Lord is a country
gentleman who appears in the Induction. The Lord takes in the besotted and
unconscious Christopher Sly and, as a practical joke, installs the rustic
tinker in his home as a gentleman. The Lord is not a three-dimensional
character, but he offers a plausible picture of a country gentleman amid
Christopher Sly is a
drunken tinker and the principal figure of the Induction. In these two
scenes, Sly is found asleep outside a tavern by a local landowner, the
Lord, who decides to play a practical joke and has him installed as a
gentleman in his home. Sly awakes to find himself treated like an
aristocrat and told he has been insane to imagine himself a poor drunkard.
As part of the joke, a troupe of P layers performs 'a pleasant comedy'
(Ind.2.130) for Sly; this drama is The Taming of the Shrew. Sly is last
seen dozing in an Interlude(1.1.248-253).
Sly is a boldly drawn
minor figure, full of drunken pretensions and country sayings, comically
ready to assume his new life of ease, though insisting on his poor man's
taste for ale over the gentry's wine. His succinct autobiography—'by birth
a pedlar, by education a cardmaker, by transmutation a bear-herd, and now
... a tinker' (Ind.2.18-21)—gives representation to a multitude of obscure
lives among the 16th-century poor. Sly makes numerous explicit references
to people and places in the Stratford area, and this portrait of a rustic
sot clearly derives from the young Shakespeare's recollections of his old
Although Sly's story
ends abruptly after 1.1 in the oldest edition of The Taming of the Shrew,
in the First Folio of 1623, it is complete in The Taming of a Shrew,
believed to be a Bad Quarto of Shakespeare's play and to contain
Shakespeare's original rendition of Sly's adventure: in three further
interludes, Sly remarks on the play, eating and drinking all the while.
In a fifth episode, he has fallen asleep and the Lord orders him returned
to the spot where he had been found. In a 23-line Epilogue to A Shrew, Sly
is discovered by the Tapster of the tavern, who remarks that Sly's wife
will be angry with him for staying out all night. Sly replies that he need
not fear his wife, for he has had a dream that has taught him how to deal
with her. Sly was probably played by William Sly.
Hostess is the
proprietor of the tavern from which Christopher Sly emerges at the
beginning of the Induction. Sly may be referring to her, in Ind.2.21, as
Marian Hacket, believed to have been a real person who lived in a hamlet
near Stratford and whom Shakespeare presumably\knew as a boy. In any case,
the brief appearance of (.his angry but businesslike barmaid contributes
to the believable rural atmosphere of the Induction.
Page is a servant of
the local Lord, who directs him to masquerade as the wife of the deluded
Christopher Sly in the Induction. He humorously discourages Sly's sexual
advances, and his performance as a wife foreshadows the ideal of womanly
obedience that the main play advocates. His instructions are to request,
as a real wife would, 'What is't your honour will command, / Wherein your
lady and your humble wife / May show her duty and make known her love?'
(Ind. 1.112-115), and he presents himself to Sly as 'your wife in all
obedience' (Ind.2.108). These attitudes are precisely those prescribed for
wives by the converted Kate in 5.2.
Huntsman are either
of two minor characters in the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew,
servants of a local landowner, the Lord. In Ind.l the Huntsmen assist the
Lord in his practical joke on Christopher Sly, which is the business of
the introductory scenes. The Huntsmen's role in the plot could have been
filled by servants of any sort, but the Lord's conversation with them on
the merits of his hounds contributes to the rural atmosphere of the
Servants are workers in the home of the
Lord who takes in Christopher Sly in the Induction. On the Lord's
instructions, the Servants offer Sly the pleasures of gentlemanly life,
encouraging him to believe that he has been insane in believing himself a
poor drunkard. Another is a worker in the household of Baptista. The
Servant escorts the disguised suitors of Bianca in 2.1 and, in 3.1, brings
Bianca a message about the imminent wedding of her sister, Kate. In
the First Folio text of the play, the name 'Nicke' designates the Servant
in the speech heading at 3.1.80. Scholars recognize a reference to the
actor who played the part, perhaps Nicholas Tooley.
The players are a
traveling company of actors. In the Induction the Players are hired by the
local Lord, who is amusing himself by providing gentlemanly amenities to a
drunken tinker, Christopher Sly. The Players perform 'a pleasant comedy'
(Ind.2.130) for Sly; this play is The Taming of the Shrew. One of the
Players, identified in various editions as 'A Player', 'First Player', and
'Second Player', is designated by the name of a real Elizabethan actor in
a speech heading in the First Folio edition of the play; the part was
played by John Sincklo in an early production.
