Twelfth Night Literary Criticism (Vol. 74)
Twelfth Night, considered by many scholars to be one of the finest Elizabethan romantic comedies, offers a penetrating examination of gender roles, sexual attraction, and the nature of love. The play relates the adventures of the shipwrecked Viola, who disguises herself as a male and takes a position in the court of Orsino. The disguised Viola, who calls herself Cesario, falls in love with Orsino. Orsino, however, is in love with Olivia, and sends Viola/Cesario to woo Olivia on his behalf. The situation spins further out of control when Olivia falls in love with the disguised Viola. The play's subplot centers on the puritanical Malvolio and the punishment he endures at the hands of his fellow servants. Modern critics, as well as directors of the stage and screen, are interested in the complexities of the plot and subplot, and the relation between the two, as well as the play's interpretation of gender roles, sexuality, and love. Other areas of critical concern include the play's relationship to Elizabethan culture and issues pertaining to its genre and structure.
Examining Twelfth Night as an example of festive comedy, Elias Schwartz (1967) contends that the play's merriment and celebratory atmosphere reveal a vision of life as good and joyful, despite its admitted limitations. Schwartz also contrasts the play with satiric comedy—in which characters are often disliked and become objects of derision—and emphasizes that the play should not be viewed as satire. In his study of Twelfth Night's structure, Porter Williams, Jr. (see Further Reading) identifies a connection between plot and theme. The mistakes the protagonists make, Williams argues, not only generate the action of the plot, but also reveal aspects of the play's underlying themes, which include deception and the nature of love. As critics attempt to unlock the relationship between the play's plot and subplot, they often focus on Malvolio, who is the center of the play's subplot. In their introduction to Twelfth Night, Roger Warren and Stanley Wells (1994) find that Malvolio serves as a means of binding the plot and subplot, and that his “gulling” provides additional insights into the play's treatment of love and the behavior of the lovers. Similarly, David Willbern (1978) identifies Malvolio with integration. In exploring Malvolio's relationship to the play's festive aspects, Willbern demonstrates that Malvolio's puritanical attempts to deny carnal passion in many ways reflects the illusion of romanticism explored in the main plot. According to the critic “both represent denials and sublimations.”
The play's highly charged sexual atmosphere makes Twelfth Night a popular choice for film and stage adaptation. In 1996, Trevor Nunn directed a film version of Twelfth Night in which he offered his interpretation of the play's sexual and gender issues. Donald Lyons (1997) regards the film as a success, praises the accomplishments of the principal actors, and observes that the film teases the boundaries of “heterosexual decorum” but never oversteps them. Like Lyons, Marla F. Magro and Mark Douglas (2001) find that Nunn's film maintains a heterosexual stance, and note that the film attempts to erase the play's homosexual undertones. Laurie Osborne (2002) also assesses Nunn's Twelfth Night, focusing on the director's reliance on film editing to provide a sense of character continuity. Robert Brustein (1998) reviews Nicholas Hytner's stage adaptation of Twelfth Night, performed at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. The critic contends that despite its Hollywood casting, including Helen Hunt as Viola and Kyra Sedgewick as Olivia, the production failed to explore the play's deeper issues and complexities. Brustein also states that Hunt's performance was “clean” and “clear,” whereas Sedgewick's Olivia was overly energetic. Similarly, David Patrick Stearns (1998) describes Hunt's efforts as solid and sincere, but notes that Hunt overlooked the subtextual potential of Viola's character. Like Brustein, Stearns finds that Sedgewick went to comic extremes in her portrayal of Olivia. According to Ted Merwin (1999), the production lacked a sense of eroticism on several levels; for example, the stage design conveyed only languor, and the romance between Paul Rudd's Orsino and Hunt's Viola was never ignited. Merwin applauds the performances of supporting cast members, particularly Philip Bosco's Malvolio, but contends that the production as a whole failed to convey Twelfth Night's emotional disorder and eventual resolution.
Approaching the play's gender issues through an analysis of Viola's disguise, Keir Elam (1996) observes that Viola intends to disguise herself not as a boy, but as a eunuch. Elam explores the cultural history of castration as it relates to drama in general and Viola's role in Twelfth Night in particular. Elam demonstrates that Viola's disguise conveys her desire to hide her own biological sexuality, as well as her apparent masculinity, in order to shield herself entirely from all manner of sexual threats. Elam further describes Viola's eunuch disguise as a gesture of self-effacement with historical and theatrical significance. Critics are also interested in the ways Twelfth Night reflects Renaissance England's society and culture. John Kerrigan (1997) studies the play within the context of the Renaissance conventions regarding secrecy and gossip, finding that gossip is a means—both in early modern society and in the play—of maintaining social bonds. Kerrigan also discusses the affinity between Cesario and Malvolio, noting that as servants both characters are expected to be discreet. Angela Hurworth (1999) explores the representation of deception, or gulling, in Twelfth Night. Hurworth highlights the links between criminal deception as it is described in Elizabethan narratives of the “underworld” and the deception found in the play. Twelfth Night also reflects religious ideas prevalent in Renaissance England. Paul Dean (2001) finds that the play fuses Renaissance Platonic tradition and the theology of St. Augustine relating to the doctrine of the Trinity. Using the device of twins, Dean argues, Shakespeare explored the notion that two individuals are united as one through love, a concept that was understood by Neoplatonists to be analogous to the doctrine of the Trinity.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Warren, Roger and Stanley Wells. Introduction to Twelfth Night, or What You Will, by William Shakespeare, edited by Roger Warren and Stanley Wells, pp. 1-76. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.
[In the following excerpt, Warren and Wells survey Twelfth Night's setting, sources, themes, and major characters. The critics' discussion is often informed by insights gleaned from twentieth-century stagings of the play.]
Twelfth Night is one of the most popular of Shakespeare's plays in the modern theatre, and its success seems to have begun early; the sole surviving reference to it during Shakespeare's lifetime is to a performance. On 2 February 1602, John Manningham, then a law student of the Middle Temple in London, wrote in his diary:
At our feast we had a play called Twelfth Night, or What You Will, much like The Comedy of Errors or Menaechmi in Plautus, but most like and near to that in Italian called Inganni. A good practice in it to make the steward believe his lady widow was in love with him, by counterfeiting a letter as from his lady, in general terms telling him what she liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparel, etc., and then when he came to practise, making him believe they took him to be mad.1
This must have been an early performance. The play was probably written in 1601, either immediately before or straight after Hamlet.2 Both plays were therefore written at the midpoint of Shakespeare's career, when he was at the height of his powers, so their theatrical success is not surprising.
The play has not, however, always been as popular in the theatre as it is today. Although it was among the earliest of Shakespeare's plays to be revived when the London theatres reopened after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, only three performances in the later part of the seventeenth century are known, and Samuel Pepys attended each of them. On 11 September 1661 he entered the theatre simply because the King was going to be there. ‘So I, against my own mind and resolution, could not forbear to go in, which did make the play seem a burden to me, and I took no pleasure at all in it.’ Nevertheless he saw it again on Twelfth Night 1663, when he found it ‘but a silly play, and not relating at all to the name or day’, and yet again, though with no more enthusiasm, on 20 January 1669, ‘as it is now revived’ (which may imply adaptation, though no alteration survives from his period), this time calling it ‘one of the weakest plays that ever I saw on the stage’.3
Pepys seems to have reflected the taste of his age: the play then left the repertory for over eighty years. William Burnaby drew on it for his Love Betray'd of 1703, a very free adaptation, mostly in prose, which retains fewer than sixty of Shakespeare's lines. Only two performances are known, one in February 1703 and the other in March 1705.4Twelfth Night shared in the general neglect of Shakespeare's comedies during the early part of the eighteenth century but returned to the English stage in January 1741, with Charles Macklin as Malvolio. After this, while not receiving as many performances as The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, or The Merry Wives of Windsor, it remained in the repertory of either Covent Garden or Drury Lane for the rest of the century.5 The acting version printed in Bell's edition in 1774 is substantially Shakespeare's text with a few cuts, including two of Feste's songs; J. P. Kemble's acting edition of 1811 also makes only comparatively minor changes, including the transposition of the first and second scenes, a practice which still occasionally happens at the present time.6
In 1820 Frederic Reynolds, along with the composer Henry Bishop, put on at Covent Garden a heavily adapted version introducing ‘Songs, Glees, and Choruses, the Poetry selected entirely from the Plays, Poems, and Sonnets of Shakespeare' and adding also the masque from The Tempest. This adaptation, which was indulgently reviewed by Leigh Hunt,7 continued in performance at intervals over several years; the text has not survived.
Shakespeare's play had been introduced to New York in 1804, and it was the American actresses Charlotte and Susan Cushman, appearing as Viola and Olivia, who brought it back to the London stage in 1846, at the Haymarket Theatre. Other notable nineteenth-century productions included those of Samuel Phelps at Sadler's Wells in 1848, Charles Kean at the Princess's Theatre in 1850, and one at the Olympic Theatre in 1865, in which the text was altered so that Kate Terry could play both Viola and Sebastian.8 Henry Irving's production at the Lyceum Theatre in 1884, in which he played Malvolio with Ellen Terry as Viola, was not a great success, and Augustin Daly's took remarkable liberties with the text.9
These were all performances in the nineteenth-century pictorial tradition, but in 1895 William Poel's semi-professional Elizabethan Stage Society acted the play ‘after the manner of the sixteenth century’ (though not without abbreviation), impressing Bernard Shaw with ‘the immense advantage of the platform stage to the actor’.10 The winds of change were blowing, even though Beerbohm Tree's version at His Majesty's Theatre in 1901, in which he played Malvolio, reverted to traditional methods. It had what George Odell described as ‘the most extraordinary single setting I have ever beheld. It was the garden of Olivia, extending terrace by terrace to the extreme back of the stage, with very real grass, real fountains, paths and descending steps. I never saw anything approaching it for beauty and vraisemblance'—but the disadvantage was that it had to be used ‘for many of the Shakespearian episodes for which it was absurdly inappropriate’.11 This was the last major production of Twelfth Night in the high Victorian style. In 1912 Harley Granville Barker directed it at the Savoy Theatre, London, in a production which, influenced partly by Poel, laid the foundations for the many twentieth-century stagings of this play, some of whose insights have made an important contribution to the rest of this introduction.12
A ‘TWELFTH NIGHT’ PLAY?
It is interesting that the earliest recorded performance should have been at a celebratory feast: John Manningham saw it on 2 February, which was Candlemas, the festival of the blessing of candles to celebrate the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Catholic feast which, like others, survived into post-Reformation England. Both the other early performances we know about were also given privately to celebrate festive occasions: by the King's Men at court on Easter Monday, 6 April 1618, and again at Candlemas, 2 February 1623, before Charles I at Whitehall. This inevitably prompts us to ask whether Twelfth Night was conceived and performed as a play especially suited to private performances on festive occasions. It seems unlikely that such a successful stage play would have been reserved for private performance; but on Twelfth Night 1601 Shakespeare's company performed an unspecified play before Queen Elizabeth I and her chief guest, Don Virginio Orsino, at Whitehall, and Leslie Hotson has argued in The First Night of ‘Twelfth Night’ (1954) that the play was rapidly put together for this occasion. Although his book sheds much valuable light on details of the text, from which the commentary in this edition has benefited, his main argument has not won general acceptance; it is likelier that the ducal visitor and the festive occasion suggested the name of Shakespeare's duke and the title of his play, which was probably written later that year.
Opinion varies about how far the title provides a clue for interpretation. In spite of Pepys's view that the play was irrelevant to the day, it was often performed on or around 6 January in the later eighteenth century. Like the feast of Candlemas, the elaborate festivities associated with Twelfth Night were a survival of medieval customs into post-Reformation England. L. G. Salingar conveniently summarizes those features of the play which relate to the period of licensed ‘misrule’, revelry, and topsy-turveydom traditionally associated with the Twelve Days of Christmas, of which Twelfth Night was the conclusion and the climax:
The sub-plot shows a prolonged season of misrule, or ‘uncivil rule’, in Olivia's household, with Sir Toby turning night into day; there are drinking, dancing, and singing, scenes of mock wooing, a mock sword fight, and the gulling of an unpopular member of the household, with Feste mumming it as a priest and attempting a mock exorcism in the manner of the Feast of Fools.13
Both the principal actions of the play present reversals of established norms such as the period of misrule encouraged: in the main plot, the Duke Orsino is educated out of his aberrant state of love-melancholy by his servant, who then becomes her ‘master's mistress’ (5.1.317); in the sub-plot, Olivia's steward aspires to become his mistress's master. And during the drinking scene, Sir Toby's quotation of an unidentified song, ‘O' the twelfth day of December’ (2.3.79), may be his drunken version of the carol ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, perhaps identifying the party as his own version of a Twelfth Night revel.14
Modern directors have taken diametrically opposed views of the usefulness of the associations of Twelfth Night to performance, as Michael Billington's conversations with some of them in Directors' Shakespeare (1990), a valuable account of the theatrical issues, makes clear. For Terry Hands, ‘Twelfth Night meant just that—the sixth of January, the moment when you take down the decorations and Christmas is over. The festive moment has passed, and this is now the cruellest point of the year’, and the drinking scene is an attempt ‘to put their Christmas tree back up’ (pp. 2, 8).15 On the other hand, John Barton, who directed a long-running and almost universally admired production for the Royal Shakespeare Company (1969-71), finds the play less wintry than ‘autumnal in mood’ (p. 7). In this respect, Barton agrees with Peter Hall, who directed another much admired autumnal staging (Stratford-upon-Avon, 1958-60, and again at the Playhouse, London, in 1991); while for Bill Alexander, director of the RSC's 1987-8 production, ‘the title was a kind of distraction’ (p. 3).
That title, however, is not simply Twelfth Night. Both the earliest sources, John Manningham's diary and the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays (1623), the sole authority for the text of the play, call it Twelfth Night, or What You Will; perhaps the permissive What You Will is intended to qualify too rigorous an insistence upon Twelfth Night and its associations of misrule.16 Such openness would be entirely characteristic of a play which establishes so subtle a balance between contrasting elements that it has often been characterized as ‘elusive’ in mood and overall effect. John Gielgud, who directed what seems to have been a rather unsuccessful production at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1955, comments: ‘It is so difficult to combine the romance of the play with the cruelty of the jokes against Malvolio, jokes which are in any case archaic and difficult. The different elements in the play are hard to balance properly.’17 For this reason, as Michael Billington points out in his introduction to Directors' Shakespeare, ‘different characters become, at different times, the pivot of the play [but] the quartet of RSC directors suggests that Sir Toby is the motor that drives the plot and Feste the character who determines the mood’ (p. ix).
It may be that one reason why John Barton's and Peter Hall's autumnal versions were so successful in achieving just that elusive balance between contrasting elements that Gielgud mentions, between sweet and sour, laughter and tears, was that autumn itself is a season of contrasts: serene, warm days edged by chilly nights, mist, and lengthening shadows. Keats catches precisely this quality in his ode ‘To Autumn’ where he defines the perfection of the autumn day by reminding the reader of those things that threaten it—the hint of transience in the ‘soft-dying day’ and in the ‘gathering swallows’, about to depart to escape the approach of winter. And he might be describing the quality of Twelfth Night itself when he writes in his ‘Ode on Melancholy’ that ‘in the very temple of delight ❙ Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine’. This combination of happiness and sadness, to the point where an awareness of the one is essential to the full experience and appreciation of the other, is characteristic of the mood of Twelfth Night, epitomized in the lines in which Orsino and Viola discuss female perfection,
For women are as roses, whose fair flower
Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour.
And so they are. Alas that they are so:
To die even when they to perfection grow
or in Viola's phrase about her imaginary sister ‘Smiling at grief’ (2.4.115), or in Feste's comparison of Orsino's mind to an opal, an iridescent jewel that changes its appearance in the varying light (2.4.74).
An autumnal mood also suits the revels of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, which carry a sense of the best days being past, of having to make the most of every moment while it lasts. Feste perfectly catches this mood in the song he sings to them in the drinking scene: ‘Present mirth hath present laughter. … ❙ Youth's a stuff will not endure’ (2.3.46, 50). Perhaps the need to indulge in ‘present laughter’ explains the rather desperate tone of the revelry in most performances, and more particularly how the joke against Malvolio comes to be pushed to the extreme of attempting to drive him mad. Making the most of passing moments is as much a part of Twelfth Night, the end of a period of mid-winter revels, as it is of autumn; and references to other seasons in the text—‘More matter for a May morning’ (3.4.137) and ‘this is very midsummer madness’ (3.4.53)—allude to other periods of Elizabethan revelry, May Day and Midsummer Eve, not necessarily to a particular season in which the action takes place—although Bill Alexander, the director who felt that ‘the title was a kind of distraction’, departed as far from mid-winter as possible and set his 1987 RSC version in the brightly-lit summer sunshine of a fishing village on the Illyrian coast. This leads naturally to the ways in which various stagings have presented Illyria, and to the more general question ‘Where—or what—is Illyria?’
Illyria was the ancient name of an area of the Adriatic coast roughly corresponding to what was for long known as Yugoslavia. In the classical world, Illyria had a reputation for piracy: the Illyrians' attacks on Adriatic shipping led to Roman intervention, and the area became the Roman province of Illyricum. Shakespeare was clearly aware of its reputation since his only other reference to it, in the phrase ‘Bargulus, the strong Illyrian pirate’ (Contention 4.1.108), is a translation of ‘Bardulis Illyrius latro’, from Cicero's De Officiis 2.11, a work used as a textbook in Elizabethan schools. This association of Illyria with piracy may have contributed to the vivid evocation of a ferocious sea-battle between Antonio and Orsino at 5.1.45-70, and to the ambiguous presentation of Antonio in general, discussed in a later section of this introduction.
In Shakespeare's day Illyria was a series of city-states controlled by the Venetian republic. Possibly Shakespeare conceives of Orsino and Olivia as neighbouring rulers of these city-states, for whom a marriage alliance might appear natural; yet Orsino and Olivia seem just as much to be neighbouring Elizabethan aristocrats; Olivia's household is presented in precise detail, complete with steward, waiting-gentlewoman, fool, and sponging elderly relative. The coexistence of the remote and the familiar in Shakespeare's Illyria—nicely characterized in a review by Hugh Leonard as ‘a fairyland with back-streets’ (Plays and Players, August 1966, p. 16)—suggests to some interpreters that it should be ‘magical, romantic, Illyrian in that sense’ (John Barton), or even a country of the mind: ‘The place is defined by the characters and the journey they undertake … which is an emotional journey’ (Terry Hands, in Directors' Shakespeare, pp. 8, 9). Each of these aspects of Illyria—the geographical or Mediterranean, the specifically English, the magical, and the sense of a country of the mind—can be illustrated by the prominence each has been given in notable stagings, though of course to emphasize one aspect need not exclude the others, and in the most balanced productions does not do so.
For Shakespeare's company, working on an unlocalized stage and wearing what was for them modern dress, the question of design choices presumably did not arise; and the staging of the play is exceptionally undemanding of theatrical resources.18 Later actors and directors, since at least the middle of the nineteenth century, have sought to provide a visual equivalent for the play's poetic and dramatic qualities. In the nineteenth century there was a fashion for elaborately realistic and sometimes would-be ‘historical’ settings. Since Illyria in Shakespeare's time ‘was under the rule of the Venetian republic’, a note in H. H. Furness's 1901 New Variorum edition explains, ‘the custom has long prevailed of treating the piece as a romantic and poetic picture of Venetian manners in the seventeenth century. Some stage managers have used Greek dresses. For the purposes of the stage, there must be a “local habitation”’ (p. 4). In a New York production of 1904, for instance, a kind of ‘Illyrian’ national dress was evolved, using elements of Greek, Balkan, even Turkish costumes. The twins each wore a skirted robe with a sleeveless jacket trimmed with braid, a fez, and a sash around the waist with a scimitar.19 Harley Granville Barker's Savoy production in 1912 reacted against such ‘realistic’ designs by setting a stylized garden with brightly coloured, cone-shaped formal trees against a yellow and black abstract drop-cloth for Orsino's court; but even he made a concession to prevailing ‘Illyrian’ styles by dressing Orsino in oriental robes, complete with turban.20
Although Bill Alexander at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1987 attempted to evoke the actual Illyria of Shakespeare's time, his aim was not the historical but the timeless. ‘Those white-washed buildings were the same, arguably, in the sixteenth century as they are in the twentieth century.’ The costuming was ‘Elizabethan Illyrian’, that is, ‘Greek-Yugoslav dress of that period’—and in fact it was not far removed from the nineteenth century's attempts to create an ‘Illyrian’ style. But Alexander also addressed the important question why, since so much of the society in the play seems so English, Shakespeare bothered to set it in Illyria at all: ‘I think he does it for its compression value: … when people are displaced, their characteristics become heightened’ so that there is ‘an intensification of human behaviour’ (Directors' Shakespeare, pp. 12, 32). His evocation of the historical Illyria, then, was ultimately directed at sharpening the audience's sense of the psychology of the play.
And so, in a completely contrasting style, was Peter Hall's very English view at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1958. Derek Granger in his review pointed out that the play ‘marvellously lends itself to a close pictorial re-working’ and that Lila de Nobili's designs were ‘permissibly explicit; we are in fact in a Caroline park on a sunny late afternoon at the very end of September; the light is gold and gauzy, the shadows are umber, the sunflowers glow against the garden wall and there is just the hint of a nip in the air’ (Financial Times, 23 April 1958). The use of painted gauzes allowed the perspectives of a seventeenth-century long gallery for Orsino's court … to blend swiftly into Olivia's walled garden. The advantage of these designs, as A. Alvarez put it when the production was revived in 1960, was that they provided ‘a kind of visual parallel for the play's complexities’ (New Statesman, 28 May 1960), and in particular reflected its changing moods; as one vista melted into another, the production precisely caught that shifting, ‘elusive’ quality often mentioned in connection with the play, its balancing of happiness and melancholy. That balance was further enchanced by Hall's decision to set the play some thirty years after its probable date of composition, in a Caroline world of lace collars, silks, and plumed hats which recalled Van Dyck's images of Charles I's court, in which autumnal colours often temper court splendour with a hint that the golden moment cannot last. Roy Walker summarized some advantages of presenting Illyria like this: the ‘choice of Cavalier costume gave the maximum thematic contrast with Malvolio's Puritan habit, served the opposition of amours and austerity, and … eased the problem of the identical twins with a hair-style equally suitable to boy and girl’.21
The Illyria of John Barton's RSC production (1969-71) was in some respects a visual distillation of Hall's. Christopher Morley's design was a receding, slatted gauze box which proved very flexible. Set with candelabra and dimly lit, it resembled Hall's in suggesting Orsino's enclosed ducal hall; but when the gauze box was back-lit, it evoked a mysterious world beyond. This was crucial to Barton's view of the ‘magical, romantic’ nature of Illyria, and it was especially effective at the first appearance of Viola: the doors at the back of the gauze box flew open and she suddenly materialized amid swirling spray, rising like Venus from the sea; her long flowing hair also carried a suggestion of Alice in Wonderland. But the magical was balanced with the wittily human as Viola gradually recovered her bearings and resolved on positive action, especially once she assumed her page's disguise. Barton back-lit the gauze not only to suggest ‘magic and the sea and the world outside that they'd come from’ (Directors' Shakespeare, p. 10), but also to intensify moments that were at once mysterious and intensely human, above all for the reunion of the twins …, and he underscored such moments with the recurrent sound of the sea, a device adopted by several directors since. Barton's production was first given in a season that concentrated on Shakespeare's late romances; and one consequence was to make the audience especially aware of the ways in which Twelfth Night anticipates those plays: in the use of the sea as both destroyer and renewer; in the sense of characters undertaking emotional journeys; and in the final renewal of a family relationship which is as important as (or more important than) the coming together of lovers upon which comedy usually concentrates.22
An Illyria very far removed from all these was Peter Gill's at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1974. Here, more than in any other production, Illyria was a country of the mind. The key to this interpretation was a huge, dominating mural of Narcissus gazing infatuatedly at his reflection in the water, suggesting the extent to which the characters are prisoners of their own obsessions. As Irving Wardle put it, Orsino, Olivia, and Malvolio, ‘in his own way the greatest narcissist of the lot (and the only one who finally resists cure)’, are all ‘intoxicated with their own reflections, and the function of Viola and Sebastian is to put them through an Ovidian obstacle course from which they learn to turn away from the mirror and form real attachments’ (The Times, 24 August 1974). But the production was concerned with body as well as with mind: Peter Ansorge focused something essential about the play as well as the staging when he defined this Illyria as ‘a highly refined, erotic trap … in which the characters must learn to read the subtext of their desires’ (Plays and Players, October 1974, p. 31). So as well as presenting various visual images of Illyria, these stagings used design to focus important aspects of the play to which subsequent sections of this introduction must return.
