Petruchio is one of two central characters (along with Katherine) in Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shrew.

Petruchio is a wealthy young bachelor looking for an equally rich wife. On a visit to Padua someone tells him about a shrewish woman in the city whose family is trying to marry her off so that her younger, beautiful, sweet-tempered, sister, Bianca, can be married. It is customary for the elder sister to be married before the younger one can. Katherine is not conventionally attractive but the real problem is that it’s generally thought that no man would be able to handle her because of her shrewish reputation. She also notoriously hates men. In spite of the large dowry men shy away from her and it looks like she is going to be left on the shelf and that Bianca will never be married either.

petruchio in his wedding suit with red hat

Petruchio played by Kevin Black in a Carmel Shakespeare Festival play, 2003

Visiting a friend in Padua, Petruchio hears about Katherine. Wooing her would be an exciting prospect, especially as her father is offering such a generous dowry, so he decides to take up the challenge. He is renowned among his male acquaintances for being an effective shrew-tamer, even conducting tutorials among them on how to get their wives in order. That is all theoretical so this is his chance to demonstrate that he knows what he’s talking about.

The marriage is arranged and the wedding takes place. Petruchio takes Katherine home to Verona then starts to try to tame her using a variety of tactics. He startles her by yelling at the servants, and he stops her from eating by throwing her food away, saying that it’s not good enough for her. He gives her clothes and jewellery, only to take them away, saying that they aren’t good enough. When her sister is married he refuses to let her go to the wedding unless she agrees with everything he says, whatever that may be. He puts that to the test and makes absurd assertions which she has to agree with.

Petruchio is just about the most unlikeable character, without being a villain, in Shakespeare. He is boastful and selfish. On the face of it, he is an uncaring, cruel, chauvinistic, domineering, greedy man who treats marriage as a power trip. However, he is difficult to read and it could be that he has a personal philosophy regarding marriage relationships, and that he does genuinely love Katherine and regards taming her as a way of arriving at a happy marriage. The climax of the play suggests the latter scenario but it can be seen in both ways.

Petruchio is a comic figure. His extreme personality is clearly an exaggeration and it is mainly that that brings laughter into the theatre all the way through the play. We laugh with Petruchio’s shrew-taming tactics but we also laugh at him, as he perpetuates the gender inequalities that Shakespeare is exploring in this play.

In the final analysis, the problem with Petruchio from the audience’s point of view is that we don’t know how to regard him. He is too over-the-top to be true and we don’t know how to take him. He doesn’t make it easy for us to decide whether he is putting on an act or not because he is a straight-faced comedian. Audiences and critics have tried to figure him out for four centuries, and still the debate rumbles on…

Top Petruchio Quotes

And you, good sir! Pray, have you not a daughter
Call’d Katherina, fair and virtuous?

(act 2, scene 1)

Good Kate, I am a gentleman.

(act 2, scene 1)

For I am born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Comfortable as other household Kates.

(act 2, scene 1)

Women are made to bear, and so are you.

(act 2, scene 1)

Such a mad marriage never was before.

(act 2, scene 2)

Good sooth, even thus; therefore ha’ done with words;
To me she’s married, not unto my clothes.

(act 3, scene 2)

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness.

(act 4, scene 1)

You peasant swain! you whoreson malt-horse drudge!

(act 4, scene 1)

A whoreson, beetle-headed, flap-ear’d knave!

(act 4, scene 1)

Kiss me Kate

(act 5, scene 1)