Messenger is the
announcer, in the Induction, of the performance by the Playersthat begins
the play proper. In Ind.2 he informs Sly of the coming presentation and
recommends viewing it as a healthy pastime. Various editions of the play
have assigned his part to the Lord or a Servant.
Baptista is the
father of Kate and Bianca. Baptista is an ineffectual elderly
gentleman, a comic figure in a tradition going back to ancient Roman
drama. He is frequently the butt of Kate's outbursts of temper. He
insists on marrying off his elder daughter first, aggravating Kate's
already shrewish nature. In 2.1, once assured that Kate is betrothed,
Baptista literally auctions Bianca to the highest bidder; his calculating
behavior stands in pointed contrast to the infatuation of Bianca's lover,
Lucentio. These are standard attitudes and actions of a conventional
father-of-the-girl figure; otherwise, Baptista has virtually no
Vincentio is the
father of Lucentio. Vincentio, described as 'a sober ancient gentleman'
(5.1.65), arrives in Padua to find himself impersonated by the Pedant and
Lucentio by his servant Tranio. He is understandably angry, but otherwise
he has no distinctive personality traits.
Lucentio is the
successful suitor of Bianca. Lucentio, aided by his servant Tranio,
disguises himself as a tutor of languages and thus gains access to Bianca,
against the wishes of her father, Baptista. Eventually, he elopes with his
lover. His wealthy father, Vincentio assures Baptista that he will provide
an adequate financial settlement on the couple, and Lucentio is forgiven,
only to find, in the final scene, that Bianca is not the ideally demure
young bride he had anticipated.
Although the romance
of Bianca and Lucentio is contrasted to the mercenary calculations other
father, Lucentio is a rather bloodless lover. He is simply a
stereotype—the handsome young male romantic lead—representing a tradition
as old as ancient Roman drama. However, in earlier plays, this character
tended to marry for money and extend romantic love to mistresses and
courtesans; Shakespeare's alteration reflects his concern with love in
marriage, a major theme of The Taming of the Shrew.
Petruchio is the
suitor, bridegroom, and ‘tamer’ of Kate, the shrew of the title.
Petruchio is sometimes seen as a tyrannical male, selfishly dominating a
woman who cannot escape him. However, this view reflects certain modern
attitudes towards marriage and ignores both the world in which the
character was created and the actual text of the play. Petruchio does not
physically abuse her or humiliate Kate, and in 'submitting' to him,
she merely assumes the conventional role of a wife. At the end of the play
she is quite evidently grateful for the change that he has wrought in her
life. Theirs is a love story, though this is a subtle element set among
the play's several comic plots. Bluff and hearty, Petruchio is a humorous
figure—seen in ludicrous clothes while indulging in spectacular tantrums,
he provides laughs in an age-old fashion—but his primary role in the play
is more serious. Although his attitude towards marriage is distinctly
mercenary—'I come to wive it wealthily in Padua', he says (1.2.74)—he is
also attracted to Kate. He is unafraid of her shrewishness, and he
sees that the high spirits that underlie her terrible temper may be a
positive character trait. His ironic response to the account of her
assault on Hortensio (2.1.160-162) reflects a willingness to deal with
such a person—he is attuned to Kate even before he has met her. After
the 'taming', when they enjoy their first loving kiss (5.1. 137-138), his
sentimental reaction reflects his real affection for her. His response to
her whole-hearted commitment to a wifely role, in her banquet speech in j
5.2, is simple delight, better expressed in a kiss than in words. .
importance is not as Kate's lover but as her 'tamer'. He is the
instrument of the personality change that is the central event of the
play. He overrides her outbursts with his insistence that she is actually
gentle and mild, and he behaves with all the virulence any shrew could
ever summon. He perceptively senses in Kate both her desire for
appreciation and her instinctive distaste for shrewish conduct, and he
induces her to assume the role of a normal Elizabethan wife. He does not
simply bludgeon her into submission—as is common in the literature of
shrewish wives, before and after Shakespeare's time—but rather functions
as a teacher and guide. For much of his time on stage, Petruchio is
explicitly playing a part—like many of Shakespeare's protagonists—and only
pretends to be a comical tyrant. It is significant that his most important
actions in this role occur off-stage and are described by other
characters; in 3.2 Biondello describes his outrageous appearance on his
wedding day, and then Gremio describes his outlandish behavior at the
ceremony; in 4.1 Grumio tells of his intemperate behavior on the journey
from Padua, and Curtis recounts his ranting delivery of an immoderate
lecture on moderation. This forces the audience to think about
Petruchio's ploys rather than simply watch them and emphasizes that
Petruchio's shrew-taming is a kind of education: he teaches Kate that
her evil-tempered ways are not desirable and that another behavior pattern
is superior. He is training Kate as he would a hawk, as he describes
in 4.1.175-198, and the conceit, although comically grotesque, becomes a
metaphor for the socializing process.
