Don’t Tame the Shrew

In quick succession, I recently watched 10 Things I Hate About You and read Taming of the Shrew. For those who don’t know, 10 Things is a 1999 movie based on the Shakespeare play Taming of the Shrew. The movie is gloriously 90s and features young and exceptionally handsome Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Characters sporadically break into Shakespearean lines from the original play. Petruccio from Verona becomes Patrick Verona, Bianca and Katherina Baptista becomes Bianca and Katherina Stratford. Their dad is a doctor, not a wealthy Padua gentleman, but Bianca is romantically sought and Katherina is a, in the movie vernacular, “bitch.” Arguably the most important point that the movie maintains with the play is that Bianca is not allowed to be with men until Katherina finds a suitor. Katherina, outspoken and uncompromising, does not have men lining up at her door in either version of the story. Shakespeare calls Katherina a shrew, 10 Things calls her a feminist, but either way, her cardinal sin is her refusal to be interested in being a “proper” woman. Her rebellion is explored more thoroughly in 10 Things; she wants to go to Sarah Lawrence and calls out her English teacher for only reading the works of men. The movie goes so far as to explain why she acts the way she does in a heart to heart moment that she shares with Bianca about how she stopped doing things just because everyone else was doing them. Shakespeare doesn’t give his Katherina as much depth. She is a shrew, and she is to be tamed by Petruccio. Petruccio and Patrick are wildly different characters. Both are drawn to Katherina because of a wager and her sharp wit, but they stay for different reasons. Petruccio wants to tame her, wants to prove his dominance and ensure himself a docile wife. Patrick falls for Katherina and his affection for her surpasses all other motivations by the end of the movie. The audience’s affection grows for Patrick but is nonexistent for Petruccio.

Patrick Verona is a bad boy, smoking cigarettes and enjoying the rumors that say he missed a year of school to start a porn career. What he isn’t is a bad boyfriend. Though his initial motives are impure, he ends up treating Katherina with more respect and kindness than most other people in the film. Petruccio, on the other hand, is an emotionally abusive husband and determines that gaslighting and starvation are the way to put Katherina in her place. It is extremely disturbing to read the passages of his treatment, almost to the extent that my experience of the play is lessened. 10 Things might avoid this central theme, but it makes the story far more compelling. It is often argued that altering the Petruccio character’s treatment of the shrew character takes away a key element of the play: the forceful establishment of dominance. 10 Things I Hate About You is an interpretation. It uses Shakespeare as the baseline for its story but follows a more classic romantic comedy arc instead. My favorite part about the movie is that the shrew is not tamed. Katherina and Patrick may end up together, but her convictions don’t falter. She’s going to Sarah Lawrence and she’s still a spitfire. She doesn’t lose her strength, she just gains some love to go with it.


Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, 3