The Taming of the Shrew: Mistaken Identities

Throughout the play "The Taming of the Shrew," William Shakespeare has utilized
several ingenious techniques resulting in an effective piece of work. One of
the more unique and creative methods is the use of mistaken identity. With the
use of mistaken identity, Shakespeare has successfully given the play an element
of humor from the beginning to the end.

The mistaken identity within the two induction scenes must have been quite
humorous for the upper-class noblemen who watched the play. In Shakespeare's
time, the upper-class often found their amusement in the poorer, more
unfortunate lower-class. Christopher Sly was no exception. When the lord finds
Sly, a drunk beggar, he immediately plots a practical joke to play on him. The
lord, who is very wealthy and obviously has a lot of time on his hands decides
to treat Sly as a nobleman and see how he reacts. In addition to ordering his
servants to treat Sly as their master, he too pretends to be a servant. The
most amusing part of this induction occurs when Sly becomes convinced that he is
indeed a nobleman. When he first awakes, he thinks that everyone is playing a
joke on him. After some convincing, Sly gives in and believes that he really
was suffering from a long sickness. When Sly asks the page, who is pretending
to be his wife to undress and join him in bed, the audience must have reacted
with loud laughter knowing that his ‘wife' is actually the same sex as he.
Although Sly does not understand the lifestyle of the upper-class, it is quite
obvious that he is enjoying it while it lasts.

There are several cases of mistaken identity present in the subplot which
involves Bianca and her suitors. One humorous situation caused by mistaken
identity arises in Act I, Scene ii, when several of the characters meet each
other. Here, the audience learns how gullible Gremio is when he is tricked by
Lucentio into believing that Lucentio is a schoolmaster. Gremio does not
realize that he is actually giving a fellow competitor an opportunity to court
Bianca. The dramatic irony here is amusing to the audience because they all
know that Lucentio is not going to speak highly of Gremio like he had promised.
Also, when Tranio, pretending to be his master, introduces himself to Gremio and
Hortensio that he too intends to woo Bianca, the two do not realize that Tranio
is just there to draw Bianca's attention away from them. By doing this, his
master Lucentio will have a higher chance of courting Bianca. Later in the play,
when Lucentio and Hortensio are trying to secretly court Bianca as they teach
her, it is comical the way they become suspicious of each other and get in each
other's way. It is not long before the both of them realize that the other is
trying to woo her – not teach her. In Act IV, Scene ii, the audience must have
had a grin on their face as they watched Tranio effortlessly convince the pedant
into pretending to be Vincentio. Tranio makes the pedant believe that he is
being nice and doing him a big favor so that the pedant will not be killed: "To
save your life in this extremity, This favor will I do you for his sake." The
pedant does not realize that everything Tranio says is false and that he is
being tricked into helping Tranio and Lucentio. The final and most humorous
part of the subplot occurs near the end of the play. Chaotic confusion arises
as all the characters and pretenders meet, and everybody is confused about the
real identity of each other. The humor begins as the real Vincentio meets the
pedant who is pretending to be him. Vincentio then becomes enraged as his son's
servants, Tranio and Biondello arrive and call him a madman and an impostor. He
begins concluding that his son's servants had killed Lucentio for his money.
Arguments and accusations emanate between all the characters. Then, when
everything appears to be all tangled up Lucentio arrives and sets everything
straight, ending the entertaining confusion.

The mistaken identity in the main plot between Petruchio and Kate is the
question of who the real shrew is. The audience is first led to believe that
Kate is the shrew because of the way she treated everybody. Also, the comments
and opinions of the other characters describe Kate to be a very stubborn and
negative person. But later, when Petruchio and Kate are married, the audience
soon realizes that the real shrew is