Baptista's Decree

Act 1 Scene 1 – Key Scene

In this scene Baptista tells Gremio and Hortensio that neither of them can marry Bianca until a husband is found for her older sister Katherina. Neither of them wish to marry Katherina because they find her too wild. Lucentio and Tranio, who have recently arrived in Padua, secretly watch the scene, judging Katherina to be either mad or rebellious, and Bianca to be beautiful and mild.

Take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in performance here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    Gentlemen, importune me no farther,
    For how I firmly am resolved you know;

    That is, not bestow my youngest daughter
    Before I have a husband for the elder:
    If either of you both love Katherina,
    Because I know you well and love you well,
    Leave shall you have to court her at your pleasure.

    We encounter the discussion in the middle of the conversation. What do you think has already been said?

    To cart her rather: she's too rough for me.
    There, there, Hortensio, will you any wife?

    A punishment was to be taken through the streets on a cart to be humiliated. It was often used to punish prostitutes.

    I pray you, sir, is it your will
    To make a stale of me amongst these mates?

    A stale can mean a laughing stock, but is also a play on the idea of a stalemate, where a player can’t move their piece into any position other than the one which will lose them the game. It may also refer to Kate’s fertility - these two suitors are so unattractive that it will make her “barren”.

    Mates, maid! how mean you that? no mates for you,
    Unless you were of gentler, milder

    Mildness is mentioned twice in this passage. What do you think makes Katherina lack mildness and Bianca be praised for it?

    I'faith, sir, you shall never need to fear:
    Iwis it is not half way to her heart;
    But if it were, doubt not her care should be
    To comb your noddle with a three-legg'd stool
    And paint your face and use you like a fool.


    Why do you think Katherina speaks about herself in the third person?

    Katherina threatens hitting him on the head with a stool, scratching his face until it bleeds and making a mockery of him.

    From all such devils, good Lord deliver us!
    Hush, master! here's some good pastime toward:
    That wench is stark mad or wonderful froward.

    Tranio suggest Katherina is either mad or wild. What do you think makes him think that?

    But in the other's silence do I see
    Maid's mild behaviour and sobriety.

    Bianca is present throughout the whole scene. Why do you think she does not speak?

  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out? How do Katherina and Bianca compare in this scene and how are their characters established? What does the language reveal about Baptista?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version? Consider how the choices in the 2019 production affect this scene. Do we react differently to Baptista's decision about her sons any differently to the way we might react to a father announcing the same thing about his daughters?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of The Taming of the Shrew at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for the opening scene feel right to you?