Monday, June 24, 2024

Episode 47: The Heroine's Labyrinth with Douglas A. Burton

We’re back! This time, we welcome author Douglas A. Burton to discuss his new book The Heroine’s Labyrinth! I blurbed it and said “The Heroine’s Labyrinth is filled with profound and unique observations on the topic of story structure, no matter what the gender of your protagonist. Burton closely analyzes a wide breadth of stories and proves his thesis that Joseph Campbell missed half the story.” James agrees and we dive into some of Douglas’s many interesting new archetypes!

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Oh No, Emergency Reviews Needed!

Hi everybody!

Help, I have an emergency! Ive written before about how proud I’ve always been that the average review on my first book was five stars on Amazon.  Well today, after eight years, it dipped down to 4.5!  This has destroyed me.  Could you please restore my devastated sense of self?  If you’ve never reviewed “The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating Readers”, could you give it five stars today?  Thank you so very much!  Feel free to review it here.

And/or you can review my second book: “The Secrets of Character: Writing a Hero Anyone Will Love” here.  Thank you again!

Both books are apparently easier to review on Goodreads, so please feel free to rate the first one or the second one there!

Maybe you like the audiobook of my first book? You can review the book on Audible. (Click on “More options”)

And/or you can review the second audiobook!

If you’re a fan of “The Secrets of Story Podcast”, I would love an iTunes review, especially because one of the featured reviews on this page is entitled “so-so” (I don’t see how you can do it here, but you can do it by searching for The Secrets of Story Podcast in the iTunes store, then clicking on Ratings and Reviews)

Or you can review that podcast on Audible! (Once again, click on “More Options”)

And while you’re on iTunes, you can also review “Marvel Reread Club”!

Or Review “Marvel Reread Club” on Audible!

At this point, it’s the end of a long day of reviewing Matt Bird stuff, so kick back, relax and watch the sunset. Thanks so much for any help you can give me!

Monday, April 15, 2024

Podcast Appearance on Fuse 8 n' Kate to discuss I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla-Sollew!

I had a wonderful time on the Fuse 8 n’ Kate podcast (run by my wife Betsy and her sister Kate) discussing my favorite picture book, I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla-Sollew. At this link you’ll get bonus content! 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

37 Days of Shakespeare, Day 18: Antony and Cleopatra

The Tragedie of Antonie, and Cleopatra , first broadcast May 8th, 1981
  • Possibly written: 1606-1607. Possibly his 30th play.
  • What’s it about? Antony, last seen in “Julius Caesar”, has become enamored of Egyptian queen Cleopatra and ignores his duties, but his co-ruler Octavian calls him home to help deal with various threats to Rome. Antony and Cleo eventually decide to rebel against Rome and both wind up dead.
  • Most famous dialogue: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety”
  • Sources: Plutarch’s Lives, specifically Thomas North’s translation (which was an English translation of a French translation of the Attic Greek original.) Shakespeare takes whole passages, but also makes up some things.
  • Best insult: Not a lot of great insults in this one. Just a few: “Ah, you kite”, “You have been a boggler ever”, “Triple-turn’d whore!”
  • Best word: weet, foison
  • Best production of this play I’ve seen: I read it in college but I’ve never seen it performed.
  • Notable Names in the BBC Adaptation: Colin Blakely as Antony showed up in a lot of stuff. You’ve seen him before.
How’s the cast?
  • The most disappointing thing about the cast is that they didn’t carry over Antony and Octavian from their production of Julius Caesar. I think this play becomes a lot more interesting when it’s treated as a sequel to that play, showing Antony’s devolution from manipulator to manipulated. As it is, Blakely does a good job and Jane Lapotaire ably brings to life Miller’s lusty interpretation of Cleopatra.
How’s the direction by Jonathan Miller?
  • Miller produced the whole season and this is the third we’ve seen him direct, though apparently it was shot first. Unlike Timon of Athens, he doesn’t insist on Elizabethan dress, thankfully. Unfortunately, he said in interviews that he saw Cleopatra as just a “treacherous slut” and that dismissive attitude infects the production. If he’d had more respect for Cleopatra, it would have been a better show.
Storyteller’s Rulebook: You Can Only Draw It Out So Much

This production is almost three hours, but the war is over at the 2 hour mark. The final hour is dedicated to the two most overwrought death scenes in all of Shakespeare (or at least the half we’ve read so far). It plays a little camp in this version, and it would be hard to imagine it not seeming over the top unless it was cut down. If Shakespeare is to be believed, one of the world’s top causes of death is failing to understand that other people were faking their deaths. Just don’t fake your deaths, kids.

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Gendering Flaws is a Problem

Was Miller right to see Cleopatra as just a “treacherous slut”? Was there more in the text he could have plumbed? I would say there’s room for a more sympathetic portrait here, but it’s certainly true that Shakespeare slights the actual historic figure. The real Cleopatra was not only a political genius but a flat-out genius-genius. She spoke 8 languages! Shakespeare doesn’t give an actress room to play that.  His Cleopatra is undeniably petulant, flighty, and sex-obsessed (“Oh happy horse to bear the weight of Anthony!”) 

 Of course, his male heroes are all deeply flawed as well. It’s not like there are any moral paragons in Shakespeare, but because he has only two female title heroes (Juliet being the other), it becomes more of a problem that Cleopatra’s many flaws are gendered as female. Knowing how kick-ass the real Cleopatra was, it’s natural to want her to be more sympathetic here, even if that might be too much to ask of any of Shakespeare’s universally-flawed heroes.

Alright, that’s the end of Season 3 of the BBC show, and I’m once again barded out, so I will take another break for a while. I’m not crazy about Miller taking over the show and only loved one of the six in this season (Timon). There’s some great material coming up in Miller’s second and final season, so let’s see how he does with that.

Monday, March 25, 2024

37 Days of Shakespeare, Day 17: Timon of Athens

Timon of Athens, first broadcast April 16, 1981
  • Possibly written: 1606, possibly his 32nd play
  • What’s it about? Wealthy Athenian Timon throws lavish parties and gives generously to everyone who needs it, but when his bill comes due he tries calling in some favors and everyone abandons him. He has one last feast for his friends but serves them only water and condemns them, then goes to live in a cave where he spurns everyone and dies alone.
  • Most famous dialogue: Not much, but Nabakov drew the title of one of his greatest novels from this play: “The moon’s an errant thief whose pale fire is snatched from the sun”
  • Sources: It probably draws upon the twenty-eighth novella of William Painter's Palace of Pleasure, (the thirty-eighth novella of which was the main source for “All’s Well That Ends Well”) as well as  Plutarch’s Lives, Lucian’s Dialogues and a lost comedy on the subject of Timon, allusions to which survive from 1584. 
  • Interesting fact about the play: In the 20th Century, scholars began to claim the play was co-written with an uncredited Thomas Middleton. It feels like pure Shakespeare to me (as opposed to “Henry VIII”, which felt co-written) but you never know.
  • Best insults:
    • Unpeaceable dog
    • Thou disease of a friend
    • Smiling, smooth, detested parasites, courteous destroyers, affable wolves, meek bears, you fools of fortune, trencher friends, cap and knee slaves, vapours and minute-jacks.
  • Best word: A twofer: “unclew, I crave no pelf”
  • Best production of this play I’ve seen: I had never seen nor read this play.
  • Notable Names in the BBC Adaptation: A young Jonathan Pryce as Timon!
How’s the cast?
  • Pryce is astonishingly good. This is my favorite performance in any of the 16 plays I’ve seen. Heartbreakingly na├»ve when rich and profoundly angry when poor, he’s always riveting to watch. Everybody else is great too, especially John Welsh as Flavius, the servant who finally breaks the bad news to him.
How’s the direction by Jonathan Miller?
  • Miller produced this season and directed several episodes. For this one, he hired a different director who wanted Asian costumes. That would have been odd but interesting, but Miller, as we’ve seen in other plays, felt strongly, for some reason, that all of Shakespeare’s plays, no matter where or when they were set, should have Elizabethan dress, so he fired the director and took it over himself. As it turns out, the costuming is the only choice I disagree with in this otherwise brilliantly staged production. Astoundingly, almost the whole second half is shot from one angle with an almost still camera and almost still Timon, rejecting everyone who seeks him out on a stony beach, one by one. It shouldn’t work but it’s wonderfully intense.
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Not Everything Needs to Have a Happy Ending

When I began this project to cover all 37 adaptations, my biggest worry was about the 16 plays that I had never read nor seen. Were all of these plays unknown to me for good reason? Would I be slogging through 16 quagmires? That hasn’t been the case with the ones I’ve covered so far, since all the new ones have been watchable, but none have been truly great. This changes that. This is a perfect play, right up there with Shakespeare’s best.

