Social Hierarchy and Relationship Concepts in Taming of the Shrew

In Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare employs strategies in the play that demonstrate the instability of the characters due to their dependence on social hierarchy and relationship concepts. To emphasize this idea, the play continuously incorporates deception. The social positions of the characters are all defined by their wealth, gender, and profession.

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The society enforces the way the characters should behave and live due to their social positions; therefore, most characters stem away from their social position by employing a disguise to achieve personal happiness. Kate’s sacrifice with social expectations leads her to personal happiness. Kate increases her social standing, while her sister, Bianca, decreases her social standing. To demonstrate the first example of deception and disguise, Christopher Sly, a drunk man at the bar, is being deceived by the Lord. The Lord tells the huntsmen in the bar, Would the beggar then forget himselfPersuade him that he hath been a lunaticFor he is nothing but a mighty lord (Taming, Induction.1, 40-64).

The Lord commands his men to disguise Sly into a nobleman by dressing him in wealthy clothes and having a meal of the finest foods brought to him when he awakens in the Lord’s bed. Although he was always a drunken beggar, Sly believes he is a lord once he is properly dressed and notices the luxurious life he can have if he was an actual lord.

While still being unaware of reality, he is informed that he has a wife and uses the entire situation as a way of trying to lure women into bed.

Sly is being tamed by a life of luxury, and at this point, Sly, the servants, and the Lord are all applying deception within the play. The reason behind Shakespeare’s use of this scene is to prepare the readers for the next events of taming and transforming. Another example of deception and character instability involves Bianca and her suitors. Bianca is the sister of Katherine Minola, the shrew, and daughter of Baptista Minola, a rich man from Padua, Italy.

Bianca’s suitors, Gremio and Hortensio, accompany her wherever she goes. 

During a family outing in Padua, Lucentio arrives with his servant, Tranio. Lucentio notices Bianca and falls in love with her. He moves closer to her; however, he overhears Baptista saying, That is, not to bestow my youngest daughter Before I have a husband for the elder (Taming, I.ii, 50-51). Lucentio and Tranio develop a plan to deceive Bianca’s family in order to marry her. Lucentio will occupy the social role of lowly scholar, and Tranio will occupy the role of Lucentio as a lord.

Lucentio’s disguise enables him to transgress the barrier that exist due to the difference in social class between him and Bianca. Baptista agrees to their marriage, but he decides he wants to meet Lucentio’s father to confirm his intentions. Tranio and Lucentio find a traveling scholar who they convince to impersonate Lucentio’s father, Vincentio, in order for Lucentio to gain Baptista’s approval. 

A moment of irony arises when Lucentio’s real father arrives in Padua, searching for his son. When the real Vincentio arrives at Lucentio’s door, he is distraught at the fact that his own son, along with the traveling scholar, Tranio, and Biondello, all have denied him of being Lucentio’s real father.

Once married, Lucentio reveals to everyone how he has been deceiving them by saying; Here’s Lucentio, Right son to the right Vincentio, that have by marriage made thy daughter mine (V.i, 107-109). Lucentio not only deceived Baptista by lying that he is a schoolmaster, but that the man who possess the position of his father is not really his father.

Tranio simply sabotaged a man into disguising himself as the father of Lucentio, in order to gain Baptista’s trust. Even though Lucentio gains his happiness through deceit, he causes his father to suffer. His father, Vincentio, thought his son was killed since Tranio, his servant, was wearing Lucentio’s clothes. Once he meets his son, he is disciplined by Tranio and Biondello and threatened to be sent to jail if he doesn’t cooperate to their personally valuable comprehension of life.

Vincentio is being punished and becomes powerless due to Lucentio’s acts of deceit to reach his own desired happiness. Both Lucentio’s and Bianca’s relationship with her fathers is anguished due to the amount of deception and disguise performed by the characters. 

Another key point to emphasize the instability of the characters is the relationship of Petruchio and Kate.

According to Baptista, to marry Bianca, someone must marry Kate first. Kate is frustrated with her life, and because of her behavior and lack of expectations, she faces disapproval and is labeled a shrew. Luckily, there is a man from Verona, Petruchio, who arrives in Padua and is seeking a wife. He speaks to Baptista, who is seeking a husband for Kate, and they agree that Petruchio shall be the one to win her love and marry her.

