October 17, 2006
Numerous of William Shakespeare’s dramas employ the concept of “plays within plays,” where characters in the play execute the performance of a different play. This dramatic device by Shakespeare is incorporated in plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labours Lost, Hamlet, and so forth. Some well-known examples consist of the “Murder of Gonzago” scene and the “Mousetrap” scene in Hamlet, and the “Pyramus and Thisbe” scene at the conclusion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This motif by Shakespeare also presents itself in The Taming of the Shrew – not in the same manner as the plays mentioned above but as an introduction to the main play.
Shakespeare begins The Taming of the Shrew with a mysterious Induction of the character Christopher Sly, but the story never concludes nor does it carry on to the actual play. Therefore, a couple of questions must be asked: What does Sly’s story contribute to the main play? More important, does his role in the Induction play a significant part to the main play? Absolutely. In fact, the Induction incorporates many of the major motifs of the main play, such as disguise/deception, clothing, the role of marriage, etc. The identity of Sly changes when his clothes are changed, similar to Lucentio’s and Tranio’s attire. Sly finds himself in a strange position and must act accordingly to the role he has been assigned, similar to Kate. Lastly, Sly’s interest is to have a wife whom he can control, just as do Petruchio and other male characters in the main play.
The role of disguise plays a major part of The Taming of the Shrew. In the first act, Shakespeare wastes no time in addressing this theme which parallels the Induction. In the Induction, Sly assumes a disguise in a strange way, in which he has no control over. The story materializes like this: Sly’s drunkenness and disruptive behavior gets him tossed out of a facility and finds himself asleep in front of a lord’s house. The lord arrives home and sees Sly; he then devises a plan to convince Sly that he is a lord, with the help of his household. When Sly is bestowed this honor, he is skeptical at first: “I am Christopher Sly. Call not me ‘honor’ nor ‘lordship’ (Ind. 2. 5). Such response by Sly shows that his identity remains intact, but it would be short-lived. With more convincing that he is a lord (precipitated by the tale of his beautiful wife and trickery), he assumes the role and calls his so-called wife to bed: “Tis much. Servants leave me and her alone. / Madam, undress you and come now to bed” (108-109). This statement by Sly does not only show the disguise that he assumes, but also shows the role of marriage, which will be touched upon shortly.
Interestingly, Sly’s transformation from a beggar to a lord does not only take place with fabricated stories but also with the change of his attire – which introduces the theme of clothing. When Sly’s clothing changes, so does his identity. Because Sly has fine clothing, it enables him to appropriately fit his position as a lord, likewise Lucentio and Tranio. Lucentio (a young student from Pisa who arrives to study in Padua) takes on a disguise to try to acquire Bianca’s love and attention, after he has seen her and falls madly in love. To get closer to Bianca, Lucentio disguises himself as an instructor named Cambio, a clever idea to get into Bianca’s life and the Minola household. To put his plan into action, he convinces Gremio (one of Bianca’s suitors) to recommend him to Baptista – Bianca’s father – as a tutor for Bianca. Thereafter, Tranio (Lucentio’s servant) indirectly warns Lucentio that he has an appointment in Padua and if he fails to arrive, trouble will occur. To remedy any impending problem, Lucentio devises yet another plan: He orders his servant Tranio to impersonate him as he tries to win over Bianca’s love, disguised as a tutor. Not only do Lucentio and Tranio take on a different identity, but they also switch their clothes. When Biondello (Lucentio’s second servant) sees Tranio’s wearing Lucentio’s clothes, he asks his master several questions: “Where have I been? Nay, how now, where are you? / Master, has my fellow Tranio stol’n your clothes? / Or you stol’n his? Or both? Pray, what’s the news?” (1.1. 214-216). The changing of clothes by the characters represents importance and goes hand in hand with the theme of disguise.
