The Taming of the Shrew
Art and Culture Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Persuade him that he hath been lunatic;
And when he says he is, say that he dreams,
For he is nothing but a mighty lord.
This do and do it kindly, gentle sirs:
It will be pastime passing excellent,
If it be husbanded with modesty. (Induction.1.5)
The Lord's motivation for playing an elaborate and cruel joke is somewhat fuzzy. Does he do it to teach Sly a lesson? What will Sly learn? Or, is it simply to humiliate him and have some fun at the expense of a powerless, lower-class figure? The fact that the joke will be a "pastime passing excellent" is a bit of an inside joke – Elizabethan theater was one of the most popular forms of "pastime."
Useful history snack: Bear baiting (tying up a bear and then releasing a pack of dogs on it while people watched from the bleachers) was another fun Elizabethan "pastime." In fact, Christopher Sly reveals that one of his many lame jobs was "bear keeper," the guy who fed and cleaned up after bears used in baiting contests.
Sirrah, go you to Barthol'mew my page,
And see him dress'd in all suits like a lady:
That done, conduct him to the drunkard's chamber;
And call him 'madam,' do him obeisance.
Tell him from me, as he will win my love (Induction.1.11)
The Lord's decision to "cast" his page (a young servant boy) in the role of Sly's trophy wife calls our attention to Elizabethan stage, where all characters (male and female) were played by men or boy actors. Bartholomew was likely played by an attractive young boy, one pretty enough to convince Sly that he is a woman. We're supposed to laugh at Sly for being fooled but Shakespeare also points to the slipperiness of gender on stage.
My husband and my lord, my lord and husband;
I am your wife in all obedience.
I know it well (Induction.2.3)
Bartholomew is very convincing as an obedient wife and Sly has no doubt that he's the dominant one in the relationship. It's funny, that's for sure, but it also raises the question of whether or not the role of "obedient wife" is just that, a role to be played. Think about this in relationship to Kate's final speech. How can we know if she's being sincere?