The Beginners Guide to Love in the Past and the Future

(Comparing “Beginners” and “The Taming of the Shrew”)

In the 417 years between when the play “The Taming of the Shrew” (1592) was written and the movie “Beginners” (2010) premiered, a lot has changed about what people see in relationships and love. In the play in one of the main characters is the titular “Shrew” Katherine, is a very loud mouthed and independent woman, at least until Petruccio marries her and she starts to become more subversive to him. In the movie “Beginners” is about a man, Oliver, who learns that his father; Hal, is not only dying but is gay, and reflects back onto his parents unhappy marriage that they were both forced into due to the circumstances and prejudice that existed at the time.

Both of these characters had very large personalities that were subverted due to their marriages and had to change themselves for it, although not for the better. “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Beginners” both show that changing yourself in a relationship will someone unhappy.


“I pray you, sir is it your will to make me stale of  me amongst these mates?”       


“Mates,” maid? How mena you that? No Mates for  you, Unless were of gentler, milder mold.                                 

(Act 1. Sc . 1 lines 59-61)

In this scene Hortensio is talking with Kathrine about getting married, but Hortensio is arguing that little men would want her unless she was a calmer, gentler person in comparison to her rougher personality. As you can see , society, represented here by Hortensio, expects Katherine  to comply to what  it wants- which would be a calmer demeanor and attitude, though it is not in her own personal interests. To change herself for a marriage, with someone who; at this point in the play, Katrine doesn’t even know.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 8.16.36 PM

This is similar to much of Hal’s life in which he had to marry and live with a woman for most of his life, while  secretly being a gay man. This was due to the societal conventions of the times he lived in in which being gay was thought to be a mental illness, with his therapist, and to a certain degree his wife when she first proposed, telling him that as much. Hiding his true feelings and sexuality for fear of losing “everything” restricted  life, and even his happiness for what he would sexuality, emotionally or otherwise.                                                                                                                                                          



“And place your hands below your husband's foot: In token of which duty, if he please, My hand is ready; may it do him ease.


Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate.

In this scene it truly shows how far Katherine has “fallen” from her former self. After a barrage of physiological attacks from Petruchio her fire has almost died down leaving her an obedient shell of her former self. She obviously isn’t happy with her new surroundings; who would like to be starved and sleep deprived? But in order to receive these basic human needs she needed to change- again quite dramatically- for the sake of the relationship, and even her own well being for the better part.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 9.41.30 PM

However in contrast, when we see Hal refer back and started living his life as an out gay man, he is tremendously happier. With a loving relationship a plethora of new friends and hosting parties as demonstrated in an early montage in the movie he clearly is a happy, and presumably happier man. Because he changed himself for his relationship with Hal’s mother he wasn’t able to live the majority of his life as he wanted to. At one point he goes to a gay bar for the first time and tells his son it was more for young men, than him at 78. He states  “I don't want to just be theoretically gay. I want to do something about it.” showing that he’s lived his life so repressed from his true personality and that, now that his wife has passed away, he can live his life as he;s always wanted.


No shame but mine. I must, forsooth, be forced, To give my hand, opposed against my heart,, Unto a mad-brain rudesby, full of spleen, Who wooed in haste and means to wed at leisure. I told you, I, he was a frantic fool, Hiding his bitter jests in blunt behavior, And, to be noted for a merry man, He’ll woo a thousand, 'point the day of marriage, Make friends, invite, and proclaim the banns, Yet never means to wed where he hath wooed. Now must the world point at poor Katherine And say, “Lo, there is mad Petruchio’s wife, If it would please him come and marry her!”

(act 3. sc2)

In this it shows Katherine's frustration in approaching an unhappy marriage with Petruchio in which she’ll be reduced to being “Petruchio's crazy wife”. Surely the fact that she is tough to marry doesn’t escape her but it hardly seems to bother her; especially as Petruchio remains her best option at this point. Up until this point her identity has been mostly about her, while not all positive- being the titular “shrew” and having a reputation in the plays story, however now with Petruchio in the picture, her identity will always be second to him, and her relationship to him.

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Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 9.34.46 PM

In this revealing scene, Hal reveals to Oliver that Oliver’s mother knew that Hal was gay but that she claimed that she “could fix that”. This relates to Taming of the Shrew as they both show examples of people unhappy with change, and their true personalities being reverted to their relationship to someone they truly do not love. In Hall's case it shows, that while he enjoyed his life as a whole, he clearly wished he could have lived as he wanted to- being out as a gay man.

In conclusion both The Taming of the Shrew and Beginners show how changing oneself for a relationship doesn’t make them happy. What is interesting to note that while Taming of the Shrew shows someone who is getting deeper and changing himself for their unhappy relationship, Beginners shows someone; both literally and metaphorically, coming out of such a relationship and becoming happier with the life he has left. The messages presented in both The Taming of the Shrew and Beginners are truly universal and can be shown as a cautionary tale for someone not to go into such a relationship but can also be used as a means of inspiration to any poor individual's stuck in such a situation.

Works Cited:
  • Beginners. Dir. Mark Mills. Perf. Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Visnjic. Focus Features, 2010. Film
  • Shakespeare, William. The Taming of The Shrew. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square, 1992. Print.