Department of English

Spring 2010 Edition

"Best Friends Forever:" A Key to Understanding Shakespeare

Violet Iles
Argumentative 2010 2nd Place
Professor: Dr. Tvordi

10 Things I Hate About You, a 1999 film, provides a fresh perspective on Shakespeare's classic comedy The Taming of the Shrew and makes the story more accessible to young adult audiences. One of the ways 10 Things does this is by utilizing the idea of the "best friend" in order to define the characters and make the story relatable to the life of today's teenagers. This concept was present to an extent in Shakespeare's original play, in the form of Lucentio and Petruchio's servants, Tranio and Gremio. These characters are included in 10 Things, but altered to fulfill further roles. In the film, Tranio is replaced by Michael, who is not considered a servant to Cameron (Lucentio), but plays a similar role to that of his counterpart. Scurvy, an obviously rebellious character who never speaks, highlights the even more excessive oddities of his friend Patrick (Petruchio) through his physical appearance. Unlike the play, the usefulness of the best friend figure does not end with these two, and is extended to the sisters as well. Bianca has her friend Chastity, an equally gorgeous and popular girl who accents the changes in her character. Kat (Katherine) is often seen with Mandella, a character who is able to show the audience how Kat really feels.

In a similar way to Tranio, Michael is savvy to the ways of the world, and becomes a guide to Cameron while providing the audience with an insight into Cameron's nature. When Michael makes his first appearance in the film, it is to introduce Cameron to the status quo at the school and acquaint him with the wisest way to behave around each group. Michael at first attempts to deter Cameron from interest in Bianca, from "The Don't-Even-Think-About-It Group," but once he learns how much Cameron cares for this girl, he is willing to help him win her over. Michael's behavior is selfless and loyal; it is clear that he is a good man, and his devotion to Cameron shows him to be a reputable individual as well. Michael becomes Cameron's right-hand-man almost immediately, conveying to the audience that there is something about Cameron that makes him worthy of having Bianca. This something makes Michael want to help Cameron get close to Bianca, despite his initial reservation that a relationship between the two would be disastrous. In the case of Cameron and Michael, the best friend character is used to show that the major character has honorable intentions and worthiness.

The silent character of Scurvy plays an important role in making sure Patrick's bad boy nature and reputation is understood from the beginning of the film. Scurvy is dissimilar to his counterpart of Grumio from the beginning; Grumio is constantly speaking, even if it's only to himself, while the closest Scurvy comes to speech is a few seconds of laughter when Patrick is first asked to date Kat. Despite his silence, he is able to highlight those ill traits in Patrick that make him seem undesirable. Scurvy is constantly dressed in an intimidating fashion, with a black mohawk, an otherwise shaved head, and black mesh clothing with thick chain necklaces and silver studs. In one scene, Scurvy and Patrick are seen sitting side by side in biology class, the contrast of their appearances alone suggesting that Scurvy is the more radical and threatening of the two. But as the scene progresses, Scurvy diligently writes notes for the class, while Patrick angrily stabs at the frog he's supposed to be dissecting. Patrick continues by using the Bunsen-Burner in front of him to light a cigarette, which Scurvy promptly snatches from him and puts out in addition to throwing him a reprimanding look. It is through the presence of Scurvy that Patrick is able to become such a terrifying figure in the school. Scurvy's calm and studious nature allows Patrick's "bad-ass" reputation to increase within the film.

Bianca's friend, Chastity, is present in the film to provide a contrast to Bianca as she grows in maturity and wisdom. When the two girls are first seen together they are almost the same character, with the same way of speaking, fashion choices, and personality. They are both presented as being conceited, vapid, and extremely peppy, as well as oblivious. Through the course of the film, however, both of them change dramatically. Chastity begins to sink further into the world of high school popularity and relationships, while Bianca gains maturity and intellect as she learns what's really going on in her world, and what is worth holding onto. This division begins at Bogey Lowenstein's party, when Bianca tries to introduce Chastity to Cameron. Bianca feels guilty for the fact that she has used Cameron and is trying to fix it by creating a connection between him and her best friend, but Chastity reacts with disgust and seems to feel that he was just a necessary pawn that can now be thrown away. The separation between these two continuously grows, reaching its highest point at the prom when Chastity snidely tells Bianca that Joey only wanted to go out with her in order to sleep with her. Bianca is horrified, because of the wisdom she has gained, but all Chastity can think about is that she is the one there with the popular guy and that she's therefore better than her "friend." Because Chastity and Bianca are going separate ways, Bianca's increasing maturity is highlighted more than it would otherwise have been.

The character of Mandella shows the audience elements of Kat that she doesn't portray herself, and is in a sense the physical manifestation of Kat's internal desires. First of all, though Kat does not dress in the same fashion as the popular girls, she does have a fairly conservative style. Mandella, on the other hand, wears strange, old-fashioned clothing, in addition to a pink streak in her hair. Through her outward appearance, Mandella represents Kat's rebellious nature. Mandella also gives an insight to Kat's desire for a love life before Kat is willing to admit it herself. When they are discussing the prom, a societal ritual that Kat is against and Mandella is implied to have formerly been against, Mandella reveals that she would like to go if she had someone to go with. Kat tries to encourage Mandella to return to her former feelings on prom by telling her that they're making a statement, to which Mandella replies, "Oh, goody! Something new and different for us." As Mandella is slowly revealed to be a romantic, it is shown that Kat may be as well, eventually culminating in the two of them having dates at the prom. Mandella's pining for romance and partial normalcy presents this attitude about love as a possibility for Kat as well, while also providing her a way to directly resist the ideas surrounding romance.

Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is made more relatable to those in modern day, especially teen audiences, through the film 10 Things I Hate About You. Though many tactics are used to create this modernization, the most important is the addition of the best friend character. Through these everyday kind of people surrounding the major characters, the viewer is able to get more from the story than they might otherwise have been able to. Each of these new characters plays a significant role for the adaptation. Michael, an intelligent young man who understands the rules of society is key in helping Cameron get to date Bianca and in helping Cameron appeal to the viewer. Patrick's friend Scurvy is present in the film to illuminate Patrick's odd and rebellious nature. Chastity highlights the wisdom Bianca gains through the course of the storyline by losing what wisdom she had. Finally, Mandella, through her clothing and open opinions, shows us the truth about Kat.

Works Cited
10 Things I Hate About You. Dir. Gil Junger. By Karen M. Lutz and Kirsten Smith. Perf. Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Buena Vista Pictures, 1991. DVD.