They have long been a potent subject for fiction: Why are identical twins so fascinating to us?

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There are more twin births today than ever before. According to the Twins Trust, a UK organization that supports twins and their families, the number has increased over the past 20 years. Two possible explanations for this increase include the rising use of IVF and the fact that more people are starting families later in life.

Multiple embryos are frequently implanted during IVF, and older mothers tend to have elevated follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, both of which increase the likelihood of having twins. However, there has not been a significant increase in the birth rate of identical twins. One in 250 people will have identical twins, on average (or 0.5 percent ). One reason why identical twins are so uncommon is because they are quite rare. Their relative rarity is just one of the reasons why identical twins have fascinated writers through history.

Identical twins, also known as monozygotic twins, are produced when a single egg is fertilized by a single sperm, resulting in the fertilized egg dividing into two. Twins that are identical to one another share the same sex, physical characteristics, and DNA. From a creative standpoint, the concept of two persons who are indistinguishable from one another on the surface poses a number of intriguing concerns about the essence of the self and what makes us the people we are, our genes or our upbringing.

Shakespeare’s dramas Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night both revolve around identical twins, and Greco-Roman mythology is full of them. Lottie and Lisa, a book by German author Erich Kastner, is one of the most lasting pairs of identical twins in literature. The Double Lottie is a 1949 novel that relates the tale of two similar girls who meet at a summer camp. The novel’s original title was Das Doppelte Lottchen. One of Lisa’s friends remarks to Lottie, “What a nerve, turning up here with your face!” when she sees the two of them together. The girls learn that they were actually raised apart by their parents as twin sisters. One has grown up with her mother in Munich, the other with her father in Vienna, and they were never told of the other’s existence. They hatch a plan to swap places and meet the parent they have never met.

An enduring comedy

The Parent Trap, a 1961 Disney film starring Hayley Mills and Lindsay Lohan, is possibly the most renowned adaptation of Kastner’s book. It has been produced and performed several times over the last 70 years and continues to be a staple of German popular culture. Additionally, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the songwriting team behind blockbuster productions including the stage version of Mary Poppins, used it as the inspiration for their new musical, Identical. Tonight, Identical, a seasoned Trevor Nunn production, opens in previews at the Nottingham Playhouse in central England (and, if successful, will likely transfer to the West End and beyond). The appeal of the book, according to Stiles, is “this idea that there is somehow another half of you out there someplace, [from which you have] been split away.” “The way the two females are described makes it seem as though they are actually just one whole person when they are together, but when they are separated, they are pretty [different] as people. One is really sexy, while the other is quite creative. One is a bit more of a troublemaker while the other gets high marks.”

Identical maintains Kastner’s original European location and the 1950s time period, in contrast to The Parent Trap films, which relocated the novel to the US and the UK. According to Drewe, “the stage design will have the appearance of an antique family photo album from the 1950s.” It’s more likely that the twins might have survived for so long without knowing each other without today’s easy communication.

They have long been a potent subject for fiction: Why are identical twins so fascinating to us? 1
Adaptation is an example of an identical twin-centred story that uses the device to ask questions about self and identity

Kastner’s “inventive brilliance offers us with a tale that takes twinship to a whole new level of hilarious complexity,” claims Nunn, who previously directed both of Shakespeare’s twin dramas and who claims to be fascinated with twins.

The females in the book have the ability to switch places and deceive everyone around them. No one can tell them apart, not even their parents. One of the things that attracts people to twins is their capacity for practical jokes and mistaken identification, which is why this theme is at the center of many twin storylines. According to Drewe, “We’re interested by the notion that two people can trick anyone, including their parents, into thinking they couldn’t tell which one is whose.” Given their differing sexes, Viola and Sebastian from Twelfth Night are not literally identical twins, yet they appear similar enough to perplex bystanders. When Antonio eventually sees the two of them together, he remarks, “An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin than these two animals.”

Kastner’s novel is ultimately “a narrative of joy and healing,” despite the fact that its central conflict is on the twin girls’ unquestionably painful separation when they were newborns; Drewe calls it “a pretty terrible thing to do.” The band’s songs are intended to demonstrate “that healing is possible, even after the worst of catastrophes” (in the words of the duo). The plot was developed during World War Two and then quickly put into writing. According to Drewe, Kastner probably intended to imply that reparations can be made if one so chooses.

Shakespeare was the father of two sets of non-identical twins, Judith and Hamnet, the latter of whom passed away at the age of just 11 and is poignantly described in Maggie O’Farrell’s 2020 Booker Prize-winning novel Hamnet. Nunn speculates that this may be the reason why he was initially drawn to Plautus’ play about twins, Menaechmi, which he used as the inspiration for Twelfth Night. Shakespeare employed twins as a source of humorous mistaken identification as well as, later, desire and loss, according to Dr. Will Tosh, a research fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe. When examining the usage of twins in both Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night, he claims that it might be tempting to “play armchair psychologist” given that the former was written prior to Hamnet’s passing and the latter following. The latter play, which had a “fantasy of children being reunited which we also see in the later plays,” had a considerably more melancholy tone.