‘MOST LIKE … THAT IN ITALIAN CALLED “INGANNI”’
In the diary entry describing the Twelfth Night performance he saw in 1602, John Manningham called the play ‘much like The Comedy of Errors or Menaechmi in Plautus' (the principal source of The Comedy of Errors), but added that it was ‘most like and near to that in Italian called Inganni’. He shrewdly identified the main influences on both the twins story and the love story. There were at least two Italian comedies called Gl'Inganni (‘The Mistakes’), one by Nicolò Secchi (performed in 1547, first published in Florence in 1562 and frequently reprinted) and one by Curzio Gonzaga (published in Venice in 1592). Both appear to derive from an anonymous play, Gl'Ingannati (‘The Deceived’), first performed at Siena in 1531 by a literary society called the ‘Intronati’ (‘Thunderstruck by Love’) and published in Venice in 1537. All these dramatize the central situation of Twelfth Night: a girl disguised as a page woos another lady on behalf of the master whom she loves; the lady then falls in love with the ‘page’, but subsequently marries ‘his’ twin brother. The story recurs in two English prose narratives: Barnaby Riche reworks it in Riche his Farewell to Military Profession (1581); and there is a variant in an episode in Emanuel Forde's romance The Famous History of Parismus (1598).23 It was, in other words, a story that was ‘in the air’ at the time; and it is worth considering some points of comparison (and contrast) between these works and Twelfth Night, not to ‘prove’ debts which are unprovable, but to indicate the kind of story that Shakespeare is using, and modifying, for his main plot.
After a prologue and two introductory scenes which contain two references to Twelfth Night (la notte di beffana—the Epiphany), the disguised heroine of Gl'Ingannati makes her first appearance and instantly establishes the tone of the play:
It is indeed very rash of me, when I think of it, to come out in the streets so early, considering the wild practices of these licentious youths of Modena. Oh, how awful it would be if one … seized me by force, and, dragging me into a house, wanted to make sure whether I am a man or a woman!
(Bullough's translation, cited throughout, p. 292)
Here there is a titillating, salacious flirting with the sexual ambiguities of the disguised heroine. To some extent, this is inherent in the situation, however and by whoever it is dramatized; but this bald statement announces the main source of interest in Gl'Ingannati; and a similarly blunt statement occurs later when the heroine describes her master whom she loves: ‘He looked me up and down from head to foot so closely that I feared he would recognize me’ (p. 296). Unlike Viola, this disguised heroine has followed and is now serving a man who deserted her, so there is a double risk of recognition, both of sex and of identity; but even allowing for this, Gl'Ingannati expresses the potential of the situation in a blunter way than Orsino does:
Diana's lip Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound, And all is semblative a woman's part.
All these Italian versions have the heroine hint at her love for her master, as Viola does in her allegory of a sister who died of love (2.4.88-115), but once more this is inherent in the situation: a disguised heroine needs some statement of her feelings, however reticent. The heroine's assumed name in Gl'Ingannati, Fabio, may have suggested Fabian's name to Shakespeare, though another possibility is suggested in the Commentary to 2.5.1. In Curzio Gonzaga's Gl'Inganni, the heroine assumes the name ‘Cesare’: this looks like the origin of Viola's choice of ‘Cesario’ for her male disguise. It is interesting that Viola, like the Italian heroines, does not use her brother's name, whereas the heroine in Barnaby Riche's version does, thus making the confusion of the twins much more complete, more ‘plausible’, and, for the brother, even more bewildering.
Shakespeare may have read these Italian plays, or possibly come across the stories through performances by the commedia dell'arte, which often drew upon published Italian plays and which was especially fond of plots involving twins (was that where John Manningham too came across Gl'Inganni?);24 but the immediate stimulus was almost certainly provided by Barnaby Riche's story of Apollonius and Silla in Riche his Farewell to Military Profession, perhaps by way of Matteo Bandello's version of the story in his Novelle (1554) or François de Belleforest's French translation of it (1570).
Riche's narrative sets out to show how lovers drink from ‘the cup of error’:
for to love them that hate us, to follow them that fly from us, to fawn on them that frown on us, to curry favour with them that disdain us, … who will not confess this to be an erroneous love, neither grounded upon wit nor reason?
(Bullough, p. 345)
This sentence might even have been the spark that set off Shakespeare's choice of main plot; he echoes its phrasing at Olivia's declaration of her love for ‘Cesario’: ‘Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide’ (3.1.150). When Riche's Duke Apollonius courts Lady Julina ‘according to the manner of wooers: besides fair words, sorrowful sighs, and piteous countenances, there must be sending of loving letters [to] become a scholar in love's school’ (p. 351), he anticipates not only Orsino's formal wooing of Olivia, but still more the lesson in courtship given by Proteus in The Two Gentlemen of Verona:
Say that upon the altar of her beauty You sacrifice your tears, your sighs, your heart. Write till your ink be dry, and with your tears Moist it again …
And when Duke Apollonius (Orsino) sends Silla (Viola) to woo Lady Julina (Olivia), and Julina falls ‘into as great a liking with the man as the master was with herself’ (pp. 351-2), the phrasing is close to Olivia's ‘Unless the master were the man’ (1.5.284) and to Viola's soliloquy on the complicated situation (2.2.33-9). Closer still is the similarity between Julina's ‘it is enough that you have said for your master; from henceforth, either speak for yourself or say nothing at all’ (p. 352) and Olivia's
I bade you never speak again of him; But would you undertake another suit, I had rather hear you to solicit that Than music from the spheres.
Riche's handling of the crisis of the story is closer than the Italian plays to Twelfth Night. Julina protests to Duke Apollonius that she is married to Silvio/Silla, ‘whose personage I regard more than mine own life’ (p. 356), a phrase that Shakespeare transfers to Viola/Cesario, who protests that she loves Orsino ‘more than my life’ (5.1.131); Julia urges Silla ‘Fear not then … to keep your faith and promise which you have made unto me’ (p. 358), as Olivia urges Viola: ‘Hold little faith, though thou hast too much fear’ (5.1.167). But Shakespeare's revelation of the heroine's sex is necessarily very different from Riche's, since he was using a boy actor. Riche says: ‘And here withal loosing his garments down to his stomach’, the ‘page’ ‘shewed Julina his breasts and pretty teats, surmounting far the whiteness of snow itself’ (p. 361). Riche's handling of this revelation, with its somewhat titillating lingering over the heroine's breasts, is a measure of the important difference between Riche's tone and Shakespeare's, despite the similarities of plot and the verbal echoes;25 and still more is Riche's suggestive address to the ‘gentlewomen’ readers to avoid Julina's example: ‘For God's love take heed, and let this be an example to you, when you be with child, how you swear who is the father’ (p. 359). Although in some ways Riche is more romantic than the Italians, his tone here is much closer to theirs than to Shakespeare's—as it is also in the treatment of the relationship between the equivalents of Sebastian and Olivia: whereas Olivia's predecessors take the heroine's twin to bed, and in Secchi's and Riche's versions become pregnant and so precipitate the crisis of the story, Olivia marries Sebastian.
In some respects, Shakespeare's tone is closer to the other work that may have provided him with his immediate stimulus, Emanuel Forde's Parismus of 1598. This narrative seems to have given him the names of his two heroines. Prince Parismus, about to be married to the daughter of Queen Olivia, sleeps with Violetta, who under cover of darkness mistakes him for ‘her accustomed friend’; she subsequently follows Parismus disguised as the page Adonius and, while staying at a hermit's cell, has to share a bed with Parismus and his friend Pollipus:
Poor Adonius with blushing cheeks put off his apparel, and seemed to be abashed when he was in his shirt, and tenderly leapt into the bed …, where the poor soul lay close at Parismus' back, the very sweet touch of whose body seemed to ravish her with joy: and on the other side not acquainted with such bedfellows, she seemed as it were metamorphosed with a kind of delightful fear.
(Bullough, p. 367)
Forde's alternation between ‘he’ and ‘she’ when describing Violetta/Adonius underlines the ambiguity of the disguised heroine. Her ‘delightful fear’ is again something that is inherent in the relationship of the heroine and the master she loves, as most performances of the Viola/Orsino scenes bring out. For example, Hilary Spurling, reviewing the RSC's 1966 production, noted how ‘an aura of desire, narrowly and deliciously averted, hangs over all the scenes between Orsino and his “dear lad”, Viola/Cesario. At one point, as his page, she undresses him, draws off his gloves, half-caressing, half-shrinking from the touch’ (Spectator, 24 June 1966).
But then Parismus takes a surprising turn. Parismus himself is reunited with the daughter of Queen Olivia, and Violetta sympathetically looks after Pollipus, who is in love with her but does not recognize her in her page's disguise, and she gradually comes to love him:
Often time he would spend many hours in secret complaints and protestations of his loyal love. … [She] beheld the … constancy of his resolution, for that he determined to spend his life in her service, and also the pleasure she took in his company, being never from him in the day time, and his bedfellow in the night, that she was privy to all his actions, using many kindnesses, which he full little thought proceeded from such affection.
(Bullough, pp. 368-9)
While the situation is not exactly the same as in Twelfth Night, since Pollipus' constant resolution is to Violetta herself rather than to another woman, and Violetta, unlike Viola, only gradually falls in love, the image of a disguised heroine attending and ultimately curing her beloved's love-sickness, while their relationship matures without the man being aware of it, is very likely to have had its effect on the genesis of Twelfth Night. And both Forde and Shakespeare share a quality notably absent from Riche and the Italian plays: tenderness.
A CENTRAL COMEDY
If Forde, Riche, and the Italians provided Shakespeare with different elements of his main plot, those features were modified through the experience of writing his own earlier plays. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, for instance, Julia follows her lover Proteus in boy's disguise, only to find that he has transferred his attentions to Silvia, and she becomes an agent in his wooing. There is a bittersweet exchange between Proteus and Julia which anticipates both Viola's expressing her love obliquely and her ‘ring’ soliloquy (2.2.17-41). Disguised as the page Sebastian, Julia refers to herself as a woman:
She dreams on him that has forgot her love; You dote on her that cares not for your love. 'Tis pity love should be so contrary.
But in this version, as Harold Jenkins points out, ‘the lady fails to fall in love with the page at all, which is really a little surprising of her, since she had done so in Shakespeare's source [Montemayor's Diana]. It is almost as though Shakespeare were reserving this crowning situation, in which the mistress loves the woman-page, for treatment in some later play’.26
John Manningham recognized that Twelfth Night was also ‘much like The Comedy of Errors or Menaechmi in Plautus’. Although Shakespeare derived the central scenes of confusion over the twins from Plautus' Menaechmi (and from another Plautus play, Amphitruo), he also placed these within a framework story of a family separated by shipwreck and ultimately reunited after much wandering, which was drawn chiefly from the story of Apollonius of Tyre that he used again much later in his career for the main plot of Pericles. He introduced other material into The Comedy of Errors which is relevant to Twelfth Night. He moved the setting from Epidamnus in Plautus to Ephesus, partly because, as the centre of the cult of Diana, Ephesus had a reputation for witchcraft and the occult in the ancient world (and in the Bible), and would therefore provide an apt context for scenes of apparent madness and exorcism; this is much developed in Twelfth Night both in the way in which Orsino, Olivia, and Malvolio seem to be suffering from various kinds of madness, and in the mock-exorcism of Malvolio by Feste as Sir Topaz. By setting the action of the two plays in Ephesus and Illyria, Shakespeare located them, however approximately, on Mediterranean sea-coasts. The Comedy of Errors opens under the shadow of bloody inter-city trade war, and this reappears in Twelfth Night to sharpen the acrimonious confrontation between Antonio and Orsino at the start of the final scene.
