Grumio’s speech changes from when he is addressing his fellow servants to when he is speaking to Petruchio. What is ironic about this change?in The Taming of the Shrew
The master/servant relationship is a key one when it comes to comic plots in Shakespeare's play. It is kind of hard for us to grasp this since the idea of masters and servants doesn't fit so much in our modern society as a literal concept.
The irony, if there is any, is that Grumio seems so cowering and obedient in earlier scenes with Petruchio, but bossy and even aggressive with the other servants. The reason I'm not convinced that this "change of character" is ironic, is that:
- The audience can't be sure that the behaviour displayed by Grumio earlier isn't just an act for Petruchio's benefit; and
- It would have been very expected and not ironic at all for there to be a servant pecking order, which would have made it very natural for Grumio to be sort of the "head servant" that bosses the other servants around.
This "split personality" is showcased for comic effect in Act IV, Scene i. Grumio beats up on Curtis, orders everyone else around, and then scurries to hide when Petruchio enters. This is meant, I think, more to be good old fashioned comedy, rather than irony.
Though I highly doubt this is pertinent to you anymore as you posted this a year ago:
Grumio speech when addressing his fellow servants is marked with the more formal "thou" and "thee", which suggested a much more distant and impersonal relationship between the speaker and the addressee. When he speaks with Petruchio, he speech changes to the more acquainted "you" and "yours", which is much more conversational and intimate.
The irony has already stated itself. One would believe he would use the former with his superior and his master, and the ladder in chatting with his compatriots and fellows, but he does not. Shakespeare does this for mainly two reasons: to heighten the ironic wit and sarcasm of Grumio's character, and to imply a long-standing and fairly secure relationship with Petruchio, and placing himself as a sort of first man in the hierarchy of servitude.
The best example of this change is comparing Act II, Scene 1 and Act IV, scene 1, wherein you'll find Grumio conversing with Petruchio (the master) and Curtis (fellow servant) respectively.