Shakespearean Comedy Meets Teenage “Rom-Com” in 10 Things I Hate About You

by Laura Birkin


In terms of film adaptation, 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) can only be described as an extremely loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Rather than attempting to create a film that remained extremely faithful to the Shakespeare play, the team behind the movie instead opted to rework the original text into a film that would fit into the teenage romantic comedy genre, with an intended audience of primarily teen and preteen girls. As such, 10 Things is part of a tradition of loose Shakespeare adaptations including Never Been Kissed (1999) and Get Over It (2001), all of which demonstrate a “quest for contemporaneity, rather than fidelity” and at first glance appear to barely be related to Shakespeare at all (Hopkins 10). Although many aspects of Taming were drastically changed or removed completely from 10 Things, in some ways the film still manages to capture the spirit and themes of the original play.

Although many aspects of Taming were drastically changed or removed completely from 10 Things, in some ways the film still manages to capture the spirit and themes of the original play.

The differences between Taming and 10 Things are apparent in even the most basic elements of the film, including dialogue and setting, as 10 Things “jettison[s] the blank verse and centuries-old setting” of Shakespeare’s original play, instead presenting its story in a contemporary world with modern language and settings (Rosenthal, qtd. in Friedman 45). Such is the difference in dialogue that only one line from Taming is retained in the film; Cameron’s (Lucentio’s counterpart in the film) humorously overblown declaration of passion when he first sees Bianca, “I burn, I pine, I perish.” The setting is likewise shifted from the Italian city of Padua in circa-Renaissance Italy to the aptly named “Padua High,” a contemporary American high school. Meanwhile, the desire to appeal to a teenage audience is evident in the casting of young and attractive stars rather than established Shakespearean actors. Some of these actors would have already been well known to the intended teenage audience, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who had already appeared in films and television shows such as Dark Shadows (1991) and The Powers That Be (1992-3).

Correspondingly, many of the characters and plot elements from the original play undergo a dramatic shift in the adaptation, with the concerns of teenage life outweighing the importance of some of the more archaic concerns of Shakespeare’s time such as “the mercantile aspects of courtship” (Friedman 48). Even when plot elements are retained, for example, that of the father who will only allow his youngest daughter to marry when the older daughter does, it is translated into a contemporary situation in which the youngest daughter is banned from dating until her older sister dates. Apart from this story arc, along with the narrative arc in which Petruchio “tames” Katherine, much of the plot is different. Many teenage high school movie tropes are added to the film, including the “wild” house party sequence and the climactic scene at the high school prom, reflecting the need for teen comedies to “focus on the lives of teenagers: their daily activities, their conflicts, and their desires” (Friedman 47).

Interestingly, some of the conventions of teenage romantic comedy serve to highlight themes from the original Shakespeare play. For instance, the trope of high school cliques in the film reflects the class divisions explored in Taming, and characters that have a high social standing in the play enjoy high school popularity in the film. Thus, Joey, the character who corresponds to Hortensio, a gentleman of Padua, is portrayed in the film as extremely good looking and popular, whereas Michael, who is the counterpart of the servant Tranio, is depicted as an unpopular “A.V. club geek.” Meanwhile, the desirability of Bianca is also linked to her popularity, and she displays a concern with remaining popular for much of the film. In contrast, Kat’s “shrewishness” is reflected by the fact that she isn’t concerned with being popular, and in fact one result of her “taming” is her willingness to go to the prom, which she earlier labelled an “antiquated mating ritual.”

Kat’s “shrewishness” is reflected by the fact that she isn’t concerned with being popular, and in fact one result of her “taming” is her willingness to go to the prom, which she earlier labeled an “antiquated mating ritual.”

