Ten Things I Hate About You
Yr 11 Preliminary Extension English
Assessment Task on Ten Things I Hate About You
“Text can both reflect and challenge the values of the particular historical and cultural contexts in which there were composed” Discuss this statement in relation to the two texts
The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare most controversial plays, but in many ways, the values represented in the text are still prevalent today. In several different aspects, 10 Things I Hate About You has appropriated Taming of the Shrew. But as it is a modern day transposition or contemporisation, we can see that some cultural values of our times have changed or evolved, which are reflected in the concerns of the characters and the cinematic techniques of the director.
It is difficult to appreciate a real context of Shakespearean work, without judging it by our values and biases, however, we can form an understanding from historical evidence of the range of values reflected from other works of the time. The play Taming of the Shrew, is set in a fictional society of Padua, Italy which can represent the Elizabethan society in which Shakespeare lived. We perceive the Elizabethan society to be a patriarchal, hierarchal society with very set and structured ways. However, it is debatable whether Shakespeare disapproved and therefore challenged his society’s values or if he was just reflecting them in a somewhat satirical way.
10 Things I Hate About You is based in the American city of Seattle, in (imaginary) Padua High School. The society created in this high school, mimics and exaggerates aspects of a main stream, late 20th century, American high school. When examining 10 Things I Hate About You we must consider the fact that it is a romantic comedy, marketed at teenagers (especially girls) so is therefore unlikely to create a ‘truthful’ or realistic depiction of the values of the modern day.
Conformity is an issue that is more prevalent in 10 Things I Hate About You than in Taming of the Shrew. Michael use the terms basic beautiful people, coffee kids, white Rastas, cowboys, future MBA’s, yuppie breed to class the various students at Padua. The prominence of conformity in this text maybe due to the fact that it is based in a high school but the film is also mocking teenagers by using exaggerated costuming and slang dialogue to emphasise the different categories. The extent of this conformity is not established in Taming of the Shrew, which shows us that conformity was not such a big issue, especially among the men. Baptista simply states “’Tis come odd humour pricks him to his fashion” (3.2.63) after Biondello tells him a long tale of his strange apparel.
In both texts we see money and status being valued by various characters. In Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio’s materialistic attitude is unveiled when he expresses the importance of riches after his friend Hortensio tells of Katherina’s wealth. “If wealthy, then happily in Padua” (1.2.73) The importance of wealth is later apparent when Baptista choses Lucentio (Tranio in disguise) when has proven that he is wealthier than Gremio. Equally, Patrick (Petruchio’s counterpart) also conveys the power of money in a modern day context, when he first accepts to take Kat on a date after Joey provides “generous compensation”.
Status in Taming of the Shrew’s context seems to just coincide with wealth, yet in 10 Things I Hate About You, status/popularity is viewed differently by the characters. In the introduction the use of music differentiates Kat from the other stereotypical ‘blonde’ teenagers listening to a typical boppy teen song. The hard rock song associated with Kat lyrics states “I don’t give a damm bout’ my reputation!” to emphasise and mirrors Kat’s disregard and hatred of conformity to achieve status. Also linked to Michael’s classification system is Joey Donner’s comment “Cool by association.” This is very clear reflection of what teenagers value.
Also associated with modern day teenagers is the struggle for independence. Kat is seen trying to exert her freedom in various ways. “Stop making my decisions for me… I want you to trust me to make my own choices and I want you to stop trying to control my life…” This reinforced by the subtext of posters in the classroom which exhort “The first and worst fraud is to cheat oneself” and “What is popular is not always right”.
From Taming of the Shrew we can gather Katherina had no freedom to choose a husband. Kath’s lack of any discussion with her father about her future conveys that it was unlikely for a girl or women to even she can stand up against her father in this period. However ironically, Bianca, the character who first seems to conform to her place in her society ends up eloping with Lucentio (however not totally against father’s will). Though in 10 Things I Hate About You the struggle for independence is more evident, in both works it is the female role that is being controlled by a male character.
Even in the patriarchal society, courtly love is a feature of many literary works of the Shakespeare’s time. It is a concept in which an unobtainable woman is idolised by a man. Often the ‘beauty’ within a woman will motivate or inspire the man to become a better person, but a ‘bad’ woman may also lead him to closer evil. In Taming of the Shrew the character Lucentio obviously deeply loves/adores Bianca from the first time he sees her, equally his equivalent Cameron does the same when he first lays eyes on Bianca. “I burn, I pine, I perish” shows the extent of his desire for her. Whilst Lucentio becomes a ‘better’ person (is able to obtain Bianca in the end not due to a downfall on her behalf) whilst in 10 Things I Hate About You, Cameron eventually realises the Bianca is no ‘angel’ and even asks her “Have you always been this selfish?” This is a form of role reversal which is also used when it comes to the submission of women and feminism.
Due to the treatment of the women’s roles in Taming of the Shrew it is (now) considered to be a controversial play. In the play most of the power is held by male characters, Baptista over his daughter, Petruchio over Katherina, representing the values of patriarchal society. The treatment of the female characters is now something we would see as degrading and sometimes abusive, especially when it comes to Petruchio’s method of ‘taming’. “She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house, My household-stuff, my field, my barn, My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything, and here she stands. Touch her whoever dare, I’ll bring mine action on the proudest he” (3.2.219-224) Not only is this aggressive, it would be degrading to Kate. This also depicts the concept that the traditional male role will ‘rescue’ the female.
In contrast 10 Things I Hate About You has inverted many of the power roles in the different relationships. A major reversal is in the Lucentio/Cameron – Bianca relationship. Within Taming of the Shrew Bianca exerts no power (neither does any other female role) but in 10 Things Bianca is ends up being the one who ‘saves’ Cameron from Joey. Another major difference is the fact that Kat still holds the power in her relationship with Patrick. The changes that the feminist movement created from the mid 20th century are reflected to large extent in this film.
In comparison to the present, Elizabethan women were often seen as objects, however it is unclear wether Shakespeare was merely reflecting his society or trying to challenge it. Often forgotten is the opening sequence with Sly, were his treatment of his ‘wife’ is different to that of the noblemen, “Are you my wife, and will not call me husband?” (Induction 2.100) He also later insists that he personalise his wife’s name by calling her “Alice Madam, Joan Madam” and finally calls her “Madam Wife.” We are not sure whether Shakespeare is mocking Sly, who is really a drunken tinker, or if he using Sly’s way of thinking as a juxtaposition the other men in Taming of the Shrew. However due to what would be considered extremely sexist in a post?-feminism world, adaptations are made which can change the meaning of the play.
Like Shakespeare, who shows two different views on this issue, 10 Things I Hate About You depicts feminism but also some chauvinistic attitudes that are still present in reality. An example of this is when Joey and other male characters start cheering and shouting when drunk Kat gets up on the table, dancing to a hiphop/rap song. Joey and his friends are an illustration of self-centred, chauvinism, who, similarly to Petruchio, see the women as ways of making money, as they initially were about to bet on if Joey could “nail” Bianca.
In both Taming of the Shrew and 10 Things I Hate About You, we can see a range of different techniques that reflect the historical and cultural context in which they were created. Evaluating the extent that Shakespeare was challenging his society values is difficult due to his common use of satire. Also, Taming of the Shrew is a play that can be directed and viewed in many ways. So whether an Elizabethan audience would view or notice the satire that Shakespeare may have intended is questionable. But just as Shakespeare uses satire, so does 10 Things I Hate About You. When the two works are compared, the different elements emphasised between the two illustrate the changes and similarities in social values of the two very separate centuries.
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