But of course the most important connection between The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night is in the handling of the twins. In Plautus, as in Errors, they are the same sex. The Italian plays, and commedia dell'arte scenarios based on them, established a new tradition by making them a boy and a girl, and Shakespeare may have been attracted to this variant for personal reasons: he was the father of boy and girl twins, Hamnet and Judith.27 However that may be, the twins introduce a vein of particularly intense emotion into Twelfth Night. Shakespeare's son Hamnet died in 1596 at the age of eleven, and Shakespeare may have known what modern research into bereaved twins has demonstrated: that the death of a twin seems to cause a sense of desolation different in kind from other bereavements, and the surviving twin often tries to ‘compensate’ for the loss by attempting to assume the other's identity.28 Shakespeare had already touched on a twin's sense of lost identity when separated from a brother in The Comedy of Errors:
I to the world am like a drop of water That in the ocean seeks another drop … So I, to find a mother and a brother, In quest of them, unhappy, lose myself.
Such perceptions may have helped to sharpen the poignancy of Viola's initial reaction to her brother's loss—
And what should I do in Illyria? My brother he is in Elysium
and to her decision to assume her brother's persona for her disguise:
Even such and so In favour was my brother, and he went Still in this fashion, colour, ornament, For him I imitate.
This speech has another, more down-to-earth function: Shakespeare takes care to make the twins' identical clothing seem plausible here, while in Errors two pairs of twins separated since infancy wear identical clothes on one particular day.
In fact, the treatment of the twins is one measure of the difference between the two plays. The Comedy of Errors is basically a comedy of situation with psychological touches, Twelfth Night a comedy of character built upon a comedy of situation. In The Comedy of Errors, despite the fact that Antipholus of Syracuse has come to Ephesus specifically looking for his brother, he still fails to make the obvious deduction when everybody appears to recognize him and calls him by his name—although it is true that Shakespeare has to some extent prepared for this by making Antipholus aware of Ephesus' evil reputation as a centre of
nimble jugglers that deceive the eye, Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind, Soul-killing witches that deform the body
so that he half-expects strange things to happen to him. By contrast, when Antonio mistakes Viola for Sebastian, she immediately deduces the facts: ‘He named Sebastian. I my brother know ❙ Yet living in my glass’ (3.4.370-1). Yet she conceals this information from others, pretending at the start of the final scene that Antonio's words to her seem merely ‘distraction’ (5.1.62), until the truth is confirmed by Sebastian's appearance. This holding-back greatly intensifies both the pathos and the ecstasy of their climactic reunion.
There are also important resemblances, not so much in story-line as in mood and technique, between Twelfth Night and another of...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Willbern, David. “Malvolio's Fall.” Shakespeare Quarterly 29, no. 1 (winter 1978): 85-90.
[In the following essay, Willbern relates Malvolio and his downfall to the play's theme of festivity.]
Malvolio, that humorless steward, sick of merrymakers and self-love, seems almost a stranger to the festive world of Illyria. His very first words reveal his acrimonious opinion of Feste, the soul of festivity:
What think you of this fool, Malvolio? doth he not mend?
Yes, and shall do till the pangs of death shake him. Infirmity, that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool....
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Criticism: Production Reviews
Donald Lyons (review date February 1997)
SOURCE: Lyons, Donald. Review of Twelfth Night. Commentary 103 (February 1997): 59-60.
[In the following review of Trevor Nunn's 1996 film version of Twelfth Night, Lyons describes the effort as undeniably successful, and finds that although the film teases the boundaries of “heterosexual decorum,” it never oversteps them. Additionally, Lyons praises the film's principal actors: Imogen Stubbs as Viola/Cesario, Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia, and Toby Stephens as Orsino.]
It is sometimes foolishly asserted—recently, for example, by the critic Anthony Lane in the New Yorker—that Shakespeare “works” better on the screen than in the...
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David Patrick Stearns (review date 17 July 1998)
SOURCE: Stearns, David Patrick. “Twelfth Night: Helen Hunt Isn't Its Only Star.” USA Today (17 July 1998): 11E.
[In the following review, Stearns assesses the production of Twelfth Night directed by Nicholas Hytner, which featured Helen Hunt as Viola. Stearns describes the production as a whole as lavish but not overdone, and comments that Hunt's performance was sincere and strong but failed to fully reveal the subtextual potential of the role.]
In Broadway shorthand, the summer's hot ticket is “the Helen Hunt Twelfth Night.”
That's how much theatergoers are anticipating the Oscar-winning actress' rare stage appearance....
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Robert Brustein (review date 7 September 1998)
SOURCE: Brustein, Robert. “Pastoral Shakespeare.” The New Republic 219, no. 10 (7 September 1998): 26-8.
[In the following review of Nicholas Hytner's Twelfth Night, Brustein contends that the production failed to explore the play's deeper issues and complexities. Brustein applauds Helen Hunt's solid interpretation of Viola, but notes that Kyra Sedgwick's Olivia is somewhat hyperactive.]
Summer Shakespeare has always been a joy because summer is a season that belongs to Shakespeare. No other dramatist has imagined so vividly the bracing pleasures of life in the woods. A country boy himself, he gave his own name to a rustic in As You Like It and his...
(The entire section is 902 words.)
Ted Merwin (review date 1999)
SOURCE: Merwin, Ted. Review of Twelfth Night. Theatre Journal 51, no. 2 (1999): 191-92.
[In the following review, Merwin offers a mixed appraisal of Nicholas Hytner's production of Twelfth Night. The critic argues that Hytner and stage designer Bob Crowley failed to create an atmosphere of eroticism, and that the romance between Paul Rudd's Orsino and Helen Hunt's Viola was lukewarm at best. However, Merwin offers high praise for the performances of the supporting cast, particularly Philip Bosco's Malvolio.]
A splashy new production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in New York was a feature attraction of the 1998...
(The entire section is 853 words.)
Marla F. Magro and Mark Douglas (essay date 2001)
SOURCE: Magro, Marla F. and Mark Douglas. “Reflections on Sex, Shakespeare and Nostalgia in Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night.” In Retrovisions: Reinventing the Past in Film and Fiction, edited by Deborah Cartmell, I. Q. Hunter, and Imelda Whelehan, pp. 41-58. London: Pluto Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Magro and Douglas analyze the treatment of gender issues in Trevor Nunn's 1996 film adaptation of Twelfth Night, and maintain that Nunn's production suppresses the play's homosexual aspects.]
The date of 23 April 2000 was celebrated as usual as St George's Day and the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 1564. It was also the feast of Easter in the...
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Laurie Osborne (essay date 2002)
SOURCE: Osborne, Laurie. “Cutting up Characters: The Erotic Politics of Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night.” In Spectacular Shakespeare: Critical Theory and Popular Cinema, edited by Courtney Lehmann and Lisa S. Starks, pp. 89-109. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
[In the following essay, Osborne studies the ways in which Trevor Nunn's film adaptation of Twelfth Night adopts a heavy-handed approach to film editing and textual rearrangement in order to produce the effect of character continuity.]
After contrasting traditionalist readings of continuous, interiorized Shakespearean characters and poststructuralist analyses of their fragmentation and discontinuity, Alan Sinfield concludes that “some Shakespearean dramatis personae are written so as to suggest, not just an intermittent, gestural, and problematic subjecti[vity], but a continuous or developing interiority or consciousness; and we should seek a way of talking about this that does not slide back into character criticism or essentialist humanism.”1 Sinfield pursues this new way of talking about character, or rather “character effects,” by noting the history of responses to particular figures; he argues that a character such as Macbeth, for example, “is not a mysterious natural essence. Rather he is situated at the intersection of discourses and historical forces that are competing, we might say, to fill up his subjectivity.”2 Recent Shakespearean films speak directly both to critical concerns with discontinuity or inexplicable characterizations in Shakespearean plays and to readings of “a continuous or developing interiority or consciousness.” To put it another way, these films help us see how we also produce “coherent characters” from discontinuous fragments.
Specifically, the radical use of crosscutting and intercutting in such recent works as Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night (1996) and Al Pacino's Looking for Richard (1996) reveal how film editing produces cinematic fragments that paradoxically “fill up” the subjectivity of early modern characters. Although this essay concentrates primarily on Nunn's Twelfth Night, Looking for Richard is perhaps most blatant in using cutting and fragments to create continuity in character. The film presents only brief scenes of Richard III in its quest to explore whether Richard is relevant today. For example, the crucial and critically vexed scene of Richard's wooing of Anne is spliced into a series of cross-cut scenes in which the actors worry, first, about the scene itself and whether it can work and, second, about which actress is best suited for the part.
By juxtaposing the crosscut scenes discussing the play with act 1, scene 2, Pacino suggests that looking for Richard requires looking for Anne. Although critics have not necessarily been kind to Winona Ryder as the choice for this very difficult scene, the action itself takes on a compelling continuity in contrast to the intercut scenes that precede and follow it. Set against the talking heads of scholars discussing Anne's dilemma and the earnest round robin of actors debating the scene's purposes, this scene, like many chosen by Pacino for inclusion here, seems at first to play continuously. However, Pacino uses startling cutaway shots to himself—outdoors, out of costume, and without Anne—to maintain attention definitively on Richard. Three interruptions mark the scene. Her spitting at him cuts away to his fierce declaration, “I'll have her.”3 At her announcement of contempt, Pacino inserts a brief of image of himself, smiling, in the same visual context as the declaration—a swift reminder that he will have her. Her capitulation and rejoicing “to see you are become so penitent” (2.2.220) yields immediately to the alternate setting and Pacino's bark of laughter.
These cutaways are all the more effective as emphasis on Richard's coherence of purpose because of the startling shift from the darkened, seemingly interior and somber lushness of the “performance” to the bright daylight, exterior shots of just Pacino, unkempt with his characteristic backwards baseball cap, leaning on what looks like a contemporary metal sculpture. In a scene that is labeled “Lady Anne” and that presents such a provocative reversal in Anne's responses, Pacino uses cutaways to underscore Richard's single-minded focus and coherence. Moreover, like so many of the play's characters, Anne does not need continuity beyond this scene within the structure of Pacino's film because the quest here is for Richard's character, itself a monster of discontinuity, broken into by actors, critics, and crucial scenes. Even Kevin Spacey's Buckingham or Alec Baldwin's Clarence, who appear more than once, may command our interest but do not survive the obsessive attention to Richard himself as a character.
In Twelfth Night, Trevor Nunn also uses extensive film editing and rearrangements to elaborate character. Because of his cinematic choices, Twelfth Night has provoked radically contradictory reviews that often extend their critique to filming Shakespeare generally. Stanley Kauffmann laments the film as a disaster and concludes that “the film medium is like an x-ray that enlarges the flaws in plays,” in his assessment, the flaw of Malvolio's treatment.4 At the opposite extreme, John Podhoretz suggests that “Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night is a glorious piece of work, and one that brings to mind a heretical question: Is it perhaps the case that the cinema is the ideal medium for Shakespeare?”5 My answer to that question is that cinema is certainly the ideal medium for Shakespeare in the twentieth century, largely because film both creates and reinscribes our ideologically based expectations about character.
Other critics of Shakespearean film have made comparable claims, often using the structures of stage criticism to justify film's suitability for the plays. In Shakespeare, Cinema, and Society, John Collick effectively demonstrates that early film developed out of Victorian stage display in ways that persisted even until the BBC Shakespeare plays.6 Peter Donaldson places the great film auteurs implicitly in the crucial interpretive place that actor/directors have held since the late eighteenth century.7 Critics from Barbara Hodgdon to Douglas Lanier look to the valuable and provocative interpretations that individual films, like individual stagings, have brought to the text.8 My argument here follows these in several features: it draws upon the continuity from the play's stage traditions as they are reworked in the film, it analyzes Nunn's approach as an auteur's vision, and it concentrates on the cinematic potential for Shakespearean performance, which this film in particular realizes.
My discussion actually runs closest to Lorne Buchman's analysis of how film techniques relate to and rewrite Shakespearean dramaturgy. In particular, I share Buchman's interest in how spectators interact with the temporal display allowed (or disabled) by film; however, I do not agree that difficulties in analyzing time in Shakespearean film arise because “Shakespeare's own temporal structure is so close to that of the film medium itself.”9 In fact, what I find most intriguing about the current trend of restoring the text in films like Nunn's Twelfth Night and Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (1996) is the implicit affirmation that fuller texts require very aggressive film editing—less cutting of the text requires more elaborate cutting in the film. In Nunn's Twelfth Night, twentieth-century constructions of character emerge from within ideologies of romantic love and gender; moreover, these constructions thrive through film cuts rather than the textual cuts used in earlier centuries.
Since film editing most obviously influences the audience's sense of time, I find Franco Zeffirelli's description of that effect compelling: “You see, cinema creates a different chemistry, a different taste, and the attention of the audience moves so fast. Really, fantasy gallops in the audience in movies. They know all before the image is finished.”10 The speed Zeffirelli notes is everywhere in cinematic editing of late twentieth-century Shakespearean films, ranging from Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996) to Branagh's Hamlet. From a postmodern perspective, these quick cuts—or “flash cuts,” as Branagh calls them in his screenplay edition—offer the interplay of surfaces without depth.11 However, as Buchman points out, the spectator's interaction with these disruptions of expectation, like that of Iser's readers interacting with the disruptive text, produces a dynamic sense of time in film.12 And, I argue, this dynamic is produced in Twelfth Night's film editing to invoke depth of character for the twentieth-century spectator. The resultant “galloping fantasies” significantly extend and revise the stage practices that produced the “character effects” of earlier centuries. Nunn's cinematic solutions for apparent problems in the Shakespearean text on stage actually reveal the ideological imperatives of character construction in both the early modern and twentieth-century versions.
In his Twelfth Night, Nunn clearly draws upon changes made in performances since the late 1700s and often recuperates what typically was excised from the text. The film recasts in a modern idiom of crosscutting and the short take both the discontinuity of character produced by the twinning in the Renaissance text and the “character problems” that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics discovered within the play. As a result, far from agreeing with one of Nunn's detractors, who claims problems “can be laid at the feet of the director, who's hugely experienced in the theater but has his limitations when it comes to … the camera,”13 I see Nunn's film growing from stage conventions into quite thorough cinematic practice.
His Twelfth Night continues traditional theatrical changes, for example, opening the play with Viola's landing (1.2) rather than Orsino's speech (1.1). However, that reversal is translated through film convention: Viola's landing functions as part of the opening credits, as Nunn points out, “before the work proper, which would still begin with one of the most famous opening lines in the canon, ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’”14 Moreover, Nunn also employs a cinematic flexibility of setting and sequence to enact extreme revisions of the scenes between Orsino and Viola. Thus, his construction of these characters both draws on current cinematic models for displaying “depth” of character and on the Renaissance strategy of creating character through onstage relationships, suggested in the variable early speech headings.15 The interactions between Orsino and Viola are clearly key in the creation of both characters in the film; Nunn's several elaborations and elongations of that association actually emphasize the hierarchical connections between master and servant that underlie their mutual attraction in the Folio text. In this way, the Renaissance investment in the hierarchical nature of erotic involvement serves as the occasion for living up to twentieth-century assumptions that “true love,” as opposed to lust, develops over time.16
Nunn not only draws out Viola's involvement with Orsino, but also he brings her into the play early. Viola appears in act 1, scene 1, as the hapless musician first called upon to play “that strain again” and then forestalled because ‘“tis not so sweet now as it was before” (1.1. 4, 8). However, her presence is silent, unlike earlier stage performances, including those of Charles Calvert and Henry Irving, who combined and condensed act 1, scenes 1 and 4; none that I know have registered Viola's silent presence in Orsino's first scene.17 Moreover, Orsino connects with this musician specifically, first by walking over to stop his piano performance (“No more” [1.2.7]) and second by addressing Cesario directly in close-up before the premature ending of the scene. Whereas the early modern text exploits the conventions of the patronage system and the favoritism obvious in Orsino's confiding in Cesario after just three days, Nunn chooses to show the early moments of Cesario's service in order to mark out Orsino's awareness of his page from the start of the film and to track the development of their intimacy.
In a move that recuperates the closeness displayed in the Folio text, Nunn also restores a large proportion of the lines typically cut from act 2, scene 4, where Orsino once again sends Cesario off to woo Olivia. From the early nineteenth century on, 2.4 has undergone radical cutting, including the omission of all of Feste's role in the scene as well as the excision of Orsino's discourse on men's wavering love and its causes.18 Not only does Nunn retain Orsino's advice to Cesario about why “he” should choose a woman younger than himself, he also keeps the call for Feste to sing as well as the song itself. However, Nunn revises the scene just as radically as those early performances did: he intercuts act 2, scene 3, and act 2, scene 4, and disperses the remaining conversations between Orsino and Cesario throughout the film. The song that plays behind their initial conversation in 2.4 is the one that Feste sings to the below-stairs crowd in 2.3. And the song of the “fair cruel maid” is shifted well into act 3, the occasion for the near-kiss between Orsino and his page in the barn, which is the prelude to Orsino's perhaps overly vehement command: “once more, Cesario, / Get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty” (2.4.79-80). No other performance, not even John Dexter's inventively reordered 1968 television production, has so radically dispersed the various moments and moods of Cesario's second scene with Orsino. Nunn effectively keeps Viola and Orsino right before our eyes almost right up until the denouement.
These choices for Twelfth Night yield significant insight into characterization as reworked in cinematic productions of Shakespeare. In film, fragments paradoxically produce coherence and apparent depth of character within the sustained development of a relationship that critics since the eighteenth century have found both crucial and difficult. Samuel Johnson's early objections to Viola as an “excellent schemer” found their way into Francis Gentleman's commentary in Bell's 1774 edition of Shakespeare's plays: “Viola—It is very singular that a young lady, just escaped from a shipwreck, under apprehension for her brother, should so suddenly form a design upon the duke, whom she had never seen: But when Shakespeare wanted to push on his plot, he was not very ceremonious with probability.”19 By the mid-nineteenth century, Mrs. Elliott, whose praise for Viola is unstinting, finds Orsino problematic as the object of her affection: “It is earnestly to be hoped that Viola won as good a husband as she deserved. Orsino is no hero.”20 In the 1888 introduction to the Henry Irving Shakespeare, Arthur Symons offers the following brutal assessment of the problems posed by Orsino and Viola together:
The great defect of Twelfth Night as an acting comedy lies, no doubt, in the fact that the love interest never takes very much hold on our sympathies. Viola is a charming young woman and makes a pretty boy; but who can possibly sympathize with her in her ardent pursuit of such a lover as Orsino, a man whose elaborate sentimentality reminds one of those delicacies which cloy rather than delight the appetite, and whose plastic readiness to transfer his affections makes one suspect they were, after all, scarcely worth such trouble to win.21
The distaste that Symons displays for the crucial love between Viola and Orsino reveals the difficulties caused by nineteenth-century perception of Viola's character: idealizing her constancy throws Orsino's “weakness” into sharp relief. Orsino's apparent inconsistencies, especially in 2.4, were anathema in the nineteenth century because of the high value set on coherence and consistency in characters. The result was that Viola's relationship to Orsino became the radical flaw in the play.
Nunn takes a distinctively cinematic approach to the “problem,” which he frames specifically in terms of theater: “the biggest problem of the play in stage performance is that Orsino, who dominates the early part of the work, drops out at the end of Act Two and doesn't return again until the last scene of Act Five.”22 Nunn reworks the relationship between Orsino and Viola through the distinctive temporal strategies of film and edits their scenes together in three ways: he films continuous scenic sequences across a series of settings; he crosscuts pairs of scenes, like 2.3 and 2.4, so that continuous action becomes discontinuous by virtue of apparently simultaneous interactions; and he literally divides up both of the scenes between Viola and Orsino and spreads them throughout the film. Nunn uses these several strategies to earn the emotional impact of Viola's most famous, self-revelatory speech about her imaginary sister and the poignancy of her voice-over declaration “Whoe'er I woo myself would be his wife” (1.4.42), which he has moved to the end of their penultimate meeting in the film. As a result, the fragments and combined scenes produce a coherence in their developing relationship that a twentieth-century audience both “reads” and helps to produce as the film progresses.
The first of the displaced moments from the theatrical text emphasizes Viola's “tending” to Orsino and underscores what Nunn argues are the crucial difficulties of Cesario's disguise: “It was important to me that Viola, converting herself into her brother, Sebastian (who she believes has drowned), should have to face considerable physical and temperamental challenges.”23 For example, Cesario's appearance in act 1, scene 1, follows directly from the emotional trauma of shearing her locks and the physical pain of confining her breasts in the disguise; the difficulties of playing the piano and passing as male in this scene, which seems to include all of Orsino's court, abruptly gives way to the emotional pain of remembering her brother's death when Orsino looks straight at her in praising Olivia—”She that hath a heart of that fine frame / To pay this debt of love but to a brother” (1.1.34-35). Her brief flashback to the scene of her drowning brother vividly invokes the parallels between Viola and Olivia's situations while beginning to reveal what Viola might find so appealing about Orsino—his speech makes it seem that he knows the book of her secret soul. This first scene marks Viola's literal repositioning in the text and initiates the almost subliminal expansion of their relationship.
Nunn's strategies reveal an investment in the relationship developing over time, especially in contrast to the concentrated interactions between Orsino and Viola in the Folio. Love, according to current assumptions evident in film, television, and even romance novels, both arises from and generates continuous interaction. Nunn's Twelfth Night displays and reproduces this ideology.24 However, this film also, paradoxically, demonstrates that the impression of such “continuity” can only be achieved through the fragmentation and dispersal of scenes between the two.
When Nunn breaks Viola's encounters with Orsino into smaller, separate scenes, the time that will untangle Viola's dilemma becomes three months of service most convincingly, especially when scenes that run continuously are filmed in different locations and situations. For example, act 1, scene 4, plays continuously, but its temporal frame is visually extended. Orsino first interrupts Cesario's fencing lesson, “Who saw Cesario, ho?” (1.4.10) and then leads him out to the seaside to ask his help. Nunn's screenplay even registers an imagined length of time in this cut: “ORSINO is sitting by the sea, with the castle in the background, next to CESARIO, having told the whole story of his love for OLIVIA.”25 After Orsino teases him about his near-girlishness, inadvertently threatening both the false mustache above the lip “more smooth and rubious” (1.4.32) and her concealed breasts by grabbing the front of Cesario's jacket, Cesario punches him to get free and knocks Orsino over onto his injured arm. Nunn then cuts to Orsino, reclining as in the opening scene on his couch with his arm in a sling, as he reaches for Cesario's hand: “I know thy constellation is right apt / For this affair” (1.4.35-36). Although the scene's lines flow without interruption, the three complete scene changes and interaction of injury and forgiveness elongate the exchange. The abandonment of Orsino's sling by the middle of the film serves as a further subliminal reminder that, as Orsino puts it, “Three months this youth hath tended upon me” (5.1.97).
Beyond revisions in setting which nonetheless maintain textual continuity, Nunn also uses interwoven scenes to create “character effects” in Viola and Orsino. Although some critics have complained that “the film compulsively cross-cuts among the characters, rarely allowing a scene to build,”26 in fact that film strategy accomplishes several things. First, like extending a single scene across several settings, the crosscutting stretches out the conversation between Orsino and Cesario. Second, the strategy of intercutting the two scenes, uses specific aspects of the text, for instance, Feste's song, to illuminate the content of the scenes as well as Nunn's interpretation. All in all, Nunn fleshes out the verbal and thematic connections between sequential scenes—a cinematic underscoring of the diptych/triptych structure that Mark Rose has discussed in Shakespearean scenic construction.27 Nunn portrays as simultaneous the actions in two plots that explore the yearning singled out by some critics as the central insight of Nunn's production.
As Podhoretz's glowing review suggests, “two scenes are combined into an exquisitely edited expression of the way in which sister and duke and noblewoman pine for each other,”28 but the intermingling of act 2, scenes 1 and 2, is actually even richer, given the backdrop of Feste's song. “Oh Mistress mine” is the song that the twins originally sing on the boat before the shipwreck. Whereas their voices combined jest with the line “that can sing both high and low” during the boat scene because they do sing both high and low, in the middle of the film that line marks a cut to Olivia half-sleeping as she hears the singing from the kitchen. The scene thus foreshadows the replacement of Sebastian's low voice for Viola's high one in her affair of the heart.
Nunn also uses songs to mark significant parallels linking 2.3 and 2.4. For example, when Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby ask for a song, the scene cuts immediately to Orsino's request for a song.29 The account of this missing singer that Curio gives—“Feste the jester, my lord, a fool that the Lady Olivia's father took much delight in” (2.4.11-12)—cuts back to Feste's question to the revelers in the kitchen about what kind of song they would like. The song itself makes a vivid bridge between the two scenes, underscoring both the ambivalently voiced lover and the invocation of transitory youth in both scenes. For example, “high and low” not only functions as voice-over for Olivia but as the cue to cut back to Orsino's music room with the same tune playing in the background and his question to his page “How dost thou like this tune?” (2.4.20). Viola's “masterly” (2.4.22) response yields to Feste's verse “Every wise man's son doth know” (2.3.45). The “present laughter” (2.3.49) of the song then becomes Orsino's laughter at Cesario when perceiving that the youth's eye “hath stay'd upon some favour that it loves” (2.4.24). During their entire exchange, the music of Feste's song plays in the background, creating aural continuity between the interleaved scenes. When Orsino's comments on women as roses culminate in Cesario's lament, “alas, that they are so: / To die, even when they to perfection grow!” (2.4.40-41), the song's response in the cut back to the kitchen is that “what's to come is still unsure” (2.3.50). As Maria begins to sing with Feste, they arrive at the carpe diem motif in song, expressing her longing and the lament that “youth's a stuff will not endure” (2.3.53). That echo of Orsino's and Cesario's comments about women becomes a refrain repeated four times and a commentary on Maria's lost youth and palpable longing for Sir Toby in this production.
Nunn uses Feste's role rather than cutting it, as the nineteenth-century productions did, in order to emphasize part of what he thinks the play is about: “It's about mortality, the transience of youth, the transience of the happiness that we associate with youth.”30 Nonetheless, he has changed the song that Orsino requests at the beginning of act 2, scene 4, from “Come Way, Death” to “Oh, Mistress Mine,” in effect doubling the number of scenes that use song and lyrics to elaborate Orsino's relationship with Cesario. The impression of unrequited longing created by “Oh, Mistress Mine” is reinforced by a very brief, final, silent cutaway first to Cesario looking at Orsino and then to Orsino looking at Cesario after the song closes. Even Andrew Aguecheek, whose face on film supplies us with powerful emotional cues when, for example, he says, “I was adored once” (2.3.181). These images, especially the silent close-up, implicitly refute Mark Rose's contention that “the presentation of character in Shakespeare is perhaps less like a modern film in which the figures are in constant motion than an album of snapshot stills to be contemplated in sequence, each photo showing the subject in a different light, a different stage of development.”31 Shakespearean filmmakers incorporate these visual parallels without sacrificing the “constant motion”: the cut itself becomes the constant motion that engages the audience in comparing different views of a single character or comparing different characters entirely.
Although the entire sequence takes place continuously over the card table, the conversation is extended and builds audience involvement. The two scenes also become mutually interpretive. For example, the overt clues marking out Maria's painful longing for Sir Toby underscore the more subtle hints of Viola's apparently futile desire for Orsino—even though we have not yet heard about her love in the film. With this crosscutting, Nunn teaches his audience to expect and to “read” the brief scenes between Orsino and Viola with which he has seeded the rest of the film. Feste's song effectively situates the brief encounters between Orsino and Viola as evidence of desire functioning below everyday activities. Thus this scene prepares the audience still more thoroughly to perceive the “depth” of character in the yearning that underpins Viola's subsequent brief scenes with Orsino.
This strategy works especially well since Nunn creates a series of dislocated, composite scenes that flesh out and elaborate the closing conversations of act 2, scene 4. One pair of scenes interpolated into act 3 offers Viola the combination of “physical and temperamental challenges” I have already mentioned in the opening scene. Cesario's appearance, riding hard and jumping her horse with the Duke's court, leads directly to Orsino's calling for the “boy” to help him in the bath. Cesario's response to the physical difficulty of jumping the hedge (“cries of distress welling up in her”) yields to “the most compromising position so far.”32 The actual summons is taken from 2.4—“Come hither, boy” (2.4.15)—but the speech Orsino gives from his bath continues his early meditation about how Olivia's love for her brother augurs well for her later love, while Cesario, at first embarrassed and then bemused, bathes his back:
How will she love, when the rich golden shaft Hath kill'd the flock of all affections else That live in her. When liver, brain, and heart, These sovereign thrones, are all supplied and fill'd Her sweet perfections with one self king.
This speech, completing the one interrupted in act 1, scene 1, applies as vividly to Viola as Olivia, as Nunn once again draws out the parallels implicit in the Shakespearean text and allows Viola to hear this meditation. The accompanying action, the lingering intimacy of Cesario sponging Orsino's back, shows Viola in just the position that Orsino is imagining for Olivia—having taken him as her “one self king.”
What the Renaissance text implies in scenic parallels between act 1, scenes 1 and 2, Nunn's film interweaves explicitly for a twentieth-century audience. When Viola herself breaks off this moment, she reverts to act 2: “Sir, shall I to this lady?” (2.4.123). His response, though lacking the jewel he sends in the Folio text, follows directly: “Ay, that's the theme, / To her in haste; [Give her this jewel;] say, / My love can give no place, bide no delay” (2.4.123-25—bracketed material has been omitted). The physical challenge of riding like a man is juxtaposed here with the emotional challenge of acting the page to the man she loves and recalling the death of her brother. The two are spliced together in a scene that combines one speech from 1.1 with fragments from 2.4. Such brief sequences encourage an awareness of Viola's hopeless desire operating “beneath” her direct service to the Duke throughout the film, creating the sense of a coherent character through carefully dispersed fragments.
In a second reworked and relocated scene from 2.4, Nunn offers yet another location—the billiards room—and a useful separation of Orsino's contradictory representations of love. In this encounter, shifted still later in act 3 after Sebastian's meeting with Antonio in Illyria (normally 3.3), the film explicitly stages Orsino's advice to Cesario in the context of the two “men” playing billiards:
If ever thou shalt love, remember me; For such as I am, all true lovers are, He takes his shot and misses badly. Unstaid and skittish in all motions else, Save in the constant image of the creature That is beloved.
(Nunn 74; 2.4.15-20)
In this context, Orsino's comment is a laughing excuse for his failed motion—he has missed his shot. Nunn thus displaces and recasts Orsino's claim of constancy well away from his account earlier in the film of wavering male affection that must choose a younger woman to “hold its bent” (2.4.37). The scene also offers Cesario the first chance to present her greater constancy; to her surprise, her motion is not skittish, and she makes her shot.
Moreover, this brief scene introduces the remainder of 2.4, which, like 1.4, emphasizes different moods by stretching the encounter across different settings. After Cesario successfully sinks his ball, Nunn cuts away to the two rushing down to the barn to solicit the song from Feste. The scene then resumes where it left off several sequences before with Orsino's request to the fool for “that old and antic song we heard last night” (2.4.3). The actual song from 2.4 that Feste sings provides the backdrop for the growing closeness of the two characters listening, as first Orsino crosses the room and places his arm behind Cesario and, next, in an over-the-shoulder shot, Nunn shows Cesario gradually leaning back as if to kiss Orsino. At Feste's final line of the song, the point of view cuts to a head-on two-shot of the pair, startled out of the intimate moment. Feste's reactions both during the song and immediately thereafter draw direct attention to the near-kiss—the measure of the intimacy the pair achieve by “act 3” of Nunn's film.
The scene continues directly from there, but only after Orsino and Cesario abruptly rush outside to stand by the sea. Shouting to be heard above the surf (much louder now than 'twas before), both Orsino and Cesario seem pushed beyond the “normal” friendly interaction of the game of billiards. In Orsino's case, the abrupt command, “Once more, Cesario” (2.4. 80) seems an almost desperate attempt to gain heterosexual equilibrium; moreover, Cesario both reveals and hides her love simultaneously in the story of her sister. Her speech serves both as a forceful defense for women “as true of heart as we” and a self-revelation that paradoxically seems to promise silence about “his” feelings for Orsino—“she never told her love” (2.4.107, 111). Through these sequences, Imogene Stubbs fully earns the poetry and poignancy of the “Patience on a monument” speech as she smiles at grief with a tear flowing down her cheek. Only after this scene, in fact the next morning when Cesario returns to Orsino still on the battlements, does Nunn produce Viola's telling comment from the end of 1.4: “Whoe'er I woo myself would be his wife” (1.4.42).33 The filmed fragments of her scenes with Orsino have effectively built up the conflict between her “interior” grief and love and her “exterior” participation in Orsino's household.
Thus Nunn elaborates the growing closeness between Orsino and his page by elongating the interactions of the playtext through filmic time. He claims to “alter the chronology so that the Viola/Orsino story could continue developing throughout, by being interleaved between Olivia scenes and Malvolio scenes, so that we never lose sight of the relationship about which we are required to be so joyously happy at the end.”34 This development actually builds the relationship in a variety of ways. Music room, seaside, riding country, bath, billiards room, battlements—all these varied settings demonstrate how thoroughly Cesario tends upon her lord. The dispersal of their concentrated time together illuminates Viola's life in Orsino's court while expanding Orsino's character and separating some of the startling, even incoherent reversals in his various speeches about love in 2.4. Most important, even continuous scenes, especially the crucial last one hundred lines of 2.4, spread across a variety of settings and an array of sounds—silence, song, surf—display the evolving relationship between Orsino and Cesario in visual and aural variations that justify the changes in tone and Orsino's sudden changes of attitude.
In fact, through film editing, Nunn resolves the inconstancy that leads Arthur Symons ultimately to dismiss Orsino as “a sentimental egoist.” Symons's distaste for Orsino's character derives from the scene he describes as “Shakespeare's judgment on him,” namely, Orsino's “shallow words on woman's incapacity for love (2.4), so contradictory with what he has said the moment before, an inconsistency so exquisitely characteristic; both said with the same lack of vital sincerity.”35 In the twentieth century such inconsistencies of character have been attributed to Shakespearean scene structure or even Renaissance ideology. Rose suggests that “a Shakespearean scene, when it is concerned with ‘character,’ will show us a figure in a given emotional posture, or assuming one, switching from joy to grief';36 more recently, Sinfield argues that “when critics believe they find a continuous consciousness … [in Shakespearean characters], they are responding to cues planted in the text for the initial audiences.”37 In planting film cues for a twentieth-century audience, Nunn separates Orsino's inconsistent assertions across space and time; he disperses Orsino's emotional postures rather than radically cutting an already comparatively small role as the nineteenth-century performances did. In Nunn's version, Orsino's inconsistency in act 2, scene 4, becomes less striking because his conflicting comments occur in different locations, even at different times. Moreover, these interactions in the film's configuration register his complex responses to Cesario as their relationship develops.
The success of these techniques suggests that such fragmentation—or intimations of fragmentation in changing settings—functions as the twentieth-century technique for developing character. Whereas the lengthy sustained intimacy of 2.4 in the Folio marks out the mutual definition of the two principals in the Renaissance theatrical context, and the eighteenth- to nineteenth-century versions simply cut Orsino's role to promote character consistency and ameliorate his suitability as Viola's love object, in twentieth-century film we can have almost all of the complicated interaction between the two characters, but only if those varied interactions extend across the surface of the action and allow us to supply their imagined depths. In both the seventeenth-century play and the twentieth-century film, the conventions registering the mutual attraction of Orsino and Viola expose ideologies of erotic union. The playtext stages multiple emotional postures that show Orsino's influence over Viola, displaying erotic alliance as hierarchical at its core; the film deploys fragments to convey long-term, continuous interaction. As a result, each in different ways and at different times produces “character effects.”
