Lucentio 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 Lucentio from Shakespeare's ~'The Taming of the Shrew~' demonstrates how an idealistic romantic fares when confronted with practical reality. Read a summary and analysis of his character in this lesson.

Lucentio The Idealist

Winning the hand of the princess does not always lead to a happily-ever-after ending. The character Lucentio from The Taming of the Shrew has stars in his eyes and his head in the clouds. He is a lovable ditz in love, whom Shakespeare uses to represent the conflicts between idealism and practicality.

Scholars often examine Lucentio in direct contrast with Petruchio, but he seems to contrast readily with almost every other character in the play as well, in many ways out of place and out of touch yet still wielding the charm that idealism seems to have even in the face of grim reality. Let's review his character and examine him further.

Lucentio the Wannabe Scholar

Lucentio provides the first voice in the play. Freshly arrived from Pisa with his extremely faithful servant, Tranio, he is extravagantly ready to honor his father and his home by immersing himself in academic studies. Right away, his quixotic nature, a term derived from the literary character Don Quixote to describe someone impractical and romantically idealistic, comes out.

Lucentio is a romantic in both a literary sense of the word, referring to the heroic tradition of legend or fantasy, and our more modern use. It's just hard for him to stay focused on any particular aspect of romanticism from one moment to the next. Tranio, who is a bit more grounded, counsels Lucentio to strike a balance between grand pursuits and life's pleasures.

'Gramercies' (Shakespearean for 'Good grief'), he responds, 'well dost thou advise,' and he is off gushing about a new plan of action, anticipating new friends and parties . . . and then Bianca appears.

We get the Shakespearean equivalent of an eye-popping double take as Lucentio says to Tranio: 'But stay awhile; what company is this?' Once Lucentio lays eyes on Bianca, it's all over--he is head-over-heels in love. And it's the one thing he can keep his mind on apparently. From that moment forward in the play, it's all Bianca all the time for Lucentio.

Lucentio the Lover

Tranio reminds Lucentio that Bianca is unavailable until her sister Katherina, the shrew of the play, is married off first, but Tranio's eyes and ears are still just full of Bianca. So it's up to Tranio to concoct a plan on his master's behalf. It doesn't seem to occur to Lucentio to use his substantial inherited wealth to his advantage, Gremio's go-to method from the start, so Tranio suggests he pretend to be a tutor and charm Bianca under her father's nose.

Lucentio says 'Hark, Tranio! Thou may'st hear Minerva speak.' Bianca's words are like those of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, to Lucentio. This is another of Lucentio's traits that embodies the romantic ideal from literature. Such references to classical works and characters are sprinkled throughout his lines and seem to structure his thoughts. By contrast, someone with bottom-line values like Petruchio finds Lucentio's flowery references to classical poetry and epic romance as empty words.

To Lucentio, however, his words reflect deathly serious circumstances--no really, deathly: 'Tranio, I burn, I pine, I perish, Tranio.' Bianca has become his lifeline after one glimpse. When Lucentio describes to his other servant what is at stake, accomplishing the masquerade literally (or literarily for Lucentio) is presented as a matter of life and death.

Lucentio the Wannabe Warrior

But a romantic idealist must also fight for his love, and Lucentio shows his macho side, such as it is, when vying for Bianca's attention against Hortensio, the counterfeit music tutor. Lucentio becomes downright fierce when Hortensio tries to move in on Bianca, slamming Hortensio with a reminder that music is only as good as the philosophy it stimulates. Pretty heavy artillery.

In actuality, the only violence done, or even threatened, through any of this undercover tutoring comes through Katherina, who breaks an instrument over Hortensio's head. Lucentio's actions are all words, but he couldn't be more sincere. Bianca has the practical sense to keep Hortensio occupied with tricks, allowing Lucentio the privacy to let her in on his secret, and win her heart. In a world of merchants and dowry-chasers, Lucentio's romantic repertoire wins over Bianca. The implications of that become clearer at the end of the play.

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