Quick witted service

Tranio fits in the Commedia tradition of fast thinking, fast-talking servants who are often more astute than their masters. He is one of the zanni who is always on the move, planning how to ‘watch our vantage’ in any given ‘business’ whilst also having fun and has the acute social observation which enables him to impersonate convincingly (for serious and comic effect) his social superiors.


Luckily for Lucentio, Tranio is devoted to serving his master well, rather than abusing him. More worldly-wise than the impressionable young Lucentio, Tranio offers him sensible counsel, whilst being prepared to ‘enjoy the game’. When Lucentio falls under Bianca’s spell, it is Tranio, directly addressing the audience (and thereby inviting their collusion with his judgements) who realises, ‘’tis time to stir him from his trance.’ Yet he enjoys the triumph of plotting the subterfuge in Act 1 Scene 1 and enters into it convincingly.

Social mimicry

With the audience on his side, Tranio relishes the opportunity to act the master, as any servant watching from the gods would appreciate. He enjoys tricking the gullible and pricking the pretentions of old fools like Gremio. Yet Shakespeare is careful to establish that he keeps his ambition under control – he will only ‘Lord it’ over Biondello in public, not in private.
When he first appears as his master in Act 1 Scene 2, Tranio has already adopted the formal register and learned allusions of a gentlemen, comparing Bianca to Helen of Troy. But his relish for pleasure means that he soon suggests the three suitors throw off the shackles of formality by ‘quaff[ing] carouses’ to Bianca.
Tranio clearly enjoys the privileges of appearing to have wealth, with his lordly gifts to Bianca and ‘copatain hat’. Simply by claiming good parentage, he is accorded a high social standing and is thereby used as an agent of dramatic irony – Baptista willingly gives him due deference ‘upon knowledge of [his] parentage’, which we find out later is merely that of ‘a sail-maker in Bergamo’. Shakespeare is questioning how Paduan society measures worth.
So far does Tranio sink himself into his role that he over-plays it when bidding for Bianca and realises that he is in a fix without a convincing ‘father’. But his ‘cunning’ resolves the issue by spinning a yarn for a passing Pedant who can impersonate Vincentio.

Loyalty rewarded

It is Tranio who arranges for ‘an old priest at St Luke’s church’ to marry Lucentio and Bianca and he brazens it before his old master, Vincentio, even though this is bound to get him into trouble later, simply so that the young couple will have time to tie the knot. The image of a servant usurping his master’s authority was a genuine concern to Elizabethan society, which saw it as a symbol of wider social chaos. This is conveyed by the strength of Vincentio’s reaction to the ‘damned villain Tranio / That faced and braved’ his superiors. But Lucentio begs forgiveness for his faithful servant and this is clearly given, since all parties appear harmonious at the wedding feast following. Tranio has returned to his servant’s status and will doubtless continue to support his young master as he negotiates the challenges of married life.


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