Christopher Sly, a beggarly tinker, falls asleep drunk, having been thrown out of an ale-house.
A lord takes him into his house and plays a trick involving the pretence that Sly is a lord himself, for whose benefit a company of players will act The Taming of the Shrew. The main action then commences.
Fortune-hunting Hortensio, rich old Gremio and newly-arrived-in-town Lucentio all wish to court beautiful Bianca, but she cannot marry before her older sister, the shrewish Kate.
Petruchio vows to woo Kate both for her dowry and for the challenge of overcoming her fearsome reputation.
Hortensio and Lucentio gain access to Bianca by disguising themselves as tutors, while Lucentio's servant Tranio plays the role of his master.
Stop reading now if you don't want to know how it ends...
Petruchio marries Kate - turning up late wearing unsuitable clothes - and takes her off to his country house, where he 'tames' her through various forms of deprivation.
Tranio persuades a travelling schoolteacher to pretend to be Lucentio's father Vincentio in order to give assurance of Lucentio's financial means. There is confusion when the real Vincentio turns up, but the love-match between Lucentio and Bianca is happily settled.
Hortensio marries a wealthy widow and Petruchio and Kate return to reveal that she is a changed woman.
Photo by Simon Annand shows Michelle Gomez as Kate and Stephen Boxer as Petruchio in the RSC's 2008 production of The Taming of the Shrew © RSC