Hortensio, angered by what he has learned of Bianca's behavior, attempts to sour Lucentio (Tranio) against Bianca. Tranio feigns indignation at the situation, appearing unwilling to believe Bianca would love anyone but him. Before long, Tranio must admit Bianca exhibits more than a passing interest in Cambio (the real Lucentio). Hortensio, increasingly enraged, vows he will foreswear Bianca and gets Tranio to agree to reject her as well. Hortensio continues, pledging to marry a wealthy widow "Ere three days pass," resolving "Kindness in women, not their beauteous looks, / Shall win my love" (41-42).
Lucentio, Bianca, and Tranio are overjoyed to hear Hortensio has abandoned his pursuit of Bianca. As they discuss their good fortune, Biondello enters with news: An old man approaches. Lucentio and Tranio are still looking for an old man to assume the role of Lucentio's father (so the imposter-father can vouch for the financial solvency of imposter-Lucentio). Tranio, still masquerading as Lucentio, convinces the old man, a Mantuan schoolteacher, that his life is in peril if he is found in Padua (because of a supposed war between the Duke of Padua and the Duke of Mantua). Tranio tells the old man that he may disguise himself as Vincentio of Pisa and thereby avoid risking his life. In return, the old man need only confirm the dower he offered Baptista for marrying Bianca.
Act IV, Scene 2 returns us to Padua and the play's subplot. The scene, generally comic in nature, accomplishes two major things. First, it removes Hortensio from the love triangle and helps set up the marriage triad which is so crucial to Act V, Scene 2. Next, Lucentio and Tranio find an old man to impersonate Lucentio's father, Vincentio, and make the last part of their charade complete.
Hortensio's quick and simple rejection of his beloved Bianca may strike us as curious, but his action contributes to Shakespeare's predominate themes of courtship and marriage. Hortensio is easily as fickle as any woman in his feelings for Bianca. Instead of gracefully removing himself from the love triangle, Hortensio removes himself with an unwarranted vengeance (which, rest assured, will later earn him what he deserves). He is quick to curse Bianca, but the joke really is on him, as the audience is well aware. Hortensio's somewhat cryptic line "Would all the world but he had quite forsworn!" (35) provides a clue as to his folly. He says, in essence, that he hopes everyone in the world will forsake Bianca except the poverty-stricken Cambio, leaving her with what she deserves — nothing. In reality, though, Cambio is far from poor and is, in fact, quite a good catch.
Through Hortensio's easy transference of affection, from Bianca to the unnamed widow, Shakespeare again directs our attention to the fleeting nature of supposed "love." As we have seen before, marriage is, for Hortensio as well as other male characters, merely a business transaction. Hortensio feels pressure to be married, so he shall be. He admits to selecting a potential spouse based on beauty (41), but when that doesn't work, he opts for selecting one based on "kindness" (41). We will see later, though, that Hortensio did not necessarily follow his own advice, opting instead to marry for financial reasons (not unlike his good friend Petruchio).
Perhaps the character who comes off best in this scene is Tranio. We see he is as clever and capable as his master — perhaps even more so. He is able to think on his feet easily and has no problem playing Hortensio like a lute. The only place where Tranio's behavior makes audiences take pause is when he claims Hortensio has "gone unto the taming-school," however (55). He could have had no indication such was the case unless Hortensio delivered the information off stage or in now lost lines.
In addition to easily mastering Hortensio, Tranio succinctly maneuvers the Pedant into precisely the position he desires. Unlike Tranio, the Pedant is a flat, rather gullible character. He is quickly taken in by Tranio's fiction and, in fact, considers himself lucky to have found such a benefactor. Ironically, the Pedant is quite the opposite from Vincentio, the man he will impersonate. Biondello, in fact, says as much, when he mutters the two men are as like "as an apple doth an oyster" (102-103). Humorously, the poor unknowing Pedant will impersonate one of the richest and most well known men in Pisa while he, himself, is of much a much meaner background. Instead of riches, he delivers "bills for money by exchange" (90), or promissory notes.
profit (6) reap an advantage or benefit.
resolve (7) determine; answer.
The Art of Love (8) Ovid's Ars Amatoria.
proceeders (11) workers.
despiteful (14) spiteful; malicious.
wonderful (15) that causes wonder; amazing.
cullion (20) a low, contemptible fellow.
lightness (24) wantonness.
fondly (31) foolishly.
haggard (39) a wild hawk.
"eleven-and-twenty long" (58) "right on the money"; allusion to the card game "one-and-thirty."
marcantant (64) a merchant.
pedant (64) a schoolmaster.
"let me alone" (72) "count on me."
stayed (84) stopped; halted.
credit (108) the favorable estimate of a person's character; reputation; good name.
"take upon you" (110) play your part.
repute (114) regard.
pass assurance (119) to give a legal guarantee.
dower (119) that part of a man's property which his widow inherits for life.