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Twelfth Night

Written before the "problem comedies" such as Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night marks for many critics the most well-crafted of Shakespeare's "happy comedies," one rich in symbolism and complex in its exploration of love, its blurring of appearance and reality, its troubling of gender, and its portrayal of human psychology.

As in most of Shakespeare's romantic comedies from the 1590's, love motivates many of the characters' actions and attitudes. Some commentators, such as Peter G. Phialas (1966) and Charles Tyler Prouty (1966), have claimed that the characters interact in order to depict a Renaissance ideal of courtly love. Richard Henze (1975) has expanded this line of thought, arguing that Shakespeare resolves the play's contradictions through the interaction of characters, particularly through love-relationships. Similarly, Dennis R. Preston (1970) has asserted that the minor characters bind the seemingly disparate elements of the play, forming a unified whole. Other critics, including Terence Eagleton (1967), have contended that love in the play fuses language and reality, and thus questions the fixity of nature.

While some scholars have argued that love is the primary subject of Twelfth Night and have debated whether it has a unifying or dissembling effect on the dichotomy between appearance and reality, other commentators have identified this very dichotomy as the play's central theme. For example, Karen Greif (1981) has focused on Shakespeare's questioning of the nature of truth through the characters' "play," claiming that "Twelfth Night poses questions about 'the purpose of playing' and about whether illusion is perhaps too deeply embedded in human experience to be ever completely separated from reality." Other critics, including D. J. Palmer (1967), have contextualized Shakespeare within a tradition that conflates art and nature, and Walter N. King (1968), drawing on the history of philosophy, has considered Shakespeare to be consciously commenting on a Parmenidean approach to metaphysics. The resulting portrayal of nature has led commentators such as Karin S. Coddon (1993) to consider Twelfth Night as questioning the stability of social status by troubling a supposedly natural hierarchy in Elizabethan society.

In addition to Shakespeare's problematizing the fixity of nature, many feminist literary theorists have claimed that disorder in Twelfth Night also affects definitions of sex and gender, focusing primarily on the Viola/ Cesario character. Scholars have extensively debated whether Shakespeare consciously or unconsciously uses Viola's role-playing to demonstrate the plasticity of socially constructed gender roles as well as whether the character calls supposedly fixed sexual differences into question. Stevie Davies (1993) and Nancy Hayles (1979), for example, have contended that Viola's role-playing questions the idea of a naturally determined gender. Others, such as Lorna Hutson (1996), have argued that Shakespeare affirms not only the plasticity of gender, but the rhetorical construction of sex as well.

Modern commentators have also studied the tenets of psychoanalysis to explore both the actions of the characters and the motivations of the author. Freudian and Jungian taxonomies have been used to dissect characters' actions (such as Viola's putting on the guise of a man) and their personification of psychological attributes. For example, Helene Moglen (1973) has contended that Twelfth Night portrays a psychological picture "strikingly similar to major aspects of Freud's own theory of psycho-sexual development." Critics such as Leonard F. Manheim (1964) have even applied psychoanalytic theory to Shakespeare himself, finding in Twelfth Night an expression of his unconscious attempt to enact an Oedipal fantasy.

Critical approaches to Twelfth Night have varied considerably, from strict examinations of the text alone to psychoanalytic evaluations of its author, from historical inquiries into Elizabethan love to feminist interpretations of sex and gender. Regardless, Twelfth Night continues to attract contemporary criticism, as commentators find in the play the height of Shakespeare's comedic art.


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Peter G. Phialas (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night," in Shakespeare's Romantic Comedy: The Development of Their Form and Meaning, The University of North Carolina Press, 1966, pp. 256-305.

[In the following essay, Phialas examines the elements of Twelfth Night that Shakespeare adapted from his earlier comedies, and he discerns in the play an ideal of love that emerges through the juxtaposition of Viola's selfless love and the self-indulgent love of Orsino and Olivia.]


Twelfth Night has been called a masterpiece not of invention but recapitulation, a summing-up of the admirable features of the "joyous" comedies. It is certainly that and much more. Its connections with earlier Shakespearean comedies are many and they have to do with large elements of the plot, although of course we should bear in mind that some of these elements are present also in the sources of the play. In any case, it is clear that the confusion of twins goes back to The Comedy of Errors. The theme of a disguised lady serving the man she loves in his courtship of another woman, though present in the sources of Twelfth Night, had been employed in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. And here it may be worth mentioning that the disguised Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona calls herself Sebastian. Sebastian's devoted Antonio in Twelfth Night recalls Bassanio's equally devoted friend of the same name in The Merchant of Venice. With Much Ado About Nothing, as with other comedies, Twelfth Night has in common the motif of the disdainful lover, a motif it develops rather in the way of As You Like It, where Phoebe in some ways anticipates Olivia's fruitless love for a disguised lady. Another connection with As You Like It is an analogy in the roles of Viola and Silvius, both of whom undertake to advance rival love affairs of those they love themselves. Furthermore, and far more significant, is the fact that Feste, though of course a fresh, independent character, is a creation in the new manner of Touch-stone, and he is intended to supply something like the latter's point of view and commentary.1 These and other features of earlier comedies Twelfth Night employs in fresh combinations, in an action that, in spite of these borrowings, produces the impression of complete novelty. But although the story is fresh and although Shakespeare invents episodes and characters, the total effect of the play, its chief thematic concern, repeats the large meaning we have discovered in the earlier plays and particularly in the other two joyous comedies. If we accept as the play's chief theme the education in the ways of love of the disdainful as well as the romantic lover then it is clear that in this it repeats the central ideas of As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing. And if in addition we accept Rosalind as the representative of the ideally balanced temperament and exemplar of the proper attitude toward love, then we shall conclude that Shakespeare intends something very like that in his conception of Viola. This is not to say that the two heroines have the same temperament but rather that through them, in somewhat different ways, the dramatist defines the proper point of view towards life's processes. Through their intelligent, level-headed, and generous approach to the challenges of this "working-day world," they demonstrate the sure way to maximum happiness for themselves and those around them. Of this more presently.

In chronology Twelfth Night appears to have followed the other two joyous comedies, and its date can be fixed with fair accuracy. To begin with, the limits of that date are 1598, the year of Meres' Palladis Tamia, which fails to mention the play, and the first allusion to it on February 2, 1601/2 (Candlemas), in John Manningham's Diary, where he records that at "our feast wee had a play called 'Twelue Night or What you Will.'"2 But before this performance of February, 1601/2, the play must have been acted in a private or public theatre or both. The title strongly suggests that it was first acted on Twelfth Night, and this would defeat Dover Wilson's view that it was originally drafted for the performance at the Inns of Court on February 2, 1601/2, to which Manningham alludes in his diary.3 Two contemporary facts, though seeming to raise difficulties, ultimately contribute to a precise dating of the play. Shakespeare's company acted a play at court on Twelfth Night, January 6, 1600/1, and on that same day the Queen entertained Don Virginio Orsino, Duke of Bracciano, who was visiting her court. And what is even more tantalizing is his report in a letter to his Duchess that the Queen's entertainment had included una commedia mescolata, con musiche e balli, "a mingled comedy with bits of music and dances."4 Unfortunately Don Virginio gives no further details but promises his Duchess to tell her more by word of mouth. From this and other contributory records Leslie Hotson has concluded that Twelfth Night was the play in question, that Shakespeare's Orsino is a graceful compliment to the visiting Duke, that Olivia is intended to suggest the Queen, and that Malvolio is indeed, as other critics had supposed, an audacious though by no means impudent satiric portrait of Sir William Knollys, the Queen's controller.5 Some connection between the name of Shakespeare's Orsino and the Queen's royal visitor there must be, but it is scarcely possible that Shakespeare wrote the play especially for the Duke's entertainment. One reason is that he would have had scant time—just eleven days—to compose the comedy since firm news of the Duke's journey and of the probable date of his arrival reached Whitehall on Christmas Day, 1600.5 It was thus on Christmas Day or shortly thereafter that the Queen gave detailed directions to her Lord Chamberlain which he was to follow in planning the grand entertainment. Among these directions occur the following: "To Confer with my Lord Admirall and the Master of the Revells for takeing order generally with the players to make choyse of [?the] play that shalbe best furnished with rich appareil, have greate variety and change of Musicke and daunces, and of a Subject that may be most pleasing to her Majestic"7 The probability is strong that "to make choyse" here means select a play in existence, not commission a new one, a play with music and dance and a theme pleasing to the Queen. The care and minuteness of detail in the royal directions suggest that the Queen was unwilling to allow chance and improvisation to detract from the splendor of the royal celebration, and it seems logical to conclude that she wished to present to her visitor a play known to possess the qualities she specified. Furthermore, it is not certain that Shakespeare's Orsino and Olivia would have been sufficiently flattering to Don Virginio and his imperial hostess. In all probability the play was written later in the year 1601, when the name Orsino could be employed with greater propriety and the character could be presented with greater freedom than would have been possible in 1600. Other evidence points to a date after 1600. The new map alluded to in III, ii, 66, is that in Hakluyt's Voyages which was printed in 1600. In addition, 1600 is the date of Robert Jones's First Booke of Songs and Ayres from which Shakespeare borrowed the song "Farewell, dear heart," which is sung alternately by Feste and Sir Toby Belch.8 What all this does is to narrow this does of the probable play by placing it in or after 1600 and before Manningham's allusion on February 2, 1601/2. Since, as we have seen, 1600 will not do, the only Twelfth Night available was that of 1601, and this means that the play, the last of Shakespeare's romantic comedies, must have been acted for the first time a few weeks before Manningham's reference to it on February 2, 1601/2.


For the love story of the four chief characters in the play Shakespeare may have turned to a variety of sources, dramatic and non-dramatic. The chief of these seems to have been the story of Apolonius and Siila in Barnaby Riche's Farewell to Militane Profession, first printed in 1581. Here Shakespeare found the story of twins of different sexes, which would admit a romantic treatment of the sort of confusion of identity which in a different context had formed the central theme of The Comedy of Errors. In addition he found a ship-wreck on a strange coast which forces the heroine to take the sex and name of her brother. Thus disguised, Silla (Viola) seeks employment with Apolonius (Orsino), the man she loves, who sends her to court Juliana (Olivia) for him. The latter, rejecting Apolonius' suit, falls in love with the disguised Silla, who is later replaced by her long-absent twin brother, Silvio (Sebastian). Silvio's acceptance of Juliana's invitation, Juliana's revelation of her betrothal, her criticism of the page's refusal to acknowledge it, and the Duke's anger with his page—these matters are so close to the corresponding episodes in Twelfth Night that Shakespeare must have known Riche's version of the tale.9

The alleged topicality of the conflict between Sir Toby and Malvolio has been the subject of much speculation. In addition to Leslie Hotson's theory alluded to above, it has been observed that another contemporary quarrel may have given Shakespeare the impetus and even details for the attack upon Malvolio. The quarrel was that between Sir Posthumus Hoby and two or three gentlemen, including Sir Richard Cholmley and William Eure, who, after a day's hunting in the country, invited themselves to spend the night in Hoby's house and proceeded to disturb that household with their boisterous drinking. The matter was brought to trial and seems to have been the talk of London during the years 1600-02.10 Still another source for the Malvolio episodes has been found in Sidney's Arcadia, in the broad comedy dealing with Dametas and his family.11 A more likely influence upon the episodes with Malvolio and his tormentors may have been the severe onslaught upon humour characters in Jonsonian comedy. Such influence may have been particularly strong in Shakespeare's conception of Malvolio and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. The latter may be seen in part as a composite of Matthew and Stephen, Jonson's city and country gulls in his Every Man in His Humour.12


The materials available to Shakespeare were, then, extensive; and it is possible that he was indebted to a good many of them. But what is of great interest is that the two chief actions in the play, the mistaking of twins and the service by a disguised lady of the man she loves in his courtship of another woman, had each been dramatized in different plays by Shakespeare at the very outset of his career. In Twelfth Night, where he combines these two actions, he seems to complete the circle. But the way the two themes are combined and the conception of the characters, especially the heroines, clearly give proof of the distance Shakespeare had measured since the composition of The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. And thus the structure of Twelfth Night, the way its episodes are conceived and related, the recreation of characters found in the sources, the invention of new episodes and characters, the function of music and song, and in general the mutual qualification of the play's several parts—these matters derive in great part from earlier comedies written in the long interval of nearly ten years. Whether Shakespeare was indebted to a contemporary quarrel or Sidney's Arcadia for a few details in the Malvolio episodes it is impossible to say.13 What is clear is that those episodes owe their presence to Shakespeare's concern with different attitudes toward love. And it is equally clear that those episodes are presented in close relationship to the chief events in the comedy. Malvolio is not simply the butt of the inebriated Sir Toby and Andrew Aguecheek. He is conceived in terms which bear close relevance to the love theme of the play.14 Malvolio is first and last one of Olivia's suitors, and his chief contribution to the play is in representing a particular attitude toward love as well as toward himself and his world. In this he recalls Jaques of As You Like It, and it is his peculiar response to love and his rigid objection to all indulgence which exclude him for a time from the happy and harmonious conclusion of the play. Malvolio's opposition to indulgence, in itself an important theme of the play, is the immediate cause of his undoing, but that undoing has to do with him as Olivia's suitor, one who represents a particular conception of love. Malvolio has clearly evolved out of Shakespeare's preoccupation, in his romantic comedies, with different and often conflicting conceptions of man's ideal relationship to woman.15

Malvolio's love for Olivia, or what he takes to be love, is limited or rather vitiated by his extreme and humorless self-love. But there is another side in Shakespeare's conception of the pompous steward. The complete absence of humor and self-awareness in him is coupled with In this a fierce all liberality indictment and pleasure.16 In this he stands for an extreme view which, by juxtaposition with its opposite, is intended to point to an ideal attitude. But the theme of indulgence is not a gratuitous adjunct to the main concern of Twelfth Night. It is instead a theme dramatized in analogical relationship to the theme of love. Thus Malvolio, involved in both themes, must be seen as a central character, and the dramatist's conception of him is clearly dictated by thematic considerations. He evolves in great part out of Shakespeare's choice to dramatize the analogy between romantic love and self-indulgence.17

Other features in the action of Twelfth Night which derive from earlier plays may be cited. The scene in which Orsino declares his love for Olivia in the hearing of the disguised Viola repeats in the main the action of a similar episode in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. There is of course an important difference, namely the fact that, unlike Proteus, Orsino is not violating any love vows made earlier to the disguised woman who loves him. And this difference is dictated by the dramatist's choice to stress different motifs in the two scenes. In the scene in The Two Gentlemen of Verona the emphasis is upon Proteus' violation of his vows and the effect of his action upon the disguised Julia. In Twelfth Night the stress is upon the Duke's manner of expressing his infatuation with Olivia, his hyperbolic romanticism, as well as upon its painful effect on the disguised Viola. Here there is no immediate question of fickleness on the part of Orsino in the sense of the episode in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.18 Orsino's outpouring of what he considers his great passion for Olivia is of course undermined by his rhetoric, but it is also thrown into comic relief in retrospect later on in the play by his all too sudden transference of that passion from Olivia to Viola.

Among the many links connecting the comedy with Much Ado About Nothing is the ruse employed in the intrigues aimed at the pair of reluctant lovers in the earlier play and at Malvolio in Twelfth Night. The ironic effect of the conversations which are intended to be overheard by Benedick and Beatrice is here repeated through the letter which Maria drops in Malvolio's path. Maria's letter is but a variation of Don Pedro's plan to bring Beatrice and Benedick together. There are of course the obvious differences in the circumstances of the ruse and its ultimate effects upon its "victims." But there are also certain striking correspondences of detail. Before he overhears talk of Beatrice's love for him, Benedick, it will be recalled, is shown in a long soliloquy attacking Claudio's recent transformation from soldier to lover. But at the conclusion of that passage Benedick asks if he, himself, could be changed by love in the same manner. The question and Benedick's uncertain answer reveal that he is vulnerable, indeed ready to receive the impact of Don Pedro's plan. In like manner Malvolio is shown in the act of revealing his own readiness to be duped by Maria's letter and its "revelations." He is presented in soliloquy imagining himself worthy of Olivia's love. Indeed he imagines himself married to her and in the act of making ready to deal rather severely with Sir Toby. And at that very moment his eye falls upon the letter. The episode is furthermore given a refinement which likewise recalls and surpasses something similar in the earlier play. Benedick is convinced that what he over-hears is not counterfeited: the very thought that someone is trying to gull somebody is instantly rejected. And this is brought about by having that suspicion utterly demolished by the grave witness of the elderly Leonato. The words onstage merge into Benedick's own thoughts so imperceptibly that he would have thought "this a gull but that the white-bearded fellow speaks it." And later he concludes that "This can be no trick." In Twelfth Night Shakespeare in like manner provided a device by which Malvolio is tricked into the conviction that Maria's letter is genuine. What Malvolio reads in the letter are of course his own thoughts and most devout wishes, but there is more. When we consider the letter's style, particularly in the last long passage—"Let thy tongue tang arguments of state; put thyself into the trick of singularity"—we can see clearly that this is neither Olivia's style nor Maria's but Malvolio's own. It is a brilliant stroke. Both the thoughts and words in the letter are so expressive of Malvolio's being that they produce instant conviction.19


Shakespeare's dependence on earlier comedies for certain elements of Twelfth Night ranged beyond his use in fresh combinations of certain episodes. As we have already noted, he repeats certain characters, though of course he recreates them in a fashion to fit the structural and thematic necessities of the story he is dramatizing. This is true in the creation or recreation of minor as well as major characters. Though lacking the brilliant virtuosity of Rosalind and her superior comic awareness, Viola is nevertheless meant to represent the same balance of sentiment with common sense, the same steady and level view of the world around her. In this she repeats Rosalind's function in the earlier play, a function made indispensable by the dramatist's chief concern in these plays. But of course the dramatic terms of her existence require individual features in Viola which are quite different from Rosalind's. Rosalind could not be repeated. Certainly in Viola's position Rosalind would never allow Orsino to maintain even a semblance of an initiative. But her general attitude towards love is repeated in Viola, though more profoundly, albeit more obliquely expressed in the latter. Rosalind's direct attempts to "cure" both Orlando and Phoebe, the one of his bookish Petrarchism and the other of disdain, are repeated by Viola in the later play. But a glance at her scenes with Orsino and Olivia will show how tentative Viola's approach is. She seldom opposes Orsino's whims, and when she differs with him, her comments are gentle and indirect. When she confronts Olivia in their initial meeting, her comment on the latter's disinterest in love is gentler than Rosalind's similar criticism of Phoebe. But Viola's words to Olivia carry greater significance, a maturer vision as befits her own temperament and also the character and position of Olivia. To Viola's inquiry if she is "the lady of the house," Olivia replies: "If I do not usurp myself, I am." Viola's comment on this expresses one of Shakespeare's favorite themes: "Most certain, if you are she, you do usurp yourself; for what is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve." The import of such a speech would have been beyond Phoebe, and perhaps it is beyond Olivia as well. But what is far more significant is that the speech could not have come from Rosalind, for the words proceed from the sort of stillness and reflection we would not associate with her temperament. The attitude expressed in the passage, though repeating Rosalind's general point of view concerning the rejection of love, is enriched by evidence of serious thought. It is an attitude presupposing Rosalind's and transcending it. Although rationality and incisive intellect combine to produce that most attractive quality in Rosalind which we identified with the comic spirit, it is also true that she is not innocent of emotion and the romantic attitude towards love and her lover. But with all this, it must be admitted that Rosalind is master of her emotions; she is in complete control of these as she is of her destiny. Though exiled and forced to disguise herself for safety, she is never in any danger. Rosalind is never in pain, and this is one of the chief points in which she differs from Viola. While Rosalind has "convers'd with a magician" and can do "strange things"—she promises to unite all the lovers on the morrow—Viola is bewildered by her dilemma.20

O time! thou must untangle this, not I.
It is too hard a knot for me t' untie!
                                   (II, ii, 41-42)

It may be said of Rosalind that she controls not only her emotions and her destiny but also the action of the whole play. The same cannot be said of Viola, whose role is somewhat passive by comparison.

This general difference in the conception of Rosalind and Viola is to be found also in other characters. Feste, for instance, though he repeats in part Touchstone's function, achieves his ends by more oblique means. Like Touchstone, his chief role is to comment upon and thereby deflate the sentimental pretensions of such characters as Orsino and Olivia. But his comment upon Orsino's love-melancholy and Olivia's capriciously excessive mourning is both more oblique in manner and more serious in tone than Touchstone's had been in the earlier play. In both cases Feste addresses his reducing commentary in part through songs of time's passing and lovers' deaths and thereby implies at once a subtler attitude towards the aberrations of Orsino and Olivia as well as a measure of sympathy.21 These features of Feste's character and function suggest greater reflection, perhaps we should say greater maturity, than is revealed in Touchstone.

This reflectiveness implied in the character of Viola and Feste accords with—and indeed generates—a sense of melancholy characteristic of the general mood of the play. In spite of much revelry in its action, Twelfth Night impresses one with a certain air of gravity which is quite different from the high spirits of As You Like It. The world of Twelfth Night appears a little more complex and thus more puzzling than that of the earlier comedies. And this complexity anticipates the greater seriousness not only of the tragedies which are soon to follow but also of the problem plays and the romances.


Another significant relationship between Twelfth Night and As You Like It has to do with an aspect of their structure, for here again Shakespeare presents the theme of love in analogical relationship with a secondary theme, the theme of indulgence. In an earlier section the point was made that Malvolio's role has to do with both love and the theme of indulgence which is presented in a special relationship to it. Malvolio is both a lover, one of Olivia's suitors, and also the exponent of opposition to all pleasure. His interest in Olivia, which he calls love, is vitiated by his self-love, and in this he is the antithesis of Viola, whose generous and self-sacrificing love of Orsino may be said to represent the opposite extreme. In his attitude toward indulgence, Malvolio is contrasted with Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, whose overindulgence clearly throws into relief the steward's austerity. But although Malvolio rejects the kind of indulgence practiced by the other two, he overindulges in self-love, so surfeiting that in Olivia's words he becomes "sick of self-love." What is to be noted here is that Shakespeare presents extravagant attitudes toward the themes of love and indulgence, extremes which by juxtaposition tend toward mutual qualification. Malvolio is but one of the characters whose attitudes form the main action of the comedy. But he is central to that action in his double role of being both a lover, or would-be lover, and an exponent of a particular attitude toward indulgence.

The theme of indulgence, as we have said, is here presented in such a way that attitudes toward it are made to reflect upon analogous attitudes toward love. The relationship of the two themes can be seen as it affects other characters besides Malvolio. Orsino and Olivia are both gluttons in their way, both gorging themselves upon boundless sentiment: he upon extravagant passion (as he calls it) for Olivia, she upon equally excessive mourning for a dead brother. In effect he is overfond of love-melancholy, she of grief. Both, then, overindulge in certain emotions, and that extravagance, and especially the rhetoric of its expression, form yet another instance of comic reduction. And thus it may be said that Orsino, Olivia, Malvolio, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew are presented in postures of overindulgence of one sort or another. Furthermore, that part of the plot which deals with Malvolio and his enemies dramatizes indulgence itself, that is, what in the main action is a metaphor here becomes a theme. And the comic reduction of excess in this part of the play, the comic comment upon extreme attitudes toward indulgence, reinforces the comic reduction of extreme attitudes toward love. And as we have seen, this last is accomplished in part by the metaphoric function of the term indulgence in the main action of the comedy. From the point of view of structure, this circumstance represents the highest point to which Shakespeare could raise the analogical relationship of the two themes.

The theme of indulgence, then, occupies an important position in the play, but we should remember that it is secondary to the theme of love, that it is employed in support of it. Because Twelfth Night is associated with revelry, it is quite possible to overstress this element of the plot. Thus one critic has proposed that "Twelfth Night is a philosophical defence of a moderate indulgence in pleasure, in opposition on the one hand to an extreme hostility to pleasure and on the other hand to an extreme self-indulgence."22 A related view finds that the play "develops an ethic of indulgence based on the notion that the personality of any individual is a function not of the static proportions of the humors within him, but of the dynamic appetites that may more purposefully, as well as more pragmatically, be said to govern his behavior."23 This is relevant and just so long as we do not raise the theme of indulgence to a position above that assigned to it by the dramatist. In a second and equally provocative essay on Twelfth Night, Professor Hollander sees the play as "representing the killing off of excessive appetite through indulgence of it, leading to the rebirth of the unencumbered self."24 Though an exciting notion of comic catharsis, such a view lays undue stress on what we have called the play's chief metaphor at the expense of its central idea.25

In addition to the primary metaphor of indulgence, and most significantly associated with it, is the subsidiary concept of musical order and due proportion. Even as order and proportion are indispensable to harmony, whether musical, celestial, or political, so they are to the well-being and inner unity of the individual. Here music, which fills Twelfth Night, achieves the status of motif in the thought of the play. "The general concern of Twelfth Night," says Professor Hollander, "is musica humana, the Boethian application of abstract order and proportion to human behavior."26 This is unquestionably so, and what is said here of Twelfth Night applies with equal force to Shakespearean drama generally. But again it should be noted that the play is concerned with a particular application, an application to a particular aspect of human behavior. That Twelfth Night dramatizes the concept of proportion and moderation. there can be no question. We may go so far as to say that the play's chief theme has to do with proportion and moderation. But it is proportion and moderation neither in terms of general behavior nor of revelry, eating, and drinking, though these provide both metaphoric and thematic support. The play is primarily concerned with proportion and moderation in matters concerning romantic love, the general subject of all Shakespeare's romantic comedies.


The chief idea of Twelfth Night has been variously identified. Some have argued that the leading note of the play is fun; others have held that the play's "lesson is … 'Sweet are the uses of adversity.'"27 Unrequited love is another choice.28 Still another is social security. According to this view Twelfth Night is not a story of love "but of the very realistic struggles and intrigues over the betrothal of a rich countess, whose selection of a mate determines the future of all the major and most of the minor characters."29 Much closer to the mark than any of these is the view that Twelfth Night "exhibits in its action one of the fundamental motifs of comedy: the education of a man or woman."30 What needs to be added here is that the motif exhibited in the action of the play has to do with the education of characters in matters of love. As in the comedies we have so far considered, so here the main action presents in juxtaposition attitudes toward love, with the result that such attitudes by mutual qualification point to the best attitude possible in the world created by the play, a world ultimately not different from our own.

The initial episode introduces the two contrasting attitudes toward love which we have found at the center of Shakespeare's other romantic comedies. Orsino in his opening lines reveals and exposes to the censure of the comic spirit his immoderately sentimental conception of what he thinks is his passion for Olivia. His fancy is, in his own words, "high fantastical," and the pain it causes him is insupportable. For that reason he calls for music as a way to relieve his passion.

If music be the food of love, play on!
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
                               (I, i, 1-3)

Notwithstanding its "capacity," love may be so surfeited with music, he hopes, that its force will abate for a short while. It is all in excess, all expressed in one comic hyperbole after another.

O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purg'd the air of pestilence!
That instant was I turn'd into a hart;
                                         (11. 19-21)

With the entrance of Valentine at line 23 and his report to the Duke, Shakespeare matches Orsino's hyperboles with Olivia's own extreme sentimentality in rejecting his suit in order to abandon herself to excessive grief over her brother's death. The extravagance of Olivia's mourning, like Orsino's passion, is given a comic note by the language in which it is expressed. Furthermore, Valentine's description tends to qualify the genuineness of the vow by the elaborate insistence on its austerity:

The element itself, till seven years' heat,
Shall not behold her face at ample view;
But, like a cloistress, she will veiled walk,
And water once a day her chamber round
With eye-offending brine;
                               (11. 26-30)

The two attitudes toward love are here bound together more significantly than in earlier comedies. Orsino is the romantic lover who vaunts his alleged passion in hyperboles. And Olivia is the reluctant lover who rejects the Duke's addresses to her. But she is very different from such disdainful lovers as Phoebe of As You Like It, the king and his lords in Love's Labour's Lost, and Benedick and Beatrice. Like all these, Olivia rejects thoughts of love, but she does so in favor of something else, a passionate surrender to what seems to be her love of grief. In this, though she rejects Orsino, she acts very much like him. Both exhibit excessive sentimentality which shows as folly, though the object of that folly is different in the two characters. Their attitudes toward love and grief are extreme and they are best expressed by the thematic metaphor of indulgence, the very image the Duke employs in the opening lines of the play. Orsino and Olivia overindulge their passions or what they consider their passions. And so in the initial episode Shakespeare briefly but pointedly defines the comic errors of these two, errors to be recognized before the conclusion of the play. But he does much more in these early lines. He binds Orsino's and Olivia's contrasting attitudes towards love by means of an identical attitude towards their respective passions, love and grief. And furthermore he relates all this to the idea of indulgence, the theme of the secondary action.

The opening scene, then, presents Orsino and Olivia in contrasting attitudes towards love but in identical attitudes towards themselves. In the second scene the two are contrasted with Viola, both in their attitudes towards themselves and towards love. From the first lines she speaks Viola reveals the absence in her of sentimentality and self-pity.

Viola. What country, friends, is this?
Captain. This is Illyria, lady.
Viola. And what should I do in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium.
Perchance he is not drown'd. What think you.
                                          (I, ii, 1-5)

The captain encourages her to hope, for he saw her brother, "most provident in peril," "bind himself to "a strong mast that liv'd upon the sea." Whereupon she turns to the present moment and demands to know who governs Illyria.

Captain. A noble duke, in nature as in name.
Viola. What is his name?
Captain. Orsino.
Viola. Orsino! I have heard my father name
He was a bachelor then.
                                           (11. 25-29)

Viola is as eager to know the Duke as she is unwilling to give herself over to excessive grief over her brother's feared death. Her feelings and the words expressing them are level and direct, avoiding the extremes we have noted in the alleged passions of Orsino and Olivia. In this she clearly presents a contrast to these two, and her role in the rest of the play will be to aid them in amending their ways. On the one hand, Viola essays to persuade Olivia that falling in love—with Orsino or another—is her unavoidable responsibility (else she usurps herself); on the other, she tells the Duke that he is not the only one who suffers from unrequited love. From the above we should conclude that Viola is intended to represent the norm, an attitude we might call ideal. And we may add that her words and acts are so aimed as to bring about comic recognition by Orsino and Olivia. In due course he learns that he was never in love with Olivia but someone else; and the latter soon discovers that far from being able to remain heart-whole she falls in love at first sight with Orsino's page, who she later finds is a lady in disguise. To such recognition and self-knowledge these two are led by the agency of Viola, by what she says and does, by what she is.


But Viola is not the only character whose words and actions are employed to those ends. Feste, who as his name suggests occupies a significant position in the development of the theme of indulgence in the sub-plot, carries an equal responsibility in the conduct of the main action as well. In the subplot his chief purpose is to oppose Malvolio's austerity with the notion of revelry, though perhaps not in the extreme form practiced by Sir Andrew and Sir Toby.31 When Sir Toby tells Malvolio that there shall be "cakes and ale" in spite of the steward's "virtuousness," Feste adds: "Yes, by Saint Anne, and ginger shall be hot i' th' mouth too." In addition, Feste helps bring about Malvolio's comic retribution. He defines both the steward's austerity and his presumption that Olivia could love him as a kind of madness and thus proves him a fool. In so doing Feste in his own way essays to lead Malvolio toward a recognition of his folly. This is especially clear in the scene wherein Feste, both in his own person and as Sir Topas, engages the steward in conversation while the latter is locked in the dark room.

Feste's allusion to Malvolio's folly in his notions about Olivia is made obliquely in the song he sings to him:

Clown. "Hey, Robin, jolly Robin,
Tell me how thy lady does."
Malvolio. Fool!
Clown. "My lady is unkind, perdy."
Malvolio. Fool!
Clown. "Alas, why is she so?"
Malvolio. Fool, I say!
Clown. "She loves another"—Who calls, ha?
                                             (IV, ii, 78-85)

The steward's persistent calling of "Fool!" points ironically to the very term most properly applying to himself in the scene. And this is followed by an even clearer allusion to his folly in the following exchange with Feste a few lines later.

Clown. Alas, sir, how fell you besides your
  five wits?
Malvolio. Fool, there was never man so
  notoriously abus'd. I am as well in my wits,
  fool, as thou art.
Clown. But as well? Then you are mad
  indeed, if you be no better in your wits
  than a fool.
                                     (11. 92-97)

Precisely the same purpose as shown here is to be seen in Feste's role in the main plot, that is, in the words he addresses to Orsino and Olivia. Again his most pregnant comments on the self-deception of those two are made through songs, that is, in the same oblique manner he employs in part in his treatment of Malvolio, for Orsino and Olivia in what they say and do enact extreme attitudes identical with those exhibited by the steward. Professor Dover Wilson is partly right in suggesting that Malvolio "reflects in a kind of distorting mirror the emotional situation of the main plot. For Malvolio is a dreamer, after his kind; like Orsino he aspires for the hand of Olivia; and like both Orsino and Olivia he mistakes dreams for realities."32 It is certainly true that there is something of the dreamer in a steward who is so self-endeared that he supposes himself the object of Olivia's love. Malvolio does not merely aspire for the hand of Olivia; he believes that she has chosen him for her husband. But it can scarcely be said that Orsino and Olivia are dreamers unless by the term we mean persons who by their extravagant posturings reveal utter failure to understand themselves and their relationships with others. Such posturing is perhaps more vulnerable to the comic spirit than dreaming can ever be. What is accurate in Professor Wilson's comment is the notion that Malvolio's comic shortcomings in the subplot are a reflex of Orsino's and Olivia's shortcomings in the main action. Hence Feste's analogous comment, in matter and form, upon the aberrations of those two.

When first confronted with Olivia, Feste proceeds to "catechise" her, to demonstrate in playful fashion that she, instead of himself, is the fool. Her calling him a fool is, he instructs her, "Misprision in the highest degree!" In contrast, he adds, his mistress has been acting foolishly in the excessive show of grief, especially since she believes her brother's soul in heaven: "The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother's soul being in heaven." (I, v, 76-77) This initial comment upon Olivia's folly is followed shortly by another, this one in the form of the clown's first song. Although "O Mistress Mine" is ostensibly sung for the delectation of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, it really concerns Olivia, though of course she is not present while it is sung. But the content, from the first line, "O mistress mine, where are you roaming," to the concluding invitation to love since "Youth's a stuff will not endure," has exclusive application to her, gently reprimanding her careless wasting, in Viola's phrase usurping, her own youth and beauty. The lines are in a sense addressed to Olivia, pointing gently to her folly in refusing love in favor of immoderate sorrow. Furthermore, the song anticipates her eventual capitulation and hints at the strange conjunction into which she will be thrown. For it announces that her "true love's coming / That can sing both high and low." Olivia will fall in love with Cesario-Sebastian, but in the end all will be well.33

Likewise the song Feste addresses to the Duke in the following scene serves the purpose of gently mocking his exaggerated sense of his own grief in love, a grief that could find release only in death. Because it expresses his love-melancholy as well as the self-pity occasioned by it Orsino prefers that song over all others. And he calls upon Cesario to heed its lines, little knowing that his page is the one who truly suffers genuine love-grief. In the lines following the song, Feste leaves no doubt as to its comic intention. For he adds to its mockery of the Duke's love melancholy his own direct comment. "Now, the melancholy god protect thee, and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal." And he adds the further mocking note that he would have "men of such constancy put to sea, that their business might be everything and their intent everywhere." The gentle mockery of the Duke's inconstancy is resumed a few lines later when Orsino in conversation with Viola draws a distinction between the strength of his own passion for Olivia and a woman's love.

There is no woman's sides
Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart
So big, to hold so much. They lack retention.
                             (II, iv, 96-99)

His insistence on his own steadfast passion in contrast to a woman's incapacity for such love not only anticipates ironically his swift transference of that passion from Olivia to Viola at the conclusion of the play but also points with equal irony to the latter's constancy and devotion throughout. And this difference between Orsino's extravagant protestations and her own reticence is further stressed by Viola in her allusion to her father's fictional daughter who, because of unrequited love,

        sat, like Patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief.
                                   (ll. 117-18)

To which she adds:

          Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more; but
Our shows are more than will, for still we
Much in our vows, but little in our love.
                                 (11. 118-21)

Both in the image of Patience smiling at grief and in the presence of rhyme in the second passage Shakespeare introduces a faint tinge of self-consciousness, perhaps even of self-pity, just sufficient to enrich Viola's attitude toward her dilemma.


The comic process of Twelfth Night, then, presents episodes which are intended to expose and reduce extravagant attitudes on the part of Orsino and Olivia as well as Malvolio. And the function of this comic reduction is carried out in the main by Viola and Feste. But there is a further action dealing with Sebastian, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Fabian. Just as Maria initiates the intrigue against Malvolio, so Sir Toby puts into practice a second intrigue aimed at Sir Andrew Aguecheek and the disguised Viola. But Aguecheek is the main target. Sir Toby's purpose in forcing a duel upon those two is the sheer comedy of exposing Sir Andrew's pretensions to bravery. For some moments there is also the additional effect of Viola's discomfiture, perhaps intended as a comment upon the liability of her disguise. Structurally, the most significant effect of the intrigue is the challenge of the newly arrived Sebastian by Sir Andrew and Sir Toby. And the severe beating they receive at his hands is a kind of censure upon their overindulgence and boisterousness. But far more important, their challenge of Sebastian brings him into the action of the love-triangle so that his reunion with Viola resolves the lovers' dilemma.

As noted above, the action of Twelfth Night presents episodes which expose and reduce attitudes toward love and the related theme of indulgence. That reduction is brought about by direct statement, by the juxtaposition of opposed attitudes, by song. And out of such action there emerges a simple conception of the way to happiness, namely through individual as well as communal integration. That level and sensible way is the way we reach through experience, leading to both self-understanding and a clear awareness of one's role as a social being. And this simple wisdom is precisely the meaning of the song Feste sings at the conclusion of the play.

Most critics have expressed doubts concerning the Among authenticity and dramatic appropriateness of the song.34 Among the very few who have defended it was A. C. Bradley, who thought it most appropriate to the singer, and even conceded that Shakespeare may have written the concluding stanza.35 Richmond Noble also defends the song as Shakespearean, a song of wise nonsense, fitting commentary on the events of the play.36 And he alludes to the following lines by John Weiss which he considers the most sensible interpretation of Feste's concluding song: "Then he sings a song which conveys to us his feeling of the world's impartiality: all things proceed according to law; nobody is humored; people must abide the consequences of their actions, 'for the rain it raineth every day.' A 'little tiny boy' may have his toy; but a man must guard against knavery and thieving: marriage itself cannot be sweetened by swaggering; whoso drinks with 'toss-pots' will get a 'drunken head:' it is a very old world, and began so long ago that no change in its habits can be looked for."37 This is indeed the general meaning of the song, a crystallization of that simple wisdom to which the comic spirit is always pointing. Such wisdom is a fitting epilogue not only to this particular play but to the series of comedies it brings to a conclusion. Whether in childhood, adulthood, or old age, we find that certain things are constant; they have not changed and we cannot change them. Such changes are really what Orsino and Olivia and others like them would bring about, but in the end they are made to shed their aberrations. The sovereignty of nature asserts itself in Olivia's precipitous falling in love, even as it does in the case of Benedick and Beatrice and the rest. Nor are other pretensions less vulnerable as Malvolio and Sir Toby and Sir Andrew discover. "A great while ago the world began" and its laws, which are but the laws of nature, cannot change to accommodate some strange caprice or posturing. The individual, in these plays the lover, whether romantic or disdainful, must become a part of society, must be integrated into it. But the lover must first achieve an individual fulfillment, an inner integration. How fitting, then, that in the closing song of this last of his romantic comedies Shakespeare should express through the wise fool's seeming nonsense, and in the simplest terms, the comic vision he had been dramatizing during the last decade of the century.

In form Twelfth Night represents the ultimate plane to which Shakespeare could raise the structure of his romantic comedy. For here Shakespeare at last achieved a completely independent and fully unified romantic plot, a plot from which he eliminated the kind of external obstacle to love's fruition represented by Don John's machinations in Much Ado and by the conflict of the two pairs of brothers in As You Like It. Instead, Twelfth Night unites the romantic concerns of the two earlier plays, that is, the two aspects of the internal conflict which for a time delays love's fulfillment. It combines the disdain of love, which forms the most absorbing theme of Much Ado, with the education of a romantic lover, which is at the center of As You Like It. Orlando and Silvius are here replaced by Orsino, while Benedick and Beatrice are replaced by Olivia. And, as was shown above, the two attitudes toward love are related metaphorically by the idea of indulgence which forms the theme of the secondary action. It is, then, in this perfect combination of the two master-themes that Twelfth Night may be said to represent the final and near-pure form of Shakespearean romantic comedy. But the play marks also another milestone in Shakespeare's dramatic career. It is the last of his romantic comedies. Having perfected a comic form through which he could reflect his responses to one aspect of human destiny, Shakespeare immediately turned away from romantic comedy and its theme of romantic love and proceeded to give dramatic expression to other responses by means of other modes.

