David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 1

 — 1.1 —

Lucentio and Tranio, his servant, had just arrived in Padua, Italy. They were conversing in a public street.

Lucentio said, “Tranio, I have always wanted to see beautiful Padua, nursery of learning and home of a famous university founded in 1228. I have now arrived in Padua while on my way to fruitful Lombardy, which is the pleasant garden of great Italy. With my father’s love and permission, I have come here with his good will and your good company. My trusty servant, you have shown yourself to be good in every way. Here let us rest and perhaps begin a course of learning and ingenious studies.

“I was born in Pisa, which is renowned for grave and serious citizens, and my father, a merchant of great business throughout the world, was born there before me. My father is Vincentio, whose great and wealthy family is the Bentivolii. I, Vincentio’s son, was brought up in Florence. It is only right that I should fulfill the hopes conceived of me, and add virtuous deeds of my own to my father’s wealth and his own virtuous deeds.

“Therefore, Tranio, here I will study ethics and virtue and that part of philosophy that details how to achieve happiness by being virtuous — yes, I will study Aristotelian ethics. Aristotle taught that the way to become happy is through living a virtuous life.

“Tell me what you think. I have left Pisa and have come to Padua. I feel overwhelmed, like a man who leaves a shallow puddle and plunges into deep water and seeks to completely quench his thirst.”

Mi perdonato— pardon me — my gentle master,” Tranio replied. “I am of the same mind as yourself; I think the same way that you think and feel the same way that you feel. I am glad that you thus continue your resolve to suck the sweets of sweet philosophy through its study.

“However, good master, while we do admire this virtue and this moral discipline, let us please not become Stoics or stocks. Stoics are philosophers who endure everything, and stocks are unfeeling blocks of wood that appreciate nothing. Let us take a middle path and appreciate the pleasures we have while enduring the pains we must. Let us not devote ourselves so completely to Aristotle’s disciplines that we neglect to read Ovid, a poet of love and seduction. Let us not make Ovid an outcast in our lives.

“This is what I advise: Engage in formal argument and logic with the friends that you have and practice rhetoric — the art of communication — in your common conversation. Allow music and poetry to quicken and entertain your senses and your spirits. Study mathematics and metaphysics for only as long as you are interested in them. No profit can be acquired where no pleasure is taken: You will not learn unless you take pleasure in the learning. In brief, sir, study what you most enjoy.”

“Many thanks, Tranio, you advise me well,” Lucentio said.

He added, “If Biondello, my other servant, had come ashore, we could at once get started and find a lodging fit to entertain the friends we will make here in Padua.”

He noticed some people coming out into the street and said, “But wait. Who are these people?”

“I’m guessing that they are here to welcome us,” Tranio said. He knew that was not true.

Several people arrived, including Baptista and his two daughters, Katherina and Bianca. Katherina was the older of the two young and pretty daughters. Also present were Gremio and Hortensio, both of whom were courting Bianca. Gremio was an old man. From a short distance away, Lucentio and Tranio watched them.

Baptista said to Gremio and Hortensio, “Gentlemen, beg me no more. You know that I have made up my mind. I will not allow Bianca, my younger daughter, to marry until Katherina has married. I know you well and respect you well. If either of you wishes to court Katherina, you have my permission to do so.”

Gremio thought to himself, Court Katherina? Cart her, more likely. Prostitutes and shrews are driven around in carts in public and humiliated. Of course, Katherina is not a prostitute — she is a shrew, an ill-mannered, disobedient, and rude woman. She is too rough for me.

Gremio asked, “Hortensio, will you take a wife? Why not marry Katherina?”

Katherina said to her father, “Sir, are you trying to make a whore of me amongst these mates? Am I to be given to anyone who asks for me?”

Hortensio said, “Mates, young maiden! What do you mean by that? You will get no mate — no husband — until you are of a gentler and milder character.”

“Sir, you shall never need to fear marrying me,” Katherina said. “Indeed, marriage is not even halfway to my heart — I have no interest in marriage. But even if I did, I would prefer to hit you over your silly head with a three-legged stool and paint your face red with blood and treat you like a fool rather than marry you.”

Hortensio replied, “From all such devils may the good Lord deliver us!”

“And may the good Lord deliver me from all such devils!” Gremio said.

Tranio said to Lucentio, “Master, here is some good entertainment. That wench is either stark raving mad or wonderfully ill mannered.”

“But in the other young woman, I see a maiden’s mild behavior and modesty,” Lucentio said, adding, “Now be quiet, Tranio.”

“Well said, master,” Tranio said. “I will be quiet as you gaze your fill at that modest young maiden.”

“Gentlemen, I hope that I may soon make good on what I have said — I hope to soon find a husband for Katherina,” Baptista said.

He added, “Good Bianca, go inside now. We don’t need you to be outside so that men can see you and fall in love with you and want to marry you. At least not until your sister is married. And don’t be unhappy that you have to wait to get married until after your older sister is married. I will still love you, my girl.”