While the above themes and plot points move relatively smoothly from Shakespearean play to teen romantic comedy film, others have become extremely difficult to adapt due to the dramatically different views regarding gender roles and sexual politics held in contemporary Western society. Taming’s depiction of Katherine’s “taming” by Petruchio reflects the misogynist, patriarchal society of the Renaissance in which “the tripartite ideal of women’s chastity, silence, and obedience” was both venerated by and imposed on society (Newman 247). The play follows in a long and well-developed tradition of stories involving the shrew-taming theme, all versions of which “assume that man unconditionally rules woman” and depict the husband subjugating his wife and reducing her to the level of a mere animal (Bean 67). Although critics have endeavoured to argue that Shakespeare’s play is more evolved and sophisticated than older versions of this story, nevertheless over the course of the play Petruchio severely mistreats Katherine, likening her to a bird which he will train and forcing her to endure hardships including starvation and sleep-deprivation in order to “curb her mad and headstrong humor”  (IV.ii.209). Similarly, despite arguments that Katherine’s final speech should be understood ironically “as pretense, a strategy for living peaceably in patriarchal culture,” it is nonetheless a fairly standard presentation of the marital ideal propounded in Shakespeare’s time, according to which a wife should submit wholeheartedly and unquestioningly to her husband (Newman 251).

In the same way, 10 Things is a reflection of the period in which it was written and produced, a period which post-dates several waves of the feminist movement and in which it is impossible to portray an abusive relationship in a manner that would correspond to the light-hearted tone required of the teen romantic comedy genre. In fact, even to make Patrick particularly dislikeable would go against the conventions of the teen “rom-com,” in which the male romantic lead may make some ill-informed judgements, but is nevertheless ultimately framed as a “good” person and an ideal boyfriend. The decision not to portray the violent subjugation of Katherine/Kat has proven to be the right one, given the failure of O (a film adaptation of Othello aimed at teenagers which remains faithful to the tragic plot of the original play, also starring Julia Stiles as Desi, Desdemona’s counterpart) at the box office in comparison to the success of 10 Things I Hate About You, in which Stiles portrays “a confident, brash, comic heroine rather than a victim” (French 125).[1]

There are a few parallels between Petruchio’s treatment of Katherine in Taming and Patrick’s behaviour towards Kat in the film adaptation. For example, just as Petruchio claims that Katherine is “pleasant, gamesome, [and] passing courteous” when she has in fact just behaved unpleasantly and discourteously towards him, so Patrick also dissembles, pretending to be interested in the bands and books that Kat enjoys (II.i.260). However, there are many more differences than similarities to be observed in Patrick/Petruchio’s character, so much so that it appears that in the film Kat tames Patrick, rather than the reverse being true. For instance, although Patrick accepts money to date Kat, as Petruchio is paid to woo Katherine, after only one date Patrick appears reluctant to accept payment and is uneasy and anxious about the situation, and at the end of the film he spends that money to buy Kat a gift as a form of apology. Similarly, although Patrick projects a “bad boy” image at the beginning of the film, with rumours circulating that he “lit a state trooper on fire” and “sold his own liver on the black market,” he quickly reveals his tender side to Kat, taking care of her at the house party when she is inebriated and refusing to take advantage of her in her compromised state. Patrick stops smoking for Kat and discloses to her that the rumours concerning his transgressive behaviour are false, as well as opening up to her over the course of the film and becoming emotionally vulnerable. At the end of the film Kat does not deliver a speech on wifely obedience, and in fact it is Patrick that must apologise to her and seek forgiveness for his duplicity. This apology, an admission that he has made mistakes, is completely different from the unrepentant Petruchio depicted in the final pages of Taming.

Instead of a “shrew,” Kat is increasingly depicted as someone who simply doesn’t wish to compromise her personal integrity to fit in with the crowd.

Kat/Katherine’s transformation from play to film is also a complex one. At the beginning of 10 Things, Kat demonstrates several qualities that signpost her role as a shrew. Her “shrewishness” and refusal to conform are shown visually through her clothing, and when the audience first sees her she is wearing dark muted colours, including a camouflage tank top which Joey refers to as her “Rambo look,” and has her hair pulled back unceremoniously with minimal make-up. Her nonconformity is also portrayed through audio cues; for example, the song playing in Kat’s car when she first appears onscreen is Joan Jett & the Blackhearts singing “I don’t give a damn ‘bout my reputation.” Kat’s “shrewishness” is also conflated with an overblown version of feminism in the film, with Kat portrayed as the “embodiment of the media stereotype of the ‘feminazi’” (Friedman 51). Kat doesn’t want to appear attractive to the male sex, instead appearing in a number of “unfeminine” ensembles such as the one described above, has recently kicked a male in the groin (the epitome of the castrating female), and listens to “riot grrrl” bands such as Bikini Kill. From Kat’s very first classroom scene she is established as opposed to male authority and to patriarchal culture in general as she argues with her teacher about the proliferation of white male writers in the literary canon. All of these qualities have apparently earned her the title of “heinous bitch” among her schoolmates.

