Taming Things: A Modern Shrew

Stories which last from generation to generation usually do so because they are good, and very few wordsmiths can boast more longevity than William Shakespeare himself. This means he often updated to a modern setting. Because Shakespeare was writing over five centuries ago, it’s inevitable that public attitudes towards many things have changed and contemporary versions naturally reflect those changes. 10 Things I Hate About You was part of a trend of teenage adaptations in the late ‘90s, and is a reworking of The Taming of the Shrew. 10 Things brings Shrew into current times by modernizing the humor and sexual politics.

The Taming of the Shrew was first staged in 1593 or ‘94, and 10 Things I Hate About You came out in 1999. Both stories involve suitors for the nice, beautiful Bianca joining together to get someone to woo her older, more contentious sister, Katherina, because her sister cannot marry or date until she does. While convoluted events finally result in Bianca’s most worthy prospect winning her, Katherina’s mate Petruchio succeeds in “taming” her.

Even a brief study of Shakespeare’s language will reveal to the reader that a significant portion of his humor stemmed from bawdy references, but they are subtle to our modern ears. Screenwriters Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith were more direct in 10 Things and appeal to today’s sensibilities. They were free to include moments like the school counselor working on a romance novel on the side. Shakespeare often also used sight gags of disguise to make his audience laugh, and though there is no need for that in 10 Things, visual comedy is abundant in the film. Kat and Bianca’s balding OBGYN father watches an infomercial for fake hair spray, for example, and Cameron’s friend has a motorbike accident that sends him down a hill in one of the rare “He’s okay!” jokes that actually works.

The theme of the battle of the sexes is this story’s most famous one, and it is the one that most requires updating. Today’s audiences will side-eye the way Taming of the Shrew presents Katherina’s husband’s treatment of her. He keeps her from eating and sleeping under the guise of love, saying the meals and bed are not good enough for her. The ending of the play features an infamous speech in which Katherina lectures the other women on being a proper wife. Shakespeare’s audience would have been used to this patriarchal tone, but attitudes have changed, so 10 Things has a much more straightforward romance in which Kat and Patrick fall for each other. He doesn’t try to change her, and they both publicly declare their feelings—Patrick in a serenade, and Kat in a poem recited in class.

10 Things I Hate About You may be an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, but the comedy and sexual politics get modernized for today’s audiences. This is not just about the setting being changed, either; many period-faithful stage performances today add at least a nod to the viewer, suggesting Katherina and Petruchio are working together and she hasn’t really been “tamed” at all. That’s what my college theater production of the play did. Narratives from long ago can easily continue to resonate today, and Taming of the Shrew is an example of this, with 10 Things I Hate About You serving as the hilarious proof.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton lives in Ohio with her dog Lily. Her favorite things are movies and books, and her hobby is editing fan videos.

One thought on “Taming Things: A Modern Shrew

Add yours

Interact With Us:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: