Long before Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O’Grady) from The White Lotus were flaunting their book covers, we had Katarina Stratford (Julia Stiles), the “tempestuous” lead character in 10 Things I Hate About You. And, being that the movie was an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, it’s only fitting that there should be plenty of literary nods throughout. Including the fact that Kat herself is well-read—something screenwriting duo Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith were sure to get across in the visuals conveyed by the movie’s director, Gil Junger.
Among one of the most iconic of the film is Kat sitting on a cozy living room chair reading, what else, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Branded as the cliché reading of “faux-depressed” women a.k.a. teen girls, the bold decision to parade this reading material regardless is a testament to how much Kat means it when she says she doesn’t care what people think. All stemming from an incident that occurred during her freshman year of high school that we’re not made aware of until the third act of the movie.
Kat’s surly, antisocial demeanor, naturally, makes her the quintessential reader—her face constantly buried in a book, whether it’s The Bell Jar or The Feminine Mystique (yes, another unabashed cliché of the “angry white feminist”). Yet hers isn’t the only character given a literary bent.
There’s also the hopelessly smitten Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)—based on Lucentio—who declares, “I burn, I pine, I perish” upon first laying eyes on Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik), Kat’s highly opposite younger sister. While Bianca is vapid and “sweet,” Kat says exactly what’s on her mind. Like when her English teacher, Mr. Morgan (Daryl Mitchell), asks, “Okay, what did everyone think of The Sun Also Rises?” When a female student replies, “I loved it, he’s so romantic,” Kat chimes in derisively, “Romantic? Hemingway? He was an abusive, alcoholic misogynist who squandered half his life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers.”
At this moment, the douchey Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan, perfectly cast) retorts, “As opposed to a bitter, self-righteous hag who has no friends?” Not missing a beat, Kat responds, “I guess in this society, being male and an asshole makes you worthy of our time.” It’s a line that resonates even to this day, especially in terms of which specific literature is still held up as “the beacon” to emulate. Ignoring Joey’s presence, Kat then turns back to their teacher and demands, “What about Sylvia Plath? Or Charlotte Brontë? Or Simone de Beauvoir?”
Before Mr. Morgan can reply something to the effect of how all those suggestions are middle-class white girl porn, Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger)—based on Petruchio—walks in to ask, “What’d I miss?” Kat returns, “The oppressive patriarchal values that dictate our education.”
While Kat isn’t wrong, Mr. Morgan sees fit to put her in her place by replying to that comment, “Kat, I want to thank you for your point of view. I know how difficult it must be for you to overcome all those years of upper middle-class suburban oppression. Must be tough.” Here, it is worth noting that 10 Things I Hate About You was way ahead of its time on being meta about calling out white feminism and its problematic nature with regard to making space for others—particularly in the literary realm.
Nonetheless, Kat still feels stifled by Mr. Morgan, and, rightly, just about every other male presence she’s forced to be around. It doesn’t help that she’s constantly sent to see the guidance counselor, Ms. Perky (Allison Janney)—too busy writing a romance novel to worry much about giving valuable advice. Kat is thus forced to remind her, “Expressing my opinion is not a terrorist action.” But of course it is, because any time a woman, regardless of color, expresses her opinion too “indelicately,” it’s constantly seen as a “terrorist action.” Or at least worthy of being branded as a “bitch.”
The allusions to the fact that this is based on Shakespeare’s material are in no short supply either, with Cameron’s sidekick, Michael (David Krumholtz), noting after almost being mowed down by Kat in her car, “Just a minor encounter with the shrew.” And then there’s Mr. Morgan stating, “I know Shakespeare’s a dead white guy, but he knows his shit. So we can overlook that.” Which is why he assigns the class the task of creating their own poem inspired by the Bard’s Sonnet 141:
In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,Sonnet 141
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ‘tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote;
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be.
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.”
Shakespeare continues to abound in lines regurgitated from the mouths of the characters, including Michael in his approach to wooing Kat’s best and only friend, Mandella (Susan May Pratt). Mainly because, well, she claims to be “involved” with William already. Thus, Michael quotes to her from Macbeth, “Who could refrain that had a heart and in that heart courage to make love known?” Which Michael chooses to do by going along with this charade and dressing up in Renaissance-era clothing to appease Mandella’s fetish for pretending she’s dating Shakespeare.
But before this form of role playing, Michael is as preoccupied as everyone else in the plot trying to get Patrick back into Kat’s good graces after he humiliates her (she leans forward to kiss him—which is a very big deal for her, expressing emotion of any kind—and he does not reciprocate). And since he’s being paid by Joey to take out Kat so that Bianca can go on dates as well (per a new house rule instituted by their overbearing father), it’s very important not just to Joey (who is only a pawn in this larger elaborate scheme of Cameron’s to be with Bianca), but also to Cameron that Patrick keeps “exciting” Kat enough to make her go out with him.
When Michael, Cameron and Patrick all see the extent of Kat’s offense after the perceived slight, Michael cries out, “Sweet love, renew thy force.” The opening line to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 56. Trying his best to reingratiate himself into her good graces, Patrick corners her at the bookstore and asks innocently, “Excuse me, have you seen The Feminine Mystique? I’ve lost my copy.” After ripping him a new asshole, she thrusts a copy of the book into his chest. In short, she is no longer impressed by sharing “common interests” alone with him (ones that are ultimately fake anyway because he was given the intelligence by Cameron after Bianca let him snoop around in her sister’s room—which, yeah, is pretty fucked up, but this was a time before the internet could tell you everything about a person’s interests, so is it really the fault of Patrick or the times he lived in that he came across as rather creepy and disingenuous?). No, she needs him to be humiliated in an equitable or worse way. Hence, Patrick singing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”—complete with the marching band—to the whole soccer team while Kat is in the middle of practice.
After Patrick gets detention for this grand display of romance, Kat goes to bail him out. The room is overtly decorated with a giant backdrop for All Quiet on the Western Front, yet another literary nod in the movie that could be interpreted as symbolism for the fact that she and Patrick have made amends in their war. For the time being anyway… because when she finds out the truth—and at the prom, of all places—about how Patrick was paid to take her out, she goes accordingly ballistic, abandoning him on the dance floor right then and there.
Alas, women can’t help but be foolish in their forgiveness of inevitable male buffoonery, and she subsequently uses the English assignment from Mr. Morgan as an opportunity to share her continued true feelings for Patrick—which are, obviously, affectionate ones. And still more literary nods occur right before she reads aloud her own take on Sonnet 141, as we catch a glimpse of one of the classroom’s inspirational quotes on the wall. Specifically, Albert Einstein’s aphorism: “What is right is not always popular; what is popular is not always right.” Along with three posters above it featuring John Steinbeck, Willa Cather and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The latter being well-versed in the art of expressing shame—which is essentially what Kat does in admitting she still likes Patrick despite his backstabbing double-cross.
So it is that during this famous scene, Kat delivers the heartfelt missive that ends up making Patrick realize he made the right choice in spending all the money he got from Joey on a Fender Stratocaster for her. And maybe she ended up writing plenty of literarily-inspired lyrics with that guitar instead of proceeding with an education at Sarah Lawrence.