A 1594 Stationers' Register entry and a 1594 printing of this "anonymous" play (despite other later associations with canonical Shakespeare titles), along with internal echoes of Shakespeare plays other than The Taming of The Shrew, and Marlovian plagiarisms, create unnecessary mystery about this play, called on the 1594 title page A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called The taming of a Shrew. As it was sundry times acted by the Right honorable the Earle of Pembrook his servants. E.T. Clark speculates that "The Taming of A Shrew was probably a variation of the same play [The Taming of the Shrew] cut down for use by provincial travelling companies, or garbled in a shorthand version" (Clark 102). Miller, the editor of the 1998 Cambridge edition of the play also thinks that The Shrew came first. But that seems very doubtful. Perhaps a sketchy, very early version of what became The Taming of the Shrew was written at Gray's Inn (Ogburn and Ogburn 158) and became The Taming of A Shrew when someone shoved in the Marlowe bits. On New Year's Day 1579 A Morrall of the Marryage of Mynde and Measure was presented and this may be the same precursor, later Taming of A and finally Taming of The (Farina 73-74).
The Taming of a Shrew is to The Taming of the Shrew
as Romeus and Juliet is to Romeo and Juliet
as The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth is to the Henry IV plays and Henry V
as The True Tragedy of Richard III is to Richard III
as The Troublesome Raigne of John is to King John
as King Leir is to King Lear.
For a good edition, see Stephen Roy Miller, ed. The Taming of a Shrew: The 1594 Quarto. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Scene divisions are editorial.
A tapster (male, unlike the start of The Taming of the Shrew) beats the drunkard Sly out of the tavern, calling him a "whoreson droonken slave." Similar to the revised Induction, Sly swears, "Ile fese you anon" (1.4). But there is no assertion of identity, and he immediately decides to sleep in the gutter. A nobleman enters from hunting, eloquently describing the night in Marlovian style. The nobleman commands his servant to have his huntsman feed the dogs well for they all earned it today. (The "better dog" discussion is a The Shrew issue.) The nobleman sees Sly asleep: "Fie, how the slavish villain stinks of drink!" (1.22); he orders that Sly be conveyed to the house, dressed in fine garments, and set down in a chair. Sly shall be surrounded by sumptuousness, a banquet, "heavenlie musicke" (1.40), and servants, including the nobleman himself in disguise. And mind you do not laugh.
A messenger announces the arrival of some players who promise a play -- either a tragedy, or a "commodity" (1.57) called The Taming of a Shrew (61). The nobleman wants them ready tonight and for one to play a lady and to "Dally" with Sly (1.73).
After final preparations, the nobleman wakes Sly and offers him wine. "Who I, am I a Lord? Iesus what fine apparell have I got" (2.14-15). He is told he has other even better clothes, or a horse as swift as Pegasus if he wants to ride, or hounds standing ready if he wants to hunt. The nobleman calls himself Simon and reports that the lord's lady has long mourned her husband's absence. The boy in drag enters and Sly hopes to go to bed soon, but the play is announced. Sly is glad to hear there's a fool in it (2.47).
The play proper begins with Polidor welcoming his friend Aurelius to Athens, namedropping Plato and Aristotle. Aurelius has left his father's court in Cestus, known for the Leander tragedy, and feels as rich as a conquering Caesar now that he has found his friend. Where shall they lodge? At Polidor's.
Alfonso passes by with his three daughters -- Kate (not especially an Athenian name!), Phylema, and Emelia -- bidding them to go to church as he goes down to the docks to see about some merchandise. Aurelius is struck by their beauty, and Polidor confesses he has long loved the youngest in vain, because Alfonso has sworn that the oldest, a "skould" (3.52), must be espoused first. A large dowry is at stake, but Polidor says he counts "all my labours lost" (3.54). Aurelius fancies the second daughter, and Polidor is glad they are not competing. He knows of a possible match for the "skould": Ferando, "As blunt in speech as she is sharpe of toong" (3.75) -- "And yet he is a man of wealth sufficient" (3.77). (Yet Petruchio is usually characterized as mercenary and desperate.)
Aurelius switches identity and clothes with his servant Valeria so that he can present himself as a merchant's son on business. Ferando and his man Saunders (sometimes Saunder, sometimes Sander) arrive; coincidentally, he has contracted with Alfonso for six thousand crowns (3.117) if he can win over the eldest daughter, Kate, to marry him. He plans to let her rant until she grows weary of it.
Ferando greets Alfonso and wishes to speak with Kate. He insists on their mutual love despite her insults and Alfonso announces the wedding can be tomorrow. She protests that Ferando is "brainsick" (3.167) but secretly she confesses contentment in marrying him, having "livde too long a maid" (3.170). Alfonso sets next Sunday as the wedding day. Fernado must leave Kate in her father's care -- "Provide yourselves against our marriage day" (3.178) -- and go to his country house to make provisions for her.
Saunders has a laugh in Ferando's presence, having overheard the contentious conversation. He remarks also, "I have a pretty wench to my sister and I had thought to have preferred my master to her and that would have been a good deal in my way, but that he's sped already" (3.214-216). Polidor's boy-servant Catapie wants to deliver a happy message to Ferando, but Saunders has his own for Polidor, who now enters with Aurelius and Valeria. Saunders, on behalf of Ferando, invites Polidor to tomorrow's wedding. Aurelius sends Valeria to infiltrate Alfonso's house "To teach his eldest daughter on the lute" (3.265). This should allow the sisters to steal away. Soon Alfonso is thanking Polidor for sending the musician, and Polidor presents Aurelius as a merchant's son. Alfonso welcomes him into his home like a son.