This turn to other dramatic modes is anticipated perhaps in a special quality of Twelfth Night. Although it sums up and recapitulates the earlier comedies, the play differs from them in one particular. Its atmosphere, in spite of the play's revelry, is characterized by a reflectiveness which at moments tends towards gravity. This quality of the play is in great part associated with the temperament of Viola and Feste who, though deriving from earlier creations, prefigure later and greater studies to be placed in the graver air of the tragedies and the romances. Viola's character, though owing a good deal to earlier conceptions, really points to the heroines of the romances, particularly Hermione and Imogen. And Feste, though not unlike Touchstone in his function, is by temperament quite different. His individuality is to be seen especially in a certain quality of apartness which gives him a special perspective and also contributes to a measure of pathos in his relationships with others. In this and in the irony which plays about his name and circumstances Feste anticipates Lear's fool. If Feste's concluding song is by Shakespeare, it may well be that the dramatist thought of him and Lear's fool together, since the latter sings a stanza of the same song in King Lear. Indeed it appears that what is needed to draw from Feste the kind of devotion we see in the fool of the later play is a worthy object of such devotion, a great and greatly suffering nature such as Lear's.

In these matters Twelfth Night may be said to reflect, albeit distantly, Shakespeare's growing concern with those other aspects of human motive and destiny which were soon to fill the world of the later plays. But Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy, bringing to a brilliant conclusion Shakespeare's search for a comic structure which could treat most divertingly and significantly man's relationship to woman. Like its predecessors, and especially the other two "joyous" comedies, it projects a vision of the lovers' ideal, the best possible way to achieve inner as well as outer fulfillment, a unity within and a harmony with the world in which we live. That vision expresses man's longing for a state of being which transcends human limitation, the limitation against which it is here dramatized. And it is precisely in responding to and gratifying that longing by presenting the ideal as achievable that romantic comedy is so deeply satisfying.


1 There are other similarities with earlier plays. Viola's disguise recalls that of Portia and Nerissa, of Jessica and Rosalind. Sir Toby and Aguecheek recall Falstaff and Slender, and the trick played on Malvolio looks back to the trick played on Benedick and Beatrice.

2A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, ed. H. H. Furness (Philadelphia, 1901), p. xii.

3 New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1939), pp. 100-1.

4 Leslie Hotson, The First Night of Twelfh Night (New York, 1954), pp. 229-30.

5Ibid., passim.

6Ibid, p. 63.

7Ibid., p. 180.

8 II. iii, 110-21. The song is to be found in Edward H. Fellowes' edition in The English School of Lutenist song Writers, Series II, Vol. IV (London, 1959), 24-25.

9 Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London, 1961), II, 270-71. For minor details Shakespeare may be indebted to Gl'Ingannati, first performed in 1537, which is the ultimate source of all versions, including Gl'Inganni (1562) by Nicolò Secchi and Curzio Gonzaga's Gl'Inganni (1592). In the Induction to the play there is a Fabio and also a Malevolti, as well as a reference to la notte di Beffano, which some believe may have suggested the title of Shakespeare's play. Although Gl'Ingannati is closer to Shakespeare's play, it is nevertheless true that Curzio Gonzaga's Gl'Inganni gives Cesare (Cesario) as the name of the disguised heroine. In connection with the names of the chief characters it should be noted also that in Emanuel Forde's Famous History of Parismus (1598) there is a Viola who is shipwrecked while following her lover in the disguise of a page. See Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, II, 363-71. It has also been proposed that another play by Nicolò Secchi, L'Interesse, (c. 1547), may have suggested the duel between Sir Andrew and Viola. See Helen A. Kaufman, "Nicolò Secchi as a Source of Twelfth Night," SQ V (1954), 271-80.

10 See Violet A. Wilson, Society Women of Shakespeare's Time (New York, 1924), pp. 238-56.

11 See Fitzroy Pyle, ''Twelfth Night, King Lear, and Arcadia," MLR, XLIII (1948), 449-55.

12 See Oscar J. Campbell, Shakespeare's Satire (New York, 1943), p. 83. See also

13 Even Malvolio's "examination" for diabolical possession cannot in any of its details be interpreted as a glance at public process of the law either in a particular case or general practice. See C. J. Sisson, "Tudor Intelligence Tests: Malvolio and Real Life," in Essays on Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama in Honor of Hardin Craig (Columbia, Missouri, 1962), pp. 183-200.

14 On the other hand it is perhaps going too far to say that Shakespeare "invented the story of Malvolio, and used it with rare skill as the foundation of the play." Milton Crane, "Twelfth Night and Shakespearean Comedy," SQ VI (1955), 7. Nor is it quite accurate to call Malvolio "the most comical and most ridiculous character in the play." Sen Gupta, Shakespearian Comedy (Oxford, 1950), p. 168. In Shakespearean romantic comedy the most comical characters are misguided or disdainful lovers, or the self-dramatizing lover whose language is fraught with hyperbole and his passion with sentimentality, the lover who believes himself a realist yet who all along responds to love in the romantic manner. The most comical characters in such comedy are the king and his lords in Love's Labour's Lost, Benedick and Beatrice, Orlando and Rosalind, Orsino and Olivia.

15 It is interesting to note that his cross-gartered yellow stockings may be intended to show him as a lover and more particularly as a jealous one. See M. Channing Linthicum, "Malvolio's Cross-gartered Yellow Stockings," MP, XXV (1927), 87-93; also M. P. Tilley, "Malvolio's Yellow Stockings and Cross Garters," SAB, XII (1937), 54-55. Yellow is also the color of the narcissus, that is, a symbol of self-love. See Hotson, The First Night of Twelfth Night, p. 98.

16 In his rigidity, his lack of self-awareness, and his obsessive concern with certain proprieties, malvolio approaches the Jonsonian humour character.

17 His raison d'être is thus much more significant than might appear on the surface. His role in the play is not, for instance, "so that Shakespeare's lovers may preserve their status free from the nothing-if-not-critical comic scrutiny which would otherwise expose their romantic pretensions to the withering winds of laughter," Melvin Seiden, "Malvolio Reconsidered," University of Kansas City Review, XXVII (1961), 106-7. Incidentally, the lovers do not escape comic scrutiny in the play.

18 Cf. Harold Jerking, "Shakespeare's Twelfth Night" Rice Institute Pamphlet, XLV (1959), 28-29.

19 Something like this takes place during the initial meeting of Touchstone and Jaques, reported by the latter, in which Touchstone tells him precisely what he wants to hear and in the terms he himself would have used.

20 On this see pertinent comments in Gupta, Shakespearian Comedy, p. 165: and L. C. Salingar, "The Design of Twelfth Night," SQ, IX (1958), 122.

21 Cf. some relevant remarks in John R. Brown, Shakespeare and His Comedies (London, 1957), pp. 176-77.

22 Morris P. Tilley, "The Organic Unity of Twelfth Night," PMLA, XXIX (1914), 550-51.

23 John Hollander, "Musica Mundana and Twelfth Night," Sound and Poetry (English Institute Essays, 1956), pp. 73-74.

24 John Hollander, "Twelfth Night and the Morality of Indulgence," Sewanee Review, LXVIII (1959), 234.

25 This overstress on the play's metaphor can be seen in Professor Hollander's suggestion that Orsino's name reflects and defines his nature: "Orsino—the bear, the ravenous and clumsy devourer." Ibid., p. 224.

26 Hollander, "Musica Mundana and Twelfth Night," p. 75.

27 Furnivall, quoted in Furness, Variorum, p. 385.

28 S. Nagarajan, "'What You Will': A Suggestion," SQ, X (1959), 61.

29 J. W. Draper, The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience (Palo Alto, 1950), p. 249. This and other views of Professor Draper have been answered by N. A. Brittin in "The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare and Professor Draper," SQ, VII (1956), 211-16.

30 Jerking, "Shakespeare's Twelfth Night," p. 21.

31 It has been suggested that Feste and Viola "represent the golden mean of temperance, in whom reason and emotion are at poise." Tilley, "The Organic Unity of Twelfth Night," p. 558.

32 John Dover Wilson, Shakespeare's Happy Comedies (London, 1962), p. 172.

33 Whether written by Shakespeare or borrowed, the song illustrates his ability to endow complex function to music and song, both thematic and structural. For in addition to its obvious thematic meaning the song leads to more riotous singing which in turn brings the protesting Malvolio to the stage. And out of this emerges the conspiracy against him. In spite of this, some critics have failed to see the dramatic relevance of the song and its perfect blending with its context. See for instance L. B. Lathrop, "Shakespeare's Dramatic Use of Songs," MLN, XXIII (1908), 3; John H. Long, Shakespeare's Use of Music: A study of Music and its Performance in the Original Production of Seven Comedies (Gainesville, Florida, 1955), I, 169. The authenticity of "O Mistress Mine" has been the subject of a long debate, dealing mainly with the relationship of the song in Shakespeare's play to a tune (without words) by the same title in Thomas Morley's First Booke of Consort Lessons (1599). Was the song, words and tune, an old one or did Shakespeare compose his own words, and if so did he employ Morley's tune? Did Shakespeare and Morley collaborate? Is there any connection between Shakespeare' s song and Morley's tune? See E. Brennecke, Jr., "Shakespeare's Collaboration with Morley," PMLA, LIV (1939), 139-49; Sydney Beck, "The Case of 'O Mistress Mine,'" Renaissance News, VI (1953), 19-23. Edward H. Fellowes saw no connection between Morley's tune and Shakespeare's song and believed that the dramatist probably rewrote an old song. See Richmond Noble, Shakespeare's Use of Song (London, 1923), p. 82.

34 Capell thought it was either a popular song of the day or it was composed by William Kempe, who, he believed, had played the part of Feste. Furness, Variorum, pp. 313-14. H. B. Lathrop considered the song extraneous and not by Shakespeare. "Shakespeare's Dramatic Use of Songs," p. 2. L. B. Wright insisted that the song "has no relation to the play." "Extraneous Song in Elizabethan Drama After the Advent of Shakespeare," SP, XXIV (1927), 263. John R. Moore thought it might have been an interpolation. "The Songs of the Public Theaters in the Time of Shakespeare," JEGP, XXVIII (1929), 182. And John Dover Wilson is convinced that the song was written by Robert Armin. New Cambridge Shakespeare, p. 170. Finally John H. Long follows L. B. Wright and H. B. Lathrop, saying that "there does not seem to be any reason to doubt their conclusions." Shakespeare's Use of Music, I, 180.

35 "Feste the Jester," in A Book of Homage to Shakespeare, ed. I. Gollancz (Oxford, 1916), pp. 164-69.

36 Noble, Shakespeare's Use of Song, p. 85.

37 John Weiss, Wit, Humor, and Shakespeare (Boston, 1876), p. 204.

Dennis R. Preston (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "The Minor Characters in Twelfth Night," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. XXI, No. 2, Spring, 1970, pp. 167-76.

[In the following essay, Preston discusses the important functions of the minor characters in Twelfth Night: complementing prominent characters, maintaining the play's pace, and providing a complex of motivations for the action.]

It is pretty well agreed upon that no matter what the central plot of Twelfth Night may be the total effect is musical, or, to make that flat analogy more descriptive, the characters of Twelfth Night, as disparate in function as the different instruments of an orchestra are, play in concert: Sir Toby's bass notes crash in on the lyric qualities established in the first two scenes of the play, only to be answered by Viola and Orsino, the soloists of those scenes, who "play" a duet in scene four. So the arrangement goes; never reaching symphonic heights until the denouement, but developing and introducing aspects of plot and character in short concerti which build to the final total chorus of voices. There are soloists in each scene in the sense that instruments of an orchestra are featured in concerto, but there are few truly soli passages.

The major characters—Orsino, Viola, Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Feste, Olivia, Malvolio, and Sebastian—could not, by their interweaving of parts, maintain the pace which prevents any character from becoming a Hamlet or Macbeth. If the major figures attempted to accomplish this liveliness without assistance, the dramatic action would be thoroughly confused. The dramatic purpose is served, in keeping with the total musical effect of the play, and the confusion of the Italian novella avoided by the careful use of minor characters.

Unlike Shakespeare's other Italian romance comedies, where the minor characters make up a second or third plot which injects the play with native humor, Twelfth Night already has an Elizabethan plot involving major characters. The importance of the minor figures, then, does not rest in a single section of the play, nor do those characters act together as an example of a class or type. Twelfth Night demands, rather, a number of minor figures, coming from all of society and occurring throughout the play. Some of them fulfill such obvious functions as bringing a letter, performing a service, or announcing an arrival. Others, however, build contrasts, stand in for major players, further the action, or contribute a distinct character. None, even of the members of the first mentioned group, is left without sensible dramatic motivation.

I believe that a careful survey of the minor players of Twelfth Night can display how three common errors in the performance, reading, and criticism of lesser figures in Shakespearian drama may be avoided. The easiest way to deal with minor figures is to indicate their social standing. For many this method seems to be the final word in character analysis; however, a list of social "do's" and "don't's" coupled with a social rank supplies only a necessary and handy framework for further investigation. The character has yet the dramatic justification of his presence and his lines. More important, especially as a minor figure, he must be related to the structure, themes, action, and major characters of the play.

The other two faults are especially dramatic ones, though the first often asserts itself in reading as well. Minor characters are likely to be skipped over. In reading, their lines seem often to be mere transitional devices, hardly the words of real people. In performance, their presentation is often so flat that they conflict disastrously with the flesh-and-blood reality of the major players. The opposite of the fault is especially disastrous in performance, however. Often a minor player supplies a faulty motivation for his part or conceives of his part as being more important to the development of the plot than it really is. Therefore, in a play which, when performed well or read carefully, moves so quickly as Twelfth Night does and relies so obviously on small parts for a good deal of its chief effect, the minor figures must be given rather exacting interpretation. The reason for and explanation of their being should provide a rather detailed basis for the construction of their characters.

It is not necessary to prepare a set of director's notes to sketch in such a background of character. Characterization is not a question here, though, at times, it is necessary to indicate a particular rendering of a line, especially if the line is capable of diverse and conflicting deliveries. What can be made, however, is an indication of the role, in the broadest sense of that word, each figure is to play in the drama.

It is perhaps most difficult to deal with the really small members of the cast, for they usually take care of an immediate structural necessity and then disappear or remain silent. Whatever part of the action is moved by their message or appearance only reacts to a purely mechanical convenience, for what they have to say or do is more a total dependence on the demands of the action or a major character than a willful extension of their own reality.

This distinction between minor figures whose character is completely revealed by the immediate dramatic purpose and those whose character is further revealed in the outcome of some action or in their extended relation to other characters may be seen between the two officers who arrest Antonio in Act III.

The First Officer, evidently the superior, is not, as it might seem at first, only an identifier of Antonio and a bystander to the process of arrest:

1st Off. This is the man. Do thy office.
2nd Off. Antonio, I arrest thee at the suit
Of Count Orsino.
Ant. You do mistake me, sir.
1st Off. No, sir, no jot. I know your favor
Though now you have no sea cap on your
Take him away. He knows I know him well.
                          (III. iv. 359-365)1

Although, as he later explains to Orsino, the First Officer has fought against Antonio, this functionary now, perhaps due to times of peace or his advancing age, is a municipal officer in Illyria: "What's that to us? The time goes by—away!" And though it is the Second Officer's official duty to perform the actual arrest, the First, probably more familiar with military swiftness of procedure, is the one who finally demands Antonio's cooperation: "The man grows mad. Away with him! Come, come, sir."

Here, and later, when the First Officer tells Orsino of Antonio's crime against Illyria, the dramatic action depends upon and demands a specific individual with knowledge of specific details and events.

The Second Officer, no more than a type, meets only the dramatic necessity of number in handling the rough Antinio.2 His concern is purely official: "Antonio, I arrest thee at the suit of Count Orsino." Without the First Officer this policeman might prove a poor adversary to the daring seaman. The officers are not, however, guards of Dogberry quality. In spite of Orsino's love-sickness, he has kept an efficient state.

Other characters who suffer the minute demands of dramatic or linguistic necessity are Curio, the Priest, and the Messenger. Curio, however, requires more than the Second Officer, even though the Duke's servant seems to serve the dramatic action less than the policeman does. Indeed, his presence seems purely linguistic; he is a "straight man" to Orsino's pun on "hart". But even though Curio's line seems only to fill this need in the dialogue and supply a transition between Orsino's two speeches, it must be given some dramatic quality or motivation. The Second Officer had a job to do and an obvious motivation. Curio is in a less revealing position; his line, nevertheless, must partake of the same real qualities that the Second Officer's does.

Two possibilities are apparent; perhaps both are there. Aside from providing Orsino with a character to feed him his cue, Shakespeare probably intended Curio's "Will you go hunt, my Lord?" to contrast humorously with Orsino's rhapsodic speech. However, this stylistic purpose cannot be extended to the character. If the pun on "hart" is first Curio's, then he must be allowed an unlikely license with his Duke's serious thoughts. Only a jester (witness Feste's "catechizing" of Olivia) could dare make fun of such emotions in the nobility, and there is nothing in Curio's name, lines, or behavior to indicate that he is the court fool. If he filled such a position, he certainly missed a professional opportunity to make a disparaging remark about Feste, whom he fetches to sing for the Duke.

It is most likely that Curio is a serving man to the Count, older than Velentine, perhaps a follower of Orsino's father. Since Curio is aware that Orsino is more in love with love than he is with Olivia, he suggests the traditional Elizabethan cure for love-melancholia—hunting.3

In spite of the fact that more can be said of Curio than of the Second Officer, the Count's man is really no more than a verbal functionary, and his character, even when infused with dramatic motivation, is no more than a broadly defined type.

Of Valentine, Curio's social counterpart, more can be said. His report to Orsino, though consisting of information he got from Olivia's handmaid, is not framed in language he heard from Maria:

So please my lord, I might not be admitted,
But from her handmaid do return this answer:
The element itself, till seven years' heat,
Shall not behold her face at ample view;
But, like a cloistress, she will veiled walk
And water once a day her chamber round
With eye-offending brine—all this to season
A brother's dead love, which she would keep
And lasting in her sad remembrance.
                            (I. i. 24-32)

In name and in speech Valentine seems well-suited to the task Orsino has set for him. Unlike Curio, whose character is formulated best by a reference to Elizabethan medical theory, Valentine is best understood in reference to the larger context of the play. He is called upon, as many minor Shakespearian figures are, to explain the first turn of the action: the love Orsino has described in the first lines of the play must go unrequited. Curio, on the other hand, speaks his lines before any plot has developed; his sole obligation is to Orsino's character. Valentine too contributes to the Count's character, but the contribution is by comparison rather than contrast. The love messenger continues the mood of Orsino's first two speeches. Like the Count's love, Olivia's rejection of it, as Valentine chooses to phrase it, is lengthy and descriptive. Furthermore, Valentine's speech, unlike Curio's brief cue, is one of the four poetic units which make up the first scene.

Curio's later lines, delivered when he is sent to summon Feste, tell nothing further about his character. Draper would say, however, that Valentine's gossipy remarks to Viola at the beginning of scene four are significant:

Val. If the Duke continue these favors toward
  you, Cesario, you are like to be much
  advanced. He hath known you but three
  days, and already you are no stranger.

Vio. You either fear his humor or my
  negligence that you call in question the
  continuance of his love. Is he inconstant,
  sir, in his favors?
Val. No, believe me.
                                     (I. iv. 1-8)

Thus Viola takes over Valentine's thankless post. The older servingman is luckily not jealous, and kindly tells "Cesario" that she is like to be "much advanc'd," that Orsino is by nature constant in his favors; and with these felicitations, he seems to drop out of the play as if his task as unsuccessful intermediary had quite exhausted him. His magnanimity to Viola, without apparent motive, makes him seem a bit too good for this wicked world, for very few of us rejoice to be supplanted by others more successful.4

The problem here is that the lines quoted above and by Draper occur at the very beginning of scene four, and nothing has passed to indicate that Viola or anyone else has been chosen to supplant Valentine. By line thirteen the audience knows that Orsino has spoken to Viola of his love for Olivia: "I have unclasped / To thee the book even of my secret soul." But the Count's first speech of the scene was, "Stand you awhile aloof." His words to Viola are private, and when, in line fifteen, he instructs Viola to go to Olivia, there is no reason to assume that this commission had been arranged earlier. The line Draper uses to substantiate the contrast between Viola and Valentine does not occur until half the scene is played out: "She will attend it better in thy youth / Than in a nuncio's of more grave aspect."

Rather than being magnanimous, as Draper would have it, Valentine is only indulging in court talk with Viola. She misunderstands his remark, and, uncertain of her new position, questions Valentine about the constancy of the Count's affections. Viola probably observes in Valentine, as she did in the Captain who brought her to Illyria, a "fair behavior" and thus permits herself to ask the serving man a frank question about his master. Aside from this confidence that Valentine must have inspired in Viola, there is little in this repartee to define his character further.

The minor figures of Olivia's household, except for Fabian, are even less significant than the Duke's serving men. The servant who tells Olivia in Act III that "the young gentleman of the Count Orsino's is returned" is simply a stand-in for Malvolio who is parading on stage with his yellow stockings and ambition. He, as steward, would ordinarily bring such news, as he did at Viola's first arrival. If he were otherwise involved, Maria would serve in that capacity, as she does twice earlier. In this scene, since Malvolio and Maria are both on stage, another servant must be inserted for the announcement.

The Priest who marries Olivia and Sebastian has a little treatise on marriage to deliver when he is asked about Cesario. Perhaps H. B. Charlton is right when he asserts that the main problem in Elizabethan comedy is the fusion of comedy and romance.5 Shakespeare has on stage an Italian delight: A woman disguised as a man is accused of courting her master's lady; the master is about to inflict a harsh punishment on the mistaken deceiver; she, all the while, loves the misguided master; the lady reveals that a marriage has already taken place; a formidable sea-pirate, whose case has been set aside, is, by association, kept on stage as a reminder of the real husband. Yet into this excellent comedy of romance Shakespeare chooses to insert a fatuous Priest whose lines could not have been taken seriously:

A contract of eternal bond of love,
Confirmed by mutual joindure of your hands,
Attested by the holy close of lips,
Strengthened by the interchangement of your
And all the ceremony of this compact
Sealed in my function, by my testimony.
Since when, my watch hath told me, toward
  my grave
I have traveled but two hours.
                            (V. i. 159-166)

If the outline of the marriage ceremony does not make the Priest a marked man for a laugh, his notion of reckoning time will.

It is surely a mistake, though, to suggest that the Priest is comic relief for the potentially dangerous situation on stage, for romantic comedy thrives on such situations. The comic irony of differing levels of awareness, misunderstandings, and mistaken identities is the real basis of the romantic comedy. The Priest is an Elizabethan fault. Even in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's greatest achievement in romance comedy, the dramatist did not pass by the chance to introduce one more genre figure. Instead of relying completely on the comic realization of the romantic plot, Shakespeare chose to add to an already complete situation. This is probably one of the few instances in Shakespeare where obtrustive lines should be delivered as unobtrusively as possible.

Two of the more important minor figures of the play have similar functions. The first duty of the two seamen, Antonio and the Captain who serves Viola, is to show by their attitudes and actions what attractive and likeable young people Viola and Sebastian are.

Viola's friend is agreeable at every turn. He gives Viola hope for Sebastian's safety, describes the situation in Illyria, and agrees to help Viola in her plan to serve the Count. Beyond this agreeableness, however, the Captain's character is something of a puzzle. It is difficult to draw the broad social boundaries necessary for a beginning. While Valentine's speeches show that he is on a plane of sophistication near the Duke's, the Captain's halting, overly-parenthetical speeches contrast sharply with Viola's flowing lines. However, his lines are set in poetic form, and, even though he admits that "what the great ones do the less will prattle of", he is well-informed about the situation in the Illyrian court. It is unlikely that he would knowingly classify himself a prattler. In spite of his halting lines, the Captain, instead of indulging in hearty sea-talk, alludes to court affairs and classical learning.

That he is not an ordinary seaman can be seen further in his gentle pun of Viola's "perchance", his attractive manner, and his ability to introduce Viola into the Illyrian court. Though M. St. Clare Byrne shows that accessibility to the great was unrealistically easy in Shakespeare's plays,6 it is difficult to believe that Viola's friend is merely a mechant seaman. Perhaps he, like the First Officer, is a former defender of Illyria and has gained the respect and admiration of the Count through service in war. His readiness to take a "fearfull oath", familiarity with the ways of the sea, and courtly manner all indicate that he might have spent earlier years in the Count's military.

The second seafarer, Antonio, is the most completely developed minor character, though the honor of most useful must be reserved for Fabian. Although Antonio introduces Sebastian and helps reveal his likeable qualities in the same way the Captain does for Viola in Act I, the rough pirate does not disappear from the action. Perhaps there is some question about his identity, but it need not be so involved as Draper would have it. By narrowly interpreting "breach of the waves", from whence Antonio saved Sebastian, to mean "shore", Draper assumes that Antonio has a house by the sea-side, was not a pirate or a seaman (since the boarding party onto the Tiger would probably have been led by a soldier), and entrusts too much friendship and money to Sebastian to be the "Notable Pyrate" he is called in Shakespeare's text.7

"Breach of the waves" is just as likely a reference to the break between the crests of the waves on the open sea. It is as well unlikely that Antonio, had he been a soldier serving a rival state, would choose not to reimburse Orsino had the government so demanded. He is most likely the commander of a privateer, where, as leader of a group of men necessarily fighters and sailors, he would have led the party that boarded the Tiger. The First Officer indicates that Antonio is a man of the sea: "I know your favor well, / Though now you wear no sea cap on your head." Orsino later explicitly states what Antonio's profession is: "A bawbling vessel he was captain of."

In Antonio's original motivation Shakespeare probably commits one error to gain several advantages. Sebastian directs his course to Orsino's court purely by chance. If a strong friendship had developed between the two men and Antonio sincerely wished to accompany Sebastian, the young man could surely have been persuaded to wander to less dangerous ground. That possibility is, of course, not open to the play, so Shakespeare must formulate Sebastian's hasty farewell and Antonio's decision to follow within the framework of strong friendship, hoping that that theme will dominate and Sebastian's illogical direction will pass unnoticed. Shakespeare uses this weakly motivated passage, however, to strengthen the two most important aspects of Antonio's character—daring and devotion:

I have many enemies in Orsino's Court,
Else would I very shortly see thee there.
But, come what may, I do adore thee so
That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.
                            (II. i. 45-49)

Further corroboration for the likelihood of Antonio's seamanship and devotion comes from the highly suggestive parallel with Viola's Captain of Act I. Both are fatherly, though neither attempts to persuade his young charge to a different course of action. But, unlike the Captain's, Antonio's language is full of references to the sea: He has come far to find Sebastian, but his love "might have drawn one to a longer voyage"; Illyria, like the sea, may prove "rough and unhospitable to a stranger"; Antonio is in danger in Illyria because he has done service "in a sea fight, 'gainst the Count his galleys"; Sebastian, when pulled "from the rude sea's enraged and foamy mouth", was, like a ship in peril, "a wreck past hope". Thus in language alone Antonio does more than help define Sebastian's character.

This paradoxically gruff and doting seaman adds a distinct character to the already overflowing lists of Twelfth Night. He views the action from a completely different point of view, providing two excellent scenes of comic irony with Viola. In some sense he knows much less about the immediate situation than do the regular inhabitants of Illyria. On the other hand, his presence in the play is an added note of realistic awareness. At least his confusion involves Sebastian, a real person. All of Illyria, however, has been undermined by the Count's new favorite, "Cesario".8 Antonio brings with him, as well, a note of honesty which imperils his life. All have lied in one way or another; even Viola's Captain is a partner to her disguise, but Antonio is unwilling to assume a mask in a world of pretenders.9

His presence on stage, especially in the last act, substitutes for the absent Sebastian and indicates the probable outcome of the confusion. At the same time his rough character announces the disorder of the final scene.10 In other words, Antonio usurps the world of Twelfth Night as he has usurped the Count's peace. Although his faith in Sebastian has been shattered, his truthfulness and courage make him a suitable symbol for the strength of the time which will undo the knot Viola has found too difficult to untie.

The man of all work in Twelfth Night is Fabian. Although his very presence in the play is questioned, since Maria tells Sir Toby and Sir Andrew to "let the fool make a third", Fabian becomes essential, performing services Feste could not. Fabian is probably the second son of a country gentleman, and, having no place in the inheritance, he seeks his fortune in service. His language is particularly rich in allusions to the country, though occasionally his wit sparkles with a new-learned reference to travel, money, or theater.

Only Hugh Hunt has called Fabian's identity into question. He suggests that the clever servant may be a second fool, younger than Feste and much more circumspect.11 Hunt says that the actor who played Feste may have enjoyed too many liberties behind Malvolio's back during the letter scene, forcing the actor who did Malvolio to request a less ebullient background for his scene. Indeed, that segment of Feste's character which, especially in song, might be called melancholy would be given added significance if the old fool were about to be replaced by a youthful counterpart.12

Like Curio, however, there is nothing in Fabian's name or manner or speech to indicate that he is a professional jester. Sir Toby would not address a fool as "Signior Fabian"; Feste would not call a professional inferior "Master Fabian". It is much safer to assume that Fabian is a well-born servant of the type rendered completely useless in the overstaffed Elizabethan house-hold. His affinity for good times has attracted him to Sir Toby, and the roaring knight no doubt looks on Fabian as a particular favorite. Although Fabian shows he is quick to pun by picking up many cues from Malvolio in the letter scene, he only once indulges in the counter-logical type of argument Feste is so fond of. He "proves" to Sir Andrew that Olivia's favors to Cesario in the orchard were directed subtly at the tall knight. Even this, however seems more like Sir Toby's proof that to be up late is to go to bed early than Feste's involved syllogisms.

Fabian enters the action of the play just in time to relieve the major players of their burden of contrapuntal effect. Only four scenes after the last major player has contributed his introduction to the speed of the play, Fabian appears. As if expecting disappointment or consternation at the absence of Feste, Shakespeare supplies an immediate motivation for Fabian's part in the device against Malvolio: "You know he brought me out o'favor with my lady about a bear-baiting here."

In the scene which follows Fabian restrains Sir Toby and Sir Andrew from giving away the plot and shows himself to be the quickest wit of the three. His role becomes increasingly important, however, when he is seen not only as an accomplice in the plot against Malvolio, but also as a confidante of Sir Toby's in the constant gulling of Sir Andrew. In the fourth scene of Act III Fabian supplies the necessary addition which prevents a simple two-part banter between Belch and Aguecheek. He moves the foolish knight as surely as Sir Toby does, and, since soliloquy is at a minimum in Twelfth Night, he allows Sir Toby to tell of his friendship for Sir Andrew: "I have been dear to him, lad, some two thousand strong or so."

In that scene Fabian is in and out, silent and witty as the action demands. He plays a minor role in the encounter with Malvolio but becomes a witty commentator when Sir Toby reads Aguecheek's challenge. In the duel he plays an even more important role, performing the service of "arrangement", a privilege Feste could not have aspired to.13 Except for the final moments of the play, Fabian is most essential in this scene. He frightens Viola with reports of Sir Andrew's skill and ferocity, warns Sir Toby of the approaching officers, and becomes silent as other minor figures help distribute the action.

Fabian disappears when Feste enters into the trick against Malvolio. Perhaps the Fool was afraid earlier to be outrightly involved in the plot but now enters into the fun when his anonymity as a tormentor seems likely. This almost obvious substitution seems to further validate the necessity for a character of Fabian's social standing in such sequences as the duel. This is hardly necessary, however, if only Feste is to be considered as a major counterpart to Fabian, for Fabian relieves the necessity for constant reappearance and cross play of the entire range of major figures who infest Olivia's household.

When Fabian returns he is in hot pursuit of Feste, who is carrying Malvolio's letter. In Act V Fabian must become a real part of the background. The stage directions indicate that he is before Olivia's house while Feste jokes with the Count, Antonio is heard, Cesario is accused, the Priest verifies the marriage, and Sir Toby and Sir Andrew enter from their disastrous duel. All the while he must remain, like Antonio, an unobtrusive observer. He has wisely avoided the conflict with Sebastian, but he and Feste lead the wounded revellers off. Fabian returns with Feste (after Sebastian has entered and ended the chief masquerade of the play) in time to be present for the unfolding of Malvolio's plight. He reads the letter which Feste refuses to read except, allowing Vox, as a "madmans epistle", and goes off to fetch the imprisoned steward. It is indeed Fabian who knows more about the Malvolio plot than any other person on stage at the end of the drama. Although Feste is happy to disclose himself as Sir Topas, Fabian must tell his mistress the history of Malvolio's downfall. He takes away from any serious tone Malvolio might inject with his "revenge" by explaining that the foolery "may rather pluck on laughter than revenge." Though Orsino is to repeat his taking of Viola ("But when in other habits you are seen, / Orsino's mistress and his fancy's Queen"), Fabian discloses the last important turn of action in the play: "Maria writ / The letter at Sir Toby's great importance, / In recompense whereof he hath married her."

Each of Twelfth Night's minor figures has been carefully employed for rather specific reasons, but the major effects of this conglomeration of individuals are speed and economy. The major characters have not been left alone to indulge in tiring repartee, but the play has never been crowded with unnecessary groups of hangerson. The play has never been invaded meaninglessly as Romeo and Juliet is by the musicians, nor has it been left bare at any time.

Especially noticeable is the fact that the minor characters at the first of the play—the Captain, Curio, and Valentine—perform specific chores and, since the introduction of the major characters is performing the contrapuntal function, disappear or remain unheard. The speed in the first part of the play is almost entirely dependent on the introduction of the long list of major figures which is finally complete at the beginning of Act II. After that, except for the very specific jobs done by the Priest and the Messenger, two more important minor players—Antonio and Fabian—serve as reappearing aids in the pace of the drama. Their significantly different points of view and degrees of awareness produce involvements in the irony, structure, and information of the play.

Even though Antonio and Fabian play more significant parts both as characters and contributors to the action, all the minor figures perform essential services, all the speaking parts can be dramatically justified. Although at times some minor characters fall below the expected Shakespearian mark of characterization or consistency, all contribute vitally to the contrapuntal weaving of people, events, and ideas that is the basis of Twelfth Night.


1Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. by G. B. Harrison (New York, 1952), p. 871.

2 John W. Draper, The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience (Stanford, 1950), p. 167.

3 Draper, p. 165.

4 Draper, p. 165.

5 H. B. Charlton, Shakespearean Comedy (London, 1938), p. 23.

6 M. St. Clare Byrne, "The Social Background", in A Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. by H. Granville-Barker and G. B. Harrison (Garden City, New York, 1960), pp. 196-200.

7 Draper, 158.

8 Bertrand Evans, Shakespeare's Comedies (Oxford, 1960), p. 137.

9 Joseph H. Summers, "The Masks of Twelfth Night", Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Leonard F. Dean (New York, 1957), p. 131.

10 John R. Brown, Shakespeare and His Comedies (London, 1957), p. 179.

11 Hugh Hunt, Old Vic Prefaces (London, 1954), p. 77.

12 Hunt, p. 78.

13 Draper, p. 163.

Richard Henze (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night: Free Disposition on the Sea of Love," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXXIII, No. 2, Spring, 1975, pp. 267-83.

[In this essay, Henze claims that the variety of seemingly contradictory interpretations of Twelfth Night result from Shakespeare's attempt to portray a "sea " of interacting opposites and their reconciliation.]

Critical interpretations of Twelfth Night are notable for the variety of contradictory meanings that their makers attach to the play. The play has been called, among other things, a vindication of romance, a depreciation of romance, a realistic comment on economic security and practical marriage, an account of saturnalian festivity, a "subtle portrayal of the psychology of love," a play about "unrequital in love" because of self-deception, an account of love's wealth, a dramatic account of Epiphany and the gift of Divine Love, a moral comedy about the surfeiting of the appetite so that it "may sicken and so die" and allow "the rebirth of the unencumbered self." Various critics have variously described the chief character in the play to be Malvolio, Viola, Olivia, or even Feste. The complexity of the play is such that each of these opinions is supported by considerable textual evidence. The play is about the vindication of romance and the depreciation of romance, but the romance that is vindicated is that of Viola and Sebastian reunited and chosen by love and not that of Orsino and his selfish, conventional, melancholic seclusion in a bower of flowers. The play does deal with both practicality and prudence—Viola tells us her very practical reasons for joining the duke's household, for example; but the play also shows saturnalian festivity in full sway under Sir Toby Belch, master of the holiday. The play shows Viola's epiphany of love and Toby's surfeit of the appetite—Viola's love fulfilled and Malvolio's love unrequited.

I should like to propose a solution to this puzzle of interpretations: that Twelfth Night is a play about opposites and that each of the interpretations above tends to treat just one of a pair of opposites in the play. The primary opposition in the play is the one implicit in the title, Twelfth Night; or, What You Will: epiphany and the divine gift of love or earthly appetite, desire, and choice. But as the play's action proceeds, oppositions become much more complicated and subtle than the single one in the title as they grow to include oppositions between characters, between actions, between images, and finally between the present mirth of the play and the continual indiscriminate rain of Feste's concluding song.

The most obvious opposition in the play is that between giving and taking: whether it is better to give or to receive is a question that the play continually poses and answers ambiguously. Viola gives freely, Sebastian takes unhesitantly. Maria gives, Toby takes. Orsino gives, Feste takes. Critics have described very well the giving side of the play, but not very fully at all its opposite—the constant taking of the play. The generosity is obvious: Viola gives freely of her money and herself; she even offers to give her life finally if Orsino will take it. Antonio, until he is captured, gives his money and himself for Sebastian; then he asks for his money back and regrets his generosity. Orsino gives money somewhat generously to the fool, himself very insistently to Olivia; Olivia matches Orsino by taking care to preserve Malvolio even while she forces herself upon Viola. Maria gives sport that delights Toby and deludes Malvolio. Sebastian gives himself to Olivia; Orsino finally gives himself to Viola. Gifts in the play are multiple even though giving is not always generous.

But taking is just as important in the play, and most evident in Feste's constant begging for tips and bribes, although Feste only begs so long as someone is bountiful toward him; he is never very insistent, but is often even hesitant in his pleas: as he says, "I would not have you to think that my desire of having is the sin of covetousness." Just as free from greed—and no beggar at all—is Sebastian in his acceptance of Olivia. Olivia and Orsino, on the other hand, lack full freedom from covetousness, although they covet persons rather than money. Less hesitant and more covetous still are Toby in his attempts to get Andrew's money and horse, Andrew in his attempt to get Olivia, and Malvolio in his conceited assurance that Olivia loves him and that he will soon have power over Toby.

Feste describes in the play a norm for getting what he wills without taking what others would not have him take. He differs from Sebastian in that he does not repay what he gets with a like gift; he differs from the other takers in his lack of covetousness, even though his profession is to beg. He is the generous taker.

The other norm, that of generous giving, is defined by Viola as she gives herself and her services to Orsino, money to the fool, and half her purse to Antonio. The others in the play, with the exception of Sebastian, violate one or both of the norms established by Feste and Viola. Orsino gives himself to Olivia, but he also tries to claim her as Antonio did his ship. Olivia seems to be generous: "What shall you ask of me that I'll deny, / That honour, sav'd, may upon asking give?" Yet she tries to buy Viola-Cesario with a show of wealth. Antonio is extravagant in his generosity toward Sebastian, but he is also a "salt water pirate" and very concerned about his own safety in spite of his hazard of himself. Malvolio's offer of himself is gross conceit; Andrew's is gross foolishness. Maria gives Toby sport but seeks to end Malvolio's freedom. Only Viola consistently gives freely and graciously with no expectation of profit or power; only Feste consistently takes freely and graciously without disturbing another's bounty and without giving himself in return.

The range in the action of the play is suggested by the characterization of Viola and Feste. Viola becomes the embodiment of gracious, nearly divine Twelfth Night giving, Feste of festive Twelfth Night taking. Yet, though they seem to contradict each other, Viola and Feste are more alike than they are unlike, for they share the essential qualities of graciousness, civility, and free disposition; they are both careful not to intrude on someone else's free disposition.

Free disposition in the play involves two things: that one be generous with one's money and one's self where the money and self are freely desired—and that one graciously accept what one is freely offered if to accept the gift does not intrude on the free disposition of giver or recipient. To be simply generous is not enough, for generosity can become terribly selfish if it is imposed on one who does not desire it. Simply to take is likewise not enough, for graciousness requires that one take only what one is freely offered. Viola and Feste demonstrate the right kind of generosity and the right kind of graciousness; Malvolio, on the other hand, neither generous nor gracious, opposes both Feste and Viola. As the characters become more like Viola and Feste and less like Malvolio, they acquire generosity, graciousness, and true civility.

The freedom that Orsino and Olivia finally acquire, freedom to give where the gift is desired, is the true festivity that Feste himself tends to symbolize in the play. Here the distinction is between Feste's true festivity and the belching, oversatisfied, what-shall-wedo-else sport of Toby. There will be cakes and ale to be sure, but cakes and ale are not all that life is. Feste's sport inspires generosity without intruding on free disposition; he begs only as long as one is freely generous, then he allows bounty to sleep a while. Toby on the other hand has no concern whatever for others' freedom. His sport is terribly ungenerous, endangering even Viola—free disposition itself—as well as Andrew and Malvolio. His sport is too indiscriminate, too little inclined to take into account person, time, and circumstances. He, like Falstaff, has too little to do with the time of the day.

A proper attitude toward festivity, the play implies, is one that recommends Feste and his freedom even while it rejects the excess of Toby Belch. But one's choice is not always that simple. Maria, for example, has to choose between Malvolio and Toby: in that case Maria, the embodiment of wit, properly prefers Toby's freedom to Malvolio's self-love; but she recognizes, at the same time, that Toby is out of order. So does the fool he too prefers Toby's attitude to Malvolio's, but he sees Toby for the drunk that he is.

