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Aug272009

From Shakespeare to screen: How 10 Things I Hate About You fails to Tame the Shrew

A few weeks ago, I heard that the Heath Ledger/Julia Stiles career launcher 10 Things I Hate About You (directed by Gil Junger) is actually a modern remake of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.  I saw 10 Things back when it was new (10 years ago) and didn’t think it was too bad, but I also didn’t think it was trying to be modern Shakespeare. So, instead of just hearing this news like a normal person, I decided to watch and read them both to see if 10 Things is actually anything like The Taming of the Shrew.

Granted, updating a play by William Shakespeare can’t be easy. Even today, the 16th century playwright still has a huge following, and many of his plays remain widely performed and read. The largest challenge facing an update of his play The Taming of the Shrew, however, is how differently we view marriage and love today, more than 400 years after his play was written. The Shrew is a much different story when re-imagined to fit our modern culture. After reading and watching both, I’m left wondering if it is right to remake Shakespeare’s play when the goals of the new work are so different.

Only the basics remain the same

10 Things I Hate About You keeps the basic plot device of Shrew: a Father with two daughters makes a rule that for younger Bianca to do something, her older sister Katharina has to do it first. In Shrew, that something is marriage. In 10 Things, we’re only talking about dating boys and going to a school dance. The Shakespeare play has suitors approaching left and right, caring more about how attractive and large a dowry (money or property a woman brings to her husband upon marriage) the girls have than their personalities. In 10 Things, the power is in the hands of the women; the men must work for the chance to even speak to them. And they do this work knowing that they’ll be in an equal relationship where they’ll have to continue to work, and woo, for the rest of their lives. In Shrew, marriage is a goal, but carries with it the reward of a life of wifely servitude.

 

Kat/Kate and their monologues

The differences between the two stories are never as stark as they are in the shrews’ monologues at the end of both stories. At the end of 10 Things I Hate About You, Kat (Julia Stiles) reads a poem aloud in class as she looks at Patrick (the modern Petruchio, Heath Ledger). She’s quite a poet. Here’s what she says:

I hate the way you talk to me, and the way you cut your hair.
I hate the way you drive my car. I hate it when you stare.
I hate your big dumb combat boots, and the way you read my mind.
I hate you so much it makes me sick; it even makes me rhyme.
I hate it, I hate the way you’re always right.
I hate it when you lie.
I hate it when you make me laugh, even worse when you make me cry.
I hate it when you’re not around, and the fact that you didn’t call.
But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you.
Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

- Kat Verona from 10 Things I Hate About You

Near the end, she begins to cry near and runs out of the classroom after she finishes. She writes this after finding out that Patrick had only been going out on dates with her because he was getting paid by high school rich guy Joey Donner (the modern Hortensio, Andrew Keegan), because Joey wanted to date her younger sister Bianca (Nickelodeon’s Alex Mack). In her monologue, she gives in to Patrick, says she’s not mad at him, and accepts his dishonesty.

For comparison, here’s a clip of the extended monologue Kate gives at the end of The Taming of the Shrew.

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience-
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she is forward, 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?

- Katharina “Kate” from The Taming of the Shrew

Kate does not give this speech crying, but in a defeated and sincere tone. She doesn’t run out of the room crying at the end. This speech shows Kate, once a shrew, fully submitting to her husband, Petruchio. He has tamed her sharp tongue. Shakespeare’s Kate gives in to the demands of her time. She must marry and serve her husband to have a role in society. If she remained a shrew, a label given to her by others, she wouldn’t have a place in society. In the end, being servant to a man is better than nothing at all.

Male differences: Patrick/Petruchio and Cameron/Lucentio

Kat and Kate both give in to their suitors, Patrick and Petruchio, but they do so on very different levels and for different reasons. Kat (10 Things) merely forgives Patrick, hoping that he has actual feelings for her and will continue to see her without monetary compensation; she wants love, but gives no guarantees that their relationship will go anywhere. Kate does the opposite. She gives guarantees, and stamps them with powerful and theatrical words of submission. She gives in to Petruchio completely and submits her life toward the betterment of his own. We feel sorry for Kate because she may not be happy, but happy for Kat because she is asserting herself and making her own choice to forgive.

