Celebrating Shakespeare: Transcendent Feminism: Women’s Shifting Perception in Shakespeare and Chicks Flicks By Kaelie Coleman

BIGCALLOUT_ShakespeareIn honor of William Shakespeare we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death on April 23, 2016. What better way to do this, than by highlighting the writing done by first-year students in Associate Professor of English John Wesley’s first-year seminar, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare? This first-year seminar in scholarly inquiry studies four remarkable plays Shakespeare wrote or saw into production in 1599, the same year he opened the Globe Theatre. In the first half of the course, students were introduced to the myriad ways in which Shakespeare’s 1599 plays are shaped by and give shape to the political and cultural intrigues of that year. In the second half of the course, students turned to a play (and year) of their own choosing, the historicist analysis of which is the basis of an independent research project. As part of this project, students were asked to prepare a blog post that reflected on aspects of Shakespeare’s life, a specific work, or a resource or organization associated with Shakespeare, or to provide a personal interpretation of a play. During the month of April, we’ll feature the posts from students that celebrate all things Shakespeare!

Congratulations to our wonderful first-year writers. For additional online resources about Shakespeare, check out these sites:

Transcendent Feminism: Women’s Shifting Perception in Shakespeare and Chicks Flicks
By Kaelie Coleman

Uncountable stories have been written throughout human history, most of which have not passed the test of time. Shakespeare’s stories have not only been remembered, they also continue to spawn new interpretations that remain pertinent throughout generations. Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew would seem to many too far from modern sensibilities to be marketable, yet in 1999 10 Things I Hate About You, a film adaption of the play, opened to enormous success. It wasn’t simply Heath Ledger’s rugged face that made the film an icon; viewers in the late 20th century could identify with the cultural commentary on women’s issues introduced by Shakespeare.

In 1590 when “The Taming of the Shrew” first hit the stage, the unfavorable position of the protagonist Katherine, a harsh shrew who refuses to marry despite her father’s insistence, exemplified difficulties British women faced. This rebellious nature was frowned upon, but instead of “taming” her spirit until she was a deferential wife, Katherine merely learns to use it more effectively. In Katherine’s final speech following her unwilling marriage to Petruchio most audience members are confused by Katherine’s newly demure attitude and utter deference to her husband. Shakespeare ends the play with an attitude switch so confounding that there are still debates today about the true meaning of the finale. Some critics take Katherine’s words at face value, assuming that the cruel treatment Katherine endured broke her. Others, like myself, see the speech as a form of forced evolution. Katherine can’t have the life of a single lady, so instead she is creating a life that is tolerable; a life built on a foundation of mutual trust, a novel concept in Elizabethan England.

The ambiguity in The Taming of the Shrew made 10 Things I Hate About You possible to format to contemporary values, especially those of the changing feminist movement. Unlike in the original story, the commentary arises from the development of the Stratford sisters, Kat and Bianca. Each sister represents a caricature of woman of the time. Kat, the anti-romantic embodies the stereotype of the bra-burning feminists of the seventies. The mild-mannered Bianca, on the other hand, is a classic sweetheart. As events unfold, the girls take on characteristics of the other, Bianca expressing anger towards the school scumbag with her perfectly manicured fists, and Kat embracing her feminine side in front of an entire classroom with a (rather awkwardly) rewritten Shakespearean sonnet. The changed girls mirror the altering perception of feminism in the Nineties. Gone were the unshaven extremists, instead refined strength became the tell of an empowered woman.

There have been many Shakespearean rom-coms produced over the years, probably with many more to come. Each of Shakespeare’s many plays focuses on a theme that is still apparent. A theme that still manages to make audiences crow with triumph, or cry with hopelessness. Taming of the Shrew addressed problems society still struggles with. Until basic underlying issues of our society are dealt with, I doubt that Shakespeare will ever become irrelevant.


10 Things I Hate about You. Dir. Gil Junger. Perf. Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger. Buena Vista Pictures, 1999

Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. The Taming of the Shrew. New York: Washington Square, 1992. Print.

Promotional poster for 10 Things I Hate About You. Digital image. Wikipedia. |             Touchstone Pictures, n.d. Web. 30 Feb. 2016.

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