Explore the different nature of disguise and identity in 'The taming of the shrew.'

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Explore the different nature of disguise and identity in

'The taming of the shrew.'

The theme of disguise and deception to hide true identity is central to both the induction and the main action of the play; nearly every character pretends to be someone they are not.  This trickery is portrayed in many ways.  Sometimes an actual disguise is required, but with other characters the "disguise" is not an alteration of their physical appearance, but a change of their personality.  Some characters appear to change their personality rather than alter their appearance. Most of the play's humour comes from the way in which characters create false realities by disguising themselves as other people, a device first introduced in the induction. Initially this is accomplished by having Christopher Sly believe he is someone he is not and then by having the main play performed for him. By putting The Taming Of The Shrew in a 'play within a play' structure, Shakespeare immediately lets the audience know that the play is not real thus making all events in the play false realities. Almost all characters in the play take on identities other than their own at some point of time during the play. The play contains many different types of disguise; the majority are physical changes in appearance.  Tranio as Lucentio, Lucentio as Cambio, and Hortensio as Litio are all examples of this.  However some disguises involve changes in personality, for example Petruchio as a "tamer" and Katherina as a the ‘shrew’ of the play, then as an obedient wife.  The audience discovers as the play goes on that the characters initial appearances may not be their true character after all.

The Induction sets up the theme of deception. Its purpose is to warn the audience to look out for the changes of character in the play that will appear on many different levels.  Ironically, the induction contains a change in identity that is a lot more complex than most during the play.  Instead of donning a disguise, the character of Sly changes his identity without him really knowing it.  Despite him being a common drunkard, he is tricked by a lord into thinking he is a nobleman.  To achieve this, he orders his servants to take Sly to his fairest chamber and to adapt the surroundings accordingly as if Sly were a lord.  He instructs them to "burn sweet wood to make his lodgings sweet," and when Sly protests his real existence to "say he dreams / For he is nothing but a mighty lord."  The induction shows us how quickly someone will accept a new identity if it benefits him or her.  Sly is eventually convinced as soon as he learns he has a beautiful wife.  He says, “Am I a lord? And have I such a lady?.. Upon my life, I am a lord indeed.”  This shows Sly’s acceptance of his new identity, and sets up the importance of appearance and identity which is present throughout the play.  For example, Bianca has many male admirers in the town simply because she is beautiful.  The importance of outward appearance is further reinforced in the Pedant, who agrees to take on the role as Vincentio and a nobleman’s outfit for his own protection.  Tranio offers the Pedant sanctuary from Padua's "Grave citizens" in return for him pretending to be Vincentio.  Whilst a physical disguise is actually required, the Pedant still needs to adopt the personality of a nobleman.  Whilst pretending to be Vincentio, he speaks in verse like a nobleman would.    This is again very similar to Sly, who also begins to speak in verse once he is convinced he is a lord.  “Or do I dream? Or have I dream'd till now? / I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak;/ I smell sweet savours and I feel soft things.”  The audience can see from this then, that for an identity to change, the character does not necessarily need to wear a disguise.  This is a point the audience must realise to understand the play, as many of the "disguises” used in the play are disguises of personality and character rather than appearance.

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Petruchio is a prime example of a character who changes his personality.  When the audience first meets him, they find he is a merry character, who laughs and jokes with his friends Grumio and Hortensio.  These exchanges are demonstrations of Petruchio’s enjoyment of verbal sport, a good example of Petruchio's sense of humor.  The audience also finds that he is not a vain man, as he says to Hortensio he will marry any woman no matter wretched.  Petruchio says it does not matter if she was as “curst and shrewd / As Socrates’ Xanthippe.”  From these initial exchanges, the ...

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