"Gretchen Wieners Hath Been Crack'd": Why Mean Girls Works as a Shakespearean Play

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"Gretchen Wieners Hath Been Crack'd": Why <i>Mean Girls</i> Works as a Shakespearean Play

“Fetch” has definitely happened.

Ian Doescher’s Shakespeare-inspired Mean Girls works, and it works well. Released alongside his Back to the Future adaptation, Much Ado About Mean Girls reimagines Tina Fey’s screenplay as an Elizabethan play. It’s a tricky premise to get right, but Doescher hits the mark.

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Shakespeare understood character dynamics, and he helped audiences understand themselves. But many Elizabethan character types have been transformed beyond recognition in contemporary fiction: the aristocrat, the intellectual, the religious zealot, the pauper. The characters may have changed, but their stories remain the same. Love is still found, lost and found again. Duty and passion still fight tooth and nail. People still dress in disguises or are rumored lost at sea. It’s all happened before and will again.

And so Shakespeare has a special relevance to teenagers, and not just because they read him in high school. Romeo and Juliet convinces teenagers the Bard is on their side—that he knows what it’s like to be a teenager trying to make sense of a confusing adult world.

Doescher—with his Shakespearean asides, monologues and reflections—also grasps an essential fact of adolescence: teens do awkward stuff. That’s universal. So it’s appropriate that Much Ado About Mean Girls is rendered in the Shakespearean style, in which characters often overhear each other and remark on it. For example, watch Gretchen Wieners’ infamous monologue and then read Doescher’s interpretation:

O, when I am again in English class,
I know what is th’report that I shall make:
We study Caesar and his mighty acts;
I’ll lay him low. For who is Caesar, eh?
And wherefore should great Caesar be allow’d
To stomp and lumber like a giant brute
Whilst we do hide from his enormous feet,
Attempting, fearfully, to stay unscath’d?
Whence cometh all the honors he hath earn’d?
Consider Brutus—is he not as fine,
As smart, as likeable as Caesar, too?
When did it happen that a single person
Became the boss of ev’ryone around?
‘Tis not what our proud Rome doth stand for, nay!
We should, therefore, stab Caesar—stab and stab—
And let his blood flow down in righteous streams!

CADY [aside:]
‘Tis plain that Gretchen Wieners hath been

The reason Mean Girls works in Shakespearean English is that our expectations for modern, character-driven narratives were more or less invented by Shakespeare. When we consume plays, movies or novels, we expect to find some semblance of Shakespeare’s program code. What Isaac Newton is to NASA, the Bard is to the writing and performing trades in the West. He’s an inescapable and fundamental force of nature.

The truth is that Mean Girls is an inheritance from Shakespeare. As is this truth: we are all playing parts, and on some level, we are all aware of this. More power to the art that reminds us of this fact. If Much Ado About Mean Girls be the stuff of life, play on.