We’ve just covered four plays that were all supposedly comedies which were, for one reason or another, not very funny. I started this play, as with “The Winter’s Tale,” knowing nothing. Like that one, this one seemed like a tragedy, but I was prepared for this, too, to bizarrely swerve to comedy at any moment. It does not! This is our first pure tragedy since Hamlet and it is a welcome relief.

Avoid the temptation to tack a happy ending onto tragic material. Respect your audience. If it would end badly, let it end badly.

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Every Great Play is About Donald Trump

Shakespeare’s greatest quality is his timelessness, and the mark of a timeless play is that it can suddenly become very timely, even in the far-flung future of 2024.

One of the richest men of his day flaunts his wealth ostentatiously. When some bills unexpectedly come due, he goes to his fellow billionaires and entreats them to lend him the money, but they all turn him down. He tries to sell some property but realizes that it’s all mortgaged ten times over and his in name only. Does this sound familiar? What a delight to watch this play out in Shakespeare and in real life this week! Especially delightful because, in this version, he ends up dead.
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Add More Moments of Humanity

What can we add to Shakespeare? Will additions only subtract? Miller largely just trusts the text here but he makes a few tiny additions that are brilliant.

At Timon’s party, mime-like entertainers come out and prance around for the revellers, much to everyone’s amusement. Eventually the party breaks up and all of Timon’s friends drift off one by one, followed by Timon himself. As soon as the last rich person is gone, the ethereal entertainers suddenly abandon their postures and pounce on the abandoned feast, hungrily devouring it. This was not in the text.

It’s a rare laugh in a very serious production, but it’s also a very believable and human moment. To this day, we all feel like painted puppets of our wealthy overlords, looking for the chance to break character and stop performing, if only for a few desperate moments.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

37 Days of Shakespeare, Day 16: The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale, first broadcast February 8th, 1981
  • Possibly written: 1610 or 1611, possibly his 35th play
  • What’s it about? King Leontes falsely suspects his wife Hermione of sleeping with his friend Polixenes and tries to have them both killed. Leontes’s son winds up dead, and his baby daughter ends up being raised by a shepherd. She grows up to fall in love with Polixenes’s son. Insanely, things work out well for everyone (except the poor dead son.)
  • Most famous dialogue: No famous dialogue here.
  • Source: It’s apparently little changed from Robert Greene's pastoral romance Pandosto, published in 1588
  • Best insults:
    • A gross lout, a mindless slave, or else a hovering temporizer
    • Were my wife’s liver infected as her life, she would not live the running of one glass
    • She’s a bed-swerver
    • A mankind witch! A most intelligencing bawd!
    • A gross hag, and, lozel, thou are worthy to be hanged.
  • Best word: virgalling
  • Best production of this play I’ve seen: I had never read nor seen any production of this play. I knew about the line “exit, pursued by bear”, but that’s pretty much it. I didn’t even know if it was a tragedy or comedy. Now that I’ve seen it, I still don’t know.
  • Notable Names in the BBC Adaptation: No names or faces I recognized
How’s the cast?
  • It’s a well acted play. Jeremy Kemp as Leontes is excellent, driving himself mad with suspicion and then desperately clawing his way out of it over the course of sixteen years.
How’s the direction by Jane Howell?
  • Our first female director! She uses sets that are even more minimalist and abstract than the BBC Hamlet, which is certainly daring, but only makes a strange play even stranger. No one has ever been able to figure out when and where this play is supposed to be set, but she makes the odd choice to put them all in Jacobean English dress, which certainly can’t be right. Ultimately though, it all sort of works. A bizarre staging of a bizarre play.
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Pick a Lane, Man

We’ve just done three plays that were supposed to be comedies but are, for various reasons, not very funny to modern ears. You’re tired of hearing me complain that these plays aren’t funny enough, but sorry, here I go again.

What even is this? The first two acts are pure tragedy, and work very well. Whether the play is set in ancient Greece (as it often seems to be) or Renaissance Sicily and Czechia (which is sometimes stated) or anywhere in between, the story of the imaginary cuckold is evergreen, and makes for a satisfactory little two act tragedy. Then everything goes insane. Father Time comes on stage and teleports us 16 years into the future so that we can have a romance for Leontes’s grown daughter. And suddenly everything is comedic for the remaining three acts!

