Some Rise By Sin, and Some By Virtue Fall?

Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles as Patrick and Kat in "10 Things I Hate About You", with Allison Janney (center), whom I've also seen play Katherine in "The Taming of the Shrew" in Central Park, NYC

Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles as Patrick and Kat in "10 Things I Hate About You", with Allison Janney (center), whom I've also seen play Katherine in "The Taming of the Shrew" in Central Park, NYC

Posted by TERESA

So, remember that short story I’m working on that I’ve been all excited about?  Well, I still am – but some early feedback has forced me to do a lot of thinking about what it is I’m actually trying to accomplish.

First, some background.  One of my favorite Shakespeare plays is The Taming of the Shrew.  It’s the story of Katherine, a raving bitch who’s hateful to everyone.  Finding her a husband proves difficult – not that she would EVER admit to even wanting one – and her dad won’t let her younger sister marry until she does.  Along comes Petruchio who tries to “tame” her by being even more bitchy to her than she is to him.  In the end, they develop feelings for each other, and Kate agrees to slow her bitchy roll for him.  (You can also rent/download/whatever 10 Things I Hate About You for an awesome, modern retelling of the story)

shrew

Now, Katherine ends the play with a thought-provoking monologue.  Most modern productions of the play have Katherine deliver that monologue  ironically, as if she’s humoring Petruchio.  That bothers me.  Katherine is someone who spends her whole life pushing people away by being horrible.  It’s not as if she started out being this awesome person and was later stifled and made less.  It’s not as if she only bestowed her acid tongue on horrible men.  She treated EVERYONE like crap (and ties her sister to a chair, by the by).  Yet by the end of the play, she’s learned how to be humble and to give up the control she’s insisted on weilding her whole life.  This is not weakness.  Subservience and humility does not equal weakness when it is a choice.  I’ve always thought that giving that final speech an ironic reading undermines what once was a complex journey for a prominent female character.  Shakespeare starts the play with her, and ends it with her.  The play is, more than anything else, the story of Katherine’s journey.  If she doesn’t change by the end, and of her own acord, then the entire thing is pointless.  I also don’t understand why the only two ways in which to discuss the speech are  as either indicative of opression and powerlessness, or as ironic subversion.  To me, Katherine is a woman who has learned to pick her battles.  She knows, when she walks into the room at the end of the play, that this guy who’s her match and is now her husband needs to save face in front of his friends and she chooses to give him what he asks for by giving this speech.  She lays it on really thick, but it isn’t ironic.  Whether she means every word or not is irrelevant, because the mere act of giving the speech, and her willingness to do it, make it genuine.  It’s an act of love.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a production tackle it in this way.  I’ve certainly gotten into many debates about it with people.  🙂

measure for measure

Then there’s Measure For Measure, in which a fake duke imprisons a nobleman for premarital sex, falls for the nobleman’s nun-in-training sister, and tells her that he will release her brother if she sleeps with him.  When I studied this play in college, I was the only person in my class who could wrap her head around the idea that someone could love God more than their own family.  Everyone else spouted variations on Why doesn’t she just do it?  She’s being such a prude!  She’s being so selfish! Etc, etc.  And they all jumped down my throat when I said To her, God is more important even than her brother.  God is the most important thing in her life.  Expecting her to throw that over doesn’t make sense. I was much more devout then than I am now, and no one understood where I was coming from.  Meanwhile, I couldn’t understand how a room full of theater students who were used to sympathizing with all sorts of characters couldn’t understand soemone prioritizing God above all things.  Drug addicts?  Pedophiles?  Murderers?  No problem.  But someone who loves God?  THIS didn’t compute.

writersblock

Which brings me back to the short story I’ve been working on.  I can’t get into specifics, because only a few people have read it, and I don’t want to spoil it.  But I have my main character choose to do something at the end that I believe is a powerful choice, but that no one else seems to see that way.  The feedback I’ve gotten so far has been all about how tragic and/or weak the character is at the end.  I’ve gotten suggestions about how I could “fix”  the ending to “make the character stronger.”  Thing is, I don’t want to change the ending.  If I change the ending, this character wouldn’t grow and change the way she’s supposed to.  She’d be a different character in a different story than the one I’m writing.

I seem to have such a different outlook than any of my friends when it comes to certain things.  Sometimes it feels like I have a different outlook than my entire generation on certain things.  I wonder, then, if this will always be a problem for me.  If there are just certain things that, no matter how well I craft it, won’t resonate with most people who read my stories?  Part of me worries that certain things I write won’t be relevant to the time in which I’m writing them.  I mean, yay for me if I reflect the values of the past, or woo hoo if I’m “ahead of my time”, reflecting the values of the future, but that doesn’t do me or readers today any good.  Hmm.

Knowing that I have SO much to learn about writing, I’m currently trying to figure out if there are things I can do to improve the story in order to get my message across.  I would like readers to, at the very least, understand how what the main character does can be seen as a strong choice even if they wouldn’t do it themselves.  The way I see it, readers should either understand and believe the message I’m sending, or understand and disagree, which could lead to some fun debate, but they should at least get it to begin with.

I hope I can be the writer my story deserves.

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Published in: on May 19, 2009 at 4:26 PM  Leave a Comment  
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