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.