However, Kat’s “taming” in 10 Things is extremely different to the process undergone by Katherine in the play; as rather than being forcibly and violently subjugated by a man, instead Kat experiences a general softening of her character. Kat’s “softening” throughout the movie is mainly achieved by disclosing to the audience Kat’s private experiences and motives; for example, while Kat’s desire not to conform appears at first to be “bitchiness,” later in the movie she tells Bianca that she succumbed to peer pressure and had sex with Joey at a young age, and that she never wanted to be put in a similar situation again. Similarly, the disclosure that she kicked a boy in the genitals, an act that frames her at the start of the movie as castrating and incorrigible, is explained later in the movie by the fact that he tried to “grope” her in the lunch line. Instead of a “shrew,” Kat is increasingly depicted as someone who simply doesn’t wish to compromise her personal integrity to fit in with the crowd.

Although 10 Things abstains from depicting the misogynist abuse that takes place in the original play, it does not completely avoid the trappings of patriarchy and misogyny. Kat and Patrick’s relationship takes place in the teenage romantic comedy genre in which heterosexual union as climax is inevitable, conveying the idea that Kat “will not be complete until and unless a young man enables her self-discovery” (Balizet 130). Furthermore, Kat’s poem that she writes about Patrick and recites in front of her class at the end of the film can be likened to Katherine’s final speech in the play, as she risks public humiliation, breaks down and cries openly as she “renounces her shrewish feminist politics and announces in its place her dutiful affection for her boyfriend” (Jones 137).  In the final scene of the film Patrick apologizes to Kat for his behaviour, but when Kat tries to protest he stops her from talking by kissing her, a silencing which is similar to that at the end of Taming when Petruchio also silences Katherine with a kiss, exclaiming “why there’s a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate” (V.ii.179). As such, despite the contemporary setting, Patrick and Kat’s relationship cannot be said to completely overcome the patriarchal structures of the original play.

As a loose adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, there are a myriad of ways in which 10 Things I Hate About You differs from the original play, and aspects including language, setting and subplots are changed beyond recognition or disposed with altogether as the Shakespeare play is moulded into a teenage romantic comedy film. In particular, the film drastically changes the “taming” narrative from the play, with considerable effects on the characters of Kat and Patrick. However, the film does stay true to certain aspects of the original play in some surprising and at times dismaying ways. While the high school social structure creates some interesting parallels with the class system depicted in the original play, the patriarchy that is evident in the original play is unfortunately still to be seen in this movie made at the turn of the twentieth century.

Works Cited

10 Things I Hate About You. Dir. Gil Junger. Perf. Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Touchstone Pictures, 1999. Film.

Balizet, Ariane M. “Teen Scenes: Recognizing Shakespeare in Teen Film.” Almost Shakespeare: Reinventing His Works for Cinema and Television. Ed. James R. Keller and Leslie Stratyner. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2004. 122-136. Print.

Bean, John C. “Comic Structure and the Humanizing of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.” The Woman’s Part: Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene and Carol Thomas Neely. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1980. 65-78. Print.

French, Emma. Selling Shakespeare to Hollywood: The Marketing of Filmed Shakespeare Adaptations from 1989 into the New Millennium. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2006. Print.

Friedman, Michael D. “The Feminist as Shrew in 10 Things I Hate About You.” Shakespeare Bulletin 22.2 (2004): 45-65. Web. 9 Jun 2016.

Hopkins, Lisa. Relocating Shakespeare and Austen on Screen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.

Jones, Melissa. “’An Aweful Rule’: Safe Schools, Hard Canons, and Shakespeare’s Loose Heirs.” Almost Shakespeare: Reinventing His Works for Cinema and Television. Ed. James R. Keller and Leslie Stratyner. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2004. 137-154. Print.

Newman, Karen. “The Taming of the Shrew: A Modern Perspective.” The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare; An Updated Edition. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. 247-256. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Taming of the Shrew (Folger Shakespeare Library). Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.


[1] According to, 10 Things I Hate About You has grossed over $38,000,000 in the US, whereas O grossed a mere $16,000,000

Laura Birkin is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in English program. This paper received the English Department’s John Huzzard Graduate Merit Award in 2017.