Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.

1901 edition.
Today is the Twelfth Night, so what could be more appropriate than Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or, What You Will? It's a comedy, written around 1601-02, and not unlike The Winter's Tale (1610-11) in that it was written as light entertainment to enjoy on a winter's day.

The play begins with the famous, "If music be the food of love, play on" spoken by Duke Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, who is pining after Lady Olivia, who, in mourning for her brother, refuses to marry. Quite soon there is a violent storm, and twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. Viola makes it to the shore but there is no sign of Sebastian, so she is forced to conclude he has drowned. She encounters a man on the shore who tells her of Lady Olivia and Viola decides to seek work there, but she is told that Olivia is refusing to see strangers so Viola disguises herself as a man (named Cesario) and goes to work for the Duke. Here she falls in love with him, however he of course is still in love with Olivia, sending Viola with messages. Olivia, believing Viola to be a man, Cesario, falls in love with her.

As this plays out there are a variety of other characters to keep the reader / audience entertained. Members of staff in Olivia's household conspire to convince her steward Malvolio that she is in love with him out of revenge for him spoiling the house's fun, sending notes supposedly from Olivia giving him ridiculous instructions on how to win her favour. Then, one of Olivia's suitors Sir Andrew Aguecheek grows jealous of her love for Cesario / Olivia and challenges Olivia to a duel. However, Sebastian arrives, looking exactly like his disguised twin so everyone thinks he is Cesario, and before the duel takes place Olivia, also mistaking him, asks him to marry her. Antonio, mortal enemy of Duke Orsino and companion of Sebastian is imprisoned by the Duke and begs Cesario for help, mistaking her for for her twin, and of course she doesn't know him so doesn't help, and everything and everyone gets thoroughly confused, but that's twins for you I suppose! 

Happily it all ends well, and it is a quite entertaining play though not a favourite of mine. Gender confusion, love-sickness, and the perils of being a social climber may be the main themes of Shakespeare's comedies, but it is wonderfully light, very silly, and not dull. It's a fun twelfth night read!

And now I must go and take the Christmas tree down... :(

Scene from 'Twelfth Night' ('Malvolio and the Countess')by Daniel Maclise (1840).

Comments

  1. Have you watched this play, or only read it?

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  2. I know people who absolutely love this play, but I've read it a couple of times and still don't particularly like it. I can't shake the feeling that I must be missing something ....??? However, there are certainly a few popular Shakespeare comedies that don't impact me, so perhaps it's just me.

    Love your artwork, as usual!

    My Christmas tree is staying up for this week, then I'll be ready to face the new year. ;-)

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    1. I like it, but it's not fantastic - entertaining enough, I think :)

      My tree is down - I think there's a bit of a tradition in the UK that the tree *must* come down on the Twelfth Night, though to be honest no one can seem to agree when the Twelfth Night actually is.. :)

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  3. This and A Midsummer Night's Dream were the first two Shakespeare plays I ever saw; my parents took me when I was eight. I've loved Shakespeare ever since. :)

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    1. I think this would be great staged - I definitely watch it! There's bound to be a DVD... I'll try and get one :)

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    2. I've seen 2 versions.
      1 is this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twelfth_Night_(1988_film)
      The other is this one: http://www.amazon.com/Twelfth-Night-Shakespeares-Theatre-Two-DVD/dp/B00T40NVIK
      Very, very different.

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    3. Which is the best, do you think?

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    4. It depends on how you view the play, I think. I notice that there are, generally speaking, 2 ways- either as something very funny and silly, or as something sad, melancholy, even disturbing (the treatment of Malvolio, the questionable happy ending, etc.) The 1st one would be the Globe version, the 2nd one would be the Branagh version.
      I like both. I like how they approach the same play very differently.

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    5. Okay put it this way, I like both and I dislike both. The Globe version is hilarious but can be a bit over-the-top sometimes, and because of the general mood of the production, a few lines that can be quite moving (e.g. Andrew Aguecheek's "I was adored once too") become empty, devoid of depth. The Branagh version, on the other hand, is excessive on the other side-Branagh takes Orsino and Olivia too seriously, I feel.

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    6. Hmm. Well, I do quite like Branagh so I might go for that one first :)

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    7. OK. I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.

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  4. Love the artwork!This is one of the plays of the great Bard that i have not read, but will try and get on to it soon! I completely understand your trauma...taking down the holiday decorations is anything but easy! Hang in there/1

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    1. Yes, it's all done. Actually my boyfriend did most of it. Had a rough day yesterday, so the whole thing was all the more difficult. But it's done :)

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  5. Did you read that 1901 edition that you linked to? I flipped through it at archive.org and saw all the margin notes -- looks that this copy has been well loved!

    This is one of those plays that I've never read, only seen performed. It was done as a really silly comedy at the local university, and my face was sore from laughing so much after watching it. So I have a soft spot for it, even if it isn't the most provoking of Shakespeare's plays. :-)

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    1. No I didn't read that edition - I have a Barnes and Noble Complete which I got for Christmas (which I was VERY happy with - I had another 'Complete' and the print was tiny, three column pages, and nightmarishly hard to read!).

      I think it would be much better watched, but it's a canny enough read :)

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  6. Lately when I've read Shakespeare, I've come away with the feeling I'm really missing something by not seeing it. I recall liking this one, but I'm pretty sure I saw it before I read it (stage production), so that may have made the difference.

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    1. I think you're right, they're better to watch. But I'm limited, I think most of us are, and reading it is good enough. I'd still like to get some Shakespeare DVDs soon, though!

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