A lord comes across a drunken and comatose Christopher Sly, and conceives the idea of bringing him back to his house and treating him as a nobleman when he awakes, to see what happens. The lord has his servants dress and act appropriately, and convinces Sly that he has come to his senses after a long illness. A passing troupe of players perform a play for him, during which Sly gives an occasional bored reaction.
The play begins with Lucentio arriving in Padua to study. As soon as he sees Bianca, the younger daughter of the rich merchant Baptista, he falls in love with her. Bianca is also being wooed by Gremio and Hortensio, but Baptista will not allow her to be married until a husband is found for his older daughter Katherina, ‘the shrew’, whose aggressive character has made this unlikely. Gremio and Hortensio decide to join forces to find a husband for Katherina. Lucentio changes identities with his servant Tranio, and gets a job as Bianca’s tutor in order to be close to her.
Petruchio of Verona is visiting Hortensio, and agrees to help his friend by marrying Katherina, especially when he learns the size of her dowry. At his first meeting with her, he takes no argument from her and insists on marrying her despite her angry protestations. Baptista willingly agrees, leaving Bianca’s suitors to argue their respective cases among themselves. Lucentio makes progress with Bianca in his guise as tutor.
Petruchio arrives late for his wedding, badly dressed, behaves badly during the service, and afterwards refuses to stay for the reception, despite Katherina’s wishes to the contrary. He takes her back to his country house, where he refuses to let her eat, sleep, or dress well until she conforms to his every whim.
Hortensio and Gremio see Bianca courting the tutor Lucentio and decide in disgust to court her no longer. Hortensio decides to marry a rich widow. Tranio persuades a passing schoolmaster to play the part of Lucentio’s father, Vincentio, and confirm to Baptista that Lucentio has a wealthy background. Lucentio elopes with Bianca and they are married. On their way back to Padua, Katherina and Petruchio meet the real Vincentio. They arrive at Lucentio’s house, but the schoolmaster and Tranio refuse to acknowledge him, calling him a villain. The real Vincentio is about to be taken off to prison when Lucentio arrives, revealing his marriage and the identity changes. The parents accept the situation.
At a combined wedding-reception for Petruchio, Lucentio, and Hortensio, the three husbands wager among themselves which of their wives, in another room, will be the most obedient and come at their bidding. Katherina, now a changed person, is the only one to do so. She remonstrates with the other women, lecturing them on the merits of wifely obedience.
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