In William Shakespeare’s tragedy The Taming of the Shrew, many readers question the importance of the induction that Shakespeare included. The induction consists of characters that are introduced only for a few pages, while the actual play is a play within the induction. Since the induction is not referenced again, many believe that it is unnecessary and pointless. While the induction is not mentioned again in any of the five acts of the play, it is resolved within the play itself.
The induction begins with a wealthy lord returning from a hunt, only to find the hostess of the inn he is staying in to be throwing a drunkard out. The lord decides that he wants to play a trick on the drunkard, named Sly, and that he wants his servants to treat the poor drunkard like he is a wealthy noble (356-358). Sly eventually wakes up, and after the servants insist that he has been asleep for a very long time and he is in fact wealthy, he relaxes and watches as the servants put on a play (360-362). Once the induction ends, none of the characters are referred to again. That does not mean that the induction is not important, however. In the induction, many themes are introduced that are paralleled later in the actual play.
In the induction, Sly is made to believe that he is a lord simply because the actual lord staying at the inn where Sly was drinking wanted to have fun and play a prank on someone out of boredom. The servants of the lord act like they are Sly’s servants. This is paralleled throughout the actual play many times. Shakespeare has the character Tranio, a servant, switch roles with his master, Lucentio. This switch shows that change is possible within the structure of society. The idea of change, however, was laughable to the reader when this first came out. Change within the Elizabethan society was a struggle, and Shakespeare uses the comedy of the lord playing the prank on Sly as a way to show the irony between his play and the actual day and age that he was writing in.
Change also occurs through the character of Katherina. Katherina is first shown to the reader as a spiteful and hateful woman who does not wish to marry. Over the course of the play, she retains her cynicism and wittiness but she does marry Petruchio. While she despises him and the way he uses words to get her to do what he wants, at the end of act five, she is the only wife who follows the command of her husband. She has accepted her role and duty as a wife, much like Sly accepted his ‘role’ as a lord.
Katherina ends the play in a position that is questionable. The perfect, obedient wife she is portraying is not her true self. All of the other characters know this, and are shocked when she defies what they believe her to do when Petruchio sends for her. Sly ends the induction in a position that has the readers and characters questioning. He is not fully convinced that the story the servants are telling him is true, but he decides to ignore his conscious and believe what is being told to him.
The induction also includes the use of verbal tricks and persuasion, very similar to the way that Petruchio wins Katherina’s hand in marriage. The servants to the lord convince Sly that he is not crazy and that he truly is a lord through their words. Petruchio convinces Katherina to do anything he wishes through his words and his questioning her sanity. In both the induction and the actual play, the idea of madness is absurd and anyone who is accused of it immediately does the opposite of what they had been doing.
Gender roles also play an important part in both the induction and the play. The very first scene of the induction shows a strong hostess throwing Sly out of her tavern in the inn. This is unique considering that this play was written at a time where women were not considered equal to men. Shakespeare shows a woman adamantly throwing Sly out to emphasize the importance of female rule and female will during a time where there was an independent female monarch. Much like Katherina, the monarch at the time, Queen Elizabeth 1, was strong willed and wished to remain independent. Katherina, however, gives in to the social norm of marriage. Although Katherina does not remain as independent and determined as she was in the beginning of the play, she portrays a unique female character that is not seen often during the time that the play was written- much like the hostess from the induction.
The hostess within the induction also parallels the widow within the actual play. Both women are described by their position, not their actual names. This shows that while Shakespeare portrays women with power and independence, they are also defined by their place in society. By only naming them hostess and widow, Shakespeare is showing that while it is a time of female rule and power, females are not believed to be truly powerful.
At the end of the induction, Sly and his supposed wife sit and watch a play being performed for them. This play is the actual acts of The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare uses a play within a play to show the reader and the characters that they never truly know what is occurring. Many characters, both in the induction and in the play, are not who they claim to be. Sly, his ‘wife’, Lucentio, Tranio, even Katherina and others are all fraudulent. They are pretending to be people that they are not. Deceit and hypocrisy are paralleled throughout both the induction and the play because almost every character is not who they state they are. Deception and fraudulence are inescapable and unavoidable.
The induction and the play also parallel in the idea of power and wealth. In the induction, the lord has all of the power and he uses it to trick Sly into believing that he is a wealthy lord as well. The lord’s wealth is also shown through his material objects, as he has Sly dressed in his best clothes to convince him further. In the actual play, Katherina’s father is very wealthy, which is why Petruchio wants to marry her even if she is domineering and rude. Lucentio is also wealthy, and he switches places with his servant Tranio to win the hand of Katherina’s younger sister Bianca. The position of power in both the play and the induction belong to those who have wealth, or those who are portraying that they have wealth.
Throughout the induction, Sly’s character is devious. He knows that he is not what the lord’s servants are claiming him to be. Rather than argue and leave, to go back to the life that he knows is truly his, Sly almost amuses those pranking him by playing along with the trick the wealthy lord is doing to him. Katherina does almost the same thing with Petruchio. After her marriage to Petruchio, she disobeys an order of his and he punishes her. Petruchio tells Katherina that as his wife, it is her duty to obey him. Katherina, a girl who wished to remain independent so much that she was labelled as a shrew, follows this order for some reason. Shakespeare uses Katherina’s complete character shift to reinforce the plot line of the induction, Katherina parallels Sly in the fact that she knows what she is doing is not what she believes to be true. Katherina follows Petruchio’s orders simply because she is deceiving him herself, not because she believes in what he has told her her duty is.
Although the induction and the actual play parallel each other in ideas and themes, one could argue that the induction has no actual purpose and does not benefit the plot of the actual play in any way. Shakespeare uses the induction as a way to introduce the plotline of the actual play in a subliminal way. At first glance, the induction is nothing like the actual play in The Taming of the Shrew, but further and closer reading shows that the two are connected on many levels. Shakespeare’s unique choice of a play within a play was innovative and effective. The reader is forced to look closer to understand its importance within the larger picture.
William Shakespeare first published his tragedy The Taming of the Shrew in 1623 at a time where the female monarch was a controversial ruler. Queen Elizabeth 1 was stubborn, independent, and wished to remain pure her entire life. She never believed that she needed a man to fulfill her duties as a woman, or as a queen. Shakespeare channels this through his character Katherina, but instead of allowing her to fully parallel the reigning monarch, Katherina deceives those around her and acts like the perfect submissive wife. This is foreshadowed in the induction, along with many other key details to the plotline. Without the induction, the play is still a great play. With the induction, the play within a play is taken to a higher level. By choosing to do something new and unique, Shakespeare emphasizes the key ideas and themes that he wishes the reader to grasp. The inclusion of the induction within the play allows for themes to be repeated twice, ensuring that the reader attains what Shakespeare believes is important. It also shows what Shakespeare is criticizing in society, and what he finds ironic in society. Without the induction, the plotline of The Taming of the Shrew is still magnificent, but with the induction, the plotline is full of ironies, parallels and criticisms.