When ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ was written around 1593-1594, the working classes and servants made up the vast majority of the British population. This led to common social stereotyping of the servant classes. This can be clearly seen in some of Shakespeare’s early plays including ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. In this play there are many characters that are bound together by the servant-master relationship. These include: The Lord and his Huntsmen in the induction, Petruchio’s domination over Grumio throughout the play and the comradeship between Tranio and Lucentio.
Shakespeare explores a number of different types of relationship between the classes in a way that was only possible on the stage. This is the physical enactment of the servant master relationship. There are two different types of servant-master relationship shown in the play. One is the traditional, where the master dominates and sometimes abuses the servant so that he obeys his master’s will. The other is the idealised, rare, if existent, bond, where there is equality and mutual respect.Order now
Through this comparison, the play re-evaluates the power of the servant’s bond with his master and the portrayal of wives as servants. As much of Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would have experienced this type of relationship, more than likely as the master, Shakespeare may have hoped that some may recognise a potential change from the ‘traditional’ treatment of servants. In ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, the most oppressive and ‘traditional’ master is Petruchio. He is demanding and dominating over Grumio, Biondello and his other servants.
Petruchio seems to have no master over him. Even Baptista, the father of the girl that he woos has no influence over him. He is omnipotent. Towards the end of the play, he has complete control over Katherina, who responds to his every call. In Petruchio’s first few lines of the play, he is abusive towards Grumio, calling him “Rascal”, “knave” and “villain”. He seems to be easily excited into rage, saying “I’ll knock your knave’s pate” and Shakespeare even suggests, in his stage directions, that he should ‘wring’ Grumio by the ears.
Some of Petruchio’s later violence towards his servants may be done for the purpose of taming Katherina, for example, when Petruchio plans to ‘kill a wife with kindness’ he insults the servants saying such things as “A whoreson beetle-headed, flap-ear’d knave! ” Although this tirade may be an act, he is portrayed consistently as violent and aggressive. In comparison to his earlier treatment of Grumio, later in the play it doesn’t seem completely out of character for Petruchio to beat his servants and call them “beetle-headed”, “peasant-swain”, “logger-headed” and “whoreson”.
Petruchio is presented as an exaggeration of the traditional patriarchal master. Grumio, as the servant of Petruchio, that features most in this play, is the victim of Petruchio’s domineering rule. Grumio must fulfil his master’s needs and protect himself. Grumio attempts desperately to escape from Petruchio’s oppressive hand by pleading with his friend, Hortensio. “If this be not a lawful cause for me to leave his service” This is, however to no avail, as Hortensio fails to take him seriously.
In the same scene, Grumio warns: “He’ll rail in his rope tricks…. he will throw a figure in her face and so disfigure her with it that she shall have no more eyes to see withal than a cat. ” At the same time, Grumio also seems to praise Petruchio’s ways: “Will he woo her? Ay or I’ll hang her… For he fears none” It appears that Grumio has the ability to leave his role as a servant. However, he chooses to vent his frustration by moaning about his situation and loudly voicing his complaints.
When he arrives back at his master’s house, he quickly starts complaining about his master’s treatment of him: “Was ever man so beaten? Was ever man so rayed? Was ever man so weary… how he beat me because her horse stumbled, how she waded through the dirt to pluck him off me. ” Grumio enjoys exaggerating in a futile attempt to gain sympathy. He also takes immense pleasure in taking the role of the master in the short time before Petruchio returns to his home. He enjoys ordering, arranging and scolding the other servants.
Although Grumio is also improperly dressed and unprepared for Petruchio’s expectations, he doesn’t hesitate at ordering the servants of lower rank than him around and putting himself in a position of authority. This shows that no matter where someone is positioned in the social hierarchy, they will often try to put upon themselves a position of authority. On the other hand, the friendly and equal servant-master relationship between Tranio and Lucentio would have been a revolutionary idea in the 16th century.
The master, Lucentio, is far more lenient with Tranio. They even swap places in the play. In their relationship, each depends on the other psychologically and physically. Lucentio doesn’t command in the way that Petruchio does he merely ‘requests’, as in the final scene, where he ‘bids’ his wife to come to him. Lucentio seems to be happier with a relationship based on equality that one of domination and aggression. In the first scene, he speaks to Tranio as a friend: “Thy good company, My trusty servant, well approved in all, Here let us breathe. ”
Here Lucentio speaks in the plural, “let us”. This gives the impression of equality. Tranio replies with: “Gentle master mine. I am in all affected as yourself. ” Although both use their titles, ‘servant’ and ‘master’, the language is one of friendship. It is clear that Lucentio sees his servant as intellectually equal to himself. Lucentio also goes to his servant for advice. “Counsel me, Tranio, for I know thou canst. Assist me, Tranio for I know thou wilt. ” He makes it clear that in his eyes, there is no difference physically between him and Tranio.
“Nor can we be distinguish’d by our faces for man or master. ” Lucentio is perfectly willing to swap places with Tranio in order to achieve the love of Bianca: “Let me be a slave t’achieve that maid. ” Through Tranio and Lucentio’s relationship, Shakespeare points out that the differences between the master and the slave are only on the surface and each can transform into the other with little or no practice. This is also clear in the scenes where Sly plays the role of the Lord and easily picks it up. When Tranio puts on his master’s clothes,