The Taming of the Shrew

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Clothing Symbol Analysis

Clothing Symbol Icon

The Taming of the Shrew is filled with scenes involving the importance of clothing. In the Induction, Christopher Sly is dressed by the unnamed lord in wealthy clothes, while the Page dresses up as a woman. In the play proper, numerous characters—Lucentio, Tranio, Hortensio, and the merchant—dress up in various disguises. And while Petruchio does not wear a disguise, he wears a costume of sorts when he purposely wears bizarre clothes to his own wedding. He also refuses to let Katherine wear the dress and hat that he has had made for her for Bianca's wedding banquet. All this emphasis on clothing points out the significance of appearance and performance in establishing an identity, showing identity to be fluid and changeable.

By merely putting on expensive clothes, Christopher Sly becomes noble in his own mind, while the Page is able to assume a female identity through clothes. Clothing is thus particularly important for signaling gender and class identity. This is evident when Petruchio rejects the hat that has been made for Katherine: when she says, "gentlewomen wear such caps as these," (iv.3.74) Petruchio replies, "When you are gentle, you shall have one too," (iv.3.75). For Petruchio here, clothing is importantly linked to one's identity and character. Clothing in the play thus symbolizes how identity is constructed through appearances and performance, how being someone is often a matter of looking like or acting like that someone. When Katherine is upset by Petruchio's outlandish outfit at their wedding, he may tell everyone, "To me she's married, not unto my clothes," (iii.2-119) but throughout the play Shakespeare shows that it is often the clothes that make the man (or woman).

Clothing Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew

The The Taming of the Shrew quotes below all refer to the symbol of Clothing. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of The Taming of the Shrew published in 2004.
Induction, Scene 1 Quotes

What think you, if he were conveyed to bed,
Wrapped in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes,
Would not the beggar then forget himself?

Related Characters: A Lord (speaker), Christopher Sly
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: Ind.1.38-43
Explanation and Analysis:

The Taming of the Shrewbegins with a strange "Induction," in which a drunken Christopher Sly, a beggar, refuses to pay what he owes, gets kicked out of a bar, and passes out. A Lord enters after finishing a hunt and notices Sly, unsure if he is "dead, or drunk." Finding the drunkard to be breathing, the Lord begins making fun of Sly and devises a prank to humiliate him.

The prank turns out to be more of a social experiment. In the quote, the Lord wonders what would happen if the sleeping Sly were brought to a nice bed, dressed in "sweet clothes" (which symbolize social status), brought delicious food, and given servants to tend on him when he woke up. What would happen, the Lord wonders, if Sly suddenly woke up and found himself in the position of a nobleman? "Would not the beggar then forget himself" and think that he truly was a wealthy nobleman?The Lord orders his men to orchestrate this elaborate plot, directing them like a troupe of actors. He asks them to do as he has described and refer to Sly as "your Honor" and "your Lordship" when he wakes. He also arranges for his page Bartholomew to crossdress (a common occurrence on the Elizabethan Stage, as all parts, male and female, were played by men) and pretend to be Sly's fictitious wife.

Just as the Lord is setting up his plan, a troupe of players (actors) enter. He asks them if they will put on a play for a Lord so that they will perform for Sly during the ruse. Their performance will be the actual play, the Taming of the Shrew. Thus Shakespeare stages scenes filled with theatricality, acting, performance, and changing identities to introduce a play within a play which is also filled with theatricality, performance, and changing identity.


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Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

Thou shalt be master, Tranio, in my stead
Keep house, and port, and servants, as I should.

Related Characters: Lucentio (speaker), Tranio
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 1.1.208-209
Explanation and Analysis:

The players have begun the play within the play, and the central plot is underway: Baptista has two daughters, Kate and Bianca, and will not permit the younger Bianca to marry until her older, "shrewish" sister gets married first. A student Lucientio has arrived in the Italian city of Padua, the setting for the play, along with his servant Tranio. Lucentio almost immediately falls in love with Bianca, and is so captivated by her beauty that he needs Tranio to summarize Baptista's conditions. Learning that Bianca will only accept tutors instead of suitors, Lucentio decides to pose as a Latin tutor (later named Cambio, which in Italian means "change").

