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This opening scene does much to establish the major elements of the play. The first scene opens in a public place in Padua, the city in which most of the action occurs in the play. Most of the key characters are on stage during the opening scene, including Katherine, Bianca, Baptista, and Lucentio. The major problem of the play is also introduced. Katherine must have plans to marry before her younger sister, Bianca, can even be seriously courted, and Katherine has no suitors because of her shrewish personality.
During the scene, Katherine’s father, Baptista, humiliates her in public by discussing her personal situation with Hortensio and Gremio; he then offers her to Bianca’s suitors as if she were a piece of property. Next, he concerns himself with the education of Bianca, completing ignoring Katherine’s needs. Finally, her father leaves her behind, for he wants to talk with Bianca alone. Katherine knows that Bianca is her father’s favorite child, for this younger sister, gentle and mild by nature, always acts like a sacrificing saint. When her father tells her she must pursue books and music rather than pursuing love, Bianca accepts the decision with grace and silence.
It is important to notice Bianca’s two suitors in this scene. Hortensio and Grumio are the two gentlemen that Tranio, in the disguise of Lucentio, must compete with for Bianca’s favor. Neither suitor is particularly impressive. In fact, Grumio is pictured as older, foolish, and slow, certainly no match for the beautiful young Bianca. Hortensio realizes that Grumio is not a threat and suggests that the two of them work together to find Katherine a husband. Hortensio is smart and quick enough to think on his feet. Lucentio is also smart enough to be a planner and a schemer. He decides to act as Bianca’s tutor and to have his servant Tranio become a third suitor to her. Lucentio feels that both plans will further his chances of winning his beloved Bianca for himself.
It is also important to note that the dialogue of this scene is inferior to that found in the induction. The characters, especially Lucentio, lack vitality in their speech, and the patterns of the verse are not dynamic or always correct. In fact, no character in Scene 1 matches the language or thinking of the Lord in the opening scene. Many critics think the difference in language and style is due to the collaborative effort probably used in writing the play. Often in these scenes not clearly written by Shakespeare, there is use of both Italian and Latin phrases, many of them incorrect. In most of his play, as well as in his other dramas, Shakespeare himself rarely uses foreign phrases.
The scene closes with comments from Sly and other characters from the Induction. It is the last time any of them will appear in the play; therefore, the framework simply disappears after Act I, Scene 2.