David Bruce: “William Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’: A Retelling in Prose”

Petruchio, Katherina, Hortensio, Grumio, and some servants were traveling on the road to Padua to go to Katherina’s father’s house.

Katherina was thinking:

I have a decision to make. Do I allow myself to be tamed, or do I continue to resist obeying my husband, Petruchio?

Or, better, do I tame myself?

If I am tamed through the use of hunger and lack of sleep, I am no better than an animal, a hawk that a trainer tames. If I am tamed, I will obey my husband, but I will do so without love and without honoring him. He will not get the wife he wants, and I will no longer be Katherina. I will have no spirit.

If I tame myself, I do what I have decided to do. The hunger and exhaustion do not determine what I shall do, although they make it clear that I need to make a decision. If I tame myself, and if I keep the vow that I made before God, I will love, honor, and obey my husband. I will still be Katherina, and I will still have spirit.

Should I tame myself? Has being a shrew made me happy?

I have tied up and beaten my own sister because she would not tell me which of her suitors she liked best. She said that she had no preference. I did not believe her.

Is that the kind of person I want to be? Is that the kind of person God wants me to be? No.

And is that the kind of wife that Petruchio wants me to be? No.

What kind of husband do I want Petruchio to be? Do I want him to be a husband who ignores me? No. Do I want him to be the kind of husband who will tolerate a shrewish wife? No. I need a husband I can respect, a husband who has as much spirit as I have.

I have learned how shrewish behavior affects other people. It is not pleasant to witness. I have learned to consider the feelings of other people — now I have empathy for other people and do not want to see them harshly criticized for minor faults or for things that are mostly or entirely out of their control.

If anyone needs to be tamed, I do. I need to decide whether I should now tame myself.

If I tame myself, how will I benefit? I will be a better person, and most likely, I will get a better husband. Is Petruchio a bad husband? Does he always act like this? Will he continue to act like this if I tame myself? I doubt it. It is obvious that he seriously takes the vow I made before God — to love, honor, and obey my husband. I think that he seriously takes the vow he made before God — to love and cherish his wife. If he had no intention of keeping his vow, he would ignore me and allow me to remain a shrew. Instead, he is going to great lengths to be married to a good wife. Also, what he does to me he is doing to himself. I am hungry, and I can look at him and see that he has lost weight. I sleep very little, and he sleeps very little so that he can ensure that I stay awake. He treats his wife as he treats himself.

But am I his wife? Are we husband and wife? Not yet. Not really. We have not consummated the marriage. I respect that in him. He is not a rapist. He will not sleep with me and consummate the marriage until I am the wife he wants and until I truly embrace a Christian marriage.

So, I have a decision to make: To be a shrew, or not to be a shrew?

Petruchio said, “So now we are on the way toward our father’s house. Good Lord, how bright and goodly shines the Moon!”

Katherina said, “The Moon! It is the Sun that is shining: It is not Moonlight now.”

“I say it is the Moon that shines so bright,” Petruchio replied.

“I know it is the Sun that shines so bright,” Katherina said.

‘Now, by my mother’s son, and that’s myself,” Petruchio said, “it shall be Moon, or Sun, or whatever I say it is before I journey to your father’s house. It is time for us to turn our horses around and return home. You contradict me and contradict me and contradict me.”

Hortensio said to Katherina, “Say what he wants you to say, or we shall never go to Padua.”

Katherina thought, I have made my decision.

“Let us go forward, please, since we have come so far,” Katherina said. “And let it be Moon, or Sun, or whatever you please. If you want to call it a poor and dimly lit candle, henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.”

“I say it is the Moon,” Petruchio said.

“I know it is the Moon,” Katherina replied.

“Nay, then you lie: It is the blessed Sun.”

“Then, God be blessed, it is the blessed Sun. But Sun it is not, when you say it is not. And the Moon changes even as your mind. What you will have it named, that is what it is; and so it shall be so for Katherina.”

Petruchio thought, Husbands and wives should be able to speak plainly to each other. The Moon changes from New Moon to Full Moon, and Katherina said that my mind changes like the Moon changes. Katherina knows that the Sun is the Sun. She is obeying me, but she knows what reality is and she is letting me know that she knows. Lunatics are also supposed to be adversely affected by the Moon, which is Luna in Latin. Katherina is implying that I am acting like a lunatic. To be honest, the things that I have been doing are things that a lunatic would do — except that I have a very good reason for doing them. Katherina is still spirited, but Katherina is a better Katherina, and I like it. And very soon I intend to stop acting like a lunatic.

