So I was talking with the multi-talented Mary Cyn about a story that she’s publishing through Stillpoint/Eros. Her narrator’s name is Kat, short for Katherine. As in The Taming of the Shrew. That got me thinking about Kate and Petruchio. And (for reasons that are too boring to go into) 50 Shades of Grey.
And I had what was, for me, at least, a very peculiar brainstorm. Shakespeare’s comedy is most often framed these days as a misogynistic story of spousal abuse, which I think kind of misses the point of the play. (I wrote a paper in a graduate seminar about the ways in which Shrew has been a barometer for the sexual mores and gender politics of succeeding centuries.)
But… What if it’s not that Petruchio bullies Kate into subservience, but that they both discover that in addition to being a strong (if inflexible) woman, she is a heavy-duty submissive — someone who gets a sexual charge out of being dominated. She doesn’t know this about herself. She doesn’t even like this about herself. But it is so.
Miss Mary said that she thought that was a really interesting idea.
And since I can’t direct kids in that production, I decided to write it. Here’s the opening — I’d love to know what you think!
Katherine stomped out of her father’s house with a growl and sense of righteous fury. A suitor? Like hell. No one wanted to marry her — and that was just how she wanted it.
And if it meant her sister had to sit there simpering and sticking her pinkies her eyes to bring tears and force Daddy’s sympathy — all while she was off playing the town punk with most of men under thirty in their university town — then that was just fine with Katherine.
No one told Katherine Minola what to do.
The last idiot who’d come and asked her father for her hand had been seventy and bandy-legged and had discussed helping with Baptista Minola’s little excess inventory problem; the greybeard and Katherine’s father had laughed together at that — and that had been the thing that hurt the most: that she was now to be treated not only as market goods, but as unwanted ones. And so when her so-called suitor tried to kiss her hand, she’d twisted his nose.
Then she’d kicked him in the saggy crotch, just for good measure.
That had been the end of that.
And she’d been blessedly unmolested since — for over a year.
And now this.
Someone was going to pay.
Well, actually, Katherine knew exactly who was going to pay: whoever this gold-loving, pox-infected, venal bastard was who had had the nerve to say that he would woo her.
Katherine Minola. The Shrew of Padua. And fucking proud of it.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like men. Women like her mewling, manipulative sister — them she had no time for. No: she liked men. In theory.
She’d just never met an actual man. Just one over-stuffed codpiece after another. One mindless, soulless money-grubber like her father after twenty more.
Some day, a real man would come — a man who was her equal. Not some member of the Padua Rotary. Not one of Daddy’s insipid business partners or interns or…
Not whatever asshole this was who had ruined her perfectly planned day of bemoaning the injustice of her lot, reading some of the racier bits of Boccaccio’s Decameron just to get her blood going, then throwing some ugly pottery out the window. And listening to her sister flirt with yet another boy (or three) who had no chance with her, but to whom she might give a peek. Or two. Weak. Bianca was weak and conventional and vapid and manipulative and managed to get away doing things Katherine’s virtue would never have allowed her to do, and yet she, Bianca, was looked at as the good daughter. The valuable commodity. And so Katherine had been looking forward to dangling her from the balcony by her hands, or — even better! — by her ankles, showing her prim little fanny to the entire town, most of whom had seen it already.
As was, no doubt, this pathetic, palsied, pin-headed, piss-pot excuse for a…
Katherine turned through the arch that marked the entrance to the garden — her favorite part of the estate — and saw him. Not scrawny. Not cross-eyed or toothless. Cool grey eyes intense and penetrating. Shoulders and chin square and strong. Amused intelligence twisting sensual lips even as the mouth opened, bespeaking a desire to taste.
Speechless for the first time since she learned to speak, Katherine stared at this… This…
A real man.
What was wrong with her? He was still sure to be just another horse-trader after Daddy’s ducats, the gold that was tied up in Katherine’s dowry. She wouldn’t spare him the…
Hips slim. Calves strong. Thighs frighteningly sculpted. And a codpiece… that from its size and shape didn’t for a minute look as if it owed more to the tailor’s art than to God’s, and if that were so…
FUCK. Verily. FUCK. Was she Bianca now, that a well-packed doublet, an overflowing set of hose, and a clear complexion could turn her to so much slush? She squared her shoulders and stared, waiting for him to start, to present an opening…
No beard, but a chin dark enough to make it clear that this was no boy…
Get a grip!
He stared back at her, and she felt naked before him, and was shocked that the feeling was a wonderfully delicious one. She felt the tips of her breasts harden against her low-cut, tight bodice, felt her nethers grow humid in their fine linen armor.
PLEASE, she found herself thinking as she tried to catch her breath, FUCK. PLEASE.
WEAK! she screamed at her traitorous body.
She could see that she was having as strong an effect on him, and she thrilled at the knowledge, even as it irked her. Was she turning into her sister? Katherine would have rather died. But not just yet…
He licked his lips hungrily and spoke, his voice low like distant thunder’s rumble, “Good morrow, Kate.”
She blinked at him. No one had called her Kate since she was a child. Did he think she was a…?
He cocked his head, clearly noticing her reaction. “For that’s your name, I hear.”
“Well have you heard,” she gasped, trying to sound like anything else but the green, wet-crotched girl she felt like, “but something hard… of hearing.” She felt her strength returning and reveled at it. “They call me Katherine that do talk of me.”
So? What think you?
I’d like to write the rest of that opening scene — which I’ve always felt was one of the most brilliantly upside-down love scenes ever written. (Usually the actors’ objectives in a love scene is to connect to each other, and there are external obstacles to their mutual desire. In this scene, she desperately wants to get rid of him, to defeat him; the obstacle here is that she finds him hot.)
(The image at the top is Fredi Olster as Kate and Marc Singer — of Beastmaster fame — as Petruchio in American Conservatory Theater’s amazing commedia dell’arte production of The Taming of the Shrew, which is blessedly available on video!)
And here’s the scene I wrote the beginning of, from that very production: