Ruby Nicholl explores the parallels between the 1999 cult classic and its 16th century source material.
I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve encountered in my life that have expressed to me their love of Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, many of my friends and acquaintances would confirm that the only Shakespeare they have ever consumed is that of which they analysed in an English Classroom. Considering that Shakespeare is often perceived by readers, especially those in their teens, to be tedious and boring, it comes as no surprise that few movie goers would have realised that 10 Things I Hate About You is in fact a retelling of one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, The Taming of the Shrew. They didn’t even change the names of many of the main characters, including the main protagonist,Kat, and her ever hopeful for love sister Bianca.
Once revealed that 10 Things I Hate About You is a modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, it is easy to uncover the parallels in their stories which were at first hidden. Not only do the main characters share a name with their playwright counterparts – some of these names have been cleverly altered as not to stand out to a modern audience, such as Patrick Verona instead of Petruchio, from Verona – but the plotlines also closely follow each other with only a few notable differences. Although the changes to the plot lines are minor, they could represent a massive shift in society’s perception of women between the years of the play being produced and the movie.
At the start of the play Katherine is shrewish, just as she is in the movie. Both stories suggest this to be something that does not attract male attention: to have a boyfriend or be a good wife, Katherine would have to change this about herself and become ‘obedient’. On the other hand, Bianca, who is not allowed to date until Katherine has a boyfriend/husband, is perceived as the ideal woman: pretty, poised, and mannered. These characteristics make her desirable in the eyes of the men in both the play and the movie, and consequently she has an array of suitors desiring to court her. Throughout the movie and play these men try to win Bianca by getting Katherine a boyfriend, removing the obstacle in their path to Bianca. They are finally successful when they meet Patrick/Petruchio, utilising his desire for money to persuade him to date/marry Katherine.
In the play Katherine marries Petruchio and he sets out to make her an obedient wife. He takes her to his home and proceeds to stop her from eating or sleeping. He then continues to ‘tame’ her by forcing her to agree with him that the sun is the moon, brainwashing her into believing everything he says. In the movie, Patrick becomes Kat’s boyfriend and takes her to the prom in order to receive a 300-dollar reward from Bianca’s love interest. However, while dating Kat he realises that he has genuine feelings for her, which she actually reciprocates in spite of her initial rejection of his romantic advances. Kat is unaware that Patrick has been bribed to date her. When this is revealed at the prom, the two are left angry and heartbroken. Following the prom, Kat reads aloud a poem for class, which happens to be a version of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 141, ending with the memorable lines: “but mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you. Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.” After hearing this, Patrick uses the bribe money to buy her the guitar she has been wanting throughout the film, and confesses that he has fallen for her. This leads to them making up and sharing a romantic kiss in the parking lot of the school.
When comparing the two incarnations of the story, a standout difference between Katherine and Patrick’s relationships is the way Petruchio takes things away in order to break Katherine’s spirit, and Patrick gives her a present in order to show his remorse and love to Kat. The question this poses, in my opinion, is whether or not these things lead to the same outcome. Is Patrick’s gift just another way for him to control or ‘tame’ Kat? Using material goods as a tool to appease her temper, effectively training her to expect a reward when she forgives or succumbs to him? Or is his gift purely out of love?
If it is in fact the latter, this movie can be seen as rewriting a wrong from the original play. It is significant that a strong female character such as Kat is viewed as a desirable partner and not a force to be subdued, giving her the space to be independent and accepted. Since the aim of marriage, or a relationship, is no longer viewed as the submission of a woman to the power of a man, Kat/Katherine can remain strong-headed and argumentative, qualities which initially made her undesirable, but are inevitably what make Patrick fall in love with her. Patrick fell for Kat because she was rude and aggressive – as it is described in many movie reviews. However, in agreement with the second interpretation of Kat and Patrick’s relationship, I would like to rephrase that and suggest instead that we refer to her behaviour as assertive and powerful in order to reflect this new understanding of femininityThe Taming of the Shrew suggests that Katherine was not a real woman until she was controlled. This control reaches a climax at the end of the play when she wins the competition of the best wife; this moment implies that she is finally a successful woman, now that she knows how to obey her husband. In contrast to this, 10 Things I Hate About You refuses the idea that women must sacrifice their personality and individuality in order to have a partner. Kat achieves all that Katharine might have wanted; she falls in love with a man who respects her powerful voice and mind, and is able to exist without compromising on her integrity or her love life. What Katherine asserts, Kat executes, powerfully exemplifying this in her poetry reading near the end of the film, which embodies the spirit of Katherine before she was broken: “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break.”