Play Review: The Taming of the Shrew

We all know Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth, but we are generally less educated in Shakespeare’s comedies. The fact of it is, though, that Shakespeare wrote more comedies than he did tragedies or histories. Tfullsizerender-1his review will focus on one of Shakespeare’s lesser known comedies, The Taming of the Shrew, which, in my opinion, has some of the most controversial issues of any of the Shakespearean plays.

The play essentially tells the tale of a rich man who is desperate to see his two daughters marry into noble families. The youngest of the two, Bianca, has many suitors, and is admired for her beauty and modesty. Yet her father, Baptista, refuses to let her marry any of these suitors until his older daughter, Katherina, has married. Unlike her sister, Katherina does not have a single suitor; she is outspoken, loud, and, in contemporary terms, unlady-like, or, as one suitor calls her, a “fiend of hell” (Shr. 1.1.98). The play continues, disguise and intrigue entering its narrative, forming what is generally seen as an amusing story, fitting for what was labelled a “comedy”.

Petruchio: And you good sir. Pray, have you not a daughter 
                     Called Katherina, fair and virtuous?

Baptista:    I have a daughter, sir, called Katherina.
(Shr. 2.1.42-44).

I, personally, found the above lines very amusing, but there are frequent periods of blunt comedy within the text, especially concerning Grumio, a servant to one of the suitors. Whilst not being directly named a “fool”, this is the role he seems to play, and strengthens the element of comedy in the play.

Despite this, the genre of “comedy”, in concerns to The Taming of the Shrew, has often been challenged. After all, whilst this is essentially a tale of romance, and thus presents the opportunity for comedy, it is a dark romance, the “shrew” in the title actually referring to Katherina, and the story depicting the “taming” of her outspoken personality, meaning that the end product of the play is a quiet, obedient Katherina who follows every word her husband says, her personality seemingly obliterated.

Petruchio, Katherina’s husband, forces her to endure several days without food and sleep, torturing her as a part of this “taming” process. Then, upon returning her to his father, he tests her obedience. He calls the sun the moon, and an old man a young maiden. Katherina, perhaps out of terror of her husband, agrees with him. This misogyny goes a step further, too; the very conclusion of the play depicts the husbands of Katherina and Bianca to have a bet, each claiming to have the most obedient wife. Petruchio wins the bet, having Katherina fondle his feet in front of the crowd, which includes her entire family.

Obviously, The Taming of the Shrew was designed for a patriarchal world where the woman was seen as lesser to man. The majority of its audience in the globe would have been men, and so it is easy to see why a play with what now is such controversial content, could have been, at the time, funny. However, this may look too bleakly on Shakespearean society. Whilst it is true that the play’s audience would not have the same views of equality that exist in modern society, for this was a time before the waves of feminism, many critics argue that not everyone would be able to laugh at Katherina’s torture at the hands of Petruchio. This is, of course, complete speculation, but some argue that the sexism is so blatant in the play, that Shakespeare actually uses satire to indicate the injustice in society, and, in this move, makes himself one of the first feminists (although he cannot be labelled as such, seeing as how the word “feminism” did not exist during his time, let alone a concept of this movement).

Regardless, The Taming of the Shrew is an exceptionally interesting play, if confusing on occasion, when more than half of the characters on stage are in disguise. It is funny, and it is thought-provoking; I would recommend giving it a read, or else checking to see if there are any recent performances of the play, seeing as Shakespeare was meant to be heard, not read on a page.

Note: the quotes in this post use line references from the Norton edition of the play:
Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew. Edited by Dympna Callaghan, Norton, 2009.

“What is a Novel?” / Book Review: “Roxana”

One of the most important questions in literature, and yet one which is rarely asked, is, “where did the novel come from?”. Many assume that it has always been there, supposing, perhaps that it is a term as easily associated with J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, as it is with Homeric epic. Whilst the majority of us never discuss the issue, the fact of it is that the novel hasn’t always existed. After epic poetry, lyrical poetry emerged, preceding Romances and Shakespearean plays: texts that we would never attribute with the word novel. In fact, the ‘first’ novel is claimed to be Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Whilst this may be an odd assumption to make about what is now such a wide branch of literature, Daniel Defoe did something in literature that had never been done before; he brought a sense of realism to his work that transported his readers, causing them to clearly picture Crusoe’s marooning on that desert island, and to take it as fact. This is because Robinson Crusoe wasn’t published under the name of Defoe at all, but the name of Crusoe; the novel is the character retelling his story, Defoe insisting that the story is fact throughout the narrative. In modern novels, this trait no longer exists; we do not read Wuthering Heights and take it as a true story written by Cathy Linton, or believe that Frodo Baggins wrote The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, what we now consider a genre with the biggest flexibility for fantasy, is one rooted in nonfiction.

Defoe did something else unusual in Robinson Crusoe too, but I want to talk about this in connection to his lesser known novel. Still one of the first ‘novels’ of the genre, and a text published under Defoe’s anonymity, Roxana reveals the true meaning of what such a text once was. It tells the story of a French lady who moves to England, in order to find a new identity for herself. She addresses her audience, telling her own story, as her first husband disappears, leaving her an assumed widow in a state of extreme poverty. Having to give up her children and marry for wealth, Roxana soon realises the satisfaction in being an unmarried woman. She becomes promiscuous, a mistress to many a rich man as she raises her own fortune and lives, for the most of the novel, independently of men.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Roxana, however, is this second trait of the traditional novel that I mentioned earlier. Defoe included a precision that hadn’t really been seen in literature before this. Roxana records everything in the text, from the exact profit of her dealings, to the exact times and locations which she refers to as she travels about Defoe’s world. This novel was published in 1724, following on from texts like Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost, and, of course, Shakespeare, himself. Whilst such texts may include the locations of scenes, or give vague descriptions of the time of day, they left no room for the thorough explanation of the facts that Defoe allowed for. In fact, what with the anonymity of Roxana, combined with an inclusion of such precise facts that the first assumption would be that the tale is true, it is clear that the traditional novel barely resembles what we now assume it to be. As Defoe remarked in the preface of Roxana, “the foundation of This is laid in Truth of Fact: and so the Work is not a Story, but a History”.

On a side note, I would thoroughly recommend Roxana to anyone who enjoys a good story; due to the realism of the work, it is easy to relate to the character, readers both condemning her for her crimes, and admiring her for her determination to have her own rights in a protofeminist world. It is also worth appreciating the age of a work that is centred around a female protagonist, and the scandal that is included. Whilst we may now see the novel as an authoritative symbol of knowledge and wealth, the novel was once seen as something sordid and dirty.

The only issue many readers seem to have with the text is its ending; some argue that the novel wasn’t ready to be a novel when Defoe composed it, as the narrative appears to trail into nothingness. However, if you like a sense of mystery after reading a book, unsure of whether a character lives or dies, this is a book that can only satisfy, as well as intrigue, your senses.

Invisible

This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. With only 150 words and this week’s prompt word, “blend”, this competition gives its winner free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award, which boasts of a prize of £1000! 

This is not my world. I am not part of it. Whilst the people rush by above me, loud with sound and colour in a mesh of endless chatter, I stay here. I crouch in the suburbs and hide in the dark, waiting… for what, I do not know, but I wait. I watch. I blend.

Occasionally I will meet my “equal”, skulking about beside me. We are not the same, though. We will never be the same. No one is like me. Whilst they tiptoe through the shadows, hiding from the busyness of the world, they are loud and clumsy. They can’t do it like I do. They do not become the shadows. They can’t blend.

They are the rejects, the outcasts, but they still belong. I don’t. I’m not part of this world. I do not hide in the night: I am the night. I am new. I blend.

Book Review: “Wuthering Heights”

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With its complicated themes and layered narrative, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is renowned for being one of the leading novels of the gothic genre. It is undeniably a fascinating read, if only due to the numerous character and plot interpretations that can be had from it.

However, you should not take this book on if you’re not prepared to be fully committed to the storyline. Lockwood, a seemingly unnecessary character, is, in many ways, merely a device for the story to be told through, and yet the first few chapters resolve primarily on his impressions of the Wuthering Heights building and its inhabitants. Arguably, this gives depth and a better understanding of the isolation that Heathcliff and his family experience, but, in many ways, the gripping story of Wuthering Heights doesn’t really begin until after Cathy’s death, and the relationships within the next generation become steadily more intriguing. One thing must be made clear, though; this is not a love story. It is not a cheerful, upbeat novel in which readers have no choice but to expect a happy ending.

Wuthering Heights is a brutal insight to the class divisions and xenophobia of the Victorian Era, its narrative intrinsically linked to themes of envy, betrayal and revenge. Some critics would even go as far to say that the famous couple, Cathy and Heathcliff, never really had a mutual love between them; perhaps Heathcliff’s insanity produced an entire relationship for his deprived mind to obsess over; perhaps our impressions of the perfect, untainted love between them are, in reality, completely deluded.