Katherina said, “Bianca is her father’s pet. She can make herself cry whenever she wants — she puts her finger in her eye.”

Bianca replied, “Sister, be content although I am discontent.”

She added to her father, “Sir, I will humbly obey you. My books and musical instruments shall be my company. I will read my books and practice my music in solitude.”

“Tranio, when she speaks it is as if we are hearing the voice of Minerva, goddess of wisdom,” Lucentio said.

“Signior Baptista, will you be so unnatural a father?” Hortensio asked. “I am sorry that our good will has caused grief for Bianca.”

“Why will you cage Bianca up, Signior Baptista, because of this fiend of hell, her older sister?” Gremio asked. “Why make Bianca bear the punishment of Katherina’s sharp tongue?”

“Gentlemen, I have made my decision,” Baptista said. “You will have to be content with it. I will not change my mind.”

Baptista thought, Women should be married. If I will not allow Bianca to marry until after Katherina is married, perhaps Bianca’s suitors will help me to find a husband for Katherina.

He added, “Go inside the house, Bianca.”

She obeyed.

Baptista said to Gremio and Hortensio, “Because I know that Bianca takes much delight in listening to music, playing musical instruments, and reading poetry, I plan to hire tutors to stay in my house and teach her. If you, Hortensio, or you, Signior Gremio, know any such tutors capable of teaching my young daughter, send them to me. I will pay intelligent tutors well; I am willing to spend liberally to raise and educate my children well. And so to you I say farewell.”

He said to his older daughter, “Katherina, you may stay outside for now because I have more to say to Bianca.”

Baptista went inside his house.

Katherina said, “I trust I may go inside the house, too — why shouldn’t I? What, shall I be appointed hours for when I can see my own father? Does he think that I am so stupid that I don’t know what is valuable, that I don’t know what to take and what to leave behind?”

She went inside the house.

Gremio, the old man who was hoping to marry Bianca, said about Katherina, “You may go to the devil’s dam — the devil’s mother is even worse than the devil! The devil’s mother is the archetypal shrew! Your character is such that no one will stop you from leaving!”

To Hortensio, Gremio said, “Our love of women is not so important that we cannot wait patiently and do without for a while. Neither of us has gotten Bianca for a wife, and our failure is as if we have gotten a badly baked cake — our cake is mostly dough. Farewell. Yet, because of the love I bear my sweet Bianca, if I can by any means find a fit man who can teach her that wherein she delights, I will recommend him to her father.”

“So will I, Signior Gremio,” Hortensio replied, “but listen to me, please. Though the nature of our competition for Bianca’s hand in marriage has never allowed us to really talk to each other, we should realize that now we ought to work together so that we may yet again have access to our fair mistress and be happy rivals in Bianca’s love. If we work together to effect one thing specially, we can return to wooing Bianca.”

“What thing is that, I ask?”

“Sir, to get a husband for her sister, Katherina.”

“A husband! You must mean a devil!”

“I say, a husband.”

“And I say, a devil. Do you think, Hortensio, that although Katherina’s father is very rich, any man would be so great a fool as to be married to a hellion?”

“Tush, Gremio, although it is beyond your patience and mine to endure her loud and startling cries, why, man, there are good fellows in the world, if a man could find them, who would take her with all her faults, and with quite a lot of money.”

“I don’t know about that, but I do know that I would just as soon take her dowry with the condition that I be publicly whipped at the center of town every morning as I would with the condition that I endure her shrewishness.”

“As you say, there is little choice when it comes to choosing between rotten apples,” Hortensio said. “But, this obstacle to a possible future happy married life with Bianca should make us temporary friends and allies, and so we ought to work together to help Baptista’s elder daughter, Katherina, to find a husband so that we can set his younger daughter, Bianca, free to find a husband. After we accomplish that, we can go back to being rivals and competitors.

“Sweet Bianca! May the winner’s prize make him happy! He who runs fastest gets the ring — the prize of a wedding ring. What do you say, Signior Gremio?”

“I am agreed, and I would give Katherina’s suitor the best horse in Padua to begin his wooing if he would thoroughly woo her, wed her and bed her, and rid the house of her! Let’s go.”

Gremio and Hortensio exited.

Tranio looked at Lucentio and realized that Lucentio was in love. He asked, “Is it possible that you can have fallen in love so quickly?”

“Tranio, until it happened to me, I never thought it was possible or likely, but while I idly stood and watched this scene, I found the effect of the flower named love-in-idleness, which causes people to fall in love. And now I honestly do confess to you, who are to me as trustworthy and as dear as Anna was to her sister, Dido, the Queen of Carthage, that I burn and I long for this young maiden named Bianca. I will perish, Tranio, if I do not win this young modest girl as my wife. Give me good advice, Tranio, for I know that you can. Help me, Tranio, for I know that you will.”

“Master, it is not the right time to scold you. Scolding you will not drive love from your heart. If love has touched you, nothing remains but this: ‘Redime te captum quam queas minimo’ — ‘Ransom yourself from captivity as cheaply as you can.’”