At the same time that the film editing of Orsino's and Cesario's relationship and characters exploits twentieth-century ideologies of romantic love, Nunn's treatment of the twins invokes ideologies of gender. As a result, he tests the limits of creating character complexity through cinematic fragments. Viola's abilities, developed through her tenure in Orsino's court, match her brother's, offering a version of gender equality in her mirroring of him. However, his appearances and their addition to Cesario's character and activities ultimately make Cesario an unreadably complicated figure, whose “depth” becomes obscurity when too many pieces of cinematic behavior are attributed to “him.”
In the process, Nunn uses the same strategies of intercutting and expansion in elaborating the relationship between Olivia and Sebastian as he has between Viola and Orsino. However, the later crosscutting, which mingles 3.4 and 4.1 and again 4.2 and 4.3, more significantly exposes, in the first pair of scenes, the potential to confuse the twins and, in the second pair, the madness that seems to result. Cesario's resistent reactions to Olivia's household are, at first, mirrored explicitly in her brother's responses. Cesario's final plea that Olivia love Orsino leads into Feste's question of Sebastian: “Will you make me believe that I am not sent for you?” (4.1.1). However, Sebastian's response is limited to “Go to, go to, thou art a foolish fellow”(4.1.2) before Nunn returns to Cesario listening to Olivia, who declaims, “Come again tomorrow. [Fare thee well;] / A fiend like thee might bear my soul to hell” (3.4.218-19). Cesario's attempt to depart cuts to and echoes Sebastian trying to shake Feste's persistence: “Let me be clear of thee” (4.1.2-3). After Sebastian walks off, with Feste swaggering along behind, Nunn then cuts quickly back to 3.4 and a side shot of Cesario walking, collar up and in the same coat as her brother, just before she is stopped by Toby for the duel. In addition to establishing the twins' parallel reactions to Olivia's solicitations, this scenic juxtaposition invites our confusion of the two characters as well as Feste's.
This echoing effect develops further in the unexpected interruption of Cesario's duel at the end of act 4, scene 1, when the mistaking of the twins for each other becomes part of Viola's experience as well. When Antonio is dragged off, pleading for the money Sebastian has been holding for him, Nunn cuts to Sebastian denying that he knows Feste yet a third time: “I prithee, foolish Greek, depart from me, / There's money for thee, if you tarry longer, / I shall give worse payment” (4.1.18-20). Unfortunately, as he denies that he knows Feste, he performs the same sleight of hand that Cesario did earlier when giving money to the fool. In this context the switch of hands in the coin trick not only further convinces Feste that Sebastian is Cesario but also resonates thematically with the money that Antonio has given into the other twin's hand. In effect, the twins embody the coin trick. Viola's purse is almost empty but Sebastian's is full; the hand that appears to hold the money is empty, while the identical but opposite hand actually does have the coin. The comparable abilities of the twins as entertainers from before the shipwreck emerge here as the sign that they are a single person.
This doubling underscores the emergent and contested Western ideas about gender equality that prove almost as significant to Viola's character as is her relationship with Orsino. Of all the Twelfth Night films I have seen, this one best creates the twinning of brother and sister. Viola's “training” in Orsino's military court gives her rough equality to her brother that extends beyond dress. This Viola plays cards and billiards as well or better than a man; she rides and jumps obstacles successfully, even if she gives muffled cries of distress; “Cesario” even (for once) acquits himself well in the duel. Although Antonio still interrupts to fight on “Sebastian's” behalf, Viola is at that point putting her fencing tuition into practice and fighting well against Aguecheek. This Viola is not only “as true of heart” as a man; she is also as competent as a man in several pursuits that face her during her adoption of male attire. Like the coin trick, which convinces Feste that the twins are the same person, Viola's skills as well as Sebastian's arrival make their ultimate confusion for each other unavoidable. By encouraging the audience to share the bemusement of the doubling, Nunn adds layers to Viola's character, playing upon twentieth-century gender ideologies as well as romantic ideologies in his construction of her plausibility as a character.
As Nunn very carefully places Sebastian in a world going mad even before Olivia lays claim to him, the film produces the Illyrians as the audience to the twins as a single character. The wholly unexpected assault by Aguecheek becomes the penultimate oddity in a series of strange encounters that Sebastian experiences. His question, “Are all the people mad?” (4.1.26), and his aggressive response to Aguecheek and Toby are all the more justified because his interactions with Olivia's household and his confusion at misidentification not only parallel Viola's final solo visit to Olivia (duel for no cause, strangers claiming to know her) but also immediately echo that experience. The simultaneity of the twins' experiences, “both born in an hour” (2.1.19), is restored cinematically as simultaneous experiences registered in crosscutting. At the same time, the audience becomes more aware of the confusion arising from mistaking the twins for each other as Olivia pleads, “Be ruled by me” (4.1.63). His acceptance of her and his willingness now to keep the madness or dream that has overcome him find an echo transported from 3.4 as Nunn cuts away to Viola, sitting by the sea: “Prove true, imagination, O prove true” (3.4.384). On the one hand, from the audience's privileged position, “reading” Cesario's character at the end of the film apparently presents no problem; on the other hand, the discontinuities perceived by the Illyrians, most by notably Orsino and Olivia, disrupt that character completely, in part because “Cesario” is a product of their imaginations supplying the “interior” logic of “his” character according to their own assumptions about servants and young gentlemen.
However, Nunn also significantly challenges the audience's superior knowledge in his filming of the twins. He provokes his audience's confusion by substituting Imogene Stubbs for Steven Mackintosh when Olivia spies Feste and “Cesario” outside her window just after this exchange. He also uses the same sleight of film several other times, interchanging Mackintosh for Stubbs when “she” rides away from Olivia's house after her second visit and again when Malvolio, crossgartered and convinced of her regard, peers through the window at Olivia and “Cesario” walking from audience right to left outside the window. In turn, Stubbs stands in for Mackintosh at the start of the first scene between Antonio and Sebastian on the quayside and outside the church where Feste spies “him” with Olivia. When asked about this cinematic indirection, Nunn acknowledges that “the twin trick was played on the audience several times, though that wasn't quite my intention—rather to imprint swift physical images on the audience's collective retina so that the final moment of re-union would be credible and moving.”38 In fact, Nunn himself is not sure how many times Cesario was filmed for Sebastian or vice versa. Whenever such substitutions occur, the film audience occupies the position of the Illyrians: they see the twin that they expect to see, projecting the identity of the actor-as-character into the situation that should present one or the other twin in terms of filmed and filial coherence.
The dangers attached to believing the imagination, to projecting a complete character from a partial view, become the core of the next pair of intercut scenes, foreshadowed by a brief cutaway to Malvolio (“they have laid me here in darkness. The world shall know it”).39 The crosscutting interleaving 4.2 and 4.3 hinges on the madness that Malvolio denies and Sebastian suspects. Malvolio's certainty that Olivia loves him finally rests on far less direct evidence than does Sebastian's; as a result, their responses prove different yet interrelated. The intercutting of these two scenes, while again drawing out the encounters with the Illyrians, explicitly uses references to madness as the cinematic pivot linking the gulling of Malvolio to the good luck of Sebastian. After all, Malvolio's insistence that the house is dark and that he is not mad leads immediately into Sebastian's opening speech in 4.3, in which he tries to determine who is mad:
This is the air, that is the glorious sun, This pearl she gave me, I do feel't, and see't, And though 'tis wonder that enwraps me thus, Yet 'tis not madness.
Unlike Malvolio, Sebastian wavers on the subject of his own sanity; he is “ready to distrust [his] eyes” (4.3.13) as he looks at his reflection in one of Olivia's mirrors. His reflection, echo to the doubling that makes the twins so confusing throughout the last two acts of the play, leads him to “wrangle with my reason that persuades me / To any other trust, but that I am mad” (4.3.14-15). Not so Malvolio whose immediate line following the cut back to 4.2 is “I am not mad” (4.2.41). Malvolio's encounter with Feste offers another possibility besides madness for the confusion that both Sebastian and Malvolio are experiencing. After Malvolio begs Feste to “convey what I will set down to my lady” (4.2.115-16), Nunn cuts back to Sebastian in 4.3: “Or else the lady's mad” (4.3.16). But the proof of Olivia's sanity surrounds him in her well-ordered gardens and household. As Sebastian notes, if she were mad, “She could not sway her house, command her followers, / Take and give back affairs, and their dispatch, / With such a smooth, discreet, and stable bearing” (4.3.17-19). Of course, the crosscutting underscores that at least one of her followers is not being swayed or commanded with “smooth, discreet and stable bearing.”
As in the previous scene, where Sebastian accepts confusion and follows Olivia, here he again abandons his attempts to reason out his situation and promises, “I'll follow this good man, and go with you, / And having sworn truth, ever will be true” (4.3.32-33). Nunn then cuts away to Feste and Malvolio on truth and madness:
[I will help you too't.] But tell me true, are you not mad indeed, or do you but counterfeit?
Believe me I am not, I tell thee true.
This telling interchange happens before Sebastian's promise of truth in the Folio; Nunn's filming and cuts make the parallels more direct and pointed. Sebastian's primacy apparently sets his logic as the more valid one, but “truth” itself is suspect since Sebastian, like Malvolio, is caught up in mistaken identity.
The extensive elongation of the very short 4.3 by crosscutting it with one of the play's longest scenes, 4.2 (even though substantially cut here), sets the evolution of Sebastian's mistaken involvement with Olivia against the consequences of Malvolio's erroneous belief that she loves him. Not only does Sebastian's hesitancy show well against Malvolio's unyielding self-delusion, but also the extended time frame and parallels develop both Sebastian's character and his relationship with Olivia beyond the two brief encounters they have before their marriage in the Folio text. In this way, the striking fragmentations and rearrangements of the play's text in Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night not only answer the critical queries about Viola's sudden affection for Orsino, which extend from the eighteenth century, but also attempt comparable effects in making Olivia's mistake more acceptable. Nonetheless, this development is not and cannot be as thorough as the elaboration provided by the combination of 2.3 and 2.4 and by the dispersal of composite scenes between Viola and Orsino. Even though this mingling of 4.2 and 4.3 does extend Olivia's involvement with Sebastian and sets the level of confusion between the twins as high as possible, the layering of these fragments actually exposes how characters in Illyria interpret and try to make coherent their encounters with Cesario in assessing “his” character. Their mistaken reactions to the partial views offered them by Viola and Sebastian underscore how expectations set by gender and romantic ideology produce “Cesario” ultimately as an impossible character.
The twin relationship in Nunn's film calls into question the emerging fullness of “Cesario's” character by displaying Viola as complexly grounded in shifting ideologies of gender. Extending from the seventeenth-century text through the British nineteenth-century setting (“where the differences between men and women were at their greatest … the last years of the previous century took those attitudes to extremes exemplified in the dress silhouettes of the two genders”)40 to a twentieth-century audience, Nunn's film emphasizes Viola's abilities, once driven, to enact and dress the male part. The plausibility of mistaking one twin for the other derives not just from the excellent casting or even the camera tricks, but from the establishment of male and female characters whose talents, tricks, and even abilities prove closer to interchangeable than in any previous Twelfth Night film. In fact, the casting here is even more effective than those films that use a single actress for both roles and are consequently compelled to emphasize gender differences.41 Nunn's film as a whole works through the equality and blend of genders predicted in their opening performance, largely because this Twelfth Night reflects a particularly twentieth-century Western set of assumptions about gender equity—given equal opportunity. Sebastian's incursions into Cesario's Illyria expose how the Illyrians' mistaken constructions of Cesario mirror our investment in “reading” Viola's character within her extended association with Orsino.