The names of the characters indicate their symbolic qualities. Viola is both musical and free in volition; her counterimage, Malvolio is the embodiment of ill will who intrudes on free disposition. Feste is festive; his counterimage, Belch, is surfeited. Toby Belch, until his marriage to Maria, threatens to replace Twelfth Night's generous festivity with un-civil sport. For what you will to be fully satisfactory, it must be Viola's what you will and not Malvolio's. For the festivity of Twelfth Night to be fully satisfactory, it must be Feste's graciousness, not Toby's rambunctiousness.

The movement of the play is from ill will to true festivity, generosity, and the harmonic feast of marriage and friendship. Sebastian's arrival signifies the approaching success of the characters in arriving at that point, for Sebastian is a compound of Feste and Viola, one who freely gives and just as freely takes. He furnishes the single embodiment of the Twelfth Night spirit that Viola and Feste together define, and the final opposition of the play is the thorough opposition between Sebastian and Malvolio rather than the superficial one between Feste and Viola. Twelfth Night becomes what you will; desire and generosity operate in accord.

The play begins with Orsino's attempt to force himself upon Olivia. Orsino wants an excess of music, as Toby wants an excess of cakes and ale, "that, surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken, and so die." Such appetite hardly surfeits itself into correction, however; instead it threatens music, one of Viola's significances:

  for I can sing
And speak to him in many sorts of music
That will allow me very worth his service.

Like all false lovers Orsino considers himself like all true lovers, but in his demands on Olivia, his desire for solitude, his selfish submersion in melancholy, he is neither truly loving nor truly generous. While he "prizes not quantity of dirty lands," he demands the immediate surrender of Olivia, "that miracle and queen of gems," and thus shows himself to be more like witless Andrew and ill-willed Malvolio than like Viola.

Viola warns Orsino that Olivia may not wish to accept his gift:

Duke. I cannot be so answer'd.
Vio. Sooth, but you must.

Viola sees the threat to free disposition; the duke merely feels his appetite "all as hungry as the sea":

  Make no compare
Between that love a woman can bear me
And that I owe Olivia.

The woman is Viola and we do make compare.

The sea which Orsino is "as hungry as" is the sea of love that can either support or devour, but the ships upon it are responsible for its quality; they can support one another or they can prey upon one another. Orsino describes that sea:

O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou,
That notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute.

This metaphor of ships sailing on an ocean of love becomes the most important image in the play. The sea begins as the great devouring element that almost drowns Viola and Sebastian when their ship is destroyed in a storm. But their voyage on a sometimes supporting, sometimes devouring sea does not end when they drift ashore from the literal sea, for, safely ashore they begin a dangerous voyage toward a journey's "end in lovers meeting" on a sea of love where they continually encounter pirates and rocks. With the lovers finally together, the salt waves have proved themselves kind, to Viola at least, and the collision that gets the ships together is a fortunate wreck.

Not all ships fall, as the duke complains, into "abatement and low price" The waves threaten worthy vessel and pirate ship alike, but the worthy ships get through on the strength of generosity and graciousness while the pirates either sink or surrender. The sea does devour, but it devours those who trust rotten timbers of self-conceit and greed, who seek profit from the other ships and not at the journey's end. The prime example, of course, is Malvolio, who, in spite of his high self-estimation, loses, even in a minute, his value on the sea. Orsino, in his warlike assault on Olivia, is likewise at first too much the pirate. He sends Viola to board and claim a prize: "Be clamorous, and leap all civil bonds, / Rather than make unprofited return." To demand profit is both uncivil and ungenerous, like the prospects of Malvolio instead of the generosity of Viola. Orsino promises Viola a share in the profits if she succeeds:

  Prosper well in this,
And thou shalt live as freely as thy lord,
To call his fortunes thine.

Orsino's promise is fulfilled in a fashion that he does not expect, and not because of any desire for profit on Viola's part.

In spite of Orsino's commission to her, Viola hoists her sail and accosts Olivia with "no overture of war, no taxation of homage; I hold the olive in my hand; my words are as full of peace as matter." Viola woos gently for Orsino, pities Olivia when she loves Cesario instead of Orsino, and finally leaves the whole problem up to time, the larger ocean that includes the sea of love and its coasts.

The difference between the generosity of Viola and Sebastian and that of Orsino is a difference in relationship to the sea of love. Orsino is himself as hungry as the sea, ready to devour Olivia. Viola and Sebastian, on the other hand, are provident and generous and able to survive misfortune on the sea. Viola has been saved by hanging "on our driving boat"; her brother, Sebastian, "most provident in peril" by binding himself (courage and hope both teaching him the practice) "to a strong mast that liv'd upon the sea." When Sebastian lands upon Illyria, and embarks on its sea of love, he proves himself just as provident in peril by binding himself to Olivia, another strong mast on the sea. Viola, on the other hand, hangs onto her driving boat, Orsino, until the wind calms on the sea and the preservation of Sebastian proves "salt waves fresh in love."

Olivia is not the pirate that Orsino is, but her generosity is hardly Viola's. She refuses to listen to Viola's suit for Orsino:

But would you undertake another suit,
I had rather hear you to solicit that
Than music from the spheres.

Viola hopes that "grace and good disposition attend your ladyship!" Such good disposition should be freer than Olivia's is at the moment. That very loss of freedom involves, as it does with Malvolio and Orsino, delusion:

Oli. I prithee tell me what thou think'st of
Vio. That you do think you are not what you
Oli. If I think so, I think the same of you.
Vio. Then think you right: I am not what I

In her delusion Olivia is, as she admits, as mad as Malvolio, "if sad and merry madness equal be." As madness is delusion on a sea of love that leads one to become uncivil or ungenerous, Olivia's madness is like Malvolio's; for both she and Malvolio attempt to board and claim a prize. Toby's merry madness, as it leaps the confines of holiday freedom and threatens Viola, becomes likewise piratical. Malvolio's "very midsummer madness" is contagious as long as the ships encourage the sea to devour rather than support the vessels that sail on it.

Love given unsought is good, as Olivia says, but only if it does not compromise the loved one's free disposition. Olivia is neither truly generous nor truly gracious when she forces herself upon Viola-Cesario and even attempts to purchase love: "How shall I feast him? What bestow of him? / For youth is bought more oft than begg'd or borrow'd." Olivia wishes that Viola "were as I would have you be." That is the problem. What Olivia wills compromises Viola's capability to give freely of herself; the opposition is an improper one between Twelfth Night and what you will, between what is given and what is desired.

Orsino and Olivia are alike; Viola is the opposite. She asks only Olivia's "true love for my master," although she would like to be his bride herself. She refuses even to accept a trip from Olivia: "I am no fee'd post, lady; keep your purse; / My master, not myself, lacks recompense." Generosity to Viola requires, as it does for Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, the hazard of everything. With Orsino and Olivia, on the other hand, generosity is an uncivil attempt to seize power and profit on the sea of love. They are potentially generous; they indicate that by their treatment of the fool and Malvolio: Olivia would not have Malvolio "miscarry for the half of my dowry"; but until they both learn as Viola tells Olivia that "what is yours to be-stow is not yours to reserve," and learn to beslow it without hope of power or profit where it is freely desired, they will both breathe "thriftless sighs."

While Viola opposes false generosity with true generosity, Feste opposes false festivity with true festivity. Feste takes graciously when Orsino pays him "for thy pains":

Clown. No pains, sir, I take pleasure in
  singing, sir.
Duke. I'll pay thy pleasure then.
Clown. Truly, sir, and pleasure will be paid,
  one time or another.

As Viola tells him, he begs well. Of all the beggars in the play only Feste is capable of inspiring generosity without compromising his free disposition. Orsino and Olivia in contrast are both uncivil in their begging, while Sir Andrew has no manners or civility whatever. Only Feste, both wise and civil enough to play the fool, is able to "observe their mood on whom he jests, / The quality of persons, and the time"; and to practice foolery "full of labor as a wise man's art."

Toby's festivity and piracy lack such labor and wisdom. Where Feste does "care for something," Toby cares for nothing but his own enjoyment and profit, the food for his insatiable appetite. Like witless Andrew, Toby delights in "masques and revels sometimes altogether," because life "consists of eating and drinking":

And. Shall we set about some revels?
Toby. What shall we do else?

Toby's sport is sport, to be sure, holiday madness that gives plenty of matter for a May morning; but his sport is too much lacking in civility—as Maria points out: he has "no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night." Cakes and ale are not enough. Civility, good manners, generosity are as important to the proper sport of life as eating and drinking. That Malvolio points out, although he is too much like Ophelia's preacher who "recks not his own rede": "Mistress Mary, if you priz'd my lady's favor at anything more than contempt, you would not give means for this uncivil rule." Toby's rule is uncivil and ungenerous toward Olivia and Viola; yet he lacks the ill will of Malvolio. Thus Maria, siding with Toby, chooses the lesser of two evils, even though she clearly recognizes Toby's fault.

Toby, however, does not operate alone; his cronies are careless Fabian and witless Andrew. The three together oppose Malvolio; even their excessive festivity may lessen the power of ill will; but their unconfined festivity becomes dangerous when Toby maneuvers his "dear minikin" Andrew into a duel that threatens free disposition and order. To oppose Malvolio, as Maria points out, is necessary; but to dismiss all restraint is not satisfactory. Toby, Fabian, and Andrew lack the moderation, grace, and wit that Feste has. The union between Maria and Toby and the confession of Fabian at the end of the play indicate the movement of Toby and Fabian toward Viola and Feste. Andrew we can do little more with than we can Malvolio: absolute ill will and absolute witlessness are both impossible to reform.

Toby's appetite is excessive and threatens anarchy; Malvolio's is distempered and threatens tyranny. Olivia indicates her potential for clear sight by describing accurately the fault of Malvolio when he calls Feste "a barren rascal": "O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distemper'd appetite. To be generous, guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take those things for birdbolts that you deem cannon bullets." Malvolio, of all the ships that sail on the sea of love, is most nearly a self-contained pirate: "Nothing that can be can come between me and the full prospect of my hopes." Although he gives credit to Jove, Malvolio knows that he himself deserves full credit for his own success.

Maria, with her "sport royal," makes Malvolio, the "time pleaser," a "common recreation" by playing on his self-conceit that "all that look on him love him." The gulling of Malvolio is comically acceptable because he is ill will itself being downed by the holiday that he would prevent, even though the profit from the gulling is less satisfactory than Viola's final recompense from Orsino. But for the holiday to go further and become anarchy is not comically acceptable. When Toby begins to endanger Viola and Sebastian, he becomes too uncivil. Olivia's criticism is harsh but proper: "Ungracious wretch, / Fit for the mountains and the barbarous caves, / Where manners ne'er were preach'd!" Toby joins Malvolio in disgrace, to be redeemed only by the generous gift of himself to Maria. Malvolio, incapable to the end of such free disposition, remains unredeemed.

Feste, dressed as Sir Topas the curate, goes to Malvolio in his prison of darkness that symbolizes Malvolio himself and tries to arouse the spirit of holiday generosity in him. He points out to Malvolio that the mind can be its own place if it is free and generous: "I say there is no darkness but ignorance, in which thou art more puzzled than the Egyptians in their fog." The darkness of the room, like the rain that falls every day, may be penetrated by light and warmth if one generously wills to do so. Feste's insistence that the room is light and bright indicates Feste's ability to will it so; Malvolio's failure to consider it light signifies his ill will.

With ill will comes captivity; with free disposition comes security. In The Comedy of Errors true security, as Luciana says, lies in social bonds; by being bound one becomes truly free, by losing one's self in the ocean one attains the fullest and noblest individuality. The same kind of security is recommended in Twelfth Night: the hazard of self and free acceptance of restrictions. Sebastian finally embodies that combination of Feste and Viola that makes collision on the sea a happy wreck. Safely ashore from the literal sea, Sebastian embarks on a "determinate voyage" of "mere extravagancy." Although Sebastian does not wish to endanger Antonio ("It were a bad recompense for your love"), he does accept with grace Antonio's bounteously offered purse:

I can no other answer make but thanks,
And thanks; and ever oft good turns
Are shuffled off with such uncurrent pay.

Sebastian most perfectly of all the characters in the play combines generosity, wit, and civility. He hazards himself, accepts support that he is freely offered, and recognizes, better than Viola, the possibility of delusion: "There's something in't / That is deceivable." He lacks Malvolio's self-conceited ability to think that his own worth is sufficient cause for everyone to love him, but he nevertheless accepts love that is offered:

Oli. Nay, come I prithee. Would thou'dst be
  rul'd by me!
Seb. Madam, I will.

He will be ruled; he voluntarily disposes himself to follow Olivia. Thus he is not a puppet, as Viola would have been had Olivia had her way, and as Andrew is to Toby. He retains his freedom to bestow himself where he will, chooses to bestow himself where he is desired, and thus forms, with Olivia, who is finally giving herself where she is desired, a free and mutually generous pair.

Antonio, like his namesake in The Merchant of Venice, demonstrates the hazard of self; he follows Sebastian even though great danger is present: "I do adore thee so / That danger shall seem sport, and I will go." "Willing love" and care, "as might have drawn one to a longer voyage," draw him after Sebastian. But Antonio's generosity, unlike Sebastian's, is modified by the fact that Antonio has been a pirate and may be again; he pirated a ship from Orsino:

It might have since been answer'd in repaying
What we took from them, which for traffic's
Most of our city did. Only myself stood out,
For which if I be lapsed in this place
I shall pay dear.

Antonio's generosity, like Olivia's and Orsino's, is not absolute; thus when he is captured he begins to doubt that he should have been generous: "What will you do, now my necessity / Makes me to ask you for my purse?" Since he saved Sebastian from "the rude sea's enrag'd and foamy mouth," he expects Sebastian to repay his generosity freely. When Sebastian seems ungracious and ungrateful, Antonio begins to fear for his own safety. The point is that safety on the sea from the rain that "raineth every day" requires human generosity, human civility. If people prey upon each other, the sea will accept the wrecks; if they support each other, even the accidents that do happen may be fortunate like the "happy wrack" that occurs in Twelfth Night.

Sebastian establishes the proper combination of the qualities of Feste and Viola to allow movement toward that happy wrack; the last-act accomplishes that combination in other characters. The act begins with Feste carrying Malvolio's letter to Olivia. Fabian asks to see it. Without violating generosity, in fact by encouraging generosity, Feste avoids showing the letter:

Fab. Now as thou lov'st me, let me see his
Clown. Good Master Fabian, grant me another
Fab. Anything.
Clown. Do not desire to see this letter.
Fab. This is to give a dog, and in recompense
  desire my dog again.

But that very return of the dog allows a double generosity without intruding on Feste's free disposition and desire. This interchange effectively emphasizes Feste's ability to inspire generosity in others without giving up his own freedom. Then Feste offers some wise foolishness which the duke rewards:

Duke. Thou shalt not be the worse for me,
  there's gold.
Clown. But that it would be double-dealing,
  sir, I would you could make it another.

The duke gives Feste a second coin. Feste suggests that "the third pays for all":

Duke. You can fool no more money out of me
  at this throw. If you will let your lady
  know I am here to speak with her, and
  bring her along with you, it may awake my
  bounty further.
Clown. Marry, sir, lullaby to your bounty till I
  come again!
… But as you say, sir, let your bounty take
  a nap, I will awake it anon.

While the duke's bounty is asleep, the sea threatens to devour order and generosity as "blind waves and surges" wash the boats.

Antonio, brought in captive, accuses Viola once again of ingratitude. Then Olivia rejects Orsino's suit before he can speak, and the Duke accuses her of incivility:

  You uncivil lady,
To whose ingrate and inauspicious altars
My soul the faithfull'st off rings hath breath'd
That e'er devotion tender'd!

Orsino even threatens to kill Olivia: "a savage jealousy / That sometime savors nobly," and then Viola: "I'll sacrifice the lamb that I do love, / To spite a raven's heart within a dove." Viola goes "most jocund, apt, and willingly, / To do you rest." Olivia feels herself beguiled and calls for the priest to confirm her marriage. Toby and Andrew come with broken heads. Finally Sebastian brings the proper combination of giving and taking, freedom and wit, to end the confusion. The duke, finally reawakened to generosity, asks a "share in this most happy wrack" and gives himself where he is desired, thus finally allowing free disposition.

Malvolio is sent for. Olivia offers to bear the cost of a celebration, "here at my house and at my proper cost." Orsino generously and civilly agrees; then he gives Viola his hand and himself—the true generosity. All are generous but Malvolio; even he is given a chance. Fabian freely confesses his and Toby's "device against Malvolio here, / Upon some stubborn and uncourteous parts / We had conceiv'd against him." The confession reaffirms the norm: Fabian is willing to forgive Malvolio; only Malvolio is obdurate in incivility: "I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you!" Toby, appetite, can be tempered: he has, "in recompense" to Maria, married her; ill will can only be avoided.

The play ends, as Feste foretold, with the ships in harbor and lovers well-met: "Journeys end in lovers meeting, / Every wise man's son doth know"; but it ends too with the awareness that the rain will fall again, as Feste also foretold: "Present mirth hath present laughter" and "Youth's a stuff will not endure." For finally there is Feste's song about the continual rain. We have seen the sunshine, now we see the rain; the final opposition seems to be one between Feste's conclusion and the play that we have just seen; but that opposition is not so abrupt, for the rain has been near throughout the play, in the death of Olivia's brother, in the near loss of Viola and Sebastian, in Feste's songs about life's melancholy, and most importantly in the ill will of Malvolio that appropriately is recognized but not reformed. The difference between this play and the comedies that precede it is finally the difference of Feste's song. The song is a description of the flow of time, of the dark strand in the weave, the dying fall, the deceit of disguise, the loss of the rose of beauty, the rain that raineth every day.

While the play does remain essentially a happy account of Jack getting Jill, the implication is no longer so clear that the man shall get his mare again and all shall be well. Fortunate shipwrecks may occur, but drownings also occur, and the sun that brightly illuminates all Twelfth Night except Malvolio's dark room may be shining through a break in the clouds of storm. It has rained before; it will rain again; one cannot trust in the sunshine, but one can perhaps trust in generosity, grace, and free disposition, in the mind's ability to be its own place, to turn a dark, rainy, devouring ocean into a sunlit kind sea teeming with life.

Twelfth Night lacks much of the substantial security of the earlier comedies; Sir Topas replaces Aemilia; a devouring ocean replaces Arden; the rain partly obscures the feast. Order is possible, to be sure; the comic norm remains; but that order requires more than a walk in the fields or the arrival of Theseus in the woods. The ring that Bassanio must take great care to keep safe has now been replaced by larger relationships. The consequences of fault are not yet tragic; one does not lose Desdemona or Cordelia; one does not even lose the sixteen years, youth, and innocence that Leontes loses. But one does see the rain closing in and the waves rising.

Appearance Vs. Reality

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Terence Eagleton (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: "Language and Reality in Twelfth Night" in Critical Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 3, Autumn, 1967, pp. 217-28.

[In the essay that follows, Eagleton contends that the language of Twelfth Night melds with its reality and, through the central subject of love, collapses and confuses the social roles of the characters.]

At the opening of Twelfth Night, Orsino describes his love for Olivia in terms which directly recall some of the paradoxes of language and illusion in other Shakespearian plays:

O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou!
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute.
                                   (1, 1)

Orsino's love has the destructively creative quality of the language of Richard II and the Macbeth witches, and the illusions of Puck: it absorbs and transforms reality into its own image, levelling its values to its own standard and thus rendering all experience arbitrary and interchangeable. The free-ranging, ocean-like quality of excessive love is the ground of its own negation: its capacity to receive all experience is equally its inability to discriminate between the intrinsic values of particular items. Excessive love, like disembodied or elaborate language, is a self-generating subjectivity detached from physical reality and therefore illusory; like the illusions of Oberon and Richard II it dominates reality, shaping it to its own form and granting it validity only within these terms, negating the experiences from which it draws positive substance. Unrequited, melancholic love intensifies this process: it is self-consuming, as Orsino is pursued and consumed by his own desires. When love, like language and created illusion, ceases to be closely structured by the physical situations which render it intelligible, its relation to these situations becomes paradoxically both parasitic and imperialist: it feeds off a real condition which it simultaneously creates, and can then be seen as an embodied contradiction, a self-cancelling encounter of negative and positive life.

The complex relations of language and reality is a common theme in Twelfth Night. Language in the play, as in Gaunt's use of metaphor in Richard II, can shape reality creatively, disclosing through linguistic connection a previously obscure truth:

Viola And what should I do in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium.
Perchance he is not drown'd—what think you,
Captain It is perchance that you yourself were
Viola O my poor brother! and so perchance
  may he be.

The Captain catches up Viola's use of 'perchance' and gives it a slightly different emphasis, which Viola then takes up with a sense of new insight, using the word a second time with both her own original emphasis and the Captain's new meaning in mind.

This creative-exploratory use of language can be contrasted with the verbal fencing of Sir Toby Belch and his companions. In these exchanges language constantly overrides reality, ceaselessly spawning new meanings which grow, not from the substance of an argument, but from previous verbal resonances themselves unrooted in reality. Language detaches itself from reality and takes flight as a self-creating force, controlling rather than articulating the course of a conversation until reality comes to exist almost wholly at a verbal level, only tenuously connected to actual experience:

Sir Andrew Fair lady, do you think you have
  fools in hand?
Maria Sir, I have not you by th' hand.
Sir Andrew Marry, but you shall have; and
  here's my hand.
Maria Now, sir, thought is free. I pray you,
  bring your hand to the butt'ry bar and let it
Sir Andrew Wherefore, sweetheart? What's
  your metaphor?
Maria It's dry, sir.
Sir Andrew Why, I think so; I am not such an
  ass but I can keep my hand dry. But what's
  your jest?
Maria A dry jest, sir.
Sir Andrew Are you full of them?
Maria Ay, sir, I have them at my fingers'
  ends; marry, now I let go of your hand, I
  am barren.

The progress of this exchange is shaped wholly by verbal resonances, each giving rise to another. The puns and allusions collide, counter-cross and interact rapidly, and one significant element in the word-play is the quick, confusing switches from physical fact to metaphor. Maria converts Aguecheek's metaphor of 'hand' into fact, then unifies fact and metaphor in the image of the hand drinking at the buttery-bar; Aguecheek latches onto the metaphor and is then further confused by Maria's ambivalent use of 'dry' to apply both to her own language and Aguecheek's hand; when Augecheek settles on the first meaning at Maria's instigation, Maria reverts to applying the term to physical fact—his hand—but in a metaphorical way. Maria's language absorbs and appropriates reality for its own purpose, without ever submitting to the contours of fact itself: her speech is an area of free, fluid existence ('thought is free') beyond the rigidities of stable definition, an area within which elements of experience can be endlessly interchanged, combined and devalued to create fresh absurdities and arbitrary connections.1

Metaphor, then, can operate creatively or destructively: by breaking down the limits of settled definition it can extend one reality into illuminating connection with another; it can also break down defined reality into a purely negative freedom, disclosing insights and relations held at a sheerly verbal level beyond the boundaries of actuality and therefore incapable of interacting with known reality to reveal fresh truth. The breakdown of creative connection at the level of normal discourse is a corollary of this mode of communication:

Sir Toby He's as tall a man as any's in Illyria.
Maria What's that to th' purpose?
Sir Toby Why, he has three thousand ducats a

Verbal dexterity is effective only at the level of its own self-generated illusion: brute reality can expose it for what it is, as an elaborate nothing, a substanceless patter:

Sir Toby Approach, Sir Andrew. Not to be
  abed after midnight is to be up betimes; and
  'dilucido surgere' thou know'st—
Sir Andrew Nay, by my troth, I know not; but
  I know to be up late is to be up late.
Sir Toby A false conclusion! I hate it as an
  unfill'd can …

For Belch, reality consists in proving contradiction and illusion, and Aguecheek's simple-minded assertion of the self-evident offends his sensibility. Yet Aguecheek's mode of discourse is paradoxically similar to Belch's: to affirm that things are what they are, to resist elaboration, is a tautology equivalent in its own realm to the contradictions which Sir Toby discerns. A tautology is as self-contained and self-created as Belch's own language: reality itself shares the quality of illusion.

The issue of language and reality emerges directly in Viola's conversation with the Clown in Act 3 Scene 1. The Clown acknowledges himself as a 'corrupter of words':

To see this age! A sentence is but a chev'ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turn'd outward! … I can yield you (no reason) without words, and words are grown so false I am loath to prove reason with them.

Reason—reality—can be expressed only in language and yet is falsified by language; without language there can be no reason yet with language there can be none either—to speak or keep silent is equally illusory. The Clown is aware that language and experience are so intertwined that to manipulate words is to distort reality:

Viola … they that dally nicely with words
  may quickly make them wanton.
Clown I would, therefore, my sister had had
  no name, sir.
Viola Why, man?
Clown Why, sir, her name's a word; and to
  dally with that word might make my sister

Yet the power of language to shape reality to itself, a power which involves the absorption of reality into speech, highlights paradoxically the distance of language from reality:

… in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you. If that be to care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you invisible.

(3, 1)

Language draws real substance into itself and becomes a self-contained, substitute reality confronting a nothing—the vacuum left by the reality it has assimilated. Because it confronts nothing, and nothing cannot be changed, it is impotent to affect it: the Clown's rejection of Viola as nothing cannot in fact make her invisible.

Before the Clown leaves Viola he manages to extract from her two coins, and the connection of money and language is significant. The Clown's response to Viola's first coin is to ask for another:

Clown Would not a pair of these have bred,
Viola Yes, being kept together and put to use.
Clown I would play Lord Pandarus of
  Phrygia, sir, to bring a Cressida to this

The Clown personifies the coins, endowing them with real, generative life, reducing himself simultaneously to a neutral go-between, a mediating element. The relation of money (symbol) to human life (reality) is inverted, as it is in Richard II: the coins, like language, 'breed' by their own independent life, becoming the controlling masters of a human reality which exists as a parasite upon them. Human life is objectivised and inanimate life subjectivised in a single movement, as language, inanimate symbol, sucks life from real human existence and reduces it to a corpse, an inanimate nothing. In both cases, money and language control, and yet cannot control, reality: they dominate and determine it as a superior power, yet since their mode of domination is to absorb reality into themselves, they are merely regulating themselves.2

The duping of Malvolio is a similar instance of the controlling power of language. Malvolio is driven to false and illusory action which he believes real by a language-created illusion—the letter written by Toby and his friends—which has all the force of reality. Malvolio's laborious tracing out of letters, words and meanings is an image of a man falling under the false power of language, viewing language as a completely adequate motivation to action. His behaviour before Viola is purely linguistic and therefore illusory, with no ground in fact: the letter determines and controls his physical existence, as in the text of the letter itself Viola is presented as saying that 'M.O.A.I. doth sway my life', shown as under the power of inanimate strokes of the pen. As a result of the illusion, Malvolio the servant overreaches his role to become a self-created master, as language itself, the servant of human life, becomes its tyrant. The letter which Belch later presses Aguecheek to write, challenging Antonio to a duel, reveals a similar confusion of language and reality:

Taunt him with the license of ink; if thou thou'st him some thrice, it shall not be amiss; and as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of paper, although the sheet were big enough for the bed of Ware in England, set 'em down; go about it. Let there be gall enough in thy ink, though thou write with a goose-pen, no matter. About it.


The interchange here of symbol and reality is parallel to the similar interchange in Maria's puns. The physical yet symbolic act of writing becomes itself a substitute for physical activity, so that metaphor constantly blurs into fact: the greater the physical size of the paper the greater the insults will be, the gall is almost literally in the pen despite the physical fact that the pen may be a goose-pen.3

The illusory, interchangeable quality of language in the play, its capacity to absorb and regulate the substance of human reality, has a direct parallel in the action of the drama itself: in the illusions, switchings and mistakes involved in the adoption of human roles. Throughout the play, roles adopted as conscious illusions backfire and begin to control reality itself, to a point where the frontier of reality and illusion is dangerously obscured. Olivia and Orsino are both 'actors', self-consciously fostering roles of lover and beloved which are objectively false but seen by the actors themselves as real; the roles, like language, actually regulate their owners' physical behaviour, providing them, as in a play, with strictly delimited 'texts', given functions and attitudes, from which their personal action must never deviate. Each character's role depends on the role of the other, in an act of collaborative illusion: Orsino's identity as a rejected lover feeds off Olivia's identity as the cold beloved, and vice versa, in a reciprocal movement of negative and positive creation. Viola is then drawn within this illusion, through her adoption of an illusion of disguise to further her real aim of serving Orsino; she is made to act the part of one actor (Orsino) to another actor (Olivia) in a way which conflicts with her own genuine identity (her love of Orsino). Viola, like the Clown with his coins, is reduced from real human existence to the status of a neutral mediator between two illusions: in the scene where she presents Orsino's claims to Olivia she operates merely as an embodied verbal message, a metaphor connecting two separate realities. Her role in this scene is to live at a sheerly linguistic level, eliminating her own authentic desires; she is an actor who must confine herself to a given text, with no reality beyond this:

Olivia Whence came you, sir?
Viola I can say little more than I have
  studied, and that question's out of my part.

When Viola asks to see Olivia's face she is told that she is 'now out of (her) text'; the face which is then shown is equally a defined and static illusion, a 'picture' which can be itemised in mechanical detail, as Viola's set speeches are a similar categorisation of elements.

The consequence of Viola's entering the reciprocal illusion of Orsino and Olivia is the creation in Olivia of a reality—her love for Viola—which breaks beyond the illusion and yet is similarly illusory—she does not know that Viola is a woman. Both Viola and Olivia define themselves and each other in roles which contradict their personal reality, weaving a network of illusion which neither dare break: their conversation is false for each, yet each considers it real for the other. Viola's enforced role as mediator for Orsino is a kind of self-cancellation: she is placed in a 'double-bind' situation where to secure Orsino's love is to further his love for Olivia and therefore destroy his love for herself. Either way she will come to nothing: her original, conscious adoption of the illusion of disguise to win Orsino's love is turned against itself, controlling rather than nourishing her real aims. Viola's own substance of identity is at odds with her role as linguistic mediator in precisely the way that language, in the play, falsifies human reality. Olivia is placed in a similarly impossible position: in rejecting Viola at the level of linguistic mediator she must harm herself by rejecting her also as the 'man' she loves. Since Viola has fully assimilated this personal reality into her assumed role when she confronts Olivia, the language and substance cannot be separated out.

The story of Malvolio brings together similar themes and images into a significant pattern. Malvolio, like Macbeth, overreaches a defined social role at the instigation of inauthentic language and becomes himself inauthentic, illusory: his bid for a higher freedom is a self-enslavement, leading to physical imprisonment in a suffocatingly narrow dungeon which is at once materially cramping and, because pitch dark, a kind of nothingness, an absence of all material experience. By confining himself so strictly to the false role which Sir Toby creates for him, in order finally to overreach and negate it (he obeys 'every point of the letter', as Viola talks precisely within her text), he plunges himself into a prison which is a cynically apt image of his real condition: a space so narrow and enclosed that it is at once positively limiting and, in its darkness, a negation which allows his imagination free and impotent range beyond it. The prison, that is, is simply a grotesque intensification of Malvolio's previous existence, disclosing its deepest reality: his positive and pedantic self-confinement to a narrow social role—brought out in the solid, laborious quality of his language—and the self-negating, overreaching ambition which paradoxically accompanied it, are pressed in prison into caricatures of themselves, and the essential relation of these positive and negative aspects exposed within a single condition. Malvolio falls both below and above the level of true identity: he restricts himself inhumanly to a rigid social role, and simultaneously allows his imagination free and ludicrous range beyond it.

The scene where Sir Toby and the Clown visit Malvolio in his prison brings the confusions of illusion and reality to their highest peak. The Clown disguises himself as a curate, and in doing so exposes four levels of illusion: he is a Clown (and thus, as we shall see later, a kind of illusion) disguised in the illusion of a curate, a role itself often illusory ('I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown'), visiting Malvolio in a prison whose darkness—itself a nothingness—renders the disguise superfluous, doubly unreal. This particular interaction of illusion and reality discloses the nature of the whole situation: Belch and his companions trap Malvolio in a created illusion aimed to reveal the reality of his character (a reality itself defined by illusory ambition), and then treat the illusion as real, bringing rational criteria to bear on it to torment Malvolio into a further sense of unreality. The Clown refuses to treat Malvolio's answers to his questions as 'real', attributing them to a devil inside the illusory facade of Malvolio's personality, treating Malvolio's physical reality as a disguise for a diabolic (and therefore illusory) reality behind it. Because Sir Toby and the Clown have themselves set, and can control, the terms of the illusory game in which Malvolio is trapped, they can turn any of his answers against him as proofs of his madness, offering a question or remark which he grasps as real and then withdrawing it as illusory:

Clown What is the opinion of Pythagoras
  concerning wild fowl?
Malvolio That the soul of our grandam might
  haply inhabit a bird.
Clown What think'st thou of his opinion?
Malvolio I think nobly of the soul, and no
  way approve his opinion.
Clown Fare thee well. Remain thou still in
  darkness: thou shalt hold th' opinion of
Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits.

Malvolio cannot win: whatever answers he advances will be absorbed, neutralised and turned against themselves by the rules of the illusion. It is his word against the Clown's, and because the Clown controls the conventions of the game Malvolio will always lose:

Malvolio I am not mad, Sir Topas. I say to
  you this house is dark.
Clown Madman, thou errest. I say there is no
  darkness but ignorance; in which thou art
  more puzzled than the Egyptians in their
Malvolio I say this house is as dark as
  ignorance, though ignorance were as dark as
  hell …

Within the framework of an illusion which has carefully excluded real fact, truth is a matter of who can destroy the other linguistically. The Clown frames his questions to create 'double-bind' situations for Malvolio, blocking off certain aspects of reality and loading his language to produce the replies he wants:4

But tell me true, are you not mad indeed, or
  do you but counterfeit?

The possibility that Malvolio is neither mad nor counterfeiting but sane and ill-treated is carefully excluded from the question; whatever Malvolio replies can then be used to his detriment. When Malvolio attempts to prove his sanity by comparison with the Clown's—'I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art'—the Clown, by exploiting the ambiguity of 'fool', as both a social title and a character-description, denies his own sanity and therefore Malvolio's: 'Then you are mad indeed, if you be no better in your wits than a fool'.

Illusion, then, both defines a man falsely and negates as false any criterion beyond itself to which appeal can be made: it is a kind of language which, by collapsing and controlling reality within itself, can adjust it endlessly for its own purposes. Illusion and language create a structure whose roles operate to control, not only the experience within the structure, but any possible experience outside it. By setting up the language and the illusion in a particular way, all experience is controllable and any assault on the structure can be deflected, as Malvolio's answers are deflected and distorted. Language, money, illusion, are only parts of reality, but parts which can encompass and regulate the whole.

Just as, in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Titania, herself an illusion, is trapped by Oberon into the further illusion of loving Bottom, so in this play Andrew Aguecheek, who helps Belch to ensnare Malvolio, becomes himself the victim of a Belch-created illusion, when he is induced to duel with Viola. Belch's manipulation of the duel is a striking instance of illusion creating reality: by mediating illusory information about each other to Viola and Aguecheek, Belch creates a situation in which each of the duellers thinks himself unwilling and the other willing to fight. The supposed mediator is in fact the creator and controller of the event: by deluding each character about the other, Belch can make something from nothing, fashioning a positive—a fight—from two negatives.5 By falsely defining each character to the other, Belch induces each to fight under the sway of this false image; by pretending to take his own created illusion as a real drama in which he is a minor participant, he produces a positive quarrel which is also a negation, one without cause or substance. In Viola's case, the illusion of the duel is simply a further illusion into which her original illusion of disguise has led her: it interlocks with the illusion brought about by the confusion of her with her brother Sebastian. In Aguecheek's case, the duel serves to expose the disparity evident throughout the play between his language and action, his real condition and his illusions about it:

… besides that he's a fool, he's a great quarreller; and but that he hath the gift of a coward to allay the gusts he hath in quarrelling, 'tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have the gift of a grave.


Aguecheek's language and action are mutually cancelling: he is a contradictory embodiment of language and action, and the point of the duel is to bring him to recognition of this reality. Sir Toby persuades him first that language is an adequate substitute for reality:

… so soon as ever thou seest him, draw; and as thou draw'st, swear horrible; for it comes to pass oft that a terrible oath, with a swaggering accent sharply twang'd off, gives manhood more approbation than ever proof itself would have earn'd him.


By creating this illusion, he can draw Aguecheek into the further falsity of the duel, a real action which reveals his negativity.

The positions of Belch and the Clown in this general confusion of reality and illusion, false role and language, are especially significant. Belch refuses all limit, all definition:

Maria … you must confine yourself within
  the modest limits of order.
Sir Toby Confine! I'll confine myself no finer
  than I am.

His rejection of definition is a refusal of external limit, of imposed convention; in a play where false versions of identity are being continually offered, he escapes relatively unscathed, defining others rather than suffering definition. Yet his rejection of restraint is not made in terms of an absolute freedom to become all, to appropriate all roles and experiences; it is made simply in terms of a freedom to be himself, to live within his own limits, confining himself to precisely what he is. His presentation in terms of physical sensuality, of the body, underlines this fact: like Falstaff, his overriding of social order springs from an achieved stasis, a bodily fullness which breaks order not by reaching beyond it but by ignoring it in favour of a stolid self-containment, by falling below rather than above it.

The Clown is in some senses the opposite of Belch, in some ways a parallel figure: they are positively related as polarities. The Clown, like Puck, is roleless, a negative, disembodied presence within and yet beyond the conventions of human community, all-licensed and thus a limitless nothing, a merely linguistic mode of existence, fast-talking but inactive. He is beyond community-rules because he questions all codes, all definitions, dissolving them into the paradox and contradiction of his free, fluid speech; yet he is also within the community because this negativity is sanctioned by the social role of Clown. Like Puck, his role is to be roleless; his positive and defined function in society is to criticise all function, all positivity. Olivia's rebuke to Malvolio, whom the Clown's wit offends, suggests the degree to which the fooling is sanctioned:

There is no slander in an allow'd fool, though he do nothing but rail; nor no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove.


The emphasis here is on 'allow'd' and 'known': once it is recognised that the fool's formal function is to rail—that he draws positive identity from this negativity—he can be tolerated: his social role both lends him defined reality and, by containing his wit, neutralises it to the level of play, of illusion. The Clown is himself aware of this process, as his ambivalent use of the word 'fool' signifies. As we have seen already in his taunting of Malvolio, the Clown creates paradox by using the word in two senses, as professional occupation and character-judgement:

Olivia Take the fool away.
Clown Do you not hear, fellows? Take away
  the lady … The lady bade take away the
  fool; therefore, I say again, take her away.                                            (1,5)

The Clown goes on to justify 'fool' as a judgement on Olivia, thus validating his reversal of her command. He dissolves the defined status of 'fool'—the social meaning—into the reality of human foolishness, thus showing the social status to be illusory—he, the Fool, has wisely revealed foolishness in what seemed reality—and therefore ironically exposing his own (illusory) role as more real than reality itself.

The truth implicit in his word-play is that to be a Clown is to be simultaneously real and illusory, positive and negative. The Clown is a 'corrupter of words' and as such the supreme focus of society's unreality, reflecting it back to them: he is thus both more real than others, disclosing what is ultimately true of them, and less real, since his own foolery is the function of an arbitrary social role before it is a genuine personal characteristic. He exists in so far as he is 'allow'd', as Fool, by society, given a social function which, because the negation of all function, is self-cancelling and illusory. Yet he is more real than others because consciously a fool, adopting this negative role with grim and positive realism:

Those wits that think they have (wit) do very oft prove fools; and I that am sure I lack thee may pass for a wise man.


Viola recognises this truth also:

This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit …
            This is a practice
As full of labour as a wise man's art;
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fall'n, quite taint their

The Clown is therefore more real than Orsino and Olivia, who are fools without knowing it; he is a good actor who, like Viola herself, consciously adopts an illusory role and remains undeceived by his own acting. The Fool is thus wiser than the fool: the more of a fool he is, the better Fool he makes and thus the less foolish he becomes, the more he fulfils a particular, settled definition without overreaching it into absurdity. The greater his clowning, and thus his illusion, the more real a man he becomes. The Clown, unlike Macbeth and Malvolio, can combine a complete social definition with complete freedom: total linguistic liberty is the constitutive element of his sanctioned role. He fuses the self-containment of Olivia and Orsino with the self-squandering liberty of Sir Toby Belch, achieving that synthesis which is implicit in the ideal (rather than, in this play, the reality) of the steward, who preserves and dispenses in careful balance. The Clown's sanity—his reality—springs from the fact that he fulfils a settled role consistently, and it is the lack of such consistency in the play as a whole which suggests that illusion and insanity are general conditions. Consistent role-playing allows conjunction and communication, a reciprocal confirmation of identity and thus of sanity; inconsistent role-playing creates insanity, unreality, as the general confusion of identities at the end of the play suggests. In this situation, the Clown's ironic self-awareness, his insight into the confusion, is a negative mode of sanity.

