David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: A Retelling in Prose — Vast of Characters, and Induction (Introduction)

CAST OF CHARACTERS

A Lord.

CHRISTOPHER SLY, a Tinker.

Hostess, Page, Players, Huntsmen, and Servants: Persons in the Introduction.

BAPTISTA, a rich Gentleman of Padua.

VINCENTIO, an old Gentleman of Pisa.

LUCENTIO, son to Vincentio; in love with Bianca. Lucentio pretends to be a tutor named Cambio.

PETRUCHIO, a Gentleman of Verona; Suitor to Katharina.

GREMIO, HORTENSIO, Suitors to Bianca. Hortensio pretends to be a tutor named Litio.

TRANIO, BIONDELLO, Servants to Lucentio. Tranio pretends to be Lucentio.

GRUMIO, CURTIS, Servants to Petruchio.

PEDANT, an old man, set up to impersonate Vincentio.

KATHARINA, the Shrew, and BIANCA, Daughters to Baptista.

Widow.

Tailor, Haberdasher, and Servants attending on Baptista and Petruchio.

SCENE:Padua, Italy, and Petruchio’s country house.

 

INTRODUCTION

Part 1

Tinkers — repairers of pots and pans — have a reputation for drinking way too much, and Christopher Sly lived up to that reputation. Right now, he was drunk and being thrown out of an alehouse because he had broken so many glasses. The arguing between Christopher Sly and the hostess of the inn had carried them a little distance from the alehouse. They were now on a heath that belonged to a Lord — they were near the Lord’s house.

“I’ll get even with you,” Christopher Sly threatened the hostess of the inn.

“And I’ll get a pair of stocks for you,” the hostess threatened back.

A pair of stocks was used to punish criminals. Their feet would be put in holes in wooden beams. Once their feet were secured, the criminals could not run away. If a crowd of people were angry at the criminal, they would torment the criminal.

“You are a baggage — a loose and good-for-nothing woman,” Christopher Sly replied. “The Slys are no rogues; look inthe historical chronicles; we came in with Richard the Conqueror.”

The Hostess thought, He means William the Conqueror, but since he got the name wrong, he is probably lying about his family’s historical importance.

Christopher Sly continued, “Therefore paucas pallabris— I know my Spanish for ‘few words’ — let the world pass. Sessa!— I know my Spanish for ‘cease!’ ‘scram!’ and ‘shut up!’”

“You will not pay for the glasses you have broken?” the hostess asked him.

“No, not a denier — not a penny. Here’s a quotation from Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy: ‘Go by, Jeronimy.’ Beware, Jeronimy.”

The Hostess thought, It is an inaccurate quote. The character’s name in the play is Hieronimo, but this drunken tinker has mixed the name up with the name of Saint Jerome, aka Hieronymus.

Christopher Sly added an insult for the Hostess, “Go to your cold bed, and do something that will warm you.”

“I know the remedy for my problem,” the Hostess said. “I must go and fetch the third borough — the constable.”

The Hostess left to fetch a constable.

“The third, or fourth, or fifth borough, I’ll answer him according to the law,” Christopher Sly said. “I’ll not budge an inch, wretch. Let him come, and welcome.”

A hunting horn soon sounded, and a Lord and his men came over to Christopher Sly, who had fallen asleep.

The Lord said, “Huntsman, I order you to take good care of my hounds. Let Merriman breathe and recover his breath; the poor hunting dog is foaming at the mouth. And couple Clowder with the deep-mouthed bitch. Did you see how Silver picked up the scent at the corner of the hedge when it was faintest? I would not lose the dog for twenty pounds.”

The first huntsman said, “Why, Bellman is as good as he, my Lord. He discovered the scent and cried out twice when it seemed completely lost. Trust me, I take him for the better dog.”

“You are a fool,” the Lord said. “If Echo were as fast, I would esteem him worth a dozen dogs such as Bellman. But feed them well and look after them all. Tomorrow I intend to hunt again.”

“I will, my Lord.”

Seeing Christopher Sly, the Lord said, “Who is here? One dead, or drunk? Look and see whether he breathes.”

The second huntsman said, “He breathes, my Lord. Were he not warmed with ale, this would be a cold bed in which to sleep so soundly.”

“Oh, monstrous beast! How like a swine he lies!” the Lord said. “Grim death, how foul and loathsome is your image! Sleep is the counterfeit of death. Sirs, I will play a joke on this drunken man. What do you think — if he were carried to a bed and wrapped in fine and scented clothes, rings put upon his fingers, a most delicious light meal placed by his bed, and finely dressed attendants located near him when he wakes, would not the beggar then forget who he is? Wouldn’t he think that he is a Lord and not a beggar?”

