Katharina begins the story as a true shrew. As the eldest daughter of Baptista Minola, she is well off and almost stuck up. She is uninterested in marriage. She does not feel she needs a man to complete her life. However, she is extremely jealous of her sister, who has many suitors, because her sister lavishes in the attention she gets from men. Katharina does not wish to get married, causing more tension between herself and Bianca, her little sister. This jealousy enrages Kate, proving to bring on more plot of the story.
When Petruchio comes along, Katharina fights him as hard as she possibly can. Her anger towards men could be an anger against her father. Her father heavily favors Bianca to Kate. He wants her to become soft spoken and obedient. She wants to remain her own person as opposed to letting him take over for her. She is much against society's rules of being owned and controlled by her husband. She refuses to let him “tame” her for quite a while. In fact, she fights him for as long as she possibly can.
Eventually, it turns out that she may have tamed him. However, it seems to work as their relationship continues. It seems that they come together in a deeper love than the rest. Kate tells people she doesn't care about men, but she truly does care for Petruchio despite the anger that she shows towards him. By the end of the show, Katharina tells the Widow, Hortensio's new wife, and Bianca, now Lucentio's wife,
"Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
Kate is the main focus of the show with Petruchio and her character allows for many other points of the show to be enhanced. Without her "shrewishness," the play would not exist. Her character is an important show of conflicting ideals and a new way for women to be seen at the time of the play's writing.
Lucentio is one of Bianca's suitors. He is one of the youngest and newest of the suitors to appear, and yet he seems to catch her eye more than any of the other suitors. He is sweet, kind, and very caring towards Bianca.
In order to be able to woo her further, he disguises himself as a Latin tutor for Bianca and Katharina. This Latin tutor is known as Cambio. While "Cambio" teaches Bianca Latin and has time to woo her privately, Tranio, dressed as Lucentio, is trying to work out a marriage agreement with Baptista, Bianca's father. Lucentio does love Bianca, but it is a superficial love and the pair seem to be very much a "love at first sight" kind of pair.
Lucentio is very much the opposite of Petruchio. Where Petruchio is harsh, loud, and eccentric, Lucentio is soft, quiet, and fits very well into the class where he belongs. His character seems to have the ideals of what love should be like, which makes him rather naive. His place in the story is to be Petruchio's opposite. He can be the show of how good intentions can get mixed up, with all that happens with the pedant, Vincentio, and Baptista.
Tranio is Lucentio's servant. In order to woo Bianca, Lucentio changes his appearance in order to be known as Cambio while Tranio takes his place. This creates a subplot of Tranio trying to convince Baptista that Lucentio is the right person for Bianca. Tranio is truly trying to do the right thing for his master, though this causes more problems. Tranio may seem like an unimportant character, but he is rather important to the entire show's subplots. His character is almost that of a best friend trying to help the other get the girl. It is an interesting subplot to watch, as well as his interactions with Baptista.
Petruchio is supposedly a "gentleman." He is surely an interesting character when it comes to facing off against Kate. Kate is strong, willful, loud, boisterous, and not afraid to embarrass others when necessary. He is seen as a rather pompous and selfish person without a care for anyone in the world. All he cares about is whether or not he gets a payday.
Some critics would say that Petruchio does not care for Kate at all, that she is simply a means to an end, and that he simply wants to dominate her. Others would say that he is truly trying to tame her to help her realize what a happy, calm life could be. Either can be argued, as well as a mixture of the two. Perhaps he does want to gain the dowry, but he does find feelings for her as the play continues on. He genuinely cares about her and wants to make sure that she is safe.
Petruchio can also be seen as the puppet of society at the time, but he does grow throughout the play (Kahn 89). Without that growth, the love they share would not exist. After a long "taming" of Katharina, Petruchio finally gets her to concede. Petruchio almost defines what she sees. Katharina says,
"Then God be blessed, it is the blessed sun,
This shows how she has almost given into him, but they continue on to show that Petruchio is also "tamed" to Katharina.
Bianca is Katharina's younger sister. She is very much Katharina's opposite. Where Kate is angry and loud, Bianca is quiet and subtle. Bianca is soft spoken and enjoys male attention. Her father dotes upon her and she seems to require male attention in order to be happy. She attracts many suitors, much to the dismay of her sister.
While some would think that Kate simply does not want Bianca to be happy, in Katharina's mind, she is protecting her little sister. Kate may detest Bianca for her constant male attention, but she does want to see her sister to be in love with a person, not the attention. Bianca very much appreciates that she is pretty and she likes the massive amounts of suitors around. She does take more liking to Lucentio than the other suitors she has, however their relationship is shown as much more of a superficial relationship than that of Kate and Petruchio.
She tends to be a very superficial person in that she simply wants what is pretty and what seems nice as opposed to the deeper things in life. She is almost a caricature of many women of any time period. She is the epitome of the materialistic side of women. Despite Bianca's manipulations of her father against Kate, Kate does love Bianca. In a way, Bianca is very surreptitiously manipulative. No matter what is going on, she manages to make sure it never reflects poorly on herself. Bianca seems to put on a pleasant facade. This is a very interesting character trait in such a "kind" young woman.
At the end of the play, the viewer or reader should consider which sister is truly the "shrew." Where Kate is upfront in her anger, Bianca tends to manipulate and control the males around her. It could be that because of the jealousy of Bianca that Kate does agree (sort of) to marry Petruchio. It could also be out of caring for Bianca that Kate does this. Bianca does have a pivotal role just by her relationship with Kate and the two opposite personalities the sisters seem to have.
At first glance, Hortensio looks like a rather boring and unimportant character. He's Petruchio's acquaintance and one of many suitors to Bianca. However, he does have a pivotal role in the show itself. He is the reason that Kate and Petruchio meet, and ultimately the reason that Bianca and Lucentio end up married. He does mean to get Bianca for himself, and his intentions of putting Kate and Petruchio together are rather selfish. His goal is to marry Bianca himself. This shows that he is also very much a superficial person in that he does not know much about, nor share much in common with Bianca. He knows of her soft nature, but not much more. His character may seem completely selfish, but he does originally tell Petruchio he would not match his worst enemy with Katharina. Still, Hortensio's selfishness and, in a way, jealousy is a huge part of what makes Taming of the Shrew the literary work it is.