In the whole action of the play, then, illusion, role and language connect into a single pattern. The switching and interchange of human roles is a kind of living pun and metaphor, a blurring of the symbols through which reality is expressed in a way which casts radical doubt on the consistency of that reality. Hamlet's advice to the Players, to suit the action to the word and the word to the action, cannot be sustained: language overwhelms and manipulates action, draining reality until it finds itself in danger of collapsing into nothing under the weight of its own excess. If language is in this sense articulate unreality, social role shares the same quality: they, too, define reality falsely, detaching themselves from the real purposes they were fashioned to sustain into a self-contained realm of illusion where they set up relations between themselves in isolation from real experience, thwarting and obscuring it. The final irony, as in A Midsummer Night's Dream, is that this whole process occurs within a play which is itself, as the subtitle suggests, a kind of illusion, a momentary sport; when Fabian remarks that he would condemn Malvolio's behaviour as 'an improbable fiction' if he were to see it on stage, the play pauses to reflect on its own illusory nature, becoming for a moment less real than the characters it presents. When Viola confronts Olivia with Orsino's love, the effect, once the illusion of the whole play is held in mind, is one of an overlapping series of un-realities: Viola, an actor playing an actor playing an actor, presents the case of one actor playing an actor to another actor playing an actor. The relations of illusion and reality touch a peak of complexity which is equalled only later, in some of the mature tragedies.


1 c.f. Falstaff in Henry IV Part II: 'A good wit will make use of anything. I will turn diseases to commodity.' (1, 22).

2 c.f. the Clown's own connection between language and money when he remarks that words have been disgraced by bonds. C.f. also the quarrel between Antonio and Sebastian in Act 3 Scene 4, which is created and controlled by money: the purse which Antonio gave to Sebastian as a symbol of trust and friendship becomes humanly divisive, as (from Antonio's mistaken viewpoint) the 'purse-bearer', the servant, becomes the master, overstepping his role.

3 This interchange of animate and inanimate occurs in several minor images in the play. Physical objects are themselves symbolic—they have meaning, like signs, only in terms of what they do—but can be endowed with a constant human existence: Belch wishes that his boots should 'hang themselves in their own straps' (1, 3), Malvolio, at the moment he is endowing the symbolic shapes of written language with life, begs leave of the wax of the letter for breaking it.

4 c.f. also the exchange between Fabian and the Clown, Act 5 Scene 1:

Fabian Now, as thouo lov'st me, let me see
  his letter.
Clown Good Master Fabian, grant me another
Fabian Anything.
Clown Do not desire to see this letter.
Fabian This is to give a dog, and in
  recompense desire my dog again.

The Clown frames his remark so that Fabian cancels out his own request: Fabian's generosity is turned against itself, by the Clown's verbal dexterity.

5 c.f. the Clown, Act 5 Scene 1: 'Marry, sir, (my friends) praise me and make an ass of me. Now my foes tell me plainly I am an ass; so that by my foes, sir, I profit in the knowledge of myself, and by my friends I am abused; so that, conclusions to be as kisses, if your four negatives make your two affirmatives, why then, (I am) the worse for my friends and the better for my foes.' Negative criticism induces by negation positive self-awareness.

Walter N. King (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare and Parmenides: Metaphysics of Twelfth Night," in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. VIII, No. 2, Spring, 1968, pp. 283-306.

[In the following excerpt, King focuses on the character of Feste, comparing his ambiguous comments to those made by the sixth-century Greek philosopher Parmenides regarding "what is " and "what is not. "]

Recurrent themes are by now such a recognized feature of Shakespearian drama that we are perhaps in danger of underrating them. And when one begins to reconsider Shakespeare's use of the most recurrent theme of them all, the contrast between the ideal and the real (between what the mind comprehends discursively or intuitively and what it apprehends by means of the senses), this caveat seems especially apropos. For everyone knows that Shakespeare manipulates this theme in play after play throughout his career, and it all begins to seem tediously old hat. One recollects the casket scene in The Merchant of Venice, the mirror scene in Richard II, and Falstaff s homily on honor in / Henry IV. One thinks of Hamlet's bitter awareness of the discrepancy between what ought to be and what is (or appears to be), and of Lear's anguished realization that the ethics of quality (what ought to be) must not be confused with any plausible ethics of quantity (what appears to be or may be in a material sense). And one recalls the obvious differences between appearance and reality in the comedies, differences that ultimately take on the resonance of symbols: the mistaken identities in The Comedy of Errors, the costume and sex disguise of Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and the misunderstandings that crop up in Much Ado About Nothing because at crucial moments different characters fail to see or hear distinctly.

Now a metaphysical view of things is at least implicit in all these scenes and situations, a metaphysic that is easier to get at, if not easy to define in any definitive way, in the tragedies. Lear, for instance, asks Edgar at a focal point in the play, "What is the cause of thunder?" (III.iv.160)1—a question that remains unanswered, but implies a metaphysical force, or being, or what you will, that is responsible for both the physical and the moral universe. And Hamlet can return to the traditional Christian view that "there's a divinity that shapes our ends" and that "there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow" (V.ii.10, 230-231). Even Coriolanus perceives at last that "nature" cannot be denied or made other than it is and that no man is "author of himself (V.iii.25, 36).

But in which of the comedies are the metaphysical aspects of Shakespeare's near obsession with the antithesis between appearance and reality explored with any acuity? Perhaps in As You Like It, where the kaleidoscopic shifts from one possible center of values to another and the modification of values as episode comments upon preceding episode suggest a possible relativistic view of human experience. Or perhaps in Much Ado, where in the church scene the difference between what seems to be and what is receives a steady analytical treatment.2 But more profoundly in Twelfth Night with its riddling sub-title, What You Will, and its holiday atmosphere that prompts commonsensical discrimination between the worlds of moral order and misrule, between the excess traditionally permissible to the Christmas season and the relaxed return to decorum with the arrival of Epiphany. In no other comedy of Shakespeare is delusion, self-induced or attributable to blameless misapprehension, so central, and in no other comedy is attention so consistently directed toward the ambiguities that play between "what is" and "what is not."

Yet even if this be so, what character in Twelfth Night is reflective enough to grapple with the contradictions inherent in the relationship of "seeming" to "being?" Viola will not do. Though intelligent enough to be attracted to the professional raillery of Feste, she is too much a part of the illusion that characterizes Illyria and too dependent upon the "whirligig of time" and its revenges to probe very far beneath the surface. There is only Feste, the one figure in all the comedies with a true gift for Socratic irony, and Socratic enough to know that he knows nothing: "Those wits that think they have thee [i.e., wit] do very oft prove fools; and I that am sure I lack thee may pass for a wise man" (I.v.36-38). And it is Feste who reappears as the Fool in Lear and sings another stanza to the nostalgic song, that elusive blend of sense and nonsense, with which Twelfth Night dissolves into conclusion.

But is there really a Shakespearian metaphysic for comedy, and can Feste actually be its spokesman? And doesn't the mere suggestion that there might be one trigger the warning that whatever Shakespeare's comedies are about, they are not dramatizations of philosophical systems? Are they not, as representative critics insist, just exuberant expressions of the here and now,3 of the saturnalian claims of life,4 of love and its fulfillment?5 Shakespeare is, of course, extolling all these things; hence the difficulty of interpreting the comedies by means of any one critical standard. But it may be that by seeking some broad conceptual base we can discover a critical stance that permits us to do justice to at least the major comedies as a group—to their joyous acceptance of life and love, their social satire, their low comedy characters who are always more than mere clowns, their poignant songs that are always more than mere embellishments to the action, and their breathless cascades of wit that are surely something more than mere witticisms. What fashions these disparate elements into obvious comic wholes if it is not some philosophic vision pervasive through them all, something which Shakespeare was gradually coming to understand during the 1590's? And if there is such a vision—skeptics will assert at once that there is not—might it not be discoverable in Twelfth Night, the one comedy in which everyone agrees that Shakespeare recombines into a subtler, almost perfect whole everything (plot devices, character types, themes) to be found in more diluted combinations in the earlier comedies?

By its very nature the search I am undertaking in this essay will lead far into the critical area called by John Russell Brown that of the "implicit judgment."6 For what I am suggesting is that through Feste Shakespeare is concerning himself in a teasing, yet finally serious way with the ontological postulates affirmed by Parmenides in his insistence upon the irreconcilable difference between "what is" and "what is not," and is implying a somewhat whimsical, but nevertheless penetrating criticism of it. Whether Shakespeare had any knowledge of the fragments of Parmenides's poem, Nature, I shall defer till the end of this essay, mean-while citing and commenting upon the curious parallels between several of Feste's most cryptic statements and their counterparts in Parmenides.

I approach this possibility primarily in the spirit of play, on the assumption that without damaging the judgment we can, like equilibrists, balance these parallels against each other for a while and speculate about whether by means of them a rounded interpretation of Twelfth Night might not be possible. And if by this means light can be shed upon odd corners of the play usually bypassed by critics, it may then be profitable to turn to the historical issue—could Shakespeare have known anything about Parmenides, and if so, what?—and debate it tranquilly. And then could we not conclude, if only tentatively, that there is a metaphysical basis for Shakespearian comedy—even if Shakespeare had no knowledge of Parmenides whatsoever?


Of all Feste's ambiguous comments, three seem to me to be tinged with something I tend to call Parmenidean:

  1. The most elusive (usually dismissed as nonsense by editors if they annotate it at all) occurs immediately prior to Feste's masquerade as Sir Topas, the curate: "for, as the old hermit of Prague, that never saw pen and ink, very wittily said to a niece of King Gorboduc, 'That that is is'; so I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson; for what is 'that' but that, and 'is' but is?"


  • Almost as puzzling is the second, which occurs when Feste confuses Sebastian for Cesario and exclaims: "No, I do not know you; nor I am not sent to you by my lady, to bid you come speak with her; nor your name is not Master Cesario; nor this is not my nose neither. Nothing that is so is so"


  • The third occurs somewhat earlier, when to Viola's joshing comment that he is "a merry fellow and car'st for nothing," Feste replies: "Not so, sir; I do care for something; but in my conscience, sir I do not care for you. If that be to care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you invisible" (III.i.30-35). And a few lines later Feste declares: "I am indeed not her [Olivia's] fool, but her corrupter of words"


When we place these passages, especially the first two, against one of the key passages from the first part of the body of Parmenides's poem, often called the Way of Truth, we find an odd correspondence:

Come now and I will tell thee—listen and lay my word to heart—the only ways of inquiry that are to be thought of: one, that [That which is] is, and it is impossible for it not to be, is the Way of Persuasion, for Persuasion attends on Truth.

Another, that It is not, and must needs not be—this I tell thee is a path that is utterly undiscernible: for thou couldst not know that which is not—for that is impossible—nor utter it.

For it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be.

What can be spoken of and thought must be: for it is possible for it to be, but it is not possible for "nothing" to be. These things I bid thee ponder; for this is the first Way of inquiry from which I hold thee back.7

The verbal parallels should be obvious between Feste's "that that is is" and Parmenides's "[That which is] is" in the first verse-paragraph; though perhaps I should state flatly that Feste's second comment, "Nothing that is so is so" I see as parallel to Parmenides's assertions in the second and fourth verse-paragraphs that not-being, or nothing, cannot be known. These assertions are also relevant to Feste's insistence in the third comment that he does care for "something"—"something" (left undefined) being balanced against "nothing" and "invisible."

But it is one thing to point out corresponding passages and another to interpret them; and since Parmenides's poem is not always immediately comprehensible to lay readers, it may not be amiss to quote at some length from F. M. Cornford's interpretation:

This first way of untruth directly contradicts the Way of Truth. The starting-point of the true Way is: That which is is, and cannot not-be. The starting-point of this false way is: That which is, is not, and must not-be, or It is possible for 'nothing' to be. Here is a flat contradiction; one or other of the starting-points must be completely dismissed before we can advance a step in any direction. The goddess accordingly condemns the false Way as 'utterly undiscernible': a Way starting from nonentity lies in total darkness and cannot be followed to any conclusions whatsoever.…

No advance can be made from the premise that all that exists was once in a state of non-existence, or that nonentity can exist.… Thought cannot pursue such a Way at all; there is no being for thought to think of or for language to describe significantly. This impassible Way may be called, for distinction, the Way of Notbeing. It is dismissed, once for all, in the above fragments.8

In short, Parmenides is drawing an absolute distinction between an intelligible world ("that which is, is") comprehensible to the mind and therefore called the Way of Truth, and its opposite ("that which is, is not"), totally incomprehensible to the mind and therefore logically absurd.

"But," Parmenides continues,

secondly (I hold thee back) from the Way whereon mortals who know nothing wander, two-headed; for perplexity guides the wandering thought in their breasts, and they are borne along, both deaf and blind, bemused, as undiscerning hordes, who have determined to believe that it is and it is not, the same and not the same, and for whom there is a way of all things that turns back upon itself.

For never shall this be proved; that things that are not are; but do thou hold back thy thought from this Way of inquiry, nor let custom that comes of much experience force thee to cast along this Way an aimless eye and a droning ear and tongue, but judge by reasoning the much-debated proof I utter.9

Cornford's explanation:

I have called this second way of untruth the 'Way of Seeming' … because 'opinions' or 'beliefs' is too narrow a rendering. 'What seems to mortals' … includes (a) what seems real or appears to the senses; (b) what seems true, what all men, misled by the senses, believe and the dogmas taught by philosophers and poets on the same basis; and (c) what has seemed right to men,… the decision they have 'laid down' to recognize appearances and the beliefs founded on mem in the conventional institution of language.…

Parmenides means that all men—common men and philosophers alike—are agreed to believe in the reality of the world our senses seem to show us. The premise they start from is neither the recognition of the One Being only (from which follows the Way of Truth and nothing more) nor the recognition of an original state of sheer nothingness (which would lead to the impassable Way of Not-being). What mortals do in fact accept as real and ultimate is a world of diversity, in which things 'both are and are not,' passing from non-existence to existence and back again in becoming and perishing, and from being this ('the same') to being something else ('not the same') in change.10

Whatever these passages from Parmenides and Cornford may lead to, it should at least be clear that Feste's ambiguous statements, cited earlier, ought not to be brushed aside as mere nonsense. Here we have, tucked into contexts tricked out as the usual pattern of the professional stage fool, statements that apparently do more than echo Parmenides (as we shall see shortly). And they are just the sort of metaphysical statements suitable to a play whose plot depends upon the confusions generated by self-deception, physical and psychological disguise, and mistaken identity—confusions that gradually become worse confounded until the shrewder characters begin to make sharp distinctions between "what is" and "what appears to be." But the critical problem itself is initially one of tone. Is Shakespeare mocking philosophical hair-splitting, or is he getting down to substantial metaphysical assumptions by adopting an oblique approach calculated not to disrupt the genial comic mood that pervades every scene? Or to put the question another way, is Feste in the most literal sense only a "corrupter of words," a clever professional entertainer acquainted only by hearsay with the philosophical slogans and catchwords of the age?

Persuasive answers to these questions depend upon the meanings implicit in Feste's statements and the degree to which they illuminate major themes. First: "'That that is is'; so I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson; for what is 'that' but that, and 'is' but is?" On the simplest level Feste is suggesting here the difference between what is indubitably real and what only appears to be so. Though dressed as Sir Topas, he is not really Sir Topas, either to Maria, Sir Toby, or himself, since all three know his real identity. Nevertheless he is "really" Sir Topas to Malvolio as long as he can play the role imaginatively enough for Malvolio to accept him as such. And this Malvolio does, partly because he cannot see Feste, partly because he is too confused, owing to the imputation of madness, to penetrate Feste's vocal disguise, and partly because, owing to delusions about himself (his own reality), he is incapable of recognizing reality of any sort. But the problem is more complex than this. There is the provocative possibility, as Feste hints, that so long as one plays a role to perfection, one is the role one plays: the mask one assumes can become oneself. But in this case "that" (one's former self) is no longer "that," but has become "this" (one's present self), so that "is" may not necessarily always be "is." Contrary to Parmenides's conviction, "the same" may not be easily distinguishable even on purely logical grounds from "not the same." And so appearance seems to possess some measure of reality.

But as Feste knows very well, he is not Master Parson. He is himself, a concrete entity that unquestionably is and about whom he can think clearly so long as he avoids self-delusion and is on guard against possible false appraisals of what is real. Such mistakes are common enough unless one evaluates sensory data according to rigorous logical standards. For though the effort to determine what "that that is" actually "is" may lead to bewilderment, nevertheless "that that is is." In sum, Shakespeare through Feste is suggesting obliquely both the strength of Parmenides's metaphysics, the need for absolute definition of the real; and its weakness, Parmenides's failure to credit the world of sensible objects with any reality whatsoever.

In addition, Feste is implicitly exposing the ambiguity of basing a metaphysic upon the meaning of the verb "to be." Unhappily, "to be" has three general meanings that breed confusion of thought by their tendency to elide into each other. (1) Identification—i.e., Feste can be named and thus is knowable in Parmenides's terms. (2) The existential—i.e., Feste "is," or has being, and so is again available to cognition. And (3) the copulative—i.e., Feste is equivalent to himself, yet paradoxically can assert, "so I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson." But as the ensuing scene with Malvolio demonstrates, all three definitions point to involvement in the world of sensible, as well as of intelligible data, so that appearance cannot always be readily differentiated from reality (as Plato revealed to the disadvantage of Parmenides's system).11

The ambiguity implicit in "to be" is even more glaring in Feste's mistaken identification of Sebastian for Cesario: "No, I do not know you; nor I am not sent to you by my lady, to bid you come speak with her; nor your name is not Master Cesario; nor this is not my nose neither. Nothing that is so is so." Here Feste's position is reversed from what it is in the preceding instance. Not in control of all the facts, he is obliged like Malvolio to rely upon sensory impressions for the determination of what is real. Yet he has two advantages over Malvolio. He need not doubt his own sanity, nor is he suffering from self-delusion. It is noticeable that he depends, if only negatively, upon the meaning of "to be" as identification ("nor your name is not Master Cesario") and as the existential ("nor this is not my nose neither"). Sight is misleading him, but touch and his full awareness of his own body are not. He can therefore conclude, both logically and illogically (as well as ironically), that "nothing that is so is so." He can argue correctly by analogy that if his nose is still his nose, Cesario must still be Cesario (and can thus be named), not somebody else—and yet incorrectly, since Sebastian is not Cesario.

Furthermore, Feste's "nothing that is so is so" is curiously reminiscent of Parmenides's (1) "It is not, and must needs not be" (explicated by Cornford as "That which is, is not, and must not-be"), and (2) Parmenides's "it is and it is not, the same and not the same. " Feste, then, in his confusion, yet in his certainty that he is right, is unwittingly undermining, we might say, the very keystone of Parmenides's metaphysic. By relying upon sensory evidence and past experience, the only raw materials for cognition he now possesses, Feste is pursuing the Way of Seeming; and to the degree that this Way supports his sound conclusion that his nose is his nose, the weakness of Parmenides's proposition that the Way of Seeming is a totally false way is strongly implied. But to the degree that sensory evidence and past experience lead Feste, however naturally, to a false conclusion, Parmenides's dogmatic dismissal of the Way of Seeming and his equally dogmatic insistence upon the Way of Truth as the only true way are affirmed.12 "That that is is." Sebastian is plainly something, not nothing; yet just as plainly neither sensory evidence alone nor sound logic will ever lead to defining or naming correctly what and who he is. The unreliability of sensory data is further emphasized in the immediate and similar misapprehension of Sebastian's identity by Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian, so that Sebastian begins to question the sanity of everyone in Illyria: "Are all the people mad?" (V.i.29)—a copulative use of "to be."

On the other hand, the conclusion is implied that nothing can come from nothing, a solidly Parmenidean doctrine. Thus it can be assumed that when Feste informs Viola he does "care for something," in reply to her good-natured assertion that he is a "merry fellow and car'st for nothing," he means what he says. What that something is can be conjectured after the remainder of his reply has been interpreted: "but in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you. If that be to care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you invisible." Kittredge's gloss seems only a good try: "to care for something is the same as not to care for nothing; then perhaps the fact that I do not care for you makes you equivalent to nothing; and, in that case, I wish you might be actually nothing, and so—invisible."13 In the light of Parmenides's views upon nothing, a considerably more acute interpretation is possible.

To quote again from Cornford's analysis of the second passage from Parmenides: "No advance can be made from the premise that all that exists was once in a state of non-existence, or that nonentity can exist.… Thought cannot pursue such a Way at all; there is no being for thought to think of or for language to describe significantly."14 Feste's rejoinder to Viola (phrased conditionally, be it noted) seems, then, to imply the Parmenidean doctrine of the non-existence of nothing and the consequent existence of something. To care for nothing would be tantamount to believing that nothing "is," and this would be a palpable absurdity. In such a case, Viola would indeed be invisible, just as is nothing. It would be impossible to think or say anything about Viola that would make logical sense. Feste would then be, what he knows he is not, a "corrupter of words."

But to care for something is to possess values, to be engaged in ethical measurements—to care for what is true. And this means to care for what is real, since, though in an ontological sense reality can be limited only to "what is," in an ethical sense it can be extended to cover "what ought to be" or "what is best," as Plato very well understood. When Feste insists that he does care for something, he means in all likelihood that he cares for reality in both these senses. What that something is, is the sum total of "what is" and "what ought to be" disclosed in the comic vision of life that is the play, and this vision is implied in Feste's ironic criticism of the false values of the various deluded characters.15 But this is to move from metaphysics to ethics, which Parmenides was scruplous not to do, but which Shakespeare as a comic dramatist could not have avoided doing, had he been minded to.16


Earlier I posed questions to which specific answers may now be offered. Let me repeat the questions here. "Is Shakespeare mocking philosophical hair-splitting, or is he getting down to substantial metaphysical assumptions by adopting an oblique approach calculated not to disrupt the genial comic mood that pervades every scene? Or to put the question another way, is Feste in the most literal sense only a 'corrupter of words,' a clever professional entertainer acquainted only by hearsay with the philosophical slogans and catch-words of the age?"

That Feste is not corrupting words, contrary to his own assertion, is evident throughout. Indeed, he implies broadly that the inhabitants of Illyria are the real corrupters of words. Early in the play he warns his auditors (and so us): "I wear not motley in my brain" (I.v.63); and midway in the play he points out the danger of mistaking words for things. (1) "A sentence is but a chev'ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turn'd outward!" (III.i.13-15) (2) "But indeed words are very rascals since bonds disgrac'd them" (III.i.24-25). And (3) "Words are grown so false that I am loath to prove reason with them" (III.i.29-30). Are we not, then, committed to the working assumption that Feste's words are rich with implications, especially when he speaks most cryptically? For to be cryptic is not necessarily to be verbally corrupt.

It seems equally implausible to believe, after absorbing the range of implications in Feste's three "Parmenidean" statements, that Shakespeare's intention was to mock philosophical hair-splitting. Leaving aside the fact that this kind of mockery supplies only a limited comic mileage, one can remind one-self that all great comedy has for its raison dêtre the exposure of the difference between "what is" and "what appears to be," both being balanced, however gingerly, against "what ought to be." That this touchy contrast and balance are fundamental to all Shakespearian comedy no one would deny. Is it, then, unreasonable to assume that in the substratum of his maturest comedy, the one immediately preceding the great tragedies, Shakespeare was speculating upon the nature of reality and dramatizing how difficult it is to be certain of any type of reality? Furthermore, the parallels with Parmenides are too pronounced (still leaving aside the historical problem) to be ignored. One is at least driven to wonder where Shakespeare came upon the most telling phrase of Eleatic philosophy, "that that is is," and why he placed it in Feste's dialogue just at the point in the play where appearance and reality are being thoroughly confused by all the characters, and even by Feste. One cannot assume that Shakespeare, by this time an accomplished dramatist, would have thrust in this puzzling statement only for obscurantist reasons or only because it was part of the verbal rag-tag of the 1590's, as of course it may have been. Lastly, the metaphysical issues I have been sketching in permeate the entire play.

It has never been commented upon, to my knowledge, that Twelfth Night is very liberally sprinkled with questions. Numbering slightly over 300, their greatest incidence is in those scenes in which misunderstandings grounded in self-delusion or mistaken identity are most prevalent.17 A fair number of questions simply promote plot movement or comic gags, but an impressively high total have to do with identification and motive—with what is materially and non-materially real. In fact, the characteristic questions turn upon the verbs "to be" and "to will" (i.e., to want, desire, or intend), as in Olivia's pointed questioning of Viola: "What are you? What would you?" (I.v.228-229).

Shakespeare's iteration of this kind of questioning reaches into every cranny of the play and every question devolves upon the proposition, "that that is is," or upon modifications of it. Hence, though cataloguing is a weariness to the critical soul, I shall give typical examples in this and the following paragraph, which readers are at liberty to skip or skim. In I.ii, Viola asks about Orsino and Olivia: "What is his name?" (26) and "What's she?" (35). In I.iii, Sir Toby asks about the detractors of Sir Andrew: "Who are they?" (37). In I.v, Olivia asks about Cesario, before Viola's entrance: "What kind o' man is he?" (159); "What manner of man?" (161); "Of what personage and years is he?" (164); and to Viola: "Are you a comedian?" (194); and "What is your parentage?" (296)—all of them questions dealing with identification. In this same scene Viola begs Olivia to remove her veil, a typical Shakespearian symbol of appearance masking reality. In II.iii, Malvolio asks Feste, Sir Andrew, and Sir Toby: "My masters, are you mad? or what are you? Have you not wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? … Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?" (93-99). To which Sir Toby replies: "Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" (122-125), and later with respect to Malvolio he asks Maria: "What, for being a Puritan?" (155). And in II.v, Malvolio's soliloquy upon the identity of the intended recipient of the forged letter, supposedly written by Olivia, is entirely consonant with the implied self-questioning: "Am I he?"

In III.i, Viola asks Feste: "Art thou a churchman?" (4); "Art not thou the Lady Olivia's fool?" (36); and Olivia bluntly asks Viola: "What is your name?" (107). And when Olivia hints: "I would you were as I would have you be!" Viola asks in return: "Would it be better, madam, than I am?" (154-155). In III.iv, Olivia asks Malvolio a series of questions about his ludicrous behavior, among them: "Why, how dost thou, man? What is the matter with thee?" (26-27); "Why dost thou smile so, and kiss thy hand so oft?" (35-36); to which Maria adds: "Why appear you with this ridiculous boldness before my lady?" (40-41). Somewhat later Viola inquires about Sir Andrew: "What is he?" (256) and "What manner of man is he?" (288-289). Later yet Antonio is asked by Sir Toby: "Why, what are you?" (346). In IV.i, Sebastian wonders: "Are all the people mad?" (29) and shortly demands of Sir Toby: "What wouldst thou now?" (44). In IV.ii, all the questions Feste asks Malvolio concern the "is" and "is not" of his madness and culminate in: "But tell me true, are you not mad indeed? or do you but counterfeit?" (121-123). And in Act V the crucial questions follow the same pattern until mistakes have been rectified, true identities and motives have been confessed, and the need for such questions has disappeared.

The relevance of these questions to Feste's "that that is is" and "nothing that is so is so" hardly requires comment. Throughout the play one character after another attempts to ascertain the reality of other characters: their identity, their intentions, their beingness—so that disguise and mistaken identity are not mechanical plot devices, as in the early comedies, but are symbolic figurations of the metaphysical problems of "seeming" and "being." The difference between inner and outer, already symbolized in the caskets in The Merchant of Venice, is developed in Twelfth Night to apply fully to the "knot intrinsicate" of human personality and the difficulty of defining or describing it accurately, all of which is revealed in the various forms of self-deception of Orsino, Olivia, Malvolio, and Sir Andrew, and of the bafflement consequent upon the mask of appearance worn by many of the characters.18

Viola's estimate of the Captain's character is an apt summary of the metaphysical and ethical situation: "And though that nature with a beauteous wall / Doth oft close in pollution, yet of thee / I will believe thou hast a mind that suits / With this thy fair and outward character" (I.ii.48-51). Indeed, the image of the beauteous wall incorporates both Parmenides's Way of Truth and Way of Seeming and makes concrete the ease with which "what appears" may be mistaken for "what is." Orsino and Olivia, handsome without, are sentimental within. Equally absurd discrepancies between "seeming" and "being" are burlesqued in the degraded gentility of Sir Andrew and the social climbing of Malvolio. And in time the image of the wall is applied to Viola herself, when upbraided by Antonio in words that echo her own judgment of the Captain (III.iv.400-404).19

This image works its way through the play submerged in turns of phrase, often paradoxical, that bear down hard upon Feste's "that that is is." In I.v, Viola tells Olivia: "I am not that I play" (196-197); and "I see you what you are" (269). In II.ii, Viola's "as I am man" and "as I am woman" (37 and 39) further the ambiguity, along with Orsino's egotistical observation in II.iv: "For such as I am all true lovers are" (17). In II.v, Malvolio is ironically bidden in the forged letter "to insure thyself to what thou are like to be, cast thy humble slough and appear fresh" (160-162); and in III.i, Feste remarks to Viola: "Who you are and what you would are out of my welkin" (63-64). In the same scene Viola informs Olivia: "That you do think you are not what you are" (151) and "I am not what I am" (153). In III.iv, Sir Andrew addresses Viola in his inane letter of challenge: "Youth, whatsoever thou art, thou art but a scurvy fellow" (161-162); and in V.i, Olivia begs Viola, mistaking her for Sebastian: "Be that thou know'st thou art, and then thou art / As great as that thou fear'st" (152-153).20

This long sequence of interrogative, declarative, and imperative statements hinging on "to be" and "to will" heads up in Orsino's amazed reaction to the sight of Viola and Sebastian in Act V: "One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons! / A natural perspective, that is and is not!" (223-224). Here the Way of Truth ("that that is is") and the Way of Seeming or Not-Being merge in as subtle a criticism of Parmenides's metaphysics as Plato's more elaborate study of it in the Parmenides and the Sophist. "[That which is] is, and it is impossible for it not to be" appears less contradictory to "It is not, and must needs not be" (and to Parmenides's contempt for the "undiscerning hordes, who have determined to believe that it is and it is not, the same and not the same") than Parmenides had supposed. Whether Orsino's ironic echoing of Parmenides be deliberate or not, it is surely significant in any summing up of Shakespeare's own thinking. For it now appears that "what is" and "what is not" are not by necessity mutually exclusive, however illogical this conclusion seemed to Parmenides.21

But seemingly illogical conclusions need not be frightening so long as one faces squarely the possibility of deception and of lack of pertinent information, as Sebastian does in his soliloquy in III.iv. Here for the first time a character employs human reason as an instrument for probing beneath appearances. By carefully testing the reality of his situation through controlled analysis of the information provided by his senses of sight and touch, he concludes that his dream-like relationship with Olivia is not delusion. "For though my soul disputes well with my sense / That this may be some error, but no madness," he is still "ready to distrust mine eyes / And wrangle with my reason" on the supposition that either he or Olivia might be mad (III.iv.9-16). Percept is mingling here with concept, which is to say that either without the other has pronounced limitations.

Thus Shakespeare's conclusion appears to be that to reach trustworthy conclusions about "seeming" and "being," neither logic alone (Parmenides's Way of Truth) nor thoughtless faith in the senses (Parmenides's Way of Seeming) are entirely reliable. They can be either singly or mutually misleading. In a play as steeped in deception and self-deception as Twelfth Night such a conclusion is, of course, rich in implications, especially when extended into value judgments. For just as "seeming" and "being" need to be distinguished between in matters of identification and of existential and copulative relationships, so too must they be distinguished between when one is evaluating love and the legitimate and illegitimate claims of pleasure and of moral principle (the overt themes of the play).

But this is not to say that reliance upon logical thought and sensory perception should not be employed to the full, nor that, to weigh the scales again in Parmenides's favor, "that that is, is not." Viola turns out to be Viola, not Cesario: "that that is is." And so we can conclude with Feste, in the final song that touches upon every theme of the play, that "what you will" and "what is" mutually limit each other, owing to the nature of things and to human fallibility, though "what you will" and "what is" are both capable of a fair degree of descriptive definition.


But did Shakespeare have any knowledge of Parmenides (a problem inevitably linked with his possible knowledge of Platonism)? And if not, or if we cannot be sure, does this fact militate against the metaphysical interpretation of Twelfth Night offered in this essay?

That Shakespeare had any direct acquaintance with Parmenides seems improbable. But that in the sixteenth century it would have been impossible to learn anything about Parmenides is simply not so. One must bear in mind that the fragments of Parmenides's poem survived for the most part in two sources; (1) the poem is quoted in full by Sextus Empiricus in his Against the Logicians and to this quotation he added a commentary; and (2) the major fragments from the body of the poem were preserved by Simplicius in his commentary on the Physics and the de Caelo of Aristotle.22 That Both Sextus and Simplicius were available to those who cared is certain (Sextus, in particular, in the Latin translation of Henri Estienne, Paris, 1562), though it is not easy or always possible to plot out with any certainty the spread of pre-Socratic philosophy during the Renaissance. We do know, for instance, that soon after his return from Italy, Thomas Linacre translated the commentary of Simplicius on the Physics, but did not publish it;23 and we do know that some of the fragments of Parmenides were published in his Poesis Philosophica by Henri Estienne (Geneva, 1573) along with some doxography from Plato, Theophrastus, Plutarch, Clement, and Proclus.24 But no one could have learned much from this collection, nor is there much likelihood that Shakespeare ever saw it. It is also true that prior to 1573 J. C. Scaliger had gathered together the verse of Parmenides and Empedocles, but his manuscript was not published.25 In point of fact, no complete or even semi-complete edition of the fragments appeared until late in the eighteen century.26

A possible Shakespearian source for information about Parmenides might have been Giordano Bruno, whose English sojourn extended from 1582 to 1585, and whose London circle included John Florio, Sir Philip Sidney (who alludes to Parmenides, as well as to Thales, Empedocles, Pythagoras, and Phocylides in the fourth paragraph of "The Defense of Poesy"), and Sir Fulke Greville. Two of Bruno's Italian works are dedicated to Sidney, and Greville appears as host in Bruno's Ash Wednesday Supper. Bruno apparently also knew Sir Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, later first Earl of Dorset, and perhaps Gabriel Harvey, who certainly knew about Bruno. It has even been suggested by Benedetto Croce that Berowne in Love's Labor's Lost is a portrait of Bruno himself.27 That Bruno greatly admired the pre-Socratic philosophers there can be no doubt. Writes Dorothea Waley Singer: "Among many passages we may recall from the De Immenso Bruno's magnificent lines proclaiming that the potentiality of all parts is in the whole and in each ('All things are in all'). This is the real basis of his view of the Identity of Opposites, and he fortifies himself with the support of such names as Anaxagoras, Anaximenes and 'the divine Parmenides,' as well as of Plato's Timaeus and the neoplatonists."28 But be this as it may, such allusions to the works of Bruno in Shakespeare's plays as have been alleged are far from convincing, nor can one accept without considerable skepticism the parallels, suggested by Frances A. Yates, between Italians living in London in the 1590's and some of the characters in Love's Labor's Lost.29 On the whole, it seems fairly improbable that Shakespeare could have learned much about Parmenides via Bruno.

Of all the possible sources the most plausible appears to be the brief account of Parmenides in Diogenes Laertius's Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Latin translations of which were well-thumbed during the Renaissance. Here Shakespeare could have learned that Parmenides

divided his philosophy into two parts dealing the one with truth, the other with opinion. Hence he somewhere says: Thou must needs learn all things, as well the unshakeable heart of well-rounded truth as the opinions of mortals in which there is no sure trust.… He made reason the standard and pronounced sensations to be inexact. At all events his words are: And let not long-practiced wont force thee to treat this path, to be governed by an aimless eye, and echoing ear and a tongue, but do thou with understanding bring the much-contested issue to decision.30

Here we have a good thumb-nail sketch of the conventional Renaissance view of Parmenides's metaphysics and his method, but even if Shakespeare had read it and had noted any of the other unelightening references to Parmenides scattered through the Lives, he would not have found Feste's "that that is is."

Were it certain that Shakespeare's acquaintance with Plato came directly from the dialogues, it might be conjectured that his source for Feste's phrase was either the Parmenides or the Sophist, in the Latin translation of Ficino, widely read in the Renaissance, wherein Parmenides's postulates are rigorously examined; or in the Theaetetus, the Symposium, or the Euthydemus, wherein Parmenides is either alluded to by name or certain of his doctrines, such as the non-existence of nothing, are briefly mentioned. But no investigator of Shakespeare's learning has ever claimed that his knowledge of Plato was either scholarly or extensive. On the other hand, so authoritative a student of Greek philosophy as John Burnet has argued that in Lorenzo's rhapsodic lines upon the music of the spheres in The Merchant of Venice (V.i.59-65) "Shakespeare has given us the finest interpretation in any language of one of the central doctrines of Greek philosophy"—that the soul, imprisoned in the body, cannot hear the harmonies produced by the motion of celestial bodies—as stated in the Timaeus.31 Burnet contends that Shakespeare's classical attainments were more considerable than are supposed and that he "was able to disentangle the essential meaning of the Pythagorean doctrines preserved in that dialogue [the Timaeus'], though these were only known to him through a very distorted tradition."32 This tradition Burnet traces with great care in order to support his belief that by the fifteenth century the principal ideas of the Timaeus were everybody's property, and that Shakespeare's knowledge of Plato came to him through a long line of sources whose fountainhead was the early medieval School of Chartres.33 "It is certain, at any rate, that there was a vast mass of floating traditional lore, of Pythagorean and Platonic origin, in the England of Shakespeare's youth, and that he was just the man to be influenced by it."34

My own impression is that the best, and probably the only, case to be made for Shakespeare's possible knowledge of Parmenides is the kind Burnet makes for his knowledge of Plato and Pythagoras. (One should not forget that Feste "tests Malvolio's madness by quizzing him about Pythagoras's theory of metempsychosis"—IV.ii.55-65) When such scrupulous scholars as J. S. Smart, J. A. K. Thomson and T. W. Baldwin hesitate to claim much for Shakespeare's Latinity and classical learning,35 it would be pointless to argue that Shakespeare possessed scholarly knowledge of Parmenides, especially when such knowledge was not widespread in his own age. All one can do is measure the degree of his knowledge against a representative text, as Burnet did with respect to the Timaeus. If such measurement leads to a more intensive reading of Twelfth Night, or to considerable portions of it, then one can suspect rather strongly that somewhere behind the play stands, mirabile dictu, the figure of Parmenides.

Certainly the postulate (and conclusion too, since Parmenides's thought is finally circular), "that that is is," is not original with Shakespeare. Just as certainly, so far as can now be known, it was original with Parmenides. And just as certainly the phrase is not meaningless jargon. Therefore it has meaning when Feste speaks it. Where Shakespeare found it I frankly do not know, nor do I know how we can find out for certain now. On the other hand, dangerous though it may be, we should not be afraid to assume that Shakespeare, like many other Renaissance writers with well stocked minds, had a broader knowledge about many things than scrupulous scholarly researchers can pin down precisely. The possibility is strong that "that that is is" had for some time been current as part of the stock phraseology of the age and was used commonly in certain contexts by the formally educated Elizabethan. I can imagine, then, that Shakespeare might have picked it up by ear and perhaps might never have associated it with any philosopher known to him. But that he would not have wondered what the phrase means, would not have worried it over in his own mind, would not have been attracted to it because of its succinctness and its cryptic quality I cannot imagine. Whatever kind of mind Shakespeare had, we can be certain that it was an inquistive one, one given to intense speculative habits.36 Consequently I cannot believe that he put this curious phrase into Feste's mouth fortuitously just when deception of every sort is most rampant in the play and when plot complications are maximal. By the time Shakespeare was writing Twelfth Night he was not composing plays by reliance only upon inspiration, and this play is one of Shakespeare's most intricately planned achievements. "That that is is" fits too snugly into the total pattern of the play to be only a lucky hit.

Indeed, once its full meaning is understood and applied back to puzzling passages in the play, everything in it begins to respond resonantly—so that one becomes convinced that the play has a metaphysical substratum. This resonance does not destroy, but rather harmonizes with and enhances the play's Tweflth Night gaiety and its curiously reserved, almost sad, yet always sympathetic feeling for the nature and quality of love, of moral order, and of human joie de vivre. These things have their own reality and their own appearances, neither precisely like those defined by Parmenides, nor yet precisely unlike them. Love both is and appears to be; so like-wise with moral order and joy in being alive. Failure to perceive this ambiguity, which is fundamental to man's experience, leads to the folly of Orsino and Olivia, of Malvolio, and of the revelers who comprise Sir Toby's social intimates. For folly may be defined as failure to perceive the true nature of people, events, values, things, or as incapacity to separate words from things.

And so it can be argued that something like a Parmenidean metaphysics, with its Platonic qualifications, is singularly appropriate as a foundation for a metaphysic of Shakespearian comedy. The rigid simplicity of "that that is is" obliges us, as it apparently obliged Shakespeare, to speculate rigorously about what is permanent in a world of constant flux. This, too, is one of the obligations of the writer of comedy, plus the sensitivity not to draw too rigid distinctions. (I am not implying, of course, that Shakespeare had not speculated on the relationship of appearance to reality until he wrote Twelfth Night. His thinking on this issue began very early in his career and came to a rapid, but immature head in The Rape of Lucrece.) It is noteworthy that in Twelfth Night rigid distinctions are not drawn, yet neither are they blurred out. Rather, they are faced up to, and a process is covertly suggested whereby human beings, limited by nature, may intelligently face up to them; hence the iteration of characteristic questions and paradoxical answers that embrace both the sensible and the intelligible worlds.