“Believe me, Lord,” the first huntsman said. “I think he could not believe anything other than that he is a Lord.”

“Everything would seem strange to him when he awoke,” the second huntsman said.

“It would seem to him like a flattering dream or flight of imagination,” the Lord said. “Pick him up and carry out the jest well. Carry him gently to my best bedchamber and hang in it all my tapestries depicting amorous scenes. Bathe his foul head in warm rosewater made from distilled rose petals, and burn sweet wood such as juniper or pinecones to make the lodging smell good. Make sure that music is ready to play when he wakes — let the music make a melodious and a Heavenly sound. If he happens to speak, be ready to immediately and with a low submissive bow say, ‘What is it your honor will command?’ Let a servant attend him with a silver basin full of rosewater and bestrewed with flowers. Let another servant bear a ewer — a large jug with a wide mouth. Let yet another servant bring a towel and say, ‘Will it please your Lordship to cool your hands?’ Let a servant be ready with an expensive suit of clothing and ask him what apparel he will wear. Another servant will tell him of his hounds and horses, and that his lady mourns because of his disease. Persuade him that he has been insane, and when he says he is out of his mind now, say that he is mistaken, for he is in fact a mighty Lord. Do these things and do them convincingly, gentle sirs. It will be an extremely excellent practical joke if we do things properly and without overdoing them.”

“My Lord, I promise you that we will play our parts well,” the first huntsman said, “and because we will skillfully and diligently play our parts he shall think he is no less than what we tell him he is: a Lord.”

“Pick him up gently and take him to bed,” the Lord said. “Each one be ready to perform his part when he wakes up.”

Some huntsmen carried out Christopher Sly as a trumpet sounded.

The Lord said to a servant, “Go and see what trumpet it is that sounds.”

A servant exited to carry out the order.

The Lord said, “Probably, the trumpet announces that some traveling noble gentleman intends to stay here tonight.”

The servant came back, and the Lord asked, “Who is it?”

“Sir, it is a group of actors who are offering their services to your Lordship. If you are willing, they will perform a play for you.”

“Tell them to come here.”

The actors came over to the Lord, who said to them, “Fellows, you are welcome here.”

“Thank you,” the actors replied.

“Do you intend to lodge with me tonight?”

“If it pleases your Lordship,” an actor replied.

“It does, with all my heart,” the Lord said.

He looked at an actor and said, “This fellow I remember. I once saw him play a farmer’s eldest son. It was where you wooed the gentlewoman so well. I have forgotten the name of the character, but I remember that you were well suited for that part and performed it well and realistically.”

The player replied, “I think it was the role of Soto that your honor means.”

“Yes, that was it,” the Lord said. “You performed the role excellently.”

The Lord said to all the actors, “Well, you have come to me at a good time because I require some entertainment and your talents can assist me much. A Lord will hear your play tonight. But you must be capable of self-control. This Lord has never seen a play and he may behave oddly. I am afraid that if you pay too much attention to his odd behavior that you will begin to laugh at him and thereby offend him. I must tell you that if you even smile at him he will grow irritable.”

An actor replied, “Fear not, my Lord. We can control ourselves even if he is the most eccentric and oddest man in the world.”

The Lord ordered a servant, “Take these actors to the buttery — the liquor pantry — and give all of them a friendly welcome. Let them lack nothing that my house can offer.”

The servant and the actors exited.

The Lord ordered another servant, “You go to Bartholomew, my young page, and tell him to dress himself up like a lady. Once that is done, take him to the drunkard’s bedchamber, and call Bartholomew ‘madam’ and pay him respect. Tell him from me that if he wants to earn my gratitude, he will behave in a dignified manner such as he has observed that noble ladies behave toward their husbands. Let him pretend to be the drunkard’s wife and act that way toward him. Let Bartholomew speak softly to the drunkard with humble courtesy and say, ‘What is it your honor will command, wherein your lady and your humble wife may show her duty to you and make known her love for you?’ And then with kind hugs, tempting kisses, and with her — that is, his — head lying on the drunkard’s chest, tell Bartholomew to shed tears, overjoyed to see her noble Lord restored to health, who for the past seven years has thought himself to be no better than a poor and loathsome beggar. If the boy Bartholomew does not have not a woman’s gift to rain a shower of tears at will, an onion will do well to cause such tears. An onion in a handkerchief being secretly conveyed to his eyes will make his eyes water and overflow with tears. See that this is done as quickly as you can. Soon I will give you more instructions.”

The servant exited.

