Well, I hope you enjoyed our first film of this Secret Shakespeare series. “10 Things I Hate About You” transports The Taming of the Shrew from the renaissance Italian town of Padua to a Seattle-Tacoma area high school named Padua. Katherine, or Kate, from the play becomes Kat. Her sister’s name Bianca stays the same. In the movie, these two sisters have the family name Stratford, an obvious nod to Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon, a little town north of London. Instead of being a gentleman from Verona, Petruchio, now Patrick has the last name Verona.
As some of you noted in your answers to the discussion questions, the movie also includes some of Shakespeare’s exact language from the play, such as when Kat is referred to as a “shrew,” which is certainly not a word you’re likely to hear high schoolers using these days. Just like in the play, the character of Cameron (named Lucentio in the play) pretends to be a tutor so he can woo Bianca. The only change here is that he’s teaching her French instead of Latin. And, yes, Cameron’s plaintive cry about Biana, “I pine, I burn, I perish,” comes directly from the dialogue in the play. But even when the exact words aren’t quotes from the play, the movie’s tone and its joyfully witty banter have a very Shakespeare feel. Shakespeare is the king of snappy dialogue.
Overall, Kat’s relationship with her sister doesn’t stray too far from the play. Also, the central character of Kat (the “shrew” or the “angry feminist”) feels very consistent with Kate from the play, though with some allowances for the time and place. Both Kat in the movie and Kate in the play are strong, smart women who don’t have a lot of patience for the limited roles they’re allowed by an overtly and oppressively patriarchal society. I love how the movie introduces Kat as driving a grumbling old car, riding alone and cranking up the Joan Jett song “Bad Reputation.” That’s perfect!
For me, the biggest difference between the original Shakespeare play and this movie is in terms of how the “taming” happens. In the play, Petruchio coldly and cruelly sets about breaking Kate’s spirit by depriving her of food and sleep and by arguing with her constantly. There’s a moment in the play where we know that Kate has been tamed because Petruchio gets her to say that the moon is brighter than the sun. As you can, this work has long been considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” because its attitudes toward women strike modern readers as terribly out of date and misogynistic.
We don’t see that same abusive dominance in the movie. Not by a long shot. Instead, Patrick appreciates Kat. He cherishes her strength and her intelligence. He admires her dedication to her studies and her desire to play guitar in a rock band. Gradually the two fall in love because they both begin to realize they have a lot in common. They make a good match because they are relative equals and neither has to assume a subservient role. Patrick wins Kat’s devotion to him with gentle affection rather than with brute force. He even shows that he’s willing to embarrass himself publicly for love of her. That delightfully silly scene where he sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” on the PA system in the stadium has the narrative effect of creating a sort of balance between the two characters. It serves to even the score and temper Kat’s anger when she inevitably learns that Patrick only started dating her as part of a bet.
Now, because I’m an English professor and like to dig even deeper into such things, I would suggest that as a thought experiment you consider whether the social construct of “love” can itself be viewed as a means of “taming” the rebellious, overly strong independence of both Kat and Patrick here. I know, the easy answer is to say, “No, no, they really fall in love and that’s all that matters.” But how does that newfound “love” change their characters? How does it define them? How does it serve socially to solve the problems caused by a rebellious boy and a headstrong girl? Doesn’t their being in love make them fit in better? Doesn’t it “tame” them?
I have quite a bit more to say about the title of the movie and that poem Kat reads at the end, but this post is already fairly long. I’ll stop here and save those two intertwined topics for a follow-up post.
For now, I’ll leave you to think on the idea of “love” itself as a “taming” device.
Thanks for watching the movie and sending me your answers to the discussion questions.