Moreover, through understanding clearly the meaning of "that that is is," we can better understand Shakespeare's enormous advance in Twelfth Night as a craftsman: his movement away from the implausible use in the early comedies of conventional theatrical disguises, mistaken identities and the like into a more plausible use of them in the mature comedies (where misuse of the senses, especially of sight and hearing, become crucial), and finally into the fully symbolic use of disguise and mistaken identity in Edgar, for instance, in King Lear. And it is Lear far more even than Hamlet who struggles toward the rockbottom meaning of "that that is is" and learns through experiences of horrifying actuality the fallacy of Parmenides's doctrinaire belief that "nothing can come from nothing."

It ought not, then, to be considered heavy-handed or straw-clutching to seek out a metaphysic for Twelfth Night by way of Parmenides, even if, as may be the case, Shakespeare had no knowledge of Parmenides whatsoever. By juxtaposing this merriest, yet saddest of all Shakespeare's comedies against the rigors of Parmenidean thought, we can at least make use of a basic tool for thinking clearly about "seeming" and "being," a tool Shakespeare made use of, whether he understood its place in the history of ideas or not. It was a tool that Plato himself was happy to employ, though in time he forged a better one by developing Socratic dialectic. So also did Shakespeare. For the dialectic of speech and action typical of Twelfth Night prepared the way for the dialectic of thought and action Shakespeare developed as far as he could in the great tragedies that were on the horizon.


1 Citations from any of Shakespeare's plays refer to the Kittredge Complete Works (Boston, 1936).

2 See my essay, "Much Ado About Something, " Shakespeare Quarterly, XV (Summer, 1964), 143-155.

3 H. B. Charlton, "Shakespeare's Comedies: The Consummation," Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, XXI (1937), 345.

4 C. L. Barber, "The Saturnalian Pattern in Shakespeare's Comedy," The Sewanee Review, LIX (1951), 594.

5 Joseph H. Summers, "The Masks of Twelfth Night, " University of Kansas City Review, XXII (1955), 25.

6Shakespeare and His Comedies (London, 1957), chap. I.

7 Citations from Parmenides are from the translation by Francis MacDonald Cornford of those fragments upon which he comments in Plato and Parmenides (New York, 1939)—in this instance, pp. 30-31.

8 Cornford's commentary, pp. 31-32.

9 Cornford's translation, p. 32.

10 Cornford's commentary, pp. 32-33.

11 The complexities inherent in such a differentiation are explored in the Theatetus and in the two dialogues in which Plato submits the philosophy of Parmenides to rigorous dialectic, the Parmenides and the Sophist.

12 See Plato's criticisms of Parmenides's metaphysics in the Parmenides and the Sophist.

13 The one-volume edition of Twelfth Night (New York, 1941), p. 133.

14 Cornford's commentary, p. 31.

15 See especially Feste's subtle criticism of Orsino (II.iv.75-81). I cannot accept L. G. Salingar's interpretation of Feste as a skeptical moralist who finds a sanctuary in fantasies of pure nonsense: "what he sees at the bottom of the well is 'nothing.'" ("The Design of Twelfth Night," Shakespeare Quarterly, IX [Spring, 1958], 136.) Salingar's analysis of all the overt themes of the play is, however, acute and persuasive.

16 I am assuming, of course, that metaphysics and ethics cannot be rigidly separated. What is real in an ethical sense is real only to the degree that behind it is an ontological reality of some sort.

17 Altogether there are 314 questions: 92 in Act I; 67 in II; 76 in III; 26 in IV; and 51 in V. The greatest incidence occurs in I.iii.—32; I.v.—46; Il.iii.—29; II.v.—21; ffl.i.—13; III.iv.—53; IV.ii.—15; and V.i.—51; i.e. in the eight crucial scenes out of the total eighteen.

18 See Summers, passim.

19 Thou hast, Sebastian, done good feature shame.
In nature there's no blemish but the mind;
None can be call'd deform'd but the unkind.
Virtue is beauty; but the beauteous evil
Are empty trunks, o'erflourish'd by the devil."

20 On the epistemological level Twelfth Night is not provocative. There is considerable iteration of forms of "to know," but questions and answers dealing with how one knows are too few to admit of a theory of knowledge.

21 Plato argues somewhat similarly in the Sophist. See A. E. Taylor, Plato, the Man and His Work, 6th ed. (London, 1949), p. 389: "When we say that something 'is not so-and-so,' by the not-being here asserted we do not mean the 'opposite' … of what is but only something different from what is. 'A is not X' does not mean that A is nothing at all, but only that it is something other than anything which is X.… We may say, then, that 'not-being' is as real and has as definite a character as being. This is our answer to Parmenides. We have not merely succeeded in doing what he forbade, asserting significantly that 'what is not, is': we have actually discovered what it is. It is 'the different.' … It is childishly easy to see that any thing is different from other things and so may be said to be 'what is not'; the true difficulty is to determine the precise limits of the identity and difference to be found among things.… "

22 See the Loeb ed. of Sextus Empiricus, Vol. II, the trans, of R. G. Bury (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1935), pp. 57-63; and Hermann Diels, Die Fragmente des Vorsokratiker, 5th ed., ed. Walther Kranz (Berlin, 1934), I.

23 See John Edwin Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship (Cambridge, 1908), II, 226.

24 See pp. 41-46. Three Latin versions of Simplicius were published in the sixteenth century: Paris, 1544; Venice, 1551; and Venice, 1558. See Simplicii In Aristotelis Physicorum Libros Quattuor Priores Commentarla, ed. Hermann Diels (Berlin, 1882), pp. xxi-xxii.

25 See Francis Riaux, Essai sur Parmenide d'Élée, suivi du texte et de la traduction des fragments (Paris, 1840), p. 2.

26 Francis Riaux, p. 2.

27 Dorothea Waley Singer, Giordano Bruno, His Life and Thought (New York, 1950), pp. 34-41 and foot-note 9, p. 30.

28 Singer, pp. 84-85.

29 See her A Study of Love's Labour's Lost (London, 1936).

30 See the Loeb ed., trans. R. D. Hicks (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1950), 11, 431. Sextus Empiricus in his commentary on Parmenides says much the same thing. See footnote 22.

31 John Burnet, "Shakespeare and Greek Philosophy" in A Book of Homage to Shakespeare, ed. Israel Gollancz (Oxford, 1916), p. 58.

32A Book of Homage to Shakespeare. It is generally believed, however, that Shakespeare's specific knowledge of Pythagoras came from Ovid, Metamorphoses, XV.

33 Burnet, pp. 59-60. See also an even more comprehensive survey than that in "Shakespeare and Greek Philosophy."

34 Burnet, "Shakespeare and Greek Philosophy," p. 60.

35 See J. S. Smart, Shakespeare, Truth and Tradition (London, 1928); J. A. K. Thomson, Shakespeare and the Classics (London, 1952); and T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespeare's Small Latine & Less Greeke, 2 vols. (Urbana, 1944). All these scholars agree that Shakespeare read no Greek; that his reading knowledge of Latin was sufficient to allow him to read Ovid in the original, though he appears to have read Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses through preference; and that his classical knowledge, though extensive in many ways, could not be called scholarly by Renaissance standards.

35 Inasmuch as the approach to source studies employed in this essay will undoubtedly produce anguished reactions in some quarters, it may not be amiss to quote a somewhat similar defense, written by J. B. Leishman in support of his conviction that Shakespeare must have had a fair knowledge of Horace: "Was Shakespeare familiar with Horace's Odes? I can see no way of proving that he was, but on the other hand, it seems to me almost incredible that he should not have been. Almost all other great poets have learnt from their predecessors, either by way of a progressively un-imitative imitation, or simply through an ever-renewed awareness of the infinite possibilities of expression and of what great poetry could and ought to be; but it seems to be generally assumed that, except for a few translations, Shakespeare, when he read at all, read chiefly almanacks, Fat Stock Prices, and whatever may have been the Elizabethan equivalent of a financial weekly. What I find so incredible about this is the lack of curiosity it presupposes.… No doubt the fact that he could write like Aeschylus without ever, perhaps, having even heard the name of Aeschylus, makes it not impossible to suppose that he could write like Horace without ever having read him. On the other hand, we cannot assume that Shakespeare had not read him simply because we cannot produce from his poems and plays such immediately recognisable imitations of variations of Horatian phrases and passages as we can produce from Petrarch or Ronsard or Ben Jonson." (Themes and Variations in Shakespeare's Sonnets [London, 1961], p. 36.)

Helene Moglen (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Disguise and Development: The Self and Society in Twelfth Night," in Literature and Psychology, Vol. XXIII, No. 1, 1973, pp. 13-20.

[In this essay, Moglen postulates a set of Freudian psychological theses that underlie Shakespeare's portrayal of disguised characters in Twelfth Night.]

Mistaken identity and sex disguise are familiar, rather hackneyed devices used with some regularity in romantic comedy. Critics of Twelfth Night have taken these conventions for granted and have been content simply to describe their use in the articulation of plot and character.1 Surprisingly little allowance has been made for the possibility that Shakespeare might have defined quite differently, at different points in his career, the varying functions of devices as rich in implication as these. Because critics of the play have largely ignored the psychological premises of romance, they have not understood that Shakespeare, in the comic romances of this period, reinterpreted conventional techniques and incorporated them into an apparent theory of the development of personal and therefore sexual identity. It will be the purpose of this essay to indicate the ways in which these psychological premises are fundamental to the treatment of theme and character in Twelfth Night, basic to the relation of plot to subplot, and strikingly similar to major aspects of Freud's own theory of psycho-sexual development.

Illyria is a world of the dreaming mind: landscaped by wishes and fears, peopled by fragments of the self. Illyria is a world of symbols in which the face must be traced in the mask and the appearance is more real than reality. Here the dreaming heroes and heroines (Orsino, Sebastian, Olivia, Viola) explore the secrets of their own identities. The object of their quest is love: to recapture the unconscious unity of childhood in the integration of the self with another.

But Illyria is also a real world: comic and absurd. Here self-indulgence replaces self-involvement and hypocrisy is the primary disguise. The comic heroes (Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Malvolio) move between freedom and rigidity. Their need to free themselves from restraint confronts their obligation to assume responsibility. In one world, the individual's self-definition is given a psychological reference. In the other, the process takes place within a social context.

In Twelfth Night the conditions of the romantic journey have been satisfied before the play begins. All authority figures have miraculously disappeared, external barriers are down, the self is thrust back upon itself.2 As they undertake their quests, Orsino, Olivia and Viola seem to emerge from states of childish narcissism in which they are themselves objects of their own love: a beginning stage (as Freud was later to define it) of all normal sexual development.3

Thus, Orsino egotistically withdraws from society, neglecting the responsibilities of the dukedome ("For I myself am best / when least in company")4 and giving himself instead to the sensation of sensation. It is not a woman he loves, but love itself—in the form of Olivia. It is the "food of love" he enjoys; his own capacity for love which he celebrates. His feeling is not part of a relationship. It is stimulated by appearance. Its source is visual.

O' when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence.
                               (I, i, 20-21)

As with many courtly lovers before him, Orsino is delighted by his own reflection—discovered in his mistress's eyes.

Olivia is a perfect object for Orsino's egotism. With her as his beloved, he can enjoy the experience of love without having to confront its reality. He can appreciate Olivia's capacity for sisterly affection while anticipating the passion which will eventually accompany her aroused sexuality:

O' she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love when the rich golden shaft
Hath killed the flock of all affections else
That live in her…
                                (I, i, 34-38)

And he is safe in the knowledge that for seven years nothing will disturb the sweetness of that anticipation. Olivia protects herself by carefully preserving and savoring the subtly spiced sensations of the grief which is the condition of her celibacy:

But like a cloistress she will veiled walk,
And water once a day her chamber round
With eye-offending brine: all this to season
A brother's dead love, which she would keep
And lasting in her sad remembrance.
                                (I, i, 29-33)

Both Orsino and Olivia are locked within the prisons of their self-love. They progress from narcissism only insofar as they define their self-involvement as love for another. But their behavior belies the truth of their definitions and it remains for Viola to become the agency of their freedom, helping them progress through adolescent conflict to mature resolution.

Initially, Viola's own situation seems to parallel theirs, but her divergences prove more crucial than the similarities. With Orsino and Olivia, she is cut off from the familiar forms of her old life, but while the causes of change are, in their cases, largely specious and self-imposed, they are, for her, radical and decisive. She has undergone a long and dangerous sea-journey (a familiar metaphor for the romantic quest for self) and, at the end, she finds herself bereft—as is Olivia—of a brother. Almost drowned, on the shore of a strange country, she has been, in a sense, reborn; prepared for a new life which is, from another perspective, a new level of development.

Viola's spontaneous response to the information that Orsino rules the land to which she has come, implies that she, like Olivia and the Duke himself, is interested in the possibilities of courtship.

Orsino! I have heard my father name him.
He was a bachelor then.
                                  (I, ii, 28-29)

But her interest is not conscious. Viola, unlike the heroines upon whom she was modeled,5 has no particular interest in the Duke. Her susceptibility to love is general: a stage in her development. And, quite typically, her curiosity is accompanied by fear and ambivalence. If she is attracted, she is also repelled by an environment that threatens her uncertain sexuality. The security of Olivia's household, the immediate sense of kinship, is tempting:

O' that I served that lady,
And might not be delivered to the world,
Till I had made mine own occasion mellow.
What my estate is.
                            (I, ii, 41-44)

But she must and is prepared to play—as Olivia and Orsino are not—an active role. With a more sophisticated understanding of the dangers of disguise, the delusory quality of appearance (Nature with a beauteous wall / Doth oft close in pollution…) (I, iii, 48-9) she initiates the next stage of her development, deciding to become "the form of my intent," offering to serve the duke in the guise of a young man. The chosen disguise suggests that Viola's intent is to become that androgynous person who, in the Eden of childhood she was, and longs again to be. She is a boy-girl hovering precariously, if self-consciously, between the sexless child and the adult female. Her disguise is the adolescent confusion of identity made visible. It is a confusion of identity equally, if less consciously, shared by Olivia and Orsino.

Seen from this perspective, the loss of the brother represents for Viola and Olivia a denial of the primitive, infantile unity of the personality: a schism that necessarily accompanies self-awareness. Orsino's isolation implies a similar fragmentation. For all, the primary narcissism of childhood yields to the sexual ambiguity of adolescence which must be confronted before it can be resolved. The assumption of a male identity is essential to Viola's definition of herself as woman. It suggests the objectification of conflict, allows her to act out her ambivalence, and enables her ultimately to assume a role more appropriate to the demands of nature and society. Similarly, as they interact with the ambiguous sexuality of Viola-Cesario, Olivia and the Duke confront themselves in homoerotic relationships which allow them to achieve the security which is essential if they are to accept mature, heterosexual love. Freud remarked:

It is well known that even in the normal person it takes a certain time before a decision in regard to the sex of the love-object is finally achieved. Homosexual enthusiasms, tinged with sensuality are common enough in both sexes during the first years after puberty.6

It is with this period of uncertainty and change that Shakespeare concerns himself. What Jan Kott calls, in another context, "the metamorphasis of sex," becomes the focus of the play.7 Sexual roles are explored and defined, conflicts are resolved and Viola is the medium and the measure.

To Orsino, Viola offers the terms of a rather simple compromise. The security afforded by Cesario's masculine appearance allows the Duke to reveal himself to the receptive—albeit disguised—femininity of Viola:

Thou know'st no less but all. Cesario, I have
unclasped to thee the book even of my secret
                            (I, iv, 12-14)

From Cesario, the Duke (whose "mind is a very opal") learns the lesson of a constancy that creates meaning for the romantic songs that feed his fantasies. He has congratulated himself on the strength of his passion, "as hungry as the sea," and dotes on stories of lovers slain by the heartlessness of fair maidens. By his own admission:

… however we do praise ourselves,
our fancies are more giddy and unfirm
more longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn,
Than women's are.
                             (II, iv, 33-36)

He is quick to deny the affection he has professed for his young page, when he suspects Cesario's involvement with Olivia:

       Come, boy, with me; my thoughts are
                 ripe in mischief.
I'll sacrifice the lamb that I do love,
      To spite a raven's heart within a dove.
                                   (V, i, 132-4)

Cesario remains steadfast, however, and offers himself lovingly and in fact to the cruelty of his sentimental wrath:

And I, most jocund, apt and willingly,
To do you rest a thousand deaths would die.
                             (V, i, 112-3)

By affording him this transitional relationship, Viola forces Orsino to search out the truth of the disguise and provides him with a corrective to illusion.

In relating to Olivia, Viola must play a complex role. By avoiding contact with Orsino and removing herself from the temptation of a heterosexual love relationship, Olivia has revealed her fear of herself. An orphan, like Viola,8 she will not jeopardize her newly won authority nor will she endanger the integrity of an identity already threatened by the symbolic loss of her brother. The efficient head of a complicated household, Olivia does not want to surrender her masculine dominance: "She'll not match above her degree, neither in estate, years, nor wit (I, iii, 106-7)." She is willing to speak with Cesario because he is unthreatening: his audacious wit as well as his commanding nobility which make her put aside her veil. Her ambivalence is betrayed. Her vulnerability is exposed. In admitting that "Ourselves we do not owe (I, v, 311)," she acknowledges herself to be part of a developmental process which she cannot control. It is the odd logic of this process which defines her actions, attracting her to Viola, attaching her to Cesario and leading her to accept quite readily the eventual substitution of Sebastian.

Viola, too, recognizes that she is not mistress of her situation:

O Time, thou must entangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me t' untie.
                                     (II, ii, 40-1)

And she becomes aware of the dangers of the disguise which she has assumed:

Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
                            (II, ii , 27-8)

Still, to embrace illusion is to give oneself to a necessary madness. As Cesario, Viola is able to establish the meaning of her sexual identity. Although she enjoys her easy domination of Olivia, she prefers to subordinate herself to the Duke. In the process of convincing Olivia that it is appropriate for her to give freely of her love ("What is yours to bestow is not yours to preserve (I, v, 186-7).") she explores in herself a capacity for feeling which is profound. The security afforded by her disguise makes the exploration possible. She is an eloquent petitioner:

Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Hallo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out "Olivia." O you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth
But you should pity me.
                            (I, v, 269-277)

Her disguise makes her eloquence a mockery of romantic sentiment, but it also invests that mockery with the genuine feeling which is her love for the Duke.

Viola demonstrates the truth of the clown's assertion that: "A sentence is but a chev'ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned outward (III, i, 11-13)." Her language is as ambiguous as her disguise, and reveals as it hides. The game she plays enables her to test reality while only partially accepting it. Her ultimate readiness to confront herself is asserted by her confrontation with Sebastian. Aware of the nature of her femininity, she can encounter the masculine possibility: her brother externalized and experienced now as "the other." He is the form of her awareness and, on the level of plot, he makes it possible for that awareness to be activated. The mystery of their twinship solved, her separateness asserted, she is able to put on her "woman's weeds" and assume the role of wife.

Sebastian is, in every respect, an appropriate "double" for Viola. His experience parallels hers and his development is the same as Olivia's and Orsino's. Like Viola, Sebastian has endured an arduous sea-journey which deprives him of his twin and brings him to a new land. The images used to describe his experiences are symbolic of resurrection (he binds himself to a mast and rides upon it like Arion upon the Dolphin's back) and suggest that he has progressed from one level of development to another. In the crisis of identity, friend supplants sister (" …for some hour before you took me from the breach of the sea was my sister drown's (II, i, 22-24).") The fact that his relationship with Antonio is tinged by the same homoeroticism that distinguishes Olivia's attraction to Viola and Orsino's affection for Cesario, is suggested by the language that Antonio uses when he speaks of the depth and intensity of his attachment:

If you will not murder me for my love,
let me be your servant.
                                      (II, i, 36-37)

I have many enemies in Orsino's court,
Else would I very shortly see thee there.
But come what may, I do adore thee so
That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.
                              (II, i, 46-49)

When we are first introduced to Sebastian as he takes leave of Antonio, he seems slightly feminized.

My bosom is full of kindness and
I am yet so near the manners
Of my mother that, upon the least
Occasion more, mine eyes will tell
    Tales of me.
                              (II, i, 39-42)

But he hovers on the edge of manhood, anxious to separate himself from the domination of his older friend ("Therefore I shall crave of you your leave, that I may bear my evils alone (II, i, 5-6).") It is appropriate that he should now divest himself of his disguise, telling Antonio his name and describing to him his background. Having endured the loss of his sister, inviting a separation from Antonio, Sebastian seems in growing control of himself. He demonstrates his physical prowess when challenged by Sir Toby and Andrew and, more importantly, he welcomes with mature ease, the reality of the dream:

What relish is in this? How runs the stream?
Or I am mad, or else this is a dream,
Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep;
If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!
                                (IV, i, 59-62)

When he explains to Olivia: "You are betrothed both to a maid and man (V, i, 263)," he reveals the truth of the illusion.

Through Sebastian the resolution of the romance is made possible. In their readiness for marriage all of the characters affirm their own sexual identities. In choosing a mate each of the characters confronts that part of the self which is subordinate but, nevertheless, essential to total definition. Courtship involves an awareness and externalization of conflict. Marriage is the promise of a higher unity. Explaining the need of the personality to move beyond its early narcissism, Freud wrote:

… we are so impelled when the cathexis of the ego with libido exceeds a certain degree. A strong egoism is a protection against disease but in the last resort we must begin to love in order that we may not fall ill, and must fall ill if, in consequence of frustration, we cannot love.9

It is the illusion, the experimental assumption of roles, which allows the development here from the disease of self-involvement and fragmentation to the healthful state of love and self-definition.


In the sub-plot of Twelfth Night the same themes are explored, but the exploration is given a social focus. The romantic characters and situations have their comic counterparts. Self-revelation replaces self-recognition. Self-indulgence replaces narcissism and the absence of self-knowledge is expressed in hypocrisy. The conflict is one of social rather than sexual definition and the antithetical possibilities which must be resolved are personal freedom and expression on one hand, social formalism and responsibility on the other.

Sir Toby, the "Lord of Misrule" who "burlesques majesty by promoting license,"10 occupies a key position, similar to Viola's. Viola, in her androgynous disguise, encourages Olivia and the Duke to project freely the selves submerged in the roles they play. Sir Toby, whose drunken revelry is another form of disguised freedom, manipulates Sir Andrew and Malvolio so that each betrays his true nature, hypocritically masked. Antisocial qualities are identified and purged. In Sir Andrew, the vanity of the courtly lover is revealed: recognition of his cowardice is a corrective to the absurdity of idealized romance. Ignorant of himself and the woman chosen to be his mistress, he is Orsino perceived through the lens of social comedy. Only ridiculous, he is not punished, for he does, after all, search for love remembering, with some nostalgia, that he "was adored once too."

Malvolio, alone of the Illyrians, does not share this capacity for affection. His narcissism is not an early stage of a complex developmental process, but seems rather to be endemic. He is "sick of self-love" and "tastes with a distempered appetite (I, v, 90-91)." He is a man who "practises behavior to his own shadow (II, v, 16)." A precursor of the commercial revolution, as C. L. Barber suggests,11 Malvolio translates all values into material terms. Love, for him, is power. To marry Olivia is to become Count Malvolio. It is to exercise control over the household, to claim the right to berate Sir Toby. In his pride he rejects the established order of society and believes that accepted hierarchies can be overturned. Most important of all, perhaps, Malvolio rejects the wisdom of the fool and refuses to accept the function of disguise:

I protest I take these wise men
that crow so at these set kind
of fools no better than the fools' zanies.
                                        (I, v, 87-9)

Paradoxically, it is because of his inflexibility that he alone is sealed into a disguise. Maria's plan offers him only the concrete, external form of his own self-deception. He belongs to the world of comic realism and aspires to the world of psychological romance. He is unable to use the freedom of either as part of his process of self-definition. He rejects the dream along with the cakes and ale. His journey into the self can be nothing more than what it, in fact, becomes: imprisonment in the pitch blackness of delusion.

Malvolio is representative of that egotism which is, in its extreme form, anti-social and self-destructive. His final threat of revenge makes this clear. Because he cannot progress to a state of knowledge which implies integration through the recognition of inner and outer order, he must himself be purged. His dismissal is the symbolic condition of the consolidation of the society and the integration of the individual which is represented by marriage.

It is in the atmosphere of freedom created by Sir Toby that Malvolio's unmasking is created by Maria. Only she is able to mediate between the two worlds of Illyria, while being part of their reality.12 Moving between Olivia and Sir Toby, she maintains the structures of the household (a microcosmic version of Illyria) imposing order, meting out justice. Her wit, like Viola's, implies the flexibility requisite to personal maturity and social stability. In the parodic letter she writes to Malvolio and in her chiding of Sir Toby, she suggests the limitations of romantic idealism and comic freedom.

At first Sir Toby rejects those restrictions which her reason would impose upon him:

MARIA: Ay, but you must confine yourself
  within the modest limits of order.

TOBY: Confine? I'll confine myself no finer
  than I am. These cloths are good enough to
  drink in, and so be these boots too. And
  they be not, let them hang themselves in
  their own straps.
                                  (I, iii, 8-13)

but he recognizes the value of a wit that can conceive as the form of disguise the revelation of truth. Responding joyously to her ingenuity ("I could marry this wench for this device (II, v, 83)") he comes to respect the constructive intelligence which makes it possible. In this way Maria functions for him as Viola functions for Orsino and Olivia. And when Sir Toby does, in fact, decide to marry Maria, his decision implies his recognition of the limited and transitional value of disguise. Somewhat ruefully he puts aside his freedom ("I hate a drunken rogue (V, i, 200)") and accepts responsibility.

Feste's song places the action of the play in its final perspective. The inevitable movement from childhood to maturity is noted. The psychological and social resolutions once affected, are qualified. The play is, after all, only another kind of disguise which presents reality in a bearable form. The truth itself encompasses more than the image by which it is suggested. The ambivalent quest for self, the conflict between personal integrity and social definition: these are seldom resolved as happily as in Illyria. Freedoms claimed are easily lost, recognitions made are obscured and "the rain it raineth every day."


1 See, for example, M. C. Bradbrook, The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy (London, 1955); John Hollander, "Twelfth Night and The Morality of Indulgence," The Sewance Review, LXVIII (1959); L. G. Salinger, "The Design of Twelfth Night," Shakespeare Quarterly, IX (1958); Porter Williams, Jr., "Mistakes in Twelfth Night and Their Resolution: A Study in some Relationships of Plot and Theme," PMLA, LXXVI (1961).

2 Joseph H. Summers, "The Masks of Twelfth Night," The University Review, XXII (1955), p. 25.

3 See Sigmund Freud, "On Narcissism: An Introduction," Collected Papers, trans. by Joan Riviere, Vol. IV, New York, Basic Books, p. 30. Freud describes narcissism as "the libidinal complement to the egosim of the instinct of self-preservation, a measure of which may justifiably be attributed to every living creature, p. 32."

4 William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, ed. Charles T. Prouty, Penguin Books, Baltimore, Maryland, 1958, I, iv, 36-37. All subsequent references will be to this edition and will be given in the text.

5 L. G. Salinger, in "The Design of Twelfth Night, points out that in all four of the plays which served as probable or possible sources for Twelfth Night, the heroine knew previously the master whom she serves as page and, wanting to win his love, pursued him to his own country.

6 Freud, "The Psychogenesis of a Case of Homosexuality in a Woman," Collected Papers, IV, p. 227.

7 Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary, New York, Anchor, 1961, p. 314. Kott suggests that the play deals with the ambiguity and impossibility of clear sexual definition and choice. His argument is stimulating and insightful, but seems to overlook the developmental aspect of the plot as well as the resolution of central conflicts. Shakespeare seems to express his point in Sebastian's words to Olivia:

So comes it, lady, you have been mistook;
But nature to her bias drew in that.
                               V, i, 266-7

8 It is interesting to note, as L. G. Salinger points out in "The Design of Twelfth Night," that the Italian authors who provided Shakespeare with his sources for the play, gave Viola both a domineering father and a foster mother, like Juliet's nurse. The effect of Shakespeare's change is not simply to make "the whole situation more romantically improbable, more melancholy at some points, more fantastic at others," as Salinger suggests, but to emphasize the psycho-sexual, developmental aspect of his characterization.

9 Freud, "On Narcissism: An Introduction," p. 42.

10 C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy, New York, 1963, p. 25.

11 Barber, p. 256.

12 Feste also mediates between the comic and romantic sensibilities, but he remains, in the tradition of the jester, an outsider.

Karen Greif (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Plays and Players in Twelfth Night," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 34, 1981, pp. 121-30.

[In this essay, Greif claims that Twelfth Night views "playing" as a means both to conceal and to reveal truth.]

'The purpose of playing,' says Hamlet, is 'to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.'1 Hamlet himself employs 'playing', in various guises, as a means of penetrating false appearances to uncover hidden truths, but he also discovers how slippery illusions can be when their effects become entangled in the human world. Like Hamlet, but in a comic vein, Twelfth Night poses questions about 'the purpose of playing' and about whether illusion is perhaps too deeply embedded in human experience to be ever completely separated from reality.

Virtually every character in Twelfth Night is either an agent or a victim of illusion, and often a player will assume both these roles: as Viola is an impostor but also a prisoner of her own disguise, or as Sir Toby loses control of the deception he has contrived when he mistakes Sebastian for his twin. Illyria is a world populated by pretenders, which has led one critic to describe the action as 'a dance of maskers … for the assumption of the play is that no one is without a mask in the serio-comic business of the pursuit of happiness'.2 In the course of the story, many of these masks are stripped away or willingly set aside; but illusion itself plays a pivotal yet somewhat ambiguous role in this process. While Viola's masquerade serves to redeem Orsino and Olivia from their romantic fantasies and ends in happiness with the final love-matches, the more negative aspects of deception are exposed in the trick played against Malvolio, which leads only to humiliation and deeper isolation.

Role-playing, deceptions, disguises, and comic manipulations provide the fabric of the entire action. So pervasive is the intermingling of illusion and reality in the play that it becomes impossible at times for the characters to distinguish between the two. This is not simply a case of illusion becoming a simulated version of reality. 'I am not that I play', Viola warns her fellow player (1.5.184); but, as the subtitle suggests, in Twelfth Night one discovers that 'what you will' may transform the ordinary shape of reality.

The fluidity of the relationship between 'being' and 'playing' is indirectly illuminated at the beginning of act 3, in the play's single face-to-face encounter between Viola and Feste, who share the distinction of being the only pretenders in Illyria who do not wear their motley in their brains. They match wits in a contest of wordplay, which moves the Fool to sermonize: 'To see this age! A sentence is but a chev'ril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turn'd outward!' (3.1.11-13). According to Feste, words have become like kidskin gloves, pliable outside coverings readily yielding to manipulation by a good wit. Viola's response echoes this sense; those who know how to play with words 'may quickly make them wanton' (1. 15). Men may expect words to operate as constant symbols of meaning, faithfully reflecting the concrete outlines of reality; but, in fact, words prove to be flighty, untrustworthy mediators between human beings and experience:

Clown. But indeed, words are very rascals
  since bonds disgrac'd them.
Viola. Thy reason, man?
Clown. Troth, sir, I can yield you none
  without words, and words are grown so
  false, I am loath to prove reason with them.
                                      (11. 20-5)

Rather than serving as a medium for straightforward communication, words have become bent to the purposes of dissembling. Feste declares himself a 'corrupter of words' (1. 36), and throughout the play he demonstrates how chameleon-like words can become in the mouth of an expert dissembler like himself. Yet Feste is also recognized by his audience and many of his fellow players as a kind of truth-teller; under the guise of fooling and ingenious word-play, he reminds those around him of truths they have blocked out of their illusion-bound existences. The Fool's dialogue with Viola suggests that 'since bonds disgrac'd them', words have fallen under suspicion within the world of Twelfth Night, at least among those who admit their own dissembling. But for those who possess wit and imagination, the protean nature of words also affords an exhilarating form of release. Dexterity with language becomes a means of circumventing a world that is always shifting its outlines by exploiting that fluidity to the speaker's own advantage.

The same ambiguity that is characteristic of words pervades almost every aspect of human experience in Twelfth Night. Illyria is a world of deceptive surfaces, where appearances constantly fluctuate between what is real and what is illusory. Out of the sea, there comes into this unstable society a catalyst in the form of the disguised Viola, who becomes the agent required to free Orsino and Olivia from the bondage of their self-delusions. Equilibrium is finally attained, however, only after the presence of Viola and her separated twin has generated as much error and disturbance as Illyria could possibly contain.

Moreover, this resolution is achieved not by a straight-forward injection of realism into this bemused dreamworld, but by further subterfuge. 'Conceal me what I am', Viola entreats the Sea Captain after the shipwreck (1.2.53), setting in motion the twin themes of identity and disguise that motivate so much of the action in Twelfth Night. Identity, it is important to bear in mind, includes both the identity that represents the essence of one's being, the 'what I am' that separates one individual from another, and also the identity that makes identical twins alike; and the comedy is concerned with the loss and the recovery of identity in both these senses.

Viola's plan to dissemble her true identity proves to be ironically in keeping with the milieu she has entered. But the fact that Viola, left stranded and unprotected by the wreck, assumes her guise as Cesario in response to a real predicament sets her apart from most of the pretenders already dwelling in Illyria. Surfeiting on fancy, they endlessly fabricate grounds for deceiving others or themselves. Orsino and Olivia are foolish, in part, because it is apparent that the roles of unrequited lover and grief-stricken lady they have chosen for themselves spring more from romantic conceits than from deep feeling or necessity. The games-playing mania of Sir Toby Belch and his cohorts carries to comic extremes the Illyrian penchant for playing make-believe. Just as words, in Sir Toby's hands, are rendered plastic by his Falstaffian talent for making their meaning suit his own convenience, so he manufactures circumstances to fit his will.

The kind of egotism that stamps Sir Toby's perpetual manipulation of words and appearances, or Orsino and Olivia's wilful insistence on their own way, is far removed from Viola's humility as a role-player. Although she shares Feste's zest for wordplay and improvisation, Viola never deludes herself into believing she has absolute control over either her own part or the actions of her fellow players. Musing over the complications of the love triangle into which her masculine disguise has thrust her, Viola wryly concedes 'O time, thou must untangle this, not I, / It is too hard a knot for me t'untie' (2.2.40-1). Viola's outlook is unaffectedly realistic without the need to reject imaginative possibilities. Her own miraculous escape encourages her to hope her brother has also survived the wreck, but throughout most of the play she must continue to act without any certainty he is still alive. She accepts the facts of her dilemma without self-pity and begins at once to improvise a new, more flexible role for herself in a difficult situation; but she also learns that the freedom playing permits her is only a circumscribed liberty. For as long as the role of Cesario conceals her real identity, Viola is free to move at will through Illyria, but not to reveal her true nature or her love for Orsino.

The first meeting between Cesario and Olivia creates one of the most demanding tests of Viola's ability to improvise. She meets the challenge with ingenuity, but Viola also insists, with deliberate theatricality, on the disparity between her true self and the role that she dissembles:

Viola. I can say little more than I have
  studied, and that question's out of my part.
  Good gentle one, give me modest assurance
  if you be the lady of the house, that I may
  proceed in my speech.
Olivia. Are you a comedian?
Viola. No, my profound heart; and yet (by the
  very fangs of malice I swear) I am not that
  I play.

In her exchanges with Olivia, Viola is able to treat the part she plays with comic detachment; but the some-what rueful tone underlying her awareness of the ironies of her relation to Olivia turns to genuine heart-ache when this separation between her true identity and her assumed one comes into conflict with her growing love for Orsino.

Unable to reveal her love openly, Viola conjures for Orsino the imaginary history of a sister who

                     lov'd a man
As it might be perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.

As long as Orsino clings to his fancied passion for Olivia and she herself holds on to her disguise, Viola can vent her true feelings only by more dissembling, so she masks her secret love for the Duke with the sad tale of this lovelorn sister. Yet her fiction also serves to present her master with a portrait of genuine love against which to measure his own obsession for Olivia. 'Was this not love indeed?' she challenges him:

We men may say more, swear more, but
Our shows are more than will; for still we
Much in our vows, but little in our love.
                                (11. 116-18)

Her story is a touching one, and for once Orsino's blustering is stilled. He is moved to wonder 'But died thy sister of her love, my boy?'; but she offers only the cryptic answer 'I am all the daughters of my father's house, / And all the brothers too—and yet I know not' (11. 119-21). Viola's veiled avowal of her love is perhaps the most delicate blend of imagination and truth in the play, and this fabrication will finally yield its reward when Cesario is free to disclose 'That I am Viola' (5.1.253).

Role-playing, whether it be a deliberate choice like Viola's disguise or the foolish self-delusions that Orsino, Olivia, and Malvolio all practise upon themselves, leads to a general confusion of identity within Illyria. In the second encounter between Olivia and Cesario, this tension between being and playing is given special resonance:

Olivia. I prithee tell me what thou think'st of

Viola. That you do think you are not what
  you are.
Olivia. If I think so, I think the same of you.
Viola. Then think you right: I am not what I
Olivia. I would you were as I would have you
Viola. Would it be better, madam, than I am?
I wish it might, for now I am your fool.

Like a tonic chord in a musical passage. Viola's riddles always come back to the idea of 'what you are' and 'what I am', the enduring truth of one's real identity. But this note of resolution is never a stable one. Viola warns Olivia that she has deluded herself into acting out fantasies with no basis in reality, first in her vow of celibacy to preserve her grief and then in her pursuit of the unattainable Cesario. In turn, she herself admits that 'I am not what I am.' Olivia, meanwhile, is obsessed with 'what thou think'st of me' and what 'I would have you be'. She is less interested in the truth about Cesario or her own nature than in making what is conform to what she would like it to be. On the one hand, the facts of nature ensure that she will be frustrated in her wooing, and yet her beloved will indeed be transformed into what she would have him be when the counterfeit Cesario is replaced by the real Sebastian.

The compression of so many levels of meaning within this passage suggests how complicated and paradoxical the relationship is in Twelfth Night between what actually is and what playing with reality can create. Viola's exchange with Olivia follows directly upon her encounter with Feste, and the second dialogue translates into terms of identity and role-playing the same attitudes towards words appearing in the first. The Fool claims that 'since bonds disgrac'd them', words have no static nature—that no unchanging identification between the-thing-itself and the word symbolizing it is ever possible—and the condition of being, the identity belonging to 'what I am', is in a comparable state of flux throughout most of the action.

The separation between being and playing, like the disjunction between words and concrete reality, may lead to a sense of disorientation closely akin to madness. This is the condition that the release of imagination creates in Malvolio. When he exchanges the reality of what he is for the make-believe part he dreams of becoming, he begins to act like a madman. Viola's charade as Cesario produces a welter of mistaken identities that so disorient her fellow players no one is quite certain of his or her sanity. Yet another variation of the madness which springs from unleashing the effects of imagination upon reality is seen in the escapades of Sir Toby Belch.

His reign of misrule is fuelled by his refusal to allow reality to interfere with his desires, and this unruliness drives his associates to wonder repeatedly if he is mad.

Yet, just as Feste finds means of communicating truth by playing with words, so does the unstable relationship between being and playing allow at least a few of the players in Illyria to discover a more flexible sense of identity that can accommodate both enduring truths and changing appearances. The same loosening of the bonds governing identity that can lead to bewildering confusion may also open up a fresh sense of freedom in shaping one's own nature. What you will may indeed transform what you are.

The point at which all these attitudes converge is in the recognition scene of the final act. At the moment when Viola and Sebastian finally come face to face upon the stage, the climactic note of this motif is sounded in Orsino's exclamation of wonder:

One face, one voice, one habit, and two
A natural perspective, that is and is not!

For the onlookers, who are still ignorant both of Viola's true identity and of the existence of her twin, the mirror image created by the twins' confrontation seems explicable only as an optical illusion of nature. Yet the illusion of nature. Yet the illusion proves to be real; this 'natural perspective' is the stable reality underlying the mirage of shifting appearances caused by mistaken identity.

This dramatic revelation of the identity that has been obscured by illusory appearances, but is now made visible in the mirror image of the twins, is deliberately prolonged as Viola and Sebastian exchange their tokens of recognition. Anne Barton has drawn attention to the fact that the recognition scene provides

a happy ending of an extraordinarily schematized and 'playlike' kind. Viola has already had virtual proof, in Act III, that her brother has survived the wreck. They have been separated for only three months. Yet the two of them put each other through a formal, intensely conventional question and answer test that comes straight out of Greek New Comedy.3

The recognition of identity is at first an experience involving only the reunited twins; but, as the facts of their kinship are brought forth, the circle of awareness expands to include Orsino and Olivia. They appreciate for the first time their shared folly in desiring the unobtainable and both discover true love in unexpected forms by sharing in the recognition of the twins' identities. As Orsino vows,

If this be so, as yet the glass seems true,
I shall have share in this most happy wrack.

The reflections of identity that have been present throughout the play are now openly acknowledged and sealed by the bonds of marriage and kinship. The similarities between Viola and Olivia, for example—the lost brother, the unrequited love, the veiled identity—which are echoed in the names that are virtually ana-grams, are now confirmed by the ties of sisterhood when each wins the husband she desires.

