The importance of Sly in 
"The Taming of the Shrew"


          “The Taming of the Shrew” begins with an induction scene and here we meet  Christopher Sly who is a poor tinker.


SHREW7705.sco.SPRA.803.JPG Walton Wilson as Christopher Sly          Sly drinks so much and he drunkenly falls into asleep in front of the lord’s house. While the lord is returning from hunting, he sees Sly and he decides to have some fun with him. He orders Sly to be taken into his house where the nobleman and his household dress him in finery, give him good food and even a "wife," and convince him he is the lord of the house. After “awakening” he becomes confused because he is told that he is a lord and he is treated as a lord. Sly who sees himself in that dress and luxury conditions believes that he is a real lord. At the beginning he is a little bit confused and he starts to question his situation, but later on he adapts himself into his new life as a lord.[1]



The language used by Sly makes the reader or audience laugh and be confused. As we know he is a drunken man and we always laugh the drunken people because they always say the ridiculous things and they are no aware what is going on around themselves. As a drunk, the language he uses and the actions he does create a comic atmosphere in the play. His use of comic words toward the other people and his use of wrong references also make the audience laugh. [2]



       Sly’s story dramatises the idea that a person’s environment and the way he is treated by others determines his behaviour. [3]  He is actually a fool because he has an identity problem. We laugh his absurd situation because he is suffering from lost identity. Actually he doesn’t know who he is and he is not conscious about his existence. Although he is a beggar when he gets dressed as a lord and sees the luxury life he can feel as if he was a lord. His “awakening” is not a psychological awakening only a physical one because his consciousness is still sleeping. Shakespeare takes the audience into an illusion with the unconscious behaviours of Sly. The situation of Sly is only eye deception. He isn’t aware of reality. He cannot differentiate what is real or what is dream.   



The induction is a great success and importance to the play because it gives many hints and clues to what the play proper is going to be about, it creates a comedic theme, which is created by the language used by Christopher Sly, it introduces many themes that link to the play proper i.e.  deception and illusion and it summaries the play as a whole. [4]


Since the audience is familiar with several themes such as disguise, reality, illusion, deception from the beginning the audience consciously or unconsciously prepare him/her to look for  them  in the other scenes of play. The induction scene prepares us to the next scenes and the events in “The Taming of The Shrew”. Both in induction and in “The Taming of the Shrew” there is a taming and a transformation  process.  First in the induction scene we see a drunken man Sly and this character has similar aspects with Kate. Both of them are tamed by different people and in different ways. While Sy is tamed with luxury, Kate is tamed by with limitations, humiliations, deprivations.  Also The induction and Christopher Sly have another  significant feature for the the play because it reminds that the play is not to be taken seriously.  The Taming of the Shrew is being performed for Christopher Sly as part of the joke that the lord is playing on him.  By starting Taming with the induction it lets us know that we are not to take the play too seriously but rather just watch it and enjoy.  [5]


However Sly disappears after the first scenes and Shakespeare doesn’t close the play with Sly. He  may have wanted to create curiosity about him or he may not have wanted to break the magical transformation of  Kate. Since  at the end of the play we are all surprised and he may have wanted to make us under this influencion. He carries out his function at the beginning of the play, prepares the audience for he rest of the play then disappears.


Academic year 2006/2007
© a.r.e.a./Dr.Vicente Forés López
© Ayse Ayanoglu
Universitat de Valčncia Press

[1] Prologue,2,162  What, would you make me mad? Am not I Christopher Sly, old Sly's son of Burton Heath; by birth a pedlar, by education a cardmaker, by transmutation a bear-herd, and now by present
profession a tinker?

[2] Prologue,1,4 Y'are a baggage; the Slys are no rogues. Look in the
chronicles: we came in with Richard Conqueror. Therefore, paucas
pallabris; let the world slide. Sessa!