Since the local kids’ troupe is doing Taming of the Shrew this month, and since my daughter’s name is Katherine, I had a field day explaining the plot of this one to my girls.
“It’s about this really awful girl named Katherine that nobody likes,” I told them. “Oh, and she’s got a little sister who is nice and beautiful and everybody wants to marry her.”
Elizabeth, Katherine’s little sister, loves this. Katherine does not. 🙂 So I’m forced to tell the story the “right” way. And a funny thing’s started to happen .. I’m actually enjoying this story. In the past I’ve chalked it up as “Funny, yes, in a slapsticky, look out she just threw a stool at your head kind of way, but generally inexcusably misogynistic no matter how you try to spin it.” But my kids don’t know that word.
So, here’s how I’ve been explaining Shrew to my kids. They’ve asked for the story several times now. Liberties are taken! Be warned, if you insist on perfection.
Once upon a time there was a Daddy who had two daughters. The younger one was this nice sweet girl named Bianca who all the men in town wanted to marry. But, their Daddy had decided, Bianca could not get married until her older sister, Katharina, got married. This was a problem because, for some reason, Katharina was all mean and nasty to everybody and nobody wanted to marry her.
Well, along comes Lucentio, and he wants to marry Bianca. He knows that that’s not going to happen until her sister gets married first, so he hatches a plan. You see, in the old days girls had something called a dowry, which is some money that the dad would pay to the man to marry his daughter. So Bianca’s dad might say “Here, you can marry my daughter, and here’s a thousand dollars.” Well, because nobody wanted to marry Katharina? Her dowry was, like, twenty thousand dollars.
So Lucentio goes to his friend Petruchio and says, “Pssst! Hey, I’ve got a challenge for you. There’s this girl in town, Katharina, who nobody can marry. Her dad’s even offering twenty thousand dollars to anybody that can do it!”
Well Petruchio loves a challenge – and he loves the idea of that much money – so he goes to Katharina’s father and says, “I’ll marry her.”
Katharina says, “Oh no you most certainly will not!”
But back then, the girl didn’t really have much of a say in the matter, and if her dad said “You’re marrying this guy,” well then you married him.
Petruchio, though, he had a plan you see. He spotted right away that the reason she was so nasty to everybody is that nobody had ever really given her a taste of her own medicine. She always thought that if she yelled loud enough and acted mean enough, that she’d be the boss and get her way. So his plan was to yell louder and act meaner until she got the point.
And that’s exactly what he did. First thing? He completely *ruined* the wedding. When you have a wedding, everybody is supposed to take it all serious, and dress in their finest clothes, and everything? Well, Petruchio shows up to his own wedding *late*, first of all. Riding a donkey instead of a horse. With his clothes on inside out. He’s got a snow boot on one foot and a ballet slipper on the other, and three hats on his head. Katharina, who is trying hard to make the best of it even though she’s not happy, growls at him “You’re supposed to look nice at the wedding!” and he yells back for everybody to hear “IT’S MY WEDDING AND I CAN DO WHAT I WANT, AND I DON’T CARE WHAT ANYBODY ELSE THINKS!”
And then you know what else? You know what he did to the priest? He yelled at him. Spit at him and everything. Katharina was just, like, what did you do *that* for?! Meanwhile this is the girl who a couple of days ago would thrown a piece of furniture at you if you’d looked at her funny.
So Petruchio’s plan continues. He takes her back to his house and announces, “My bride is starving! Servants, bring us dinner!” And out comes this wonderful table full of food, and Katharina is just about to dig in when Petruchio starts throwing the food and dumping it all on the floor. “This is burnt!” he yells, and smacks one of his cooks. “This is too salty!” and throws something at one of the others. “How dare you try to serve garbage like this to my wife?!”
Katharina keeps saying “It’s fine, it’s fine! It’s not burnt! They did a good job, why are you yelling at them?”
But what she doesn’t know is that Petruchio had sent words to the servants and said, “Look, I’ve got an idea, and I’m going to yell at you – but I don’t really mean it. It’s all a big act. So play along, ok?”
That night, the same thing happens. Katharina is tired and wants to climb into bed, and Petruchio says “THIS BED ISN’T MADE! These aren’t our best sheets! No wife of mine will sleep on anything but my best! She would rather sleep on the floor!” and he turns over the mattress and rips up the pillows and feathers go flying all over the place.
Then, there’s the dress. Petruchio’s wife simply *must* be dressed in the finest clothes! So he calls in the tailor, who brings in this beautiful blue dress, absolutely the latest fashion, comes with a nice little hat and everything. Katharina thinks it is wonderful, and is all excited to have a new dress. But, sure enough, Petruchio won’t let her have it. He starts beating the tailor and yelling, “How dare you bring this hand me down rag to my wife?! My wife would not be caught dead in this!”
Katharina defends him and starts yelling back, saying “It’s a nice dress! Leave him alone!” and Petruchio realizes that his plan is working — this shrew of a girl is now turning into nice girl who defends other people instead of always being mean to them. And, just like with all his other plans, Petruchio pokes his head out of the room to talk to the very confused tailor, and tells him “Look, sorry about that, I really quite love the dress – we’ll take it.”
So after a little while they get word that Katharina’s sister Bianca is to be married, so they return back home for her wedding. During the reception all the husbands have gotten together and are joking about their wives, and everybody is picking on Petruchio saying, “Hooo, boy, you got the worst of the lot, huh? I don’t envy you!”
Petruchio proposes a bet. He says, “I’ll bet that my wife is the best one. How about we all call our wives in, and we’ll see which one comes first?”
The other men think this is ridiculous, because they know Katharina, and they know that they’ve got this one in the bag. So the first husband says to one of the servants and says “Go, find my wife, and ask her to come here.” Servant leaves, comes back, says “Your wife, sir, says that she is busy and cannot come.”
Well, the other husbands think that this is hysterical. But they still make fun of Petruchio, because they know that his wife is going to give the worst answer.
The second husband tells the servant, “Go find my wife, and tell her I request her to come.” Servant leaves, comes back, and says “Sir, your wife says that if you want her, you should come to her.”
This sets the place just roaring with laughter, and the man is totally embarrassed. Still, though, everybody knows that Petruchio is going to lose this one, and they can’t wait to see what Katharina is going to do. So Petruchio tells the servant, “Go tell my wife I command her to come.”
Well, people start taking cover, because nobody has ever *commanded* Katharina to do anything, and they expect the furniture to start flying. But sure enough, not only does Katharina show up? She comes in *dragging the other two wives with her*. Then she launches into this big long speech about what it means to be a good wife and be nice to your husband.
And Petruchio and Katharina lived happily ever after. The end.