[In an essay originally published in 1912, Granville-Barker offers his vision for Twelfth Night as a director, beginning by describing what he believes was Shakespeare's intention for the set and how he may have written some parts such as Feste and Maria for specific actors. Barker also discusses the way he thinks Shakespeare constructed the play, suggesting that he may have originally intended a different outcome, and that on the Elizabethan stage, Viola/Cesario would have been played by a young boy, not a girl. He describes the casting choices Shakespeare may have made for other characters, including Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Fabian, Feste and Antonio and in conclusion, describes the prose and verse of the play, defending his position that Elizabethan prose should be spoken quickly.]
Twelfth Night is classed, as to the period of its writing, with Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Henry V. But however close in date, in spirit I am very sure it is far from them. I confess to liking those other three as little as any plays he ever wrote. I find them so stodgily good, even a little (dare one say it?) vulgar, the work of a successful man who is caring most for success. I can imagine the lovers of his work losing hope in the Shakespeare of that year or two. He was thirty-five and the first impulse of his art had spent itself. He was popular. There was welcome enough, we may...
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Celebration and Festivity
The themes of celebration and festivity were inherent in Shakespeare's sources; the incorporation of the Twelfth Night holiday was probably suggested by the Italian play Gl'Ingannati, which contained a reference to La Notte di Beffania, the Epiphany. However, recent criticism has reached past the surface gaiety suggested in the title, and delved into themes behind the temporary release of a celebration.
[Taylor compares the passive posturing of Orsino, who reflects the acceptance of events shaped by a carefree or festive approach, to the more active stance of Viola, who aptly captures the essence of the subtitle, "What You Will." Olivia and Orsino both retreat from reality in their respective emotional indulgences: Orsino's in unrequited love and Olivia's in grief for her brother. The critic contends that Malvolio, however, believes he can change his reality through sheer force of will and therefore also acts according to the subtitle in his quest for greatness.]
Although the exact chronology of Shakespeare's plays is still in dispute, on the available evidence most commentators think Twelfth Night to be the last of the Romantic Comedies, close in time to Hamlet. The piquancy of this association has not gone unnoticed, and there is occasionally an anachronistic ring to critical judgements on Twelfth Night, caught best by the one that thrusts Hamlet's greatness upon Malvolio. Yet...
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Role Playing and Problems of Identity
J. Dennis Huston
[Huston outlines a number of "unanswered problems" in Twelfth Night. Among these are the juxtaposition of scenes which take place three months apart, Viola's puzzling reaction to the appearance of her brother, and the lack of any resolution to the matter of Antonio's imprisonment. The critic maintains that these questions arise from the sense of detachment the play creates in its audience by presenting Illyria as a kind of fairy-tale world. Huston goes on to offer a psychological analysis of Viola's masculine disguise, describing it in terms of an "identity crisis" brought about by her belief that her twin brother has died and by her arrival in a foreign land. According to Huston, Viola is reluctant to embrace her sexual identity in this new world and finds a sense of security and "masculine freedom" by adopting the identity of her lost brother.]
One of the most perplexing difficulties confronting a reader of Twelfth Night, or any other Shakespearean play, is how to deal with what might be called its residual problems, those testy questions that critical analyses ignore or leave unanswered. Some such problems, indigenous to Shakespearean drama, are really unanswerable. And Twelfth Night has its share of these. Partly the condition of Shakespeare's text is to blame. We shall never know, for instance, whether the fourth stanza of Feste's final song is as it should be: there surely Shakespeare's, and...
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Language and Communication
[Berry contends that the action in Twelfth Night centers on acts of communication—formal messages being sent and received. Most of these, in the critic's view, are not "true" communication: Olivia's message to Orsino in the first act, for example, is really an announcement to herself of her intention to continue mourning her brother. The letter that fools Malvolio is another instance of a message that fails to convey truth. In contrast, the critic describes Malvolio's message to Olivia from his confinement as the single act of true communication in the play.]
The burden of the theme of fantasy and reality is entrusted to a particular device: the message. The action of Twelfth Night is in great part the business, literal and symbolic, of communication. Each Act sees one or more formal messages—I do not count informal and oral bringing of news. They constitute the archetypal action of the play.
