William Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, has often been accused of being a farce and farce, for those of you who don’t know is a subgenre of comedy that chooses to entertain through the use of verbal humor both low-brow and witty, as well as improbable and exaggerated situations (“Farce.”). The male lead Petruccio openly declares to the audience; “Thus have I politically begun my reign, and ‘tis my hope to end successfully. My falcon now is sharp and passing empty, and till she stoop she must not be full-gorged, for then she never looks upon her lure...” his plan to train his wife Kate, the shrew of Padua, as if she were some sort of animal (4.1. 169-72). Petruccio’s success in wooing and taming Kate through the use of ludicrous and absurd techniques such as killing Kate’s shrewdness with kindness, word play, and public embarrassment are what lead the play to be considered a farce.
Petruccio was laying down the ground work for his taming of Kate even from the first moment they met. He even openly admits to his plan to tame her during the quick witted banter when they first met each other:
Petruccio. Come, come, you wasp, i’faith you are too angry.
Katherine. If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruccio. My remedy is then to pluck it out. (2.1.207-09)
The rest of this first conversation between Kate and Petruccio is riddled with sexual innuendos, clever word choices and it is this feature of the dialogue that can easily lead readers (or viewers in the case of a stage performance) to see this play as a farce. To further exemplify the wit and absurdity of the Petruccio/Kate dynamic, one could look at a scene later in the play where
Petruccio claims the moon is shining brightly in the middle of the day. Kate finally catches on to Petruccio’s game and decides to play along just for him to rebuke her for getting the sun and moon confused (4.6.1-18).
Once Petruccio has secured his marriage to Kate he proceeds to tame her by continually embarrassing her in public. Petruccio begins his plan to embarrass Kate by first being late to their wedding, and then showing up dressed in ridiculous attire riding a half-dead horse (3.2). Petruccio does not stop at his attire, during the wedding ceremony he was described as behaving in a crass manner by Gremio:
‘Ay,by Gog’s woun’s, quoth he, and swore so loud
That all amazed the priest let fall the book,
And as he stooped again to take it up
This mad-brained bridegroom...