The Taming of the Shrew


William Shakespeare

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Social Hierarchy Theme Analysis

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Themes and Colors
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy Theme Icon
Theater, Performance, and Identity Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Marriage Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Taming of the Shrew, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Social Hierarchy Theme Icon

Women are just one socially oppressed group in the play; another is the class of servants that are continually beaten, abused, and insulted by the likes of Petruchio, Vincentio, and other noblemen. In fact, the play begins with a scene not about the relation between men and women, but between men of different social classes, as the Lord plays a practical joke on the poor Christopher Sly. Social standing is arguably a more important method of categorization than gender in the play. While women like Bianca and Katherine are disciplined and evaluated with respect to a strict code of gender roles, they enjoy privileges unavailable to their servants. Grumio is able to join Petruchio in teasing Katherine with the prospect of food, but she is able to hit him without consequence.

Despite disadvantages from being at the lower end of the social hierarchy, Tranio, and even arguably Biondello and Grumio, are often more clever than their masters. Grumio often misinterprets things overly literally, but this can also be seen as playing or joking with Petruchio, under the pretense of not understanding him. Tranio, meanwhile, comes up with the plan by which Lucentio successfully woos Bianca and, in devising the various disguises by which he and Lucentio trick Baptista, he is the force behind much of the plot of The Taming of the Shrew.

Shakespeare's play displays a rigid social hierarchy between noblemen and lower-class characters like the servants, but it also turns this hierarchy upside-down. The Lord dresses as a servant, Lucentio dresses up as the slightly lower-class Cambio, Tranio dresses up as Lucentio, and the old merchant dresses up as Vincentio. Moreover, the entire play is performed for the entertainment of Christopher Sly, a drunken beggar who has been tricked into thinking that he is a noble lord. As with gender, categories that society may often deem to be natural are revealed in the play as identities that have to be performed and put on like a costume. Social class is as much a matter of the clothes one wears and the way one behaves as it is a matter of one's birth. Thus, even as Shakespeare's comedy shows with comic lightness the brutal treatment of servants, it exposes the arbitrariness of this kind of social hierarchy.

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Social Hierarchy ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Social Hierarchy appears in each scene of The Taming of the Shrew. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Social Hierarchy Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew

Below you will find the important quotes in The Taming of the Shrew related to the theme of Social Hierarchy.
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
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: Ind.1.38-43
Explanation and Analysis:
Induction, Scene 2 Quotes

Am I a lord, and have I such a lady?
Or do I dream? or have I dreamed till now?
I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak,
I smell sweet savors, and I feel soft things.
Upon my life, I am a lord indeed
And not a tinker, nor Christopher Sly.

Related Characters: Christopher Sly (speaker), Bartholomew the Page
Page Number: Ind.2.68-73
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

I can, Petruchio, help thee to a wife
With wealth enough, and young and beauteous,
Brought up as best becomes a gentlewoman.
Her only fault, and that is faults enough,
Is that she is intolerable curst,
And shrewd and forward, so beyond all measure
That, were my state far worser than it is,
I would not wed her for a mine of gold.

Related Characters: Hortensio (speaker), Katherine, Petruchio
Page Number: 1.2.86-93
Explanation and Analysis:
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:
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: