Framing the Play

by Arleen Chavez

An induction, also called a framing device, is an explanatory scene in a play; usually, it is included at the beginning of the play. Inductions are popular in Renaissance literature, but are not too common within Shakespeare’s works.

In The Taming of the Shrew, two of the major themes are taming and transformation, both of which are established in the induction, the first two scenes at the very beginning of the play. The first scene of the induction begins with a drunk tinker named Christopher Sly arguing with a local hostess, and he soon falls asleep. A Lord then enters with his servants and spies the sleeping man nearby; he quickly formulates the idea of tricking Sly into thinking Sly himself is a rich lord who has been asleep for a long time due to an illness. The Lord’s servants promise to assist in the ruse, and to do so as convincingly as they can. The servants then take the sleeping Sly up to the Lord’s chamber to prepare for the ruse. A horn sounds, and a troupe of actors arrives. Upon asking the Lord if they can perform for him and spend the night, he agrees and informs the troupe they will be performing for another lord, one who has never seen a play, and so warns them that he might act strangely. The troupe promises to not be thrown off by his behavior, and they exit. The Lord then commands a servant to dress up his page as a woman and tell him that he must go along with the pretense of being Sly’s noblewoman wife.kmtots51

©Michael John Goodman, Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive, 2013.

The second scene of the induction opens with Sly, awake and annoyed with the servants following him around while he insists he does not know why they do so. The Lord is in disguise among them, as a servant as well. All the servants and the Lord keep up the ruse of Sly’s noble position, illness, wife, and luxurious tastes, all while acting dismayed at his inability to remember anything they tell him. They soon convince him, and tell him any memories of being a tinker or of being Christopher Sly are dreams that he had during his 15 years of sleep. Sly then asks for his wife, and the disguised page enters; Sly expresses his desire to sleep with his wife, but the page denies him, saying the doctors have cautioned against it, for fear of Sly falling back into his deep sleep. Sly relents, and a messenger enters with the invitation to a play. He tells them that the doctors believe it will be beneficial to Sly’s health for him to enjoy the play. Sly agrees to watch, and calls his wife to his side.

Shakespeare ended The Taming of the Shrew with the conclusion of the play within the play, thereby making the induction seem open-ended and the play incomplete, which is why it is often removed from adaptations. However, many scholars agree the induction sets the tone of heightened emotion of the rest of the play, as the main plot lines of Katherine and Petruchio and Bianca and Lucentio are the play within the play, thus happening on a different level of reality than the plot of Sly’s taming and transformation. Katherine’s plot closely mimics Sly’s plot, which is lost when the induction is skipped or modified.

Sources:

Aspinall, Dana. “The Play and the Critics.” The Taming of the Shrew Critical Essays, edited by Dana Aspinall, Routledge, 2002, p. 14-19.

Smith, Cheryl. “Shakespeare on the Sly.” Utah Shakespeare Festival, Southern Utah University. 2016. Accessed 12 December 2016. Web.

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