Hortensio whispered to Petruchio, “You have won. You have tamed the shrew.”

Petruchio said, “Well, let us go forward, then. This is the way that things should be. The bowling ball should curve naturally and make a strike and not curve unnaturally and go into the gutter.”

He thought, Katherina is behaving as she ought to behave.

He saw someone coming and said, “Look, we are about to have some company.”

Lucentio’s real father, Vincentio, walked toward them. He was an old man.

Petruchio said to him, “Good morning, young mistress. Where are you headed?”

He added, “Tell me, sweet Kate, and tell me truly, too. Have you ever seen a more youthful gentlewoman? White and red compete within her cheeks! What stars spangle Heaven with as much beauty as those two eyes that beautify her Heavenly face?”

He said to Vincentio, “Fair lovely maiden, once more good morning to you.”

He added, “Sweet Kate, embrace her for her beauty’s sake.”

Hortensio thought, He will make this old man mad by pretending that this old man is a young woman.

Katherina hugged Vincentio and said, “Young budding virgin, fair and fresh and sweet, to where are you going and where do you live? Happy are the parents of so fair a child as you, and even happier will be the man to whom a happy fate will allot you to be his wife and his lovely bed-fellow!”

Petruchio thought, Kate has out-done me. When we first met, we had a battle of wits and I narrowly defeated her. Now we are having a contest of wits — a game of wits — and she has defeated me by being funnier than me. This is the new Katherina — the spirited but faithful-to-her-marriage-vow Katherina. I have never been so happy to be defeated in my life.

When a wife is obedient, that does not mean that she is a slave. A husband and a wife should work toward the same goals and not oppose each other. Those goals should be worthy. I admit that much of what I am requiring Katherina to do is silly, but I want that to stop soon. As soon as I know that both of us — not just me — are taking our marriage vows seriously, I will stop this silliness, and Katherina and I will work toward worthy goals.

A husband is supposed to love and cherish his wife. That means to treat her with respect and affection and tenderness. And according to 1 Peter 3:7, a husband must honor his wife.

According to Proverbs 31:10, the worth of a virtuous woman is far above the worth of rubies.

He said, “Why, Kate! I hope that you are not mad. This is a man, old, wrinkled, faded, and withered. He is not a maiden, as you said he is.”

“Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,” Katherina said, “that have been so bedazzled by the Sun” — she glanced at Petruchio to see whether the Sun was still the Sun; it was — “that everything I look on seems young. Now I see that you are a reverend father. Pardon me, please, for my mad mistaking.”

Katherina smiled at Petruchio, who thought, Katherina has learned to play and to be funny.

“Do, good old grandsire,” Petruchio said, “let us know which way you are travelling. If you travel along with us, we shall be happy to have your company.”

“Fair sir, and you my merry mistress, your greeting of me has much amazed me. But my name is Vincentio; I live in Pisa; and I am traveling to Padua to visit a son of mine, whom I have not seen for a long time.”

“What is his name?” Petruchio asked.

“Lucentio, gentle sir.”

“Then happily have we met,” Petruchio said, “and happily for your son. And now by law, as well as because of your old age, I am entitled to call you my loving father. By this time, your son has married the sister of my wife, who just now greeted you, and so we are related. Do not be amazed or worried. The woman whom your son married is of good reputation, her dowry is rich, and she is of good birth. In addition, she has many good qualities that the wife of a noble gentleman ought to have. Let me hug you, and we will travel together to see your noble son, who will rejoice when you arrive.”

“Is all this true?” Vincentio said. “Or is this another of the jokes that you play on travellers? You seem to enjoy playing jokes.”

“I do assure you, father,” Hortensio said, “that what he has said is true.”

“Come with us and see for yourself that what I have said is true,” Petruchio said. “I can understand that the way we first greeted you has made you wary.”

Vincentio joined the travelers.

Hortensio thought, This has been an interesting trip. I have seen how Petruchio tamed the shrew. If the widow I will soon marry turns out to be a shrew, I know exactly what to do.

Both Petruchio and Katherina thought, I hope that we get to Baptista’s house soon — I’m starving.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

Note: This is an extract from my book William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew: A Retelling in Prose, which is available here:







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