Petruchio carries out
his functions somewhat mechanically—he states his purposes and
accomplishes them, and as a lover he is simply sentimental—but he
nevertheless possesses a distinct personality. A genially self-confident
aristocrat, he delights in the good life He understands the appeal of
excellent food and fine clothes, and in the final banquet scene he is
clearly at home amid the pleasures of merry company. Petruchio doubtless
incorporates traits of Elizabethan gentlemen who had hosted the young
Gremio is a suitor of
Bianca. Gremio is referred to as a 'pantaloon' (3.1.36), the humorous
figure of a greedy old man in the Commedia Dell’Arte, and he is indeed
simply a character type with little real personality. He is comically
cowardly, fearful that the assertiveness of Petruchio will offend
Baptista, Bianca's father. His own style is offensively humble;
approaching Baptista, he refers to himself as a 'poor petitioner'
(2.1.72), in the obsequious language of a minor courtier. He lies about
his wealth when Baptista promises his daughter to the wealthiest suitor,
but to no avail. Gremio is absurdly ineffective; in fact, in his attempt
to win Bianca's hand he actually introduces the successful suitor into her
presence, for in 2.1 he hires the disguised Lucentio as a tutor for the
girl, hoping to impress her father.
Hortensio is a suitor
of Bianca. A bland young man who is outsmarted in his campaign to win
Bianca, Hortensio is an appropriate character to enter, ludicrously pale
'for fear' (2.1.143), to report Kate’s assault on him with a lute,
thus providing an image of the 'shrew' of the title at her worst. After
losing Bianca, Hortensio turns to a Widow who has pursued him. He visits
the country house of Petruchio to observe that character's shrew-taming
techniques, but it is unclear at the play's end whether Hortensio will be
strong enough to use them when he needs them, for the Widow proves, in
5.2, to be a formidable shrew herself.
Tranio is a servant
who impersonates his master, Lucentio In 1.1 Tranio proposes that Lucentio
disguise himself as a humble tutor in order to approach Bianca, and when
he'is assigned to take Lucentio's place and maintain his household in
Padua, Tranio is entirely at ease in the role. He plays a smooth young
nobleman with education and wit enough to cite classical authors while
ingratiating himself with Baptista. His initiative propels the Subplot he
launches Lucentio's courtship; in 2.1 he outbids Gremio for Bianca's hand
in his master's name; he conceives (2.1) and carries out (4.2, 4.4) the
impersonation by the Pedant of Lucentio's father, Vincentio; and he
arranges for Lucentio and Bianca's elopement (4.4). And he is sufficiently
bold to carry on with his plot even when the real Vincentio appears (5.1).
However, for all his cleverness, he has little personality; he is a stock
character, a comically deceitful servant deriving ultimately from ancient
Roman drama. In fact, Shakespeare took the name Tranio from The Haunted
House, by Plautus, where it is given to a witty and resourceful slave
who tells inventive lies in his master's behalf.
Biondello is a
servant of Lucentio. Biondello acts as servant to his fellow employee,
Tranio, who is disguised as their master. His mischievous delight in the
situation lends humorous force to his only important passage, the
description of Petruchio approaching the wedding (3.2.30-83).
Grumio is a servant
Petruchio. Grumio is a distinctly English comic figure in all respects
except his name. At 1.2.28, he even fails to recognize Italian. Grumio
represents a long theatrical tradition—the comical servant whose nonsense
masks shrewdness. His wily foolishness is a vehicle for humor when, in
1.2, he remarks sharply on the mercenary marriage that his master is
pursuing. It can also be a means of manipulating others, as when he
feigns incomprehension—first with Kate and later with the Tailor—in
4.3. His name comes from a character in an ancient Roman play, The
Haunted House, by Plautus.
