Study Guide

The Taming of the Shrew Society and Class

By William Shakespeare

Society and Class

Induction, Scene 1
The Lord

LORD
Take him up gently, and to bed with him, (Induction.1.75)

The physical movement from the tavern to the Lord's house traces the disparity between Sly's status as a poor beggar and the Lord's status as a landowner and nobleman. (It also says a lot about the flexibility of the physical stage.)

Induction, Scene 2
Christopher Sly

SLY
For God's sake, a pot of small ale. (Induction.2.1)

There are plenty of class jokes in the Induction, most of which revolve around the fact that Christopher Sly is a beggar and has no "class." Here, he demands a pot of cheap, light ale, drawing attention to the fact that even when he's hanging out in an estate where more expensive options are preferred, Sly doesn't really know any better.

The Lord

LORD, as Attendant
Thou art a lord, and nothing but a lord; (Induction.2.61)

The means by which the Lord and his crew convince Sly that he is a nobleman and not a beggar suggests that our identities, in part, are formed by the way other people treat us / behave toward us, and also by the names we are called. Sly is called a "Lord" and so he believes it. But that hardly makes Christopher Sly a nobleman, which suggests that some social identities are not as fluid or easily transgressed than others.

Act 1, Scene 1
Baptista Minola

BAPTISTA
And for I know she taketh most delight
In music, instruments, and poetry,
Schoolmasters will I keep within my house
Fit to instruct her youth. (1.1.94-97)

In a time when educating women wasn't exactly a top priority in middle-class households, it's a bit unusual for Baptista to be so concerned with his daughters' educations. Does this make him a doting, loving father with his girls' best interests in mind? Or, is this a way for Baptista to make his daughters even more attractive ("Hey, look, my daughter/wife can read! Can yours?") while nickel-and-diming Bianca's suitors? (He hints here that Hortensio and Gremio should hustle up a couple of teachers if they want to keep him happy.) What are some other Shakespeare plays that address the formal educational of women?

Act 1, Scene 2
Petruchio

GRUMIO
Help, mistress, help! My master is mad.
PETRUCHIO
Now, knock when I bid you, sirrah
   villain! (1.2.19-21)

This overall passage is typically seen as a brilliant moment of comic relief. We think there's also something interesting about the fact that Petruchio has such a hard time controlling and communicating with his servant the first time we see him. How is it that Petruchio is able to control Kate (her behavior and her speech) but not Grumio?

PETRUCHIO
Signior Hortensio, 'twixt such friends as we
Few words suffice; and therefore, if thou know
One rich enough to be Petruchio's wife,
(As wealth is burden of my wooing dance), (1.2.66-69)

We've talked at length about Petruchio's quest for a wealthy wife. On the one hand, this is a typical pursuit for a single, upper-middle-class guy in the 16th-century. On the other hand, we might wonder about Petruchio's true financial state. Is he, as he says earlier, really well off? If he's not, does our perception of him change? Is his sense of social inferiority what drives his behavior?

Grumio

GRUMIO
O this woodcock, what an ass it is! (1.2.161)

Grumio (Petruchio's servant) remarks disdainfully that Gremio (an older suitor of Bianca) is inappropriate in his quest to wed Bianca. The play and the characters take a lot of pleasure in duping Gremio as punishment for his desire for a much, much younger woman.

Act 4, Scene 3
Katherine Minola

KATHERINE
The more my wrong, the more his spite appears.
What, did he marry me to famish me?
Beggars, that come unto my father's door
Upon entreaty have a present alms.
If not, elsewhere they meet with charity. (4.3.2-6)

When Kate complains that Petruchio starves her, she suggests she's treated worse than those who begged for food at her father's door. Kate is treated like a beggar, not simply because she's denied food, but because she's powerless to do anything about it. Despite her social rank, she is just as helpless here as Christopher Sly. Or is she? We're struck by her seeming lack of awareness when she reveals that her father's household often turned away beggars, who had to find charity "elsewhere." Does this make the audience feel less sorry for Kate? Or, does it merely draw out attention to the way women are seen as second class citizens? What's this speech doing here?

Act 5, Scene 1

VINCENTIO
What, you notorious villain, didst thou
never see thy master's father, Vincentio? (5.1.53-54)

Part of the fun of the play is the way servants get to play a part in deceiving authority figures. Here, Vincentio is irate that his servant Biondello pretends not to know him. In the end, though, all aspects of social order are restored and servants put in their "proper" places.

Act 5, Scene 2

WIDOW
Lord, let me never have a cause to sigh
Till I be brought to such a silly pass. (5.2.137-138)

We left this character's name attached to her lines for a reason – First, "Widow's" name is nothing more than her marital status. In other words, she's a stereotypical figure. Second, she's still referred to as "Widow" even after she remarries. Given that a widow had much more freedom (not to mention a genuine legal status as a human being) than married women and unwed daughters, widows were viewed as being dangerously unattached to men who could keep them in line and take care of them. Blegh. This is probably why Hortensio feels the need to attend Petruchio's little training camp for husbands who want to boss around their wives. "Taming school" doesn't help much though – in this scene, Widow mocks her new husband for thinking that he could bend her to his will. We just hope Hortensio didn't have to pay a high tuition rate.

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