Once upon a time there was an wealthy merchant called Baptista Minola who lived in the Italian city of Padua. He had two daughters, the eldest - Katharina, and the youngest - Bianca. The tradition of courtly love meant that the eldest daughter had to be married first. Unfortunately, no man wanted to marry Katharina because she was out-spoken and fiery. Indeed she did not want a husband because she disliked the way that men treated her. Bianca, in complete contrast to Katharina, attracted many suitors with her fair looks and gentle, modest ways.
Baptista announced to Bianca's suitors, that she was to study and not to see them until her sister was married. The two men, Gremio (old, Pantaloon) and Hortensio (young, but equally stupid), decided to find a husband for Katharina so that they could marry Bianca. Petruchio, a wild man from the city, rode into town looking for a wife with lots of money. He heard about Katharina and her dowry. He vowed to meet and "tame" her.
Meanwhile, Petruchio has commanded Kate to kiss him and marry him. He turns up late for their wedding ceremony, dressed in his scruffiest clothes which embarrasses Katharina. He forces her to leave the wedding reception against her will to take her back to his house. There is a storm during their journey, and Kate falls in the mud, but Petruchio does not help her.
At his house Petruchio shouts at the servants, and continues to try to weaken and tame Katharina. He does not do this through violence, but kills her fierceness through kindness. Petruchio sends the food back to the kitchens because he says it is burnt. That night he says that their bed is made wrong, starving Kate of food and sleep by ranting at the servants throughout the night In the morning he invites the dressmaker to his house to make a new outfit for Katharina so that she can go and visit her family, but everything the tailor makes, Petruchio criticises. Throughout all of Petruchio's tantrums, Kate pleads with him for food, sleep and clothes, until she will do anything for him. Petruchio tests her obedience, and each time she contradicts him, he delays their visit to her family.
When they eventually ride to visit her father, Petruchio makes Katharina say that the sun is actually the moon, and that an old man they meet is actually a beautiful young woman. When Katharina has agreed with him, he is pleased with her. At Baptista's house there is a celebration because Bianca has married Lucentio that morning. Hortensio has ended up with a bossy Widow as his wife. The men, Petruchio, Lucentio and Hortensio, decide to have a bet on how obedient their wives are. Petruchio claims that Kate will be the most obedient, everyone laughs at him. Therefore all wives are called. Bianca and the Widow refuse to obey their new husbands, but Kate responds to Petruchio's command immediately, which amazes everyone.
Thus, everyone declares that the "shrew" has been "tamed" by Petruchio. Katharina ends with a long speech, telling the other wives that they must obey their husband, as "thy Lord, thy King, thy Governor." Petruchio is extremely pleased with Katharina, and indeed the story ends with Petruchio and Katharina being very much in love. And ... as all good stories end, they all lived happily ever after!!
- Characters creating new identities and personas: disguises are carefully planned and calculated to allow characters to be successful in love. Love is therefore won through deceit, and the true personality is masked, i.e. Lucentio.
- The Social Conditioning of Women: their lack of status within this society, the attitudes that male characters have towards women, the submissive role of women in courting and marriage. The behaviour of women is classed as 'shrewish' and needing 'taming' if a woman questions male authority and rejects the courtly love tradition, or is seen to be attractive and admirable (correct behaviour) if the woman is passive and accepting of male domination by her father and husband.
- The Power of Words: characters are constantly entering into banter and trying to outwit each other through the use of language, i.e. when Petruchio first meets Katharina, and when Petruchio is with his manservant, Grumio.
- Courtly Love v True Love: marriage is based on the largest dowry, love at first sight, men bidding for a wife, great love that grows through understanding between two people, domination and inequality of power within marriage, people changing once the 'courting' is over.
- Family Politics: a father that has a social duty to marry off his two daughters to wealthy gentlemen, a daughter who believes that her father favours and loves her younger sister more than her, jealousy and rivalry between two sisters that are like opposites. The politics of courtly love in a family - the eldest daughter having to be married first, the shame of the younger daughter being courted before the elder is wed, the need for suitors, the way that the father and suitors negotiate the terms of potential marriage without the woman present.
- A Battle of Wills: the Tamer and the bird ('kite'). The Tamer is always watching, subduing, denying sleep and food in this battle for supremacy. He weakens his rival, and makes her dependent on him.