Shrew Act I, Scene 1 – Lenox, MA

Well I must say I’m nary too pleased how I started off this one.  It’s a gnarly first speech but I only scanned it again before reading and you’ll see it takes me a bit to get the new writing of Taming of the Shrew, as opposed to the Induction, under my belt.  It is obvious that Shakespeare is vaunting the players’ play in a different style from how people are normally talking in Christopher Sly’s world.  The Lord and his men speak beautiful blank verse, but Lucentio and Tranio are speaking in an overtly expository way to each other for the benefit of quickly understanding who they are, and this presentational form is more laden with rhetorical devices, ample parentheticals, and poetic flourishes, than the text that precedes it.  Shakespeare doesn’t stay in this way of speaking with many inter-folding thoughts for long, but clearly makes an effort here to distinguish the two worlds.

Tranio indicates the wisdom-seeking Lucentio to go even further, with

34 Balk logic with acquaintance that you have

And practise rhetoric in your common talk;” which is followed by

Museic and poesy use to quicken you;

The mathematics and the metaphysics

By the time Baptista and his train enter in line 50, Shakespeare has settled down into text that really does resemble very closely Two Gentlemen of Verona – it is presentational and faithful to the blank verse.  The characters are all contributing to the locomotive of the verse, particularly distinguished by giving one thought per line, indicating to the actor that breathing on line endings is a great way to pop the clarity, or musiclarity, of the verse.

Baptista’s first line is adamantly opposite to the iambic norm – 5 trochees:

48 Gentlemen, importune me no farther

We can be sure from lots of uses of ‘importune’ especially in the early plays (there are several in Comedy of Errors) that it is the second syllable here which gets the stress, making this line regular in its irregularity and helping to set off this fiery opening exchange.

Interestingly, in Baptista’s remaining five lines of this opening speech, he speaks 11 syllables in four of them.  This clearly indicates a somewhat heightened state – and overflowingness to the proceedings.  The man is dealing with quite a lot, and has a lot of people to please.


82 My books and instruments shall be my company,

On them to look and practise by myself.


Hark, Tranio, thou mayst hear Minerva speak

“Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom and some of the arts, and was supposed to have invented the flute” (from the Arden)

Not much later, Baptista:

92 And for I know she taketh most delight

In music, instruments and poetry,

Schoolmasters will I keep within my house

Fit to instruct her youth.

Great musiclarity here with Tranio:

164 Master, you looked so longly on the maid,

Perhaps you marked not what’s the pith of all.

That second line really sounds hesitant, and ‘pith’ being suggestive in a sort of indescribably onomatopoeic way.  Plus the double L’s in the first line to support that thought as well.

Once this love fest is over and the plot is hatched, it’s remarkable how they start to share lines here:

LUCENTIO           I have it, Tranio.

TRANIO                                                  Master, for my hand,

Both our inventions meet and jump in one.

LUCENTIO          Tell me thine first.

TRANIO                                                    You will be schoolmaster

And undertake the teaching of the maid:

That’s your device.

LUCENTIO                                              It is: may it be done?

They are about to change clothes, and here in this scheme hatching they seem to be trading places already with Tranio the first to articulate his version.

It should be said by now that the name Tranio is a dactyl – it’s a triplet.  The Italian way is to make it a two syllable word – an elision of the ‘i’ and ‘o’ – either way the metrical effect is almost the same.  In such an elision, the word is almost ‘tranyo’ but to my ear, not quite.  That goes for all of the characters, and there are many:  Grumio, Gremio, Hortensio, Biondello, Lucentio, Pectruccio….

Regardless, Shakespeare appears to occasionally want it both ways syllable-wise, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.  What isn’t the same, and seems incorrect, is to stress the ‘o’ when beating out the lines that include his name, and I can find only one line that would support such a reading, “Tranio is changed into Lucentio” which only seems to ring that way perhaps because Tranio is playing on their names.

A beautiful Lucentio line that seems to convey his earnest love-in-idleness:

218 And let me be a slave to achieve that maid

Whose sudden sight hath thralled my wounded eye.


Line 236 of Biondello’s is a classic example of a line that looks to the modern eye and ear as irregular, when working with its regularity can make the whole passage clearer.  It is not always relevant in this instance to debate what is intended by the playwright – how the sense and sound clarify the passage is the goal.

236 The better for him; would I were so too.

If it’s regular, Tranio’s rebuttal is a worthy reposte:

237 So could I, faith, boy, to have the next wish after.


, ,