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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

Imitation and Reinvention: Mad Hatters and March Hares and Kill the Farm Boy

12 Sep

Sometimes an author’s world and the words they wrote resonate so deeply that they live beyond the works themselves; there are many retellings of Alice in Wonderland and there are some especially terrific interpretations in the new collection edited by Ellen Datlow.  At other times authors may be inspired not by what stories in the past contained, but what the story leaves out. This is the case for the thoroughly modern fantasy Kill the Farm Boy by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson which seeks to reinvent the genre with a modern sensibility.

Mad Hatters and March Hares: All New Stories from the World of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
edited by Ellen Datlow
MadHattersandMarchHares

Mad Hatters and March Hares is a collection of stories based on not only characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and it’s sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, but many also involve the book and the real people associated with stories like Alice Lidell since the tale of the writing of the books often seems as intriguing to readers and authors as the story itself. The story “Worrity, Worrity” by Andy Duncan takes a surrealistic look at why John Tenniel might have dissuaded Carroll from featuring a certain illustration.  Like the nonsense rhyme that filled originals, the collection begins and ends with two poems, the first of which “Gentle Alice” by Kris Dikeman is in the shape of a teacup reflecting the concrete poetry Carroll used in his own work.  Two of my favorite fantasy authors Catherynne M. Valente and Seanan McGuire have excellent stories included;  McGuire’s “Sentence Like a Saturday” was my favorite of the collection and looks at what happens when a certain Kitty enters the “real” world.  I found it interesting that on the whole the stories were dark fantasy and some in the horror genre reflecting the menace that can be seen just below the surface in the original with characters like the threatening Red Queen and Jabberwocky.  You can read about more Alice in Wonderland related books and movies in a previous blog post.

Kill The Farm Boy: The Tales Of Pell
by Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson
KilltheFarmBoy
This novel, according to an authors’ note, started as a conversation between Hearne and Dawson in an airport about the need to “kill the farm boy” which they feel represents the cliche of the white young male who lives in a rural area and finds out he is the “chosen one” and goes on to be the center of many adventures. White males can be pretty awesome and many deserve hero status, my dad, husband, and son are all examples of that, but there is definitely room especially in the fantasy realm for more diversity.  This novel made me think of many fantasy novels I’ve read especially the Once and Future King with its interpretation of the Arthur legend.  The novel starts out with the typical farm boy, but he meets an unfortunate accident that keeps him unable to continue his quest and instead the main story focuses on a variety of adventurers including a dark skinned female warrior and her newly met romantic interest a bard who is herself under a spell so that she has rabbit like features.  There were some bits where Kill the Farm Boy had me laughing out loud and it was very original with some of the directions that it took the adventurers in while skewing dated cliches of typical fantasy novels of the past as well as our contemporary society.  The novel manages to be more than just a parody and I hope the fun and original characters of Pell have many more adventures in store for readers.

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference

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