Patrick and Petruchio are two very different characters as well. Petruchio (Shrew) is a complex character. He comes off as a vain and uncaring individual. When he decides that he will court Kate, he does so only after inquiring of the size of her dowry, perhaps to see if she is worth the trouble. He matches her sharp tongue with one of his own, and claims to be her equal in this regard. Their courtship is a series of attempted escapes by Kate that are foiled by Petruchio. He never gives up and goes to crazed lengths to gain her submission and hand in marriage. At one point, he even deprives her of food. He’s a pompous and selfish man. Patrick is too, at first glance.

Patrick (10 Things) is new to the school and somewhat of an outcast, and agrees to go out on a date with Kat for financial reasons. However, even when he’s making that deal, the camera shows him looking at Kat. Thanks to the intimacy of film, we see a close-up of Patrick’s face when he’s making the deal; we see him spark up while he stares at her. Their dates aren’t him “taming” her; they’re more like two young kids falling in love, equally. She doesn’t know he is being paid, and he continues to see her because he is falling for her. In one scene (not in the play) Patrick invades Kat’s cheerleading practice, and publicly sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” to her using the school speaker system, with the marching band providing backing music. He dances around, hopping to win her forgiveness in the most theatrical of ways. (Though he’s acting theatrically, this scene’s scope is only possible on film, with crane shots and close-ups providing a stage for the show.) He does this out of love, not as a cold move to manipulate her. Unlike Petruchio, Patrick is not in charge and doesn’t view Kat as a prize to be won.

The purpose of Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is also different than his counterpart Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew. Both men fall for their respective Bianca on first sight, and both love her completely and wholly. Their love is very theatrical in its purity and how loudly they show it. In Shrew, Lucentio seems designed to contrast Petruchio. He doesn’t care about Bianca’s dowry; he just loves the girl. Petruchio, as stated earlier, seems excessively interested in the wealth he’d gain with Kate. While Petruchio is taming Kate, Lucentio submits to Bianca and seeks to please her. Petruchio also plans a rather boisterous wedding with Kate, while Lucentio and Bianca choose to elope. However, at the end of the play, Lucentio is embarrassed when Bianca won’t come when he calls her, which contrasts with Kate, who comes to the side of Petruchio.

In 10 Things, Cameron is different from Patrick, but they both want the same thing: an equal relationship. Cameron is much more hesitant to approach Bianca than his Shakespearian counterpart and doesn’t admit that he even likes her until near the third act of the film. His role is more to keep the plot moving by tricking Joey Donner to paying Patrick to go out with Kat in the first place. If Kat doesn’t date, then he can’t possibly ask Bianca because of the rules set up by her father. Bianca puts him up to this with little interest in actually dating him because she really wants Joey. Joey doesn’t even really care about Bianca though, because he really just wants to go out with her to get back at Kat, but can’t let anyone know that because….

…And I’m, like, totally spent…

I could go on, but it is in silly plot points like these that 10 Things I Hate About You shows its weaknesses. Though it is an interesting modern take on Shakespeare, it too is caught up in its own time period. Because it’s a Hollywood romantic comedy, everything must wrap up nicely and everyone ends happy. The film follows the traditional three act romantic comedy structure: guy and girl fall in love, something comes between them, and then guy and girl re-unite. Side characters are tossed in, and everyone finds love at the high school dance. While one can argue Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew has a dated concept, it is 400 years old. 10 Things I Hate About You has only turned 10 and already shows a lot of wear around the edges. It is full of very “here and then gone” rock/pop music and a lot of phrases that were popular then, but laughable now. (It’s interesting how cinematic or “real” elements in 1999 can, only 10 years later, appear over-the-top and theatrical.)

While I can identify more with the overall ideas in 10 Things I Hate About You, it shares only its initial setup with Shrew and can hardly be called the same story. It doesn’t take long for the entire plot to lose meaning because it caters so thoroughly to its teenage, turn-of-the-century demographic. The film seems focused more on its rock montages and theatrical musical numbers than the ideas it presents. The Taming of the Shrew, though a play, is more cinematic in its mission than its modern counterpart. It may not mesh with today’s values, but it remains a more powerful story nonetheless.

 

(P.S. There is a television series called 10 Things I Hate About You now. It’s also made by Gil Junger. I watched an episode, and it appears to just stretch out the movie’s already lame storyline into a full season. Who thought that would be a good idea?)

