Act Two: Best. Wooing. Scene. Ever.

Act Two of The Taming of the Shrew is a single scene… 412 lines of zero-to-sixty wooin’ and weddin’ (OK, the wedding doesn’t actually take place in this scene, but it’s put into motion).

and if it seems here that I’m trying to find some way to make Kate more likeable… I am… yes, I know the title of the play is NOT The Wooing of Little Miss-Understood… but it would be nice to make her a little less harsh

The scene begins with an entrance by Kate and Bianca… except something is amiss: the stage directions tell us that Bianca enters “with her hands tied” (II.i opening stage direction).  At first, I thought this might be metaphorical… Bianca tells Kate, “Unbind my hands” (II.i.4), but that could be a simple case of Kate holding Bianca’s hands in place; but, no, Bianca desires to “pull them off (her)self” and again begs Kate, “Untie my hands” (II.i.4 and II.i.21, respectively).  Kate attempts to interrogate Bianca on her choice of suitors, but Bianca either will not disclose her choice or has not yet made her choice (her contention).  When their father Baptista arrives, Kate goes further and “strikes (Bianca)” (II.i.22 s.d.).  (there’s nothing in the dialogue to support this save Bianca’s weeping, but that could be played up as drama)

Baptista is none too pleased, and we see (somewhat) into Kate’s issue with Bianca… it’s Baptista:

Nay, now I see
She is your treasure, she must have a husband;
I must dance bare-foot on her wedding-day,
And for your love to her lead apes in hell.
Talk not to me; I will go sit and weep,
Till I can find occasion of revenge.

— II.i.31-36

Kinda like Titus’ Tamora, only without the whole “massacre them all” vibe.

She exits and then Baptista is deluged with suitors: Gremio (the pantaloon) with Lucentio/Cambio the schoolmaster, Petruchio, with Hortensio now disguised as a schoolmaster himself, and Tranio/Lucentio with Biondello, who bears books and a lute, but thankfully is NOT disguising himself as a schoolmaster.

Petruchio introduces himself to Baptista: “Pray, have you not a daughter // Call’d Katherina, fair and virtuous?” to which Baptista responds, “I have a daughter, sir, call’d Katherina” (II.i.42-43, and II.i.45). [you can almost hear the rim shot] Petruchio states his objective of wooing Kate, and as a sign of good faith (and as “an entrance to (his) entertainment” [II.i.54], he introduces Hortensio as “Litio” the tutor).  Baptista welcomes all, and then sends Hortensio/Litio, Lucentio/Cambio and Biondello off to meet with Kate, leaving Petruchio to discuss matters marital with Baptista, including paternal dowry and spousal assurances.  And it is here, that we learn that Kate may be mistaken about Baptista: he DOES care for her, as he tells Petruchio that a marriage contract cannot be drawn up until “the special thing is well obtain’d, // That is, her love; for that is all in all” (II.i.129-130).  Baptista does not want just a financial deal for Kate; he wants her to be in love, he wants her to be happy.

one has to wonder: had Kate known this, would she be such a shrew?

Their discussions are interrupted by the re-entrance of Hortensio/Litio “with his head broke” (II.i.142 ff s.d.), as Kate has hit him over the head with the lute.  Baptista takes all the suitors with him, to take them to Bianca, and leaves Petruchio to wait for Kate’s entrance.  With Petruchio alone, we hear the first soliloquy of the play: Petruchio lays out his plan of attack… no matter what Kate argues against him, he will turn it into something positive:

Say that she rail; why, then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown; I'll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly wash'd with dew.
Say she be mute, and will not speak a word;
Then I'll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.
If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks,
As though she bid me stay by her a week;
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns, and when be married.

— II.i.171-181

And then they meet.  It is a battle of words, of wits, of hits, of fits and starts, and by the time Baptista returns, Petruchio announces their plans to marry the following Sunday.  (This scene and dialogue is one that we’ll investigate more closely later this month… suffice to say, it’s a classic.)  When Kate argues and denies this, Petruchio tells her father that it is her and his agreement that she’ll still be shrewish in public, though loving in private.  And he heads off to Venice to buy apparel for the wedding day.  And for once, Kate is shocked into submissive silence.

Baptista, thrilled, is now ready to marry off Bianca a week later (things move as quickly in the Minola household as they do in at the Capulet’s).  He has narrowed the suitors down to Gremio and Tranio/Lucentio, who then bid for her love.  Tranio/Lucentio wins, but only if he can bring proof and approval from his father Vincentio; without it, Gremio wins Bianca… thus Tranio now ponders the invention of a “father” to fool Baptista.

More disguises, anyone?

and about those identities: how to present them on stage… they’ve got to be good enough to fool Baptista (who knows Hortensio) but bad enough for the audience to follow who’s who… something to ponder as the month goes on…

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