In William Shakespeare’s play, Taming of the Shrew, Christopher Sly is a minor character because he is only present in the induction and a small portion of act two. He compliments the other characters’ actions to develop the overall plot of the play. Although Christopher Sly is considered a minor character because he is rarely seen, Shakespeare uses Sly to prove the differences between the upper class and lower class is superficial, provide background information for the audience, and develop the main theme of disguise.
Using the context and character’s actions, William Shakespeare uses Christopher Sly to form the idea that different levels of social statuses are superficial. He helps show this point by how easily characters are able to switch from one social class to the next. The first example that we see which represents this idea is Christopher Sly’s transformation after accepting he is a Lord. While Sly originally spoke in prose as a commoner, now that he believes he is a Lord Sly speaks in iambic pentameter: “’Tis much, Servants, leave me and her alone. Madam, undress you and come not to bed” (Induction. 2. 99-100).
Another illustration is the true Lord’s transformation into Sly’s servant. This shows that social classes are merely set by the appearance and language of a person. A parallel example further along in the play is when Tranio takes the place of Lucentio. Tranio puts on nicer clothes so that he can play the role of Lucentio, and he also begins speaking in iambic pentameter: “Please ye we may contrive this afternoon And quaff carouses to our mistress' health And do as adversaries do in law, rive mightily, but eat and drink as friends. ” (1. 2. 249-252)
Christopher Sly improves Shakespeare’s central point that clothing and the language being spoken are the only characteristics that distinguish social statuses apart from one another. Christopher Sly supports this point by quickly changing his actions and speech whenever he begins to believe that he is a lord. Shakespeare uses Christopher Sly to form a relationship between the audience and the play since majority of The Taming of the Shrew is set in an unfamiliar setting, Italy.
We are introduced to Sly by his refusal to pay for bar glasses he has broken. He is belligerent and crude, telling the bar maid to, “Go to they cold bed and warm thee” (Induction. 1. 7). The audience has probably at some point acted like Sly or knows someone who has so it is easy to view him as a normal guy. This introduction, involving Sly, is an entertaining transition into the main play. It aids the audience to relate to the play and become intrigued. Sly is also used to introduce one of the main themes of the play, disguise.
He accomplishes this by accepting that he is a Lord and allowing himself to become transfixed into his new identity. Disguise can be distinguished by many factors during the play such as physically disguising a character into someone else that has a higher or lower position in society or simply disguising a personality. When Sly awakens, the Lord’s servants are trying to convince Sly that he is indeed a Lord; however, Sly trys to hold on to his true identity: “I’m Christopher Sly. Call me not “Honor” nor / “Lordship.
I ne’er drank sack in my life. ” (Induction. 2. 5-6). Following the Lord’s orders, the servants are persistent to convince him that he is indeed a Lord. Sly finally agrees to what the servants are saying when they tell him that he has a wife. When he gives in to his new identity, he helps set up disguise as one of the themes of the play. As the play continues, we see other characters changing their identity for some form of personal gain. Many of these disguises would become overlooked if Sly was not introduced taking on his own disguise.
One example of a disguise that Sly helped introduce that is used by one of the characters is Lucentio pretending that he is a classics instructor. He forms this disguise because he is in love with Bianca, but she cannot court anyone until her sister Kate, the shrew, is married. Another disguise used to develop the plot is Kate’s disguised personality. She is fed up with Petruchio, her new husband’s, actions to try and tame her as a wife. She is able to disguise her shrewish personality using wit and intelligence.
The significance of these disguises would go unnoticed if Sly did not introduce the theme of disguise in the induction when he took on the personality of a lord. Although The Taming of the Shrew plot can be understood and continue without the induction or Sly because of his minor role, the use of Christopher Sly’s character helps set the theme for the play. Sly also helps compliment the characters as they put on their disguises throughout the play along with providing a connection to the audience.