A Transformation Of The Taming Of The Shrew In The Movie 10 Things I Hate About You

Shakespeare’s Elizabethan comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, is an illustration of the imbalance of power in a patriarchal society and the expected gender roles of its time. Gil Junger’s modern adaptation, the film 10 Things I Hate About You, depicts a more hopeful perspective where equilibrium is found between intersex relationships and individualism is valued. Whilst the play is set in the 16th century Italian city of Padua, the film relocates to late 20th century upper middle class Seattle at Padua High. The movie’s transformation of the original text’s contention is necessitated and proliferated by the change in historical context. Ultimately, Junger transforms the original text’s approbation of conforming to societal values through the characterization of intersex relationships and satirising of traditional familial values. Junger further belies Shakespeare’s presentation of genuine friendships to criticize materialistic acquaintanceships.

Shakespeare presents the power imbalance of the two genders and asserts the inevitability of people conforming to their gender roles. Contrastingly, Junger subdues the power imbalance, championing a more equal reality between males and females. Shakespeare depicts the men’s fixation on Bianca’s “mild behaviour and sobriety”, highlighting the desirable qualities of obedience in women of the 16th century. This disparity becomes most apparent during Katherine’s final soliloquy, she compares marital relationships to that of a “prince” and “the subject”, emphasizing the duty women “oweth to their husband”. Shakespeare further alludes to this inequality with the association of females to animals. Petruchio calls Katherine his “ox”, his “ass” and his “horse”, animals that derive their value from their obedience and ability to work after their spirits have been broken and their natures tamed. Katherine overturns these ideals in her preaching of women needing the “spirit to resist” being made a “fool” by men. It is this headstrong attitude and traditional imbalance of power that is the root cause of the conflict between Katherine and an arrogant, ideal 16th century man, Petruchio. This disparity is exasperated by Pertruchio’s excessively ruthless, almost comical, “taming” of Katherine. Initially, Petruchio declares he will “give Katherine thanks” even if she “bid him pack”, establishing his plan to exaggeratedly compliment Katherine. However, when Katherine calls the tailor’s gown “pleasing” and “quaint”, she is immediately cut off by Petruchio, Grumio and Hortensio. The three dominate the following lines with repetitive and fast paced talking, highlighting their ridiculous descriptions of the tailor’s “mounstrous arrogance” and his “marring” of Katherine’s gown. The comedy is created at the expense of Katherine, the female in the intersex relationship and continues to exacerbate the power imbalance. By the conclusion of the play, Katherine seemingly has been broken down and accepted that her previous actions are “in no sense meet or amiable”. Contrastingly Junger’s modern adaptation mellows out these confronting scenes, making the imbalance of power between the sexes more subdued. Mr Morgan kicks Kat out of his class because she is “pissing him off” and only reprimands Joey when they simultaneously disrupt the class, showing preferential treatment to the male. Within the movie it is still the men who hold the financial power, Joey pays Patrick to “take out” Kat, this transformation adds a middleman to Joey exercising his economic power over Kat, subduing the play’s own more apparent use of money over women. In Kat’s final speech, the camera focuses on her palpable nervousness by zooming in on her fidgeting and audible gulping, clearly demonstrating her trepidation and hesitation. Kat chooses to deliver the poem out of her own will, championing her authority to control her own fate as opposed to Katherine’s summoned speech. Her expressive lexical choice with “hate” in her poem is antithetical to the submissive tone of “obedience” in Katherine’s speech. Significantly it contrasts the soliloquy Shakespeare has given Katherine, one where her intentions are shrouded in ambiguity due in part to the lack of clear stage directions for her tone of voice. Junger’s adaptation of this speech has transformed Katherine’s final soliloquy and ultimately the power dynamic between men and women to one that is more substantiating of equality. This optimistic outlook is compounded by the movie’s final shot where the camera pans out of Padua High into the sky with upbeat music accompanying, by zooming out, the movie alludes to their relationship being liberated now that harmony has been achieved.

