Shakespeare in the Digital Age

Editors' Introduction

           William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, is believed to have been written in 1601 and its first performance occurred in January of 1602. The play’s title is heavily influenced by 17th century British culture and refers to the twelve days of Christmas. Unlike the modern celebration of Christmas, in which Christmas Eve and Christmas are the only two days celebrated, in earlier years, the celebration was conducted during the 12 days following the 25th of December[1]. The twelfth day of this tradition was known for confusion over gender. With gender ambiguity at its core, Twelfth Night’s title certainly mirrors its historical context. The secondary title, What You Will, makes reference to will, which is used by Shakespeare in several of his works to describe sexual desire. Therefore, What You Will simply means whatever sexual desire you choose[2]. The play was first published in 1623 as a part of Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, otherwise known as the First Folio. It is believed that one of Twelfth Night’s possible source texts is “Apollonius and Silla,” an English story which also features a shipwreck, twin characters, and a woman disguised as a man. Another possible source text is the Italian play Gl’Ingannati, in which twins are mistaken for one another[3]. The earliest adaptations of Twelfth Night were films released in 1933 and 1956. They were followed by a 1996 adaptation titled Twelfth Night: Or What You Will. The most well-known modern film adaptation of this play is She’s the Man, which encompasses modern settings and characters.

           Before the collaboration of our individual references, each group member had already selected media references. It was at this time that we decided media references were going to allow readers to effectively connect to Twelfth Night, as well as the ideas being represented in the references. Collectively, our selections will allow readers to relate emotionally and personally to the play, and possibly even offer them some comic relief. The majority of our sources are also well-known, so outside readers of our pop-culture edition will be able to easily recognize and possibly even appreciate the explicit connections we have drawn between Shakespeare’s play and the sources themselves.

           Our group’s media references all connect relatable themes of the play to popular culture. In act 1, Mickeda connects the themes of hope, desire to be accepted, and identity to the song “Into the Ocean” by Blue October. Her work demonstrates that even though Twelfth Night was written during the 17th century, modern day individuals can still relate to what it depicts. The song’s lyrics relay how ship-wrecked Viola has to determine a plan for herself now that she discovers her brother may be dead. She ponders if it is worth holding on to the hope that he is still alive. Her disguise as a male illustrates that she is not capable of living without her brother, but she also hopes to find work, and convince people that she is from a higher social class. In act 2, Brittany connects the themes of love, gender identity and disguises to the movie She’s the Man. Her work demonstrates that modern Shakespeare adaptations can still showcase his themes successfully. Sometimes people utilize disguises for a valid reason, but the effects of it can be disruptive, confusing, and unexpected, which are evident in the movie. In the movie, Viola disguises herself as her twin brother Sebastian, and Olivia ends up falling in love with him. Also, Viola falls in love with the Duke Orsino, but cannot reveal her love since he believes she is a man. The use of the device of mistaken identity suggests that sexes are arbitrary and that women can just as well do everything that a man can do. The fact that people can mistakenly fall in love with someone who is not who they appear to be is something that readers can connect to on a personal level because unfortunately, it occurs everyday.

           In act 3, Sheila connects the theme of ambition to the movie Mean Girls. The movie is a prime example of how Shakespeare’s theme is utilized in the 21st century to make films humorous. In both works, characters demonstrate their ambition to get what they want by any means necessary. In the movie, Cady Heron focuses on striving to be the leader of the popular girls in her school and devotes her time to destroying the reputation of the current girl who is viewed as the head of the clan. Likewise, Shakespeare’s characters make the play humorous because of the trouble they cause. Because Malvolio is determined to marry Olivia, who will lead to an elevation of his social class, Maria, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew scheme to make him believe Olivia is in love with him. Their plan causes him to partake in the silly acts that are stated in the false letter from Olivia, which further illustrates the extremes people will go to achieve their desires. In act 4, Leandra connects the themes of mistaken identity, deception, and desire for love to the movie Lucky Number Slevin. This movie is a primary example of the way in which Shakespeare’s themes remain constant even in contemporary society. In the movie, the main character is kidnapped after he is mistaken for his friend, Nick. Similarly, Sir Andrew attacks Sebastian who he has mistaken for Cesario (Viola). This connection shows that regardless of the time period, it is an instinct for individuals to make assumptions, rather than communicate, which often leads to unnecessary conflict. In Act 5, Tracey connects the themes of love, sacrifice, and undying devotion to the film Indecent Proposal. Her work demonstrates that when relationships are put to the test in the midst of a love triangle, males will often do irrational things out of love, which is destructive to both parties. In the play, Orsino believes he has lost the woman he loves to Cesario, his good friend. Not considering how the loss of a friend will affect him, Orsino is willing to kill Cesario to ensure that his woman will never be with the man she has fallen for. In the film, David is willing to risk his pride and dignity for the woman he loves when their financial situation lands them in a love triangle that threatens to destroy their relationship. This discussion puts their relationship to the test and places Diana in a compromising position as one night of her “company” is traded for one million dollars. In both works, Orsino and David are willing to sacrifice parts of them because of love and to guarantee the success and longevity of their relationship.

           Our group believes that students and educators will benefit from this pop culture edition. Students of all ages and educational levels may read our edition if they are studying Shakespeare for academic or recreational purposes. Students and lovers of literature can receive a fresh look into the common themes and ideas explored by Shakespeare, thus providing a clearer way for readers to interpret the texts. Teachers, however, may review this edition in order to determine if and how they may want to introduce Shakespeare into their classrooms from a modern perspective. One goal is to give students the opportunity to re-consider their perception that Shakespeare’s texts are tedious, dull, and useless. The inclusion of pop culture references can enable students to recognize that Shakespeare is still relevant in the 21st century. If individuals can personally connect to what they read, they will be more inclined to approach the texts seriously, and draw critical conclusions from those texts. Doing this in regards to Shakespeare's texts can further leads students to understand his significant contributions to English literature.

[1] Information retrieved from Dr. William Harlan’s Background Lecture on Twelfth Night at Diablo Valley College
[2] According to the “Twelfth Night Study Guide” published by The University of Kansas Theatre
[3]According to Spark Notes: Twelfth Night Context

This page has paths: