Clothing as a motif in "Shrew"

Throughout the inductions and first three acts of this play, it is clear that clothing expresses a lot about the person wearing it. Even within the first induction we see Christopher Sly, a poor man passed out drunk in ratty and torn clothing. In order for the lords trick to work (making him believe he is of higher status than he really is), the lord needs to have Sly bathed and change his clothing; “O monstrous beast! How like swine he lies. Grim death, how foul and loathsome is thine image…What think you: if he were conveyed to bed, wrapped in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers…” (Induction 1, lines 30-34). Through this section alone, we see just how important clothing was in this time. Clothing was an expression of status and wealth, and also shows a lot about a characters personality.
     Clothing also plays an important part between the marriage of Petruccio and Katherine. Petruccio decides to travel to Venice in order to complete some wedding details, one of which happens to be his wedding attire. Not only does Petruccio show up late to his own wedding, but he shows up in secondhand, worn out clothing. To say that he looks like a complete mess would be an understatement; “Why, Petruccio is coming in a new hat and an old jerkin, a pair of old breeches thrice-turned, a pair of boots that have been candle-cases, one buckled, another laced…” (3.2.41-43). The fact that clothing is a representation of status should have influenced Petruccio’s choice of clothing, especially on his wedding day. Clothing represented wealth and status, which were two of the most important qualities in life and marriage back then. Petruccio offers the explanation that “Therefore ha’ done with words. To me she’s married, not unto my clothes. Could I repair what she will wear in me…When I should bid good morrow to my bride, and seal the title with a lovely kiss!” (3.2.109-116). Petruccio is saying that Katherine is not marrying his clothes, she is marrying his personality. This is an odd thing to say due to the importance of clothing and wealth in that period of time.
     Following Petruccio’s arrival like this, Kate and him get married. Gremio describes the wedding; “…he stamped and swore As if the vicar meant to cozen him…This done, he took the bride about the neck and kissed her lips with a clamorous smack…Such a mad marriage never was before…” (3.3.40-55). The fact that he shows up to his wedding in this type of clothing and the wedding is described in this manner could be foreshadowing what is in store for the newlywed couple. Clothing is clearly a motif in “The Taming of the Shrew”.

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5 thoughts on “Clothing as a motif in "Shrew"

  1. Nicole Wissler

    I also thought that this was an interesting aspect to the play and the time period of Shakespeare. Back then it was the color that distinguished your status and when thinking about today we can also tell a lot about the clothes someone wears. There are certain stereotypes that go with different articles of clothing. A girl who wears uggs, leggings, a white tee, and a north face, is characterized as a "typical long island girl." Although it seems odd to think of color to determine a status, it is not much different from how we see people today. Clothing in an event shows the amount of respect or seriousness of a person. Much like the disrespect that Petruccio shows to his wife at his wedding when he shows up in rags, the same can be said for a person who shows up to a job interview in casual clothing. We dress in the way that is believed to be "appropriate" for the occasion. Our clothes today still say a lot about the people who wear them, just like it did in Shakespeare's time.

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  2. Dylan Gerety

    I have been thinking a lot recently of how clothing communicates an implicit statement about someone's status, personality, or taste. I've been struggling with trying to eliminate those schemas from my mental process of observing a person thereby avoiding categorizing or cataloging them as this type of person or that type. Reading this though has helped my to understand that this is just part of being in a society and has dated back to Shakespeare's time. I think that now, in our time, it is understood that one's attire says a lot about them and that we make less of a fuss, especially in storytelling, of how one's clothes says something about their status. What I mean is, Shakespeare is drawing more attention to the idea that the clothes make the man and that garments can, for all intents and purposes, change who a person is in the context of a play. Shakespeare plays with this idea in a great way, daring to mix things up, addressing the heavy emphasis put on attire and thereby undermining the entire way we think about status and clothes.

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  3. Timothy

    This is definitely an important aspect of the play, specifically in the way the clothes are viewed in this play and the effects that they have on the plot. This is seen in the case of Tranio and Lucentio. With a simple exchange of clothes, the master is the servant and the servant is the master. It is quite clear that clothes possess a great deal of power in this play, being capable of changing a man's status in society.

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  4. Ray Kelly

    I found this focus on clothing to be a very interesting aspect of the play. Our society continues to judge people's social status based off the clothing they wear. Clothing often demonstrates wealth or different social groups you may be a part of. I am a big fan of music, and i will often wear concert shirts to demonstrate bands i like or festivals i may have attended. I think Shakespeare was making a statement about how clothing does not always reflect the individual, and how people should not judge others based solely off the clothing they wear.

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  5. Emily MacBrien

    My comment is a few days late but I wanted to point out that in Shakespeare's time it was intensely frowned upon to dress above or below one's place in society. Clothes very much did make the man at that time. A Lord could be identified by the colors he wore, the jewelry and weaponry he was "allowed" to carry, just as a pauper could be characterized by his clothes. It was NOT appropriate at that time for a man to dress as a woman(as many of the actors at that time were doing) and it was not appropriate for a woman to dress as a man. In many cases, people were imprisoned for dressing as a member of the opposite sex. It was thought to signify, in women, immorality, and in men, it was thought to take power away from them; they were not living up to the powerful masculine image that was their inborn right. Dress was an extremely important part of culture in Shakespeare's world. I think that by toying with this concept, by placing different characters in clothing unfitting of their social stature, he's playing a bit with the taboos that existed for people at the time. He's making a comment about the fickleness of stature and rank. What really makes a man if a servant can become a Lord with a simple costume change?

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