Curtis is a servant
of Petruchio. Curtis, who has been in charge of the household in his
master's absence, greets the returning Grumio and engages him in comical
repartee at the beginning of 4.1. Later in the scene, he is one of the
servants whom Petruchio abuses as part of his program to demonstrate to
Kate the ugliness of shrewish behavior. Curtis' name is thought to be
that of an actor who played him, possibly Curtis Greville.
Nathaniel is a member of the household
staff of Petruchio Nathaniel is one of the servants whom Petruchio abuses
in 4.1 as part of his demonstration to Kate of the ugliness of
Nicholas is a member
of the household staff of Petruchio. Nicholas is one of the servants whom
Petruchio abuses in 4.1 as part of his demonstration to Kate of the
ugliness of shrewish behavior.
Joseph is a servant
of Petruchio. Joseph is one of the servants whom Petruchio abuses in 4.1,
as part of his demonstration to Kate of the ugliness of shrewish
Philip is a member of
the household staff of Petruchio. Philip is one of the servants whom
Petruchio abuses in 4.1 as part of his demonstration to Kate of the
ugliness of shrewish behavior.
Peter is a servant of
Petruchio. Peter is one of several servants whom Petruchio abuses in 4.1.
The servants realize that their master's oppressive behavior is part of
his strategy for taming his shrewish bride, Kate, and Peter delivers
a succinct analysis of it in the longer of his two lines: 'He kills her in
her own humor' (4.1.167). Peter is not named in any of the several lists
of Petruchio's servants that are recited in the scene. This fact, combined
with the mute appearance in 4.4 of a servant of Lucentio identified as
Peter in a stage direction, suggests that his name may be that of an actor
who took both small parts, the second of which appears to have been cut.
However, no scholar has been able to identify the actor, and there is
nothing inherently improbable in the existence of two Peters.
Pedant is a traveling
tutor who impersonates Vincentio. The Pedant has no personality; he serves
merely to fill out the plot of deception and disguise. He flees when his
imposture is revealed and is not mentioned again.
Kate is the
title character in The Taming of the Shrew, An ill-tempered young
woman courted, married, and 'tamed' by Petruchio. Kate is sometimes
thought of as a representative oppressed woman, dominated by a selfish man
and trapped in a loveless marriage. But this point of view is based on
modern notions of marital relations (see 'Commentary' on the play), and it
obscures the real nature of the character. Kate undergoes a positive
transformation during the play: she is freed from an unhappy emotional
state, and she enters a happy marriage.
In Acts 1-3 Kate
is presented as a volatile and distinctly unhappy person. She is a
familiar type, a young adult who resents the rejection she receives, yet,
in an effort to feel immune to the opinions of others, she simply makes
herself less likeable by belligerently taking exception to everything. In
addition, she has clearly been compared to her younger sister—the
deceptively sweet Bianca—too often for comfort. The psychological pressure
within Kate bursts forth in violence, both threatened and actual.
Not content with curtly dismissing the rudeness of Hortensio, for example,
she goes on to express a desire to 'comb your noddle with a three-legg'd
stool' (1.1.64). Corrected by a music teacher (Hortensio again, in
disguise), she assaults him with a lute. Her envy and suspicion of Bianca
drive her to physical abuse in 2.1. When she first encounters Petruchio,
knowing only that he is a suitor, she repeatedly insults him (2.1.195-259)
and she slaps him to 'try' (2.1.217) his gentlemanliness.
In Acts 4-5, however,
Kate changes, under the forceful guidance of Petruchio. His 'taming'
consists of demonstrating that she need not continue to be an outcast,
disliked and shunned, and that there is indeed a place in the world that
she can occupy happily. His persistent references to her calm and
sweetness—initially fictitious—make her realize the psychological benefits
that such attributes could bring: acceptance and a sense of moral worth.
His own behavior shows her the ugliness of shrewishness. She chooses to
reject her bristly defensiveness and assume the role of an ordinary wife.
She will admit that the world is not hers to control; in return, she will
have the emotional security of a prescribed place in it. The
submissiveness that Kate accepts, and that troubles modern readers,
was simply held to be a conventional attribute of a wife: Shakespeare and
his contemporaries of both sexes believed that the Bible, as well as
long-hallowed tradition, prescribed hierarchical relationships among
humans: husbands ruled wives, as parents ruled children, as monarchs ruled
commoners, and as God ruled all. Kate voices this belief in her
banquet speech in 5.2.
