Gremio 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.

The character Gremio from Shakespeare's ''The Taming of the Shrew'' is a humorous and oblivious figure. He comes from a comic tradition of things that make you go ''eww'' because of his rather creepy nature. In this lesson we'll find out why.

A Character of Longstanding Comic Tradition

The enduring popularity of Matt Groening's creation The Simpsons, with its numerous twisted and slightly revolting characters, is a reminder that even as we grow out of our fondness for fart jokes, we can still be slightly disgusted and entertained at the same time. Among the more disgusting and entertaining of Groening's Springfield residents is Montgomery Burns, a being who has a great deal in common with Gremio from Shakespeare's play, The Taming of the Shrew.

Are there differences between Gremio and Burns? Yes, Gremio is an old man chasing after the youthful Bianca and Burns is Homer Simpsons evil boss, but the miserly qualities, social inappropriateness, the cantankerous critique of the youthful reality he tries to fit in with all come across in both characters. The roots of a longstanding comic tradition are evident even in an updated version of Burns as a pantaloon (minus the tight trousers and slippers of Shakespeare's time) and allows us to connect modern comedy with its Shakespearean past.

Gremio the Pantaloon

Gremio is neatly categorized for us within the text itself, being referred to as a pantaloon: a version of the stock character (social stereotype) from Italian comic tradition who is old, foolish, lustful, and miserly. The Italian template for the character, the pantalone, is traditionally performed with a specific costume including baggy pants (pantaloons), posture, set of mannerisms, and physicality.

The standardized comic narrative that surrounded the pantalone cast him as scheming and crafty, but easily fooled because of his overly greedy and oblivious nature. Often, the pantalone was married to a beautiful, and much younger wife, who made him a cuckold, a man cheated on by his wife, through her wanton behavior. The pantalone was mocked for failing to gain wisdom and dignity with age because, sometimes, as human beings, we tend to have a bit of a mean streak in our comic tastes; enjoying the spectacle of elderly characters coming off as ridiculous.

Gremio Playing the Fool

As with the pantaloon/pantalone, Gremio can be sly and shrewd in his areas of expertise, money and greed, but easy-to-fool when it comes to interpersonal relationships and matters of intimacy. When Baptista declares that Bianca is off limits until her older sister Katherina is married, Gremio is able to set aside his rivalry with Hortensio in order to create a partnership to pay someone to court Katherina, the unbearable shrew of the play's title. As soon as the chance presents itself, however, he is negotiating a dowry with Baptista behind Hortensio's back. Underneath all of this, however, Gremio doesn't realize that Hortensio is secretly wooing Bianca in the guise of a music tutor. He doesn't see that the tutor he is paying to woo Bianca on his behalf is actually a disguised Lucentio wooing her for himself, and that the man he is negotiating against is Tranio, who is in disguise as Lucentio, throwing around money that he doesn't have, and that must be personally endorsed by a father that doesn't exist.

Gremio as an Anachronism

The term anachronism refers to something or someone out of sync with its time, and when it's a literary character then it's often someone living in the past. Just the fact that he pursues a much, much younger woman establishes the typical pantaloon as someone unable to recognize that his age doesn't fit his social presumptions and makes him both a comic and a somewhat creepy figure. The pantaloon is the original dirty old man, and Gremio would have been performed in Shakespeare's time in a way to bring out his full creepy potential. A comic fool-spotter like Gremio, Petruchio's trusty servant sidekick, sees Gremio for what he is at first glance: both a 'woodcock,' a strutting, brainless creature (at least in his pursuit of Bianca), and an 'ass.'

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