Identify and explain an example of humorous misunderstanding or slapstick in Act 1 of Taming of the Shrew.   

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shakespeareguru eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Probably the most famous example of slapstick and humorous misunderstanding in one scene together is Act I, scene ii -- the entrance of Petruchio and Grumio.  Petruchio is the master and Grumio his servant, and, in Shakespeare's day, there were oft-used bits of comedy between a servant and master that Shakespeare employs in this scene.

Petruchio wants Grumio to "knock" at the door (gate) of his friend Hortensio.  But Grumio mistakes (maybe on purpose) the meaning of knock, and asks:

Knock, sir?  Whom should I knock?  Is there any man has rebused your worship?

Grumio mistakes the meaning of knock here to mean "slap around."  He directs this potential threat of attack to the audience, clearly, since there are no other actors onstage.  Actor/audience interaction, by the way, was a common and expected event in Shakespeare's theatre, since the idea of a "fourth wall" separating the actors from audience would not be invented as a stage convention until the 19th century.

And, in true comic fashion, Petruchio doesn't notice that Grumio has mistaken his meaning and simply continues to insist that his servant:

. . .knock me at this gate,

And rap me well, or I'll knock your knave's pate.

Which means that now Petruchio seems to be telling Grumio to beat up on him (his master) or he (his master) will beat him (Grumio).  And when Grumio complains to the audience that he won't "knock" his master because he knows "who after comes by the worst" of such an action, Petruchio begins to chase and beat Grumio for disobeying his order.

All of the violence here, of course, would be slapstick and made even more fun by the proximity of and potential "danger" to the audience of groundlings around the stage.

There is no "deep" explanation for this sort of comedy.  It is merely part of the chaotic, romping fun of the play and enjoyed for the sheer silliness of it.  The audience was able, as well, to enjoy knowing in advance where all of the misunderstanding about "knocking" was leading, adding to their enjoyment.

For more on slapstick and The Taming of the Shrew please follow the links below.

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The Taming of the Shrew

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