him.
Once married, Petruchio puts on a mask of the standard Elizabethan man—one who commands his wife successfully.
But in some ways, he relinquishes power to her in private. His commands aren’t arbitrary or one-sided. Instead, Kate gets something out of them too.
Bianca has everyone fooled into thinking she’s the perfect angel. But she makes snide remarks to Kate, taunting that everyone likes her (Bianca) better.
She also fools her father into thinking her suitors are tutors and that she’s not being courted.
Once she’s married, she reveals her rebellious nature to her husband as well, a side he’s never seen before.
As for Bianca’s suitors, they are all in actual disguises. Two of them, Lucentio and Hortensio, act as tutors to get closer to Bianca and court her in secret. And her other suitor, Tranio, is disguised as Lucentio.
Theme #3: Gender and gender roles
There are a couple different ways to look at gender roles in The Taming of the Shrew.
In one interpretation, Petruchio teaches (or brainwashes) Kate how to follow societal gender roles.
In the other interpretation (the one I like best), Kate acts like a good wife without believing in the role she’s playing. She just uses the act to get what she wants.
So what makes a “good wife”? A woman who’s quiet and obedient in the 16th century was the epitome of a good wife. Women weren’t supposed to have any power in a relationship.
On the other hand, to be a “good husband,” men were supposed to assert their dominance over their wives and be in complete control.
Kate, in the beginning, is the opposite of a desirable woman, while Bianca is a shining example of one. But by the end of the play, we see a reversal. Bianca becomes the disobedient wife, while Kate acts obediently.
Kate and Petruchio still break gender stereotypes in the very end, however.
Petruchio invites Kate into the same public forum to talk about a woman’s role. Thus, he relinquishes some of his power to her. And simply by giving her huge speech in the end, Kate is asserting herself in a male-dominated space.
Is that enough information to get you thinking about The Taming of the Shrew themes and picking one you want to write about? If you need more examples, check out these example essays:
- An Analysis of the Theme of War of the Sexes in The Taming of the Shrew
- The Theme of Humor in The Taming of the Shrew
- The Theme of Illusion vs. Reality in The Taming of the Shrew
- The Main Themes in The Taming of the Shrew
Here are some extra resources to help with writing an essay on The Taming of the Shrew themes to make sure your essay structure stays on point:
- This Analytical Essay Outline Will Kick Start Your Writing
- How to Write an Essay Introduction in 3 Easy Steps
- Anatomy of the Perfect Essay Paragraph Structure
- How to Write a Killer Essay Conclusion
Once you’ve chosen your theme and written about it, you might need an extra pair of eyes to look over your paper. That’s okay—even Shakespeare had editors.
If you want to make sure everything conforms to your instructor’s ideas of what essays should be, the Kibin editors are here to help.
Until then, happy writing!