Reader Comments (7)

I agree with your observations and in no means is this a rebuttal, just a comment.

Isn't the point of a film recreation to adapt the story to fit with modern culture in order to better understand the meaning that still holds true. I think that 10 Things is a great movie with a message similar to most movies of its generation and genre that love triumphs all and you have to be honest with yourself before you can relate to another. This is a true with most of Shakespeare's works also. There are cheesy scenes and odd twists, but what nineties movie didn't have something (I know you already talked about that). I am a huge fan of Shakespeare, and enjoy getting lost in the theatrics of his stories. But I will admit that some are hard to follow and could be even harder to tell in the modern culture. I can only hope that movies like 10 Things encourage people to lookup the past and take pride in the evolution we have made amidst the stark similarities of society over 400 years ago.

August 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Z

Heya, thanks for commenting.

I agree, and a part of me likes 10 Things I Hate About You because it is what it is. It's hard to launch two big careers if you aren't doing something right, but it's also a movie that kind of misses the mark on what Shrew was all about. It could have used the basic plot idea without using the names and trying to be Taming of the Shrew in the offbeat way that it does.

So yeah, while I like the story that 10 Things does try to tell (the idea of it), it sticks to Shrew in odd ways, even though it ultimately is a very different story with a very different message. This isn't like an update on dialogue, it's an entire re-invention of the plot. I don't think it bears enough similarity to say its a modern update of the story.

Anyway, I'm rambling. It is great that we can still appreciate The Taming of the Shrew some 400 years after it was written. I'd still like to see a modern update that retains some of the elements of the original, including its rather sad end. I do think our grandkids will still be reading Taming of the Shrew. I'm not so sure they'll bother to see 10 Things I Hate About You.

August 27, 2009 | Registered CommenterJeffrey Van Camp

I didn't get very far but you fucked up a name. A last name. It's funny because it undermines your premise.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSOA

I also noticed the name, and it actually turens out quite funny! Verona is Patrick's last name, so when you write Kat Verona, it seems like they're married! :)
But I really enjoyed reading your piece! Nice work!

August 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterK.A.

Thank you for this article I believe it was well written and had good points It definitely helped me a lot.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Healey

I enjoyed reading this, although I don't agree that 10 Things was a fail just because it isn't exactly the storyline of Shrew. I honestly didn't even know that it was meant to be based off a Shakespeare play (despite all the Shakespeare references thrown in there) and I loved the movie. Still, well done.

P.S. Patrick interrupts her soccer practice, not cheerleading.

July 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterT.C.

I disagree. I'll take one point from your essay to illustrate why.

"However, even when he’s making that deal, the camera shows him looking at Kat. Thanks to the intimacy of film, we see a close-up of Patrick’s face when he’s making the deal; we see him spark up while he stares at her. Their dates aren’t him “taming” her; they’re more like two young kids falling in love, equally. She doesn’t know he is being paid, and he continues to see her because he is falling for her."

Yes, Patrick is falling in love and although the way that that's portrayed is very 90s I think Shakespeare was quite clear about Petruchio's feelings for Kate too! Of course the dowry is Petruchio's initial motive to marry Kate, but so is the money to Patrick. Petruchio, just as Patrick during the first date, gets even more motivated after meeting his Kate. He thinks she's hot- in the modern sense of the word. But, he can't have her ill-behaved as she is, because 1. of the time-frame they live in and 2. he's a very headstrong man. Therefore, he needs to tame her, but you might as well read 'court her', because in fact, that's what he's doing.

Why do I think that? He could have stopped his madman behaviour right after the wedding, but he didn't. He wants her to be all his, and moves sun and moon to do so, just as Patrick moves heaven and earth to court Kat. The way they do so might be different, but couldn't have been the same, considering the time lapse.Their goals however, are, in my opinion, exactly the same: they both want to win over a woman. As a matter of fact: both Shakespeare and Gil Junger want the couple to live hapilly ever after and make sure their audiences go home feeling good about the world they live in.

Here's the quotation from Shakespeare's play where you can read that Petruchio is convinced that Kate and he are meant to be:

'Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn,
For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty—
Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well—
Thou must be married to no man but me,
For I am he am born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate'

Really, I know it's been quite some time since you wrote your piece, but I'd love to have your reaction Jeffrey van Camp!

August 25, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterkw

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