The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

The Taming of the Shrew book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Taming of the Shrew Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Induction, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Christopher Sly: a drunken tinker (pot-mender) who becomes the subject of a nobleman’s joke

Hostess: the innkeeper who must run after a constable in order to force Sly to pay for damaged goods

Lord: a nobleman who finds Sly asleep and decides to play an elaborate joke at Sly’s expense

Servants and huntsmen: minor players who serve the Lord

Players: members of a traveling theater company

Summary
The play begins with a quarrel between an innkeeper and a drunken tinker, Christopher Sly, who has presumably consumed too much ale and has broken some glasses. When Sly refuses to pay for what he has broken, the hostess goes off in search of a constable, and Sly falls into a drunken sleep.

A nobleman, returning from hunting, finds Sly asleep in front of an English alehouse. After berating Sly’s bestial appearance, the Lord decides to “practice” on him by dressing Sly up as a nobleman and placing him in the Lord’s own house, which is just nearby. The Lord arranges for his own servants to convince Sly that he has always been a nobleman, but one who has of late fallen into a dementia wherein he only raved that he was a commoner.

A group of players arrives at the Lord’s home and asks permission to perform for him. The Lord claims to recognize a member of the group from a previous performance, but obviously errs. None¬theless, the Lord agrees to the performance, which he intends as entertainment for Sly. He instructs the players to ignore Sly, who might act strangely.

With the players gone, the Lord instructs one of his servants to dress up his page, Bartholomew, to play the noble wife of Sly. The Lord further stipulates that Bartholomew should cry like a woman for joy when Sly wakes up from the supposed dementia. To enjoy his joke all the more, the Lord plans to be present when Sly wakes up. He also comments that his austere presence will calm any mirth in his servants that would ruin the joke.

Analysis
The Induction to The Taming of the Shrew is often omitted from film versions and even published discussions of the play. Its importance and relevance to the central five acts of the play, which actually constitute a play-within-a-play, is often missed by readers who understandably prefer the fast and funny action of the later scenes. Genius writer that he was, Shakespeare uses the Induction to present two key thematic elements that assume importance in the central five acts.

The opening to the Induction emphasizes the differences between social classes in Shakespeare’s England. In order of importance, there appear a member of the aristocracy (the Lord), the bourgeoisie (the hostess/innkeeper), and the proletariat (the tinker, Christopher Sly). The players belong to a new class of workers in England, and have no fixed place in this social hierarchy; they might be thought of socially as a wild card in the social strata of the English Renaissance.

The tension between classes is most readily visible in the conflict between the hostess and Christopher Sly. Notice how Sly claims that his family “came in with Richard [the] Conqueror.” Here, Sly intends to allude to the invasion of William the Conqueror, the legendary prince from Normandy who brought his court with him to England and replaced an Anglo-Saxon nobility with a French-speaking aristocracy. However Sly blunders the name of the famous king, revealing his own pretentious and unsophisticated nature.

In comparison to the culturally refined Lord, Sly appears a “monstrous beast” or “swine.” The Lord plans to entertain himself by putting on a performance of his own, one in which he plays up to the pretentions of the commoner Sly, who just tries to associate himself with England’s “old money” nobility.

By dressing up Sly in a nobleman’s clothes, the Lord is taking an extreme license. A few years before Shakespeare wrote this play, Elizabeth I had passed her first of several sumptuary laws which prohibited people from dressing above their “station,” or...

(The entire section is 1,320 words.)