Question Anton Art, Media & Literature

Characterisation in Twelfth Night and She's the Man

Compare how characterisation has been transformed to engage modern audiences from Twelfth Night to She’s the Man.

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Answer Internal Staff

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (TN) was written circa 1601-1602, whereas She’s the Man (StM) was released in 2006. In the 400-year gap between the texts, society has altered beyond recognition; it is therefore logical that modern adaptations of older texts choose to amend certain factors to make them more accessible to contemporary audiences. In both texts, Viola disguises herself as a boy. In Shakespeare’s play, the purpose for this is survival; a woman would never have been able to hold the position of manservant in the Duke’s all-male court, and therefore earn a wage, in a patriarchal society. In StM, however, the purpose of Viola’s transformation is righteous indignation that she is not permitted to play alongside the boys’ soccer team. Her anger at this misogynistic behaviour leads her to impersonate her brother to prove her equality to the male players. While the Viola of the play is sweet, obedient and virtuous, Bynes’ portrayal paints her as brash and unfeminine, albeit loveable. However, she ultimately retains the same core characteristics and remains the heroine. Duke Orsino has also undergone some character alteration - StM specifically notes that he is ‘sensitive’, a trait never hinted at in TN, which paints him as somewhat self-centred. In the original text, he is simply surprised by the revelation that Viola is female, but the movie’s Duke feels betrayed by the deception. This may be because in the play, Viola is playing his manservant, Cesario, who is socially inferior to the Duke; in StM, Duke sees Viola/Sebastian as his teammate and his equal, therefore cannot comprehend why she did not tell the truth. The differences in characterisation between the two texts merely reflect the alterations in society, as modern audiences may find it difficult to relate to some of the Elizabethan societal mores in the earlier text.


Shakespeare, W. (2015). Twelfth Night. London: Penguin.

She’s the Man, 2006. [Film] Directed by Andy Fickman. USA: Lakeshore Entertainment.