Petruchio. She indicates as much in the grace with which she kisses him at
the end of 5.1, and her speech in 5.2 is an implicit expression of her
love. At the banquet she has already demonstrated her obedience and need
not do more; Petruchio has merely asked her for a statement of principle,
as much to aggravate the Widow’s and Bianca as anything else. She goes far
beyond his intent, specifically referring to her own experience and
stating that she is grateful for inclusion in the system she describes.
The entirely spontaneous physical act of submission that closes her speech
symbolizes the wifely duty demanded in this system, but it is also
directed to her husband, as an expression of her gratitude. That this
gesture is loving is confirmed by his affectionate response to it.
Kate has found not only comfort in an assured position in society,
but happiness in a loving marriage. She is thus the vehicle for an
elaboration of two of Shakespeare's persistent concerns: the virtue of an
ordered, hierarchical social system and the value of marriage as a venue
for love. Her psychological transformation also reflects his fascination
with the mysteries of the human personality. Kate's is a small part,
for all its importance, and, while boldly drawn, she lacks the subtlety of
later Shakespearean heroines who resemble her, such as Beatrice in Much
Ado About Nothing. It is noteworthy that Kate shares with several
of the playwright's most lovingly developed female characters, as well as
with the 'Dark Lady' of the Sonnets, a sharp temper and a dark complexion
(see 2.1.248-249). It seems possible (though altogether unprovable) that
these characters share the traits of a woman (entirely unidentifiable) who
was romantically important to Shakespeare. The thought certainly adds
resonance to his portrait of a shrew.
Bianca is a young
woman courted by three men, Lucentio, Hortensio, and Grumio, in the
subplot of the play. At first, Bianca seems simply a demure and dutiful
foil for her shrewish older sister, the title character, Kate.
Kate's stubbornness prevents Bianca from marrying, since their
father, Baptista, has ordered that the elder must be wed first. Bianca's
sweet submissiveness also seems to make her a perfect object for the
stereotypical romantic rapture of Lucentio, who elopes with her at the
climax of the subplot.
However, Bianca is
more complex than she initially appears. She is catty and self-righteous
when she resists Kate's violence in 2.1, not only declaring her own
virtue but also twitting her sister about her age. Furthermore, Bianca
draws attention to her supposed moral superiority over Kate, as when
she admonishes her sister to 'content you in my discontent' (1.1.80). Her
ambiguous sweetness may help to explain Kate's generalised
belligerence, which has presumably flowered after frequent comparison with
her sister's apparent virtue.
When alone with her
tutors (not yet revealed to be suitors in disguise), Bianca is decidedly
wilful, insisting, 'I'll not be tied to hours nor 'pointed times, / But
learn my lessons as I please myself (3.1.19-20). She is haughtily
flirtatious with Lucentio ('presume not . . . despair not' [3.1.43]), and
she rejects Hortensio with curt brutality. We are not surprised to find
Bianca shrewish herself in the final scene, holding Lucentio up to
ridicule for believing in her wifely obedience. This revelation
emphasizes the ironic contrast between the two sisters' marriages.
Kate has found true love after an explicitly mercenary courtship,
whereas Bianca's union with Lucentio, the product of a conventionally
idyllic romance, seems likely to be unhappy.
Widow is the bride of
Hortensio. The Widow first appears at the banquet in 5.2. She is-unwilling
to obey her new husband, although he believes he is able to control her,
having watched Petruchio handle the shrewish Kate. When the men bet
on the obedience of their wives, the Widow flatly refuses Hortensio's mild
request, and Kate gives her a lengthy lecture on a wife's proper
duties. The Widow has no developed personality; she serves simply as a
foil for the newly obedient Kate.
Tailor is an artisan
whom Petruchio abuses. Commissioned by Petruchio to provide a gown for
Kate, the Tailor is driven away by his client. Petruchio's
mistreatment of this innocent man is simply part of his demonstration to
his bride of the ugliness of shrewish behavior. Although the Tailor
defends himself before being routed, he otherwise has no distinctive
Haberdasher is an
artisan whom Petruchio abuses. The Haberdasher, who has been commissioned
to make a hat for Kate, speaks only one line before being driven away
by his client, who is demonstrating the ugliness of shrewish behavior to
Serving-man is a
servant of the country Lord who informs his master of the arrival of the
Players in the Induction.
To view other Taming
of the Shrew sections:
Main Play Page
Scene by Scene Synopsis
To view the other Plays
To view other
Shakespeare Library sections: