David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s THE TAMING OF THE SHREW: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 1

 — 4.1 —

Grumio entered Petruchio’s house in Verona and said, “Damn all weak and ill-conditioned horses! Damn all mad masters! Damn all bad roads! Was ever a man as beaten as I am? Was ever a man so dirty? Was ever a man so tired? I have been sent ahead of my master and his wife to make a fire; they will soon be here and will need to warm themselves. I am freezing, although I am a little pot and soon hot — although I am short, I get angry quickly and so warm up. If this were not true, I am so cold that my lips might freeze to my teeth and mytongue might freeze to the roof of my mouth, and my heart might freeze in mychest before I should come by a fire to thaw me. I will warm myself by fanning the embers. It is a good thing that I am short — a taller man than I am would catch cold.”

With a voice that quivered because he was shivering, Grumio shouted for a servant, “Curtis!”

Curtis walked into the room and asked, “Who is it who calls so coldly?”

“A piece of ice,” Grumio replied, “If you doubt that I am a piece of ice, you may slide from my shoulder to my heel with no greater a running start than my head and my neck. Start a fire, good Curtis.”

“Are my master and his wife coming, Grumio?”

“Yes, Curtis, yes, and therefore start a fire. An old song says, ‘Scotland’s burning … Fire, fire! Cast on water,’ but throw no water on this fire because I need it badly to keep from freezing.”

Curtis started making a fire in a fireplace.

“Is my master’s wife as hot a shrew as she’s reported to be?” Curtis asked.

“She was, good Curtis, before this frost,” Grumio replied, “but, as you know, winter tames man, woman, and beast. It has tamed my old master and my new mistress and myself, fellow Curtis.”

“You may be a beast, but I am not,” Curtis said. “Do not call me your fellow since you have just admitted that you are a beast. Go away, you three-inch fool!”

“Is what is mine only three inches long?” Grumio said, “Why, the horn on your head that identifies you as a man with an unfaithful wife is a foot long. What I have between my legs is at least that long. But will you make a fire, or shall I complain about you to our mistress, whose hand, now that she is close at hand, you shall soon feel, to your cold comfort, for being slow in your hot office? Do your job, and make a fire.”

“Good Grumio, tell me, how goes the world? What’s the news?”

“The world is cold,” Grumio said, “for everyone but you, who has the job of making fires, so do your duty, and take what is due to you, because my master and mistress are almost frozen to death. Petruchio and Katherina are, like me, cold.”

“The fire is ready,” Curtis said. “Therefore, Grumio, tell me the news.”

Grumio sang, “Jack, boy! Ho, boy!”

Then he added, “Before I can tell you anything, the news must thaw.”

“Come, you are so full of trickery! You must be a master at trapping rabbits!”

“Make the fire bigger because I have caught extreme cold,” Grumio said. “Where’s the cook? Is supper ready? Is the housetidied? Are the rushes strewn on the floor? Are the cobwebs swept away? Are theserving men wearing their new livery and their whitestockings? Does every upper servant have his wedding token on?Are all the male and female servants ready and the big and little glasses, too? Are the tablecloths on the tables, and is everything in order?”

“All is ready; and therefore, please, please tell me the news. What happened during your journey?”

“First, know that my horse is tired,” Grumio said, “and know that my master and mistress have fallen out.”


“They have fallen out of their saddles into the dirt; and thereby hangs a tale.”

“Let us hear the tale, good Grumio.”

“Lend me your ear.”

“Here it is,” Curtis said, inclining an ear toward Grumio, who hit it.

“You are making me feel a tale, not hear a tale,” Curtis said.

“And therefore it is called a sensible tale because you are able to sense it,” Grumio said. “I knocked at your ear to wake it up and beg it to listen. Now I begin my tale: Imprimis— that is legal talk for ‘first of all’ — we came down a foul hill, my master, Petruchio, riding behind my mistress, Katherina.”

“Were both riding on one horse?”

“What is the difference?”

“Why, the difference of a horse.”

