In the outer play, the lord dresses Sly up as a lord and makes the page boy dress as a wife to Sly, “I know the boy will well usurp the grace, Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman. These aforementioned characters all try to change their appearance in a plot to gain the love of the beautiful and succumbing younger sister of Kate, Bianca.
As Lucentio illuminates it, “And let me be a slave t’achieve that maid, Whose sudden sigh hath thrilled my wounded eye. Tranio, Lucentio’s servant is forced to dress as Lucentio to try to get permission for Lucentio to marry Bianca from Bianca’s father.
As explained by Victor Cahn, “virtually no one in the cast proceeds honestly except Petruchio, whose early protestations about Katherine’s beauty and good nature turn out to be uncannily accurate,” (10.
The disguises are important in this play because they allow the characters to go between the social barriers and also set up two questions; do the clothes make the man and can you judge a book by its cover?
Each of the characters are temporarily successful with their disguise but eventually all falls apart.
All it takes to reveal Tranio’s identity is for him to bump into the real Lucentio’s father, Vincentio.
We find that the clothes are not what is important, just like Petruchio implies on his wedding day, “To me she’s married, not unto my clothes,” line 111. I could not see why Kate needed to be tamed at all, but just assumed it to be the time period in which the play was written. When I came across a book edited by Dympna Callaghan that explained that throughout the course of the sixteenth century, marriage changed to have new ideals that suggested “the equality of marriage partners, men and women,” (246), I was shocked. ) To that idea, Cahn claims that we find out that Kate is not a shrew, that she is actually “a woman of warmth, wit, and passion”, and it is her sister who we find out is the real shrew in the ending scene (10). I disagree with Cahn’s claim, but I do believe that he makes a good argument about the rest of the characters and also gives reason why disguise is used so much in this play. Immediately after meeting Petruchio, Kate sarcastically points out to her father in lines 282-284, “You have showed me a tenderly fatherly regard, to wish me wed to one half lunatic, a mad-cup ruffian and a swearing Jack. ” We understand that Kate’s happiness is not as important to her father as is the dowry that will come with the marriage. The clothes you wear can never fully hide the person beneath them. These disguises are central to the plot of the play as well as to the tone and the general entertainment. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew is not a play about passion and true love. Coppelia Kahn explains that Kate is a commodity; her father wants her to marry before he will allow Bianca to marry because he is like a merchant trying to sell all the goods from his warehouse (87). Victor Cahn agrees to this when he states that Kate and Bianca’s father “regards them as no more than prizes to be offered to the highest bidder,” (11).