A very affectionate look at Upstart Crow by Chasqui Penguin
Each episode has a theme, usually revolving around one of Will’s plays, and in this series of articles our aim is to give a little more background to those and the Upstart Crow storyline surrounding it, together with the facts, deliberate anachronisms, and the characters involved.
Episode 5 – Beware My Sting
This episode focuses on Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew,and for clarity this Facts List is divided into two parts – the first devoted to the play, the second to this Upstart Crow episode.
The Taming of the Shrew
This is a play within a play,thought to have been written by Shakespeare between 1590 and 1594 and first staged in 1593/94.
The ‘play within a play’ theme is not unique to Shakespeare who also used it in Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The structure of The Taming of the Shrew revolves around a play performed in a nobleman’s house by a troupe of actors to entertain a drunken pedlar called Christopher Sly who is tricked into thinking he is a lord. When the play within finishes, he is left to sleep off his state of inebriation.
In the context of this play, a shrew is an unpleasant, argumentative woman and this description is applied to Katherine (sometimes Katherina or Kate) who fills the title role.
The words ‘Beware my sting’ form part of the reply Katherine gives to Petruchio when he calls her a wasp in Act 2, Scene 1:
Petruchio: Come, come, you wasp, i’faith you are too angry.
Katherine: If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
Petruchio: My remedy is then to pluck it out.
Although The Taming of the Shrew constitutes a major part of this Upstart Crow episode, it is not fully mirrored in the storyline, and below is a very brief synopsis of this play:
Baptista, the wealthy father of two sisters, is keen for both his daughters to marry. Bianca is a quiet, amiable girl with three suitors, including Lucentio, but her elder sister Katherine is the opposite as she is a headstrong, determined and contrary young woman who, her father believes, will never attract a husband. He asks Lucentio if he can find a man who will marry Katherine. Along comes Lucentio’s friend Petruchio who expresses his desire to marry Katherine, even though she shows no interest in him, but he is a feckless youth driven not by love for Katherine but by his love of money. He vows to tame her once she becomes his wife, and the wedding arrangements proceed. After their marriage Petruchio takes her to his home in Verona where his plan to subdue her begins by denying her food, sleep and fine clothes. On a journey to her childhood home in Padua, and worn down by the cruelty of her husband, Katherine agrees when he says the sun is the moon and an old man is a beautiful young woman, and thus the taming is well on its way. Meanwhile, Bianca and Lucentio secretly marry and when Katherine and Petruchio arrive, a joint wedding feast for the two sisters and their husbands is arranged. However, in the end it is Katherine who demonstrates how Petruchio has changed her by immediately going to him when he calls her, whereas Bianca fails to do this when her husband calls her. Katherine then makes a speech imploring women to obey their husbands thus proving that the shrew has been tamed.
Below are extracts from Katherine’s monologue advocating women’s obedience to their husbands (Act 5, Scene 2), spoken in Upstart Crow during the Red Lion performance of this play with Condell as Katherine:
…Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign…
…Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
Following Dr John V Nance’s recent computer comparison analysis of a scene in The Taming of the Shrew, where doubt had been cast on Shakespeare as the sole writer, a theory suggesting Christopher Marlowe as a co-writer of this play has emerged. Indications to support this theory include use of the phrase ‘to be atchiev’d’, spoken by Lucentio, as Marlowe is the only dramatist of that era to have previously used this wording (in Tamburlaine the Great Part 1,thought to have beenwritten around 1587). In addition, the reference to metaphysics was unique to Marlowe’s writing. He used ‘metaphisickes’ in Dr Faustus (thought to have been written between 1589 and 1592), and ‘metaphysical’ is featured in The Taming of the Shrew. Further research into this theory is to be carried out. On the other hand and looking at this impartially, there is always the possibility that Shakespeare, who was heavily influenced by Marlowe’s work, merely copied/borrowed these words. Copyright did not exist in the 16th century, but perhaps Marlowe even gave Shakespeare permission to use his wording, though all this is speculation.
The Taming of the Shrew was published in the First Folio in 1623, naming William Shakespeare alone as the author. Interestingly, there is another earlier, anonymous version of this play, believed to have been written when Shakespeare’s playwriting career was in its infancy. Both have the same title but though there are similarities, there are also marked differences between the two. In this earlier play Christopher Sly is also a drunkard who is tricked into believing he is a lord, but he is on stage throughout each act. It features a ‘shrewish’ wife named Kate, though other characters’ names differ, and it is set in Athens, not Padua or even Verona. There have been various theories put forward by academics to explain the two versions, among them:
It was an early draft by Shakespeare
It inspired the Bard to write his well-known play of this name.
The link below to the British Library’s website gives more details on the two plays.
With no copyright laws in the 16th century the names of the authors of so many dramas are unknown (hence the disputes over who wrote Shakespeare’s plays). The playwrights sold their work to the playhouses and were rarely given credit for authorship. The reason there are definite indications that Marlowe wrote the plays attributed to him is that Philip Henslowe, owner and manager of the Rose Playhouse in London, kept a diary, still extant. This consisted of a column in his accounts book in which he recorded the takings for the play performed that day, often with the name of the play’s writer. Many of Marlowe’s plays were performed at the Rose at the time Henslowe was recording such details and so there is no doubt as to the identity of the dramatist behind such ‘hits’ as Tamburlaine and Dr Faustus.