Trevor Nunn's Twelfth Night reveals our twentieth-century investment in character as a complex weave of gender identity and erotic alliance. The “depth” of Viola's character proves inextricably linked to the depth of her love, which can only be shown through her ongoing relationship with Orsino. The paradox, of course, is that both her character and their relationship are signaled by dispersed fragments of the text, echoed and emphasized by the comparable strategies applied to Sebastian's interactions with Olivia. As a result, the film exposes a peculiarly twentieth-century “filling up of subjectivities”: scenic parallels both confuse and establish gender identity, and only short, disjointed interactions can produce the required continuity. In Nunn's Twelfth Night, our “natural perspective” on the twins, like that in Shakespeare's play, proves at once fragmented and continuous—and therefore ideological rather than “natural.”
Alan Sinfield, Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 62.
William Shakespeare, Richard III, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), 1.2.229. All subsequent references to Shakespeare's plays will refer to this edition and be noted parenthetically in the text.
Stanley Kauffmann, “Blanking Verse,” The New Republic, 2 December 1996, 42.
John Podhoretz, “O for a Muse of Fire,” The Weekly Standard, 18 November 1996, 46.
John Collick, Shakespeare, Cinema, and Society (New York: Manchester Press, 1989), 33-37.
Peter Donaldson, Shakespearean Films/Shakespearean Directors (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990).
See Barbara Hodgdon, The Shakespeare Trade: Performances and Appropriations (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), and Douglas Lanier, “Drowning the Book: Prospero's Books and the Textual Shakespeare,” in Shakespeare, Theory, and Performance, ed. James Bulman (London and New York: Routledge, 1996).
Lorne M. Buchman, Still in Movement: Shakespeare on Screen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 107.
Franco Zeffirelli, “Filming Shakespeare,” in Staging Shakespeare: Seminars on Production Problems, ed. Glenn Loney (New York: Garland Publishing, 1990), 261.
Kenneth Branagh, Hamlet: Screenplay, Introduction, and Film Diary (New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1996), 33.
Joe Morgenstern, “Film: Vintage Wine in Hip Flasks.” The Wall Street Journal, 25 October 1996, A12.
Trevor Nunn, William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: A Screenplay (London: Methuen, 1996), xii. Unfortunately, Nunn's screenplay text does not include page numbers for his valuable introduction; I supply them as they would appear.
In “‘The very names of the Persons’: Editing and the Invention of Dramatick Character” in Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), Randall McLeod examines the variations in stage directions in All's Well in order to argue that characters on stage seem to be reconfigured—and renamed—according to their relationships to other characters on stage. Such variable naming does not appear in the 1623 Folio Twelfth Night, except insofar as Orsino wavers between being called “Count” and “Duke.” Some textual critics have taken this variation as a sign of textual revision in the play, but the naming has implications for characters as well since the counts in Shakespeare's plays have less authority and more involvement with love than do the dukes.
This distinction between “true love” and lust is a common feature in popular romance fiction, as analyzed by Janice Radway in Reading the Romance: Women Patriarchy and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).
See Laurie Osborne, The Trick of Singularity: Twelfth Night and the Performance Editions (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996), 47-77.
Francis Gentleman, Twelfth Night in Bell's Edition of Shakespeare's Plays, vol. 5 (London: Bell, 1774), 299.
Mrs. M. L. Elliott, Shakespeare's Garden of Girls (London: Remington & Company, 1885), 215.
Arthur Symons, introduction to The Henry Irving Shakespeare, ed. Henry Irving and Frank Marshall, vol. 4 (London: Blackie & Son, 1888), 355.
Trevor Nunn, as quoted in Twelfth Night: About the Film, n.d., 16 July 2000.
For a discussion of how underanalyzed are the effects of romantic ideologies as they affect the reception of Shakespeare's plays, see Linda Charnes, “‘What's Love Got to Do with It?’ Reading the Liberal Humanist Romance in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra,” Textual Practice 6, no. 1 (1992): 1-16.
Nunn, Screenplay, 16.
Stephen Holden, “There's Something Verboten in Illyria,” New York Times 25 October 1996, B1.
Mark Rose, in Shakespearean Stage Design (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), draws attention to the roots of Shakespearean scenic structure in the visual arts, especially in the juxtaposition of scenes that “reflect upon” each other. Rose only addresses Twelfth Night specifically in his comments on the structural effects of the opening scenes; in Shakespeare's Art of Orchestration (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), Jean Howard analyzes more fully the dynamic development from scene to scene between stasis and motioning the comedy.
Nunn, as quoted in Peter Marks, “So Young, So Fragile, So Vexed about Sex,” New York Times, 20 October 1996, 13.
Nunn, Screenplay, 54.
Nunn allows Viola's glances to give this information almost as early as the first scene. Certainly her interest in him is clear as early as the seaside scene when he first sends her to Olivia; however, it is an interest that we as the audience must supply out of our interpretation of the cinematic gaze she offers of him rather than the revelation of a spoken declaration.
Nunn, Screenplay, xii.
Trevor Nunn, Letter to Author, 8 May 1997. I wrote to inquire about the doubling I had noticed only to discover that the substitutions also appeared in places I had not recognized, despite several viewings.
Nunn, Screenplay, 101.
Nunn, Screenplay, 8-9.
Branagh, Kenneth. Hamlet: Screenplay, Introduction, and Film Diary. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1996.
Buchman, Lorne M. Still in Movement: Shakespeare on Screen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Charnes, Linda. “‘What's Love Got to Do with It?’ Reading the Liberal Humanist Romance in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.” Textual Practice 6, no. 1 (1992): 1-16.
Collick, John. Shakespeare, Cinema, and Society. New York: Manchester Press, 1989.
Davies, Anthony. Filming Shakespeare Plays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Donaldson, Peter. Shakespearean Films/Shakespearean Directors. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.
Elliott, Mrs. M. L. Shakespeare's Garden of Girls. London: Remington & Company, 1885.
Gentleman, Francis. Twelfth Night. In Bell's Edition of Shakespeare's Plays. Vol. 5. London: Bell, 1774.
Hodgdon, Barbara. The Shakespeare Trade: Performances and Appropriations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.
Holden, Stephen. “There's Something Verboten in Illyria.” New York Times, 25 October 1996, B1, B16.
Howard, Jean. Shakespeare's Art of Orchestration. Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.
Kauffmann, Stanley. “Blanking Verse.” The New Republic, 2 December 1996, 40-41.
Lanier, Douglas M. “Drowning the Book: Prospero's Books and the Textual Shakespeare.” In Shakespeare, Theory, and Performance. Edited by James Bulman. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.
Marks, Peter. “So Young, So Fragile, So Vexed about Sex.” New York Times, 20 October 1996, 13.
McLeod, Randall. “‘The very names of the Persons’: Editing and the Invention of Dramatick Character.” In Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. Edited by David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass. London and New York: Routledge, 1991.
Morgenstern, Joe. “Film: Vintage Wine in Hip Flasks.” The Wall Street Journal, 25 October 1996, A12.
Nunn, Trevor. Letter to Author. 8 May 1997.
———. As quoted in Twelfth Night: About the Film, n.d., 16 July 2000.
———. William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night: A Screenplay. London and New York: Methuen, 1996.
Osborne, Laurie. The Trick of Singularity: Twelfth Night and the Performance Editions. Iowa Studies in Theatre and Culture. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996.
Podhoretz, John. “O for a Muse of Fire.” The Weekly Standard, 18 November 1996, 46-47.
Radway, Janice. Reading the Romance: Women Patriarchy and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
Rose, Mark. Shakespearean Design. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.
Shakespeare, William. Richard III. In Riverside Shakespeare. Edited by G. Blakemore Evans et al. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.
———. Twelfth Night, Or What You Will. In Riverside Shakespeare. Edited by G. Blakemore Evans et al. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.
Sinfield, Alan. Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
Symons, Arthur. “Introduction to Twelfth Night.” In The Henry Irving Shakespeare. Vol. 4. Edited by Henry Irving and Frank Marshall. London: Blackie & Son, 1888.
Zeffirelli, Franco. “Filming Shakespeare.” In Staging Shakespeare: Seminars on Production Problems. Edited by Glenn Loney. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990.
Hamlet. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. 3 hr. 58 min. Castle Rock Entertainment, 1996. Videocassette.
Looking for Richard. Directed by Al Pacino. 1 hr. 52 min. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 1996. Videocassette.
Twelfth Night. Directed by Trevor Nunn. 2 hr. 13 min. Fine Line Films, 1996. Videocassette.
William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. 2 hr. Twentieth Century Fox/Bazmark Films, 1996. Videocassette.
Elias Schwartz (essay date April 1967)
SOURCE: Schwartz, Elias. “Twelfth Night and the Meaning of Shakespearean Comedy.” College English 28, no. 7 (April 1967): 508-19.
[In the following essay, Schwartz presents Twelfth Night as an example of “festive” comedy, in which the atmosphere of merriment expresses a vision of human life that focuses on life's joy, not its limitations. Schwartz additionally contrasts festive comedy with satiric comedy, emphasizing that the play should not be viewed as satire.]
Although Aristotle does not take up the nature of comedy in the Poetics, he does throw out a few remarks which are as intelligent and useful as anything that has been said on the...
(The entire section is 4895 words.)
Keir Elam (essay date spring 1996)
SOURCE: Elam, Keir. “The Fertile Eunuch: Twelfth Night, Early Modern Intercourse, and the Fruits of Castration.” Shakespeare Quarterly 47, no. 1 (spring 1996): 1-36.
[In the following essay, Elam uses Viola's reference to her cross-dressing, in which she states she will play the role of a eunuch, as an entry point for discussing the cultural history of castration as it appears in literature and the theater.]
I. FORWARD TO THE PAST
This essay is like Hamlet's crab: it goes forward only by going backward. Or, to put it another way, it is a work in progress that has turned irresistibly into a work in regress. A work in progress because...
(The entire section is 19375 words.)
John Kerrigan (essay date 1997)
SOURCE: Kerrigan, John. “Secrecy and Gossip in Twelfth Night.” Shakespeare Survey 50 (1997): 65-80.
[In the following essay, Kerrigan studies Twelfth Night within the context of the Renaissance conventions regarding secrecy and gossip, finding that gossip is a means—both in early modern society and in the play—of maintaining social bonds. Kerrigan also discusses the affinity between Cesario and Malvolio, noting that as servants both characters are expected to be discreet.]
Renaissance secrecy is no longer quite as secret as it was. Art historians and iconologists have returned to the myths and emblems explored by Panofsky and Edgar Wind, and...
(The entire section is 10697 words.)
Angela Hurworth (essay date 1999)
SOURCE: Hurworth, Angela. “Gulls, Cony-Catchers and Cozeners: Twelfth Night and the Elizabethan Underworld.” Shakespeare Survey 52 (1999): 120-32.
[In the following essay, Hurworth explores the representation of deception, or gulling, in Twelfth Night. Hurworth highlights the links between criminal deception as it is described in Elizabethan narratives of the “underworld” and the deception found in the play.]
The age-old ploy of practising deception upon one's fellow for material profit and/or vindictive amusement, known as gulling, cozenage or cony-catching in the rogue literature of the Elizabethan period, figures prominently in the contemporary...
(The entire section is 8053 words.)
Paul Dean (essay date 2001)
SOURCE: Dean, Paul. “‘Comfortable Doctrine’: Twelfth Night and the Trinity.” The Review of English Studies, 52, no. 208 (2001): 500-15.
[In the following essay, Dean analyzes Twelfth Night as the union of Renaissance Platonism and Augustinian theology, contending that Shakespeare employed the device of twins in order to explore the notion that two individuals are united as one through love, a concept that was understood by Neoplatonists to be analogous to the doctrine of the Trinity.]
One cannot read far into Twelfth Night without noticing the extent to which Shakespeare is fascinated, in this play, by triads and their possible resolution...
(The entire section is 8100 words.)
Berlin, Normand. “Traffic of Our Stage: Shakespeare in Stratford.” The Massachusetts Review 40, no. 1 (spring 1999): 137-53.
Reviews the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Twelfth Night at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. The critic finds the production, directed by Adrian Noble, to be unmoving and palatable at best.
Brown, John Russell. “Twelfth Night.” In Shakespeare's Dramatic Style, pp. 132-59. London: Heinemann, 1970.
Examines the dramatic style Shakespeare used in Twelfth Night, demonstrating the ways in which Shakespeare employed simple...
(The entire section is 471 words.)