Paradoxically, what allows this dramatic moment of epiphany4 to occur at all is the same loss and mistaking of identities that caused the original confusion. It is the separation of the twins and Viola's subsequent decision to 'Conceal me what I am' which gives emotional intensity to the moment when identity is recognized and regained. This final scene, moreover, makes it clear that the regaining of lost personal identity—the individuality that distinguishes Viola from Sebastian—is closely tied to the recognition of the likeness that makes the twins identical. The recognition scene, with its ritual-like ceremony of identification, suggests that men and women must recognize how much they are identical, how much alike in virtues and follies and in experiences and desires, before they can affirm the personal identities that make them unique.5 These twin senses of identity converge in the final act, dramatically embodied in the reunited twins who share 'One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons'.

But at what point do the reflections stop? Beyond the onlookers upon the stage who behold this ceremony of recognition is the larger audience of the illusion that is Twelfth Night. The play itself is 'a natural perspective, that is and is not': a mirror held up to nature intended to reflect the contours of reality and simultaneously a work of imagination that incarnates the world of being in a world of playing. What the audience encounters in the mirror of the play is its own reflected identity in the characters who play out their experiences upon the stage. In sharing the experience of Twelfth Night, we come to recognize the ties of identity that link our own world of being to the imagined world of the play; and, on a more personal level, we identify our private follies and desires in our fictional counterparts upon the stage. In acknowledging this kinship of resemblance, we too gain a fresh awareness of the nature of 'what I am', the true self concealed beneath the surface level of appearances. Moreover, having witnessed how deeply life is ingrained with illusion within Illyria, we may awake from the dreamworld of the play to wonder if 'what we are' in the world outside the playhouse is perhaps less static and immutable than we once believed. At this point, imagination and truth may begin to merge in our own world: 'Prove true, imagination, O, prove true' (3.4.375).

If art possesses this creative power, however, there remains the problem of dealing with the more troubling issues raised by the gulling of Malvolio. The plot contrived to convince the steward of Olivia's passion for him is enacted with deliberately theatrical overtones, and the conspirators employ deception to feed and then expose Malvolio's folly in much the same way that a playwright manipulates illusion and reality upon the stage. Yet Malvolio's enforced immersion in the world of make-believe in no way reforms him. Nor does it enable him to gain a more positive understanding of either his own identity or the ties that bind him to his fellow men. Malvolio remains isolated and egotistical to the end. What is more, the mockers who have seen their own follies reflected in Malvolio's comic performance are no more altered by the experience than he is.

The plot against Malvolio is originally planned along the traditional lines of Jonsonian 'humour' comedy: the victim's folly is to be exposed and purged by comic ridicule to rid him of his humour. Maria explains the scheme in such terms to her fellow satirists:

… it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him; and on that vice in him will my revenge find notable cause to work.… I know my physic will work with him.


But there is also a strong dose of personal spite in their mockery. The pranksters are really more eager to be entertained by Malvolio's delusions of grandeur than they are to reform him. Maria guarantees her audience that 'If I do not gull him into an ayword, and make him a common recreation, do not think I have wit enough to lie straight in my bed' (11. 134-7). It is certainly in this spirit that the revellers take the jest. 'If I lose a scruple of this sport', Fabian pledges as the game begins, 'let me be boil'd to death with melancholy' (2.5.2-3).

Maria plants the conspirators in the garden box-tree like spectators at a play, bidding them: 'Observe him, for the love of mocker y; for I know this letter will make a contemplative idiot of him' (11. 18-20). Malvolio, who 'has been yonder i' the sun practising behavior to his own shadow this half hour' (11. 16-18), is a natural play-actor; and he immediately takes the bait of this improvised comedy. The megalomania suppressed beneath his Puritan façade is comically set free by the discovery of Maria's forged letter, and he is soon persuaded to parade his folly publicly by donning the famous yellow stockings.

Maria's letter cleverly exploits Malvolio's conceit, but he himself manufactures his obsession. With only the flimsiest of clues to lead him on, Malvolio systematically construes every detail of the letter to fuel his newly liberated dreams of greatness, never pausing to consider how ludicrous the message really is:

Why, this is evident to any formal capacity, there is no obstruction in this. And the end—what should that alphabetical position portend? If I could make that resemble something in me! … M.O.A.I. This simulation is not as the former; and yet, to crush this a little, it would bow to me, for every one of these letters are in my name.

(11. 116-20; 139-41)

The deception deftly juggles appearances to prompt Malvolio to his own undoing, but there is always the danger inherent in such games of make-believe that the dupe will no longer be able to cope with reality once his self-fabricated fantasies are stripped away from him. 'Why, thou hast put him in such a dream', Sir Toby laughingly tells Maria, 'that when the image of it leaves him he must run mad' (11. 193-4). But no such qualms disturb these puppet-masters. When Fabian echoes this warning, Maria replies 'The house will be the quieter' (3.4.134).

Although it is the letter that persuades Malvolio to play out his fantasies in public, his audience has already been treated to a display of his fondness for make-believe. While the conspirators impatiently wait for him to stumble on the letter, Malvolio muses on his dream of becoming the rich and powerful 'Count Malvolio'. As he paints the imaginary scene of Sir Toby's future humiliation and expulsion, the eavesdroppers find themselves unexpectedly drawn into the performance they are watching. Sir Toby, in particular, becomes so enraged at this 'overweening rogue' (1. 29) that Fabian must repeatedly warn him to control his outbursts: 'Nay, patience, or we break the sinews of our plot!' (11. 75-6). Malvolio's audience prove to be as uncertain as their gull about the boundaries separating fiction from fact, as will be made comically evident in the miscalculations and confusions that result from the duel contrived between Sir Andrew and Cesario. Taken unawares by Malvolio's tableau of future triumph, the three spies inadvertently become participants in the comedy they are observing.

Malvolio's private playlet of revenge and his discovery of the letter are staged in a deliberately theatrical manner, played before the unruly audience of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian. His play-acting exposes Malvolio's folly to comic perfection; but it also, in its own topsy-turvy fashion, holds the mirror up to nature for both the spectators in the box-tree and the audience beyond the stage. It is a glass more like a funhouse mirror than the symmetry of a 'natural perspective', but in Malvolio's absurd performance the pranksters are presented with a comically distorted image of their own follies and delusions. Malvolio's folly is made more ludicrous by the charade that openly exposes the overweening ambition and conceit normally held within respectable bounds by the sanctimonious steward, but the difference between the performer and his audience is simply one of degree.

If Malvolio is treated by these practical jokers as a puppet on a string, a 'trout that must be caught with tickling' (2.5.22), Sir Andrew is no less Sir Toby's own 'dear manikin' (3.2.53). His auditors deride Malvolio's pretensions to his mistress's love; but Sir Andrew's wooing of Olivia is equally preposterous, and his hopes are based entirely on Sir Toby's counterfeit assurances. Sir Toby may ridicule Malvolio's determined efforts to 'crush' the letter's message to accommodate his own desires, but the assertion of imagination over concrete reality is no less a characteristic trait of Sir Toby himself, who has earlier insisted that 'Not to be a-bed after midnight is to be up betimes' (2.3.1-2). The only difference in their dealings with words is that Malvolio uses logic as a crowbar to twist and hammer meanings into a more gratifying form, while Sir Toby chooses to suspend logic altogether. The steward's obsessive instinct for order is simply the inverted image of Sir Toby's own mania for disorder. Even their plot to put an end to Malvolio's authority is dramatized for the spectators in a parody version supplied by Malvolio's own dream of revenge.

The spectators are in their own ways as much drowned in excesses of folly and imagination as their gull. But as they mock the woodcock nearing the gin, the on-lookers fail to realize that the 'play' itself is an imaginary snare for the woodcocks in its audience. Sir Andrew's reaction to Malvolio's fictive dialogue with a humbled Sir Toby exemplifies the fatuity of his fellow auditors:

Malvolio. 'Besides, you waste the treasure of
  your time with a foolish knight'—
Andrew. That's me, I warrant you.
Malvolio. 'One Sir Andrew'—
Andrew. I knew 'twas I, for many do call me

Sir Andrew makes the correct identification but remains oblivious to the intended reprimand. In the same fashion, all the members of Malvolio's audience observe their reflected images in the mirror of the comedy without recognition, thus comically fulfilling Jonathan Swift's famous dictum that 'Satyr is a sort of Glass, wherein Beholders do generally discover every body's Face but their own.'6

By the time Malvolio encounters Olivia again after reading her supposed declaration of love, his perceptions have become completely mastered by his delusions. To those around him who are unaware of the deception, Malvolio appears quite mad. 'Why, this is very midsummer madness', (3.4.56) cries Olivia in response to the incoherent ramblings of this smiling, cross-gartered apparition. From his own perspective, however, he is unquestionably sane, and it is the rest of the world that is behaving strangely. Unlike Viola or Feste, Malvolio has no talent for improvisation. His rejection of a rigidly defined identity, although it gives him a temporary release from social bonds, affords Malvolio no room for flexibility.

Faced with the fluidity of the world of playing in which he suddenly finds himself, Malvolio insists on trying to marshal shifting appearances back into regimented formation:

Why, every thing adheres together, that no dram of a scruple, no scruple of a scruple, no obstacle, no incredulous or unsafe circumstance—What can be said?


But Malvolio's efforts to control the flux are like trying to sculpt water into solid shapes; the material itself refuses static form. His obstinate insistence that the words and actions of those around him should conform to his will makes him appear mad to his fellow players, while they seem equally insane to him.

The quandary over who is mad and who is sane becomes even more entangled in the dialogue between the incarcerated steward and the Fool, disguised as Sir Topas. Malvolio is entirely just in his charge that 'never was man thus wrong'd.… they have laid me here in hideous darkness' (4.2.28-30). From his perspective, the darkness is tangible and his madness the fantasy of those around him. Yet it is also true, as 'Sir Topas' insists, that the darkness is symbolic of the shroud of ignorance and vanity through which Malvolio views the world:

Malvolio. I am not mad, Sir Topas, I say to
  you this house is dark.
Clown. Madman, thou errest. I say there is no
  darkness but ignorance, in which thou art
  more puzzled than the Egyptians in their
Malvolio. I say this house is as dark as
  ignorance, though ignorance were as dark as
  hell; and I say there was never man thus
  abus'd. I am no more mad than you are.

His 'confessor's' riddles seem designed to force Malvolio to a new understanding of his identity as a fallible and often foolish human being. But 'Sir Topas' is himself a fake—a self-avowed corrupter of words whose disguised purpose is not to heal Malvolio's imagined lunacy, but to drive him deeper into madness. Feste juggles words with ease because he understands that they are 'very rascals since bonds disgrac'd them', but Malvolio stubbornly insists on making rascal words behave with as much decorum as he believes they should. Throughout this scene, Malvolio returns to his claim 'I am not mad' with the same tonic emphasis as Viola reverts to 'what I am' in her dialogue with Olivia (act 3, scene 1). But being incapable of Viola's playful attitude, Malvolio rejects any imaginative interpretation of his dilemma.

His rigidity toward both language and experience leaves him incapable of comprehending any truth beyond the concrete limits of reality. 'I tell thee I am as well in my wits as any man in Illyria' (4.2.106-7), Malvolio insists with absolute justice; but how far from madness are the other inhabitants of Illyria? In a very ironic sense, Malvolio gets what he deserves when he is imprisoned in his cell. Having persisted in imposing his arbitrary order upon capricious words and appearances, he is himself confined in a guardhouse for his own caprices.

Whatever his deserts, there is nonetheless considerable justice to Malvolio's charge that he has been much abused by the deceivers who have made him 'the most notorious geek and gull / That e'er invention play'd on' (5.1.343-4). Ironically, Malvolio's absurdly inflated ego and his isolation are only hardened by his satiric treatment. Even in making his defence, Malvolio stubbornly maintains yet another delusion, that Olivia is personally responsible for his torment. Humiliated beyond endurance, Malvolio stalks off the stage with a final ringing assertion of his vanity and alienation: 'I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you' (1. 378). Malvolio stands as an isolated figure in a festive world from beginning to end because never once does he honestly perceive his own nature, the true identity of 'what I am', or the corresponding ties of identity that bind him to his fellow players.

The pranksters, in spite of their fondness for 'fellowship', do not fare much better. They have already demonstrated a failure to detect their own follies in Malvolio's pretensions, and it is therefore appropriate that the beguilers as well as their gull should be missing from the witnesses at the recognition scene and the subsequent revelations. Sir Toby, in particular, suffers for his failures of identification. After having challenged Sebastian to a fight in the mistaken belief he was the timorous Cesario, Sir Toby rages onto the stage with a bloody head, angrily spurning the comfort of his friend Sir Andrew: 'Will you help?—an ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a thin-fac'd knave, a gull!' (5.1.206-7).

Whereas the mistaken identities and role-playing in the romantic plot centring on Viola ultimately lead, in the recognition scene, to a renewal of identity and the human bonds of kinship and marriage, Malvolio's immersion in a world of make-believe yields no such beneficial rewards. The ironic counterpart to the recognition scene with its unravelling of identities is Malvolio's dungeon scene. There, Malvolio is literally enclosed in darkness in a cell cutting him off from all direct human contact, and he is bedevilled by tricksters who would like to drive him into deeper confusion. Nor does his audience there or in the garden scene gain any greater insight into their own characters. This failure of imagination, set against Viola's own miraculous success, reflects ironically on the supposedly therapeutic value of 'playing' and the dubious morality of the wouldbe satirists as much as it does on Malvolio's own recalcitrance. Malvolio's final words and his incensed departure add a discordant note to the gracefully orchestrated harmonies of the final act.

Malvolio's response to his comic purgatory stirs un-resolved questions about the value of playing with reality. Whereas Viola's part in the comedy reveals how the release that playing allows can lead to a renewed sense of identity and human bonds, Malvolio's role exposes the other side of the coin, the realm in which release of imagination leads only to greater isolation and imperception. Fabian's jest about Malvolio's absurd play-acting, 'If this were play'd upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction' (3.4.127-8), like the theatrical overtones of Viola's improvisations and the playlike quality of the recognition scene, deliberately opens up the vistas of the play by reminding us that we are witnesses of a play, 'a natural perspective, that is and is not'. But amusing as Malvolio's surrender to playing is, it raises the most disturbing questions in the play. Can men, in fact, ever perfectly distinguish what is real from what is imagined or intentionally spurious? Can they ever come to know the truth about themselves, the identity appearances have concealed from them?

Twelfth Night itself offers no pat solutions. In a comic world devoted to playing and yet mirroring the actual world of being, in which identities are both mistaken and revealed, in which deception can both conceal truths and expose them, and in which bonds have disgraced the words on which men are dependent for communication, no permanent resolution of these ambiguities is ever possible. Shakespeare himself shrugs off the task of providing any final illumination with delightful finesse. As the play draws to a close with Feste's epilogue song and the world of playing begins to dissolve back into the world of being, the Fool concludes:

A great while ago the world begun,
    With hey ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our play is done,
    And we'll strive to please you every day.

Relation To Elizabethan Culture

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Charles Tyler Prouty (lecture date 1966)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night," in Stratford Papers: 1965-67, edited by B. A. W. Jackson, McMaster University Library Press, 1969, pp. 110-28.

[In the following essay first delivered at the 1966 Shakespeare Seminar, Prouty positions Twelfth Night with regard to Shakespeare's source materials, focusing specifically on his interpretation of Renaissance notions of courtly love.]

In some thirty years of teaching it has been my experience that of all the plays in the Shakespeare canon the comedies are the most difficult to teach. The Joyous Comedies in particular require so much explanation that we are in danger of losing the play in establishing what I regard as the essential details. The reason is very simply that these are sophisticated plays based on a complex of social and literary conventions that were well known to the Renaissance world in general and the Elizabethan world in particular but are almost unknown to our world. In Twelfth Night we are dealing almost exclusively with the conventions of love and the behaviour of lovers—conventions which are completely alien to our world. The important thing, however, is Shakespeare's reaction to these conventions, which controls the nature of his play and makes it, therefore, peculiarly his own. In the social world of the Renaissance the traditions of the Middle Ages which we call Courtly Love flourished, and these conventions were incredibly sophisticated; they are not certainly, to be seen in the context of the banal sexuality of our times.

For example, in the 1570s a novella by George Whet-stone entitled 'Rinaldo and Guetta' tells us a lovely story. An aged man by the name of Frizaldo is in love with the fair Giletta, but Giletta is not in love with him. Rather she is in love with Rinaldo, a hand-some but poor young man who is, of course, in love with her. On a specific occasion Frizaldo has entered Giletta's chamber while Rinaldo is outside underneath the balcony singing a love song. Frizaldo, recognizing the voice, pretends ignorance as far as Giletta is concerned, and so he addresses her with the term of 'Mistress'. Giletta, in order to conceal her knowledge of the singer outside, is forced to use the appropriate reply: she addresses Frizaldo as 'Servant'. These words, 'Servant' and 'Mistress', are conventional words and do not necessarily imply a sexual relationship; but the implication is enough for the wretched Rinaldo, who flees the scene and jumps into the river, ostensibly to die. But, perhaps because of the temperature of the water or for some other reason, he has second thoughts, swims to the farthest shore, returns in the nick of time to rescue the fair Giletta, and all ends happily! The conventions in this kind of story are typical, and, for example, we see in the second scene of Twelfth Night, where the ship captain tells Viola, 'What great ones do, the less will prattle of,' that the types of behaviour reflected here were not exclusively the property of the great; while the great had established the game, the game itself was known through all strata of society. However by the 1590s the game had become the subject of witty scoffing. For example, in Greene's Menaphon, first published in 1589, we find these lines from 'Doron's Eclogue ioynd with Carmela's'. Doron addresses Carmela:

Carmela deare, euert as the golden ball
Venus got, such are thy goodly eyes,
When cherries iuice is iumbled therewithal!,
Thy breath is like the steeme of apple pies.
Thy lippes resemble Two Cowcumbers faire,
Thy teeth like to the tuskes of fattest swine,
Thy speach is like the thunder in the aire:
Would God thy toes, thy lips and all were

Here we can see how the conventional epithets of 'ruby lips' and 'pearl-like teeth' have been reduced to rustic figures, and thus how the whole game is deliberately undercut and becomes the subject of laughter. The same kind of thing occurs in As You Like It when Rosalind tells Orlando, 'Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them but not for love.' This, of course, is a great blow to the over-serious Orlando because he really does believe that he would die from love, even though he fails to keep his appointments with Rosalind in spite of all his oaths. And Rosalind has played with the conventions still further with her references to Troilus's having his brains dashed out with a Grecian club and Leander's being drowned by catching a cramp on a hot summer's night. The whole set of conventions was understood by the Elizabethans (and as a matter of fact it was still understood in prewar England as we can see in such a play as Noel Coward's Private Lives or in the popular press. Such periodicals as the Tatler were filled with pictures of the 'great ones' at balls, at hunts, at race meetings and all that sort of thing, and these were largely seized upon by the middle and lower classes as subjects for conversation and objects of admiration.)

The conventions are clearly indicated in the source materials of Twelfth Night so we must know about these materials and must try to ascertain Shakespeare's comprehension of them, what he read and also what he knew about the intellectual milieu in which these conventions operated and out of which the written materials came.

The first mention of Twelfth Night, in John Manningham's Diary, is in the entry for 2 February 1602. At the Middle Temple the Candlemas Feast was celebrated by a performance which Manningham describes as 'a play called Twelve Night or What You Will, much like the Commedy of Errores, or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni.'

The latter play to which Manningham refers is an Italian play of 1562 written by one Nicolo Secchi. More important for our purposes, however, is the earliest known play dealing with the theme of separated twins; this, Gl'Ingannati, first printed in 1537, was presented by the Academy of the Intronnati of Siena—Intronnati, of course, means 'Thunderstruck'. In its printed form it was preceded by another play, a comedy entitled the Comedia del Sacrificio, which was also a presentation of the Thunderstruck Ones. Here the members all appear as rebels against the tyranny of love. In the centre of the stage is a large urn with a fire burning inside and each member of the Academy in turn makes his way forward to cast into the urn some token of his erstwhile beloved so that it is consumed by the flames and thus symbolizes his rejection of love. He, of course, speaks appropriate lines to indicate what he is doing and why he is doing it.

Now this Academy is not something unusual. It was one of many that spread all over Italy during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, and these derived from the fifteenth-century Platonic Academy in Florence which was a very serious Academy (for example, Ficino's Commentary on Plato's Symposium was only one of the works that came out of it). The serious purpose was, however, very soon lost and the jesting spirit took over. Practically every city in Italy had an Academy by the sixteenth century, and the custom of such academies spread to even France and Germany. The aim had now become one of producing courtiers in imitation of Il Cortegiano, polished and refined gentlemen. The names of the societies and of the individual members became wittily allegorical or symbolic. Wit was prized above all, everything was a subject for jesting.

It is just such an academy as this that we find in Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost or in the festivities at Gray's Inn, entitled Gesta Grayorum. Now let us turn to the play of the 'Thunderstruck Ones'. It's a typical Italian comedy of plot, the Commedia Erudita. There is no attention paid to character or morality; the play is amoral. Most important there is no tone except the tone of jesting and a complete lack of seriousness. This is the most important aspect that we have to consider in Twelfth Night—the whole aspect of tone.

Specifically the immediate English source is a short story by Barnaby Riche, 'Apollonius and Scilla', contained in a collection which Riche wrote and entitled Riche His Farewell to the Militarle profession, printed in 1581. Riche's point of view is quite different from that of the Italians and, of course, from that of Shakespeare. He has gathered together these stories, according to his own word, for 'the onely delight of the courteous Gentlewomen bothe of England and Ireland'. Riche is, in short, a bourgeois moralist who, as a very moral gentleman, takes a very dim view of the whole game of Love. In his own preface to the volume he speaks of the poisoned cup of error, love being madness, wickedness, etc., etc. But we do not need to labour that point, it will appear later.

Exactly as Riche began his story with comments on love in general so did Shakespeare, but with what a difference: 'If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it … ' (It's interesting that Kemble transposed this scene, made it the second scene, and made Viola's appearance, which we find in scene two of modern editions, the first—Sir Tyrone Guthrie did the same thing in his production at this Stratford.) This is, of course, a gross misunderstanding of the play because one needs this first scene to set the tone of the whole play. The problem is, of course, how we are to read this soliloquy of Orsino's. It can be read as 'big' lyric poetry, with high soaring gestures, and so on, or perhaps, more wisely, it can be read with a certain degree of archness which will give the audience an idea of a slight undercutting. As a matter of fact, the whole show is given away by the Duke's final lines, 'So full of shapes is fancy / That it alone is high fantastical,' which are immediately followed by Curio's inquiry, 'Will you go hunt, my lord?'

DUKE: What, Curio?
CURIO: The hart.
DUKE: Why, so I do, the noblest that I have.
O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence.
That instant was I turned into a hart,
And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,
E'er since pursue me.

The reference was obvious to anybody in Shakespeare's audience because even the middle classes would have read Ovid in school. They would have known that the learned Duke was referring to the myth of Actaeon who gazed upon Diana bathing and was punished by being pursued by his own hounds after a vengeful Diana metamorphosed him into a stag.

The same kind of learned reference is found in the ensuing dialogue when Valentine reports about Olivia's reaction to the Duke's suit. The key here is, of course, in the language and the way it is used. Valentine knows the proper words: 'And water once a day her chamber round with high offending brine.' But the Duke does even better:

O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love when the rich golden shaft
Hath killed the flock of all affections else
That live in her; when liver, brain, and heart,
These sovereign thrones, are all supplied and
Her sweet perfections, with one self king.
A way before me to sweet beds of flow'rs;
Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with

In other words, Orsino has read all the right books. The 'rich golden shaft' is, of course, Cupid's arrow. He has two sets of arrows, gold and lead; the gold inspires love, the lead inspires dislike, or to use the Elizabethan word, disdain. Furthermore, it is not just a golden arrow, it is a rich, golden shaft. And Orsino continues to demonstrate his knowledge as well as his imaginative powers. The seats of her affections are thoroughly described, 'liver, brain, and heart'—the 'sovereign thrones'.

Now according to various theories of love, the seat of the affections could be any one of these three parts of the body—usually the heart, though of course the liver and brain figured too. But Orsino has to get them all in just to prove how learned he really is. Here then is a key to the whole play. The use of language, the words, the conceits, the figures, the references, but most important the way in which these are used and the tone in which they are spoken, is exemplified for us quite clearly, I think, by what I have said about Curio's entry, the Ovid reference, Cupid's arrows and the seats of the affections.

We find the same tone in Viola's first appearance in the second scene:

VIOLA: What country, friends, is this?
CAPTAIN: This is Illyria, lady.
VIOLA: And what should I do in Illyria?
My brother he is in Elysium.

Having consigned her brother to the other world, Viola at once imagines that he is not dead. 'Perchance he is not drowned. What think you, sailors?' One notes the three 'perchances' in three successive lines: 'perchance he is not drowned'; the captain replies that it is 'perchance' she was saved; Viola replies, 'O my poor brother, and so perchance may he be.' This is no accident; this is another perfectly clear clue to an Elizabethan audience, as it should be to us, that games are going on. The game continues with the Captain, who refers to her brother whom he had seen clinging to a mast

Where like Arion on the dolphin's back,
I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves
So long as I could see.

The Captain is learned, he knows his classical mythology too. The story of Arion and the dolphin was well known. This matter of tone is further evidenced by the way in which coincidence now takes over. It just so happens that the Captain was born near where they have been cast up on the seacoast and he knows all about Orsino. So, too, does Viola. 'Orsino! I have heard my father name him. He was a bachelor then.' (One notices Viola's first reference, 'He was a bachelor then.' Her 'fell and cruel' intent is quite clear!)

Following the Captain's reference to Olivia and his description of her, Viola momentarily forgets about the bachelor. Now she is going to serve this lady who has retired from the world and whose sad condition suits with Viola's. However, she immediately changes her mind again and decides to serve Orsino, of course in disguise. She is going to be a eunuch to account for her voice, and the Captain is to introduce her and to secure her a position in Orsino's service. As far as this matter of tone is concerned, the exit line is interesting. Viola says, 'I thank thee. Lead me on.' Well, what a way to end the scene!

Let us follow this whole matter of tone in the main plot. Viola next appears in Act I, Scene iv, where she is going under the assumed masculine name of Cesario. She is very high in the Duke's favour, so high in fact that she is to go a-wooing for him: 'I'll do my best to woo your lady.' But suddenly we are struck over the head by her concluding lines, with their nice use of couplet, in an aside, 'Yet a barful strife! Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife.'

In all the typical Elizabethan romances this is the way they fall in love. It is a coup de foudre—all of a sudden they are in love. This is the first we have heard of Viola's love. We might have anticipated it, but the way in which it is delivered to us gives us the tone of the play and the tone with which we are expected to approach the love portions of the play.

But it most certainly should be noted that, although we are dealing with a convention, the language of Viola here, and of other characters in similar situations, is not stylized, not a language of conventions. Here we have a plain style, with a simple, bare, statement of fact. Elsewhere when Viola is dealing with other conventions she can use an imaginative language, a poetic language, but here in her declaration of love, she does not.

The next time we meet Viola is toward the end of the first act. Here she has come a-wooing for Orsino, but the scene has begun with our introduction to the lady Olivia whose first line, to us, is 'Take the fool away' (referring, of course, to the Clown, Feste), In the ensuing dialogue with Feste and Malvolio there is no evidence whatsoever of Olivia's great sorrow of which we have heard so much but which she never displays. Feste does ask her why she mourns, but she makes merely a brief and undeveloped factual response to this. Olivia ticks off Malvolio, she greets the drunken Sir Toby rather easily and her big moment comes, as I have said, when Viola comes a-wooing for Orsino.

This encounter between Viola (Cesario) and Olivia is what I choose to call the 'Big Game' scene, because in this scene both Viola and Olivia know that each is playing a game and each one of them knows that the other knows that respective roles are being performed. Just to make sure that we do not miss the point Viola begins by referring to herself as an actor: 'I would be loath to cast away my speech; for, besides that it is excellently well penned, I have taken great pains to con it.' In other words, she has a set speech which she has ostensibly written herself and which she has learned by heart. The same figure of an actor is carried on in the ensuing dialogue when Olivia inquires, 'Are you a comedian?' 'No', says Viola, 'no, my profound heart; and yet (by the very fangs of malice I swear) I am not that I play.' A few lines later she again refers to her speech, 'Alas, I took great pains to study it, and 'tis poetical.' An actual definition of her role is found when she says, 'I am a messenger.' She subsequently uses, of course, the language of heraldry, as does Olivia. And here the dialogue gives a clear indication of the nature and intention of the scene, when Olivia says, 'Sure you have some hideous matter to deliver, when the courtesy of it is so fearful. Speak your office' (the office of herald). One notes the adjectives 'hideous' and 'fearful'; such matters, of course, are not for everyone's ears, and so Viola makes it quite clear that she will only speak to Olivia: 'It alone concerns your ear. I bring no overture of war, no taxation of homage. I hold the olive in my hand. My words are as full of peace as matter.' These are the phrases, the conventional phrases, of a herald.

Olivia opens the next gambit by inquiring, 'Now, sir, what is your text?', to which Viola replies, 'Most sweet lady—'. Olivia: 'A most comfortable doctrine, and much may be said of it. Where lies your text?' Now the use of this word 'text' is a definite reminder of the language of love, which is part of the amalgamation of the Petrarchan tradition with that of Courtly Love in which the lover becomes an almost religious figure and the lady, of course, a saint. (Near the beginning of his career in The Two Gentlemen of Verona Shakespeare uses this religious conceit in connection with love in the dialogue in the very first scene between Valentine and Proteus.) The conceits continue. In answer to the inquiry, 'Where lies your text?' Viola replies, 'In Orsino's bosom.' Olivia asks, 'In his bosom? In what chapter of his bosom?' To which Viola replies, 'To answer by the method, in the first of his heart.' Thus the figure of the 'text' of her message has been related to Orsino's heart. Olivia is playing along and uses the word 'chapter', referring, of course, to 'text'; one is curious as to just what Viola means by the 'method'. Certainly she doesn't mean 'method' in the modern sense of 'mumble and scratch'; she means 'method' in following the conventions. This is the way you play the Game; this is what you ought to say.

Viola's next move is to ask to see Olivia's face, and Viola can be a little bit arch or, to some people's tastes, almost cruel. When she comments on the vision of Olivia's beauty, 'Excellently done, if God did all,' Olivia insists, ''Tis in grain sir; 'twill endure wind and weather.' Says Viola,

'Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white
Nature's own sweet and cunning hand laid on.
Lady, you are the cruell'st she alive
If you will lead these graces to the grave,
And leave the world no copy.

(We are at once reminded of similar ideas in Shakespeare's Sonnets where the friend is urged to marry so that his beauty may be passed on through his children to subsequent generations and thus not be lost to the world.) Well, this is rather old stuff by about 1600, the probable date of Twelfth Night. Olivia is not going to have much more of this, and solves the problem of preserving her beauty by saying,

O, sir, I will not be so hard-hearted. I will give out divers schedules of my beauty. It shall be inventoried, and every particle and utensil labelled to my will: as, item, two lips, indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth. Were you sent hither to praise me?

Beauty has thus been reduced to an inventory such as one might find appended to an inquisition post mortem or in a testamentary paper such as a will. The conceit that Olivia is here employing punctures, of course, any idealization of love. It completely destroys the traditional description of a beautiful woman derived from Ariosto's description of Alcina, one that begins at the forehead and proceeds down to the eyebrows, the eyes, the nose, the lips, the teeth, the throat and so on.

Olivia thinks rather well of Orsino:

Yet I suppose him virtuous, know him noble,
Of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth;
In voices well divulged, free, learned, and
And in dimension and the shape of nature
A gracious person. But yet I cannot love him.
He might have took his answer long ago.

At this point Viola remembers her speech and launches into it when Olivia inquires, 'Why, what would you?'

Make me a willow cabin at your gate
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloe your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out 'Olivia!' O, you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth
But you should pity me.

This lyric strain is soon ended by Olivia whose only comment is, 'You might do much. What is your parentage?'

VIOLA: Above my fortunes, yet my state is
I am a gentleman. OLIVIA:                Get you to your lord.
I cannot love him. Let him send no more.

Viola does her best to preserve the traditional love strain:

Love makes his heart of flint that you shall
And let your fervor, like my master's, be
Placed in contempt. Farewell, fair cruelty.

And with only a few more words than Viola has used to inform us of her love for Orsino, Olivia tells us that she has fallen in love with Viola in her guise of Cesario:

                     Not too fast; soft, soft,
Unless the master were the man. How now?
Even so quickly may one catch the plague?
Methinks I feel this youth's perfections
With an invisible and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes.

And, at the conclusion, 'Well, let it be.' This is all we hear. She has fallen love; there is nothing much to be done about it. Well, let it be.

The ring episode concludes this part of our study. Olivia has sent Malvolio in pursuit of Viola-Cesario, telling him that the ring had been left with her by Cesario, presumably as a gift from Orsino. Of course, no such ring has appeared. This is simply a device of Olivia's, and Viola quite understands what's going on when she encounters Malvolio. Here again the language is very important. Viola says:

She loves me sure; the cunning of her passion
Invites me in this churlish messenger.
None of my lord's ring? Why he sent her
I am the man. If it be so, as 'tis,
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness

Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
How easy is it for the proper false
In women's waxen hearts to set their forms!
Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we,
For such as we are made of, such we be.

There can be no question that in the terms 'pregnant enemy' and 'proper false' we have a reference to Satan, but what is such a serious reference doing in such a context? Well, very simply in my view it emphasizes the whole artificiality of the episode that we have witnessed—the game that Olivia and Viola have been playing with one another. And this artificiality is, of course, emphasized by the couplet with which Viola ends the scene:

O Time, thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me t' untie.

Again the couplet rhyme, again the bald statement of fact—nothing much can be done about it, time just has to work it out somehow or other. This final couplet, like Viola's couplet announcing her love for Orsino, is in the best tradition of the romances, exactly the sort of thing that we find in Two Gentlemen of Verona over and over again. The point is that we are laughing at, or are amused by, the whole business. The ultimate absurdity in this play is found in the denouement. The Duke learning of Olivia's love, is ready to kill Cesario. He breaks forth:

O thou dissembling cub, what wilt thou be
When time hath sowed a grizzle on thy case?
Or will not else thy craft so quickly grow
That thine own trip shall be thine overthrow?
Farewell, and take her; but direct thy feet
Where thou and I, henceforth, may never

About a hundred lines later, after Sebastian has appeared and the mystery of the identity has cleared up, the Duke is very anxious to marry Viola:

                     Give me thy hand,
And let me see thee in thy woman's weeds.

Here again a declaration of love is couched in very, very simple language, lacking ornamentation or imagery of any sort: 'Let me see thee in thy woman's weeds.' This is no 'big' confession of love, no 'big lyric love stuff whatsoever. In fact, the nearest we come to any traditional language is found when the Duke says,

Here is my hand; you shall from this time be
Your master's mistress.

We may now, I think, briefly summarize the main plot. We have been operating in a world of artificiality. The whole question of reality has been raised by Viola. The business of falling in love is completely artificial. The switch of the Duke is completely artificial. The characters themselves are not, in the accepted sense of the word, rounded, three-dimensional characters. They are, in essence, flat, but this does not mean that Shakespeare has lacked dramatic skill—far from it. He is using these characters for his own purposes. He is playing games with us, and, by playing games, he convinces us of the reality of the characters. Of course we like Viola. She is a very sweet girl, but there is no depth to the character, no dimension to it beyond the purely theatrical. In other words, we are dealing here with theatrical truth as opposed to the truth of the printed page. The illusion in the theatre will hold us, will captivate us, and, in the theatre, no more is needed for this artificial love. It's exactly the sort of thing that Noel Coward does to perfection. In other words, I am suggesting that we treat the play as a play and examine it on the basis of its theatrical premises. Here these premises are the artificial world of lovers as exemplified over and over again in the world of Queen Elizabeth's court where such games were played, such lines spoken, such attitudes taken; and everything turns out all right, of course.

As we turn to the subplot we find ourselves in a very real world indeed. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are drunk every night. Toby is, of course, urging Sir Andrew on, ostensibly to woo Olivia, but mainly because Sir Andrew has three thousand ducats a year. The hypocrisy of Toby's attitude toward Sir Andrew and his possible wooing of Olivia is found in his description of Sir Andrew: 'He's as tall a man as any's in Illyria'—'tall' suggesting a 'fine, upstanding noble fellow'. Furthermore, according to Toby, Sir Andrew has other gifts: 'He plays o' th' viol-de-gamboys, and speaks three or four languages word for word without book, and hath all the good gifts of nature.' But immediately Sir Andrew appears his stupidity is apparent in his misunderstanding of Toby's simple injunction, 'Accost', which he takes to be Maria's name. As far as being a musician or having other talents, as far as languages go, Sir Andrew denies them specifically in his own words. For example, he says, 'Methinks sometimes I have no more with than a Christian or an ordinary man has. But I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.' A few lines later he demonstrates his complete ignorance of foreign languages when Toby inquires, 'Pourquoi, my dear knight?' 'What is pourquoi?' asks Andrew, 'Do, or not do? I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in fencing, dancing, and bear-baiting. O, had I but followed the arts!' Sir Toby's original description of Andrew in terms of the courtier, the gentleman, is completely invalidated by Andrew himself. He is rather the exact opposite of the ideal courtier, the ideal courtly gentleman. When describing his abilities in dancing, in response to Toby's inquiry, 'What is thy excellence in a galliard, knight?' 'Faith, I can cut a caper,' says Sir Andrew; and he goes on, 'And I think I have the back-trick simply as strong as any man in Illyria.' Toby hits back very, very hard: 'Wherefore are these things hid?' These things are, of course, not assets; they are not recommendations for Sir Andrew as a potential suitor for the fair Olivia—far from it.

If Sir Andrew is a caricature, so too is Malvolio. But Malvolio has the further distinction of being rather unpleasant. We see this unpleasantness quite clearly in the later scene when Sir Toby and the others are having a good time drinking and singing and eating:

My masters, are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do ye make an alehouse of my lady's house, that ye squeak out your coziers' catches without any mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?

Here Malvolio's attitude is well described in Toby's line, 'Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?'

Malvolio is the enemy of joy, of cakes and ale, of pleasure in life. This has tempted some to press, I think, just a bit too hard on Malvolio as a portrait of a Puritan. No, no! Olivia is much more accurate when, earlier in the play, she has told Malvolio, 'You are sick of self-love.'

And it is this very state of mind, this being sick of self-love, that motivates the action of the subplot. Here we note that in contrast with the main plot we do have specific motivation. Things happen now for a reason. The letter is planted in order to gull and trick Malvolio. The characters involved are in a sense lowlife and quite realistic. Thus we have the artificial world of Orsino and Olivia and Viola, in contrast with the world in the servants' hall. In both plots we see foolish love, but in the artificial world everything works out all right. We need a bit of machinery to get Antonio out of trouble. And, obviously, there has got to be some machinery to get Malvolio out of gaol. But it cannot be too strongly emphasized that there is no machinery of this nature in the main plot; there we have simply the deus ex machina appearance of Sebastian to resolve the question of identity and all is well.

We must not leave the play without some mention of the note of sadness which has received so much comment. Reviewing a recent performance at Stratford-upon-Avon, Harold Hobson of the Sunday Times described Twelfth Night as Shakespeare's most melancholy play and also as his most wittily written.

The melancholy is found exclusively in Feste's songs, in the first:

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear! your true-love's coming,
     That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
     Journeys end in lovers meeting,
     Every wise man's son doth know;

and the conclusion of the second verse,

Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
      Youth's a stuff will not endure.

To suit the Duke's melancholy of love Feste produces another famous song:

       Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid.

And, of course, perhaps the most famous song is that which concludes the play when Feste sings:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
     With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,
    For the rain it raineth every day.

I think we should, perhaps, temper our attitude towards this note of sadness with reference to the title of the play, Twelfth Night or What You Will. Twelfth Night, the Feast of the Epiphany, marked the end of the Christmas festivities and, as a general rule, there was no more playing of plays at Court until the Sunday before the beginning of Lent or on Shrove Tuesday itself. Thus very simply Twelfth Night marks the end of the festivities of the Christmas season. In that sense it is not too difficult to understand that final stanza of the last song.

A great while ago the world begun,
  With hey, ho, the wind and the rain;
But that's all one, our play is done,
  And we'll strive to please you every day.

The fun and the games are over and we will have one last fling, a sort of carnival time before Lent—but that is still some weeks away. In other words, I don't think we need to be any more seriously concerned about it than I have indicated. The title—The End of the Christmas Revelry. Yes, yes. It's all over—the fun and games are ended. And so Adieu.


1 3.2.20-4. Quotations from Shakespeare are from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans et al. (Boston, 1974).

2 Joseph H. Summers, 'The Masks of Twelfth Night', The University Review, 22 (1955), 26.

3 "'As You Like It" and "Twelfth Night": Shakespeare's Sense of an Ending', in Shakespearian Comedy, ed. Malcolm Bradbury and David Palmer, Straford-upon-Avon Studies, 14 (1972), p. 175.

4 It is relevant to recall that the festival of Twelfth Night, in addition to its popular associations with the holiday release of Misrule festivities, was also a religious celebration of the Feast of Epiphany.

