Identity in Taming of the Shrew

After reading the two inductions and Act I, the aspect of the play that most struck me was the ease in which the characters change or develop their identities.  In the second induction, the Lord has tricked Sly into thinking that he is actually a lord and that he’s been ill the last 15 years with the delusional thought that he’s a poor beggar.  Sly does in fact resist this sudden change until he is told he has a wife, which immediately causes him to take on the persona of an actual lord.  “Upon my life, I am a lord indeed, and not a tinker, nor Christopher Sly” (1.1 70-71).  Treating Sly as if he’s a lord with a beautiful wife eventually convinces him that the situation holds truth, despite his first protests.

The second character to change identities, for similar reasons to Sly, is Lucentio.  Arriving in Padua to study at the university, his plans quickly change after he lays eyes on Bianca, the younger daughter of Baptista.  To get close to Bianca, who is shut away from suitors by her father until his elder daughter is married, Lucentio decides to disguise himself as a schoolteacher.   His servant Tranio then disguises himself as Lucentio and takes his place at the university.  As Norton cites, the exchanging of clothes is very important because it emphasizes “the ease with which social identity is shifted” and is an “important visual enactment of one of the play’s main preoccupations” (1.1 205, note 8).  Tranio is obviously in a social class far beneath Lucentio’s, but Lucentio dons Tranio’s clothes without a second thought in the hopes of winning Bianca’s heart.   Clothing also proved important for Sly’s transformation as well, as the Lord ordered him to be dressed in fine clothing to help convince him of his new position in life. 

I thought it was interesting that both men shift their positions in society for women they have never met.  Sly accepts his new life as a lord simply because a woman is introduced to him as being his wife, and Lucentio accepts a lower status in society for a chance to be with Bianca.  Through these identity shifts, Shakespeare shows how much our behavior changes when placed in certain situations, or when we’re treated in a certain way.  Sly believes his new life because he is treated as such, Lucentio embraces his new way of life with the newfound belief that he is in love.  Shakespeare also shows the bizarre power women seem to have over men, as the male characters are willing to change everything about their lives because of a beautiful woman.  

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3 thoughts on “Identity in Taming of the Shrew

  1. elisebrucche

    Wow, the connection between Sly’s decision to accept his status as Lord and Lucentio’s plan to switch places with Tranio is really intriguing, especially with its implication of the power that women have on men. It begs the question, “how permanent/genuine is the change?” Readers sort of know that both Sly and Lucentio will eventually revert to their normal roles, suggesting that while women may be able to inspire men to transform during their initial interactions, they may not be able to sustain the transformation over a longer period. In turn, women are forced to come up with new ways to make themselves heard. I also like the way you point out the how marriage and class interact in the frame play and the play-within-a-play. Marriage has always been a tool for powerful families to vye for status. Traditionally, one would marry up into a family more powerful than your own (sort of like how Sly wakes up supposedly married to a noble lady, an idea that has enough credence and attraction that he decides to go along with the ruse). Yet, as you point out, Shakespeare plays around with the idea, portraying Lucentio pretending to be in the lower class in order to see Bianca. Perhaps this is a connection to Shakespeare’s own time. Many of the noble families no longer enjoyed the same ample fortunes as they once did and they would often take a spouse from the richer merchant class, an act that could be seen as marrying down.

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  2. Amanda M.

    I also liked seeing the character so easily change their persona at a drop of a hat. Sly’s quick transformation was comical when he thinks he has a beautiful wife that weeps for him. I like the insight you have about how Lucentio, he too changed his persona and plans just because he set eyes on Bianca. I suppose love makes you do crazy things.

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  3. cassieerossetti

    The strength that changing an outfit has during this time is really remarkable! What is interesting how status is showed to be solely material, how one can shed their status and responsibility by merely changing their clothes. It poses the question: How important can being rich or royal be if it is mostly determined by the clothes one wears?

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