Some of it is funny, but the tone shift is so utterly bizarre that it just wrecks the play. Is this Shakespeare’s most forced happy ending? Surely the most contrived we’ve seen so far, but I’ve still got a lot of plays to go.

Straying from the Party Line: Show, Don’t Tell

Still, the play kind of works. Why not try a half tragedy / half comedy? By this point he’d written dozens of plays and was seemingly getting bored.

But then Shakespeare engages in the worst writerly malpractice I’ve yet seen him engage in. He flagrantly violates his contract with the audience in a truly shocking way.

Events (which is to say Shakespeare) have contrived to bring Leontes together with his long lost daughter. We see them reunited, but neither knows who the other is. He then finds out that she is pursued by his ex-best friend, who is on his way. What will happen when they have their painful reunion? At what point will Leontes realize that this is his daughter, and what emotions will that tear out of him? That’s the heart of the play, right?

But it all happens off stage! Just when things are getting good, we cut away and meet some random citizens of wherever-the-hell-this-is who chat amongst themselves about what went down, and we never get to see it ourselves. We never get to see the good stuff. In the sixteen plays we’ve done so far, this is Shakespeare’s most bizarre and inexplicable choice. How cruel to the actors to deny them that scene! The whole play has led up to it, but all we get is hearsay.

Can anyone explain this bizarre choice? I’m frankly furious.

Monday, March 18, 2024

37 Days of Shakespeare, Day 15: All’s Well That Ends Well

37 Days of Shakespeare, Day 15: All’s Well That Ends Well, first broadcast January 4th, 1981
  • Possibly written: 1602, possibly his 25th play
  • What’s it about? Helena, the ward of a countess, falls in love with the countess’s son Bertram, who despises her. She saves the life of the king and asks only that he order Bertram to marry her, which he does, but Betram flees to fight in a war. She follows and tricks Bertram into impregnating her, at which point he finally begrudgingly says he loves her.
  • Most famous dialogue: None. If I had to pick one, I’d say “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.”
  • Sources: The play is based on the tale of Giletta di Narbona (tale nine of day three) of Boccaccio’s “The Decameron”.
  • Best insults:
    • That vile rascal, that jack-an-apes with scarfs.
    • A most notable coward, an infinite and hourly promise-breaker, the owner of no one good quality worthy of your lordship’s entertainment.
    • A snipt-taffeta fellow there whose villainous saffron would have made all the unbaked and doughy youth of a nation in his colour.
    • But the biggest insult seems to be “physician’s daughter”, which apparently at the time was quite a lowly thing to be.
  • Best words: adoptious, misprison, moiety, armipotent
  • Best production of this play I’ve seen: I saw a fine production at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre that made a brilliant decision I’ll address below.
  • Notable Names in the BBC Adaptation: No names or faces I recognized.
How’s the cast?
  • Glum. Angela Down as Helena is basically just bummed that Bertram doesn’t love her, and Ian Charleston as Betram takes little more joy from his philandering then he does from his forced marriage. Nobody told either that this was supposed to be a comedy. The one time Down perks up is when Peter Jeffrey as Parolles is flirting with her. Marry him, girl! Even with Parolles being totally degraded by the end of the play, he seems a better prospect than Bertram.
How’s the direction by Elijah Moshinsky?
  • Picking up from last episode, Moshinsky continues Miller’s project of recreating the work of famous painters. There’s more Vermeer here and also Rembrandt and Georges de La Tour. The result is one of the most beautiful episodes. But the tone is more problematic than playful. He does get good milage out of the one truly funny scene in the play, the scene where Parolles is kidnapped by his own compatriots speaking pseudo-Italian gibberish.
Storyteller’s Rulebook: If Your Characters Refuse to Fall in Love With Each Other, Don’t Force It

How do you solve a problem like “All’s Well That Ends Well”? Since the term “problem play” was coined by critic F. S. Boas, there’s been much debate about which plays fall under that definition, but this one is on everybody’s list. The “problem”, of course, is that it’s a romantic comedy that’s not very funny and not at all romantic.

The primary distinction that makes a Shakespeare play a comedy rather than a tragedy is whether or not there’s a happy ending. This play is supposedly a comedy which means the ending is supposedly happy, but does anybody believe that this marriage will be anything other than a horror show? Was any husband dragooned into marriage so unwillingly?

