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Scene Summaries With Notes
The opening scene of the play begins with Christopher Sly, a drunken tinker. He has an argument with the hostess of an alehouse in Warwickshire, England. She wants him to pay for some glasses he has broken, but Sly argues with her and claims that his ancestors came with ‘Richard Conqueror’. She leaves to call the constable on him, and Sly falls asleep.
A Lord and his attendants, on their way back from a hunting outing, spot Sly and decide to play a joke on him for their own amusement. The Lord instructs his men to carry Sly into a nice room and dress him in fancy clothes. When Sly wakes, they plan to tell him he is really a nobleman suffering from a mental disorder. They also will tell him he has a wife.
A group of traveling actors arrive. They are hired by the Lord to perform for his men and for the drunken Sly. The Lord warns the players that "Lord Sly" has never seen a drama performed, so he may have some strange reactions. The Lord also pays Bartholomew, one of the pages, to dress up like a lady and pretend to be Sly’s wife. The scene ends when the Lord leaves to watch the result of his trickery.
The induction creates the framework for the play. Christopher Sly has passed out at the alehouse from drinking too much. When the Lord sees his inebriated state, he decides to play a joke on him. Sly is carried away, dressed in fine clothes, and told he is a nobleman with a wife.
When the group of traveling actors arrive on the scene, the Lord asks them to present a play for Christopher Sly. The play that is presented is The Taming of the Shrew.
The wealthy and witty Lord is not vitally important as a character, for he has only a few lines; however, he is instrumental in transferring Sly to his chamber and creating some hilarious scenes. Sly is much more important to the play as a whole. In spite of having relatively few lines in the first scene of the induction, his character is firmly established. He is a tinker by trade who drinks excessively and acts like a clown. He also seems to be a troublemaker, for the hostess of the alehouse goes to call the constable on him. Although he appears to be poor since he is low on money, he humorously states that he is a descendant of "Richard Conqueror" (meaning William the Conqueror). He also shows off by mumbling foreign words. Finally, he is gullible enough to fall for the trick that the Lord is playing on him.
Shakespeare takes the framework of his play directly from the original The Taming of a Shrew; but in the original, the characters from the induction are seen more often as they interact with the actors throughout the play. In the end of the original play, Sly is carried back to the alehouse, where he awakes and thinks he has had a dream about taming a shrewish woman. In Shakespeare’s play, the characters from this scene appear only once after the Induction. Critics disagree on the effectiveness of Shakespeare’s framework. Some feel that Sly should be a character throughout the play. Others feel that if Sly and the Lord were placed at the end of the play, it would be anticlimactic and distracting. Others think that there was originally a final scene where Sly was brought back, and it was lost before the play was printed.