If something walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and acts like a duck, is it a duck? Probably, but what if this “duck” is really just a confused chicken? At this point, the question of identity comes into play. Is the chicken then considered a duck because its actions all point towards that of the distinctive aquatic bird? Or does the chicken’s actual reality as a chicken, its feathery DNA, matter more in this discussion? Identity in The Taming of the Shrew acts the same way. Highlighting the nature of identity, Shakespeare uses the story of Christopher Sly’s taming and its counterpart, Kate’s taming, to show that appearance becomes reality. Ultimately, the characters in The Taming of the Shrew blur the lines between reality and illusion, making them one and the same.
In the beginning of the play, the small part of dialogue concerning Christopher Sly shows the phenomenon of illusion becoming reality. A rich lord abducts Sly, a drunken beggar, and plays a trick on him: “What think you, if he were . . . wrapped in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers, a most delicious banquet by his bed . . . Would not the beggar then forget himself?” (Shakespeare, Taming of the Shrew, Ind. 1.33-37). When Sly awakens in an unfamiliar setting, he questions the truth of his predicament, but eventually, he wholeheartedly accepts the illusion that “[he is] a lord indeed, and not a tinker nor Christopher Sly” (Ind. 2.68-69). Because Sly sees that he possesses all the characteristics of a lord ─ fine clothes, dedicated servants, a noble “wife” ─ he immediately accepts the façade.
When he accepts his pseudo-nobility, Sly’s paradigm of his own reality shifts completely. He notices that he possesses all the characteristics of a lord and adjusts his own identity accordingly: he becomes the lord. Initially, the changes in Sly are merely superficial; he gains obedient servants, nice clothes, and delicious food. Nothing about his personality should change,...
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