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“Vinegar Girl”: how well can Shakespeare translate into modern times?


If you grow up in an English speaking country, chances are rather high that you have had to read some Shakespeare. Conquering Shakespearean language, rhythm, and rhyme are a rite of passage every young English speaking teenager must go through. Some people hate Shakespeare, others love him so much that they pursue academic research projects and PhDs. Whether you love him or hate him, there is something special about his plays. The fact that after all these years people still find something new to say about them, says a lot about the cultural investments in Shakespeare and his almost mystical powers that still let him speak to us long into the era of smartphones and Instagram.

Modern adaptations, on stage and in print, are extremely polarised in my opinion. They usually either work amazingly well, or flop. Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is an adaptation for me that started out amazingly well and then went to a flop. The problem with the a modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew is that the value system and the way women were treated then and now are vastly different (thankfully!). Yes a green card marriage is not an unheard of thing, but the relationship between Kate and Piotr was fake, cardboard at best. Kate is one of those beautiful-in-an-unconventional-way-but-doesn’t-know-it types and Piotr—tall, blonde, strong, forceful—shows Kate how beautiful she is… Throws up* Piotr is also, like, really complicated with a lot of feelings and Kate has to explain that to people at the end of the novel, because men have it tough too. Now, the ending which was the most spectacular belly flop of all, was not without good intentions. I can see Tyler’s idea behind talking about male feelings and how difficult it is for modern men to talk about their worries and dreams, however, it was done in such a mechanical, such a forced and unbelievable way that it almost felt like it was inserted there to meet some sort of quota rather than really address the issue properly.

The Taming of the Shrew has been adapted before, with the most famous adaptation probably being Ten Things I Hate About You. Vinegar Girl compared with Ten Things I Hate About You shows the need for the utmost care when translating a 400 year old text into the 21st century. The former, sadly showing you what happens when you rush the plot and treat the characters like cutouts from a craft book.

Have you read Vinegar Girl? What is your favourite Shakespearean adaptation? Remember, always share the reading love.

2 thoughts on ““Vinegar Girl”: how well can Shakespeare translate into modern times?

  1. You’ve eloquently summed up exactly how I felt about that book. She probably should have picked a different text to appropriate – nothing will ever beat 10 Things I Hate About You

  2. Pingback: “Pride & Prejudice & Passports”: a review of Corrie Garrett’s immigrant retelling of Jane Austen’s classic | bound2books