5 Discussing the use of identical twins in The Comedy of Errors, Northrop Frye argues: ' … I feel that one reason for the use of two sets of twins in this play is that identical twins are not really identical (the same person) but merely similar, and when they meet they are delivered, in comic fashion, from the fear of the loss of identity, the primitive horror of the döppelganger which is an element in nearly all forms of insanity, something of which they feel as long as they are being mistaken for each other.' (A Natural Perspective (New York, 1965), p. 78)

6A Tale of a Tub, With Other Early Works, 1696-1707, ed. Herbert Davis (Oxford, 1957), p. 140.

Karin S. Coddon (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "Slander in and Allow'd Fool: Twelfth Night's Crisis of the Aristocracy," in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 33, No. 2, Spring, 1993, pp. 309-25.

[In this essay, Coddon claims that the closing of Twelfth Night emphasizes disorder over natural order, seeming "less than a wholesale endorsement of the privileges of rank and hierarchy."]

In Twelfth Night demarcations between male and female, master and servant, libertine and moralist come into festive—and not so festive—collision. Typical readings of the play have focused on its misrule and topsy-turvy as serving ultimately to reaffirm the dominant, aristocratic values against which the ostensible "puritan," Malvolio, stands as a scorn-worthy scapegoat.1 By this reasoning, the play may be seen as a comedy in which insubordination, cross-dressing, and unruly "license" are, in the final analysis, contained in the rites of unmasking and marriage. The play's notably troubled closure—Malvolio's vow of revenge, the Captain's imprisonment, and Feste's strangely inappropriate closing dirge—has been given its due only insofar as it contributes to the comedy's "dark outline."2 But the problem of closure also aligns Twelfth Night with Hamlet and King Lear, plays in which the apparent "restoration of order" is countered by the excesses of precedent disorder that have been repressed, perhaps, but not entirely effaced.3 If in Twelfth Night the aristocratic order is ostensibly reasserted in the pairings of Orsino/Viola and Oliva/Sebastian, the refusal of the play's closing to recuperate two of its most disorderly subjects—Malvolio and Feste—suggests rather less than a wholesale endorsement of the privileges of rank and hierarchy. For by mockingly disclosing the mutability and contingency of social rank, Twelfth Night demystifies one of Elizabethan authority's central political fictions. In the process, the play tests the precarious limits of theatrical "license," as festivity itself exceeds the containment of mere "fantasy inversion" to take on a markedly historical, even contestatory dimension.

Elizabethan and Jacobean culture is commonly characterized by an overwhelming obsession with "good order and obedience." Copious propaganda exhorted a minutely classified, divinely ordained social hierarchy:

Everye degre of people in theyr vocation, callyng, and office hath appointed to them, theyr duty and ordre. Some are in hyghe degree, some in lowe, some kynges and prynces, some inferiors and subjectes, priestes, and layemenne, Maysters and Servauntes, Fathers and chyldren, husbandes and wives, riche and poore, and everyone hath nede of other: so that in all thynges is to be lauded and praysed the goodly order of god, wythoute the whiche, no house, no citie, no commonwealth can continue and indure or laste.4

Yet Keith Wrightson has suggested that the promulgators of this rigidly organic paradigm "knew very well that it was an ideal, an aspiration," a response to increased opportunities for social mobility rather than a reflection of universal belief or practice.5 As Wrightson has demonstrated, while the foremost status of the titular nobility remained a constant, there was notable slippage throughout the entire social hierarchy between supposedly rigid "degrees of people":

gentle status itself could be achieved as well as inherited; by obtaining a university degree, by appointment to governmental or military office, or by any man who "can live without manuell labour, and thereto is able and will beare the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman."6

The Elizabethan propensity for classifying and even legislating (e.g., via sumptuary laws) a fixed and self-evident social hierarchy was belied by actual social practice; under James the First, rampant title-mongering would further erode the primacy of blood and birth as sole determinants of social rank.7 Jacobean indiscretions aside, the official propaganda chiefly served the interests of the uppermost social echelon, not the least of which was a crown intent on absolutism but without a standing militia to enforce it. For the primacy of blood, after all, lay at the core of the divine-right ideology so dear to both Elizabeth and James.

The theater, of course, already occupied the most equivocal of situations toward the aristocratic and nonaristocratic, even antiaristocratic factions. As Michael Bristol has remarked, "The social position of the players and of their work was based on two contradictory presuppositions—that they were engaged in a business or industry, and that they were engaged in 'service' to their aristocratic patrons."8 Government licensing and courtly patronage do not necessarily imply the theater's ideological alignment with the court, especially given the apparent, remarkable social heterogeneity of Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences. Comedy in particular tended to foster heterogeneity, as Robert Weimann has noted:

In matters of social custom and dramatic taste there was as yet no clear division between the rural plebs and the London middle classes. This meant that there was little difference between the middle class and the plebeian reception of the Morris dance, the jig, clowning, and the like. The middle strata of these craftsmen and the more wealthy dealers and retailers enjoyed these entertainments just as did the lower strata, the laborer, carriers, servants.9

Similarly, the very nature of theatrical representation defied "official" positions on rank and degree, as common players personated princes, male actors "boyed" females.10 If Malvolio, like such antitheatrical polemicists as Phillip Stubbes, disapproves of festive misrule in principle, the government's regulation of the theater testifies to its own anxieties about the drama's potential to produce (and reproduce) fictions contesting Tudor and Stuart official ideologies. The theater, like the "alllicens'd fool," was to an extent authorized to enact a degree of insubordination, apparently on the thought that it would thus function as a sort of safety valve for discontent that might otherwise seek less indirect forms of expression. But as Natalie Zemon Davis has argued, festive misrule need not be conceived as either wholly contestatory or wholly conservative:

It is an exaggeration to view the carnival and Misrule as merely a "safety valve," as merely a primitive, prepoliticai form of recreation.… the structure of the carnival form can evolve so that it can act both to reinforce order and to suggest alternatives to that existing order.11

My suggestion, then, is that Twelfth Night pointedly reinforces neither aristocratic nor anticourt values; rather, by exploding the kinds of social classifications propounded by contemporary theorists into a multiplicity of slippery, contingent positions, the play subversively confounds holiday and history, festive "license" and contestation. Officially controlled by the government and increasingly subjected to virulent antitheatrical attacks, the theater was positioned as much in a site of limited resistance as of limited allegiance. The opening—and closing—resistance of Feste the clown to narrative recuperation suggests not only the possibility of theatrical evasion of order, but also a material if limited autonomy from the institutional structures seemingly acknowledged in the reversions of the young nobles and the overreaching Malvolio to their proper places and degrees.

Lawrence Stone's argument for a "crisis of the aristocracy" as a major precipitant of the 1642 revolution has been roundly criticized by a number of social historians.12 It has been suggested, for example, that radical social change in seventeenth-century England was due more to the emergence of landed and professional "middle classes" than to a decline in the aristocracy's prestige.13 Yet without asserting a direct causality between aristocratic excesses and the development of a revolutionary movement, it seems clear that the nobility's profligate expenditures and conspicuous consumption served to weaken the aristocracy both economically and in terms of popular perception.14 The latter is evidenced in mocking gallows derision throughout Jacobean tragedy; Shakespeare's Lear and Tourneur's Revenger's Tragedy offer bitter critiques of courtly extravagances. Even so worldly a blade as John Harington remarked upon the libertinism of the Jacobean court, where

those, whom I never coud get to taste good liquor, now follow the fashion and wallow in beastly delights. The Ladies abandon their sobriety, and are seen to roll about in intoxication.… I do often say (but not aloud) that the Danes have again conquered the Britains, for I see no man, or woman either, that can now command himself or herself.15

But the court of James Stuart hardly introduced excess into the early modern English aristocracy. Twelfth Night, with its elaborate imagery of appetite and satiety, seems to draw upon contemporary notions, by no means hyperbolic, about the consumption habits of an aristocratic household. In fact, the supposed "morality of indulgence" John Hollander attributes to aristocratic excess and satiety in the play becomes a bit incongruous in light of Stone's catalogues of noble gluttony.16 According to Stone, even conservatice, prudent Lord Burghley indulged in the extravagant gormandizing of aristocratic "festive" entertainments:

The £363 [Burghley] spent on a feast to the French Commissioners in 1581 might perhaps be explained on grounds of public policy. But what are we to make of the £629 spent in three days' junketing at the marriage of his daughter a year later? At this vast party there were consumed, among other things, about 1,000 gallons of wine, 6 veals, 26 deer, 15 pigs, 14 sheep, 16 lambs, 4 kids, 6 hares, 36 swans, 2 storks, 41 turkeys, over 370 poultry, 49 curlews, 135 mallards, 354 teals, 1,049 plovers, 124 knotts, 280 stints, 109 pheasants, 277 partridges, 615 cocks, 485 snipe, 840 larks, 21 gulls, 71 rabbits, 21 pigeons, and 2 sturgeons.17

If music be the food of love, play on, indeed; Orsino's elaborate tropes of appetite and satiety might well have prompted a subversive laughter, given the mind-boggling extravagances of the Elizabethan aristocrat's table. On the other hand, certain factions were less likely to find such gluttony a laughing matter in the inflationand famine-plagued 1590s. For the commoner and particularly the poor, the 1590s were years of economic hardship and deprivation. Four consecutive failed harvests between 1594 and 1597 contributed to rampant food shortages;18 authorities greatly feared the possibility of large-scale social disorder, and in fact, a number of food riots occurred in both the countryside and London.19 As Buchanan Sharp has shown, the privileged were frequently the focus of the rioters' deepest resentments: "The reported poor of Somerset who in 1596 seized a load of cheese were reported to be animated by a hatred of all gentlemen because they believed 'that the rich men had gotten all into their hands, and will starve the poor.'"20 Civil discontent over food shortages bore the threat of an attack on the entire social order, as the Privy Council itself recognized.21 Indeed, in the aftermath of the abortive Oxfordshire Rising of 1596, Attorney-General Coke insisted that "[t]he real purpose of Bartholomew Stere [one of the Oxfordshire conspirators] was 'to kill the gentlemen of that countrie and to take the spoile of them, affirming that the commons, long sithens in Spaine did rise and kill all the gentlemen in Spain and sithens that time have lyved merrily there.'"22 Thus historicized, Twelfth Night's mockery of noble excesses may be seen as homologous to the rather less playful sentiments of another Oxfordshire conspirator, James Bradshaw, who asked "Whether there were not certaine good fellowes in Witney that wold ryse & knock down the gentlemen & riche men that take in the comons, and made corne so deare?"23

It is worth noting, however, that the play's lone vocal critic of profligacy, Malvolio, is held up to even greater derision than the extravagant nobles. As Elliot Krieger has noted, Malvolio "actually threatens the social order much less than he seems to.… [H]e has the greatest respect for all the accoutrements of aristocratic rank."24 Malvolio, "sick of self-love,"25 covets the very privilege he seems to criticize, as is borne out by his desire to transcend his social rank by marrying Olivia. Far from a radical social critic, Malvolio is more reminiscent of the antitheatricalists26 who lambasted playgoers for their own variety of moral gluttony. Phillip Stubbes claimed that playgoers "are alwaies eating, & neuer satisfied; euer seeing, & neuer contented; continualie hearing, & neuer wearied; they are greedie of wickednes."27 That Malvolio's threat of revenge troubles the play's comic ending suggests less an endorsement of the legitimacy of his grievances than an ironic acknowledgment of the strident persistence of antitheatricalism.

Orsino's opening trope, then—

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die

—lends to his lyric self-indulgence a material marker of social privilege and its excesses. It serves to yoke together the amorous appetites of the relatively decorous Orsino and the more grotesque, "carnivalesque" appetites of Sir Toby Belch.28 For Sir Toby is, of course, the play's most comical—and most pointed—travesty of aristocratic self-indulgence. His revels are informed by the popular tradition of "seasonal misrule," a tradition already suspect for its violations of class and gender boundaries.29 Sir Toby cavorts not only with his fellow titled tosspot Sir Andrew Aguecheek, but also with his social inferiors—Feste, Fabian, and Maria, the last of whom he marries.30 The deflation of Malvolio's ambition to wed into the aristocracy is countered by the marriage of Olivia's uncle to her serving-woman. The play's fantasy transgressions typical of festive misrule—Olivia's infatuation with a disguised woman, "Cesario's" with Orsino—are ostensibly contained as gender stability is restored. Like Malvolio's vow of revenge, however, Sir Toby's offstage marriage to Maria is a reminder of the instability of rank and order that persists outside the world of the play. Far from being merely a temporary and cathartic release from social order, festivity intervenes to alter that order. Sir Toby's marriage to Maria makes explicit the identification of festivity with social fluidity, despite the play's apparent recuperation of transvestism and homoerotic desire.

But Sir Toby's marriage is not the play's sole—or most significant—offstage social transgression. Feste's first appearance in I.v. aligns the clown with insubordination, with the equivocal boundaries between licensed and unlicensed foolery.

MARIA. Nay, either tell me where thou hast
  been, or I will open my lips so wide as a
  bristle may enter, in way of thy excuse: my
  lady will hang thee for thy absence.
CLOWN. Let her hang me: he that is well
  hanged in this world needs to fear no

As has been frequently noted, Feste's entrance is marked by an emphatic lacuna;31 his introduction is colored not only by the unauthorized absence from Olivia's household, but also by his defiant resistance ("Let her hang me") to Maria's interrogations about his whereabouts, even under the threat of hanging or unemployment. The clown's unlicensed insubordination lies less in the nature of his absence than in his refusal to represent a "subjectivity" to his interrogator. This is not to claim that Feste's uncooperation is akin to Hamlet's "I have that within which passes show" (I.ii.85), but rather, that theatricality constitutes a site of evasion from subjectification, i.e., the strategies of surveillance and interrogation that comprise, as Michel Foucault has written, "a ritual of discourse in which the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement … a ritual that unfolds within a power relationship."32 An actor does not speak a "self"—he impersonates; his social identity is not metaphysical but infinitely manipulable, as was recognized, however disapprovingly, by the theater's critics. For

unlike the consecrated minister of God's word or the political orator, an actor is a man whose public utterance does not represent what he feels or thinks, although it is said with full conviction and the sound of authority. An actor is not just someone whose speech is "dissembling": the deeper problem is that he is most valued for his ability to dissemble convincingly.33

That virtually the first thing we learn about Feste is that he has been somewhere offstage, outside of representation and vigilance, suggests not a Derridean aporia so much as the theater's potential to exceed its carefully, officially delimited boundaries, to collapse the distinction between "festivity" and history. As Bristol notes of Feste, "[the clown] traverses the boundary between a represented world and the here-and-now world he shares with the audience."34 Earlier clowns like Richard Tarlton commonly interacted directly with the audience as well as with other characters in the play;35 though Feste embodies the sophistication and intellectualism of the later Elizabethan jester, he is as much of the world outside the play as of the fictive world within.

Despite its comic word-play, Feste's exchange with Maria has somewhat grave undertones. The threat of hanging seems hyperbolic, though as Maria notes, "to be turned away" would be "as good as a hanging" (I.v. 18); a fool without a post would be "voiceless," indeed. The refusal of interrogation risks a coerced expulsion from discourse entirely. The Elizabethan theater, like Feste testing the limits of licensed foolery, was subject to an authority that could—and occasionally, did—impose silence. But also like Feste, the theater deftly confounds the boundaries between festive misrule and unruly license. Not the least of the Elizabethan clown's functions is to mediate between audience and play; with Feste, the mediation takes on, however playfully, a dimension of conspiracy.

Upon Olivia's appearance, the clown launches into what is ostensibly the licensed insubordination allowed his function by his patroness and superior. Feste's witty impertinence reestablishes his "allow'd," public role as jester. Though he effectively proves her a fool, Olivia concedes, "There is no slander in an allow'd fool" (I.V.94). Yet because Feste's cheeky demonstration of his mistress's foolishness has been preceded by his unlicensed absence, Olivia's authority here seems superfluous, even specious, as though Feste is but humoring her by playing the prescribed role of servant. Typically mistrustful of festive insubordination and frivolity, Malvolio, rather than Olivia, takes offense at the fool's impudence. But Olivia's rejoinder—"O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite" (lines 90-91)—tacitly accuses the steward of the very ills he claims to disdain. For Malvolio's "self-love" is pointedly not the absence of appetite but merely a "distempered" one. That Olivia's reprimand of Malvolio is shortly followed by the reappearance of Sir Toby "in the third degree of drink" (line 136) marks a less festive variety of inversion: Malvolio is not so much the antithesis of Sir Toby as he is the reversed mirror-image.

Feste, then, is far more than merely the "spirit of festivity"; he is also an ironic commentator upon the discrepancies between aristocratic myth and the material circumstances that contradict it. The clown's consistent gulling of his social superiors has been frequently noted,36 but it is a mistake to view Feste as simply a protocapitalist "service professional."37 The emphasis on payment serves to remind the spectator that this is not the mythic, feudal world of loyal, ideal service, "The constant service of the antique world, / When service sweat for duty, not for meed!"38 but rather one in which festivity itself is purchased at the same outlandishly inflated rate that swells Orsino's plaints of love or Olivia's grandiloquent self-denial. The contrast between the bawdy knights' boisterous entreaties for a song and the melancholy "O Mistress Mine" with which the clown responds points up the distance between mythic carpe diem romance and the almost indiscriminate, self-indulgent appetites that govern not only Sir Toby and Sir Andrew but Orsino and Malvolio as well. Hollander's suggestion that the song is a reflection upon the various lovers' romantic foibles39 does not take into account either the inappropriate audience or the closing allusion to an uncertain future outside of the festive present: "Youth's a stuff will not endure" (II.iii.53). Twelfth Night's nominal situation in a particular, finite time not only evokes traditional, popular festivity organized around the church calendar;40 it also foregrounds the play's precarious temporality. The Epiphany functions as a temporal trope much as the Forest of Arden, in As You Like It, functions as a spatial one: the time of carefree, aristocratic festivity is gone, and between nostalgia for an idealized past and uncertainty about the historical time beyond holiday is the tenuous and hence ironic celebration of the present.

As Feste willingly joins Sir Toby and Sir Andrew for a merry round, he playfully reminds the latter that his own cooperation in the song entails a transgression of rank: "'Hold thy peace, then, knave,' knight? I shall be constrained in it to call thee knave, knight" (II.iii.66-67); Feste subtly remarks upon the knights' complicity in the deconstruction of social order. Akin to government licensing of the theater, the nobles' authorization of "benign" festive subversion enables the terms by which institutional authority may be mocked and questioned. The ostensibly vast social distinction between gentleman and common player is elided. Just as Feste has previously "proven" Olivia a fool, his observation that Sir Toby is "in admirable fooling" (line 81) places his social superior in the role of servant, jester, player—the very kind of class "mingle-mangle" so mistrusted by the antitheatricalists.41 Interestingly, it is Malvolio who scolds the revelers for their violation of good order:

My masters, are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do ye make an ale-house of my lady's house, that ye squeak out your coziers' catches without any mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?


Malvolio objects to the revelry explicitly on grounds of its disorderliness of "place, persons, [and] time"; once more, the critic of aristocratic "uncivil rule" is the play's most vehement proponent of a stable, orderly social structure. But Sir Toby, thus chided for transgression of his degree, picks up the gauntlet with a peculiarly bitter rejoinder to Malvolio: "Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" (lines 113-15). The question, of course, is rhetorical, though like Malvolio's threat of revenge, in retrospect rather eerily prophetic.

There is some suggestion, once again, that the festive interval—as interval—itself is already anachronistic, that the revels have, if not ended, become embedded in historical rather than holiday matters. Orsino, in II.iv once more caught in the throes of a language of amorous appetite, requests "that old and antic song" (line 3) performed the night before. Curio's response to this is, interestingly, the first and only time Olivia's clown is named, and, additionally, given a history: he is "a fool that the Lady Olivia's father took much delight in" (lines 11-12). The introduction of Feste's name in this context seems appropriate; for the festivity with which Orsino identifies him is indeed a thing of the past, when festive rites were bound up in a popular, material marking of time:

Mark it, Cesario, it [the song] is old and
The spinsters and the knitters in the sun,
And the free maids that weave their thread
  with bones,
Do use to chant it: it is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love,
Like the old age.
                            (lines 43-48)

Given Orsino's own penchant for florid, hyperbolic love talk, his paean to the "silly" song is noteworthy. And yet the song, when it does come, seems less a rustic lay than a pensive Elizabethan lyric telling of a lady's disdain and a "dying," unrequited lover's lonely fate. Like "O Mistress Mine," "Come Away, Death" is touched by Petrarchan conventions of female resistance and frustrated male desire. The song's melancholy, along with its identification with an idealized past, contrasts strikingly with the language of self-indulgent appetite and desire that characterizes its context. The sad song is unsuited to its setting, but not solely because of the play's comic aims. It is a performance whose signification has been rendered specious by the play's own ironization of desire; the song, like the one preceding, is merely the "food of love" for the nobleman's appetite. Indeed, Orsino follows with two more elaborate speeches of quantification and appetite to "Cesario," in blatant contradiction of his prior homage to the simplicity of the old love song. The disembodied metaphoric trappings of petrarchan love become in Twelfth Night parodically reconstituted as crassly material, even gluttonous.

Similarly, Feste's refusal, to Viola, of the "licensed" title of fool, and his claim that he is, rather, Olivia's "corrupter of words" (III.i.36-37), acknowledge the degeneration of language, the discrepancy between the anachronistic idiom of lyric love and the actual amorous discourses marked by consumption and excess. As Terry Eagleton has observed, "What has discredited language in Feste's view is commerce, the breaking of bonds.… Bonds—written commercial contracts—have rendered signs valueless, since too often they are not backed up by the physical actions they promise."42 Feste is Olivia's "corrupter of words," but after the fact: language is no more innocent than love. Feste's corruption of language, however, is of a different and more equivocal variety than Orsino's or Malvolio's, for he consistently takes the words of his noble superiors—much as he does their money—and destabilizes them, exposing the semiotic and political slipperiness of ostensibly stable categories and values. Thus he responds to Viola's characterization of him as "a merry fellow, [who] car'st for nothing" (III.i.26-27) with what may seem like an inexplicably surly rejoinder: "Not so, sir, I do care for something; but in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you" (lines 27-28). Like Orsino before her, Viola attempts to constitute Feste as merely the embodiment of the mirthful court jester, the abstract spirit of song and festivity. But the clown, as in his initial exchange with Maria, at once resists the fixity of his prescribed role and pointedly refuses to invest "corrupt" words with any kind of truth value. What that "something" may be for which he cares is less significant than the refusal of explication.

When Feste accepts Viola's money, he also accepts his function as servant, but not without a saucy allusion to her complicity in the crassest variety of commerce: "I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia, sir, to bring a Cressida to this Troilus" (III.i.51). Pandarus, of course, evokes the activity for which Orsino has engaged "Cesario"; like Feste, Viola is playing the role of servant, and her actual social superiority is undercut by the clown's suggestion of a kind of material equivalence between them. Viola apparently recognizes her error in labeling Feste merely a merry madcap, and characterizes him as, like herself, one playing a part:

This fellow is wise enough to play the fool,
And to do that well, craves a kind of wit:
He must observe their mood on whom he
The quality of persons, and the time,
And like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practice
As full of labour as a wise man's art.
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fall'n, quite taint their
                                    (lines 60-68)

This speech is commonly taken as the playwright's homage to the art of theater, or even as a tribute to Robert Armin.43 But while it is an oversimplification to read Feste's function as strictly metadramatic, Viola's words indeed testify to the "labour" and intellection of playing, as if to counter antitheatricalist accusations of wantonness and idleness. Indeed, one of Armin's own Quips upon Questions articulates a similar theme:

True it is, he playes the Foole indeed;
But in the Play he playes it as he must:
Yet when the play is ended, then his speed
Is better than the pleasure of thy trust.
For he shall have what thou that time has
Playing the foole, thy folly to consent.

He playes the Wise man then, and not the
That wisely for his lyving so can do;
So doth the Carpenter with his sharpe tool,
Cut his owne finger oft, yet lives by't to.
He is a foole to cut his limbe say I
But not so with his toole to live thereby.44

The notion of fooling as professional, intellectual labor at once responds to and significantly revises such suspicions as those of Stephen Gosson regarding the actor's equivocal identity: "There is more in [Players] than we perceive."45 The comic actor is thus transformed from diabolically Protean hypocrite to expertly skilled craftsman, a keen observer of social practices shrewd enough to play fool "for his lyving."

In fact, Feste corrupts words chiefly to expose the corruption of others by them, and for them. To this extent, the clown embodies the instructive model of comedy extolled by Thomas Heywood in An Apologie for Actors (1612):

And what is then the subject of this harmlesse mirth? either in the shape of a clowne to shew others their slovenly and unhandsome behaviour, that they may reforme that simplicity in themselves which others make their sport, lest they happen to become the like subject of generali scorne to an auditory; else it intreates of love, deriding foolish inamorates, who spend their ages, their spirits, nay themselves, in the servile and ridiculous imployments of their mistresses.46

In IV.ii, wherein "Sir Topas" interrogates Malvolio, Feste both exemplifies and parodies the didactic dimension of foolery. Again, the scene owes a debt to the festive tradition of "misrule," in which, as Stuart Clark has noted, typically "clerical parodies of divine service substituted the profane for the sacred, and low for high office."47 But Feste is doing more than mocking Malvolio with his travesty of a Puritan curate. With his emphatic, ludicrous "testing" of Malvolio's sanity, Feste parodies the discourse of interrogation he has himself consistently eluded. The clown uses the guise of authority to mock authority, a strategy manifest not only in "Sir Topas's" worrying of the "madman," but also in Feste's assumption of the voices of both the curate and the servant: "Maintain no words with him, good fellow!—Who, I, sir? not I, sir! God buy you, good Sir Topas!—Marry, amen!—I will, sir, I will" (lines 102-105). As Maria has pointed out, the clown's costume is superfluous (lines 64-65); language itself enables dissemblance. In theater, subjectivity is no more than a habit that aptly is put on. Feste's trick question to Malvolio—"But tell me true, are you not mad indeed, or do you but counterfeit?" (lines 117-18)—mockingly discloses the equivocal nature of playing itself. Neither madness nor sanity has any ontological status in the realm of theatricality, for the "counterfeit" is at once as true—and as false—as the thing itself. Stable distinctions between licensed and unlicensed foolery then, are radically problematic, Heywood's "harmlesse mirth" perhaps not as socially benign as the term suggests.

Not surprisingly, the play's final act, with its various unmaskings and revelations, yet falls short of the thorough restoration of order that the plot and genre seem to dictate. V.i begins with an almost uncanny echo of I.v, as Fabian beseeches the clown to show him Malvolio's letter, only to be enigmatically refused (lines 1-6). Feste's resistance to Fabian's entreaty is narratively inexplicable, since the latter has been in on the trick all along and the former at least attempts to read the letter publicly. Feste's refusal appears motivated simply by a characteristic deflection of interrogation for its own sake. But it is also in the last act that Feste is silenced, as Olivia objects to his "mad" reading of Malvolio's letter, despite his protests, and orders Fabian to deliver the missive instead. It is a significant moment, not the least because Olivia, the clown's employer, here disdains his foolery on grounds that its theatricality is an apparent obstacle to discerning the truth. This momentary suppression of theatricality serves to refigure—temporarily, at any rate—the intractable lines of social hierarchy heretofore overturned by playing. Malvolio, upon appearing, issues a proclamation whose very tenor is one of "unseemly" entitlement: "Madam, you have done me wrong. Notorious wrong" (lines 327-28). But the ensuing explanation merely reiterates the steward's subordinate position, as Olivia remarks, "Alas, poor fool, how they have baffled thee!" (line 368). Malvolio, the overreacher, is now reduced to the lowly status of one whose function he has previously scorned, as Feste promptly reminds him, concluding "thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges" (lines 375-76). But just as Feste has taken his cue to speak from Olivia's epithet "poor fool," so does Malvolio take his from the clown's gloating last words. "I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you(!)" Malvolio warns (line 378), the "whole pack" evidently including not only the pranksters (the two chiefest of whom—Sir Toby and Maria—are not present) but the nobles as well. The so-called "festive comedy" concludes rather ominously; if indeed "the whirligig of time brings in his revenges," it is difficult to dismiss Malvolio's parting threat as merely one sour note troubling an otherwise stable social hierarchy.

Significantly, the clown's closing song seems to take its uncertain, melancholy tone not from the promised (though deferred) wedding and "golden time" of Orsino's last speech, but from the bitter note of Malvolio's final words. Far from heralding a "golden time," a term that itself evokes the pastoral myths of idyllic, benevolent relations between masters and servants,48 the haunting song marks the end of holiday time and takes the play back into history, into materiality. Not just the wind and rain, but their inexorability against the festive vices of lust and drunkenness, the harshness of "man's estate" wherein gates are shut against foolery, call attention to the illusory nature of comic resolution and to the uncertain world to which actor and spectator alike must return. The final line, "And we'll strive to please you every day" (line 407), is a reminder that playing itself, while trafficking in illusion, is historically embedded, materially reproducible in time and space, and thus vulnerable as well to "wind and rain," to the threats that escape narrative closure. But like Malvolio's threat, Feste too is outside the narrative here, his song not mediated by the now-vanished illusory world of Illyria. It is a moment that keenly demonstrates Weimann's assertion that "the comic actor … does not merely play to the audience: to If Malvolio's a certain degree still plays with the audience.49 If Malvolio's evasion of closure deflates the ideal of a "golden time," Feste's signifies a resonant deconstruction of the boundaries between festivity and history. He stands as an emblem of the theater's capacity to intervene in lived experience. This gesture of self- licensed foolery figures the theater's testimonial to a limited institutional autonomy, even while the melancholy song discloses the material terms of those limitations.50


1 See, e.g., John Hollander, "Twelfth Night and the Morality of Indulgence," in Modern Shakespearean Criticism: Essays on Style, Dramaturgy, and the Major Plays, ed. Alvin B. Kernan (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1970), pp. 228-41.

2 The phrase is C.L. Barber's. See Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959), p. 259.

3 For a consideration of the problematics of disorder and closure in Hamlet, see my essay "'Suche Strange Desygns': Madness, Subjectivity, and Treason in Hamlet and Elizabethan Culture," Renaissance Drama n.s. 20 (1989): 51-76.

4 From Homily on Obedience (1559), quoted in Elizabethan Backgrounds: Historical Documents of the Age of Elizabeth I, ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1975), p. 60.

5 Keith Wrightson, English Society, 1580-1680 (London: Hutchinson, 1982), p. 19.

6 Wrightson, p. 20.

7 See Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, abridged edn. (New York: Galaxy, 1967), pp. 37-61.

8 Michael Bristol, Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authoritarian Renaissance England (London: Routledge, 1985), p. 112.

9 Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1978), p. 185.

10 For an insightful discussion of Renaissance theatrical transvestism, see Jyotsna Singh, "Renaissance Antitheatricality, Antifeminism, and Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, " Renaissance Drama n.s. 20 (1989): 99-122.

11 Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 122-23.

12 Stone essentially defends his thesis in a later essay, "The Bourgeois Revolution of Seventeenth-Century England Revisited," Past and Present 109 (November 1985): 44-54.

13 See, e.g., D.M. Palliser, The Age of Elizabeth: England under the Later Tudors, 1547-1603 (London: Longman, 1983), p. 76; Derek Hirst, Authority and Conflict: England, 1603-1638 (London: Edward Arnold, 1986), p. 13.

14 Stone, pp. 249-67.

15 John Harington, Nugae Antiquae, vol. 2 (1779; rprt. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1968), pp. 126-27, 130.

16 See note 1.

17 Stone, p. 256.

18 Buchanan Sharp, In Contempt of All Authority: Rural Artisans and the Riot in the West of England, 1586-1660 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1980), p. 17; see also

19 John Walter, "A 'Rising of the People'? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596," Past and Present 107 (May 1985): 90-143.

20 Sharp, p. 36.

21 Walter, pp. 96-99.

22 Sharp, p. 39.

23 Quoted in Walter, p. 99.

24 Elliot Krieger, A Marxist Study of Shakespeare's Comedies (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979), p. 129.

25 William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Arden edn., ed. J.M. Lothian and T. W. Craik (London and New York: Routledge, 1988), I.v.90. Further references will be to this edition and included in the text.

26 I am deliberately avoiding the term "puritan" in reference to Malvolio, not only because I do not believe he is explicitly a satirical Puritan in the sense, e.g., of Jonson's Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, but also because, as Palliser observes, "'Puritan' has proven almost impossible to define, both at the time and since, and some historians are now tempted to abandon the term altogether" (p. 347; see also ).

27 Quoted in Weimann, p. 171.

28 Cf. Terry Eagleton: "Like Falstaff [Sir Toby] … is a rampant hedonist, complacently anchored in his body, falling at once 'beyond' the symbolic order of society in his verbal anarchy, and 'below' it in his carnivalesque refusal to submit his body to social control" (William Shakespeare [London: Basil Blackwell, 1986], p. 32).

29 On "seasonal misrule," see Stuart Clark, "Inversion, Misrule, and the Meaning of Witchcraft," Past and Present 87 (May 1980): 98-127.

30 Ralph Berry remarks that Maria's exact social status is somewhat unclear, though he observes that other characters frequently address her as a menial servant (Shakespeare and Social Class [Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1988], pp. 70-71).

31 I still think that C.L. Barber says it best: "the fool in Twelfth Night has been over the garden wall into some such world as the Vienna of Measure for Measure. He never tells where he has been, gives no details. But he has an air of knowing more of life than anyone else—too much, in fact" (p. 259).

32 Michael Foucault, History of Sexuality, vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978), pp. 61-62.

33 Bristol, p. 113.

34 Bristol, p. 140.

35 See Weimann, p. 213.

36 Eagleton, pp. 28-29; Krieger, p. 116.

37 The term may be found in Berry, p. 74.

38 William Shakespeare, As You Like It, The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), II.iii.57-58.

39 Hollander, p. 237.

40 On the relation of festivity and the old church calendar, see Leah S. Marcus, The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell and the Defense of Old Holiday Pastimes (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 1.

41 See Weimann, pp. 23-25; Marcus, p. 27.

42 Eagleton, p. 28.

43 The suggestion that the speech may refer specifically to Armin may be found in the Arden Edition of Twelfth Night, p. 27, nn. 61-69.

44 In Robert Armin, The Collected Works (New York and London: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1972).

45 Stephen Gosson, The Schoole of Abuse (1579; rprt. London: The Shakespeare Society, 1841), p. 27.

46 Thomas Heywood, An Apologie For Actors (1612; rprt. London: The Shakespeare Society, 1841), p. 54.

47 Clark, p. 101.

48 On the pastoral and its mythologizing of master-servant relations, see Louis A. Montrose, "'Eliza, Queene of shepheardes' and the Pastoral of Power," ELR 10, 2 (Spring 1980): 153-82 (see esp. pp. 157-59).

49 Weimann, p. 257.

50 I would like to thank Don Wayne and Louis Montrose for their generous suggestions.

Sexual Ambiguity

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Leonard F. Manheim (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: "The Mythical Joys of Shakespeare, or, What You Will," in Shakespeare Encomium, edited by Anne Paolucci, The City College, 1964, pp. 100-12.

[In the following essay, Manheim gives a psychoanalytic treatment of Twelfth Night, contending that the play is "an oedipal comedy written from the viewpoint of the father. "]

Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy.
       A Midsummer Night's Dream V.i.18-20

Will will fulfill the treasure of thy love …
                                                   Sonnet 136

I offer an interpretation of Twelfth Night based on accepted Shakespearean scholarship plus the data of psychoanalysis. I shall extrapolate beyond the words assigned to the characters in the play and shall consider these characters as "persons" known to me (and, in all truth, there are few persons whom I meet in the ordinary intercourse of life whom I know as well as I know these characters), and capable of having a former and a future existence of their own, all, of course, wholly within the bounds of the play's basic structure and development. In the same way, and using the same data, I shall attempt to read out of (not into) the text evidence of the author's own fears, hopes, and wishes, none of which will at any time contradict or attenuate any accepted biographical facts and documented material. I know that in accepting Freud, Jones, and their school, and rejecting that of Stool and Sisson, I run the risk of critical condemnation, including the risk of being belabored with the cudgel of Professor Sisson's animadversions on "The Mythical Sorrows of Shakespeare."1

I know this so well that I have run to meet it by basing my title on Sisson's. But the reading is different. By "mythical" I mean not that which is mendacious, factitious, untrue, consciously conceived by an irresponsible critic; but rather that which is the product of a non-conscious, "mythopoeic" drive to explain phenomena which are not rationally understood, or which are so understood but are not, on the psychodynamic level, acceptable to the conscious mind.2 I substitute "joys" for "sorrows," and I mean by "joy" just what Shakespeare meant by the word in his treatise on the ways of the mind which is embodied in the colloquy between Theseus and Hippolyta in the fifth act of A Midsummer Night's Dream. As is apparent, I agree with Freud that "Story-tellers are valuable allies, [whose] testimony is to be rated high, for they usually know many things between heaven and earth that our academic wisdom does not even dream of."3 But I am concerned not only with the intuitions of Shakespeare the creative artist, but with the wish-fulfilling fantasies of Shakespeare the man, and I imply this by adopting, with a possible change of emphasis, his subtitle for Twelfth Night, indicating that by the fantasy of this piece of joyous entertainment he is flying in the teeth of certain painful but unalterable facts, giving himself through this fantasy grounds for (irrational) joy. In other words, "What You Will" implies the phenomenon of "the omnipotence of thought"; it means not (or not only) "whatever you prefer" but "that which you will into being," "that which you attempt to bring about as a wish-fulfillment."4 I contend that in Twelfth Night Shakespeare was freely expressing a number of such wish-fulfillments, some of them conscious, some of them possibly preconscious (that is, not within the area of awareness but capable of being understood directly when they are brought into that area), but most of them completely unconscious; that these wish-fulfillments had indeed grown out of the private and personal experience of the author but were also projected into the personal and private experience of the "persons" introduced as characters in the play.

The more conventional Shakespearean critic, apprehensive—not without cause—of the excesses committed by some psychoanalytic investigators (I hesitate to call them "critics"), will ask, "How much do we really know of Shakespeare's private and personal experience?" and "What does that private and personal experience have to do with his works of art?" To the first question I respond that I shall imply nothing concerning Shakespeare's private life which is not in complete harmony with evidence which is acceptable to the most traditional critic; viz., the Shakespearean documents gathered and published by J. O. Halliwell-Phillips,5 D. H. Lambert,6 E. K. Chambers,7 and B Roland Lewis.8 Nor do I intend to imply a one-to-one relationship between documented events and works produced; that, for instance, a shocking event will necessarily be reflected in an attitude or tone in the next succeeding play. I do imply, however, that once an event of importance has been established in point of time, it must be considered as having some influence on some work which follows it, closely or at farther remove. And this makes plain my reply to the second question, for I firmly believe that Shakespeare was a man as well as an artist, and that no man can do, say, or write anything (even—or, rather, particularly—a work of art) that does not reflect his own experience directly or indirectly. The real difficulty is not in finding evidence in a work of art that points clearly to the influence of private experience; on the contrary, the difficulty lies in the fact that created material has its roots in many, seemingly unrelated, elements of personal experience, much of it, I must repeat, unconscious; in other words, much of that material is, as the psycho-analyst puts it, "overdetermined," requiring investigation into many, often inconsistent and seemingly irreconcilable, sources.

The preliminaries thus disposed of, I proceed to my basic contention: Twelfth Night is an oedipal comedy written from the viewpoint of the father, just as Hamlet is an oedipal tragedy written from the viewpoint of the son. The comedy was written between 1598 and 1601; so was the tragedy.9 Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, died in August of 1596, at the age of eleven, and was survived by his twin sister Judith.10 In Twelfth Night the twin son and daughter are separated by the primal power of the sea, each considering the other dead. The living daughter takes upon herself the sex and appearance of the dead twin son and is so successful in passing for him that the sea-captain Antonio, who has enacted the role of father-substitute to the son, can say when he sees the two of them together,

How have you made division of yourself?
An apple, left in two, is not more twin
Than these two creatures. Which is

It need not be pointed out (and it could hardly have been unknown to the Elizabethans) that whatever might have been the confusion between male twins in The Comedy of Errors, brother-and-sister twins are fraternal, not identical; they do not resemble each other more than ordinary brothers and sisters do.12

Here, then, is the first and fundamental wish-fulfillment of the play. The dead son can be replaced by the living daughter, who gives up her own sex in order to obtain access, by appearing as a man, or at least "an eunuch," to the bachelor who must be considerably older than she is, for she has "heard [her] father name him" (I.ii.28), and that father "died that day when Viola from her birth / Had number'd thirteen years" (V.i.251-252). The Duke, when informed by Cesario that "he" has been attracted to a woman of about the Duke's age, exclaims,

Too old, by heaven; let still the woman take
An elder than herself …

and stresses the persistent fantasy that women, on losing their virginity, are thereby rendered less attractive to their lovers, a doctrine to which Viola will, of course, not wholly assent:

Duke: Then let thy love be younger than
Or thy affection cannot hold the bent;
For women are as roses, whose fair flower
Being once display'd, doth fall that very hour.
Viola: And so they are: alas, that they are so;
To die, even when they to perfection grow!