The Lord said to himself, “I know the boy Bartholomew will well assume the grace, voice, walk, and bodily movement of a gentlewoman. I long to hear him call the drunkard ‘husband.’ I long to see how my men will stop themselves from laughing when they show respect to this simple peasant. I will go inside to give them their instructions. Perhaps my presence will dampen their over-merry spirits that could easily grow into extremes.”

Part 2

Christopher Sly was lying on a bed in the Lord’s bedchamber. Around him were many servants. Some servants held fine clothing. Other servants held such items as a basin and a ewer. The Lord was also present.

Christopher Sly yelled, “For God’s sake, bring me a pot of small — weak and diluted — ale.”

The first servant asked, “Will it please your Lordship to drink a cup of imported sack?”

The second servant asked, “Will it please your Honor to taste this fruit preserved in sugar?”

The third servant asked, “What clothing will your Honor wear today?”

“I am Christophero Sly,” he responded, using a Spanish version of his name. “Do not call me ‘Honor’ or ‘Lordship.’ I have never drunk sack in my life — imported wine is too expensive for the likes of me and if you give me anything preserved in something else, then give me beef preserved in salt. Never ask me what clothing I will wear; for I have no more jackets than I have backs, no more stockings than I have legs, and no more shoes than I have feet. In fact, sometimes I have more feet than I have shoes, and sometimes when I do have shoes, my toes can be seen even when I am wearing the shoes.”

The Lord said, “May Heaven stop this foolish, absurd mood of yours! It is a pity that a mighty man of such descent, with such great possessions and held in so high esteem, should be infected with so foul an illness!”

“What, would you make me mad? Am not I Christopher Sly, old Sly’s son of Burton-heath, which is near Stratford-upon-Avon, by birth a peddler, by education a cardmaker who makes combs for working with wool? Have I not had a job as a keeper of a trained bear, and am I not now by present profession a tinker? Ask Marian Hacket, the fat wife of a keeper of an alehouse in Wincot, which is also near Stratford-upon-Avon, about me — ask her whether she knows me. If she does not say that I owe her fourteen pence on my tab just for ale, call me the lyingest knave in Christendom. Listen to me! I am not out of my mind. Here’s —”

The third servant interrupted, “This is what makes your wife mourn!”

The second servant said, “This is what makes your servants hang their heads and feel sorrow for you!”

The Lord said, “This is why your relatives shun your house — it is as if your strange lunacy beats them away from your door. Oh, noble Lord, remember your birth. Call your former reason and original sanity home from banishment and banish from yourself these abject lowly dreams. Look how your servants serve you — each servant is ready to do your bidding. Do you want to hear music? Listen. Apollo, the god of music, plays for you.”

Music began to play.

The Lord continued, “And twenty caged nightingales sing for you. Or do you prefer to sleep? We will have for you a couch made up that is softer and more perfumed than the bed made up for Semiramis, the Assyrian Queen who was famous for her sexual appetite. Do you wish to walk? We will spread rushes before you to walk on. Do you wish to ride on horseback? Your horses shall be draped in decorative coverings and their harnesses studded and decorated with gold and pearls. Do you wish to go hawking? You own hawks that will soar above the morning larks. Or do you wish to hunt? Your hounds shall make the welkin — the sky — answer their cries. Shrill echoes will come from the depths of the earth.”

The first servant said, “If you wish to hunt hares, your greyhounds are as swift as rested stags — indeed, they are fleeter than the young deer.”

The second servant said, “Do you wish to look at pictures? We will immediately fetch for you a painting of Adonis by a running brook and Venus, who loved him, hidden among rushes that seem to play amorously as they are moved by her sighs as she spies on him. The rushes move with her breath just like they move when wind blows over them.”

The Lord said, “If you want us to, we will show you a painting of Io when she was a maiden and Jupiter tricked her and visited her to make love to her. Afterward, Jupiter’s wife, Juno, changed Io into a cow. This painting is very realistic.”

The third servant said, “Or we will show you a painting of Daphne fleeing from Apollo in a thorny wood — the thorns scratch her legs and she cries. This painting is done so realistically that you shall swear she bleeds. Even the god Apollo would weep at that sad sight because the blood and tears are painted so skillfully.”

“You are a Lord, and nothing but a Lord,” the Lord said to Christopher Sly. “You have a wife who is far more beautiful than any other woman in this corrupt and declining age.”

The first servant said, “Until the tears that she has shed for you flowed over her lovely face like malicious floods, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Even now, she is inferior to none.”