“Many thanks, lad,” Lucentio said. “Continue. What you have said pleases me. The rest of what you have to say will also please me because you give me good advice.”

“Master, you looked so long and so longingly on the maiden that I am afraid that you did notnotice what is the most important thing facing you.”

“I saw sweet beauty in her face,” Lucentio said. “Such beauty Europa, the daughter of Agenor, had. Jupiter fell in love with her, assumed the form of a bull, and carried her away to Crete. Jupiter knelt before her and kissed her hand. Europe was named after her.”

“Didn’t you notice anything else?” Tranio asked. “Didn’t you notice how her older sister, Katherina, began to scold and raise up such a storm that mortal ears could hardly endure the din?”

“Tranio, I saw Bianca’s coral lips move — with her breath she perfumed the air. Everything I saw in her was sacred and sweet.”

Tranio said to himself, “It is time for me to wake him from his trance.”

To Lucentio, he said, “Please, wake up, sir. If you love the maiden, take thought and use your wits to win her. This is how it stands: Her older sister is so curst and ill tempered that until the father rids his hands of her, your loved one must live and stay at home. Her father has tightly caged her up so that no suitors can woo her.”

“Ah, Tranio, what a cruel father he is! But let us remember that he is taking some care to get knowledgeable schoolmasters to tutor her.”

“I know that, sir, and I have a plan.”

“So do I,” Lucentio said.

“I am guessing that we have both come up with the same plan.”

“Tell me your plan first,” Lucentio said.

“You will pretend to be a tutor and undertake to teach the maiden. Is that your plan, too?”

“It is. Can it be done?”

“It is not possible,” Tranio said, “for who shall play your part, and pretend to be you, Vincentio’s son, in Padua here. Who will stay in your house and study your books, welcome your friends, and visit your countrymen and entertain them?”

Basta— enough. Don’t worry. I know what to do. We have not yet been seen by anyone, and so no one knows our faces. No one knows who is the master and who is the servant. Therefore, Tranio, you shall pretend to be me. You will live in my dwelling and live my lifestyle and hire servants to wait on you just as if you were me. I will pretend to be someone else — some Florentine, or some Neapolitan, or a lower-class man of Pisa. That is our plan. Tranio, take off your servant’s dark-colored hat and cloak and instead put on my brightly colored hat and cloak.”

They exchanged hats and cloaks.

“When Biondello comes, he will pretend to be your servant and wait on you. I will talk to him first so that he will hold his tongue and keep our secret.”

“It is a good idea to talk to Biondello and advise him what to do,” Tranio said. “Sir, I am required to be obedient, for so your father ordered me to be at our parting — he said, ‘Do your best to serve my son’ — although I do not think that he had this in mind. Because of his order and because this is what you want me to do, I am happy to pretend to be Lucentio because I love and respect Lucentio.”

“Tranio, be of good service to me because I am in love. I will pretend to be a tutor — a servant — in order to win Bianca as my wife — the young woman with whom at first sight I have fallen in love.”

Lucentio looked up and said, “Here comes the rogue — my servant Biondello — now.”

Biondello walked up to them.

“What have you been up to?” Lucentio asked him.

“What have I been up to!” Biondello said. “What have you two been up to? Master, has my fellow Tranio stolen your clothes? Or have you stolen his? Or have each of you stolen the other’s clothes? Just what is going on?”

“Listen, this is no time to jest,” Lucentio said. “Behave soberly because the situation demands it.”

He then began to lie to convince Biondello to be quiet about the exchange of identities: “Your fellow Tranio here, to save my life, has put on my apparel and is pretending to be me. I have put on his apparel and am pretending to be him in order to save my life. After I came ashore, I quarreled with and killed a man and I am afraid that I was seen. Pretend to be Tranio’s servant — that’s an order. I need you to do that while I run away from here to save my life. Do you understand?”

“Do I understand? Of course!” Biondello said, but he thought, Do I understand? Of course not!

“And be sure not to call Tranio by his real name. Tranio is now Lucentio.”

“Good for him,” Biondello said. “I wish that I could say the same thing about me.”

Tranio said, “I would grant your wish if granting it meant that Lucentio indeed would win Baptista’s younger daughter as his wife. But my promotion is not for my sake but for Lucentio’s. Please be careful to address me as Lucentio in public and whenever other people are around. When we are alone, why, then I am Tranio. But when we are not alone, I am Lucentio, your master.”

“Tranio, let’s go,” Lucentio said. “One thing more needs to be done, and you will have to do it. You will have to be one of the suitors wooing Bianca. If you ask me why, I will not tell you, except to say that I have very good reasons for why you should do it.”

The actors exited, and the first servant said to Christopher Sly, “My Lord, you nod and are ready to fall asleep. You are not watching the play.”

“Yes, I am,” Christopher Sly said. “It is a good play, surely. Is there any more of it?”

Bartholomew said, “My Lord, it has barely begun.”

“It is a very excellent piece of work, Madam Lady,” Christopher Sly said, but he thought, I wish the play were over!

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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