Yesterday, I wrote about Othello and how O failed to capture some of the deeper, darker elements of the play. I talked about how Othello is a fairly easy one to adapt to modern audiences, because of that big racial issue that’s front and center. Now it’s time to talk about one that’s a little more difficult to adapt.
Taming of the Shrew.
That’s right, kids, we’ve finally reached the point in this blog where I talk about 10 Things I Hate About You.
But first, come over here and let’s talk for a minute. Taming of the Shrew is one of the more... let’s say problematic plays that William Shakespeare has written. The entire play is actually a play within a play, being performed for a drunk everyone is trying to convince is a nobleman for some reason, and it focuses on the courtship between Petruchio and Katherina. Katherina is the titular “Shrew”, which is something I wouldn’t recommend you call a woman, ever. The reason Petruchio is attempting to tame this particular shrew is at the behest of Hortensio (who spends much of his time disguised as a tutor... don’t ask) because Hortensio wants to get with Bianca, Katherina’s sister. You see, Bianca can’t get married until her older sister is married because of reasons. (Essentially their father forbade it. Like I said, not the most progressive of plays.) And eventually, plot, plot, plot, Petruchio psychologically tortures Katherina into marrying him. And they lived happily ever after.
So you can see what this one doesn’t lend itself to modern adaptions as easily.
(Quick note: It’s important to note that some readings of this, because of the first scene with Christopher Sly, tend to focus on the idea that this is a farce, not meant to be taken seriously. As with any good chance to get offended, most people ignore this reading.)
10 Things I hate About you updates this to 1999, before the world of selfies, twitter, and before Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a powerhouse actor/director. It has the same dealio - Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) wants to date Cameron (JGL) but can’t because her father forbids her to date before her sister (because reasons) so Cameron gets Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to woo or “tame” Kat. (Julia Stiles, also of O fame. but this was made before O. Just go with it.)
Quick note: The movie leaves out the Christopher Sly stuff, thus not making this a play within a play. Or a play within a movie. Whatever. People say Hamlet is complicated, it really has nothing on this play.
So, why does 10 Things I Hate about You, based on a play with mostly outdated concepts succeed while O, a slam dunk (see what I did there?) exploration of race and privilege manage to fail. (At least for me. Keep in mind that these are opinions, not binding rules.)
For me, personally, because 10 Things I Hate About You dug deeper into the play. O just seemed to look at the surface: “Look everyone, it’s Othello! Racism! Now lets head to the wrap party.”
Yes, Taming of the Shrew has a pretty clear message, that being roughly, “men are awesome! Women, you should listen to them more.” Remember that Christopher Sly framing device I keep talking about and how it can change the entire meaning of the play? Essentially, Christopher Sly is a poor drunkard, and the play is being put on for his benefit... because he’s in a loveless marriage with a woman who bullies him. But in it’s heart it’s a meant to be a comedy, not a deep social message on how all women should break and serve their men.
10 Things doesn’t shy away from the fact that this is a comedy, not serious. Look at Kat, played by Julia Stiles, She’s not a stereotypical “shrew” she’s an “edgy outsider” and we know because she makes sure to tell us every couple of minutes with something she does, says, or the way she acts. We also know that Heath Ledger is the cool guy who doesn’t really care what anyone thinks, because hey, he’ll also let us know every few minutes.
Essentially you have a movie that doesn’t take itself to seriously because the writers, directors, and everyone took the time to realize that the source material is kind of the same - it plays almost like a parody.
The thing is, Shakespeare loved to parody his work, and the works of others. Look at Much Ado about Nothing, or the ending to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
10 Things got this, and played around with the idea that the whole thing isn’t necessarily a long statement on what the author thinks about women... it’s a parody, played in it’s original version for a fool who is absent in this version. None of that matters, all that matters is the cute story, and maybe sometimes we don’t have to dig ourselves too deep to find out what when we want to enjoy ourselves. It’s also important to remember the title, 10 Things I Hate About You, comes from Kat’s poem at the end, reminding us that while she may end up with the hunky lead, she still doesn’t give up that much of herself.
It’s important to remember that when adapting Shakespearean works, you don’t always have to adjust for time period, but you do have to do more than skim the surface.