The Motif of Beatings in The Taming of the Shrew

An annotated list of relevant passages.

Act 1, Scene 1
Baptista announces that sweet Bianca cannot be wooed until a husband is found for shrewish Katharina, and then tells Gremio and Hortensio, both of whom are panting after Bianca, that they should feel free to woo Katharina. But both men mock the idea of anyone marrying such a shrew, and Katharina chimes in with a threat of violence against Hortensio. She tells him that should he woo her, she would "comb your noddle with a three-legg'd stool / And paint your face and use you like a fool."

Later in the same scene Hortensio is trying to convince Gremio that a husband can be found for the shrewish Katharina because there are men who would marry anyone for enough money. Gremio replies that even if Hortensio is right, marrying her would be as bad as enduring a daily public whipping. His exact words are, "I cannot tell; but I had as lief take her dowry with this condition, to be whipped at the high cross every morning."
Act 1, Scene 2
Coming to the house of his friend, Hortensio, Petruchio asks his witty servant, Grumio, to knock at Hortensio's gate, saying, "Here, sirrah Grumio; knock, I say." Instead of doing so, Grumio pretends to think that his master is asking him to beat somebody up. When Petruchio answers this absurdity with "Villain, I say, knock me here soundly," Grumio pretends to think that Petruchio is asking to be beaten. And so Grumio teases Petruchio into a bout of roughhousing in which Petruchio "wrings him by the ears."
Act 2, Scene 1

Charlotte Randle as Bianca
Monica Dolan as Katharina
Image Source: Shakespeare's Staging
Jealous of her younger sister Bianca, Katharina demands that Bianca "tell / Whom thou lovest best." When Bianca insists that there is no suitor that she favors, Katherine beats her, and doesn't stop until their father rescues Bianca.

Later in the same scene Katharina strikes again. Hortensio has disguised himself as a music master so that he can woo Bianca, but it does not turn out well for him. We see him emerge from Baptista's house "with his head broke." He explains that during a lesson on the lute he "bow'd her hand to teach her fingering," whereupon she bashed him over the head with the lute.

Still later in the scene Katharina strikes yet again, but this time she picks on someone who doesn't need to be rescued: Petruchio. His wooing of the terrible shrew has turned into a battle of the wits, and when Katharina loses a round "She strikes him." His response is very simple: "I swear I'll cuff you, if you strike again," he says, and then the wit combat resumes.
Act 3, Scene 1
Both Lucentio and Hortensio disguise themselves as schoolmasters in order to woo Bianca, but when it's time for Bianca to learn her lessons, the two young men quarrel over who gets to teach the first lesson. However, Bianca has ideas of her own, and she tells them she is the one who gets to decide, because she is "no breeching scholar in the schools." A "breeching scholar" is a pupil who can be whipped if he doesn't learn his lessons properly. And so we are reminded of how common, and degrading, beatings were in Shakespeare's time.
Act 4, Scene 1
Arriving at Petruchio's house before Petruchio and Katharina do, Grumio, Petruchio's witty servant, exclaims to Curtis, another servant, "Fie, fie on all tired jades, on all mad masters, and all foul ways! Was ever man so beaten?" Later on in the scene he explains how he came to be beaten, but at the moment he only wants a hot fire to warm the house.

While Curtis builds the fire he asks about the new mistress of the house, the notorious shrew, but Grumio warns him that if he doesn't get the fire built, he'll get beaten by that new mistress. He says to Curtis: "But wilt thou make a fire, or shall I complain on thee to our mistress, whose hand, she being now at hand, thou shalt soon feel, to thy cold comfort, for being slow in thy hot office?"

Once the fire is built, Grumio makes as though he is about to tell his tale of his journey and says to Curtis, "Lend thine ear." But when Curtis harkens to him, Grumio boxes his ear and explains that "this cuff was but to knock at your ear, and beseech listening."

Only after all of this do we get the information that Katharina's horse fell and she landed on the ground under the horse, whereupon Petruchio leaped down to beat Grumio because Katharina's horse fell, so that "she waded through the dirt to pluck him off me."

Later on in the same scene Petruchio puts on a display of his own shrewishness. He demands that his servants take off his boots, but then beats one as he exclaims, "you pluck my foot awry." Then he calls for water so that Katharina can wash up before eating, but when the servant spills a little, Petruchio beats him, which makes Katharina the shrew speak up on behalf of the servant, saying to her husband, "Patience, I pray you; 'twas a fault unwilling." Finally, to cap off his bad behavior, he claims that the mutton is burnt and throws everything at the servants, saying "There, take it to you, trenchers, cups, and all."
Act 4, Scene 3
Picking up where Petruchio left off in the previous scene, Grumio offers to fetch some food for the ravenous Katharina, but after much palaver, offers only mustard, whereupon Katharina "Beats him."

Later in the same scene Petruchio stages another charade of hot temper. He has a haberdasher show Katherina a very fashionable cap, but then declares that he's glad she doesn't like it, and away it goes. Next a tailor brings a lovely gown which Katharina deeply desires, but Petruchio pretends that it's made all wrong. When the tailor tries to stand up for himself and the gown he made, Petruchio threatens him, exclaiming that he will "be-mete thee with thy yard" [thrash you with your yardstick]. It's all a show, and Petruchio quietly makes sure the tailor is paid for his trouble, but Katherina gets neither cap nor gown.
Act 5, Scene 1
Vincentio, Lucentio's father, arrives in Padua to visit his son, only to be denied entrance to his son's house because he is already inside, looking out the window at himself. The impostor is the pedant, and, thinking that he is about to be found out, he goes on the offensive and accuses the real Vincentio of being an imposter. Just then Biondello shows up, and is called upon by the real Vincentio to identify him, but Biondello does the opposite, saying that the man looking out the window is Vincentio. This makes Vincentio crazy with anger, and "He beats Biondello."
Act 5, Scene 2
In the last scene of the play everyone is having a good time when a little quarrel breaks out about who might or might not be afraid of his wife. The women get a bit catty, but soon leave to sit by the fire in a separate parlor. The men, however, continue the conversation and decide to make a bet on whose wife is the most obedient. This is to be tested by seeing which wife will come out of the parlor when called by a servant speaking for her husband. Of course the men (except for Petruchio) all think that Katharina is the one who will refuse to come, but of course they are wrong. Bianca sends word that she's busy; Hortensio's wife says that the men have some "some goodly jest in hand" and says that Hortensio should come to her. But Katherine comes as soon as she is called for, and Petruchio asks her where the other two women are. Katharina answers that they chatting by the parlor fire, and Petruchio tells Katherina, "Go fetch them hither: if they deny to come, / Swinge me them soundly forth unto their husbands." If Katharina follows Petruchio's orders exactly, she will drive the other two wives to their husbands with a switch or whip, beating them all the while.