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24 September 2014

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What happens in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew?

John Cleese and Sarah Badel in the 1980 BBC Shakespeare production of The Taming of the Shrew

This programme was broadcast on 21 November 2005. Written by Sally Wainwright.


The Taming of the Shrew opens with a drunkard being thrown out of an alehouse. Taken back to the home of a lord, he's tricked into thinking he is a nobleman himself. As he sits among "his" court, a play is performed for his amusement. Here the main story begins.

Several young bachelors have gathered in Padua to try win over the wealthy Baptista Minola's youngest daughter Bianca. But Baptista has announced that Bianca can't marry until his elder, shrewish daughter Katherine has found a husband.

One of the suitors, Lucentio, is so taken by Bianca that he pretends to be a schoolmaster, while his servant pretends to be him to cover up the trick. Two other would-be-wooers, Gremio and Hortensio tackle the problem in a different way, by trying to find Katherine a husband, so they can pursue Bianca.

Their problem is that Katherine is agressive, rude and uncontrollable - a shrew. Luckily for them, Hortensio's old friend Petruchio arrives from Verona in search of a rich wife. When Katherine is suggested, he's not put off by her stubborn behaviour, but instead insists on marrying her by the end of the week.

After their marriage Petruchio 'tames' his wife by behaving appallingly - rather as she herself does. He turns up to his own wedding in rags, then drags his new wife off from the reception on an arduous journey to his house. Once there, he forces her to go without food, sleep and fancy clothes until she fully obeys him.

Meanwhile, Bianca's suitors plot and plan to get her hand in marriage. In a battle of disguises as the men all set themselves up as the perfect husband. Eventually, Lucentio's clever plans win her father's approval, and he marries Bianca. Gremio gives up the chase for a wife in disgust, while Hortensio finds himself a rich widow.

The play ends with Petruchio betting that his wife is the most obedient of the three men's, after she makes a speech about a wife's duty to her husband. He wins when she comes rushing to do his bidding, while Hortensio and Lucentio's wives refuse to come.

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