The Taming of the Shrew | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

The play begins with two sections labeled Induction, Scene 1 and Induction, Scene 2. These scenes introduce and set the stage for the play that will follow.

At an alehouse Christopher Sly, a tinker, is having a heated argument with the hostess. He has broken some glassware and is unwilling (perhaps unable) to pay for the damaged goods. The hostess threatens to throw him in the stocks, then leaves the stage to call for the "headborough," a local policeman. Sly tells her off and falls asleep.

While the hostess is offstage, a lord passes by the alehouse after a long day of hunting. Noticing the sleeping Christopher Sly, he decides to play a trick and orders his huntsmen to carry Sly back to the manor. There, they are to get him cleaned up and put him to bed in the finest chamber in the house. When he wakes up, they are to treat him as their master.

Just then a group of traveling players arrives, and the lord invites them to stay with him for the night. He tells them an eccentric nobleman friend of his (actually Sly) will be attending their show and warns them not to be put off by his "odd behavior." Finally, he issues orders for his page, Bartholomew, to dress as a lady and pretend to be Sly's wife. As he leaves the stage, the lord congratulates himself on the brilliance of his joke.

Analysis

Although he is a minor character, Christopher Sly makes a strong impression with his colorful language and devil-may-care attitude. Like other comic characters in Shakespeare, Sly uses a mixture of slang and high-sounding Latin phrases (paucas pallabris means few words), often stating simple ideas in unnecessarily complicated ways. (Falstaff in the Henry IV plays is the prime example of this kind of mixed-up rhetoric.) Christopher Sly's counterpart in A Shrew (see Context) has a much bigger role than Sly does here, suggesting that such swaggering, fast-talking characters were well-liked by Elizabethan playgoers.

The lord's practical joke eases the audience into the themes of disguise, deception, and transformation in the main play. Christopher Sly is easily duped into forgetting himself when he is taken out of his usual surroundings and treated differently. In his case some clean clothes, a nice meal, and a beautiful wife are all it takes. But what the lord does as a joke, Petruchio later does in earnest, taking Katherine away from her family so he can break her will and reshape her personality. However, for her, the situation is neither a joke nor a temporary mishap; a fact that has caused the play to be reevaluated over time and performed in many different ways.

This is also the first time, though not the last, that music is employed as a tool for changing someone's perception of reality. The lord instructs his servants to have musicians ready to "make a dulcet and a heavenly sound" when Sly wakes. This, along with the costly furnishings and pleasant perfumes, will lull Sly into believing he really is a nobleman—one who just happened to dream about being a tinker.

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