“The Taming of the Shrew” is one of the early plays written in 1594. This play has a specific structure: the play is set in a frame, induction, which does not correspond with the plot, but plays a very important role representing the play as a kind of a tale played by a troupe of strolling players. In general, the role playing is crucial because it very much depends upon an actor’s talent to represent a particular character. The role playing is so important because in “The Taming of the Shrew” William Shakespeare exploits many different themes and uncovers the message of the play through emotions and manners of actors that have to impress audience more than dialogues and monologues.
Christopher Sly is the most vivid and charismatic character in the Induction, and his role needs professional skills and emotionality of the actor to make this character colorful, sophisticated and interesting. One day a lord decides to play a trick on a sleeping beggar, Christopher Sly. He says to his servants to take Sly back to the house and treat him like a real master: to place jewelries on his fingers and dress him in new clothes. Also, the lord sends for his pageboy, Bartholomew, and dresses him in women’ clothes to play the role Sly’s wife. When Sly wakes up the servants please him and tell the story about his “madness” and miraculous healing. Sly protests saying that he is a poor beggar, but servants insist and he has nothing to do but obey.
Sly is a comic character. It is possible to suppose that Sly is a man of his fortieth with a paunch and a red nose. He is not tall. His speech is careless and inexpressive, that helps to depict his background and social position. The actor should underline this peculiarity during performance to render a real beggar and drunker: “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!” (Induction I, ). The role of the actor is to imitate Sly’s speech taking into account intonation patters, accent and emotional colorings.
At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare does not describe Sly’s dress, but it should be old, shabby and worn out. This element is very important because the clothes Sly wears indicate both his state of mind, identity and class location in contrast to Sly-master in the second scene of Induction. The actor should render the character of Sly comically. Sly is not an organic person, with weaknesses typical for many tipplers: he has bad manners; he does not care much about himself, and his speech.
When Sly falls asleep, it is possible that the actor snores, wheezes, and smiles as if he dreams about something very pleasant and desirable. The place where he sleeps should reflect his social position: it can be a dump near the tavern or pub.
In the second scene his appearance would shift away from traditional attachments to a system which is responsive to individual and societal needs. The actor should emotionally portray this conflict between the new world which has replaced the old one. Sly is a little bit mad knowing about his role as a lord. The beginning of the second scene is very important because the actor is emotionally and by gestures portrays his great astonishment, much surprise, wonder, amazement etc, when: “SLY is discovered in a rich nightgown, with Attendants: some with apparel, others with basin, ewer, and other appurtenances” (Induction, scene 2). The audience should understand the feeling of the character and his emotional state. Later this contrast will come across even more clearly, in the choice of vocabulary and manners. His appearance represents a rich society while his manners are still the same, and the actor should play up this contrast comically.
During the second scene, the inner state of Sly is changed from great astonishment to a great desire to rule everything around him. The actor should underline that at the beginning the scene everything around Sly is unknown to him: his dress, food, manners, décor. Sly is shy and even bashful, he is afraid to touch “objects” around him, because he is unaware of his status: “Am I a lord? and have I such a lady? Or do I dream? or have I dream’d till now?” (Induction, scene II.).
In a time, sly is used to his status, and the actor should make a chance in his voice. Sly is not a shy beggar but a lord whose voice is firm and powerful. This rapid change in Sly’s character should be depicted ludicrously and farcically. The most curious is the scene when Sly tries to command and control his ‘wife’: “Madam wife, they say that I have dream’d And slept above some fifteen year or more. Servants, leave me and her alone” (Induction, scene II). The actor renders how Sly plays the role of a lord and takes great pains to behaviour like a real lord: “Marry, I will; let them play it” (Induction, scene II). In this scene facial expression is very important: it should be serious and simple-minded at the same time. The second scene spends more time with drawn out situations in which Sly is teased by tricks being played on him. Mimic and gestures should be spontaneous to unveil inner natural state of Sly.
The task of the actor is to represent every detail of a tippler, his manners and slang pointing out to real status of Sly. He is week personality who can be aggressive and calm, tender, silent, obedient and imperative in one scene. Differences can differ in both intensity and nature and can be opposed by movements and facial expression. Whereas emotions tend to be affective, intonation and tone could be more reflective. Intonation and tone is thus associated with a critical reflective attitude rather than with a satisfying, self-defining experience.
It is possible to conclude that the character of Sly is a complex one that combines different artistic features, comic and dramatic representation at the same time. The main peculiarity of this role is that words and remarks should be supported by colorful emotional expression, manners, mimic and gestures by the actor.
1. Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Induction: scene I-II. Available at: http://www.bartleby.com/70/2102.html