Department of English

Spring 2008 Edition

Kat Stratford: Playing Her Role?

Rayla Gomez
Argumentative 2010 2nd Place
Professor: Dr. Jessica Tvordi

Between the 1999 movie, 10 Things I Hate About You, and William Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shrew, there are many conclusions one can draw concerning the different counterparts of the characters. The variations between Kat Stratford and Kate Minola influence how the audience interprets the play and its underlying themes. In the film, 10 Things I Hate About You, Kat Stratford plays an opinionated and angry outcast in her last year of high school who just wants to be her own person. Others see her as a shrew because of her strong voice and how she constantly strives to be different from the other students. Kate Minola in The Taming of the Shrew, however, is angry and bitter because of her family and the low role a woman must play in society. People see Kate as a shrew because women in Shakespeare’s time were not allowed to voice their opinions when any important decisions were made, even when they were right. When examining both versions of the same story, it becomes clear that Kat Stratford is a more developed character because of how she uses her stereotype as a shrew, her relationships with the other characters, and her deeply set motives.

The setting switch from old Padua to a modern American high school changes the characters’ personalities dramatically, and since it is a teen movie, stereotypes are applied to everyone. Kat Stratford is portrayed as the loner who doesn’t want to be a part of any clique. The first time she appears in the movie, she is seen glaring at a car full of girls and listening to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” which implies that she doesn’t care about her popularity status at all. She also seems to think that girls who swoon because of a handsome and charming guy aren’t very intelligent. In that way, she shares a common bond with the original Kate Minola from Shakespeare’s play. When Kat finds Patrick waiting at her car after she buys a CD, Patrick believes that he can charm her by using cheap lines and winking at her. Her reply is less than amused by his attempt. “Am I that transparent? I want you, I need you. Oh, baby. Oh, baby” (10 Things I Hate About You). In the play, however, Kate’s personality changes dramatically from a shrew to a faithful and loving wife. Her ending speech does not seem to completely fit her old clever, bitter self, and the audience is left wondering why. In Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Kate goes from “I see a woman may be made a fool / If she had not the spirit to resist” (3.2. 220-221) to “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper” (5.2. 146) within a couple of days. Although it is possible, this abrupt change on the outlook of the role of a woman seems highly unlikely and very inhuman. In the 1999 movie, the audience is able to pick out certain moments to see why Kat acts the way that she does and how all that changes when Patrick comes into the picture, wanting to really know the girl behind the mask.

Because the relationships Kat has with the other characters in 10 Things I Hate About You are better established than those shared between Kate and the others in The Taming of the Shrew, most people are able to take in the important themes of Shakespeare’s play and appreciate the overall story more. The vague references as to why Kate is unhappy in The Taming of the Shrew don’t leave as strong of an impression, or are as capturing, as the struggles that Kat faces and overcomes in 10 Things I Hate About You. While Kate is starved and kept from sleep in the play by Petruchio in order to tame her wild ways, Patrick, in the movie, charms Kat and really likes her for who she is. Kat believes that she should disappoint everyone from the start so that she can live up to her own expectations without having to worry what people think. Patrick then surprises her by saying, “Then you screwed up…You never disappointed me” (10 Things I Hate About You). He also shows that he cares more about Kat than his “bad boy” reputation when he sings a love song to her over the loudspeakers during her soccer practice. Patrick brings out Kat’s good nature through kindness instead of being verbally abusive and physically controlling like Petruchio in the play.
Kat also has closer relationships in the movie with other characters such as her sister Bianca and her father. She loves her family, but at the same time she is frustrated by them, possibly because of their being so calm about their mother leaving. Because of Bianca’s choice to be one of the popular girls at school, Kat seems to think that she is selling out and not being herself. Kat implies this when she tells Bianca, “You don’t always have to be who they want you to be, you know” (10 Things I Hate About You). Also, she resents her father because of his assumptions about where she will go for college. Despite these feelings, she tries to protect Bianca from getting hurt by encouraging her not to date, and shows that she loves her father when he trusts her to go to college on the other side of the country. In The Taming of the Shrew, however, Kate’s father Baptista hands Kate over to Petruchio after just meeting him, conveying to the reader that Baptista doesn’t care much for his first daughter. “Well mayst thou woo, and happy be thy / Speed!” (2.1 136-137). When Kat’s mother left, Kat lost her virginity to Joey because she was going through a tough time and wanting an outlet for the way she was feeling. After that, she promised herself that she wouldn’t follow the crowd anymore or be the person everyone wanted her to be. She, in turn, doesn’t want Bianca to have such a terrible time figuring out who she is and tries to steer her away from many general high school experiences. Later, when Kat’s father tells Kat that he sent in a check for the college she wants to go to, she hugs him because she knows that he loves her enough to let her go out on her own. Because of these moments during the film, the audience is able to understand that she is human and does have human emotions and reactions.

Kat’s motives in the movie are to get through high school with little social contact and to go to an east coast college after she graduates, but she is completely grounded in her thoughts and actions. She tends to be involved and opinionated when completing her schoolwork, and all throughout the scenes in her English class, (with the exception of when the Shakespeare sonnet is assigned), she bluntly tells everyone what is wrong with the authors and assignments that they are given. “Romantic? Hemingway? He was an abusive alcoholic misogynist who squandered half his life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers” (10 Things I Hate About You). She states her opinions clearly, revealing conviction rather than childish stubbornness. During an argument with her father, she states exactly what she wants after she graduates high school. “I wanna go to an east coast school. I want you to trust me to make my own choices and I want you to stop trying to control my life just because you can’t control yours” (10 Things I Hate About You). When she says this, there is no question about what she wants, and the audience doesn’t have to assume anything, as when they are reading the play they have to second-guess Kate’s motives.

The movie clearly defines Kat’s role in the high school world and points out one of the main themes in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew: Society’s happiness depends on everyone playing their individual role. Kat realizes in the end that in order to be happy, she has to cooperate on some level with the people connected to her. By better establishing these relationships in the movie, this theme is able to cross from one generation to the next. The reason 10 Things I Hate About You is such a great adaptation of the play is because role playing applies to both Shakespeare’s time period and modern times, even though there are some differences. For example, women played the role of the obedient wife hundreds of years ago. Today, although most women are considered equal to men, they still have different roles that they must play in order to function in society, such as a full-time worker, a single mother, or even a daughter. This theme transcends time periods and even reaches the audiences who may be losing the connection between classic literature and its useful themes.