The Relationships between Servants and Masters

The relationships between servants and masters closely reflect the gender relationships in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Lucentio and Tranio’s relationship as master and servant is an ideal of the Renaissance era. Tranio risks taking the place of his master because of his love for him and Lucentio always treats him with kindness and respect, almost like an equal. Lucentio’s relationship with Bianca reflects his role with Tranio: Bianca shows respect for Lucentio as he cherishes her and treats her with kindness. However, Bianca fails to complete her role as an ideal wife by obeying her husband. however Petruchio and his servant, Grumio, have a much different relationship. Grumio often disobeys his master, while Petruchio insults and even beats him. These roles are echoed in Petruchio’s relationship with Katherine. Shakespeare uses Lucentio and Tranio’s relationship in the play as an ideal for both the master and servant relationship as well as gender relationships. Though Lucentio is the master, he always treats Tranio with respect and kind words. Tranio demonstrates his obedience in part because he is a good servant, but mostly due to the fact that Lucentio treats him so kindly. Though Tranio takes great risk in putting on the apparel of his master, he takes it in order to please Lucentio. Tranio did not wish to be master but rather to have his master’s wish for Bianca to be granted. He does not abuse his temporary power as master with the other servants and continues to treat them as his equals except when he must keep up his pretense around the public. Tranio even goes as far to have Vicentio imprisoned in order to do as Lucentio told him. Tranio’s obedience goes first and foremost to Lucentio even above his higher master, Vincentio. This supports the idea that Tranio does this because of Lucentio’s kindness for him. Lucentio, in turn for his servant’s obedience, takes the blame for all the lies told and role reversals, begging his father not to harm his faithful servant, Tranio. Lucentio’s treatment of Tranio is reflected in his treatment of Bianca and their role as man and woman. Lucentio never mistreats Bianca in anyway but spends the play wooing her and showing her his love. However, Bianca does not completely mimic Tranio’s obedience in her role as wife to Lucentio. Though Bianca is not as stubborn willed and shrewish as her sister, Katherine, she does not obey her husband when he calls her to him. His relationship with Tranio differs slightly from Bianca, Tranio’s servant hood is more apparent and selfless. Petruchio, however, does not treat his servant, Grumio, or wife, Katherine, with love and respect. The scenes that introduce Petruchio and Lucentio begin by depicting their relationships with their servants, as if foreshadowing the way that they will treat their respective wives. Grumio misunderstands his master when he asks him to knock on Hortensio’s gate, after asking just one question Petruchio already loses his temper. After arguing for a while, Petruchio even rings him by the ear. Later in the play, Petruchio also strikes Grumio and his other servants. Though he never physically strikes Katherine, he starves her, doesn’t let her sleep, and embarasses her in public. Petruchio’s role with her and Grumio are sadly similar. Both Katherine and Grumio, however, do not do their part to be obedient and kind servants to Petruchio. Not until the very end of the play does Katherine finally give in to Petruchio’s demands and act kind to him. She constantly lashes out during his wooing, and his proclamations of love to her, though they are shown in an uncaring way. Katherine and Grumio for the most part, however, act the way they do because Petruchio treats them how he does. Shakespeare may have changed Katherine to speak like she has adopted the right traits of a wife by the end of the play, but it is not clear that Petruchio ever changes his attitudes to be a protective and caring leader. It is clear that out of the four relationships, the servant/master relationship of Tranio and Lucentio is closest to that of the ideals of the Christian people in Shakespeare’s time. Even though disarray is formed as Lucentio trades roles with Tranio, the audience can still see the humble heart of Tranio and his love for his master: a relationship that is the ideal for husbands and wives as well.

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