In the quote, Lucentio responds to prompts from Tranio, who reminds his master that someone aught to pose as Lucentio. The master says to his servant, "Thou shall be master, Tranio," and instructs him to carry out all of the masterly duties. The two then exchange clothes and start on their courtship plan, with Lucentio changed into Cambio and Tranio changed into Lucentio. Note that in this way the first scene of the play within the play echoes the outer play: masters become servants and servants become masters; social hierarchy is inverted and everything is performance. This scene is also the last scene in which Christopher Sly (or any one from the induction) speaks, and the only scene in which the induction bleeds into the play within the play.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

To me she's married, not unto my clothes.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 3.2.119
Explanation and Analysis:

Petruchio has finally arrived at the wedding, but he is wearing the clothes of a poor man. Baptista is disgruntled, and an argument begins surrounding Petruchio's attire. Tranio (disguised himself as his master Lucentio) suggests that Petruchio change, and Baptista says that he will not let Katherine marry when Petruchio is dressed this way.

Petruchio, however, insists she will marry him just as he is, stating thatKatherine is marrying him, not his clothes. While clothes symbolize social status and gender, Petruchio is here asserting that they are changeable and ultimately unimportant. What matters, according to Petruchio, is Petruchio's own wit, will, and power, which he boldly asserts in this scene.

Within the structure of the larger play, from Sly who gets dressed up as a lord and begins to think he is a lord, to the suitors who dress up as tutors to try to trick their way into getting close to Bianca, Petruchio's comment here is almost revolutionary. Every other character acts as if their clothes do define them. Petruchio insists otherwise. And byimposing his will over Baptista and the other male characters of the play, Petruchio establishes himself as a sort of alpha male, with unquestionable authority over his self and his wife. This gesture assures that none can intervene with his taming of Katherine.

It is worth noting that Petruchio is not asserting that everyone is an individual worthy of respect. He is asserting that he is – he has no interest in Katherine's individuality for example, and showing up to his own wedding dressed as a beggar is part of his plan for taming any of her individuality out of her.

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

Well, come, my Kate, we will unto your father's.
Even in these honest mean habiliments.
Our purses shall be proud, our garments poor,
For ‘tis the mind that makes the body rich,
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honor peereth in the meanest habit.

Related Characters: Petruchio (speaker), Katherine
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 4.3.175-180
Explanation and Analysis:

Petruchio has informed Katherine that they will be attending the celebration of Bianca's wedding back at Padua. He has brought in a tailor with a hat and gown, but with each design he pretends that there is something wrong, denying Katherine what she desires. In the quote, Petruchio says that they will go to the wedding in their everyday clothes. They will dress like they are poor, but "tis the mind that makes the body rich," and like the sun breaking through clouds, honor will shine through even the meanest clothing.

Here Petruchio asserts his dominance yet again, while showing that status is mainly performance and exterior. However, he notes that certain features, like honor (or power), are constant; true character matters more than surface-level qualities.

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Clothing Symbol Timeline in The Taming of the Shrew

The timeline below shows where the symbol Clothing appears in The Taming of the Shrew. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Induction, Scene 1
Social Hierarchy Theme Icon
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
...1.43) if the Lord had him carried away to a bed, dressed him in expensive clothes, and gave him an entourage of attendants. He tells the hunters to do this and... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 1
Social Hierarchy Theme Icon
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
...Lucentio is the teacher. Lucentio tells Tranio to pretend to be him. The pair exchange clothes, so that Tranio looks like a nobleman. Lucentio's servant Biondello enters and is confused to... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
Biondello enters and announces that Petruchio is coming, but he is dressed in bizarre and old clothes (including two mismatched... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 2
Social Hierarchy Theme Icon
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
The merchant agrees and thanks Tranio for helping him. As Tranio leaves to find suitable clothes for the merchant, he mentions that he will need Lucentio's "father" to make assurances about... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy Theme Icon
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
...and Hortensio enter. Petruchio has brought a large portion of meat with him, and demands that Katherine thank him for bringing her food. Katherine thanks him, and Petruchio allows her to... (full context)
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
...(iv.3.79) but he sends the haberdasher off and asks the tailor to show them Katherine's gown. As with the hat, he acts as if the gown is hideous and unacceptable. The... (full context)
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
Petruchio tells Katherine that they will go to her father's in their humble, everyday clothes, minimizing the importance of... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Social Hierarchy Theme Icon
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon know Vincentio. Vincentio angrily beats Biondello, causing Biondello and the merchant to cry out that a madman is attacking them. Biondello leaves. Baptista and Tranio (still impersonating Lucentio) enter. Vincentio... (full context)