Sly briefly interrupts the play, wondering when the fool will reappear and calling for more drink.
Valeria, with lute in hand, delivers an Orphean rapture about the powers of music, but Kate could take it or leave it. She plays a bit but goes apoplectic at Valeria's small criticism, threatening to hit him on the head with the instrument. She throws it down instead and wants nothing more to do with him. This is a scene we do not get in The Taming of the Shrew, only the aftermath: the lute busted over Hortensio's head. This play, in this regard, has to have preceded the canonical version; the comedy improves.
Polidor exudes praises for Emelia, and Aurelius brags about his travels and possessions to Phylena (sometimes Philema). Alfonso is in a tizzy about Ferando: what if he doesn't show? He does, but "baselie attired, and a red cap on his head" (S.d. 107), explaining that Kate's such a shrew that she is liable to destroy any nice clothes he might wear. Polidor invites him to borrow a good suit from him, but Ferando insists he has a wardrobe full of fine clothes and chose this outfit. Alfonso entreats him futilely. Ferando silences Kate's objections with high-flown praise of her: "Tush Kate, these words adds greater love in me, / And makes me think thee fairer than before. / Sweet Kate, the lovelier than Diana's purple robe, / [etc.]" (4.146ff). All head to the church.
Polidor's boy and Saunders chat about food and the marriage, growing contentious before all return from the wedding. Ferando insists they must leave. Kate insists on staying for the feast, but Ferando vetoes this, promising they shall return to visit at some time. The others comment in disbelief about the newlyweds, and Polidor will visit them in a few days to see how they are getting along. Aurelius promises Alfonso can meet his father soon. A footnote in the Miller edition points out "a sort of signaling, not found in The Shrew, that will only serve to deflate dramatic tension in the plot" (5.93-94n), and indeed announcements about the doings pervade the play.
Saunders and other servants prepare for the couple, but Ferando pitches a fit and beats the servants. He later confesses his plan is to deprive Kate of food and sleep. "I'll mew her up as men do mew their hawks / And make her gently come unto the lure" (6.41-42).
Valeria listens to Aurelius in raptures about Phylena. Aurelius then reports that Polidor is going to Ferando's to learn how to tame his own eventual wife -- "the taming school" (7.25).
Saunders taunts Kate when she begs for food, much like the scene in The Taming of the Shrew. She beats him. Ferando enters with Polidor and also teases Kate with some meat but denies her of it. She threatens to return to her father's home, but he insists that it won't happen until she is "meeke and gentell" (8.41).
Aurelius has found a merchant, Phylotus, to play his father in front of Alfonso. The ruse works and the two "fathers" talk dowry. Meanwhile, Ferando is tormenting Kate by rejecting a tailor's work on clothing for her. But they shall attend her sisters' weddings tomorrow in plainer garments. Kate tries to correct him about the time, but he pitches a fit and says they will go nowhere as long as she keeps "crossing" him (10.64).
The four young lovers express their joys with a lot of classical namedropping. Polydor scoots all to the church for the knitting of "this Gordian knot" (11.74). Sly interrupts with a dopey question: "must they be married now?"
In a scene parallel to The Shrew, Ferando makes Kate agree with his announcements about sun and moon, and they encounter the Duke of Cestus -- Aurelius' real father.
After the wedding, Alfonso wonders what kept Ferando and Kate away. The Duke shows up and identity chaos erupts. Sly blurs theater with reality and frets about people being sent to prison. Perhaps wanting to use his lordly political power to grant pardons, he asks, "am I not Don Christo Vary?" (13.49). He calls for more liquor and falls asleep. The Duke steams. But all the youngsters serially plead with him and he relents. The nobleman calls his servants to carry the sleeping Sly back to the gutter.
After supper, Ferando inquires how they can spend their time until bed. Aurelius proposes a test of their wives: "Who will come sownest at their husbands call" (14.4). After some jibes at his unlikelihood of winning the bet, Ferando laughs off the triviality of a hundred pounds and raises the ante to five hundred marks each. Valeria is sent to summon Philema, and he returns with the message, "She is something busie but shele come anon" (14.52). Polidor sends for his wife, but the boy returns with the message that if he has some business, he should come to her. Ferando gloats and gives "Command" (14.75) that Kate come to him. She does arrive obediently, and when commanded, stomps on her own cap. "O wonderfull metamorphosis," exclaims Polidor (14.87). Ferando tells Kate to drag in her sisters, and she does. The other husbands lament their losses, and the other wives sound a bit shrewish in response. Ferando asks Kate what a wife's duties are. Kate spouts the sexist party line with all the standard biblical authorizations, much like the parallel speech in The Shrew. Alfonso is so bowled over he throws in another hundred pounds (14.147). Ferando and Kate take off for the night. Polidor spells out the implications, telling Emelia that she's a shrew. "Since Aurelius, the young nobleman, winds up wooing and marrying one of the 'shrewish' sisters of the final wager scene, the theme appears to be that marrying outside of one's rank is fraught with danger" (Miller 8).
Sly's body is deposited outside the tavern, and the tapster wakes him at dawn. He notes that the players are gone and, uh oh, he's not a lord? He assumes it was all a dream, but a good one. The tapster warns him that he'd better get home: his wife will be having a fit. The play ends with Sly going off to apply the lessons learned to his own shrew of a wife: "Will she? I know now how to tame a shrew, / I dreamt vpon it all this night till now, / And thou hast wakt me out of the best dreame / That euer I had in my life, but Ile to my / Wife presently and tame her too / And if she anger me" (15.16-21). Yeah. Right.