The Taming of the Shrew Act 1 Scene 1

Synopsis of Act 1 Scene 1

A young nobleman and his servant arrive in Padua to study. Lucentio’s father is a wealthy merchant and he is eager to further his education in Padua, but his servant Tranio is more interested in having a good time. 
They overhear a conversation about a marriage. Baptista is talking about his daughters to an old man called Gremio and a young man called Hortensio. Both of these men want to marry Baptista’s daughter Bianca. However, Baptista wants her older sister, Katherina, to get married first. Bianca and Katherina are as different as could be: while Bianca is quiet and polite, Katherina is loud and aggressive. Katherina quarrels with Bianca and insults the two men with her rude behaviour.
Gremio and Hortensio are in love with Bianca, but they fear that no one will ever want to marry Katherina and therefore Bianca will never be able to get married either. These two men decide to work together, despite being rivals for Bianca’s hand in marriage, and they try to think of a plan to get someone to marry Katherina.
Lucentio, the visitor to Padua who was watching all this, has also fallen in love with Bianca. He has overheard Baptista saying he wants to find a tutor for his daughters and he decides that he will pretend to be a tutor just so he can get close to Bianca. He persuades his servant, Tranio, to swap clothes and pretend to be a nobleman who is also interested in courting Bianca.
Christopher Sly has been watching all this but he starts to doze off and his ‘wife’ has to wake him up.

Commentary on The Taming of the Shrew Act 1 Scene 1

nursery of arts: Padua was well-known as a place of learning and knowledge. Its famous university attracted many students and scholars. 
haply institute/A course of learning: Lucentio’s opening speech explains his current location, his origins and his intention, as well as introducing himself and his servant, Tranio. Initially single-minded about studying virtue and philosophy, the sight of Bianca puts all thoughts of study out of Lucentio’s mind (to the surprise of his servant). He does not realise that he is about to embark on another kind of education, as will others in the play. See Themes: Education.
Mi perdonate: Lucentio’s servant interrupts him (saying ‘pardon me’ in Italian) to remind him that they also need to enjoy themselves and have fun as well. 
No stoics nor no stocks: Tranio says he doesn’t want to totally forsake pleasure (like the stoics) on the one hand. On the other hand, he doesn’t want to have so much fun that he gets into trouble for it (and end up in the stocks).
Aristotle .. Ovid: Aristotle had the reputation of being a stern philosopher; Ovid was associated with entertaining tales.
No profit grows where is no pleasure tane: Tranio tells Lucentio that they will be more productive if they also have fun.
Gramercies: Lucentio thanks Tranio for this reminder and thinks his advice is worth following.
court / cart: The pun neatly sums up the male attitude to Katherina – not as a woman to woo but as an animal to drive or a ‘scold’ to humiliate.
The Book of Common Prayer 1596From all such devils, good Lord deliver us!: Hortensio paraphrases the familiar words of the Litany from the Book of Common Prayer – ‘From all evil and mischief; from sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath, and from everlasting damnation, Good Lord, deliver us.’
froward .. sobriety: The two sisters are contrasted – Katherina’s perceived wilfulness and perversity and Bianca’s steady conventionality 
Put finger in the eye: Katherina is accusing Bianca of making herself cry and making their father feel sorry for his ‘pet’ (peat), now denied any suitors
Sir, to your pleasure humbly I subscribe: Bianca speaks like an obedient and respectful daughter, who is going to dedicate herself to ‘books and instruments’ (paralleling Lucentio). 
This opening quarrel between Katherina and Bianca demonstrates the fragility and complexity of family relationships. Issues of obedience and rebellion are raised, along with filial obligations and genuine respect. This theme is also related to themes of domestic order and established social norms and can be explored in Themes: Family Relationships. For an understanding of how classical and biblical ideas shaped these concepts, see
Minerva: Lucentio is obviously smitten with Bianca, using the high-flown sentiment of comparing her to the Roman goddess of wisdom.
Why will you mew her up: Gremio is disappointed that Baptista will not let anyone woo Bianca and instead she is kept away from everyone until her sister is married.
make [Bianca] bear the penance of [Katherina’s] tongue: The penance which Katerina ought to ‘pay’ for her sin is instead falling on her sister.
cunning men: He means ‘knowledgeable men who are good at their job’ rather than using the word perjoratively.
liberal .. in good bringing-up: Baptista is an enlightened Renaissance father who is educating his daughters with as much care as he would have sons. Both girls are clearly literate.
go to the devil’s dam: Go to the mother of the devil.
Brooked parle: Gremio and Hortensio have got over their mutual distrust and rivalry. They decide to work together to find a way to get Katherina married off so they can try to win Bianca’s affections and marry her.
loud alarums: Noisy scolding.
take her with all faults, and money enough: The suitors regard being married to Katherina as hell but still regard her as a ‘saleable commodity’ if enough money is offered for her dowry.
Happy man be his dole! Hortensio says that the reward for the man who wins Bianca’s hand will be great happiness.
love in idleness: The common name for a viola, an English flower associated with love.
I burn, I pine, I perish: Lucentio’s hyperbole marks him as a stereotypical young lover.
Redime te captum quam queas minimo: Tranio teases his master with a Latin saying along the lines of ‘now that you’ve been conquered, there is nothing else to do but ransom yourself for as low a price as possible’.
daughter of Agenor: Europa was the daughter of a mythological Greek king and was famous for her beauty, attracting Jove.
trance: Lucentio’s ‘vision’ of Bianca is as unreal as Sly’s ‘dream’.
now tis plotted: Tranio is the stock cunning servant of the Commedia. The disguise and identity swop is another typical plot. See Theatrical context > The influence of Commedia dell’Arte in The Taming of the Shrew. Involving Tranio as an additional suitor to Bianca sets up further mistaken identity complications later.
by Saint Anne: According to Catholic teaching, Saint Anne was the mother of Mary the mother of Jesus, making this a more mild oath.
Would ’twere done.: Shakespeare plays with the idea that Sly is the audience’s representative, and thereby mocks his own play, as well as reminding the audience that Sly just wants to get on with making love to his new ‘wife’.

Investigating The Taming of the Shrew Act 1 Scene 1

  • Baptista’s two daughters squabble in public and it seems that Katherina is the aggressor and Bianca is the victim. What other clues do you find about:
    • Their characters?
    • Their relationship to each other?
    • Their relationship to their father?
  • Baptista and Bianca leave together and Katherina leaves by herself. How would you direct actors to achieve this? 
    • What might Katherina do to make Gremio say, ‘You may go to the devil’s dam!’?
  • Makes notes on Shakespeare’s characterisation of Katherina in this scene:
    • How is Katherina presented on stage? 
    • How is she described by other characters? 
    • How do you think the above and her experience of living as a woman in Padua have shaped her personality?
  • Lucentio has fallen in love with Bianca. What words and phrases make him sound like a stereotypical lover?
    • How does his plan to study in Padua conflict with his desire for Bianca?
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