Monday, February 27, 2012

Clothes Make the Man

     The play The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare tells the story of a group of suitors who although wishing to marry Bianca, cannot pursue her until her older sister Katherine, the shrew, is married. While there are several themes in the play, such as bonds, feminism, and other such things, one of the most important themes in this play is that of clothing. This is seen specifically in the way that clothing not only showed one's position in society, but in this play also gave one power in society.
      In The Taming of the Shrew one of the most important plot points is when Lucentio and his servant Tranio switch places with each other so that Lucentio can appear to be of the lower class, become Bianca's teacher and woo her unofficially; at which point Tranio, pretending to be Lucentio, will woo Bianca officially. This transformation is achieved mainly through the exchanging of their clothing. This is seen when Lucentio tells, "Thou shalt be master, Tranio, in my stead; . . . Uncase thee. Take my coloured hat and cloak." (1.1.196-201). It is here that clothing is shown as an important part of the story, mainly in the way that while Lucentio gave Tranio his permission to be him and have his position in society, it is not until they change clothes that this permission becomes relevant. This is because it is the quality of the clothes that define a person's station of life, and the only way that a servant pretending to be his master and vice versa could possibly happen is through the changing of clothes. It is clear that in this play clothing itself has a great deal of power in this society, giving the people who wear them even higher status in life. This is seen when Tranio is attempting to secure Bianca's hand to him while pretending to be Lucentio and is able to do and be taken seriously, mainly through the fact that no one questions his status. This is seen in "Now, on the Sunday following shall Bianca / be bride to you." (2.1.387-388). It is clear that without the rich clothes of his master, Tranio would never have been able to either pass himself off as Lucentio or even compete in the negotiations for Bianca's hand if he were not rich, which is inferred by the type of clothing he wears. The power that clothes possess in society is seen also in act 5 where Lucentio's father arrives and attempts to tell everyone Tranio is an imposter. This is made almost impossible however not only in the fact that Tranio has done his part so well, but also through the fact that once again his clothing shows him to be a member of the upper class. This is noted by Vicentio himself in, "O fine villain, a silken doublet, a velvet hose, a scarlet cloak, and a copintank hat - O, I am undone, I am undone!" (5.1.54-55). Even though Vincentio knows that he is in the right, that Tranio is impersonating his son that Tranio is wearing such nice clothes and also acknowledging that there is little he can do to prove it, especially given the clothing he is wearing.
         The power of clothing in The Taming of the Shrew, lies in its ability to describe the person who is wearing it, just who they are in society. While this may not seem to be such a great power, it allows people to wield influence over others through the sheer fact that they are wearing such nice clothes. This is seen in the way that Tranio is able to successfully pretend to be his master simply because he has good set of clothing. The power that clothing possess in this time allows Tranio to negotiate with an incredibly rich man and and even claim that a  man who is telling the truth is lying and almost be successful in it. In this play, it is the man with the best clothing that has the power.

1 comment:

faithkinne said...

You definitely have some good points here. It is also evident that clothing is a symbol of status and wealth within the first induction. Christopher Sly would have never been convinced that he is of high status if he was still wearing his only set of clothing. When the Lord orders his men to bathe Sly and clothe him, it shows just how important clothing is. It is definitely a clue to readers to pay attention to clothing within Taming of the Shrew.