Business: A Currency Article

As a startup writer, I am aware that it would be helpful to have experience in different fields of the writing industry. This is why I recently submitted an informative blog piece of writing (200-250 words) to Earn Forex, who run a blog with updates on recent currency changes. I did not feel entirely comfortable writing this piece, as I am not too confident about some of the terminology used in this field. However, I had a go, and sent this short article in as a paid test piece: 

This time last year, 1 British Pound (GBP) equated to 2.2 Australian Dollars (AUD), but after a steady decline throughout the year, the exchange rate hit new lows this week: 1 British Pound is now equal to only 1.6 Australian Dollars.

The fall of the pound after the Brexit vote increased after Theresa May put a deadline to the invocation of Article 50, announcing a date of the UK’s separation from the EU, March, 2017 (the full story is available here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37532364). However, this more recent slump in British Pound (GBP) to Australian Dollar (AUD) exchange rates is owing to factors that occurred on Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th October.

On Tuesday, Chancellor Philip Hammond released comments that not only vanquished hopes of an MP vote on Brexit, but destroyed the support the Pound Sterling (GBP) had left. He confirmed that the UK government would not reject monetary policies put in place by the Bank of England (BoE), including the possible extension to quantitative easing (read more here: https://www.earnforex.com/news/?s=quantitative+easing). As a result of this, the value of the British Pound plunged still lower.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) previously stated that it would not maintain a neutral stance on monetary policy, causing a drop in value for the Australian Dollar (AUD). On Wednesday, however, Australia’s publication of the Q3 Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed a rise in the Australian Dollar value (AUD), as these fears were neutralised, and the division between the Pound and the Australian Dollar rose once more.

Story Starters: A Collection

My biggest problem as a writer has always been sticking to one story after I create the initial opening; it’s too tempting to move onto something new and more exciting! Here’s three story starters, varying in length, that I’ve, at some point, abandoned.

1) This opening story sentence is for the purposes of the writing competition at: Writer’s Digest, with the brief of a maximum word count at 25 words, and the picture prompt seen below.

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A snowy owl swooped low above the forest, invisible against the white trees, and ignorant, for little did it know of the danger lurking there.

2) The flames roared high above them, great waves of smoke towering higher still. They choked and coughed as they ran, ducking and diving around the broken infrastructure that now surrounded them. Time was running out; they were already scorched and burned in more places than they knew, the agony of their wounds occasionally causing them to contort their steps as they raced onwards. Great chunks of wall and ceiling were crashing around them, too, wires dropping down into the fiery mass and sparks exploding from every direction. The reality was that they had entered hell itself, and every runner accepted that fact with a bleak resolution. There was no turning back, and, chances were, there was no escape. Hell had become the endless corridor of fire that they now faced, and they were all too aware of it.

3) The sirens were louder than they should have been. Even before her body crumpled and collapsed onto the pavement, they were there with us, ringing in our minds and pounding in our hearts. Craig was bent over her, muttering to himself and beating the ground with his fist. Little Pete was at his side as usual, waiting for the directions that would never come again. I didn’t need to crouch over her as they did, though, because I knew. In reality, I think we all knew, even before we’d hit her; we’d known even before she’d been lit up in front of my car headlights and Craig had fought to avoid her. There was no use checking her pulse or breathing rate. There was no point, because Kelly Holmes was dead, and we’d killed her. We were murderers.

“We should run,” Craig breathed, turning to face us in the half-dark. “The sirens don’t mean anything. They could be hours away yet.”

“I agree,” Little Pete piped up instantly, not even allowing a breath between Craig’s suggestion and his own sycophantic plea for attention. I shrugged, but I doubted that they could see the slight movement in the darkness. I wasn’t going to run. I didn’t want to run. I was a murderer. I had to stay and face the police, no matter how devastating that would be.

“Dan,” Craig persisted, ignoring Little Pete. “We need to go, now.” I swallowed hard, feeling braver in every new cry of the sirens.

“Then go,” I whispered, looking not at Craig and Little Pete, but at Kelly. She was beautiful even now, her long, dark hair a mess about her shoulders and back, and her slender, ghostly form almost shining in the light from the surrounding street lamps. I’d known her since she was little, from when we’d played together in my back garden. She was dead now. She would never breathe again, never laugh, never smile. She was simply gone.

“Dan, they’ll get you!” Craig whispered, his voice slightly incredulous. I could not look at my best friend, though. He wasn’t like me. He wasn’t feeling this like I was. He felt only fear, whereas I felt only loss, grief and a furious, biting sense of self-hatred. I had done this. “Dan, you know what that means!” Craig persisted, shaking my shoulder now.

