How does The Taming of the Shrew show comic tension?
How does Shakespeare create comic tension in the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew?
‘Taming of the Shrew’ is the only known play written by Shakespeare to have an Induction. This Induction was written by Shakespeare to introduce the idea of a play within a play to the audience.
The Induction to the play is quite a complex structure; at the start of the induction the audience is introduced to a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly, caught in a fight with the Hostess of what is presumed to be a tavern or alehouse. There is an immediate sense of comedy to the opening of the Induction as the audience is shown Sly cussing the Hostess with foul language, “I’ll pheeze you, in faith”. In return the Hostess threatens to put Sly in a ‘pair of stocks’. This is an example of Shakespeare trying to create comic tension as this drama is clearly commenting on the sexist inequality between both genders during this time. Sly perceives himself as quite noble, stating to the Hostess that he “came in with Richard Conquer”. Being drunk this would probably be discredited as he is clearly trying to exert power over the hostess as she is a woman.
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Shakespeare has created this argument involving Sly to capture the attention of the audience, the language used by Sly and the Hostess, the swearing and the anger, this causes a lot of tension between the characters and additionally, this scene was created by Shakespeare to present Sly as a fool to the audience.
However, when the Lord is introduced, the audience is given an image of what seems like a descendants of royalty, the way the lord orders the huntsman to “tender well my hounds”, it gives the audience the true impression of someone who holds great power over others as he is of a higher class.
When the Lord finds Sly in the street, he describes him as a “monstrous beast, how like a swine he lies”, this reference insinuates that Sly should be depicted as a lowly creature, of whom the upper classes should be disgusted of his type, that men like Sly are feeble and not worthy of anyone’s time. This parallels with Katherine in Act 1of taming of the shrew where the audience sees that Katherine has no tolerance over men as she sees them all feeble and not worthy of her presence and time.
The lord’s idea to trick the tinker into believing that he is really a lord is an idea that is reflected in the taming of the shrew where Petruchio plays a trick on Kate, the purpose of this is to add to the comedy of the original play by making obvious parallels between the induction and the taming of the shrew.
The lord speaks of all the deeds that must be carried out before Sly awakes from his sleep, giving commands as to what his servants shall say to him when he awakes, “tell him of his hounds and horse, and that his lady mourns at his disease”. The extent of the planning of which the lord is going makes it easy to predict what is going to happen in the play ahead of the characters themselves.
Also the element of disguise creates tension between the characters as when Sly is presented with his ‘wife’, he genuinely believes everything despite previously suspecting that he was being fooled. However, the Lord has instructed that his pageboy act as and dress as a woman to fool Sly into believing the trick is real. This then makes the trick more elaborate, thus showing how Shakespeare is managing to create comic tension on Sly, the audience can see that Sly is clearly being fooled by the lord, however the character Sly himself has no awareness of what is happening.
Shakespeare’s plays were well known for their drama and the comic tension he managed to create between them, the comic tension displayed in this play, plays a big role in how the comedy is perceived by the audience.