An intertextual artefact

It is quite a challenge to find a text that is full of references to one other text alone. However this example comes from an original text that has been referenced on multiple occasions.

For the purposes of this summary explanation, I have chosen Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’; a comedy play which largely revolves around the romantic relationships between characters. A key character is Viola; a woman disguised as a man.

The romantic relationships we speak of are thus: Viola presumes her brother, Sebastian, to be dead following a shipwreck and disguises herself as a man named Cesario, serving under the Duke of Ilyria, named Orsino, with whom she falls in love. But Orsino loves Olivia and Olivia loves Cesario (really Viola). Nonetheless, Olivia marries Sebastian when it turns out he’s not dead. When Orsino discovers Viola isn’t a man after all, he loves her back.


This tale is made into a modern, teen film entitled ‘She’s the Man’, which is the example of intertextuality being used we are looking at here. ‘She’s the Man’ takes not only the story of Twelfth Night and reinvents it for a modern audience, but it also takes the names used in the play. For example, the Duke of Ilyria, named Orsino in Twelfth Night, becomes ‘Duke (first name) Orsino (last name)’ and the school they attend is named ‘Ilyria’. The story was changed to be relevant in an American high school location, but the romantic storylines remain the same.

The main character in this film, also named Viola, is a female dressing as a male to be part of the soccer team and becomes entrenched within the cases of mistaken identity and romantic twists. The place Viola has taken in the soccer team is that of her twin brother, also named Sebastian, who is away recording music (not presumed dead as Viola thought in the original play). A tremendous equivalent to the family dog going to the ‘big farm down the road’. I’ll now presume everyone passed has just gone to record some music.

In ‘She’s the Man’ Viola does not serve under the Duke, but shares a room with the boy named Duke Orsino and promptly falls for him. However, Duke has his heart set on Olivia, (as in the original play) and Olivia falls for Viola parading as Sebastian, not knowing ‘he’ is really a girl (also as in the original play).

Another incident the same as the original play, is that the real Sebastian reappears in the film; well, similar to the original, because he is returning from recording music in London early, as opposed to having survived a shipwreck.

This is a very obvious example of intertextuality that could be described as Post-Modern. If an audience member had not heard of Twelfth Night and was unaware of the story behind it, they would be right to assume that this film could be an original concept (among myriads of other American teen movies). Of course, the script is original, the storyline is mostly original and the locations are original, along with everything else that goes into making a movie, but they have stemmed from the works of Shakespeare, which seems quite unlikely when watching the movie without prior knowledge of Twelfth Night. Nothing in this film literally references Shakespeare; no costume or language, for example. In simple terms, all it has borrowed is the storyline and characters, albeit that this is (should be) the backbone of any movie.

‘She’s the man’ does point towards the post-modernist never being able to invent anything original, if all the creators are doing is ‘borrowing’ from past references. It seems that this movie could have easily been an original concept as visually it has nothing to do with Shakespeare in any way. So there remains to be a huge amount of creativity in this case that is original and has made this movie an intertextual artefact, not simply a facsimile of Twelfth Night.

It is quite likely that Shakespeare did not intend it to be made into a movie about an American High School’s Soccer team and those delightful American Teenagers. Probably.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s