Shakespearean influences in “Mean Girls”

William Shakespeare
The “Chandos portrait” of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Both the artist AND the authenticity of this iconic portrait remain inconclusive. (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia).

Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday (and also the anniversary of his death, an irony I’m sure he would have appreciated, had he survived it). His name has become synonymous with mastery of the English letters, and his influence is everywhere. James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), for example, features star-crossed lovers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) with the same initials (Jack and Rose) as Romeo and Juliet, and I’m sure this is your quadrillionth time reading about how The Lion King is a derivative work of Hamlet (and Kimba the White Lion, but we won’t get into that right here, right now – Google it).

Mark Waters’s Mean Girls (2004) is another Shakespearean text, not so much one of his “tragedies” as it is one of his “comedies,” and Tina Fey (Sharon Norbury) was just the screenwriter and actress to pull it all off. She is a comedic genius, one of the greatest alumni of all time from NBC’s long-running variety show, Saturday Night Live (1975-), easily ranking among John Belushi and Will Ferrell. Other SNL veterans who helped make Mean Girls a high school classic are Amy Poehler (Mrs. George), Tim Meadows (Principal Ron Duvall), and SNL creator and showrunner Lorne Michaels as the producer.

One obvious reference to Shakespeare takes place during Gretchen Wieners’s (Lacey Chabert) Julius Caesar rant. Other, more subtle nods to the Bard exist in his and Fey’s shared penchant for misunderstandings (the coveted Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett) misinterprets hero Cady Heron’s (Lindsay Lohan) makeover as an attempt to emulate the villainous Regina George (Rachel McAdams), rather than to destroy her), as well as their mutual love for comedies of manners (“Ex-boyfriends are just off-limits to friends – I mean, that’s just, like, the rules of feminism!”). As for Shakespeare’s more tragic elements, Mean Girls also explores the themes of culpability on display in Macbeth (my favorite Shakespeare play), when Cady must own up to the responsibility of the “Burn Book,” even though she’s not the one who created it.

Most people don’t watch Mean Girls and think about Shakespeare, but it just goes to show how timeless and ubiquitous he is. For that same reason, Mean Girls is just as timeless and ubiquitous today as it was ten years ago. It’s as much a “divine comedy” about Cady Heron selling her soul to the Devil as it is a star vehicle for Lindsay Lohan, who went on to do exactly that only a few years later.

For that and many more reasons, William Shakespeare and Tina Fey will forever be “so fetch.”

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Hunter Goddard

I am a journalism graduate from Colorado State University as well as a film studies minor. Lady Gaga inspires me in everything I do.

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