Identical twins frequently serve as a comic or disruptive element in fictional stories. In many civilizations, including Norse and Egyptian myth, there are doppelgängers or spirit doubles, and witnessing one is frequently seen as a bad omen. The Brady sisters from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) standing in the hotel hallway wearing identical gowns and singing in unison an offer to young protagonist Danny Torrance to “come and play with us forever and ever” is one of horror’s most recognizable images. Jeremy Irons played identical twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), which was based on the spooky tale of identical twin doctors Stewart and Cyril Marcus. The Mantles use the fact that no one can tell them apart for evil reasons.

Jeremy Irons played identical twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), which was based on the spooky tale of identical twin doctors Stewart and Cyril Marcus. The Mantles use the fact that no one can tell them apart for evil reasons. The Gibbons twins’ story has already served as the inspiration for a play, a documentary, and a book. People appear to be captivated by their powerful bond, which ended when one of the twins passed away, “freeing” the other.

Nicolas Cage portrays a fictionalized version of Charlie Kaufman and his imaginary twin brother Donald in the 2002 film Adaptation, which was written by Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. Donald is the antithesis of everything Charlie is, being less neurotic and more confident among women. It is a perfect illustration of a twin-centered tale that, as is frequently the case, is more concerned with issues of identity and the self than the experience of having a twin. Because Donald is less preoccupied with issues of creative uniqueness and less self-critical than Charlie, he must of course die in order for Charlie to achieve closure.

Three pairs of identical twins in real life have been cast as Lottie and Lisa in the musical Identical. “We asked them whether they’d ever committed pranks, and they all replied yes,” explains Drewe. But deception is sometimes employed in film, namely, to let one actor portray both twins. Hayley Mills used split screen in the 1960s to play her own sister, but technology has advanced since then. Motion-control cameras allowed the twins in Dead Ringers to walk side by side, and in The Social Network, Armie Hammer’s face was digitally mapped onto another actor to play the Winklevoss twins. According to Tosh, costumes, wigs, and makeup were utilized to provide the impression of uniformity throughout Shakespeare’s period. Making two performers appear the same on stage is sometimes less difficult, he claims. This strategy was highly successful in the Globe’s 2002 “original-practices” production of Twelfth Night, which had its world premiere at Middle Temple Hall. Rhys Meredith portrayed Sebastian, while Eddie Redmayne played Viola; it was difficult to tell the two performers apart. Mark Rylance played Olivia. Although it’s less common for two young guys to play Viola and Sebastian these days, so it’s less important to make them appear alike.

They have long been a potent subject for fiction: Why are identical twins so fascinating to us? 2
The Shining features one of cinema’s most iconic – and unsettling – uses of identical twins

Despite the passage of time and the dissemination of the narrative across civilizations, Kastner’s work continues to hold a certain allure. The 1951 Japanese film Hibari’s Lullaby, the 1953 film Twice Upon a Time (Emeric Pressburger’s only film without Michael Powell), the corny 1995 Hollywood film It Takes Two, starring the Olsen twins, and the 2001 Bollywood film Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi (A Little Sour, A Little Sweet), starring Indian film star Kajol in the role(s) of the twins, are among the adaptations of Lottie and Lisa. It continues to be important to German culture. The plot was set in 1980s Berlin and the storied Friedrichstadt-Palast musical hall in recent years in a number of theatrical versions, a TV movie, and most recently Der Palast, a six-part German TV series directed by Uri Edel. In the adaption by Rodica Doehnert, the twins are identical young ladies who grew up on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall and are unaware of one another. One is currently a showgirl in the GDR, and the other is a Bavarian entrepreneur. The twins’ narrative is used as a metaphor for impending unification. They stand in for East and West Germany, respectively.

Drewe notes that Tim Wardle’s 2018 documentary Three Identical Strangers, which follows the lives of Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran—three men who learned they were triplets as teenagers after one of them was mistaken for the other at college—uncannily mirrors the story of Lottie and Lisa. The two doctors, Peter B. Neubauer and Viola W. Bernard, revealed that they had been purposefully divided apart as newborns and adopted by three different families as a part of a covert psychological research. They were first ecstatic to learn that there were two other individuals who had the same look as them, and they liked the celebrity it gave them, but over time, the psychological effects of what had been done to them started to wear on them. It eloquently illustrates how the propensity to treat identical twins—or in this case, triplets—as oddities deprives them of their identity and fails to recognize that their similarity is simply one aspect of who they are.

The twins are separated from one another in an effort to establish their uniqueness, and in the most severe case, one twin is killed. Alternatively, the twins are rejoined after a period of separation, and order is restored. Writing after World War Two, at a period of unrest across the world, Kastner opted for the more optimistic conclusion, in which the twins had not only found one another but also their family.

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