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.
Social Hierarchy ThemeTracker
Social Hierarchy Quotes in The Taming of the Shrew
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?
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.
Thou shalt be master, Tranio, in my stead
Keep house, and port, and servants, as I should.
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.
To me she's married, not unto my clothes.
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.