William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew raises many important issues, reflecting the context of the times it was composed and their values. In its modern 20th century reproduction, 10 Things I Hate About You, many of these issues are appropriated into different and also similar values and themes with the same relevance it has in the society. The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies, focusing on courtship and marriage, while also sharing the essential characteristics of a romantic comedy – disguise, deception, slapstick humour and a happy ending. The concerns of married life and in turn the roles of men and women in the society, would have been particularly relevant to English audiences of the Elizabethan times.
An important issue regarding Elizabethan marriages of mainly upper class society would have been the motives behind these: that being money, land and power. In the play, Baptista chooses the suitor to his daughter Bianca by their offer of wealth. “‘Tis deeds must win the prize, and he of both That can assure my daughter the greatest dower Shall have my Bianca’s love.” (line 331, Act II, Scene 1).
Thus, what you own and acquire in a marriage pre-determined the outcomes of marital disputes in such a society. However, 10 Things introduces a more suitable and readily accepted theme – love. The thought of marriage for wealth and power and ‘purchasing’ a wife, today, is something greatly frowned apon. In the film, the payment of Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Katherina ‘Kat’ Stratford (Julia Stiles) was seen as something extremely offensive and wrong, while Bianca freely chose her date out of attraction and love. This illustrates the changed values and nature of relationships between men and women since the 16th century.
It seems that Shakespeare confirms the traditional view that men should dominate and that women should submit to their authority in his play, The Taming of the Shrew. All the characters, excluding Katherina, appear to agree on the assumed social roles of gender and that her ‘shrewish’ behaviour is unacceptable. Yet, in the end she had transformed and even gave a speech proclaiming female submission and male dominance.
“…thy lord, thy king, thy governor… Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign;…” (Line 146, Act V, Scene II) However, in the film appropriation, male dominance is reduced to an equilibrium and alternatively focused on the strong positive women’s roles. Although the father, Walter (Larry Miller), still has responsibility and authority of his daughters, it is different to the Baptista’s prerogative. The father is playing a paternalistic role.
The daughters fall as victims of the power the father possesses and the rules he determines and enforces. Yet this power is minimised in the film and he becomes the “spectator” in his daughters’ lives. “You know, fathers don’t like to admit it when their daughters are capable of running their own lives. It means we’ve become spectators. Bianca still lets me play a few innings. You’ve had me on the bench for years.” He says to Kat. This suggests the ways and levels that parents have come to understand of accepting individuality and independence of their children, where in the film, the father finally accepts Kat’s independence and approves her studying at Sara Lawrence.
In many Shakespearean works, the father is often entitled to give his daughter away in marriage to whoever he prefers. Since patriarchal values have since then been abandoned and today, we adopt the idea of ‘equality of the sexes’ and the shifting roles of women in a society. Shakespeare’s audience expected the idealised woman to be acquiescent, passive and “below their husbands foot”. However, Bianca from 10 Things is admired not for these reasons.
Although adopting the identity as the ‘ideal woman’ empowers both Bianca’s with popularity, the definition and values of ‘ideal’ has ever since changed as the film illustrates the perception of ideal young women as beautiful and fashionable. Hence, Kat in 10 Things, is marginalised for being rebellious, difficult and different, “Why should I live up to people’s expectations and not my own.”, who was unlike the Taming Katherina who possessed none of the submissive attributes.
She was branded as a ‘shrew’ – a name, in the Patriarchal society, used to indicate a domineering, sharp-tongued woman or those who resist the assumed authority of their husbands. Not only is the freedom that Kat acquires in the film is particularly significant, but the degree that she submits and conforms is also relevant. In the Taming, Katherina was tamed “…from a wild Kate to a Kate Conformable as other household Kates.” (Line 269, Act II, Scene 1)