Upstart Crow – Beware My Sting (Series 2, Episode 5)
While chatting to Kate and Bottom, Will lists off many of the phrases he claims to have invented. Certainly, most are attributed to Shakespeare and are included in many of his plays (though may have been in common parlance at the time but never before written down) but a few had appeared previously in publications by well- known writers, such as:
In a nutshell – there are claims that it was used by Ancient Romans Cicero and Pliny the Elder, the latter in AD77 when quoting Cicero who died in 43BC and was of the opinion that the whole of Homer’s Illiad could be fitted into a walnut shell
Neither here nor there – Arthur Golding in 1593 from his translation of The sermons of J. Calvin upon Deuteronomie
Didn’t sleep a wink – Robert Manning in 1307 from his Handlyng synne
Scuffle – Scandinavian word skuffa, meaning to push or shove. First known use in English was in the 1570s
Dead as a doornail – William Langsland in 1362 from The Vision of William Concerning Piers Plowman, as Kate pointed out
Will is writing his new comedy with a headstrong young woman as the heroine, whom he hopes will appeal to the women in the audience. This play is of course The Taming of the Shrew and the lead character appeals to Kate at first, in fact so much so that she wants to play the lead role (Katherine) and describes her as ‘feisty’, a word Kate has invented. However, when she later learns that towards the end of the play Katherine is tamed by her husband and from then on is obedient to him, she takes offence and begs Will to abandon this play (which of course he doesn’t).
On his return to Stratford to visit his family, Will finds his daughter Susanna is behaving even more like a typical grumpy teenager and describes her to Anne as ‘feisty’, a word which impresses his wife who asks if it’s one of his. Typically, he tells her it is, with no hint of crediting Kate with the invention of this word. However, ‘feisty’ did not exist in English in the 16th century. In fact, it seems to have entered the English language in the 19th century, almost certainly via America. It is believed to be of old German origin and was used in that language centuries ago to describe small flatulent dogs!
As the conversation with the family continues, Anne remarks that Susanna is so unlike her younger, sweet sister Judith who will attract many suitors, while no one will show any interest in Susanna. After all, even in The Quality of Mercy, the last episode of the first series, when Susanna’s future marriageable status was mentioned, Anne reckoned they wouldn’t be able to ‘offload her for less than tenbob’! In this episode, Will decides that Judith will not marry before Susanna and any man keen to marry Judith must first find a husband for Susanna. Anne then points out to Will that life is not like one of his comedies: ‘Will, all the world is not a stageand all the men and women ain’t merelyplayers’. This line is almost word for word from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It,believed to have been written in 1599 and probably first performed in 1603. It is likely that when Shakespeare wrote these words he was acknowledging The Globe, the playhouse with which he was so closely associated. The Latin motto of this theatre was: ‘Totus mundus agit histronem’ which translates into English as ‘The whole world is a playhouse’. In real life, Susanna did marry first, at the age of 24, becoming the wife of local doctor John Hall in 1607. In 1616, at the age of 31, Judith married vintner Thomas Quiney, less than three months before the death of her father.
Back in his London lodgings, Will admits he doesn’t know where Padua is, and Kit warns him that centuries later there could be speculation that he was too thick to have written his own plays, which Will strongly denies. This of course is a reference to the modern-day debate on Shakespeare not being the author of the plays credited to him, with the names of many of his contemporaries, especially Marlowe’s, put forward as the possible playwright of these famous dramas.
Soon after this, we find Robert Greene as Master of the Revels, responsible for the censorship and licensing of plays for stage performances. In reality he never held such a positon, but between 1579 and 1619 this was the role of Sir Edmund Tilney whose decisions would have had an impact on the work of Shakespeare and other dramatists of the era.
Kit pays a visit to Will’s lodgings and learns from Kate that his friend has returned to Stratford. Kit then admits that he was intending to have ‘another stab’ at persuading Will to give him his Edward II play. However, by the end of Series 3 of Upstart Crow, Kit has had no success in convincing Will to hand over his Edward II play to him. However, we must assume that somewhere along the line in the Upstart Crow world Will agreed, because Edward II is definitely one of Marlowe’s plays, though the dates of writing and first performance are not certain. It is one of the first historical plays to be written and is likely to have influenced Shakespeare, especially in his early days of playwriting. Christopher Marlowe was ever the innovator and his new-style plays paved the way for other dramatists as theatre became a popular form of entertainment in the late 16th century.
Meanwhile in their bedroom in Stratford Will reveals to Anne that he intends to start taming Susanna the next day by following his plot for his latest play, calling his plan ‘The Taming of the Sue’. Anne remains silent but from her facial expression it is evident she has little faith in this idea. Will wastes no time and employs a diluted version of Petruchio’s methods. He refuses Susanna bacon at mealtime and declares that the sun is the moon and her grandfather is a pretty maid, asking his daughter to agree with these statements. Instead of becoming subdued, Susanna becomes enraged, agrees with the statements to keep her father quiet and tells him to stop being weird. On hearing that he considers her a shrew whom he has tamed, Susanna storms out of the house, threatening never to return. His plan is a resounding failure, unlike Petruchio’s!
The episode concludes in Stratford with Anne and Will having one of their late-night chats when Susanna comes downstairs, full of enthusiasm and holding a manuscript (having obviously reconsidered her earlier decision never to return home). She tells her father that she is emotionally moved by Romeo and Juliet. He is pleased to hear this and tells Susanna that he based Juliet on her, but whether in reality Shakespeare had his eldest daughter in mind when creating Juliet’s character is open to speculation. In Upstart Crow Susanna is 13 in 1592, but the real Susanna was younger. Born in May 1583 she would have been nine in that year. The date given for the writing of Romeo and Juliet is between 1591 and 1596 and the main source for Shakespeare’s play is almost certainly an Arthur Brooke poem based on an Italian tale by Matteo Bandello.
The next Facts List will cover Sweet Sorrow, with the lead-up to and debut of Romeo and Juliet.It is the last episode in Series 2 but there are more Facts Lists to follow with details on Series 3 and the Christmas specials.