Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1096
Bartholomew: the Lord’s page who appears dressed as a woman ready to play Sly’s wife
Sly awakens and finds himself in bed, surrounded by servants who treat him as if he were nobility. The servants ask Sly, who is now in a fine gentleman’s night apparel, whether he will have sack (wine) or other delectables. Sly protests that he is no gentleman, and that he has never drunk sack in his life. He recites a ridiculous personal history, but the servants pay him no attention.
According to the Lord’s scheme, the servants remind Sly that this type of behavior is exactly what has kept his family away from his lordly estate and his wife from his bed. The Lord himself is present, dressed as a servant; he attempts to entice Sly, with sweet music and rich clothing, to think of himself as a sophisticated aristocrat. The Lord also suggests that Sly should ride about on his horse or go hunting and hawking. The servants then offer to bring in fine paintings of mythological characters such as Venus (Cytherea), Adonis, and others.
The Lord finally addresses the matter of Sly’s wife, who has supposedly been mourning his illness during his long “convalescence” (period of delusions). At this news, Sly perks up, renounces his identity as Christopher Sly the Tinker, and calls for his wife.
Bartholomew, the Lord’s page, dressed as a woman, enters and inquires after Sly’s health. Sly has some confusion over how to address a gentlewoman, but when this is cleared up, he orders the servants to depart and calls for his lady to join him in bed. Bartholomew, knowing that joining Sly in bed would reveal his true identity as a boy and end the elaborate joke, puts Sly off by mentioning that the doctor has forbidden marital relations lest Sly slip into his former delusions.
A messenger steps in to announce the entertainment arranged on Sly’s behalf, “a pleasant comedy.” Sly agrees to it, and the players file onto the stage below. (The action in this scene has taken place in a loft above the stage proper.)
The second scene of the Induction continues to develop the themes of the initial scene. Class differences are asserted, and the question of natural inclination versus social convention is brought to the fore.
When Sly is treated as a nobleman, he is quick to renounce any such connection. Sly is aware that masquerading as a person of a higher station in society is unlawful and punishable by incarceration. Therefore, he rejects the fine clothes offered to him, and makes clear that he is used to owning only one pair of pants and socks and shoes at a time. His recitation of a family and personal history, however, does betray some pretention—note his awkward usage of “transmutation” and the significant mention of a “profession” rather than a vocation.
The servants play their parts according to the Lord’s script. They are noticeably less articulate than the Lord himself, who goes on at length about the aristocratic pursuits of hunting, hawking, and riding horses. His speeches make reference to Apollo, Semiramis, and Io, while his servants follow suit by mentioning Adonis, Cytherea, and Daphne—all mythological characters from Shakespeare’s favorite classical work, Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
These allusions (or references to other works of literature) help establish the Lord’s own character as an educated and cultured person, since he obviously has read the writings to which he refers. It is significant that Sly does not respond to these allusions, for a person of his low station was probably illiterate.
In order to relate to Sly on his own level, the Lord shifts rhetorical gears by moving from the realm of high culture to the more mundane or perhaps the more natural—a man’s appreciation for a woman. The Lord is quick to tell Sly that he has “a woman more beautiful/Than any woman in this waning age.” This maneuver has the desired effect: Sly now accepts his new identity and calls his former life a mere dream.
Once the Page enters, however, two things go wrong to make Sly seem an idiot or worse. Sly does not even know how to address his wife, and Sly wants the crossdressed boy to come to bed. Ironically, the Page, who is after all just a boy (or perhaps a teenager) proves himself far more articulate than Sly. He uses a rhetorically sophisticated chiasmus in his speech— “My husband and my lord, my lord and husband.” This classical device from oratory, of mirroring or repeating words, is intended to flatter the listener. Such polished speech is lost on Sly, who blunders by addressing his “lady” as “madam wife” rather than simply “madam.” Sly shows his ignorance by forgetting his adroit servant’s advice to call his lady “Madam, and nothing else.”
Perhaps the greatest comic moment in the play comes when Sly calls for the Page to join him in bed. All the sexual tension suggested by one man embracing another comes to a climax here. It is completely lost on Sly, whose name is now ironically inappropriate since his actions and words have revealed him to be nothing short of a buffoon. Such moments of sexual tension occur repeatedly in Shakespeare’s comedies. Indeed, it is hard to find a comedy in which this sort of mishap and misperception among characters does not occur. The final import of this scene may be variously interpreted, but we must be cognizant of the question which is raised here regarding the existence of supposedly natural inclinations—such as the attraction to the opposite sex. This scene asks the audience to compare Sly’s response to Bartholomew dressed as a woman with Sly’s presumed response to Bartholomew dressed as himself. The upshot of Sly’s “mistake” is that he did not make a mistake at all; he merely made the choice his society required him to make—
to choose a person in a woman’s clothing for his bedfellow. Shakespeare leaves his audience to ponder, then, whether the attraction to the opposite sex (to say nothing of matters of procreation) is natural or conventional, that is, societally normalized and expected. To put the question another way: Are we attracted to clothes or to the person wearing them? Such a matter is no doubt difficult for us to consider, let alone to discuss, but we should keep in mind that social relations in Shakespeare’s time were complex.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support