The Taming of the Shrew | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Taming of the Shrew | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Lucentio and Hortensio (disguised as her tutors) continue to vie for Bianca's affections. Bianca expresses her frustration at being seen as a prize to be fought over. Under the guise of giving a Latin vocabulary lesson, Lucentio reveals he has "disguised [himself] thus to get [Bianca's] love." Bianca tells Lucentio she neither knows nor trusts him, so he should not presume she will return his affections. At the same time, she advises him not to despair.

Now it is Hortensio's turn to teach. His music lesson, much like Lucentio's Latin, consists of a poem designed to teach her the notes of the scale, while also delivering a not-so-subtle message about "Hortensio's passion." Bianca rebuffs Hortensio civilly, but a little more decisively than she chided Lucentio. A servant enters and calls for Bianca's help in getting Katherine's bridal chamber ready.

Analysis

Both of Bianca's tutors see their lessons as an opportunity not just to flirt, but to dazzle her with their wit and cultivation. For his attempt Hortensio offers a rather cutesy love poem, not much better than the doggerel that Hamlet writes to Ophelia. Bianca responds matter-of-factly: "Tut, I like it not." Hortensio's churlish behavior—for example, calling Lucentio a "base knave"—may also help to explain why Bianca finds him a less appealing suitor than Lucentio.

The text Lucentio picks is more sophisticated than Hortensio's love poem, and it gives him a much better chance to show off his intellect and good taste. The two Latin lines are taken from the Heroides by Ovid, a collection of imagined verse letters from famous mythic heroines to their husbands and lovers. They come from the first letter, written in the persona of Penelope to her husband Ulysses. The lines themselves are simply a brief description of the ruins of Troy, but the poem in its entirety is a long, anguished love lyric from a woman who doubts she will ever see her husband again. To add insult to injury, Penelope is beset by greedy suitors living off her wealth and waiting impatiently for her to choose a new husband. In this regard she is a bit like a more mature version of Bianca, who is besieged by suitors of her own and not allowed to choose freely for herself. By selecting this poem as the text for their lesson, Lucentio signals that he is at least somewhat sympathetic to Bianca's plight.

For its comic effect the scene depends on the audience's knowing that the Latin lines do not match the English translations. Thus, Lucentio and Bianca offer a startling example of people boldly insisting that one thing actually stands for another, in front of Hortensio, no less. Therefore, the scene foreshadows later conversations between another couple, in which Petruchio will tell a tailor that a dress has been poorly made, despite his own handwritten instructions to make it so, or when he tells Kate that the shining sun in the midday blaze is the moon, both of which are acted out in front of a disbelieving Hortensio.

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