Exploring Gender Expression, Identity, and Performance in M or F? andTwelfth Night

  • Kathleen Gallagher, Jackie Vega

Discussion Questions

1. M or F? presents Marcus and Frannie as "brain twins." Using textual evidence, how are these two characters alike? Do you have a "brain twin" in your life? How is your experience similar and different from Marcus and Frannie?

2. How are Marcus and Frannie similar to the biological twins Sebastian and Viola in Twelfth Night? How do the two pairs differ? What connections can you point to in the texts to support your thoughts on this?
3. Disguise and performance are central themes in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. How do the characters in the play utilize disguise and performance? How do the characters in M or F? Why is this significant?
4. What other themes do you see in either text? If you were to make a Venn Diagram discussing the themes of each text, how big would the space between the two circles be?
5. It's been over 400 years since Twelfth Night was performed in London for the first time. It might have not been his intention, but Shakespeare was raising some difficult questions about the constrictions of gender binaries and hetero-normative ideals when such topics which can still be considered "taboo" in our society. In what ways does a more modern adaptation such as M or F?, which deals with similar issues, show what change has been made over time? In what ways are the two texts "dated" and in what ways are they "timeless"? How?
6. In M or F?, Papademetriou and Tebbetts use the online chat room as a space to allow for anonymity in conversations between Marcus, Frannie, and Jeffrey. Do you feel that this was an effective way to modernize Shakespeare's use of disguises in Twelfth Night? Does it have the same effect? If you were to write your own version of a modern Twelfth Night, could you think of a more effective way to create anonymitywithout costume? Did M or F?'s use of an online chatroom work for you as a reader? Why or why not?
7. How do you see gender expressed around you every day? Did either text highlight any stereotypes that you might notice? Did either text subvert any stereotypes? How? Be specific.
8. In both texts, there is a love triangle. Which of the two texts presented that scenario most realistically? How, and why?
9. Which text do you think is more controversial today? Where do you think this controversy comes from?
10. Think of a time when you felt like you had to act a certain way in order to be accepted (by friends? family? a boyfriend or girlfriend?). Did your gender expression play a part in that? If so, how? If not, do you feel you can use this experience to empathize with those who do struggle with acceptance because of gender?

Class Activities

1. Have students watch a two-minute segment of this clip from a film adaptation of Twelfth Night. (2:40-5:00 works best) Twelfth Night clip
This shows how Viola (as Cesario) performs the male gender, while she is, indeed, a female. After watching the clip, students will have five minutes to write about the ways in which Viola performed gender and how this helped (or complicated) their own understanding of gender performativity.

2. After students have completed “Activity #1,” in pairs they will each choose a character from the two texts; one student will portray a character from M or F? and the other will choose one from Twelfth Night. They will have 10 minutes to prepare a quick 1-2 minute sketch in which the two characters from the two different texts interact. The hope is that this will allow students to see the connections between characters from the classic text that are similar to those in the adolescent text. In any event, this activity should prompt an interesting class discussion about the interchangeability of characters and consequently, what this says about gender, homoeroticism, and naming (characters’ names) both in these pieces of literature and in the broader context of society.

3. Lastly, students will watch a (full) clip from the modern film adaptation of Twelfth Night called She’s the Man. She's the Man clip
The clip seems to pick right up where the first clip from “Activity #1” left off. In it, Olivia starts to say how Sebastian (who this director decided to use as a less complicated stand-in for Viola-as-Cesario) claims to not be Olivia’s type. This is what Olivia and Viola are discussing in “Shakespearean” terms in the clip from the first activity. In this scene, depicted in a weight room, there are certain ways that the female characters (such as Olivia) are depicted in contrast with the male characters (such as Duke). Viola presents an interesting compilation of both genders. After watching the (2:30) clip, students will compare and contrast this modern-day film adaptation with the first film adaptation they had watched. This will be a 10-15 minute large group discussion with lead questions focused on how She’s the Man aided (or complicated) student’s understanding of gender performance and sexual fluidity. This discussion could head in a multiplicity of different directions but discussion about homophobia or (the societal boundaries associated with) sexual orientation in general could be one.

4. Students will work individually and will be asked to summarize Marcus and Frannie’s story from M or F? into a “Shakespearean” context. What social position would these characters have? How would the conflict be presented and resolved? After 5-10 minutes, students can share their stories with the class one by one. This will hopefully be a fun exercise that enriches the students’ understanding of sexuality and gender performance and how drastically it changes from a modern-day to historical perspective. This activity is intended to be a kind of reversal of what She's the Man accomplishes, and will contribute further to discussion as to what is gained and what is lost when the time frame of a story changes.

Original Multimedia

  • "Alternative Literature Review" Podcast

Additional Resources

  1. Twelfth Night lesson plan materials Useful worksheets, vocabulary lists, and She's the Man comparison activities.
  2. Additional Twelfth Night lesson ideas Interesting activities for students, including many drama-based ones.
  3. //She's the Man// "What does your heart tell you?" scene Another scene where Viola has to "perform" her gender. Can be used to look for parallel scenes in Twelfth Night.
  4. Stephen Fry Twelfth Night interview Further discusses the different effects of setting the plays in different times, he discusses how people have dedicated time and effort into making Shakespearean productions as authentic as possible.
  5. She's the Man vs. Twelfth Night A "compare and contrast" article that students can review and good material for discussion starters. If anyone has seen the movie, what differences were left out from this article? For those who haven't watched it, the questions could be along the lines of "why do you think they chose this particular setting, in a college and about soccer players? What setting would you have placed the play in modern times?"
  6. She's the Man vs. Twelfth Night - scholarly This article would be beneficial to a teacher. It examines and criticizes the modern adaptation of the Shakespeare play. Great fuel for leading class discussions.
  7. It's pronounced "Metrosexual" TED talk Man talks about how people's perceptions of his sexuality come from how he expresses his gender.
  8. Teaching and Learning about Gay History and Issues Useful links to deepen class discussion and student understanding of larger societal issues.
  9. Feminist queer theory and Shakespeare article An overview of feminist queer theory in relation to Shakespeare's works. Would be helpful to read excerpts of this as a class.
  10. LGBT YA Novel recommendations More recommended reading for those in the class who enjoyed M or F? and want to read similar books.