Saturday, March 28, 2009

Adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew

In class on Thursday, we watched the BBC version of The Taming of the Shrew with a young John Cleese and, honestly, I couldn't understand it! I think I was the only one too, but for some reason my brain was NOT registering the language. I looked around the class to see if I was the only one... and I'm pretty sure that I was. 

Despite this minor obstacle, I noticed a couple of things that I definitely missed when I read the play. For example, there is a sexual tension between Kate and Petrucchio during their initial quick-witted exchange that passed me by. As much as Kate seems to loathe Petrucchio, she goes along with his game and welcomes the challenge. She even sits on his lap when he tells her to, something she could have easily avoided. The battle of wits that ensues is a play on traditional courtly love. Instead of idealizing and perfecting his love object in his own mind, Petrucchio blatantly lies to Kate, in order to both compliment her and to make fun of her:

“You lie, in faith; for you are call'd plain Kate,

And bonny Kate and sometimes Kate the curst;

But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom

Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,”

This reminds me of the sonnets, where Shakespeare has blinded himself from the truth and writes lies (or poems) to idealize the love object. It is as if Petrucchio is prophesizing what Kate might one day become, just like what Shakespeare had written in the Young Man sonnets. We are aware that the truth will one day surface, however, and then we get something like Sonnet 130—“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”—when the truth can no longer be covered up. Eventually he will embrace the flaws, only to regret the fact that he has had to lie in the first place.

I also thought it was interesting in the movie that Kate was the one to walk in on Petrucchio when they first meet, because I always imagined Petrucchio walking in on Kate as if to start a fight—It kind of shows that Kate was looking for trouble. The manner in which Petrucchio is sitting, illustrates how he was obviously anticipating her. He predicts that waiting for Kate to initiate the conversation will give her a false sense of control, and it is an example of Petrucchio’s confidence, that he will tame her even before he meets her.

The most important thing that I got from watching the play, rather than from reading it, was that I realized the play is supposed to be a comedy. While reading, I found the play to be quite insulting and disturbing. Throughout the play, Petrucchio tortures and manipulates Kate into submission, essentially killing her spirit and making her into a Stepford Wife by the end. I got this impression simply from the words, but I got another feeling from the actors saying the same words. Petrucchio and Kate are flirting, and their initial exchange is sexually charged and very entertaining to watch. I missed from reading that these characters are supposed to be attracted to each other--otherwise I doubt that Kate would ever allow herself to become engaged. Her strange silence at the end of the Act, when Petrucchio announces their engagement, is explained.

10 Things I Hate About You is a modern day adaptation, or rather awesome 90's teenage version, of The Taming of the Shrew. Julia Stiles is Kat, Heath Ledger is Patrick, and it takes place in Padua High School!! Also, I may be alone here, but count along with me: "The-Tam-ing-of-the-Shrew" has the same number of syllables as "10-things-I-hate-about-you". Coincidence? You decide! 

Anyway, this version of the play is roughly the same as Shakespeare's original but it gave me a different perspective of the ending, which I had originally found so depressing. Kat's metamorphosis at the end is not so much that she has been tamed (accepted her social role as a submissive woman in a dominant man's world), but that she has fallen in love, thus making her softer and a much happier person. Here, her transformation is shown in the dramatic monologue:


I hate the way you talk to me

And the way you cut your hair.

I hate the way you drive my car.

I hate it when you stare.

I hate your big dumb combat boots

And the way you read my mind.

I hate you so much it makes me sick

It even makes me rhyme.

I hate it…

I hate the way you're always right.

I hate it when you lie.

I hate it when you make me laugh

Even worse when you make me cry.

I hate it when you're not around

And the fact that you didn't call.

But mostly I hate the way I don't hate you.

Not even close

Not even a little bit

Not even at all.

Watching this scene, a version of Katherina's final speech in Taming, with Kat finally showing honest emotion is very effective. It left me with a sense of empathy, something that was completely absent from my reading of the play. It's not disturbing that Kat has given in to Patrick's flaws and transgressions, it's sweet and endearing that she has forgiven him. The biggest thing that I missed from reading the play was the sense that these characters actually fell in love. Perhaps Katherina changes and becomes the "ideal love object" for Petrucchio because she loves him and wants to make him happy. It still leaves a bad taste in the mouth, but it's less disturbing if you stop looking at it from a completely century 21st point-of-view.

No comments:

Post a Comment