The welcoming friend

Hortensio is a Paduan ‘insider’, well acquainted with the Minola family. As such, he can provide his friend Petruchio with the necessary entrée into society. Slightly pompous about his status as a gentleman (he scorns his lowly disguise as Litio), nevertheless like his friend, he needs to marry money. 
Hortensio can see that Petruchio may be the answer to the embargo placed on Bianca, yet is too honest a friend to dupe Petruchio: 
Petruchio, shall I then come roundly to thee 

And wish thee to a shrewd ill-favour'd wife? 

Thou'dst thank me but a little for my counsel,
And yet I'll promise thee she shall be rich, 

And very rich; but th'art too much my friend, 

And I'll not wish thee to her.
Act 1 Scene 2     
He is clearly familiar with Petruchio’s household and jokes with Grumio when they first meet in the play. Later he is present when Petruchio creates mayhem with the tailor etc., offering wry commentary to the audience. He alone knows that Petruchio is acting, so comforts both the Tailor (‘Take no unkindness of his hasty words.’) and even Katherina (‘Signior Petruchio, fie! you are to blame. / Come, Mistress Kate, I'll bear you company.’) Yet even he grows weary of his friend’s antics, begging Katherina in Act 5 Scene 1 to ‘Say as he says, or we shall never go.’
Once he is married, Hortensio feels his dignity is restored, and so banters again with Petruchio as an equal. However, he cannot match Petruchio’s ‘success’ as a husband, which, rather than downplaying, he simply admires.

The failed suitor 

Hortensio’s other role in The Taming of the Shrew is as another of Bianca’s suitors; however he lacks both Gremio’s wealth and Lucentio’s youth (his long-standing friendship with Petruchio putting him in an older age bracket). Although he appears fairly confident in his abilities to attract Bianca, he is a comic figure because his schemes seem to backfire. He comes a poor second in his attempts to woo Bianca as a tutor with his musical theory (she rejects his coded message) and playing skills (possibly zero, since he did not know that Tranio/‘Lucentio’ was going to produce a lute). This is backed up by the visual gag of arriving on stage with the lute broken over his head after an altercation with Katherina. He is the third unwanted person in the flirtation between Bianca and Lucentio, whilst also lacking Gremio’s financial clout, so is not a contender in the bidding war for Bianca. 


Hortensio has orthodox standards about female behaviour, and is easily disillusioned when he sees Bianca flirting with Lucentio/Cambio. His aside to the audience is both a reflection of his jealousy and his suspicion that Bianca is not as innocent as she seems: 
Yet if thy thoughts, Bianca, be so humble

To cast thy wandering eyes on every stale,

Seize thee that list: if once I find thee ranging,

Hortensio will be quit with thee by changing.
Act 3 Scene 1     
Instead, Hortensio quickly decides to marry a widow who has apparently been pursuing him for a long time. He claims that, ‘Kindness in women, not their beauteous looks, shall win my love’ (Act 4 Scene 2). Unfortunately, even here Hortensio fails, since he ends up with a wife who has little kindness to offer. No wonder that, even before he is married, he goes to visit Petruchio’s ‘taming school’ to pick up some tips. 
The observations he makes as comic asides during his visit show his increasing admiration for Petruchio’s methods, ‘Why, so this gallant will command the sun’ (Act 4 Scene 3). However, Hortensio’s attempt to mimic Petruchio’s ‘taming’ techniques is a source of comedy that does not reflect favourably on him. Although he takes note of Petruchio’s methods, his own marriage is dominated by the widow and his attempts to ‘tame’ her fail. No wonder that, at the end of the play, he also loses the wager set by Petruchio.
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