I’ll attend her here and woo her with some spirit when she comes. I’ll tell her plain she sings like a nightingaleshe looks as clear as morning roses I’ll crave the day when I shall ask the banns and when be married (II.i, 168-180). Lucentio assures Baptista that he plans to woo Kate, even if he must use deceit and sentimentality. Petruchio will not be affected by deceiving Kate, because of the substantial settlement he will receive from Baptista. 

After proving his love to Kate, Baptista agrees for them to marry her. During the wedding ceremony, Petruchio’s deception of Kate causes him to embarrass her at the altar.

Following the ceremony, Petruchio takes her to his home, where he will begin to tame her. Their journey to his home is not pleasant, and neither is the arrival at the house. Petruchio temps Kate with fine food and slumber, as a way of depriving her of sleep, food, and sex. Petruchio says; Thus I have politically begun my reign My falcon now is sharp and passing empty, and till she stoop she must not be full-gorged (IV, i, 176-179).

Petruchio later admits to the audience that he is lying to Kate and acting as a cruel man, but he is still showing her love and affection. He will continue to deceive his wife until she is fully obedient and loyal to him.

Towards the end, when Petruchio and Kate return to Baptista’s home, Petruchio tests all the wives to see which will obey their husband. Lucentio calls for Bianca, the perfect woman throughout the play. However, the servant returns saying, Sir, my mistress send you word, That she is busy and she cannot comePray God, sir, your wife send you not a worse (V, ii, 84-89). Bianca, who behaved like the perfect woman and wife, became a shrewish wife, who did not obey her husband, while Kate obeys her husband’s demand and comes to him.

Correspondingly, Kate states Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeperone that cares for theewhat is she but a foul contending rebel and graceless traitor to her loving lord (V.ii, 150-164). Her development is governed by her adaption to her new social role with Petruchio as a wife.

She decides to comply with Petruchio and his deceiving acts of love and control, because at the end, she will be happy. If she accepts her new social obligations, then she will be accepted by those who did not accept her before she married Petruchio. 

Kate’s development into happiness is determined by her adaptation to her new social role as a wife. She conforms with Petruchio’s humiliating treatment of her because she will end up happier than she has been. Her new obligations, whether she likes them or not, have made her community appreciate her more as a woman, than a shrew, in her society.

A possible theory of Kate’s character can be that she has been in disguise all along, acting as a shrew. She wanted to find someone who would be with her and take her away from her families’ mistreatment and social role as a wealthy maiden. At the end of the play, Kate loses her disguise and becomes happy with her life. All the scenes and characters’ treatments of each other echo one another. The Lord treats Christopher Sly as someone who he is not and makes Sly feel deranged.

Tranio, Biondello, and Lucentio use the same verdict on Vincentio when he comes to great his biological son. Petruchio uses a similar verdict when he behaved in a way that was opposite of what Kate said and meant. Similarly, most of the characters have disguised themselves to change their social station.

Some characters increased their social roles, while others have decreased them. Christopher Sly increase in social standing by transforming from a drunk and a beggar into a lord.

Lucentio’s social role decreases because he begins as a lord and transforms into a working-class tutor. His servant, Tranio increases in social standing by taking on the role of Lucentio, a lord. Petruchio enters the play as a gentleman seeking a wife, but he increases his social standing by marrying Kate and gaining wealth from Baptista. Kate and Bianca enter the play as upper class young maidens. 

After marrying Lucentio, Bianca decreases her social standing due to the amount of wealth and nobility of Lucentio, which is less than what she had before. Kate increases her social standing by sacrificing a lot but gaining much better expectations from the other players and audience.

To conclude, through subjects of character instability, Shakespeare emphasizes the idea that deceit a change determines the characters positions, ultimately making their identities unstable. The concepts of changing social standings lead the characters to achieve personal happiness or distraught.

From the title, Taming of the Shrew, the idea of character instability is proved by the characters Kate, the shrew, and Petruchio, her husband, who uses taming to change her.

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Social hierarchy and relationship concepts In Taming of the Shrew. (2019, Jul 15). Retrieved January 29, 2022 , from

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