Christopher Sly, a beggarly tinker, falls asleep drunk, having been thrown out of an ale-house. A lord takes him into his house and plays a trick involving the pretence that Sly is a lord himself, for whose benefit a company of players will act The Taming of the Shrew. The main action then commences. Fortune-hunting Hortensio, rich old Gremio and newly-arrived-in-town Lucentio all wish to court beautiful Bianca, but she cannot marry before her older sister, shrewish Kate. Petruchio vows to woo Kate both for her dowry and for the challenge of overcoming her fearsome reputation. Hortensio and Lucentio gain access to Bianca by disguising themselves as tutors, while Lucentio's servant Tranio plays the role of his master. Petruchio marries Kate - turning up late wearing the most unsuitable clothes imaginable - and takes her off to his country house, where he 'tames' her through various forms of deprivation. Tranio persuades a travelling schoolteacher to pretend to be Lucentio's father Vincentio in order to give assurance of Lucentio's financial means; there is confusion when the real Vincentio turns up, but the love-match between Lucentio and Bianca is happily settled. Hortensio marries a wealthy widow and Petruchio and Kate return to reveal that she is a changed woman.
In the play, Padua is described as "nursery of arts". De Vere knew this, having visited there. An unnamed Lord describes a picture he has seen:
We'll show thee Io as she was a maid,
And how she was beguiled and surpris'd,
As lively painted as the deed was done.
When de Vere was leaving in Italy in March 1576, Milan was under the control of Spain, and a Spanish duke - Don Antonio de Guzman - ruled the City. In The Two Gentleman of Verona, Shakespeare's Duke of Milan addresses colleagues using the Spanish title "Don". It is therefore possible that de Vere visited Milan. If so, he probably would not have stayed with the Duke or the Archbishop, but some other person who was a patron of the arts. One such person was Leone Leoni, a 67 year old artist with an extensive collection of paintings, including Correggio's masterpiece Io.
Preregrine Beatty married de Vere's sister Mary between Christmas 1577 and March 1578. From November 1577 to March 1578, a comet appeared. The comet is referenced in the play:
PETRUCHIO: Gentles, methinks you frown,
And were gaze this goodly company,
As if they saw some wondrous monument,
Some comet or unusual prodigy?
There are many parallels between the play and the real life characters. Like Preregine, Petruchio is a swash buckler, has a sharp tongue, is a superlative swordsman, and dislikes ceremonies. Both Preregine and Petruchio have weddings that take place in a drunken haze. Like Kate, Mary de Vere had a quick temper and harsh tongue.
Shortly after the marriage, Anne Cecil's brother Thomas reports that Preregrine and his wife had been fighting, and predicts that "Mary will be beaten with the rod which heretofore she prepared for others". An historian further notes that "the early differences between the couple were soon adjusted, and (Mary) proved a most loyal, capable wife." This is the essential plot of the play.