Twelfth Night, or What You Will, a Shakespeare comedy, was written around 1601-1602 for the Twelfth Night celebration, and was first published on 1623. The plot of the play was derived from the short story “Of Apollonius and Silla” by Barnabe Rich, based on a story by Matteo Bandello. Twelfth Night tells us about Viola, who was cast ashore after her ship was wrecked in a storm, stranded in the land of Illyria. With help from the captain of the ship, she then disguised herself as a young male servant, using the name Cesario, and served Orsino, the Duke of Illyria. When Orsino was madly in love with Lady Olivia, a noblewoman in mourning of her lately deceased brother, he asked Viola to tell Olivia about his feelings for her. Viola (as Cesario) acted as matchmaker for Orsino and Olivia, while she found herself falling in love with Orsino. Olivia, on the other hand, somehow touched by Cesario’s speech of Orsino’s love and fell in love instantly with the young man.
I am the man. If it be so, as ’tis,
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness,
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
How easy is it for the proper false
In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we,
For such as we are made of, such we be.
How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly,
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him,
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me.
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master’s love.
As I am woman, now, alas the day,
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!
O time, thou must untangle this, not I.
It is too hard a knot for me to untie!
Besides the three main characters, there are also many interesting supporting characters such as Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle and a drunk; the idiot Sir Andrew Aguecheek who tried to woo Olivia; Maria the smart servant of Olivia; and the goody two-shoes butler Malvolio. Maria then came up with an idea to humiliate Malvolio, made him think that Lady Olivia is in love with him. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew were witnesses of her trickery to Malvolio. Also there was Feste or The Fool, who was instead being a fool or a clown, turned out to say a lot of wisdom. Here is my favorite dialogue of Feste (with Lady Olivia):
Good madonna, why mournest thou?
Good fool, for my brother’s death.
I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.
On the final act, other characters meet Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother (whom Viola thought was dead), and mistook him for Cesario. Lady Olivia would once again confess her love for him, and this time she wouldn’t be disappointed. Sebastian then engaged in a fight with Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, while Olivia confessed to Orsino that she is married to Cesario. How would Viola clean up this mess?
Oh, I’m so relieved that this month I get to read Shakespeare comedy. I picked Twelfth Night as one Shakespeare comedy to read for Let’s Read Plays event because some years ago I watched a modern adaptation of the play, a teen movie called She’s The Man (with Amanda Bynes as Viola and Channing Tatum as Orsino). What can I say, I enjoyed Twelfth Night and I laughed a lot. I simply enjoyed it as a comedy and ignored the gender issues people say this play brought on purpose. Four stars for this play and I can’t wait to read more Shakespeare comedies!
P.S. : Okay I admit it. I did this on purpose, publishing the Twelfth Night review on 12-12-12. There’s no specific purpose, I just happened to finish reading it on early December, and Twelfth Night itself is the eve of Epiphany, on the fifth or sixth of January. I also wrote down notes for every act in Twelfth Night. You can read it here.
2nd review for Let’s Read Plays event
16th review for The Classics Club Project