The Taming of the Shrew | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Taming of the Shrew | Induction, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Sly wakes up, baffled by his clean clothes and comfortable bed. When the servants address him as their master, he insists there has been a mistake: he is the humble Christopher Sly, not an "Honor" or a "Lordship." The lord from Scene 1 is present too, disguised as one of the servants. He tells Sly his memories of being poor are "abject lowly dreams" and repeats the other servants' claims about Sly's wealth and noble birth.

The lord invites Sly to choose from the pastimes normally reserved for the wealthy: listening to music, admiring fine art, horseback riding, hawking, and hunting. When the "Lady" (the disguised page) shows up, Sly is completely taken in by the disguise. Before the practical joke can go any further, a messenger arrives to announce that the players are ready to perform their comedy.

Analysis

This scene continues the preview of the main plot of The Taming of the Shrew. When he first awakens, Sly is correctly convinced that something is amiss. Soon, however, the temptations of wealth and pleasure cause him to literally forget his former life and accept that maybe he is a nobleman after all. By the time he is told about his lovely wife, Sly has begun to crack: "Am I a lord, and have I such a lady?/Or do I dream? Or have I dreamed till now?" Katherine is stronger-willed and sharper-minded than Sly, but she too will be worn down by Petruchio's psychological warfare. It is a matter of interpretation whether this is because she is a woman and therefore a member of the weaker sex or whether it is because she chooses to submit and in choosing to obey discovers a greater power.

Sly's language shows how awkwardly he is adjusting to his new life as a nobleman. His first request upon waking up is for "a pot of small ale"—weak beer, the drink of the Elizabethan working poor. When his servants offer him sack (imported wine) and conserves (a sweet food similar to jam or marmalade), he protests that he is not used to such fare. His coarse joke about having "more feet than shoes" shows that although he has been dressed as an aristocrat, he has no idea how to act like one.

The boy as lady joke reflects an important fact about theater in Shakespeare's time: Elizabethan acting companies were exclusively male. Shakespeare often uses this practice as a source of humor by having his characters, as well as the actors themselves, switch gender roles. In this case, a boy actor plays the role of a boy (the page) who pretends to be a woman. This creates opportunities for dramatic irony, since the audience is fully aware of all the gender-bending, but the characters are only partially clued in. Sly is so thoroughly fooled by the "Lady's" disguise that he cannot wait to get her into bed. "She" puts him off for reasons that are obvious to the audience, if not to him.

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