The first scene contains an important message: Olivia to Orsino, a declaration of her absurd vow to mourn her brother for seven years. It is not a true communication, merely the publication of a fantasy; the "message" is a self-to-self statement. The same is true of Orsino's reply to Viola (I, 4); he, too, is announcing his own fantasy: "Surprise her with discourse of my dear faith; / It shall become thee well to act my woes." (1, 4, 24-25) The resonance of "act" is suggestive. Still, the nuncio's function...
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Viola and Olivia
[Forbes illustrates Shakespeare's theme of disguise versus self-deception throughout the story of Viola. Viola is presented as a purposeful young woman who sets out to achieve her goal through any means. She recognizes the scope of her abilities and consents to disguise to buy herself time. Likewise, Olivia adopts the veil of mourning to keep Orsino at bay, who spends most of the play lost in self-delusion, and therefore is unsuitable for her. Viola judges Olivia by what she has heard of her and proceeds to romance Olivia in a way that cannot be successful for Orsino. Consequently, Viola's approach to Olivia wins her not to the Duke, but to Viola. The critic maintains that Olivia is a reasonable woman and perceives Viola to be a match for her in independence and wit, yet Olivia confuses Viola and Sebastian because of her deeper intuitive sense. Olivia perceives similar qualities of spirit in both Sebastian and Cesario: Sebastian matches Cesario in integrity, but is as impetuous as Viola is patient.]
. . . The story of the nobly born Viola, disguised as the page boy, "Cesario," is usually considered the principal plot of Twelfth Night. She sets her heart on the Duke Orsino of Illyria, and finally weds him. He is a good man and worthy of her, but temporarily so confused by a romantically far-fetched notion of love that he would not be able to appreciate her in her own feminine dress.
Beside this story we...
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Malvolio has intrigued critics more than any other character in Twelfth Night. In the seventeenth century, Charles I was so taken by Malvolio's mistreatment that he changed the name of the play in the Second Folio to "Malvolio."
[Seiden examines Malvolio's role in the comic strategy of Twelfth Night, which is, the critic asserts, to divert the burden of comic scrutiny away from the festive lovers, and to lend a puritanical air which in contrast heightens the overriding sense of gaiety in the play. In the society of Illyria, Malvolio represents the new bourgeoisie, and is placed in conflict with the degenerate aristocracy of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, and not with the patrician lovers, as other commentators have argued. On the contrary, Seiden explains that Malvolio strives to uphold the social standards of Olivia's household, by which he lives and earns his keep, and is threatened by any subversion of the system. In principle, he is opposed to frivolity and to endow Malvolio with a sense of humor, as some readers have mused, would serve to make him into a tragic figure, clearly not what Shakespeare had intended. Seiden claims that Malvolio plays the bad cop not out of an excessive sense of self-love, as other critics have suggested, but out of an underdeveloped sense of self. He enforces restraint because he lacks an independent spirit within himself, and suffers an inferiority complex as a result. In conclusion,...
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Alan S. Downer
[Downer examines Feste's role as the fool in Twelfth Night, which allows Feste to speak freely and peel away the pretenses of the other characters. He is a pivotal figure in the play, and his presence elevates the play above the level of a mere romantic farce. Feste operates in each of the three subplots to round off the action of the play: first, Orsino must understand the nature of true love so he may marry Viola; second, Malvolio's inflated sense of self must be punctured; and third, Sebastian must take Viola's place in Olivia's heart. By speaking the truth, he ensures that his lord and lady will not be fools, and he closes the play with a song.]
. . . Feste is disguised both in costume and in behavior. His suit is motley, the uniform of the Fool, and he carries the tabor and perhaps the bauble as his badge of office. When, however, Olivia calls him a fool-and we must return to this scene again-he points out that "cucullus non facit monachum [the cowl doesn't make the monk]." And as the man inside the monk's robe may be anything but a monk in spirit, so he, Feste, wears not motley in his brain. His disguise, like Viola's, is a kind of protection; he is an allowed fool and may speak frankly what other men, in other disguises, must say only to themselves. . . .
Feste's whole art and function depend upon his talents as a "notable corrupter of words," and he has much wisdom to utter on what we should...
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