Without changing their clothing it would be impossible to pull off a disguise and pose as another person. Clothing was an indication of one’s status in the Elizabethan era. The upper class dressed in valuable and highly structured garments, flaunting their wealth with rich fabrics and extreme decorations; the lower class dressed in plain clothes, which could clearly determine their social status. Similarly, in The Taming of the Shrew, the characters who change their clothing take on a different appearance. Clothing facilitates this outcome because external appearance overshadows the true self and controls the perceptions of others. It allows one to change his or her social positions by donning a disguise. When Sly changes his clothing into that of a lord, he gets treated differently. Once Lucentio transforms himself from a young gentleman into a professor, people treat him as the role he plays. Moreover, when Tranio alters his appearance to Lucentio’s, his image as a servant diminishes and his noble image takes priority. The Induction presents two people assuming a disguise – via clothes: Sly and Bartholomew. Similarly, in Act 1 Scene 1, we see Lucentio and Tranio undertake a disguise. It makes it obvious: The way one dresses facilitates one’s perception.
In continuation with the issue of attire, the theme of clothing stands alone and does not only serve as a disguise mechanism, for it also works as a way of humiliation (publicly and privately), social identity (as noted above), and one of the processes in which Petruchio uses to tame Katherine. One of the most notable scenes occurs the day that the wedding of Kate and Petruchio takes place. Everyone is in attendance, excluding Petruchio. While the spectators become apprehensive, Kate becomes frustrated and leaves. Petruchio, obviously, will not miss his wedding because that would also rule out his riches, so he will be there. As expected, Petruchio arrives at his wedding late, wearing horrendous clothing – shabby mismatched attire, riding on an old horse. Petruchio’s wedding costume represents an act of public humiliation meant for Kate. His inappropriate appearance surprises Baptista and the audience. Baptista orders him to change to no avail. Petruchio responds: “To me she’s married, not unto my clothes. / Could I repair what she will wear in me / As I can change these poor accoutrements, / ‘Twere well for Kate and better for myself” (3.2. 107-110).
This statement by Petruchio typifies an important psychological viewpoint, because it entails that Katherine is not marrying his clothes; instead, she is marrying him, signifying the man beneath the apparel is not equal to the apparel he wears. In other words, Petruchio states that no matter what one wears, his inner self will stand out – which poses the question: Does the clothing make the man? Absolutely not. Lucentio, for example, may be disguised as Cambio the tutor, but reverts to himself once the courtship with Bianca begins to unfold. Likewise, the other disguised characters (Tranio, Hortensio, and the Pedant), can not escape the reality that they have to return to their true identities, including Sly. Although we never get a full disclosure of Sly’s story in the Induction, we know that he will not remain as a lord by what happens to the characters in the main story; they all return to their prior and natural state of being.
Another scene concerning clothes that is of importance occurs in Act 4 with the tailor and haberdasher. Petruchio assures Kate that he will return to her father’s house in the finest clothes and accessories: “Will we return unto thy father’s house / And reveal it as bravely as the best, / With silken coats and caps and golden rings, / With ruffs, and cuffs, and farthingales, and things / With scarves, and fans, and double change of bravery, / With amber bracelets … and all this knavery” (4.3. 53-58). Such declaration parallels his prior speech before the wedding when he assured Baptista and Kate that “[they] will have rings, and things, and fine array” (2.1. 316), only to appear at the wedding with an inappropriate attire, making a mockery of the Paduan culture.
Nonetheless, the tailor and haberdasher appear in the scene with a gown and a hat (for Kate) to Petruchio’s dismay. Petruchio looks at the hat and finds several errors. He criticizes the haberdasher’s work and the hat: “A velvet dish. Fie, fie ‘tis lewd and filthy. / Why ‘tis a cockle or a walnut shell, / A knack, a toy, a trick, a baby’s cap” (4.3. 65-67). Kate comes to the Haberdasher’s defense, arguing that the hat looks good and she likes it: “Love me or love me not, I like the cap, / And it I will have, or I will have none” (4.3. 84-85). Petruchio ignores her and turns his focus to the tailor’s work, where he again finds countless faults with the gown. Similar to the hat, Kate loves the gown and tells Petruchio that “[she’s] never saw a better fashioned gown” (4.3. 101), but he remains unimpressed and firm with his judgment. After his criticism, he sends the tailor away with the gown, privately humiliating his wife. In truth, nothing major is wrong with the gown to make it unwearable; it is Petruchio who purposely finds it unpleasant, allowing him to showcase his disruptive manner as a technique to tame Kate and mock her Paduan society.
