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In the clamor of Katerina’s shouts, Bianca is often looked at as a passive, secondary character. Often dismissed as quiet and innocent, we neglect to see her cleverness and cunning.
Believe me, sister, of all the men alive
I never yet beheld that special face
Which I could fancy more than any other.
Minion, thou liest. Is’t not Hortensio?
If you affect him, sister, here I swear
I’ll plead for you myself, but you shall have
O then, belike, you fancy riches more:
You will have Gremio to keep you fair.
Is it for him you do envy me so?
Nay then you jest, and now I well perceive
You have but jested with me all this while:
This exchange is often viewed as abusive on Katerina’s part with cruelness to Bianca. But upon further consideration couldn’t this be a normal sibling exchange? The fact that Bianca says “Nay, then you jest, and now I well perceive/ You have but jested with me all this while” shows that Bianca isn’t completely sold on Katerina’s cruelty. Probably knowing Katerina better than anyone, she also knows that her sister’s screams are not as dangerous as the men think they are.
Other indications of her cleverness is her quietness, her wedding, and her actions at the end of the play. While Katerina yells at the air and almost no one listens to her, Bianca listens while everyone seems to only pay attention to her as an object. She knows what the men think and say and can easily move around and manipulate them.
Her wedding is a curious thing as it is done in secret. Katerina’s wedding is loud, crazy, and tiresome and yet we only briefly hear that Bianca has been married to Lucentio by the family’s own priest without her father or Lucentio’s father’s consent; in essence, they eloped. Evading her father’s permissions, may have been Lucentio’s plan, but Bianca certainly does not protest the action. She has seen how Baptista, her father, acted at Katerina’s wedding; she has also seen how many ways he has been preventing herself from getting engaged. An elopement in her case is not a passive play, nor a foolish one.
The height of her cunning is at the end of the play. While Lucentio feels he has one by wedding the kind, sweet, passive wife, Bianca shows him that he has not. She refuses to come when she is called for and only comes when Katerina fetches her. This is a hint of Bianca and Lucentio’s future life together. She has won and has true control over the relationship even though she was poor, sweet, little Bianca.
Don’t get me wrong…this is not to dismiss Katerina in any way, it’s just to highlight the undertones rarely seen.