Act I, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
Katharina: the shrew who rejects suitors
Bianca: Katharina’s beautiful younger sister who cannot marry until a man weds Katharina
Lucentio: a young man who wants to marry Bianca
Baptista: the wealthy father of Katharina and Bianca
Gremio and Hortensio: suitors to Bianca
Tranio: Lucentio’s servant who disguises himself as his master
Biondello: young servant to Lucentio
Lucentio, a wealthy young man, arrives in Padua, a city famous in Shakespeare’s time for its university. He has come with his servant, Tranio, from Pisa, supposedly renowned for its “grave citizens.” Lucentio mentions that his father is a merchant, and that he himself has been raised in Florence, the urban jewel of Italian culture. His father has made his fortune in business, technically making him a member of the bourgeoisie the merchant middle class, not the aristocracy. Lucentio has come to Padua to study philosophy, but Tranio warns him that “No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en,” meaning that he should enjoy himself while at the university. Tranio even reminds his master not to forget Ovid, the poet who wrote the Metamorphoses, to which Shakespeare alludes throughout this play.
The conversation between master and servant is interrupted by an exchange of noisy words. Baptista is the father of Katharina (the shrew) and Bianca. Gremio and Hortensio want to marry the fair, younger daughter Bianca, but are rebuffed by Baptista, who stipulates that the elder sister, Katharina, must be married before he will give away Bianca. Katharina protests to her father that he is unnecessarily submitting her to ridicule by not marrying off Bianca and by talking in public with suitors who curse her. Gremio and Hortenio do in fact heap insults upon Katharina, and she answers them in kind.
Hortensio reminds Baptista that it is unfair to Bianca to keep her locked away at home with Katharina while so many men seek her hand in marriage. Baptista responds that if he does not insist that Katharina be married first, he will never be able to give her away. In the meantime, Baptista suggests, he will take in “cunning men” to educate his daughters in the liberal arts (e.g., music and poetry).
Once Baptista and his daughters leave, Hortensio shares with Gremio a scheme he has just devised. Hortensio asks for Gremio’s help to find a man to marry Katharina so that they will then have access to Bianca. Gremio doubts that such a plan will work. No man would want to marry this sharp-tongued woman he likens to “hell.” Hortensio reminds Gremio that Baptista is very wealthy, and that some man will take Katharina solely for her dowry. Gremio accedes to the plan.
Tranio notices that Lucentio has been staring after Bianca as if he has fallen in love on first sight. Lucentio admits as much. He tries to compare himself to the Queen of Carthage, Dido, the most famous tragic victim of Virgil’s great epic, The Aeneid—another classical text to which Shakespeare often alludes. Lucentio blunders the comparison by relating himself instead to Dido’s sister, Anna.
Tranio ignores the tragic implications of the comparison (Dido committed suicide), and warns his master to ransom himself from the imprisonment of love. The servant points toward a stumbling block in Lucentio’s presumed courtship of Bianca, but Lucentio apparently has not been paying attention to what has transpired between the father and the suitors. Tranio must explain that the elder daughter must be married first, before Bianca, and that there is hardly any chance for that to happen.
Lucentio comes to his senses, and reminds Tranio that the father will accept “cunning schoolmasters.” Tranio sees his point. He suggests that Lucentio enter Baptista’s home, disguised as a schoolmaster, and woo Bianca. But Lucentio enjoins Tranio to cover for him while he tutors Bianca. Tranio accepts his mission to disguise himself as his master. The two switch clothes.
Biondello, another servant of Lucentio, enters...
(The entire section is 1,663 words.)