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Disguise and Trickery in The Taming of the Shrew

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    Disguise plays a fundamental role in the sixteenth century play William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. The characters disguise themselves not only through physical costumes, but also by masking their feelings and emotions”. The masking of feelings is much more effective than any form of physical costume, because a costume is merely another layer of clothing. The man under the disguise is still the same man. The first use of disguise occurs in the Induction of the play when Christopher Sly is intoxicated and a prank is pulled on him. He is dressed as a lord and others deceive him into believing he is married to a beautiful wife.

    However, the “wife” is really a man who is also in disguise as a woman. Shakespeare may be foreshadowing what is to happen in the later acts of the play through this trickery. The deceitfulness and trickery continues in Act III and lasts into Act IV of the play. Lucentio dresses in disguise and pretends to be Bianca’s tutor Cambio. To take his place, his servant Tranio disguises himself and pretends to be Lucentio. The real Lucentio disguises himself to look scholarly and Bianca’s father Baptista allows him into the household to begin his instructions. Later in the text a pendant is tricked into dressing as Vincentio, Lucentio’s father.

    Lastly, Hortensio dresses up as Litio, a Latin tutor, in an effort to gain Bianca’s love. Ironically, the Italian word “cambio” means “an exchange” according to the Oxford English Dictionary Online. Also, the Spanish version of the word literally translates to “change. ” Shakespeare likely chose the name for the misleading character on purpose; however none of the characters in the play questioned his name. The largest act of disguise occurs with the character Katherina who is also called Kate. Unlike the other characters, she does not change by wearing a physical disguise.

    Her change is strictly in her personality. Katherina is labeled as a shrew from the beginning of the text. In act 2. 1 Petruchio reminds Kate that she is “called plain Kate, / And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst” (II. i 184-185). Up until act V. ii of the play Kate is non-compliant with anyone in her life thus living up to her title as a “shrew. ” However in the last act of the play, she changes and shows obedience with listening to her husband Petruchio. In Kate’s speech addressed to Pretruchio and to all women she says, Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,

    They head, thy sovereign: one that cares for thee,
    And for thy maintenance; commits his body
    To painful labour both by sea and land,
    To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
    Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe.
    And craves no to her tribute at thy hands
    But love, fair looks, and true obedience-
    Too little payment for so great a debt.
    (V.ii 146-154).

    Her speech is questionable because it is hard to tell if she actually changes after acting like a “shrew” this entire time. If this speech is read sarcastically, it comes across that she is hiding how she really feels and just pretending to have changed in order to please her husband. Although it appears as though she has blossomed from a “shrew” into the proper wife a woman should be, it might just be sarcasm. She says “I am ashamed that women are so simple/to offer war where they should kneel for peace” (V. ii 161-162). Kate’s speech is important because it shows what she has learned since being “tamed. Still, this quote could be read sarcastically. One can question whether Kate has really changed after becoming “tamed” or if she is just playing the part of a good wife to fool Petruchio into thinking he successfully “tamed” her. If this is so, Kate’s disguise was the most successful and the most deceiving. The only character who does not disguise themselves is Bianca. However, she was the cause of most of the disguises. Both Lucentio and Hortensio feel as though they need to change their looks in order to court Bianca. She is also the cause of Tranio having to pretend to be Lucentio.

    The men may feel intimated by Bianca’s personality after meeting her. Ultimately, the costumes are removed and the truth of who each character is comes out. It is interesting how each of the characters who physically disguised themselves did it in order to “transgress barriers in social position and class. The play thus poses the question of whether clothes make the man—that is, whether a person can change his or her role by putting on new clothes” (SparkNotes Editors). Each character that put on a costume in order to fool Bianca was successful up until the end of play. However, in act V. i of the play, the disguises have to be shed because the real Vincentio comes to town. Therefore, the clothes a person wears does not make the man; eventually the real man must emerge. In the play, the use of clothing is the main way the characters disguise themselves. However, clothing is just another layer added to a person and it can be easily be removed to reveal the real person. As Petruchio said on his wedding day, “To me she’s married, not unto my clothes. / Could I repair what she will wear in me / As I can change these poor accoutrements, / ’Twere well for Kate and better for myself (III. i 116-119). Petruchio points out that a person is still the same person no matter the attire he is wearing. Therefore, none of the characters who disguised themselves using physical costumes really changed themselves. They were in clothes that they would normally not wear and using fake names but in reality they were still the same person. Kate’s disguise is different in the way that she was dressed as herself but she changed her personality to satisfy the man in her life. Out of all disguises Kate’s was the most successfully.

    By giving the speech at the end and complying with her husband’s request to come when she is called, she tricks Petruchio into thinking he outsmarted her with his taming ways. Kate’s personality disguise gives her the upper hand in her marriage. Petruchio will likely treat her more respectfully and end the “taming” process of starving and verbally abusing her. Thus, her disguise is the best of all of the disguises because she does not get caught. The characters in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew use two forms of disguise: physical costumes and personality disguises.

    The Induction of the play uses foreshadowing to alert of the reader of what is to take place in the following acts of the play. The characters Lucentio, Tranio, Hortensio and the pendant use costumes in order to trick the other characters. The costumes are not a good form of disguise because they are still the same men underneath the clothing and eventually the truth of who they are come out. Kate’s form of disguise is through hiding her personality. Her disguise is the most successful because Petruchio believes that she has evolved from a “shrew” to a proper wife. Ultimately, clothing does not make the man.

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    Disguise and Trickery in The Taming of the Shrew. (2017, Mar 29). Retrieved from

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