Act 5 brings everybody together, and rolls the two plots into one, even adding a third marriage. It looks as if we have a last-minute obstacle, when both Vincentio and Baptista exit, calling for revenge. (As did Kate herself, back in Act 1.) But the end of the scene suggests that Petruchio and Kate have come together. He calls on her to kiss him, and she responds by saying “I will give thee a kiss.” Their resolution was apparently wordless: she finally saw what he was up to, and he saw that she saw.
At the beginning of 5.2 Vincentio and Baptista have somehow been won over: we aren’t told how they were convinced to come around. We now get ready for three marriages. I don’t understand why Bianca becomes witty and resistant — she never was before. Maybe it’s to set up the wager, and her refusal to come when Lucentio calls. The women exit, though they give no reason to do so. (The real reason, it appears, is so that the men can make their wager about them.)
Kate’s return to the stage is a wonderful moment — indeed it is said to be a “wonder” — a real coup de theatre. (It made me think of Hermione’s re-appearance in Winter’s Tale.) Kate gets a long speech at the end of the scene, urging the women to be submissive to their husbands. Was it ever delivered straight, because it conveys the conventional wisdom about the proper subordination of wife to husband? Or was it always delivered ironically — Kate’s eyes twinkling and her voice signalling her irony — even in Elizabethan days? If she is being ironic, it appears that the men don’t get it: they still seem to think they are in charge. The Sly framework returns but only in the Quarto. I see that various theories have been offered about its absence from the Folio. You can readily see why it makes sense to include it: the
whole story has been Sly’s “dream,” and he thinks he now knows how to tame a shrew.
My sense is that Kate is gradually catching on through Act 4, learning what the audience knows from Petruccio’s soliloquy at the end of 4.1. Of course she has to endure a bit of hunger to get there. At the end of the act, in the meeting with Vincentio, there’s a chance for the actress to turn Petruccio’s joke on him when she says that her mistaking eyes have been so bedazzled by the — pause — sun, as she looks toward Petruccio to see if that’s what he’s allowing now. I recall this in one production I saw as a splendid coup de theatre that set up their final accord. And of course it lets Petruccio know that Kate now knows the game — and the nature of their relationship. So yes, I subscribe to the third alternative, and I suppose that Petruccio at this point signals as much to Kate.
I think the wonder of Kate’s long speech at the end of 5.2 is that it can be either earnest or ironically earnest. I suppose the Elizabethan version was earnest, but how earnest who can know? And the modern version rather sweetly or amusingly ironic, indicating that an intelligent wife will know how to carry this off? The last six lines rhyme, which gives them perhaps a kind of concluding, or ritualistic, emphasis. The production I recall had Kate actually placing her hands beneath Petruccio’s foot, confident that he would not stand on them. And it required Petruccio to reach down himself to take her hand. So even if the men are deluded, Petruccio at least must understand what’s required of him. The bits from the ’94 quarto seem a persuasive ending for the play. And as they make the play a wish-fulfillment dream they seem thematically apt.
It sounds as if an intelligent director could make the play more than acceptable to a
contemporary audience, though perhaps there are some moments early in the play when the
male-supremacy rhetoric might need some countervailing signals from Petruchio, some clear
sign, with tone of voice or body language, that he is putting on an act.