by Oana-Maria Moldovan
Have you ever tried to tame a feminist shrew? Both Petruchio from Verona and Patrick Verona had tried such a thing. And to be completely honest, neither of them had actually succeeded but, hey, at least they got the girl, right?
When it comes to adapting timeless literary works into contemporary films, few have succeeded as brilliantly as 10 Things I Hate About You did.
This ‘99 teen romantic comedy, directed by Gil Junger and starring Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, artfully weaved the spirit of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew into the fabric of its modern-day narrative, almost paving the way for some of the 2000s movies afterwards.
10 Things I Hate About You reimagines the Shakespearean play transporting its central plot and characters from Renaissance Italy to a 90s American high school setting - quite similar if you ask me.
The heart of the story remains the same: a father lays down strict dating rules for his daughters, with the elder sister, Kat Stratford, cast in the role of the “shrew” - a somewhat typical 90s feminist in this case - while her younger sister, Bianca - the popular and preppy 9th grader -, becomes the object of many suitors’ affections.
The only difference so far would be that the original Bianca had three men courting her, while the teenage fashionista version of her only has two.
Fortunately the film does preserve the core characters and most of their personalities from Shakespeare’s original work, modernising them to suit both a high school environment and the time when the action takes place. Kat remains a strong-minded young woman, while her younger sister still represents most of what girls their age wish to be.
Kat Stratford, portrayed by Julia Stiles, is a contemporary interpretation of Katherine, the strong-willed and independent shrew. Her journey towards self-discovery and love mirrors that of her Shakespearean counterpart.
Heath Ledger’s Patrick Verona, on the other hand, serves as a counterpart to Petruchio, the character who is supposed - and paid - to ‘tame’ Kat. Both Patrick and Petruchio are - mostly - charismatic and persistent in capturing the hearts of their female counterparts through unconventional means.
The main plot of both the movie and the play is mainly easy to understand. A young boy is new in town - school - and falls in love with the younger of the two sisters. He hears that she needs a tutor and so pretends to be one to get closer to her.
The young man - student - also learns about her father’s rules and wishes - that she is not to date or marry until her sister does it first. The older sister seems to have no wishes in dating - marrying - and seems to be more interested in other activities. So, in a pure Shakespearean way, she “needs to be tamed”.
However the reality of both the movie and the play is that Kat(hrine) is never really “tamed”, not in that way anyway. Both characters remain with their values and opinions, both still not accepting to bend over for societal norms, even after getting with their respective men.
The movie is not without faults. Although it might seem “modern” for its times there are still some surface problems within it.
We can clearly see and accept now that Kat’s form of feminism can seem somewhat mostly performative. We - the audience - see that she became this way only to “piss off” the people around her - her peers and her father.
While she makes some great statements throughout the movie and represents a good example for someone her age - considering she is supposed to be around 18 - she still represents a form of the typical white washed feminism of the 90s.
But that is still okay. Kat Stanford is not supposed to be someone marching for gender equality on the streets, she is however supposed to be a privileged teenager from the suburbs who does not want to keep up with others’ expectations of her.
Another, not so well talked about movie - because films centered around POC were not so popular at the time - it’s the 2003 movie Deliver Us from Eva, which follows the story of Eva Dandridge, a perfectionist, and her meddling in the lives of her sisters and their significant others.
Her sisters’ partners hire a charming man, named Ray, to seduce Eva and take her away. However, Ray and Eva unexpectedly fall in love. When Eva’s sisters discover her plans to move to Chicago, they concoct a scheme to break them up.
However, this is not the only rom com loosely based on The Taming of the Shrew. The ‘92 film The Cutting Edge can also be seen as a way to interpret Shakespeare’s play.
The Cutting Edge is a romantic sports film that follows the unlikely pairing of figure skater Kate Moseley and former ice hockey player Doug Dorsey.
Kate’s snobbish attitude has cost her several partners, and Doug’s career is cut short due to an injury. In an attempt to revive their careers, they form a reluctant partnership for pairs figure skating. Despite their initial conflicts, the two gradually develop a strong connection both on and off the ice.
All in all, there are more interpretations and variations of this story, all of them with their unique interpretation. 10 Things I Hate About You is still the one most close to the original literary source and the one most known - based on the actors that play in it and the post production popularisation of them.
Safe to say is one thing, neither the shrew, nor the feminist were tamed, not even a little bit, not even at all.