“You should tell the tale since you are going to keep interrupting,” Grumio said. “If you had not interrupted me, you would have heard how Katherina’s horse fell and she fell under her horse. You would have heard in how muddy a place she fell, how she was covered in mud, how he left her with the horse over her, how he beat mebecause herhorse stumbled, how she waded through the dirt to pluck him off me, how he swore, how she prayed — this woman who never prayed before — how I cried, how the horses ran away, how her bridle was broken, how I lost my crupper — that strap that goes under the horse’s tail and keeps the saddle steady — with many other things worth recording, which now shall die in oblivion due to being untold, resulting in you returning unenlightened to your grave.”

“According to your tale, Petruchio is more of a shrew than his wife.”

“Yes, he is,” Grumio said, “and you and the proudest of you all shall find that to be true when he comes home. But why am I talking about this? Call forth Nathaniel, Joseph, Nicholas, Philip, Walter, Sugarsop, and the rest. Let their heads be sleekly combed, their servants’ blue coats brushed, and their garters be matched. Let them curtsy with their left legs and not presume to touch a hair of my master’s horse’s tail until they have kissed their master’s and their mistress’ hands in greeting. Are they all ready?”

“They are.”

“Call them forth.”

Curtis shouted, “Did you hear?”

Some servants were eavesdropping.

Curtis shouted, “You must meet my master to countenance — to pay respect to — my mistress.”

“To countenance?” Grumio, who was always willing and happy to deliberately misinterpret words, said. “Why, she has a face of her own.”

“Who does not know that?”

“Apparently, you — you are the one calling for company to countenance her.”

“I call them forth to credit her — to pay respect to her, to honor her,” Curtis said.

“To credit her? Why, she has not come to borrow something from them.”

Some servants entered the room.

Nathaniel said, “Welcome home, Grumio!”

Philip asked, “How are you, Grumio?”

Joseph said, “Hey, Grumio!”

Nicholas said, “Grumio, my friend!”

Nathaniel asked, “How are you, old lad?”

Grumio said to the four servants, “Welcome, you … how are you now? … hey, you … my friend, you.”

Then he added, “So much for my greetings. Now, my fine fellows, is everything ready, and are all things tidy?”

Nathaniel replied, “All things are ready. How near is our master?”

“Very close indeed,” Grumio said. “By this time, he has dismounted. Therefore, you must — quiet! I hear him coming!”

Petruchio and Katherina entered the room. Katherina went directly to the fire.

“Where are these knaves?” Petruchio shouted. “What, no servant at my door to hold my stirrup or to take my horse! Where are Nathaniel, Gregory, Philip?”

Nathaniel said, “Here, sir.”

Gregory said, “Here, sir.”

Philip said, “Here, sir.”

Petruchio shouted, “Here, sir! Here, sir! Here, sir! You logger-headed and unpolished servants! What, you can’t be bothered to show up to do your work? You can’t be bothered to show respect to me? You can’t be bothered to obey me? Will no one do his duty? Where is the foolish knave I sent here before me?”

Grumio replied, “Here I am, sir — I am just as foolish as I was before.”

Petruchio shouted at him, “You peasant country bumpkin! You son of a whore! You are as much of a mindless drudge as a horse that turns a treadmill to grind barley to make malt! Did I not order you to meet me outside and bring along these rascal knaves with you?”

Grumio replied with several ridiculous excuses: “Nathaniel’s coat, sir, was not fully made. Gabriel’s shoes needed to be repaired. Peter’s hat was not darkened because no smoky torch could be found. Walter had not yet found a sheath for his dagger. No one was properly dressed except for Adam, Ralph, and Gregory. All the rest were ragged, old, and beggarly. Yet, dressed as they are, they have come here to meet you.”

Petruchio said, “Go, rascals, go, and fetch my supper.”

The servants exited.

Petruchio sang, “Where is the life that late I led —”

He stopped singing and began to say, “Where are those —”

Then he interrupted himself and said, “Sit down, Kate, and welcome.”

He began to bang on the table and shout, “Food! Food! Food! Food!”

The servants arrived with the meal and began to place it on a serving table near the dining table at which Petruchio and Katherina were sitting.

Petruchio shouted at the servants, “Hurry!”

He said to his wife, “Don’t look sad, Kate. Be merry.”

To the servants, he shouted, “Take off my boots! Hurry!”

Part of Petruchio’s plan was to outshrew the shrew and by so doing show her how her shrewish and inconsiderate actions affected other people. This part of his plan was succeeding.

