Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew

Instructor: John Gonzales

John has 20+ years experience teaching at the college level in areas that include English and American literature, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Meet Bianca Milano from William Shakespeare's raucous comedy, ~'The Taming of the Shrew.~' This lesson discusses Bianca's character evolution in the play and invites you to consider who the shrew really is when the curtain closes in the final act.

Sisters Going Different Directions

The character Bianca Minola in William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew appears to be a perfect opposite to her older sister Katherina/Kate, the shrew of the play's title. Kate is willful, outspoken, and rebellious, whereas Bianca appears to be a model of obedience and modesty. This opposition holds true in a surprising way over the course of the play.

As Kate becomes more cooperative and more compliant, Bianca grows bolder, more confident, and more shrewish. By the end of the play, a complete reversal occurs. Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, has gratified the male egos in his audience by taming one shrew while also perpetuating the theme of the battle of the sexes with Bianca's contrasting character evolution.

The Innocent Introduction

Little sister/favorite daughter Bianca seems too good to be true in the opening scene of the play. Even her name, which means 'white,' implies purity, virtue, and goodness. Her humble acceptance of her father Baptista's decree that she will not be allowed to marry until her temperamental older sister Katherina does is almost martyr-like. She wishes Kate contentment in her own discontent, and tells her father that she will be obedient, and focus on her studies and personal development until Kate finds, or is found by, that elusive fiancée.

An Idealized Bianca
Idealized Bianca

She is similarly sympathetic and seemingly perfect in the next scene. Kate has her tied up and is being downright abusive, demanding that Bianca reveal which of her many suitors she desires most. Bianca replies that none so far has caught her eye and that Kate is welcome to any of them.

She reminds Kate that she hurts them both by her mistreatment and proclaims her respect and obedience to Kate as her elder sister (Hmm . . . could that be a subtle little moment of snark, implying that Kate is an unmarried old maid? Nah, it's perfect little Bianca). As she departs the scene, it is clear that her father dotes especially on his younger daughter. It seems Bianca can do no wrong.

Signs of Willfulness

In Act 3, however, we begin to see another aspect of Bianca. A local bachelor, Hortensio, and a young visitor from Pisa, Lucentio, have both finagled their way into the Minola household disguised as tutors in order to sneak under Baptista's radar. While Katherina is busy dealing with Petruchio, Bianca is left to her own devices for the first time in the play.

She tells her new 'tutors' that she will learn as she chooses and not at their direction. Along with this first sign of an independent spirit, we see a flirtatious and manipulative side. She strings along Hortensio by repeatedly telling him his instrument is out of tune while she listens to Lucentio reveal his true identity and his love for her. If we weren't so completely convinced of Bianca's innocence, we might wonder at what could be implied by the idea that Hortensio is courting her with an out-of-tune instrument.

As Act 3 concludes, Bianca has stopped even pretending to be the devoted younger sister. When asked her opinion on the sequence of events that turned Kate's wedding day into a bizarre spectacle of public humiliation, ending with Petruchio carrying her off like a bundle of newly purchased merchandise, Bianca replies, 'That, being mad herself, she's madly mated.'

In Act 4, we see that Bianca has finally made her choice, and it is Lucentio. She does wish Hortensio well in his pursuit of a widow he knows, but now that we have a taste of her witty and catty side, this might be a sarcastic hint that the widow could be more than Hortensio bargained for. That certainly turns out to be the case in the final scene of the play. Does Bianca know something more? Why not? She has already shown layers and depths that nobody seemed to expect from the angelic darling she first appeared to be.

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