Changing of the Boo
An exploration of male/female expectations in relationships in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and She’s All That
In Shakespeare's The Taming of The Shrew, where Petruchio, a wealthy bachelor who will do whatever it takes to find a rich wife, meets Katherine, a beautiful and unmarried, but rude and sharp-witted daughter of a wealthy lord. Bianca, Katherine's younger sister, is the object of every suitor's desire. Beautiful and wealthy, kind and sweet, Bianca has a line of suitors waiting for her father marry off Katherine before they can wed Bianca. Two of Bianca's suitors strike a deal with Petruchio, stating that he will tame and marry Katherine for money, in order to free up Bianca. The girls' father, Baptista, is ecstatic that a suitor has finally arrived to take Katherine, and orders them to be wed immediately. Since the play was released, there have been countless retellings and versions, and many take from the story directly.
The timeless tale of a man conquering and changing a woman who is inherently different is still used in movies today, shown in the 1999 romantic comedy, She's All That. In an attempt to regain status after his popular girlfriend dumps him, a popular high school jock, Zack, takes a bet offered by his friend Dean, wherein he has 6 weeks to make the girl of Dean's choice into prom queen. The girl picked is Laney, an artistic and intelligent social outcast who is known only for her love of art and her glasses. Zack has 6 weeks before prom to turn her into prom queen and reassure his status.
Romantic comedies have always changed the way society perceives romance. From early depictions of romance, such as the works of Shakespeare, love was depicted as something to live, or die for. The dramatic plays included timeless love stories, often with the play's leading man courting and winning a woman's heart. Each heroine is portrayed as the social outcast, out-shined by a more popular female. However, when the hero courts them, the difference is that Katherine is not given a choice. Both Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and the 1999 romantic comedy, She’s All That, show the differences in male and female roles in relationships. Due to the differences in time period and culture, Laney is able to decide her own future where Katherine is not. Though societal change has made women more able to decide their own future, women being molded to shape the desires of men is still an ongoing theme in romantic pop culture.
"I can, Petruchio, help thee to a wife
With wealth enough, and young and beauteous,
Brought up as best becomes a gentlewoman.
Her only fault, and that is faults enough,
Is that she is intolerable curst”
(Act 1, Scene 2, lines 65-70)
In this quote Hortensio, a suitor to Bianca, is striking a deal with Petruchio. Bianca’s many suitors are anxious to win her, and this can only be achieved after Katherine has been wed. After Petruchio makes it clear that he’ll marry any woman with wealth, regardless of her personality or looks, Hortensio and the other suitors see the perfect opportunity to marry off the cursed Katherine. Despite her reputation as a shrew, Katherine still wants to be married like her sister. Men’s refusal to marry her this late in life is not only embarrassing for her and her family, but also gives her less and less options for the future. At this point, Katherine’s father has no qualms about giving her off to the first man willing to pay a good dowry.
Similarly, in She’s All That, the men of the story decide the terms of the relationship.
In this scene in She’s All That, Zack Siler accepts a bet that he can turn any girl at school into prom queen. Zack accepts this bet after his popular and beautiful girlfriend Taylor dumps him. He becomes eager to prove his reputation to himself, his friends, and his ex. Laney is picked out of the crowd after falling and dropping all of her books and art supplies. It is clear from her presence in this scene that she is a social outcast, and a person who Zack’s friends would never normally associate themselves with. Soon after meeting Laney, Zack sees her fierce intelligence and discovers that she, too, avoids his crowd of friends. The portrayal of both of the central women in the stories show that they are not the type of girl that these men are supposed to go for. Both women do not conform to the expectations of their time and therefore must be changed by the men.
"For I am he born to tame you, Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates."
(Act 2, Scene 1, lines 291-293)
When Petruchio first meets Katherine, he makes his intentions clear. This quote is spoken in his first conversation with her, making it clear that he is attempting to change her. He uses the nickname Kate as a demeaning expression aimed at claiming her as his own. In an earlier line, she had deliberately told told him not to call her Kate, but he persisted, making the name a symbol of his superiority over her. To Petruchio, Katherine is a possession to flaunt, and one that should behave respectably. Regardless of her features before meeting him, Petruchio believes he can change any woman into the quiet, courteous, and obedient wife that was expected of that time (much like Katherine’s sister, Bianca). Katherine is not given a choice in her taming, nor her wedding to Petruchio, because of the same, limiting expectations.
In She’s All That, Zack imposes a similar change on Laney.
On their first date together, Zack had already begun to shape Laney into prom queen. Though doing it discreetly, Zack drops hints of how Laney could improve herself and her appearance. He does this through seemingly complementary means, like commenting on how beautiful her eyes are, or citing her “potential”. These are all steps towards her becoming the prettiest and most popular girl in school, like his ex-girlfriend Taylor. The second screenshot shows Laney post transformation, without her glasses and long hair. In this pivotal scene, Zack looks at her in awe. This is arguably the beginning of his true feelings for her. Unlike Katherine, Laney goes along with her transformation more willingly, and begins to enjoy Zack’s company after his persistent interest.
The end result of each transformation is dramatically different. In Taming of the Shrew, Katherine is successfully “tamed” by Petruchio after chiding her disobedient sister for not coming when her husband calls her. In She’s All That, on the other hand, Taylor is crowned prom queen, despite Laney’s popularity. After saving Laney from the sexual advances of his friend Dean, Zack confesses that his feelings were real, and they kiss. Though the 1999 film ends on a slightly more modern note, the central themes of deception and change are at play in both productions. Because of his reputation as the most popular guy in school, Zack believed he could turn any girl into prom queen, and his vision for Laney was that of his ex-girlfriend, Taylor. Zack successfully changes Laney into the type of girl that suits his needs, and makes her previously abject attitude toward his circle of friends vanish into love for him. The portrayal of both women shows the dominance we perceive men to hold in romantic relationships, and the level of consideration for the woman’s thoughts and desires.