The first act proper of The Taming of the Shrew is nearly as complicated as the last comedy I read, only this time it’s not quite so exasperating. I like that some of the characters are a little likeable this time around, giving us a point of focus in this rather complex plot. The titular shrew is the funniest part so far and I get the impression she is going to just tell it like it is, consequences be damnèd.
The act starts out with Lucentio, a wealthy young gentleman, coming to town to learn philosophy. He is immediately sidetracked by the beautiful Bianca, the younger daughter of Baptista. Baptista is a very rich gentleman who will not consent to give Bianca in marriage unless his elder daughter, Katharina, is married first. Only problem is, Katharina is a bit hostile… to everyone. Nobody likes her at all, and Bianca’s would-be suitors Gremio and Hortensio join forces to try and find a husband for Katharina. At the same time, Lucentio abandons his studies. switching identities with his servant Tranio, and connives a way to become Bianca’s private tutor in order to court her in secret.
Hortensio’s friend Petruchio comes to town to see the world and find a rich wife. Hortensio says, as a joke, his beloved’s older sister is in need of a husband and she is very rich. The catch is, she sucks pretty bad. Petruchio says forget all that character stuff, tell me about the money. So now he is resolved to win Katharina’s affections (though I would imagine that won’t be easy), freeing the way for Gremio and Hortensio to vie for Bianca’s attention. But just like Lucentio, Hortensio has figured a way to get in as Bianca’s music tutor, giving him an edge on his erstwhile friend Gremio. Everyone parts ways with their own schemes in mind.
I know everyone sounds terrible in this play, but I was left feeling affection for both Katharina and, strangely, Lucentio. Katharina is surely the only character playing it straight, so she gets points for that, plus her dad is kind of an ass in issuing this bizarre injunction on Bianca’s eligibility and placing tons of pressure on his elder daughter. And for some reason I haven’t fathomed yet, I like Lucentio’s kind of old-fashioned, love-at-first-sight naïveté. He’s charming in a dopey way.
I’m liking this play so far, as is the subject of the practical joke in the induction. At the end of the first scene, he popped up to express his approval and ask if there was going to be more. Indeed, there is. Until next time!