Ten Things I Hate About You Is the Best Adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew
I said what I said.
It’s Shakespeare month here at The Mary Sue, where we are delving into all of our opinions and big lit nerd feelings about the most famous playwright who ever walked the earth.
Shakespeare’s works have endured for centuries thanks to the universality of his themes, which remain relevant. It’s the reason why we can watch these plays again and again, and never tire of seeing these classic stories adapted for a wide variety of audiences. There is a fluidity to his work, which easily conforms to whatever vessel it is poured into.
But given the centuries that have passed since his heyday, it’s hardly a surprise that some of Shakespeare’s works hold up better than others (I’m looking at you, The Merchant of Venice). The Taming of the Shrew is one such example, wherein the headstrong Katherina is tamed via her marriage to the rakish Petruchio. And by “tamed”, she is held against her will, starved, and gaslit into obedience. Cool cool cool.
The misogyny at the heart of TTOTS has been debated for decades: has Katherina really been tamed, or is she the one taming her husband? It’s a character turn that has inspired countless thesis papers on the nature of gender and psychology, and what sort of feminism (if any) existed in Shakespeare’s day.
As a feminist and a Shakespeare fan, I’ve often struggled with this play. While I love the character of Katherina, I just can’t connect her transformation into the obedient wife because I genuinely do not understand her love and affection for Petruchio. No matter how well acted the adaptation, or how beautifully filmed, I am perpetually at a loss.
These are problems that the 1999 romantic comedy film 10 Things I Hate About You ably handles. In case you didn’t grow up in the 90s, 10 Things I Hate About You was a high school teen romcom loosely based on TTOTS. Julia Stiles plays Kat Stratford (I see what you did there, movie), the headstrong feminist older sister of the popular sweetheart Bianca (Larisa Oleynik).
Every boy in school wants to date Bianca, but her overprotective father (Larry Miller) won’t allow her to date until her older sister does. That is, until nice guy Cameron (a baby Joseph Gordon-Levitt) convinces Australian bad boy Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date her for money, a ruse that is funded by the boorish jock Joey (Andrew Keegan) who wants to hook up with Bianca.
10 Things works because it smartly realizes that the girl labeled a “bitch” in high school is often just a girl frustrated and stymied by the sexist restrictions and expectations of high school and girlhood in general. Stiles’s Kat Stratford was a refreshing teen girl heroine because she deviated from the genre’s default portrayal of girlhood. She didn’t fall into the virgin/slut dichotomy that defined so many teen girl characters. She is independent, free-thinking, and more than capable of defending herself.
This is most apparent in Kat’s reveal to her sister that after their mother left them, she lost her virginity to Joey. After she decided she wasn’t ready to keep having sex, Joey dumped her and spread the narrative that she was a bitch. And while Joey is lionized for his prowess, Kat is ostracized.
Even more refreshing is Heath Ledger’s sensitive bad boy Patrick. Patrick never tries to change Kat or force her to be someone she isn’t. He takes the time to get to know her and her motivations, falling in love with her along the way. Yes, their relationship began as a ploy, but he apologizes and takes responsibility for it. No gaslighting needed.
It’s a satisfying romance that is given more thought and nuance than the average teen comedy allows. The writers Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith continued to mine girl power gold with follow-up films like Legally Blonde and She’s the Man, which is itself an adaptation of Twelfth Night.
Is 10 Things I Hate About You a fluffy, fun adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew? Sure, but it’s also the only one that makes sense to me.
(image: Buena Vista Pictures)
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