Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | May 13, 2015

Taming Shakespeare

Last month my older child grumbled and complained as she read her assigned pages from TAMING OF THE SHREW. In her English class she’s already read and enjoyed books such as THE CHOSEN, BLACK BOY and BRAVE NEW WORLD, so I wondered if her hardening dislike for the Shakespeare play was because she found the language difficult or the social attitudes too foreign (especially after she yelled “Yes, tell me about your mysoginistic ideals!” at the book).

One night she declared that she likes the movie 10 Things I Hate About You much more than Taming Of The Shrew. As I was about to launch into a ‘everyone should know the original text’ speech she said that in the movie the characters have reasons for what they do. In the play she feels there is little to no character development. Two sisters are presented, one all sweetness and one a horror. Why, she asked, why are they this way, why have two people who grew up in the same house become such polar opposites? To first have two characters presented as ‘this is how they are, deal with it’ and then to have a character change only because she’s starved and abused into submission drove my daughter into a rage. She wanted depth and reasons for the characters’ behavior. We don’t need hours of backstory but at least something to tell us why they have become what they are.

I was about to defend Shakespeare when I realized maybe she’s got a point. I’m sure a Shakespeare scholar could explain the nuances of the play that would tell us Katherina is a ‘shrew’ because the dog ate her doll when she was three and Bianca the source of all loviness because her teeth are perfect. But most readers will never study a text that closely.

This is a blog about writing (though I know many of my posts are about books because, frankly, I love books) and what can a writer learn from TAMING OF THE SHREW? For me, it’s that no matter how beautiful the language or revered the writer, if a story is to achieve true greatness, it needs characters to be understandable and relatable.

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