Once again, Shakespeare introduces the inevitability of conforming to established authoritarian family values through Katherine’s familial relationships. Alternatively, Junger adapts Shakespeare’s presentation of family values for comedic effect by satirising Mr Stratford’s controlling nature to endorse fathers relinquishing autonomy to their daughters. Taming of the Shrew is acerbic in its presentation of 16th century familial values that endorsed the almost authoritarian rule of the head of the house, the father. Even during scenes that Katherine and Baptista are together, her father talks about her rather than directly to her. Baptista gives Bianca’s suitor “leave” to “court Katherine at their pleasure”, he maintains that he holds the rights to decide who dates. Her father denigrates Katherine behind her back, warning Petruchio to be “armed” for “unhappy words” from her, illustrating their unequal positions as dictated by established norms. Baptista’s uncaring nature is revealed when Grumio, Tranio and Lucentio gossip about Katherine’s “mad match”, and he subsequently reacts disinterestedly telling the others to “let them go”. It reinforces the ideology that women are “goods”, “chattels” to be sold off to their husbands by their fathers and Katherine’s conformation to these values despite proclaiming she “will not” obey Petruchio’s whims. Shakespeare corroborates the debasement of a daughter’s individualism in Elizabethan England, highlighting the ineludible conformation to these pre-ordained ideals. Junger dissimilarly adapts Shakespeare’s presentations of the authoritarian father figure for comedic effect to support autonomy of will in daughters. Whilst Mr Stratford maintains his controlling attitude over Kat and Bianca, his exaggerated actions are almost satirical in nature because of the change in historical context. Baptista’s actions were the socially accepted norm, contrastingly, Mr Stratford’s domineering attitude is presented as ridiculous and something to be laughed at. He repeats the exact same rule that there will be “no dating until his daughters graduate from college” twice, delineating his almost insane fixation on preventing his daughters from dating. He makes use of a fake pregnancy belly prop to illustrate the “weight” of Bianca’s “decisions” but his autocratic attitude is made comical by her heavy sigh and the camera’s focus on her eye roll, alluding to his excessive repeated use of the prop. Furthermore, Junger highlights the bidirectional communication between Mr Stratford and his daughters. He constantly asks Kat, about why she wants to go to Sarah Lawrence despite it being on “the other side of the country” and if she’s “just going to pick up and leave”. Significantly contrasting Baptista’s commanding demands of Katherine, Mr Stratford actively communicates to his daughter, acknowledging her individuality. His recognition of his daughter’s is exemplified when he provides justification for why they “aren’t allowed to date”. Whilst his daughters sit on the couch, he bends down alongside the camera angle to become level with them, signifying his view on their equality as he explains that his patient regretted no having “listened to her father”. Junger highlights the bidirectional communication between Mr Stratford and his daughters as a means to sustain the ceding of more freedom to daughters.

Through his underrepresentation of female friendships and emphasis on male friendships, Shakespeare seemingly corroborates that genuine acquaintanceships can only develop between males. Dissimilarly, Junger is more critical of materialistic relationships in males and females synchronously. The play characterizes Hortensio and Petruchio’s intimacy through various private conversations. Petruchio speaks as an “aside to Hortensio” and they “enter” alongside each other, Shakespeare highlights their genuine familiarness through the use of stage directions. He further demonstrates their genuine care for each other in their private conversations, as “all” “exeunt … but Hortensio”, he sincerely thanks Petruchio for putting him “in heart” with his advice. Petruchio trusts Hortensio with the personal matter of his “taming” and Hortensio endeavours to advise him that “the field is won”. When Vincentio is dubious whether what Petruchio said “is … true”, Hortensio willingly attests to his credibility, assuring Vincentio “it is so”. Shakespeare suggests there is sincere friendship as both show earnest trust and support for each other. Furthermore, he diminishes any female friendships within the play, significantly only presenting genuine male friendships, perhaps as a result of patriarchal Elizabethan values. Disparately, Junger is more critical of materialistic relationships in both males and females concomitantly, emphasizing their fleeting superficiality. The film presents Patrick and Joey’s friendship as an Aristotelian friendship of utility, one where Patrick is “payed” to “take out” Kat and thus removing one of the obstacles preventing Joey from “going out” with Bianca. Similarly, Bianca and Chastity maintain an Aristotelian friendship of pleasure, their contact is purely dictated by momentary enjoyment as they discuss vainly about “loving” their “Prada backpack” but only “liking their Sketchers”. Junger presents both these relationships as shallow, facile and materialistic acquaintanceships that ultimately deteriorate expeditiously. Joey’s contract with Patrick is forgotten when he realises Kat is a “great girl”. Likewise, Chastity is quick to throw away her friendship with Bianca for Joey because he is “such a babe”. The film further asserts the hollow nature of materialism with various props. Kat’s outcast status is exasperated by her “rundown car”, as the other students see her pull up blasting “hard rock music” they sigh and look away, judging her deplorable based on her “reputation” and material possessions. The “jerkoff” Joey, is the main character the audience is positioned to dislike due to his vanity and is the culmination of materialistic ideals. He is constantly fixated on his “poses” and “looks”, seemingly deriving his value from his appearance and reputation. Junger presents his fixation on his upcoming “gigs” and “ads” for modelling, delineating his obsession with his reputation as he flaunts his modelling career, a career dictated by outwards appearance, as a means to impress Bianca. The camera zooms out from a montage of Joey’s beer can being placed atop a “large beer-can pyramid” where the subsequent shot composition juxtaposes Joey next to the pyramid such that they are the same size. Junger incorporates famous beer brands to suggest that Joey, analogously draws his value from material goods and Bianca’s disinterested sighs represent a clear rejection of his egotism and conceitedness. The film maintains the frivolous, hollow nature of consumerist acquaintanceships and their disposition to quickly deteriorating.

Both The Taming of the Shrew and 10 Things I Hate About You explore the societal values of their time through the presentation of interpersonal relationships and comments about the sincerity of friendships. Whilst Shakespeare appropriates the conformation to traditional gender roles and familial values, Junger transforms his meaning to one supportive of more modern principles. Junger subdues the power imbalance between males and females to suggest a more equal reality and satirises domestic ideals to support autonomy for daughters. Shakespeare’s affirmation of genuine friendships is also transformed by Junger to ultimately become a critique of modern materialistic acquaintanceships. Whilst a secondary reading of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in isolation may implicate itself to a story that lauds the subversion of Elizabethan femininity, when contrasted to 10 Things I Hate About You, it’s subtleties become seemingly insignificant.

16 August 2021
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