The mention of a wife — a bed-partner — interested Christopher Sly, who said, “Am I a Lord? And have I such a wife? Do I dream? Or have I dreamed until now? I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak; I smell sweet fragrances and I feel soft things. Upon my life, I am a Lord indeed. I am not a tinker, and I am not Christophero Sly. Well, bring my wife here before me. And, as I said before, bring me a pot of the smallest ale.”

The second servant said, “Will it please your mightiness to wash your hands? Oh, how we rejoice to see your sanity and wit restored! Oh, that once more you knew but what you are! These fifteen years you have been in a dream. Even when you were awake, it was as if you slept.”

“These fifteen years!” Christopher Sly said. “By God, that is quite a nap. But didn’t I ever speak in all that time?”

The first servant replied, “Oh, yes, my Lord, but you spoke very silly words. Although you lay here in this fine bedchamber, yet you would say that you were being beaten out of a tavern. And you would shout about the hostess of the tavern and say that you would take her to court because she brought stone jugs of watered-down ale instead of quarts with seals guaranteeing quality. Sometimes you would call out for Cicely Hacket.”

“Yes, she is the landlady’s maiden daughter,” Christopher Sly said.

The third servant said, “Why, sir, you know no such tavern and no such maiden daughter. You also do not know these men whom you have referred to: Stephen Sly and John Naps of Greet, a village near Stratford-upon-Avon. You also do not know Peter Turph and Henry Pimpernell and twenty more such names and men as these who have never existed and whom no one has ever seen.”

“May God be thanked for my good improvement!” Christopher Sly said.

To that, everyone present said, “Amen.”

“Thank you,” Christopher Sly said. “You will be rewarded for your good wishes.”

Dressed in women’s clothing, Bartholomew, the Lord’s page, entered the bedchamber, along with some servants.

“How fares my noble Lord?” Bartholomew asked.

“I fare well because here is lots of hospitable entertainment,” Christopher Sly replied.

He added, “Where is my wife?”

“Here I am, my noble Lord,” Bartholomew replied. “What do you want?”

“Are you my wife and will not call me husband?” Christopher Sly said. “My men should call me ‘Lord.’ I am your goodman: your husband.”

“You are my husband and my Lord, my Lord and my husband,” Bartholomew said. “I am your wife in all obedience. I have promised to love, honor, and obey you.”

“I well know it,” Christopher Sly replied.

He asked the others present, “What must I call her?”

The Lord replied, “Madam.”

“Alice Madam, or Joan Madam?” Christopher Sly asked.

“Just ‘Madam,’ and nothing else,” the Lord said. “That is the way that Lords call their wives.”

“Madam Wife, they say that I have dreamed and slept some fifteen years or more,” Christopher Sly said.

“That is true, and the time seems like thirty years to me,” Bartholomew said. “All those years I have been banished from your bed.”

“That is a very long time,” Christopher Sly said.

He added, “Servants, leave me and her alone.”

He then said to Bartholomew, “Madam, undress and come to bed now.”

Thinking quickly, Bartholomew said, “Three times noble Lord, let me beg of you to excuse me from fulfilling your request until a night or two have passed, or, if you will not, to wait until the Sun sets. Your physicians have strictly ordered me to stay out of your bed for a while because you are still at risk of becoming ill again. I hope that you accept this reason for my staying out of your bed at this time. I hope that you will let this reason stand.”

“This reason is not the only thing standing,” Christopher Sly, glancing at a bump in the bedding immediately over his crotch. “It will be difficult for me to wait a day or two or even until the Sun sets. However, I would hate to fall ill and vanish into my dreams again. I will therefore wait to bed you despite what my flesh and the blood in it urge me to do.”

A messenger entered the bedchamber and said, “Your honor’s actors, hearing about your improvement, have come to perform a pleasant comedy because your doctors believe it will be good for you. Your doctors believe that you are much too sad and that your sadness has slowed your blood. They also believe that melancholy leads to madness. Therefore, they thought it good that you watch a play that will fill your mind with mirth and merriment. Laughter prevents a thousand harms and lengthens life.”

“I will watch it; let the actors perform it,” Christopher Sly said. “But what is a comondy? Is it a Christmas game or dance, or is it a tumbling-trick and acrobatics?”

Bartholomew thought, He is unfamiliar with the word “comedy.”

Bartholomew said, “No, my good Lord; a comedy is more pleasing stuff.”

“What stuff — household stuff?” Christopher Sly said. “Like a husband stuffing a wife with semen?”

“It is a kind of history,” Bartholomew said.

“Well, we will see it,” Christopher Sly said. “Come, Madam Wife, sit by my side and let the world slip by. Right now is the youngest that we will be for the rest of our lives.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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