The Taming of the Shrew | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Taming of the Shrew | Act 1, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

As the scene begins Lucentio has just arrived in Padua with his servant Tranio. In his opening monologue he tells the audience about his noble birth and upbringing, as well as his travels throughout northern Italy. Born in Pisa and raised in Florence, Lucentio has come to Padua to further his education. He plans to focus on philosophy, but Tranio advises him to pursue a well-rounded course of study including mathematics, music, poetry, and science.

While Lucentio and Tranio are discussing lodgings, Baptista Minola enters with his daughters, Katherine and Bianca. Also present are Gremio and Hortensio, Bianca's suitors. Tranio assumes this is the welcoming committee; actually, Baptista is wrapped up in an argument with the suitors and doesn't even notice the newcomers. He reminds Gremio and Hortensio of his decision "not to bestow my youngest daughter/Before I have a husband for the elder." They must steer clear of Bianca, he says, but they are free to court Katherine if they wish. Gremio, Hortensio, and Katherine are all horrified by this suggestion.

Before leaving the stage with his daughters, Baptista drops a hint to Gremio and Hortensio: if they really want to get on his good side, they should help him find schoolmasters for Bianca. The two suitors decide to put aside their rivalry until they can find a husband for Katherine. The only problem, they agree, is finding someone stupid or greedy enough to want to marry her. Having formed a temporary alliance, the two men exit.

This leaves Lucentio and Tranio onstage. Lucentio is so smitten with Bianca that he has barely heard the conversation, but Tranio catches him up on what has happened. The two men concoct a scheme of their own: Lucentio will pose as a traveling tutor, and Tranio will pretend to be Lucentio. Lucentio's other servant, Biondello, arrives just in time to hear their plan.

Analysis

This is the first scene of the main play, and it moves fast: by the end of the scene, every major character but Petruchio is present, the dramatic situation is spelled out, and everyone's motives are made clear. Right away Shakespeare suggests that Lucentio and Bianca are made for each other. Bianca "taketh most delight/In music, instruments, and poetry" and is happier with a good book than in the company of most people. Lucentio has moved to Padua for the sole purpose of studying philosophy; Tranio has to cajole him into adding some extracurricular activities to his schedule. Quiet and scholarly, Lucentio stands apart from the other suitors, who show little interest in Bianca's personality or intelligence.

The standout character in this scene, however, is Katherine, who is described as too ill-tempered for any sane man to marry: Hortensio goes so far as to call her a "devil." Katherine, for her part, promises that if she were married to Hortensio, she would "comb [his] noddle with a three-legged stool"—in other words, hit him over the head with a chair. (In Act 3 she does end up hitting Hortensio over the "noddle," but with a lute, not a chair.) Tranio finds this exchange hilarious, but Gremio's and Hortensio's gibes at Katherine reveal a nastier side to their personalities. Hortensio likens her to a "rotten apple," and Gremio says he'd rather be whipped publicly every morning than marry Katherine. If this is her reputation among the bachelors in town, it is no wonder Baptista has had trouble finding her a husband.

In discussing his travels Lucentio likens himself to a person who "leaves/A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep/And with satiety seeks to quench his thirst." It may seem odd to liken Pisa to a tiny pond of learning, since it is home to one of the world's oldest universities. In Shakespeare's day, however, Padua was internationally famous as a center of scholarship, ranking alongside Oxford and Paris. The city's academic resources are the "deep" waters from which Lucentio is so eager to drink.

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