A poor vagrant who falls asleep drunk in front of a tavern at the beginning of the Induction. A Lord returning from hunting finds Sly asleep and plays a trick on him, carrying Sly to the Lord’s house and ordering the servants to treat Sly like a lord when he wakes up. A group of actors who visit the Lord’s house perform The Taming of the Shrew for Sly, which takes up the rest of the play. Sly is cantankerous and quarrelsome, more interested in drinking the beer and eating the beef jerky he is used to than in accepting the role of aristocrat. However, when he finds out that in his role as a lord he has a wife (actually the Page in disguise), he quickly changes his mind, anxious to get alone with her and take her to bed.
A very wealthy nobleman whose practical joke on Sly dominates the Induction and provides the set-up for the rest of the play. As the Lord carries out his joke, making Sly think that Sly is really a lord and doesn’t remember it, we get to see all of the luxuries that an aristocrat of Shakespeare’s day would enjoy—a pack of hunting dogs, numerous servants, a grand house, erotic artwork, imported wines and perfumes, preserved fruits, and so on.
The proprietress of a tavern who gets in an argument with Sly in the first lines of the play.
A boy servant to the Lord. The Lord has the Page dress as a lady and play the part of Sly’s wife.
A troupe of traveling actors who arrive at the Lord’s house offering to perform, and who help the Lord carry out his joke on Sly. They perform The Taming of the Shrew.
The shrew of the play’s title, and the oldest daughter of Baptista Minola and sister of Bianca. Katherine, who is also called Katherina or Kate, is extremely strong-willed. She insists upon saying whatever she thinks and expressing whatever she feels. Her words are abusive and angry, and her actions are often violent. In Shakespeare’s time, women like Katherine were called shrews, and they were strongly disapproved of as the worst possible kind of women. Petruchio undertakes the challenge of taming her, turning her into an obedient and pleasant wife.
A wealthy gentleman from Verona. Loud, boisterous, eccentric, and quick-witted, Petruchio comes to Padua to increase his fortune by marrying rich. All he wants is a bride with an enormous dowry, and Katherine fits the bill. Though everyone else warns him against trying to marry Katherine, he sets out to tame her by pitting his own violent temper against hers.
A wealthy citizen of Padua, and the father of Katherine and Bianca. Though many men want to marry Bianca, Baptista refuses to allow Bianca to marry before Katherine, whom no one wants to marry. Baptista is good-hearted and generous toward his two daughters, lavishing expensive books and lessons upon them, but he is completely at a loss for how to deal with the strong-willed Katherine.
The younger daughter of Baptista. The opposite of her sister Katherine, Bianca is soft-spoken, sweet, and unassuming, as well as beautiful. Because of her large dowry and her mild behavior, several men compete for her hand.
A young nobleman from Pisa who comes to Padua to study at the city’s renowned university, but who is immediately sidetracked when he falls in love with Bianca at first sight. Good-natured and intrepid, Lucentio is the most sympathetic of Bianca’s suitors. He disguises himself as a classics instructor named Cambio so he can gain access to Bianca and win her love.
Lucentio’s servant, who accompanies Lucentio from Pisa. Wily and comical, Tranio plays an important part in Lucentio’s charade by pretending to be Lucentio and bargaining with Baptista for Bianca’s hand.
Gremio and Hortensio
Two older gentlemen of Padua who want to marry Bianca. Although they are rivals, they become allies because of their mutual frustration with and rejection by Bianca. Hortensio is an old friend of Petruchio’s, and he suggests Katherine as a possible wife for Petruchio. He then dresses up as a music instructor to court Bianca. Hortensio and Gremio are both thwarted by Lucentio in their efforts to win Bianca.
Petruchio’s servant and the fool of the play. He provides comic relief by pretending to misunderstand Petruchio and getting into ridiculous arguments with him.
Lucentio’s second servant, who assists his master and Tranio in carrying out their plot.
Curtis, Nathaniel, Phillip, Joseph, Nicholas, Peter
Servants in Petruchio’s household.
The dress-maker and hat-maker hired by Petruchio to dress Katherine. Petruchio criticizes their work and sends them away, as part of his scheme to tame Katherine.
A wealthy widow of Padua whom Hortensio marries after abandoning his attempt to marry Bianca.
A merchant recently from Mantua, whom Lucentio tricks into pretending to be Lucentio’s father.