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She’s the Man on the Twelfth Night: A Modern Movie and a Classic Play

24 Oct

In the comedy of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night it is ironic how there is a romantic happy ending but only tragedy is his romances – but that is the irony and beauty and also frustration of Shakespeare’s genres.

Now, although I’m sure while Shakespeare may have seemed ahead of his time, he would thoroughly appreciate being labeled as one of the original Rom-Com artists there were. And in this label of rom-com comes a modern twist on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night called She’s the Man. In case some were not aware – yes, Amanda Bynes’s She’s the Man was based on Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night.

Now, while some of the originality of the comedic twists and satire may be lost in this modern day version, what shocked me the most was the accuracy in its depiction – while I’m aware of this contradiction this portrays, let me elucidate.

Shakespeare was very direct in his meanings – even if they seemed hidden within his plays – about sexuality, gender and love. He always found a way to get across how blurry all the lines can seem when it came to one’s identity in romance and attraction and even personality. Twelfth Night was one of those plays that all the lines were so blurred that they almost came across as very clear. It was evident that his plays were meant to entertain – just as the modern day rom-com movie interpretation – but what it also revealed was the reality of mixed identity in all of us.

What the performance reveals by way of concealing in Twelfth Night as a text, is how the way one dresses suggests the existence of a sense of “truth.” It is with this suggestion that we are presented within this “truth,” “true” identity. On the same note, it elaborates on having more than one “true” identity. It is suggested that if the true self is a performed self, then this justifies moreover that the many layers of clothing one can put on, allows them to perform – reveal – many “true selves”.

In turn, in “She’s the Man” Viola of course changes her attire to match that of Sebastian’s, but in actuality she is only putting on another layer of her true self in order to fit in and succeed in love, in identity and in life. It’s not that her true layer is a man, it’s what her true layer as a man represents within the movie, and within the play.

More so, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or, What You Will alludes this within the second title What You Will. This suggests that what you will – will power – yourself to do is who you are at that moment. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “will” as “desire, longing, and disposition” (OED). It is in this very definition of “will” meaning “disposition” that we see another suggested implication of the title meaning. So, What You Will could possibly translate into “What You Control”, and what one controls within this play are the clothes they put on. It is the tangible covering of the different layers of clothes that each character puts on that only reveals another “costume” or performance of themselves.

It is in this act of “will” that we see Viola try to take control of her identity, of her disposition. But all this is hidden in a comedic plot line with witty quips, satiric innuendos, and “happy endings.”  Having read the play, it is interesting to see the deeper development within each scene in the film adaptation. It’s also strange to feel a sense of relation to Disney’s classic Cinderella, whom also identified and changes her future in love and personality by what she wore only for it to be stripped away at the stroke of midnight. It’s strange to see how powerfully Shakespeare was onto something way ahead of his time – and the shear fact of how one can be identified by the layer they put on, both metaphorically and literally.

If you often find Shakespeare intimidating, you can borrow a variety of accessible versions of Twelfth Night from BCCLS Libraries including the original text with a modern version side by side, a retelling in rhymed couplets for kidsa filmed version starring Helena Bonham Carter, and even a comic Manga adaptation.  Also check out our previous post on how to stop hating Shakespeare!

Written by:
Sherissa Hernandez
Adult Programming Assistant

Six Books I’ve Read So Far for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

30 Mar

Dear reader, I am now halfway through the 2018 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, with 12 of the 24 tasks completed! I am proud to be halfway through the challenge so early in the year. 

Without further ado, here are the books I read to complete 6 more tasks.

The Task: A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60

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The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

The only book I could think of to fulfill this task was Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, which I read last year with the Mile Square City Readers Book Club. (A moving book, by the way.) I already had The Woman Next Door checked out, and when I realized the two protagonists were female octogenarians I was excited that this book would complete this task. Hortensia and Marion are neighbors in post-apartheid South Africa whose relationship is contentious, but evolves into friendship and mutual understanding. I read this book in one day.

The Task: A book with a cover you hate

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Raspberry Danish Murder by Joanne Fluke

Raspberry Danish Murder is the latest entry of Joanne Fluke’s Murder She Baked series, which follows bakery owner and part-time sleuth Hannah Swenson in a small Minnesota town with an alarmingly high murder rate. The writing has become almost painful and I read this since I’ve read the other books in the series. I have a sweet tooth, which is what initially drew me to Fluke’s books but the raspberry danish on the cover looks so unappetizing. For that reason, plus the overall decline of this series’ quality, is why I used Raspberry Danish Murder to complete this task.

The Task: A comic written and drawn by the same person

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The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I first read The Complete Persepolis in graduate school, and it blew me away. Marjane Satrapi tells her extraordinary story of growing up in Iran before, during, and after the Revolution. My favorite parts were about the lengths Marjane and her friends and family went through to live their daily lives with celebrations, parties, and romance, all while evading government authorities prepared to arrest them for crimes such as women not being properly veiled and drinking at home. The Lady Memoir Book Club I lead at Little City Books discussed this book at our last meeting.

The Task: A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author

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The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

In The Widows of Malabar Hillwe meet Perveen Mistry, the first female lawyer in 1920s Bombay. A routine estate settlement case becomes complicated for Perveen when the deceased’s three wives who live in purdah (a practice of Muslim women choosing to live in seclusion) sign away their inheritances to charity,  and then a murder occurs in the home. It is up to Perveen to solve the mystery and protect the women’s interests. This book is the first in a series called A Mystery of 1920s Bombay, and I definitely want to read more from Sujata Massey.

The Task: An Oprah Book Club selection

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I finished An American Marriagelast week, and I am still thinking about it. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds when Roy is wrongly imprisoned for rape. This book, told in part by the letters Roy and Celestial write to each other, generated an excellent discussion at a recent Mile Square City Readers Book Club meeting. It raises a lot of questions, too. What is an American marriage? What would you do if your spouse was sent to prison for a crime they didn’t commit? Oprah made an excellent choice with this book, in my opinion. I plan to read Tayari Jones’ other books.

The Task: A comic written or drawn by a person of color

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Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxane Gay and Ta’Nehisi Coates

I saw the film Black Panther, and absolutely loved it. Black Panther: World of Wakanda features writing by literary heavyweights Roxane Gay and Ta’Nehisi Coates, plus other authors. The story begins with the Dora Milaje (the female protectors of the Wakandan royal family), where Captain Aneka and Initiate Ayo fall in love during training, and where Initiate Folami goes rogue. I enjoyed reading about the fierce, strong women of the Dora Milaje, who believe in protecting all Wakandans in addition to the Royal Family.

This will be the last post I write for the Staff Picks blog, as I am moving on from the Hoboken Public Library. It has been wonderful sharing my reading journeys with you in this space. Thank you to those who have read and commented on my work. Feel free to find me on Goodreads. Happy Reading!

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

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