Monday, March 14, 2011

Optional Work: Twelfth Night

The following post is about another fun quick read of a play. Twelfth Night is probably my #3 favorite play of Shakespeare’s, after Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus. The plot is creative, and the characters are fun, ridiculous, and rarely serious. I recommend it to anyone whose introduction into Shakespeare consisted of Romeo and Juliet and only selected scenes of Julius Caesar, therefore causing them to cast off Shakespeare before they have even really begun to get know him.


Twelfth Night is unashamedly comedic. No one onstage dies (people probably did die during the shipwreck that causes Viola and Sebastian to arrive on the shores on Illyria, but they aren’t of any importance to the audience), and the play ends in marriages…plural.


The play has a general jovial feel of festivities and partying and general self-indulgence. The subtitle What You Will implies that the audience is also involved in the merry feeling found in the characters in the play. Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, is probably the most obvious example of this merry feeling throughout the play as he is almost always drunk and constantly being entertained or creating his own entertainment by manipulating those around him.

Another prominent theme throughout the play is that of mistaken identity, as it is what the entire plot stems from. Viola dresses up as a guy and calls herself Cesario, which causes Orsino to take her/him into his confidence, and Olivia to fall in love with him, not realizing he is really a she. While dressed as Cesario, Antonio, a new friend of Viola's twin brother, Sebastian, mistakes Viola as her brother and is hurt when Viola/Cesario doesn’t recognize her. Then Sebastian meets Olivia, who believes him to be Cesario, and because Sebastian is actually attracted to Olivia, unlike Cesario, the two end up getting married. And if all of that wasn’t enough, there is somewhat of a subplot when Sir Andrew Aguecheek challenges Cesario to a duel when he realizes that Olivia, whom he is attracted to, cares for him. This of course creates a problem since Cesario is really a woman and cannot fight. Later, Sir Andrew meets up with Sebastian, believing him to be Cesario, and because Sebastian can fight, Sir Andrew is consequently wounded in the scuffle. Twins are fun!


The title of Twelfth Night was actually an afterthought after John Marston premiered a play title What You Will, which is what Shakespeare wanted to title the play. Since the play was written as Twelfth Night’s entertainment for the close of the Christmas season, the new title is incredibly appropriate. “Twelfth Night” refers to the twelfth night after Christmas Day, known as the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany. Originally a Catholic holiday, by Shakespeare’s day it had become a day of revelry. And the fact that men would dress up as women and servants as their masters served as a cultural source of the plays confusion. Also, I always find it interesting to note that the actor who played Viola in Shakespeare would have been a man dressed as woman, who would then be pretending to be a man. This is happens when women aren’t allowed to perform…just saying.

Since next week is Spring Break, I haven’t decided whether or not I will be posting on anything, or if I do post, what work it will be on. Options include Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, or nothing. Ah Spring Break…

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