Shakespeare at the Movies: She’s the Man

It’s time to talk about one of your blogger’s favourite Shakespeare adaptations: She’s the Man! Yes, that’s right, I love this silly movie, and more than that, I think it’s a pretty darn good adaptation of a Shakespeare play. It’s great when movies based on Shakespeare are more literal or exact adaptations, featuring Shakespeare’s witty dialogue along with the original settings and character names. But Shakespeare’s plots have also proved to be interesting in modern settings with updated dialogue.

She’s the Man is a 2006 movie starring Amanda Bynes, Channing Tatum, Laura Ramsey, and Vinnie Jones, featuring the hilarious David Cross (Tobias from TV’s Arrested Development) as the school principal. The plot revolves around Viola, Amanda Bynes’ character, and her attempt to be taken seriously as a great soccer player. When the girls’ team at her school is cut, she decides to disguise herself as her twin brother Sebastian (who conveniently takes off for London to play in a rock band) and join the boys’ team at his boarding school, proving that she can play just as well as the boys can. But she ends up falling for her new roommate Duke, even as he asks her to help him win the heart of their classmate Olivia. Meanwhile, their weirdo classmate Malcolm is determined to win Olivia’s affections. Comedy – and romance – ensues!

The movie is based on Shakespeare’s delightful play Twelfth Night, a romantic comedy of mistaken identities. The action begins when a brother and sister are involved in a shipwreck. Viola washes up alone on a beach, and assuming that her brother Sebastian has drowned, disguises herself as a boy in order to work as a page for Duke Orsino and figure out what to do. But she ends up falling for the Duke, even as he uses her to woo his lady love Olivia. There’s also a subplot involving a slightly crazed servant, Malvolio, who is convinced that Olivia loves him. You can guess what happens next – mostly wacky hijinks.

So you can see that She’s the Man is a pretty faithful adaptation in terms of plot alone. But I think that the movie gets a lot of other stuff right, too. As a playwright, Shakespeare understood the value of good supporting characters. Many of his plays are focused on intense, doomed, or very charismatic lead characters – Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, etc. But the supporting characters are just as important and often add that all-important humour to the story. In Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are funny while also being important to the plot, just as the Nurse gives Romeo & Juliet a lot of humour to balance out that sad ending.

She’s the Man also features weird and hilarious supporting characters. There’s David Cross’ nutty principal, who tries to get involved in the action and ends up causing a lot of trouble; Viola’s band of friends, who help her with her transformation into Sebastian; Monique, Sebastian’s stuck-up girlfriend; and last but not least, the male classmates Viola meets as she pretends to be Sebastian. Like Shakespeare’s original play, the movie knows that having a rich cast of odd supporting players is key to the success of a story.

The dialogue in She’s the Man, while not quite as sparkling as Shakespeare’s original text, is also pretty funny. And I think Shakespeare would have loved a lot of the physical comedy moments: soccer wipe-outs, Amanda Bynes’ character learning how to walk like a boy, etc. He definitely enjoyed his silly and over-the-top humour. The movie didn’t originally get very good reviews, but just remember that many of Shakespeare’s plays – even performed with original dialogue, sets, and stage directions – are very silly and feature a lot of crude humour about bodily functions and more. I really think She’s the Man captures the spirit of Twelfth Night. And I don’t know anyone who doesn’t find the movie funny!

Here’s the original movie trailer, embedded for your viewing pleasure!

Comments ( 3 )
  1. Hi,

    I’m emailing from HarperCollins360 – we look after all HarperCollins USA titles.

    I’ve been looking around your website and I thought you might be interested in a book we’re publishing at the moment: a satiric Venetian gothic channelling William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe, The Serpent of Venice, by Chistopher Moore. It’s a hilarious and bawdy tale of greed, revenge, deception and lust – and is perfect for fans of Monty Python, Carl Hiaasen, or even Doctor Who.

    Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal-Fool Pocket.

    I wondered whether you might like a review copy to read, and perhaps feature somewhere on your website if you enjoy it? We’d love to get your thoughts, particularly because we think there’s a great synergy between the book and your engaging Shakespearian content.

    Please feel free to check out Christopher Moore on social media; he has 116K likes on Facebook (/theauthorguy) and 32.5K followers on Twitter (@theauthorguy).

    I look forward to hearing from you soon,

    Many thanks,