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Evolving English: The Taming of the Shrew

Evolving English: The Taming of the Shrew

Language is constantly evolving and has changed dramatically in the 400 years since Shakespeare was writing. For instance, in Petruchio’s wooing speech with Katherina, several words need a little explanation to make the speech even more meaningful: 

     You lie, in faith; for you are call’d plain Kate,
     And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst;
     But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom
     Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
     For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
      Take this of me, Kate of my consolation;
      Hearing thy mildness praised in every town,
      Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded,
     Yet not so deeply as to thee belongs,
     Myself am moved to woo thee for my wife.
            — Petruchio (2.1.185-193)

Christendom: This word refers not to any religion or belief, but to all the kingdoms of the Christian world, which were considered by Shakespeare’s contemporaries to be the only civilized places in the world.

Kate Hall: It was common practice in Shakespeare’s England for a noble family’s home to be called after the family name, i.e. Smith Hall. Petruchio is implying that Kate is so well spoken of that her home is known as Kate Hall, rather than by her family or father’s name. 

Dainties: Here Petruchio is playing with the words dainty and cake. Dainty refers not only to the delicacy and grace of a woman, but can also mean a delicacy, as in a dessert or cake.  He then uses an audio pun by comparing the sound of the words Kate and cake.