“If you want to run, run,” I snapped, looking at Craig at last. “Save yourself. You better hurry up, though. It’s been too long already.” Craig stepped back slightly, confusion edging its way into his fear clouded mind. He looked at Little Pete then, suddenly lost and vulnerable. Pete looked back, and suddenly they were no longer leader and disciple, but two scared boys: criminals.

Without another word, they took off, running in the opposite direction from the houses and sirens beyond them. There were fields not too far off, and after that, the forest. If they made it that far, they were safe. It was said that fugitives and criminals caked the trees themselves, living amongst the branches and leaves on the earthy floor. I used to have nightmares about the place, but for Craig and Little Pete, it had just become the last hope. Maybe, just maybe, they would be okay.

I looked back at Kelly then, and my heart shuddered to a halt, too.

Murky Waters

This short story is for the purposes of the writing competition at: Creative Writing Ink.

Murky waters lapped at the ship’s hull, gurgling and bubbling as they were pulled to and fro. That was the only sound that night, that of the waters against the vessel; it was too late for gulls and too isolated for the drunks that would be staggering their way home. The ship stood silent and unrecognised, no one there to question its presence – no one there to question the silence.

On board, the quiet was matched only by the stillness. The crew members sat about their bunks, faces grey and stony. They did not sleep; they did not dare to sleep. They were far too busy listening: listening and waiting for the answer that they so longed for. Each man knew exactly what was happening in the cabin high above him, and each man feared it and desired it to much the same extent. They were caught in their own curiosity, their very skulls aching with the tension that seemed to suffocate the lower decks.

One man let out a low, gravely cough, and the others responded with offended glares and jolts of shock that sent chairs sliding across floorboards. The moment of action calmed once more, and order was restored; most returned to their slightly glazed expressions, whilst others stared fixedly at the ceiling.

High above them, in the luxury of the Captain’s Quarters, Leopold Fielding sat hunched over his desk. Old maps and written documents surrounded him, as he scratched the occasional note into his journal. He did not spare a thought for the men waiting in agonised silence below, though he would not expect them to be asleep at a time like this. He leant back in his chair for a moment, letting his quill go limp in his hand. He had never been a rich man; if he had been, he never would have found his way to the sea in the first place. He would have a house and perhaps a wife to occupy his time. Now though, the power in his hands seemed immense. He slid his glasses from his nose to rub his eyes several times. He didn’t like the power exactly, but he liked the knowledge of it. He was in control; nothing bad had to ever happen to him, because he was in control.

He imagined, for just the most minute second, being tied to a captain as his crew were tied to him. They had promised him their lives for their crimes against him, and now it was his word that would settle their futures. He returned his glasses to his nose and looked back at the map he’d been poring over for the last hour. The likelihood was that all of this stress and all of this worry was meaningless. He was consumed with doubt when the danger could be a mere story. He groaned for what must have been the hundredth time that night.

Since the ancient days, stories had been told of the mythical sea monsters that had haunted the waters off from Italy. Fielding had read and reread the tales of Scylla and Charybdis, monsters prowling every inch of sea within hundreds of miles, leaving no man alive. He could dismiss these myths with very little thought, of course, if it were not for the more recent tales. Strange things happened in those waters: men disappeared, or returned mute and useless, unaware of who they were or where they had come from. Then there were the claims of fishermen, sighting strange tentacles in the water, or superhuman whirlwinds that stirred winds strong enough to pull them in, many miles away, though they were.

Fielding knew his men feared the stories more than anything that they had faced. It was easier for them to be influenced, he supposed, constantly hearing the stories retold around them. As for the Captain himself, he still felt unsure. If he could prove that there were no dangers waiting in the depths for them, then he would become notorious; all those ships that shirked the site, terrified of what could be just beyond their field of sight, would be forced to respect him. He would be powerful, and he would be rich.

It made no sense that there could be some creature of mythical proportions still alive in his world. Those things had never existed to begin with, or else had died out centuries ago. Yet even a forward thinker such as Fielding did have difficulty in denying the reports of the men that had gone missing, or returned injured and confused. He was a man of statistics, and figures such as those surely meant something. He drummed his fingers against the desk, brain racing. The sun would be rising soon, and he would have to have made his decision. It was time.

He stretched, pushing back his chair and getting to his feet. Glancing only once more at the work left behind him, he marched from his cabin and made his way down to the lower decks. The crew was still wide awake, watching him with great apprehension as he opened the first bunk door. He cleared his throat, looking around at their dirty, strained faces.

“As soon as the sun rises,” he called out, “we set sail for Italy.”

He left behind him a silence as stony as the one that had occupied the bunks before his entrance. The crew members looked at one another, all thinking the exact same thing: their time was up. They were all doomed.