With Kate distressed, the humiliation of her continues when Petruchio tells her that they will travel to her father’s house with the old clothes they have: “We will unto your father’s / Even in these honest, mean habiliments. / Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor, / For ‘tis the mind that makes the body rich” (4.3. 161-164). Petruchio speaks these words because it is not the clothes that make the person but rather the mind. This represents a classic manipulation by Petruchio to discipline her mind and body via the clothes she wears and the clothes he sees fit for her to wear. In more concrete language, he basically tries to reshape her body before working on remodeling her mind (a technique that actually goes hand in hand).
Marriage represents another theme that Shakespeare alludes to in the Induction. In the Induction, Sly’s mannerisms (after he has been tricked) show a small glimpse of the marriage role. After he has been convinced that he is a lord, his instinct of controlling and commanding his wife takes priority: “Madam, undress you and come now to bed” (Ind.2. 105). Sly in this scene plays the role of a husband and demands his wife, similar to how Petruchio treats his wife Kate. In this era, a husband had absolute right to treat his wife however he wanted to, even with violence. However, Petruchio never uses violence against Kate although he was allowed to do so.
In fact, when Petruchio first meets Kate behind closed doors, his rhetoric causes Kate to strike him, showing her wild behavior which he plans to tame. He does not reciprocate the hit but warns to do so, if necessary. He remains undisturbed by her rejections and vows to marry her without consent: “Thus in plain terms: your father hath consented / That you shall be my wife; your dowry greed on; / And will you, nill you, I will marry you” (2.1. 262-264). Despite Kate’s objections, Petruchio later announces to Baptista and his men that Kate has agreed to marry him (an obvious lie) and a wedding date has been set. Because Katherine fails to protest his bogus claim(s) that she has agreed to marry him, she indirectly approves what he says. Although they are not married yet, Petruchio’s authoritative role as a soon-to-be husband has already been solidified.
He continues his authoritative behavior when he shows up late to his own wedding. Petruchio’s lateness shows a sign of his control and power over Kate. To make it worse, he publicly acts out in a bizarre manner at the wedding ceremony to embarrass her, one of his plans to tame her and demonstrate to her the unruly behavior she embodies. After the nuptials, Petruchio takes his actions to the extreme and exercises his right as a husband at the wedding reception with a firm command, declaring that he and his wife are leaving. Kate wants to stay and makes it clear to her husband, but he thinks otherwise and disregards her request: “For my bonny Kate, she must with me. / Nay, look not big, nor stamp, nor stare, nor fret; / I will be master of what is mine own. / She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house” (3.2. 216-219). These disrespectful lines Petruchio speaks show that his command shall be obeyed – and not be challenged – because Kate belongs to him. Moreover, he diminishes her presence as a human by labeling her as his objects. Following his firm demand to leave, they leave. His antics throughout the wedding ceremony solidify the beginning of his control as a master/husband.
The action with the newlyweds heats up at Petruchio’s house. He orders his servants to cook him and his wife a feast but, strangely, rejects the entire dinner when the servants present it to them. Petruchio then goes on a rage and throws all the food on the floor: “Tis burnt, and so is all the meat. What dogs are these? Where is the rascal cook?” (4.1. 131-132). Kate argues that the meat is well cooked. We all know that the dinner is faultless and Petruchio’s antics serve as a calculated plan to tame her, confirmed by his words: “Thus have I politicly begun my reign, / And tis my hope to end successfully” (4.1. 157-158). Some would think that his tactics make him a bad husband; however, in that era, a husband’s behavior was warranted by law. Although his actions may seem a bit extreme, they are nowhere near as horrible as some of the sermons imply. According to A Homily of the State of Matrimony, a wife who was beaten should be thankful and accept the fact that she was not beaten any worse.
