The Ugly Conformity

The Ugly Conformity
Comparing Taming of The Shrew to The Ugly Truth

Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, written more than 400 years ago, and the 2009 romantic comedy The Ugly Truth starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler have more in common than one might think upon first viewing. When critically reviewing the two, the similarities between Petruchio’s character’s treatment of Katherine in Taming of The Shrew and Mike’s (Butler) lessons for Abby (Heigl) are very similar in their presentation. Both the play and the movie women conforming to male ideas of who they should be and how they should act, especially towards and in relationships with men, as a positive occurrence.

“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.” - Katherine
(Act II Scene I, line 208)

In the beginning of Taming of The Shrew Katherine is presented as a man-hating, almost evil woman with a vicious tongue, no desire to be married. No one wants to marry Katherine for the sole reason of being with her, she is the equivalent of a devil. Katherine immediately dislikes Petruchio upon first meeting, exchanging a series of insults with him, displaying both her contempt for marriage and Petruchio himself, as shown in the above quote. As Petruchio is marrying Katherine for her money and will be with her for the rest of his life, Petruchio decides then that he will change Kate to his liking, to a Kate more up to his standards.

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Similarly, in the beginning of The Ugly Truth Abby’s characters is presented as a work-oriented control freak who does badly with blind dates and has a checklist of qualities she is looking for in a husband, a cat loving red wine drinking romantic. When she meets Mike’s character, she predictably immediately dislikes him and his misogynistic sexist speech and ideas of the one thing men really want: sex. Despite their differences, Abby and Mike are forced to work together to raise the ratings of their unpopular news show, on which Abby is the producer and Mike is on a segment devoted to saying sexist things in order to get more viewers. When Abby meets a man who fits her categories, she asks Mike for advice on how to get Colin, the new man, to date her. Mike agrees, and teaches Abby how to be what he thinks will make Colin want to date her, a woman conformed to male standards.

“For I am he born to tame you, Kate

And bring to from a wile Kate to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates.” - Petruchio

(Act II Scene I Lines 261-262)

Petruchio to Katherine upon meeting her that he is born to tame her. Seeing clearly that she has no desire to wed him, Petruchio tells Katherine a lie: that her father has already agreed, that the dowry has already been settled, and that he will marry her whether she likes it or not. Petruchio use of language would make one think he was domesticating an animal, by calling her a “wild Kate”, a pun on “wildcat” that he will “tame.” This language serves the purpose of setting the terms for Petruchio and Katherine’s relationship. Petruchio makes is clear that Katherine is not up to his standards for someone who will be his wife, and that he will make sure that he changes her to conform to his standards, so that he can live with a Katherine “conformable as other household Kates.”
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Mike starts to go about turning Abby into a woman that men would want to date. He tells her that “men are very visual” buys her tight dresses, new bras, and tells her to take down her ponytail because it “implies that you are either operating heavy machinery or emptying the litter box, and neither of those things inspires an erection.” Mike say’s that her hair needs to be longer as well, because “men like something to grab on to other than your ass.” Mike tells her “You have to be two people, the librarian and the stripper.” As Mike claims that he knows what every man wants, Abby goes along with the standards that Mike sets for her, in the hopes that it will cause Colin to like and want to date her.

“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.” - Katherine

(Act V Scene II lines 181-183)

Katherine makes a long speech at the end of the play to show her transformation. The once shrewish Katherine now gets mad at Bianca and Hortensio's widow for looking angrily at their husbands. Husbands whom Katherine describes as their lords, kings, and governors. She says that a woman’s husband protects her and supports her, living a life of danger and responsibility while the woman needs to provide obedience and kindness, a payment for “so great a debt.” Katherine boldly claims a husband is to his wife as a prince is to his subject, and if a woman is “froward, peevish, sullen, sour”, then she is a traitor to a just ruler. Katherine goes on to say that women’s bodies are soft and weak because their inners should match their outsides, and that women should yield to their men. She then tells Bianca and the widow that, she used to be as proud and as headstrong as they are, but now she understands that “our lances are but straws,” implying that their weapons, woman's weapons, are insignificant.

Katherine, from dealing with Petruchio trying to tame her, has drastically changed. She now think a woman should prepare herself to do anything for her husband. This is a sharp contrast from the Katherine in the beginning of the play who was fighting against her social role, and whom no one  wanted to marry. This speech displays the play’s view of relationships, that a woman conforming to a man is a good thing. As this is a comedy, not a tragedy, there are no sad endings, only happy ones where everything is resolved. The end of this play shows Katherine giving in and conforming to Petruchio’s standards of what a woman should be in a positive light. Because the character's are satisfied, Katherine's transformation is presented as a good thing, something that made her, and those around her happy.

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Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 11.04.06 AM

Just as Petruchio accomplished his goal of taming Katherine , Mike's training of Abby to become more of what a man wants works, and Colin falls for Abby. In the end of the play Abby is wearing push-up bras, fake hair, and tight dresses. She’s no longer the “romantically- challenged” Abby she was before she met Mike. In fact, Mike’s transformation of Abby works so well that Mike begins to fall for Abby as well. In the end of the movie, Abby and Mike are together and in love, where once Abby hated him for his sexist words, much like the beauty falling in love with the beast, despite his abuse. The ending of the movie is also happy, and Abby’s transformation into more of a woman men want to date is shown as a good thing.

Taming of the Shrew and The Ugly Truth have much in common. Both the movie and the play are insulting to both to women and men. Each presents a woman conforming to men’s standards of who they should be, and how they should act, and end in the woman being with a man. In both of these mediums, this is presented as a positive occurrence, showing that male dominance of ideas about dating has been a common theme in play's and movies for hundreds of years.