Character Directory

 

A Lord

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 his pleasures. 

CHRISTOPHER SLY

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 home. 

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

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

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. 

Huntsmen

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 Induction.

Servants 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.
Players

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

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

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 personality.

VINCENTIO

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

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

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. .

However, Petruchio's 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 Shakespeare.

GREMIO

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

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

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

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

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

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 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 shrewish behavior.
NICHOLAS

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

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 behavior.

PHILIP

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

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.

A Pedant

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.

KATHARINA

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.

Kate loves 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

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

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

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 personality. 

Haberdasher

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 his bride.

Servingman

Serving-man is a servant of the country Lord who informs his master of the arrival of the Players in the Induction.

 

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