Shrewpost 15: a letter from Kate, the shrew

Dear Ben,

Thanks for bringing me to life, or should I say, banging your head against the shape Will made for me. Whatever I am, I’m not easy. You tried, and in some places you got closer to me than in other places. The fact of your genitals was interesting to me, and I’m not usually in favor of these cross-gender experiments. I’m an opportunity for a woman, so a part of me resents your work on me. God knows there aren’t that many chances for women to bang their heads against me. I’m tempted to make a saucy remarked about being banged by a man, but I’ll resist.

My greatest problem with what you did with me is that it remained experimental. By that I mean, I kept waiting for you to make a stand, and you didn’t. I think you were trying to play it safe, which is hard to do with me. I am, essentially, unsafe – for men, for women, for everyone. You were trying not to offend anyone. But Ben, my reason for being is offense. You can’t really bring me to life without offending someone, or at least scaring the hell out of a few people. You found some of my fury in the beginning, especially in the cage. My fury was undermined by the doll in act two – ah well. I was not fond of the doll, I look forward to tormenting a real person in that scene. It’s really the only scene in which you see how brutal I’ve become. But I appreciated how hurt and angry you were at my father.

I liked the wooing scene, I liked how physical was. You found my delight in sparring, competing and winning. How satisfying it was to end up “on top”. And you discovered how good if felt to be praised, especially in public. You see, Ben, I have never been praised. I, and women like me everywhere and from all times, are ridiculed when we are seen at all. I represent the “ugly” women, large yet invisible, the ones who cease to exist when a slender, shapely female walks by. Maybe the doll wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

This is why I resented it that you lost weight to play me. I understand why you did it. But if you really wanted to know how it is to be me, you should have gained weight, grown a hairy mole on your chin and worn glasses. You know how you self-consciously played with that little fat roll the girdle produced when you sat down backstage? Now imagine the fat exploding like bread dough out from between the top of your pants and the bottom of the girdle. Imagine the awkward glances from people who don’t want to be caught staring at you. Imagine the jokes, the loneliness, the humiliation. I had two options: submission and death, or fury and life.

I know, I know – then how could you submit to Petruchio, you’re asking, and then promote obedience as the ideal relationship for women to have with their husbands? But this is where you got it right, or at least came close. It’s not submission to him, it’s something else, something much closer to love, but infused with a letting go. Your focus on exploring humor, absurdity, merriment with him was dead on. What I think you missed (you and him) is the cost of such a letting go: what, exactly, did you both let go of, out there, under the sun/moon, after the word “forward”? I can’t tell you what it is (that’s my mystery), but I will tell you that it was dear to you and dear to him. A hint: think of the grief/relief the alcoholic feels when finally putting down the drink. Sun/moon. Grief/relief.

And the big speech? Good for you for understanding that it is something spoken at a specific time, at a specific place and for specific people. People forget that when Will conceived me, that speech was an astonishing act of transformation. Imagine again the fat woman with the hairy mole saying that speech. Imagine her, the butt of a thousand jokes, speaking it sincerely and with love. It wasn’t only the players on stage at the Globe whose jaws dropped. The comic groteseque was suddenly to be taken seriously! You found my delightful domination of everyone present – even my husband, who thinks I’ll say something quaint and obedient, but is knocked over by the 43 lines of eloquence I come up with the spot. Finally I am in complete control, at the center of the party, putting people in their places, celebrating others and speaking a brand new truth which has saved me. The essence of it is this: stop fighting. Yes, yes, yes – the rest of it is objectionable by your standards, so many years in the future, but I am not of your time. I am of a time when human beings had to fit in to a rigid order or there was chaos. That’s just the way it was back then. You’re all fond of thinking of Will’s world as wispy and whimsical, but really, it was frequently appalling, often very violent and women were property (nothing surprising to us about Petruchio’s “chattel” speech in act three). More often than not, the streets and alleys of Cheapside were scenes from nightmares. Now think again of that final speech, and you may understand how, in that context, it is a triumphant act for me.

Another thing I liked in your go at it, and this was also part of Will’s design: Petruchio never hits me, though I hit him and many others (I can come close to killing Bianca in act two, but never mind). Given the culture of the time, in which women were beaten regularly and publicly, the idea he expresses – that he will “kill a wife with kindness” – was unusual to say the least. That he says it of a big, fat ugly woman who physically attacks anyone who upsets her was more than unusual, it was – to us back then – absurdly comic. Perverse as it may seem to you, the standard response to women like me back then was the boot or the back of the hand. So what I learn from him, and what I communicate in my way in the Big Speech, is that violence doesn’t work, but love does. The absurdly comic becomes a pathway to revolutionary love (a love connected to the Gospels, by the way), couched in language acceptable to the time. You both got that, or got close to it, and in doing so, you honored me.

But my favorite time living inside you Ben wasn’t in the play at all. It was when you donned that silly dress, put on those ear muffs and danced during your warm up. What strange and extraordinary music you listen to! How I have wanted to dance for all time, and how I wish that Will had put a dance for me his play. How sweet it was to feel your shyness as you started dancing among the other actors warming up, and the stage managers prepping. How wonderful when you stopped caring. Just know Ben, that you were not only dancing for me, and finding the girl inside you who longs for love and light and release the same as the other girls, the smaller ones who seem to attract attention and love without effort, you were dancing for the large and invisible women everywhere, yes even the ones who exist in your time. Maybe I’m not so far away after all.

Take this from me Ben: fighting no, loving yes, dance whenever possible.

Break a leg,

Kate