Favorite author and a genre that I love

          Who Are You Trying to Kid, Billy Shakespeare?
                                           
By Jeff Salter

             I enjoy Shakespeare’s plays and I love fast-paced comedies.  There’s my author and genre.  And this is a review … of sorts.
            I hadn’t correctly remembered the suggested topic options for this week when I asked my wife what her favorite romance was.  After thinking a bit, Denise said, “What about ‘The Taming of the Shrew’?”
            I assumed she was kidding.  “That’s your favorite romance?” I asked.  I know it’s a 16th century archetype for a LOT of book, play, and film plots … but I was slightly surprised that Denise liked it.
            “What do you like about it?” I inquired.  I had read the play in college, seen the wonderful Richard Burton — Liz Taylor screen adaptation, and I’ve enjoyed the movie musical ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ which borrows part of this play in a very different context.
            “Well, neither character started out to ‘find’ romance,” explained Denise.
            That’s certainly true:  Katharine (the shrew) has absolutely NO interest in marriage and Petruchio (the arrogant opportunist) is enamored solely because of her dowry.  There are numerous twists, imposters, mistaken identities, and odd motives amid the primary sub-plot of Katharine’s younger sister (Bianca), who’s not allowed to marry until Katharine does.  [All those confusing and distracting elements are WAY too complicated to discuss here.]
            Enter Petruchio, who’s in Padua to visit a friend.  And, by the way, he also wants a rich wife.  Katharine’s father (Baptista) eagerly embraces Petruchio – his elder daughter’s ONLY suitor to date – and only requires that Katharine AGREE to the match.  After a very funny scene with witty barbs and many double entendres, Petruchio announces to Baptista that Katharine has agreed [a bald-faced lie] and convinces the father that Katharine will deny this out of a desire to appear coy.  So (over his daughter’s repeated denials) Baptista blesses the marriage, signs the contract, and gives 20,000 crowns to the brash and dishonest Petruchio.  The wedding is set.
            Shakespeare got away with a lot:  audiences in 16th century England were willing to suspend considerable disbelief.  Would the fiery, dominant Katharine REALLY allow herself to be mated to this coarse, stubborn gold-digger?  I’m not convinced.
            Not only has Petruchio ‘bulled’ his way into a marriage contract with over-powering momentum, but he deliberately sabotages Katharine’s wedding ceremony.  [That’s cruel.]  And then he hauls her out of town before she can even enjoy her own wedding banquet.  A long tiring journey to Petruchio’s estate leaves Katharine exhausted and starving.  Yet Petruchio won’t let her rest or eat.  Shakespeare handles this by making Katharine seem like a helpless idiot.  Why won’t she just march down to the kitchen and grab some vittles?  No, she falls into the bizarre idiocy her new husband uses to ‘tame’ her.
            This would never work in real-life … and certainly not in modern times.  But Shakespeare makes Katharine so exhausted (emotionally and physically), confused, and demoralized that she meekly decides to agree with whatever Petruchio says … basically to shut him up.
            All the while Petruchio PRETENDS that his multiple manipulations and continual outbursts are simply acts of adoration.  Really?  C’mon, Shakespeare!  He treats his new bride like dirt and won’t allow her to eat or sleep … and yet Petruchio convinces her it’s out of LOVE?  No way.
            So, Katharine humors Petruchio.  Gosh, that’s a quick transformation!  Believable?  Not to me.
            The climax of the entire play (which also wraps up sister Bianca’s part of the story), is when Petruchio and two other newly married men wager as to which new wife will most quickly OBEY an absurd ‘order’.  So, in turn, they ‘send for’ their new wives (in other parts of that household).  In turn, each of the other wives refuses to show.  But Katharine?  She springs to obey Petruchio.
            Not content to win that wager, Petruchio adds another layer of dominance and Katharine also passes that test.  She goes through her paces and her brash husband wins the larger bet.
            So why does this play work?  I’m not sure. 
            But I believe this is the key:  In appearing to ‘obey’ her husband – more like a puppy than a wife – Katharine actually holds the controls of this relationship.  Until that point, she had put up with all of his bizarre behavior simply as a coping mechanism.  But with this public wager, she finally has the upper hand.  If she refuses to obey, her husband is humiliated and loses lots of money.  [Good revenge.]  But she chooses to let him off the hook.  At that moment, Katharine has all the power — to ‘make or break’ her husband.  Why did she comply and let him appear as the victorious master of their marriage?  Because, in my opinion, she knew it made things equal.  Petruchio could never again pull all that crap on her because at this moment, she held his ‘manhood’ (so to speak) in her hands. 
            To ‘appear’ to obey without question was actually Katharine’s way of saying to Petruchio, “From this point on, things are different, Sport.”
           In the movie version this is reinforced by the look – first of worry and then relief – on Burton’s face when Taylor sweeps into the room and makes her subservient speech.  Yep, he knew she had all the power at that point.

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
This entry was posted in Jeff Salter, movies, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Favorite author and a genre that I love

  1. Tonya Kappes says:

    Jeff! Don’t you know, we women always have the power. We just have to pretend that you boys do …..sometimes:) I actually loved Taming of the Shrew too!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Yes, Tonya, many men are well aware of that. LOL.
      But some, like Petruchio, are hung up on the bombastic ‘front’.
      Funny (true) story — a guy I’m acquainted with was shooting the bull with some of his buddies and I think one of them razzed him about being henpecked or something. At that point, this individual went on a tirade about how HE was the boss at home and blah-blah-blah. Well, come to find out, his cell phone had ‘butt-dialed’ his wife’s phone and she sat there in her house LISTENING to all that.
      When that dude got home … he was toast!

      Like

  2. danicaavet says:

    It just goes to show how well Shakespeare knew people. Great post!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Danica. Yes, one of the many reasons I enjoy Shakespeare so much. He draws characters so well. Of course, he’s still difficult to read at times. And if I was teaching these plays to high school kids to get them interested, I think I’d edit out a lot of the confusing sub-plots and sub-sub-plots. [Don’t anybody shoot me — I just mean to focus on the energetic primary story … long enough to get the kids interested] Fortunately, I was able to ‘get to know’ Shakespeare DESPITE his long-windedness.

      Like

  3. Loved Taming of the Shrew, too, though in real life I’d take a stick (Louisville slugger type) to any male who tried to treat me as Petruchio did Kate. I’d probably be smiling the entire time I tested his knee reflexes a few dozen times. Maybe women enjoy the play because when we set out to be entertained we’re able to suspend a bit of belief and a lot of reality. (Helps to remember women in that era had little choice in marriage partners, and it was a bonus when one gained the upper hand, by whatever means. Brains over brawn thing — present company excluded, of course!)

    Like the post, as usual, Jeff!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Runere. Yeah, I can’t think of many modern women who’d put up with crap like Petruchio’s outrageousness. A baseball bat is a good choice. I have a character in my first three novels who wields a Louisville Slugger … and nobody messes with her.
      That said, on a very sad note: through the ages, many women HAVE endured horrible conditions from abusive spouses. This play makes light of Petruchio’s manipulation and mistreatment, but it’s actually not a funny subject. Part of what makes it work in this play — even after 500 years — is that the Kate character is, herself, so strong and abusive. [At one point, she ties up her sister and torments her.]

      Like

  4. Lois Grant says:

    Really liked your summation of the play which was good for me as I either was not made to read it in high school or college and had not seen the movie. Although I would have to agree with Runere, I think that a baseball bat would have solved a lot of problems. It was an interesting thought that by obeying, she showed him they were now equal. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Glad you stopped by, Lois. Yeah, I wrote a paper on this play in college. Nowhere had I ever been taught anything about that aspect … it just came to me as I read the script.
      The key — to me — was that, at that point, Kate was not ‘obeying’ in that traditional sense … but that she was making a show of obeying because she realized it transfered the power to her. And she knew Petruchio was out on a limb … only she could save his ‘image’ among his peers. Amazing power.

