The shrew must go on: Top cultural tributes to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew

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Whether they want to wow women with their poetic prowess, find the perfect insult to highlight their intelligence or tame an unruly "shrew," people have long been adapting Shakespeare's stories to their own lives. And, of course, savvy marketers have been retooling the playwright's classic plots to create their own commercial hits:

"Brush up your Shakespeare/ start quotin' him now/ Brush up your Shakespeare/ and the women you will wow!" (Kiss Me, Kate!)

"I know that you're a fan of Shakespeare"
"More than a fan... We're involved." (10 Things I Hate About You)

The Taming of the Shrew, in particular, has spun off popular cultural icons. With the play now in production at the Denver Center Theater Company -- and offering deals for the Valentine's Day performance -- we decided to take a look at some of the cultural tributes that keep this sixteenth-century comedy thoroughly modern.

Kiss me, Kate!

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via Amazon
With original music and lyrics by Cole Porter, this 1948 musical (made into a movie in 1953) mixes the riff-raff glamour of circa '40s Broadway with a scandalous sixteenth century comedy about marriage, love affairs, IOUs, money and deception. The musical takes its cues from The Taming of the Shrew by creating an ironic play within in a play, in which the characters performing Shakespeare's play mirror their Shakespearean counterparts in real life. Freddy Graham and Lilli Vanessi, once lovers turned bitter rivals, play the roles of Katharina and Petruchio, while current lovers and schemers Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun are Bianca and Lucentio. Life imitates art imitates life as Lilli, aka the "Shrew," struggles to decide who to love and what to do with her career; in the end, she recites Katharina's speech on devotion and professes her love to Freddy -- concluding her spiel about submission with a hearty wink to Lois.

10 Things I Hate About You

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via imdb.com
This "taming" is set in a 1990s teenage high school drama of secrets, love, sex and partying, and it takes a more heartfelt chick-flick approach to Shakespeare. Cameron, our Cambio/Lucentio, has just arrived at Padua High School (mirroring the arrival of Lucentio at the University of Padua), where he plots how get a date with the popular Bianca. One thing stands in his way: the "shrew" Kat, who has to date before her overprotective father (a Seattle OB) will let Bianca date. So Cameron and his sidekick enlist the aid of the mysterious and dangerous Patrick Verona (the late Heath Ledger playing Petruchio) to woo Kate. He takes on the challenge -- but he and Kat fall in love, she discovers the plot, and he must woo her back. This "taming" continues through loudspeaker stadium performances, paint-ball fights, drunken parties and the iconic high school prom.

She's All That

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via Amazon
Although She's All That is not a direct adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, the cultural concept of the "shrew" is key to this late '90s teenage comedy in which a high school jock, Zack Siler, seeks to turn a "shrew-like" quirky artist and outsider, Laney Boggs, into a prom queen. After being dumped by his ultra-popular girlfriend, Taylor, for a contestant on The Real World, Zack is forced to find another prom date -- and his two bumbling jock sidekicks challenge him to "tame" the least likely candidate into a prom queen. But then Zack finds himself falling in love with Laney, she finds out about the bet, and Zach comes to realize that it's important to be your own person. Even if it means exposing your naked person at graduation to win your true love.

Glee: Rachel Berry

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If today's culture now views Shakespeare's"shrew" as a headstrong woman who knows how to get what she wants, then the ideal exemplar is Rachel Berry of McKinley High School. Whether it's landing the starring role in West Side Story, wooing Finn Hudson, winning regionals or getting into the New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts (a fictional arts college), Rachel Berry knows how to get what she wants -- even if some casualties happen along with way.


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