In Act 4, Kate starts to slightly change and her desire to eat precipitates her to ask for food. The hungry Kate convinces Grumio (Petruchio’s servant) to bring her some food, only to be taunted by him. Her request for food is later rendered by her husband, but she fails to thank him properly and he threatens to take it away: “The poorest service is repaid with thanks, / And so shall mine before you touch the meat” (4.3. 45-46). The hungry Kate has no choice but to thank him properly and offers a subtle thank you. The taming process of Kate is nearly complete. This scene closes with another lesson of obeying what he says. Petruchio claims that it is seven o’clock and they will arrive at her father’s house at noon. Kate knows that he is wrong and argues that it is almost two. Although Kate’s statement is true, Petruchio argues: “It shall be seven ere I go to horse. / Look what I speak, or do, or think to do, / You are still crossing it … / I will not go today, and ere I do, / It shall be what o’clock I say it is” (4.3. 183-187). This declaration by Petruchio states that even though his judgment renders a falsehood, she should never question him and must obey what he says.
When they are heading to Baptista’s house, the mental taming (through games) by Petruchio continues – moon versus sun. Petruchio claims that the moon shines brightly. Kate disagrees and says the sun shines brightly. Petruchio utters: “It shall be moon, or star, or what I list / Or ere I journey to your father’s house” (4.5. 7-8). Petruchio’s threats to return back home precipitate Kate to agree: “Since, we have come so far, / And be it the moon, or sun, or what you please; / An if you please to call it a rush candle, / Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me” (4.5. 12-14). She begins to realize the game and will agree to whatever Petruchio says. In other words, if she wants to get what she wants, she must fully comply with what her husband says, whether it be wrong, misleading, or completely outrageous. In Act 5, Petruchio again threatens to go home after his request for a kiss is denied; she then kisses him.
Kate has fully transformed and Petruchio’s job as a successful tamer shows clearly in the final act. Once all of the characters assemble to rejoice Bianca’s and Lucentio’s wedding, the men decide to bet on who has the most submissive wife. Lucentio and Hortensio order their wives to come, but they both refuse. However, when Petruchio calls for his wife Kate, she comes to everyone’s surprise. Baptista praises Petruchio and talks as if his daughter had never embodied a shrew: “For she is changed, as she had never been” (5.2. 119). Moreover, he unnecessarily orders Kate to destroy the cap she wears and she complies. Thereafter, Kate delivers a long speech to the women on how wives should treat their husbands: “I am ashamed that women are so simple / To offer war where they should kneel for peace, / Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway, / When they are bound to serve, love, and obey” (5.2. 165-168). These four lines from the epic speech by Kate, without a doubt, show that she has fully been tamed – and psychologically changed – by her husband Petruchio and no longer exhibits her unruly behavior.
Shakespeare provides an unfinished Induction with the character Sly, which continues to the main play. Shakespeare mildly presents several themes – disguise, marriage, clothes, etc. – that clearly materialize in the play. The Induction works as a catalyst for the forthcoming actions. As a result, the Induction renders a significant device, for every theme that presents itself in the Induction shows up in the main play. First, Sly’s identity alters in the Induction once he changes his clothes, similar to the identity of Lucentio and Tranio, two themes of disguise and clothes. Furthermore, Sly’s gullibility enables the Lord and his men to trick him, similar to Baptista and others, a theme of deception. Second, Sly finds himself in a strange position which he has no control over and must act accordingly, which parallels Kate’s role as a wife. Finally, Sly’s interest to control his wife is evident as he orders his so-called wife Bartholomew to bed, which compares to Petruchio and other males in the play, a theme of marriage. Therefore, it is safe to render a judgment that the Induction and the main play of The Taming of the Shrew are inseparable and greatly parallel one another via motifs.