      Like

  5. Laurie Ryan says:

    Yep. I have to agree about the baseball bat, too. I never read/saw Taming of the Shrew, but no matter the era, it irks me when women take such a subservient role. So I’m glad that, at the end at least, there is a spark of power in Kate.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Oh, Katharine has PLENTY of spark. In fact, what makes the play for most people is the rapid-fire witty dialog with Petruchio … before her dad is tricked into ‘signing-off’ on her marriage to the lout.
      Loads of double entendre and readers can sense the ‘energy’ between them building. But then Shakespeare takes the easy way out and ‘writes’ Kate as a wimp for nearly two acts.
      Thanks for posting, Laurie.

      Like

  6. jeff7salter says:

    I forgot to mention — and the column was running long anyhow — the other thing my wife said about Kate and Petruchio. “These are whole people who do not need someone to ‘complete’ them. But each does want someone to complement them.”

    Like

  7. Bethany says:

    Jeff,

    “The Taming Of The Shrew” is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I love it! I’ve seen it so many times on stage. (There’s a theater in town that does Shakespeare plays every summer and they’ve done that one. They modernized it a bit by having Pertrucio come out on a motorcycle–that was hysterical). There are adaptations that show Katharine hestitating to obey Pertrucio, but doing it to keep things from going badly for her. The Ballet company in town is doing a ballet rendition of this play–I don’t know that I’ll see it–I’m sort of unsure how this would translate when so much of the play relies on the words spoken (I’ve seen the ballet version of “Romeo & Juliet” and I adore it, but that has a lot of actions in it, so it works). Anyway, I think your wife’s assessment of it is very interesting. I never thought of the play in those terms 🙂

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      I can’t picture a ballet version of that play, but then I’m not much of a fan of ballet. Don’t like opera either.
      Thanks for posting, Bethany … I’m glad to run across another Shakespeare fan.

      Like

  8. This is a great story but my favorite is Twelfth Night. Such a fun one with all the mixed sexes.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      I’ve either read Twelfth Night or seen a film version. Maybe both. Is that the one with the character called Puck?

      Like

  9. Micki Gibson says:

    Ah Shakespeare! It’s the college class I took one summer semester which caused me to switch my major from math to English. I realized the bard was a lot more interesting in college than in high school. (Probably all the sexual innuendoes our poor high school teachers couldn’t mention.) But I have to agree, count me in with all the baseball bat ladies. (Do we have enough to field a team yet?)

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Ha … I think we have enough to compose several teams.
      Micki, I took at least two college lit. classes exclusively on Shakespeare. One was his Tragedies (we read and studied four of them) and the other was his so-called ‘comedies’ (though not all of them were ‘funny’ comedies … just comedies in the Elizabethan sense). I guess there were four of those also. Don’t remember all the titles anymore. But eight Shakespeare plays is a lot more than most people ever see.
      In high school, we just did Julius Ceasar and MacBeth and Hamlet. Most of those were pretty dry as far as the sexual zest.

      Like

  10. Puck, I believe was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Twelfth Night was with Viola and dang, the guy’s name escapes me, but there was a shipwreck and she pretends to be a man and then her twin brother shows and all kind of
    craziness ensues.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      You’re prob. correrct. I get them confused. Shakespeare wrote a lot of characters who switched identities: siblings swapping, master and servant swapping, total strangers swapping, etc. Often it was impersonating the other gender, of course.
      I found one of them rather funny but can’t recall the title. Might have been “As you Like It” or ‘Much Ado about Nothing” … which is where Seinfeld got all his show ideas.

      Like

  11. Ron Heezen says:

    Always erudite and entertaining. . .what a combo, Jeff!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s