If actors want to play this as a true love match with a happy ending, they get no favors from Shakespeare, who gives the two nothing happy to play together. The only remaining option is to play it downbeat, either playing his forced profession of love as insincere or go so far as the justify it by playing him gay and secretly in love with Parolles (If so, that’s an even more sadistic love than he has with Helena, if such a thing is possible!)

In the uncharitable reading, Shakespeare wanted us to buy Betram’s final abrupt-180 declaration of love, and simply fails to convince us. If you’re going to give Shakespeare more credit than that, you have to make it clear something else is going on. The Chicago production I saw had what I thought was a brilliant solution. Helena reveals to Betram that she’s tricked him into impregnating her. He then gets down on one knee and says “I’ll love her dearly, ever, ever dearly” to her belly! He’s not going to love Helena, he’s going to love the baby. Not necessarily a happy ending, but no truly happy ending would be supported by the text. At least this ending is believable and explains his reversal. And marriages, after all, have subsisted on less.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

37 Days of Shakespeare, Day 14: The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice, first broadcast December 17th, 1980
  • Possibly written: 1596-1598, possibly his 14th play
  • What’s it about? Antonio wants to loan money he doesn’t have to his friend Bossanio so that Bossanio can court Portia. Antionio borrows the money from Shylock, promising a pound of flesh if he can’t pay it back. When Shylock comes to collect, Portia dresses up as a man to defend Antonio, and humiliates Shylock in court.
  • Most famous dialogue is hard to pick:
    • If you prick us, do we not bleed?
    • All that glisters is not gold
    • The quality of mercy is not strained
  • Sources: The primary source was the 14th-century tale Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino
  • Interesting fact about the play: I had always thought of Shylock as the title character, on second watch, it’s clearly Antonio.
  • Best insults:
    • Such a want-wit sadness makes of me
    • An inhuman wretch uncapable of pity, void and empty from any dram of mercy
    • O, be thou damned, inexecrable dog
  • Best words: eanlings, fruitify, slubber
  • Best production of this play I’ve seen: I’ve just seen the Pacino movie, which is fine.
  • Notable Names in the BBC Adaptation: Just John Rhys-Davies in a small role as Salerio
How’s the cast? 
  •  This production was widely denounced for its anti-Semitism, as well it should have been, but Miller defended it saying that he, the director and Warren Mitchell, who plays Shylock, were all Jewish. Nevertheless, Mitchell’s Shylock still comes off as a broad caricature. Gemma Jones does a good job as Portia.
How’s the direction by Jack Gold?
  • Continues this season’s themes of realistic costumes combined with abstract sets. I’m starting to long for an actual set. Give them objects! Actors act better when they can interact with actual objects on an actual set. The cross-dressing is remarkably well done, even though they don’t add facial hair (as I usually suggest). I sort of believed that Bossanio wouldn’t recognize his new wife.
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Don’t Try to Redeem the Unredeemable

Why on Earth did the BBC do the two most problematic plays back-to-back to launch their third season? Ultimately, unlike The Taming of the Shrew, this play is unredeemable. Yes, Shylock has one great speech demanding we recognize his humanity, but that can’t make up for the rest of the play.

In Taming of the Shrew, there’s really only one character who’s horrible to women, and, if you interpret the text in such a way that he’s slaughtered with a carving knife, which, as I showed last time, you can do by only deleting a few lines of text, then proper morality is restored. In Merchant of Venice excising the evil of anti-Semitism is impossible, because almost every character, all of whom are supposed to be sympathetic, is virulently anti-Semitic. The dispossession, humiliation and forced conversion of Shylock, with its inescapable intimations of the holocaust, is cheered on by almost the entire cast.  They all think it’s hilarious. 

Ultimately, the problem with both plays is that they’re posited as comedies. Nowadays, seeing misogyny and anti-Semitism as evil, we can choose to stage them as tragedies, and the text will partially support us, but then you have all these comedic scenes in the subplots undercutting that. In Taming, the scene with the rival tutors is genuinely funny. In this play, the exchanging of the rings at the end is quite funny as well. You simply cannot hide that these are supposed to be comedies, and that includes the “hilarious” abuse heaped on Katherine and Shylock. Shakespeare was usually a writer of great humanity, but it failed him in these two plays. You can try to redeem Taming but this one should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Monday, March 11, 2024

