This week we begin our “Secret Shakespeare” series by watching “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999), a disarming, teen romantic comedy starring Julia Stiles (as Kat) and Heath Ledger (as Patrick). The movie updates Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew (1590-92) from its original setting of renaissance Padua, Italy, to a modern day high school in the Seattle-Tacoma area. The movie makes a few little changes here and there, but it follows the plot of Shakespeare’s play pretty faithfully.
Our lead character, Kat – Kate or Katherine in the play – is smart, tough, and independent, attitudes that set her apart as unapproachable and conceited to her peers. As a stereotypical “angry feminist,” Kat demonstrates no interest in boys, most of whom seem impossibly dumb to her. On the other hand, Kat’s younger sister Bianca is a popular and pretty girl who desperately wants to start dating, but who has been forbidden by her father to date until Kat starts dating.
In the movie, the father is afraid of his teenaged daughters getting pregnant, and he uses the older daughter’s reluctance to date as a way to keep his younger daughter away from boys too. In the play, the father actually wants Kate to find a man and get married, but she’s considered a “shrew,” too headstrong and bossy for any man to take for a wife. The father in the play fears that if he lets his younger daughter marry first, then the older one won’t ever find a husband. This slight change in the character motivations behind the plot actually demonstrates some interesting changes in our attitudes about love and marriage from four hundred years ago. I’ll ask you to think about these changes more in the discussion questions.
But for now, it’s easy to see how the core problem remains essentially the same. Bianca wants to date, but she can’t because of her older sister.
The potential solutions in the movie and the play remain the exactly same too. Those guys who are so eager to date Bianca will need to set up Kat with a guy first. If only they could find the perfect “wingman” to sweep Kat off her feet. Enter Petrucchio, a gentleman of Verona.
In our movie, Patrick arrives as the mysterious new kid at school, surrounded by a bunch of weird rumors, like that he once ate live duck from beak to tail. This bizarre, brooding outsider with his long hair and his funny accent seems like the ideal guy to set up with Kat. The only problem is he’s not all that interested in dating either. But like most kids, Patrick could use some extra cash, so one of the rich kids who wants to date Bianca offers him money if he’ll start dating Kat.
Meanwhile, Kat has been gradually softening to Bianca’s pleas. She’s reluctantly willing to go on a date or two if it means her little sister will be happy. It’s a little more complicated than that, as you’ll see, but basically we’re off to the races.
Of course, it’s a well known fact that whenever a couple starts pretending to be interested in each other, they’re going to fall in love for real. It doesn’t matter how reluctant they are, or how much they don’t really like each other, or how they’re not each other’s type, or how they think they’re immune to love, or they’ve seen it all before and won’t be fooled again, or any of that.
We know they’re going to fall in love.
Now we can just relax and enjoy the roller coaster ride through all the twists and turns, the loop-the-loops, the slow climb up the hill, and the rapid rush into the happy finish.
As with the popular movie genre of romantic comedies (or “rom-coms”), so it is with Shakespeare’s comedies. Everybody, or nearly everybody, will find their perfect mate and end up happily in love at the end. So, the old joke about Shakespeare is pretty true. His tragedies end with everybody dying and his comedies end with everybody getting married.