The Taming of the Shrew
Bianca is the youngest and favorite daughter of Baptista Minola. When we first encounter her, she is surrounded by her doting dad, her jealous sister, and a group of suitors that can't wait to get their hands on her. Why? Men see her as the ideal 16th-century woman and the antithesis of her shrewish sister Katherine – Bianca appears to be chaste, obedient, and most importantly, silent. The only obstacle preventing her marriage to the highest bidder is her older sister, who must be married before Bianca is allowed to wed.
Will the Real Bianca Please Stand Up?
Bianca's name (meaning "white" in Italian) turns out to be as misleading as she is. We learn that she is deceptive, disobedient, and fully capable of talking dirty with the guys. Daddy's little princess merely pretends to be a goody two-shoes – she fools her dad into thinking that she's more interested in her studies than she is in boys, but her private tutoring sessions turn out to be opportunities to flirt with her admirers.
Bianca is also passive aggressive toward her sister – we see her taunt Kate for being an old maid without marriage prospects, which lands Kate in some hot water with her dad. Plus, it's quite telling that Bianca has no meaningful relationship with her sister, or any other woman for that matter. Female friendship just doesn't exist in this play. In fact, The Taming of the Shrew only ever portrays contentious female relationships. (What's up with that? We think we smell a great paper topic… Check out our discussion of the theme of "Gender" if you want to explore this a bit more.)
Bianca eventually elopes with Lucentio and we don't really blame her. After all, her father treats her like a commodity to be traded for profit and her marriage is negotiated and planned by a bunch of men who never think to consult with her. There's some poetic justice in the way Bianca and Lucentio dupe Baptista and run off without their parents' permission. (Young people screwing over their parents and elders to be together is a common theme in Shakespearean comedy.) But, dad's not the only one who is in for a surprise. At her wedding banquet, Bianca directs a crude joke at her brother-in-law and she turns out to be a disobedient wife when she refuses to respond to Lucentio's summons.
Bianca is proof that appearances and outward behavior can be deceiving. She's also proof that being a good actress who is willing to play an acceptable social role can be rewarding. Unfortunately, Bianca's fate also reveals how women's social roles were truly limited in scope. Bianca and her sister basically have two options to choose from: the silent and obedient "ideal" woman who is a feather in a husband's cap, or the "shrew" who makes her husband look like a chump.