He sang, “It was the friar of orders grey,

As he walked forth on his way—”

He shouted at a servant who was trying to pull off one of his boots, “Get out, rogue! You are twisting my ankle! You better do a better job with the other boot! Take that!”

He hit the servant.

He said, “Be merry, Kate.”

He shouted, “Bring some water here!

“Where’s Troilus, my cocker spaniel?

“Get you hence, and order my cousin Ferdinand to come hither. He is one, Kate, whom you must kiss, and be acquainted with.

“Where are my slippers?

“Bring me some water!”

A servant entered, carrying water.

Petruchio said, “Come, Kate, and wash your hands, and welcome heartily.”

The servant dropped the water, and Petruchio shouted, “You son of a whore! You villain! Will you let it fall?”

Petruchio hit the servant who had dropped the water.

“Have patience, please,” Katherina said. “He did not do it on purpose.”

Katherina was learning about kindness and forgiveness and about feeling sympathy for other people. She was learning how shrewish behavior affected other people.

Petruchio said, “He is the son of a whore! He is a beetle-headed, flap-eared knave!”

He added, “Come, Kate, sit down. I know that you are hungry. Will you give thanks to God, sweet Kate; or else shall I?”

He asked a servant, “What is this? Mutton?”

The servant replied, “Yes.”

“Who brought it?”

The servant Peter replied, “I did.”

“This mutton is burnt, and so is all the food. What dogs are these servants! Where is the rascal cook? How dare you, villains, bring this food and serve it like this to me who hates burnt mutton and burnt food! Take it away!”

He swept the food and the dishes off the table and shouted, “You heedless joltheads and unmannered slaves! What, are you servants grumbling and complaining? I’ll set you straight right away!”

“Please, husband,” Katherina said. “The food was fine. You need not be so picky.”

“I tell you, Kate, it was burnt and dried up, and I am expressly forbidden to touch it because overcooked food makes people hot-headed and angry. It is better that both of us fast rather than eat it because both of us have quick tempers. Be patient. Tomorrow this fault will be corrected, and we will have good food to eat. Tonight, however, both of us will go without food. Come, I will take you to your bridal chamber.”

Petruchio and Katherina exited, and the servants began to talk.

Nathaniel asked, “Peter, did you ever see the like of that?”

“Petruchio is beating her at her game. She is hot-headed, but he is pretending to be even more hot-headed than she is. He is giving her a taste of her own medicine.”

Curtis came into the room.

Grumio asked, “Where is Petruchio?”

Curtis replied, “He is in her bedchamber, talking to her about self-control. In his sermon to her, he shouts, and swears, and scolds, so that she, poor soul, does not know which way to stand, to look, or to speak. She sits dazed as if she has newly awakened from a dream.”

Curtis heard a noise and said, “Let’s go now! I hear Petruchio coming!”

The servants left quickly.

Petruchio walked into the room and started to think out loud:

“I have started my reign with cunning, and I hope that my carefully thought-out plan will succeed.

“We train falcons to obey their masters by keeping them very hungry, and I will keep Kate very hungry. I will not allow her to eat her fill until she fulfills the vow she made before God to love, honor, and obey me.

“To train a hawk, and have it obey the call of her master, the trainer must watch the hawk until it is trained. Untrained hawks will be enraged and will beat their wings in frustration and will not be obedient.

“Kate ate no food today, and I will not allow her to eat tonight. Last night she did not sleep, and tonight I will not allow her to sleep. I pretended to find fault with the food, and I will pretend to find fault with the bed. I will fling the pillow there, I will fling the cushion here, I will fling the coverlet this way, and I will fling the sheets another way.

“While I do these things, I will tell her that everything I do is done in reverend care of her — and that is true, if it gets rid of her shrewishness, as I intend it will.

“Kate shall stay awake all night. And if she begins to nod and go to sleep, I’ll shout and brawl and with the clamor keep her always awake.

“This is a way to kill a wife with kindness.

“By doing these things, I will curb her mad and headstrong shrewishness. Once she is tamed, I will be a proper husband to her. I will love and cherish her. I do, already, although it may not seem like it.

“If anyone knows better how to tame a shrew, I want to hear from him his better way. His telling everyone the secret would be a service to the world.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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