37 Days of Shakespeare, Day 13: The Taming of the Shrew

The Taming of the Shrew, first broadcast October 23rd, 1980
  • Possibly written: between 1590 and 1592, possibly his 7th play (and the earliest we’ve looked at)
  • What’s it about? Everybody wants to marry fair Bianca, but her father won’t let her marry until her independent sister Kate is married, so the suitors recruit Petrucio to “tame the shrew.” He does so, brutally, utterly destroying her sense of self, until she gives a final speech about how women must be subservient to men.
  • Most famous dialogue: There is no famous dialogue from this play, thankfully. The closest thing: “This is a way to kill a wife with kindness.”
  • Sources: Nobody knows. There was a very similar play called “A Pleasant Conceited Historie, called the taming of a Shrew” right around the same time, but that may be based on this one or this one on that one, or both on a lost original.
  • Best insults:
    • An irksome brawling scold
    • Rascal fiddler and twangling Jack
    • A whoreson, beetle headed, flap-eared knave
    • You heedless joltheads and unmannered slaves
  • Best word: Shakespeare absolutely falls in love with the word “froward,” using it eight times in the play. I had to look it up. Runners up: Plash, Galliases, and bemoiled
  • Best production of this play I’ve seen: Before seeing this I had never seen or read this play, other than what I got of it in Kiss Me, Kate and the “Moonlighting” episode. I’ve never even seen 10 Things I Hate About You.
  • Notable Names in the BBC Adaptation: John Cleese! His first time ever doing Shakespeare.
How’s the cast? 
  • What do you do with a play like this? It’s a romantic comedy that isn’t remotely funny or romantic. Cleese and Sarah Bedel as Katherine play it as if it’s both, which doesn’t work at all, but it’s hard to blame them. What else is there to do?
How’s the direction by Jonathan Miller? 
  •  We begin the third season of BBC Shakespeare here. Cedric Messina, who ran the first two seasons, is out and Jonathan Miller takes over as producer of seasons 3 and 4, also directing this and several other episodes. Miller was less realistic and more concerned with creating a sense of Shakespeare’s time than the times the plays were attempting to portray. One fun thing he does in this and later plays is recreate scenes from Vermeer. The stylish staging is fine, but the abstract lighting is off-putting and distracts too much from the play. Miller also eliminates the framing sequence, making this one of the few productions with notable cuts, which is unfortunate.
Storyteller’s Rulebook: Don’t Ask Us to Laugh at Things That Aren’t Funny

It is amazing how well most Shakespeare plays have aged. We can’t show my daughter movies from the 1980s, because she’s inevitably horrified by their sexism, but we can easily show her most Shakespeare plays, because she recognizes in them the universal humanity of all the characters. Shakespeare’s women, for the most part, have a richness and multidimensionality that even most modern male authors cannot hope to match in their own work. Amazingly, Shakespeare was even able to write a play about a black man that has stood the test of time very well and that black actors today are proud to play. This was the most timeless author of all time.

Then there’s this play, a horrible misogynistic mess.

This is the only production I’ve seen and it’s unwatchable. Are any of them watchable? People speak fondly of the Raul Julia / Meryl Streep version, and those are two wonderful actors, but I don’t see how they could save this text.

Shakespeare companies are content to now pretend this play doesn’t exist. I spent the whole time watching it wondering if anybody could make it work today.

And I think it could: To begin, admit that the Kate/Petruchio storyline is neither funny nor romantic. If you stage it as a deadly serious tale of brutal abuse, it could work. Shakespeare was a good enough writer that he wrote a believable, well-observed tale of a how a man can utterly crush a woman’s spirit, if only he were not asking us to cheer it on. I think that if you staged it today, you’d have to really lean into the abusive aspects. Let it fully horrify us and everyone else in the play who sees it. Then, at the end, when he shows off her obedience to win a bet at a dinner, have her subtly palm a carving knife while she gives her speech about subservience, and triumphantly end the speech by stabbing him dead in front of everyone. Over and over until she’s covered in blood and he’s lifeless on the floor. Then she looks up at the others. What will happen? There is a long pause… Then everybody begins a slow clap. Hortensio says to Petruchio’s corpse, “Now, go thy ways; thou hast tamed a curst shrew,” and Lucentio adds, “‘Tis a wonder, by your leave, she will be tamed so.” They leave Kate standing over Petruchio. Curtain down.

Is there any point in such a production? Why not just put on one of the better plays? Ultimately, the only reason to do it is if you’ve pledged to stage every play, as the BBC did. If so, you would have to grapple with this one, and I think this would be the only way to make it work.