The Duke's attitude toward Viola's masculinity seems to me to be rather ambivalent, and Cesario clearly runs the risk of being accused of a homosexual attachment to the bachelor Orsino. Even in the opening scenes, Valentine comments, "If the Duke continue these favours towards you, Cesario, you are like to be much advanced: he hath known you but three days and already you are no stranger" (I.iv.1-4). And the Duke himself displaces and condenses his emotional attachments by insisting that Cesario-Viola is the best possible bearer of the tale of his love for Olivia:

For they shall yet belie thy happy years,
That say thou art a man: Diana's lip
Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small
Is as the maiden's organ, shrill of sound;
And all is semblative a woman's part.

    … Prosper well in this,
And thou shalt live as freely as thy lord,
To call his fortunes thine.

Orsino reveals even more when he loses his temper, for he reproaches both Cesario and Olivia when he refers to the former as "this your minion, whom I know you love, / And whom, by heaven I swear, I tender dearly" (V.i.128-129), an obvious projection, for if Cesario is anyone's "minion" it will have to be Orsino's who tenders him dearly rather than Olivia's. And this ambivalence of Orsino is embedded in the speech in which Italianate sadism for once rears its ugly head in the fantasy-land of Illyria:

Why should I not, had I the heart to do it,
Like to the Egyptian thief at point of death,
Kill what I love?—a savage jealousy
That sometimes savours nobly.…

Come, boy, with me; my thoughts are ripe in
I'll sacrifice the lamb that I do love,
To spite a raven's heart within a dove.

For a moment it seems that the pattern of Fletcher's Philaster and Bellario is about to be enacted, when Olivia sets matters right by calling in the euphuistic priest to testify to the marriage. But I wonder how many readers and viewers of the play have not suspected, as I did years ago, that Orsino was aware of Viola's secret on some level of marginal consciousness.

But no such logical inference is necessary, for there is no logic in the wish-fulfilling Unconscious, and Viola can be both the lost twin-brother and the surviving twin-sister, who will provide the mourning dramatist with the male heir he so greatly desires and at the same time be the solacing daughter who will unwaveringly prefer the father-figure in spite of all the enticements of normal heterosexual adjustment.13 In the blithe irrationality of the Unconscious, Viola comes back to life once as her own twin brother, the sea-devoured Hamnet-Sebastian, and then Sebastian (the beautiful martyr, the "hanging god," let it be remembered, of medieval and Renaissance art) also returns to life to wed with most precipitate haste the other virginal figure who is, as we shall note more fully in a moment, another projection of the beloved daughter, leaving the first daughter-image, the inviolate Viola, free to devote herself wholly to her beloved father-Duke. And all this happens in Illyria, a fantasy-land like the later Bohemia which had a seacoast for the same reason that Illyria does; i.e., in order that the sea may both engulf and give up its dead. The word-play "Illyria-Elysium" is made at the very outset of the play (I.ii.3-4). In this country of the fulfilled wishes of fantasy it is possible for a sister not only to take the place of her dead brother and thus restore him to life, but also to be, in one guise, a loving daughter to her mourning father, while her alter ego is recompensed for the loss of one brother by finding another who is permitted to be her sexual mate.

Note how the legitimized incest-fantasies become more and more apparent as we examine the ambivalent intricacies imposed by the plot. Manningham was able to gloss over the implications of an underlying incest-theme by forgetting (or never realizing) the occasion of Olivia's mourning and referring to her as the "lady widowe," even though Viola's seacaptain says at the very outset that she is

A virtuous maid, the daughter of a count
That died some twelvemonth since; then
  leaving her
To the protection of his son, her brother,
Who shortly also died; for whose dear love,
They say, she hath abjured the company
And sight of man.

to which Viola quite naturally responds,

        O that I served that lady,
And might not be delivered to the world,
Till I had made mine own occasion mellow,
What my estate is!

But Viola is not to be allowed to join her lot with that of her sister in misfortune; instead she goes to serve a living lord and master who "knows her not." And the father-daughter incest theme is betrayed in lines which through their insistent poetic beauty, have obscured their revealing ambiguity.

Viola: My father had a daughter loved a man,
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman,
I should your lordship.
Duke:         And what's her history?
Viola: A blank, my lord. She never told her
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in
And with a green and yellow melancholy,
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?

Duke: But died thy sister of her love, my
Viola: I am all the daughters of my father's
And all the brothers too: and yet I know not.                           (II.iv.l10-118,122-124)

A moment ago I spoke of Olivia as Viola's alter ego. The point might be made without more painstaking demonstration, but there is a pattern in the play which blurts out the secret that even he who runs may read. Let us look for a moment at a piece of deliberate mystification concocted by Maria for the humbling of Malvolio and the delectation of Toby and his companions. In the forged letter which Malvolio believes to have been written by Olivia, there are two sets of verses, the second of which is to convey to the hapless steward, who hardly needs the additional assurance, that it is he and he alone who is the object of his mistress' love:

I may command where I adore;
    But silence, like a Lucrece knife,
With bloodless stroke my heart doth gore:
    M, O, I, A, doth sway my life.

Neither Malvolio nor the audience needs much prompting that the code points to him. "M,—Malvolio," he says; "M,—why that begins my name" (II.v.137-138). But he is concerned because "A should follow, but O does" (II.v.142-143). Apart from his reading, we may want to make one of our own, for the letters contribute to a pervasive anagram. The vowels are to be found in the name of every character in the romantic (incest-ridden) plot. All three are to be found in "Viola" and "Olivia" as well as in "Malvolio." Two are to be found in the lesser figures, "Orsino" and "Maria." In the gulled steward whose name furnishes the first clue to the anagram, the "mal-" element points clearly to the "evil" in the presumption of the Puritanical steward who should be the protector of the virginity of his lady-mistress, but instead raises his eyes in unholy desire for her. This is emphasized by the "will" element in "-volio" (voglio), substituted in place of the original letters in the "Malevolti" of the source-material. All three vowels are to be found in his name, the "o" being used twice, to establish a masculine ending to a rearrangement of both "Viola" and "Olivia." And these two are obvious anagrams for each other, with the latter name carrying a second "i." And, as I have suggested above, she is indeed a second "I" to Viola. As double, therefore, she rejects the substitute father whom her counterpart adores, thus rejecting but also achieving the implied incest. She loses one brother but is recompensed for the loss by her marriage to Sebastian, just as the first "I" loses a brother and finds a father.

The incest-taboo is also avoided by what we might term a "purloined letter" technique; the relationships, real and substitute, are made so obvious, so oft-repeated, that they are accepted as innocent, since nothing forbidden could be so patently presented. This is, of course, a pattern not uncommon in Shakespeare, as in other Elizabethan dramatists. Viola and Sebastian, the fatherless twins, each have their respective father-protectors, the sea-captains who rescue them from the sea of death and watch over them even after bringing them to rebirth in the land of Illyria-Elysium. Viola's unnamed captain is the sole custodian of her secret, as well as of her "maiden weeds" (V.i.262), but his possible protection for the daughter who turns out to need none is frustrated by the evil "father" Malvolio, who keeps him "in durance" (V.i.281-284). Antonio, Sebastian's faithful father-protector, fares worse, for he is in mortal danger in Illyria (in which he resembles father Aegeon in The Comedy of Errors) but braves all dangers for the son who proves to be (or at least seems to be) ungrateful and unfilial. He is saved only by the intervention of the father-paramount, the Duke.

To the fathers who serve, or are served by the twins (the reversal is a dynamic equivalence in the pattern of the Unconscious, in which there is no such word as "not"), there must be added the congeries of fathers who cluster about the second "I." With her real father and brother gone, she avows her intention of remaining unseen—veiled—for seven years, the appropriate period of biblical servitude. She casts aside that veil, however, both literally and symbolically, when brother Cesario makes his appearance and saucily commands her to do so. In the meantime, and until her deliverance by Cesario-Sebastian, she is surrounded by a grotesque set of "protectors," only one of whom, Sir Toby, has designs on her fortune which do not also include threats to her virginity. But they cannot prevail, for if Viola-Cesario has not the swordsman's skill to defend her against the witless Sir Andrew, Sebastian is waiting to act as substitute in the nick of time, and to give Sir Toby a bloody coxcomb (or to make it plain that that is what each of the two false knights really is) and break Sir Andrew's head as well, thus rescuing the virgin "I" from all her unworthy "protectors."

Before concluding, let me repeat my words of warning. I am not describing or attempting to describe the conscious, intentional devices of an artist, appealing to the conscious awareness of the reader or spectator. Any such appeal would arouse anxiety rather than pleasure in both; whereas such anxiety is avoided when "deep calleth unto deep." The analytic critic, like the anlaytic therapist, avoids this anxiety by a process which I cannot undertake to explain here. In any case, it has become apparent in the years since psychoanalytic criticism first began to function (as criticism, I repeat, not as clinical analysis) that analysis does not "reduce" the work of art nor militate against its full enjoyment; rather, the contrary is true: we perceive in depth what we had formerly missed superficially. In our play we see the disarming nature of the approach through comedy summed up in the song of Feste as epilogue:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain:
A foolish thing was but a toy,
    For the rain it raineth every day.

A profound but unacceptable psychodynamic drive is presented as "a foolish thing," "a toy"; indeed, nothing more than a Twelfth-Night frolic. It could have been masked in the form of tragedy; perhaps the self-same drive would reappear some years later in King Lear. But now, at the end of Twelfth Night; or, What You Will we rest content, for

A great while ago the world begun,
    With hey, ho, the wind and the rain:
But that's all one, our play is done,
    And we'll strive to please you every day.


1 The 1934 Annual Shakespeare Lecture of the British Academy (Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. XX; London: Humphrey Milford). Actually, Professor Sisson's fire is not directed against the psychoanalytic critic. The immediate cause of his irritation was Nazi propaganda in the guise of criticism, "… by dint of which there arises, as from a trap-door at Bayreuth, a dour heroic figure of pure Nordic ancestry, the enemy of all Southern decadences, faithful to his Leader, the prophet of the new Germany of today" (pp. 3-4). These excesses Professor Sisson ascribes not to the influence of psychoanalysis (under the circumstances, he could hardly do so) but to the example of Coleridge, carried over into the nineteenth-century German criticism of the brothers Schlegel and their followers, and back into their British successors in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Not that there is a lack of evidence of Professor Sisson's animosity toward psychoanalytic criticism per se. See, for example, his introduction to Hamlet in his edition of the Complete Works (New York: Harper & Bros., [1953]):

There has been altogether too much throwing about of brains concerning the character of Hamlet himself, both analytic and psycho-analytic. We would do better to consider Hamlet according to his own words, and against the contemporary background of the writings of Thomas More or of John Donne on the problems of his state of mind.

(p. 997)

The psychoanalytic critic—need it be said?—does consider the character "according to his own words," and he does not deny the influence of Shakespeare's contemporary background; he does, however, insist on his right and duty to consider the author first as a man, then as a Western man, and then as an Elizabethan man.

2 When we consider how much more prevalent the latter meaning of "mythical" has become, it is at least remarkable that the critic who used the word in "mythical sorrows" should not have chosen some expression which is unequivocally indicative of "non-existent" or "grossly exaggerated."

3Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva" (1893-1895), Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth Press, (1953)), IX, 8. See also and

4 "The omnipotence of thoughts, or, more accurately speaking, of wishes, has since been recognized as an essential element in the mental life of primitive people." This is Freud's additional (1923) note to "A Case of Obsessional Neurosis" (1909) in Collected Papers (London: Hogarth Press), IV (1953), 370n. The play on "will" is, of course, closely allied to Shakespeare's wordplay on his own name, as, for example, in the "Will" sonnets (135, 136, 143).

5Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare (London: Longmans, Green, 1898).

6Cartae Shakespeareanae: Shakespeare Documents (London: George Bell & Sons, 1904).

7William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1930), 2 vols.

8The Shakespeare Documents (Stanford University Press, 1940-41), 2 vols.

9 Israel Gollancz, preface to the Temple edition of Twelfth Night (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1923; first issued in 1894), pp. v-vi; and Sisson, Complete Works, pp. 336 and 997. Harold Jenkins, "William Shakespeare: A Biographical Essay," in Sisson, Complete Works, stresses the probable alternation of comedy and tragedy: "As far as one can tell in ignorance of precise dating, Julius Caesar and Hamlet alternated with As You Like It and Twelfth Night" (p. xiii). Wright and LaMar in the Folger Library General Reader's Shakespeare edition of Hamlet (New York: Washington Square Press, 1957) state that "… it was performed, probably about 1600," and G. B. Harrison in Introducing Shakespeare (London: Pelican Books, 1939), p. 121, lists both plays in the canon as of the year 1601. For my purposes, I am content with any dating after, but probably not long after, 1596.

10 Much of the biographical information concerning births, marriages, and deaths is taken by the authorities named in notes 5-8 from entries in the parish Register of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon. This gives 2 February 1585 as the date of the christening of Hamnet and Judith, son and daughter of William Shakespeare, and 11 August 1596 as the date of Hamnet's funeral.

11TN, V.i.229-231. I use the Temple edition (see note 9), and I see no need to reproduce old spelling and punctuation. Act, scene, and line numbers are hereafter indicated in the text.,

12 It may be argued that the identical appearance of the twins is inherent in Shakespeare's sources. Whether this is so or not is not decisive in the matter of psychodynamic interpretation, for what Shakespeare invented and what Shakespeare adopted by selection from his source material are both indicative of at least some personal predilection on his part for a particular dramatic device. Still, it may be appropriate to glance at the scholarly data concerning the sources. Manningham's diary entry for 2 February 1601 (-2) describes the play as "Much like the Comedy of Errors, or Menechmi in Plautus; but most like and near to that in Italian called Inganni" (Gollancz, p. v). "The source for the main plot," writes Sisson (Complete Works, p. 356), "is apparently Riche his Farewell to Militane Profession (1581) in which he tells the tale of Apolonius and Sila, Apolonius being Orsino and Sila Viola.… The story came to Riche from Bandello's Italian novella, and to him from an Italian play Gli Ingannati (The deceived ones) dating from 1531.… " The identity of the Italian source is not particularly clarified by the fact that "there are at least two Italian plays called Gl'Inganni (The Cheats), to which Manningham may have referred in his entry as containing incidents resembling those of Twelfth Night; one of these plays, by Nicolo Secchi, was printed in 1562; another by Curzio Ganzalo, was first published [in Italian?] in 1592. In the latter play the sister, who dresses as a man and is mistaken for her brother, gives herself the name of Cesare.… A third play, however, entitled Gl'Ingannati (Venice 1537), … bears a much stronger resemblance to Twelfth Night; in its poetical induction, // Sacrificio, occurs the name 'Malevolti,' which is at least suggestive of the name 'Malvolio'" (Gollancz, pp. vi-vii). To dispose of matters of source and origin, it seems generally agreed that Malvolio (except for the suggestion of the name), Sir Toby. Sir Andrew, Fabian, Feste, Maria, and (at least as far as her name is concerned) Olivia are all wholly Shakespeare's.

13 I for my part, have forsworn all temptation to speculative biographical inferences, but I cannot refrain from marshalling a few of the well-attested facts, leaving the inferences to the reader.

Both of Shakespeare's daughters were unmarried at the time Twelfth Night was probably written, Susanna being no more than eighteen years old and Judith no more than sixteen (if we take the terminus ad quern, 1601, as the date of the play; it seems more probable that they were both several years younger). Susanna married on 5 June 1607, at the age of twenty-one, and the marriage seems to have been considered a good one; at all events, William Shakespeare named John and Susanna Hall the residuary legatees in his Will, in addition to indicating other marked signs of confidence in them. Judith did not marry until 10 February 1616, being then thirty-one years of age.

Judith's marriage was followed soon after (25 March 1616) by the execution of Shakespeare's Will, and about a month after that by Shakespeare's death. A few words of comment on some of the less familiar provisions of the Will. (I think I may make them on the strength of the text of the Will alone, for I claim some familiarity with the Anglo-American law of wills, since I was admitted to the New York Bar in 1925.) I have already commented on the special favor shown to John and Susanna Hall. In the Will Judith receives £100 "in discharge of her marriage porcion" (the words quoted were added to the original draft of the Will), plus £50 in return for her surrender of her rights as heir-at-law of certain real property left to Susanna; plus another £150, which is attributable to her only if she survives the testator's death by three years, and which is then to be held in trust with the income alone payable to her "soe long as she shalbe marryed and covert baron" (a familiar device to prevent a husband's getting his hands on his wife's property), with a gift over to her children, "if she have anie, and if not, to her executors or assignes, she lyving the saied term after my deceas."

It is plain that the elder daughter was preferred to the younger, even though the latter had remained unmarried and faithful to the father for so many years. The very close order in which her marriage, her father's Will, and his death followed one another seems to me most interesting,—but I have sworn to let the reader do the speculating, and I say no more.

Lorna Hutson (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: "On Not Being Deceived: Rhetoric and the Body in Twelfth Night," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, Summer, 1996, pp. 140-73.

[In the excerpt that follows, Hutson contends that in Twelfth Night Shakespeare questions natural sexual differences, blurs sex and gender, and explores sex through rhetorical deception.]

Elder Loveless. Mistres, your wil leads my
  speeches from the purpose. But as a man—
Lady. A Simile servant? This room was built
  for honest meaners, that deliver themselves
  hastily and plainely, and are gone. Is this a
  time or place for Exordiums, and Similes,
  and metaphors?1

"Shakespearean comedy," writes Stephen Greenblatt, "constantly appeals to the body and to sexuality as the heart of its theatrical magic."2 Without wishing to disparage the enterprise of writing histories of the body, or indeed to underestimate what such histories have accomplished in terms of enhancing our understanding of early modern culture3 , I would like in the following pages to challenge the operation of a certain kind of "body history" within recent Shakespeare criticism. I do not so much want to disagree with Greenblatt's statement as it stands, as to argue that our understanding of how Shakespeare's comedy intervened, both in its own time and subsequently, to modify attitudes to sexuality and to gender has been more obscured than enlightened by the obsession with the "body" as Greenblatt here understands it, and with the kind of body history to which he and others have prompted us to turn.

1. Circulating Arguments: The "Single Sex" Body

I shall focus my argument on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, a play which, for all the curiously metaphoric, even disembodied nature of the language in which it articulates the desires of its protagonists, has nevertheless become the touchstone of this "body" criticism within Shakespeare studies. Yet it is worth remarking that the current critical interest in Twelfth Night as a play about the indeterminacy of gender and the arbitrary nature of sexual desire actually began with the contemplation not of the materiality of the body, but with that of the signifier. In much earlier twentieth-century criticism, Shakespeare's comedies have been appreciated as temporary aberrations from an established sexual and social order for the purposes of a thoroughly conservative "self-discovery" and return to the status quo.4 Saussurian linguistics, alerting critics to the way in which meaning in language is always the effect of a play of differences, enabled them to challenge such interpretations on their own terms by arguing that the conservative denouement was inadequate to contain and fix the meanings released by the play of differences. This was especially the case in comedies such as As You Like It and Twelfth Night, in which the fiction of a woman's successful masquerade of masculinity is complicated by the understanding of its having been originally composed for performance by a boy. Suddenly, instead of being about the discovery of one's "true" identity, or a "natural" social and sexual order, it seemed that what the comedies were about was the ease with which systems of sexual difference could be dismantled, and the notion of gendered identity itself called into question. This was important when it happened—the mid-1980s—because at the same time feminist critics were beginning to draw attention to the misogynistic implications of the transvestite theater, thereby throwing into confusion that venerable tradition of critical delight in the sprightliness of Shakespeare's girls-dressed-as-boys. How could we go on liking Rosalind and Viola in the knowledge that what they really represented was the denial to women of access to the histrionic exchanges in which they excelled and we took pleasure?5 Just in time poststructuralist criticism saved us from the agony of this dilemma by recuperating the double transvestitism of the comedies as a calling into question of the "fully unified, gendered subject," thereby producing, instead of a patriarchal Shakespeare, a Shakespeare, who, in the words of Catherine Belsey, offered "a radical challenge to patriarchal values by disrupting sexual difference itself."6

Subsequently, the notion that what the comedies were about was really the indeterminacy of gender was given a new and historically authenticating twist by investigations into the history of biological definitions of gender which seemed to prove that, in the minds of Shakespeare's contemporaries, gender itself was a kind of comic plot, the happy denouement of which could only be masculinity. A special issue of Representations on "Sexuality and the social body in the nineteenth century" contained an article by Thomas Laqueur which, though primarily concerned with the politics of nineteenth-century reproductive biology, was nevertheless to have a considerable impact on Renaissance literary studies as a result of what its findings implied about the biological construction of gender in the early modern period. Laqueur drew our attention to a momentous, but overlooked event in the history of sexuality. Sometime in the late eighteenth century, the old belief that women needed to experience orgasm in order to conceive was abandoned. Women were henceforward to be thought of as properly passionless, because passive, participants in the act of sexual reproduction. What this implied was nothing less than a change in the existing physiology of sexual difference: the ancient Galenic model, according to which the hidden reproductive organs of women were merely a colder, imperfectly developed, and introverted type of the penis and testicles, requiring to be chafed into producing their seed, was replaced by the modern notion of the incommensurability of male and female reproductive organs. Laqueur's crucial point, however, was that the need to replace the old Galenic "metaphysics of hierarchy" between the sexes with an "anatomy and physiology of incommensurability" actually anticipated any real scientific understanding of women's reproductive makeup, and must therefore have been motivated not by scientific discovery, but by the need to find a new rationale for the exclusion of women from Enlightenment claims for the equality of men.7

I am ignorant of the effect of Laqueur's argument on nineteenth-century criticism, but the impact on Renaissance studies has been considerable. Writing in 1986 Laqueur cites, in a footnote, a paper on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night by Stephen Greenblatt, which was first published in 1985 in a collection called Reconstructing Individualism8 and subsequently included in Greenblatt's 1988 Shakespearean Negotiations as the essay, "Fiction and Friction." Both authors evince exactly the same ancient and sixteenth- and seventeenth-century medical texts—first and foremost, Galen on the exact parity between male and female reproductive organs ("think of the 'uterus turned outward and projecting': Would not the testes [ovaries] then necessarily be inside it? Would it not contain them like a scrotum? Would not the neck [the cervix], hitherto concealed … be made into the male member?"9) and then Galen's sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readers, Ambroise Paré, Jacques Duval, Thomas Vicary, Helkiah Croke, and Jane Sharp.10 They also both cite Montaigne, who twice refers to a story also told by Ambroise Paré about the sex-change of Marie-Germaine, a contemporary inhabitant of Vitry-le-François, who had the misfortune or good fortune to realize her manhood by jumping too energetically over a stream, thus prompting the eruption of the appropriate genitals".

Where Laqueur expounded the Galenic model of woman as introverted man in order to expose the politics of nineteenth-century reproductive biology and its denial of female orgasm, Stephen Greenblatt's identical quotations employ the model's stress on the defective "heat" of female reproductive organs, and the "friction" required to activate them, as an allegory for the "theatrical representation of individuality in Shakespeare." "Erotic chafing" writes Greenblatt, "is the central means by which characters in plays like The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night realize their identities and form loving unions."12 One might be forgiven for balking at the definition of The Taming of the Shrew as a fiction of "identity," or at the naturalization of its highly pragmatic argument of husbandry as a form of "erotic chafing"; Greenblatt, however, refrains from pursuing his argument in relation to this or indeed any of Shakespeare's comedies other than Twelfth Night. He puts the question of the relation of identity to erotic chafing—of fiction to friction—more persuasively by asking, "how does a play come to possess sexual energy?"13 . The answer is supplied by a reading of Twelfth Night, the crux of which is a short speech made by the male twin, Sebastian, after Olivia has realized that his double, with whom she was in love, is a woman and his sister. "So comes it, lady," says Sebastian, "you have been mistook,"

But nature to her bias drew in that.
You would have been contracted to a maid;
Nor are you therein, by my life, deceiv'd:
You are betroth'd both to a maid and man.14

According to Greenblatt, the "nature" to which Sebastian refers is, precisely, the Galenic discourse of the one-gender body. Sebastian's reference to himself as "both a maid and man" consequently invokes the inherent instability of gender as construed by this model, which in turn enables a good, radical-sounding assault on more comfortable readings which essentialize sexual difference. Thus, Greenblatt quotes C. L. Barber's argument that, "the most fundamental distinction that the play brings home to us … is the difference between men and women" in order to reinforce, by contrast, the persuasiveness of his view that the fundamental physiological distinction between men and women is precisely what the play can't "bring home," historically speaking. At the end of Twelfth Night, as he points out, "Viola is still Cesario—'For so you shall be,' says Orsino, 'while you are a man' (5.1.386)—and Olivia, strong-willed as ever, is betrothed to one who is, by his own account, both 'a maid and a man.'"15 Notice just how closely this conclusion resembles the poststructuralist reading which found Twelfth Night calling into question, "the possibility of a fully unified, gendered subject." And, as with the poststructuralist argument, a crucial legacy of this reading is its obscuring of the need to account, in feminist terms, for the historical fact of the absence of women's bodies from the Renaissance stage. In the light of the Galenic theory of reproduction, concludes Greenblatt, it is easy to see that transvestitism actually "represents a structural identity between men and women—an identity revealed in the dramatic disclosure of the penis concealed behind the labia."16 And the dramatic fiction—an outrage to belief which is nevertheless endowed with generative because persuasive power—becomes analogous to the friction or chafing required, according to this Galenic model, both to warm women into conception, and to stimulate their reticent reproductive organs into realizing their latent virility.

Two years after Greenblatt's "Fiction and Friction" was published, Laqueur's thesis on the political and cultural investments of reproductive biology was published in book form as, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. The chapter on the pervasiveness of the Galenic model in Renaissance thought and culture carries an epigraph from Twelfth Night:

Sebastian [To Olivia]
So comes it, lady, you have been mistook.
But nature to her bias drew in that.
You would have been contracted to a maid;
Nor are you therein, by my life, deceived:
You are betrothed both to a maid and man.17

And he goes on to introduce the substance of his chapter thus:

Somehow if Olivia—played by a boy, of course—is not to marry the maid with whom she has fallen in love, but the girl's twin brother Sebastian; if Orsino's intimacy with "Cesario" is to go beyond male bonding to marriage with Viola, "masculine usurped attire" must be thrown off and woman linked to man. Nature must "to her bias" be drawn, that is, deflected from the straight path. "Something off center, then, is implanted in nature," as Stephen Greenblatt puts it, which "deflects men and women from their ostensible desires and toward the pairings for which they are destined." But if mat "something" is not the opposition of two sexes that naturally attract one another—as it came to be construed in the eighteenth century—then what is it?18

The answer, of course, is the one-gender body according to Galen, with all its micro- and macrocosmic correspondences. The reading of a single Shakespeare play—or rather, the reading of five lines from a single Shakespeare play—seems to be doing a lot of work in supporting a circular argument about the relevance of body history to the question of how the magic of theater relates to the early modern conception of the body.

In the last five years, Laqueur's and Greenblatt's arguments and examples—Galen, Ambroise Paré, Jacques Duval, Helkiah Crooke, Jane Sharp, and (especially, perhaps) Montaigne—have been repeatedly invoked and quoted to support arguments about the pervasiveness of sixteenth-century fears that women might turn into men and men into women. Stephen Orgel thus accounts for the practice of having boys play women on the English stage by means of a complex argument whereby pathological fears about the chastity of women are weighed against equally pathological "fantas[ies] of a reversal from the natural transition from woman to man," which "are clearly related to anatomical theories of the essential homology of male and female." "Many cases," he writes, "were recorded of women becoming men through the pressure of some great activity."19 The endnote to this large claim refers not to women, but to alligators, but as the previous note referred the reader to Laqueur's Representations article and to Greenblatt's "Fiction and Friction," we can be reasonably sure that the "many cases" in question are in fact the single case of Marie-Germaine, cited by both Paré and Montaigne. It is true that both Montaigne and Paré liken the case of Marie-Germaine to other examples; these, however, being drawn from such authors as Pliny and Ovid, scarcely seem to constitute "many cases being recorded" in the times of the authors concerned.20 Judith Brown's well-researched Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy exaggerates less, but still enlarges the evidence: "in a few cases women did not just imitate men, but actually became men," she writes, citing Greenblatt.21 More recently, Valerie Traub's Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama—which contains an interesting and persuasive account of Twelfth Night—claims, citing both Greenblatt and Laqueur, that fear of turning into a woman "may have been a common masculine fantasy" in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.22 Traub's critical project involves enlarging Orgel's contention that the homoerotics of the Renaissance stage enabled "fantasies of freedom" for women as well as men23 by deconstructing the hierarchy of hetero- over homo-erotic readings of the plays, and revealing, as she puts it, "the polymorphous potential of desire itself, which Shakespeare so assiduously evokes and controls." Though such potential might not seem to have much to do with women in an exclusively male theater, Traub argues that boys were available to women as objects of fantasy, and in rejecting what she characterizes as the "feminist" interpretation of the boy player's significance (that is, the boy-player as instrument of the patriarchal control of female chastity) reveals her indebtedness to Greenblatt in preferring to argue that the boy-player represented, "an embodiment of the metadramatic theme of identity itself: always a charade, a masquerade, other." Laqueur provides further support for Traub's rejection of the idea that an all-male theater in itself argues either indifference to women's intelligent participation, or fear of the effects of such participation upon the reputation of women and their families. On Laqueur's evidence Traub proposes that

in spite of patriarchal control of female sexuality through the ideology of chastity and the laws regarding marriage, there seems to have been a high cultural investment in female erotic pleasure—not because women's pleasure was intrinsically desirable, but because it was thought necessary for conception to occur.24

Once again, as in Greenblatt and in Orgel, the focus on a medical discourse about the body enables a way of speaking of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century dramatic discourse, and of the position that it offered women in the audience, as exhaustively signified by its analogue, erotic arousal.

What bothers me most about these arguments is that while they seem to be historicizing and de-essentializing our ideas about the relationship of gender to sexuality, the "fantasies" and "anxieties" that they identify in early modern dramatic texts take no account at all of the way in which, in sixteenth-century society, a woman's sexual behavior was perceived to affect the honor and therefore the credit and economic power of her kinsmen.25 Nor do they consider the way in which such traditional conceptions of sexual honor, credit, and wealth were themselves being rapidly transformed by the technology of persuasion—or "credit"—that such dramatic texts as Shakespeare's represented. None of these critics appear to entertain the possibility that the capacity to plot, write, and be able to make use of the erudition and wit of a comedy such as Twelfth Night might in itself be more central to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century conceptions of what it meant to "be a man" than any theory derived from Galen. Moreover, for all the emphasis on plurality, the "polymorphous potential" and the "unmooring of desire" released by the comedies, there still seems to be a commitment to the twentieth-century "lit-crit" notion that what the comedies are really all about is individual identity. Traub explores how characters negotiate their individual desires in the plays as if they were real people and not even partly figures in a persuasive discourse or agents of a plot, while Greenblatt celebrates "the emergence of identity through the experience of erotic heat" as "this Shakespearean discovery, perfected over a six- or seven- year period from Taming to Twelfth Night."26 It seems that where literary criticism, as it was once conceived, celebrated the saturnalian energies of Shakespeare's comedies for returning us to a "natural" social and sexual order, these theorists of desire want to find a historically specific concept of "nature"—the Galenic one-sex body—that mimics what is actually their essentialized notion of culture as something which is always preoccupied with the theatrical destabilization of "identities"—identity is "always a masquerade, a charade, other." But what if the errors, confusions, and masquerades of comedy were not, in their own time, thought of as dramas of identity? And what if the way in which the plays construct sexual difference in relation to the audience crucially concerned not the sexual object-choice of men or women in the audience27 , but whether or not they were able to make use of the play as a discourse, an argument, to enhance their own agency? When James Shirley wrote the preface to an edition of Beaumont and Fletcher's comedies, published in 1647, he called it the collection of

the Authentick Witt that hath made Blackfriers an Academy, where the three howers spectacle while Beaumont and Fletcher were presented, were usually of more advantage to the hopefull young Heire, then a costly, dangerous, forraine Travell … And it cannot be denied but that the young spirits of the Time, whose Birth and Quality made them impatient of the sowrer ways of education, have from the attentive hearing of these pieces, got ground in point of wit and carriage of the most severely employed students … How many passable discoursing dining witts stand yet in good credit upon the bare stock of two or three of these single scenes!28

I'd like to suggest that Shirley's final metaphor of young men as prodigals, living on the "credit" of an ability to recommend themselves to strangers, a "stock" of wit which they have learned from plays, might tell us something about the way in which Shakespeare's plays, for all that they invoke the magic of the reproductive body, nevertheless construct sexual difference by appealing to the male (because formally educated) mind.

2. "Nor are you therein, by my life, deceiv'd": Twelfth Night and Gl'Ingannati

My counter-argument depends on the claim that the kind of comic plot from which Shakespeare never wavered—the five-act plot derived from Terence and Plautus—was perceived in his own time to be concerned, not with the emergence of identity, but with men's discursive ability to improvise social credit, or credibility. For all its popular appeal, Shakespeare's drama had a rigorous intellectual basis in the deliberative or hypothetical structure of Terentian comedy as it was rhetorically analyzed in every grammar school.29 The rhetorical analysis of Terentian comedy, far from being a rigid intellectual straightjacket (as I was implicitly taught at school, where I learned that Shakespeare transcended his contemporaries by ignoring the classical unities) enabled the achievement of a drama that carried emotional conviction as an unfolding narrative of events—"a kind of history," as Shakespeare himself called it—by investing the representation of those events with the impression of an intelligible combination of causality and fortuitousness.30 Not only were Terentian plots themselves examples of how one might dispose an argument probably; they also offered images of male protagonists who were themselves able, in moments of crisis, to improvise a temporary source of credit (perhaps a disguise, or a fiction of being related to someone rich) that could defer disaster until the terms of the crisis had altered to bring in a fortunate conclusion. The commentaries of the fourth-century grammarian, Donatus, together with those of Melanchthon and other sixteenth-century humanists, were appended to every edition of Terence, with the effect that no schoolboy could escape noticing how the plays demonstrated that uncertain or conjectural arguments were more productive in social exchanges—because more productive of emotional credibility—than the traditional means of assuring of good faith by oaths or other tokens.31

The Terentian plot characteristically concerned an illicit sexual union between a well born young man and a prostitute, which in turn betrayed a promise made between his father and neighbor that the son should unite their houses by marrying the neighbor's daughter. Characteristically, too, the plot managed to lend emotional credibility to the highly improbable argument that the prostitute in question was, in fact, the long lost daughter of the neighbor, thereby reconciling in her person the laws of desire and those of social exchange. Dontaus's commentary on Terence was discovered in 1433, and its impact on the composition of European drama evident by the early sixteenth century.

Formal effects upon sixteenth-century vernacular drama, however, were complicated by the ideological impacts of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, both of which revolutionized attitudes to sex, marriage, and the conjugal household in Europe. For example: Terentian comedy articulates a sense in which the space of prostitution is prophylactic; a household of male, citizen relatives is not dishonored by the entry of the heroine whose desirability was initially associated with her marginal status and sexual accessibility to the young hero. The plays therefore represent a society in which official tolerance of prostitution first sanctions the initial violation of chastity and ensures that, once attached to a citizen household, the woman will be protected by the very institution that once made her vulnerable. The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, however, brought with them an end to ideologically sanctioned prostitution, so that, as Lyndal Roper writes of Augburg, "any sexual relationship outside marriage, and any occasion on which the sexes mingled … might lead to sin."32 The marginal status once overtly allocated to prostitutes became a covertly allocated category of suspicion embracing all women.

Nevertheless, there were differences in the way in which Catholic and Protestant Europe acknowledged this and reacted to the sexual mores of the Terentian plot. While the writers of Italian commedia erudita cynically substituted citizens' wives and daughters for the prostitutes of Roman comedy, northern humanists tempered their enthusiasm for New Comedy as a model of Latinity and eloquence with a distaste for its evident authorization of illicit financial and sexual transactions, that is, clandestine marriages and rhetorical and sartorial impostures of credit. Thus, while Ariosto was claiming to outdo Terence and Plautus with his brilliant / Suppositi in which conjectural arguments ("supposes") are manipulated by the dramatist and the heroes to facilitate and subsequently legitimize the defloration of a citizen's daughter, German and Dutch humanists were redeeming the Terentian plot of sexual and financial deception by adapting it to the New Testament parable of the talents and that of the prodigal son.33 The waste of money and dissipation of male sexual energy, became, in these reforming "Christian Terence" plays, analogous to the danger posed to civil society by the abuse of conjectural argument in what we might call the "technology of credit" represented by the Terentian plot.34

I use the word "technology" here to stress the material impact of the pedagogic dissemination of Terentian rhetoric. A pre-capitalist society necessarily guarantees its economic exchanges—exchanges of honor and wealth—by such instruments as oaths, which bind the faith of the contracting parties. The Terentian plot dramatizes a situation in which oaths and gestures of good faith bring about such an impasse as can only be resolved by exploiting the "error" or uncertainty about motive and intention which obtains between the participants in any social transaction. At a formal level, this very exploitation of error or uncertainty was the basis of the Terentian achievement of dramatic verisimilitude. Reformation dramatists were, therefore, concerned to appropriate the power of the Terentian formula to grant verisimilitude to dramatic fantasy, or to bestow credibility upon outrageous hypotheses, without endorsing the suggestion that this rhetorical "technology of credit" be exploited to facilitate deceptive sexual and financial exchanges in real life.

Much has been made, in recent discussions of "desire" on the English Renaissance stage, of the anti-theater writers' objections to the eroticized body of the boy player. These discussions evidently misunderstand the relationship of anti-theater writing to sixteenth-century neo-Terentian drama, with disastrously simplifying effects. Thus, for example, the title of one polemic against the stage, Stephen Gosson's Playes Confuted in Five Actions does not go unnoticed, but its relevance is missed; Laura Levine calls Gosson's conception of his attack as a five-act play "confused," while Jean Howard simply notes that Gosson "uses the five-act structure of classical drama to wage war on theatre."35 The point is that the five act Terentian argument represented, for educated sixteenth-century men, a technology of credit or of probability which, in its dramatic form, was perceived to be implicated in an ethos of betrayal, sexual and otherwise. Gosson's title indicates a need to appropriate dramatic probability for the cause of reform, as it moves from mocking native English drama's ignorance of verisimilitude to condemning the probable arguments of Italian commedia erudita for their thematic endorsement of sexual and financial deception:

When the soule of your playes is … Italian baudery, or the wooing of gentlewomen, what are we taught? … the discipline we gette by these playes is like to the justice that a certaine Schoolmaster taught in Persia, which taught his schollers to lye, and not to lye, to deceive, and not to deceive, with a distinction how they might do it to their friends, & how to their enemies; to their friends, for exercise; to their foes, in earnest. Wherein many of his pupils became so skillful by practise, by custome so bolde, that their dearest friendes payde more for their learning than their enemies. I would wish the Players to beware of this kinde of schooling … whilst they teach youthfull gentlemen how to love, and not to love … As the mischiefs that followed that discipline of Persia enforced them to make a lawe, that young men should ever after, as householders use to instruct their families: so I trust, that when the Londoners are sufficiently beaten with the hurte of suche lessons that are learned at Plaies, if not for conscience sake, yet for shunning the mischief that may privately breake into every mans house, this methode of teaching will become so hateful, that even worldly pollicy … shal be driven to banish it.36

[my italics]

Gosson, of course, had himself been a dramatist; English playwrights were not ideologically immune to the effects of the Reformation, and were themselves torn between admiration for the rhetorical proficiency of Italian commedia erudita, and unease at its explicit promotion of an ethos of imposture and deception.

George Gascoigne thus produced an exuberant translation of Ariosto's irrepressible I Suppositi but followed it with the composition of an exceptionally harsh prodigal son play in which he argued that he would hence-forth be guilty of "no Terence phrase," since "Reformed speech doth now become us best."37 George Whetstone's two five-act plays concerning the exposition and punishment of illicit sex and the abuse of financial credit in a city like London were prefaced by an acknowledgment of the need for English dramatists to heed the Terentian rhetoric of probability, for the English playwright "grounds his work on impossibilities." The problem, argued Whetstone, was that the available Continental models of a probable drama—commedia erudita and "Christian Terence"—were no use to the English dramatist: "at this daye, the Italian is so lascivious in his commedies that the worst hearers are greeved at his actions," while "the German is too holye: for he presentes on every common Stage, what Preachers should pronounce in Pulpets."38 As Shakespeare paid both Gascoigne and Whetstone the compliment of rewriting the plays in question, we may reasonably infer that he was aware of the difficulty of dissociating the productivity of the Terentian technology of probability from its implicit endorsement of violations of chastity and betrayals of household honor.39

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, for all its currency as a drama of the body and sexual desire, is in fact so remarkably chaste that Elizabeth Barrett Browning's friend, Anna Jameson, writing a political and feminist criticism of Shakespeare in 1832 could exclaim, "how exquisitely is the character of Viola fitted to her part, carrying through her ordeal with all inward grace and modesty!"40 Jameson was not being naive or repressed about the sexual content of the play: a glance at the Italian or Roman models of any comedy by Shakespeare will reveal how consistently he chastened their arguments, displacing deep into his depiction of female "character" the signs of an inclination towards sexual betrayal that in his originals were explicit sexual acts. The lawyer John Manningham, seeing a performance of Twelfth Night at the Middle Temple in February 1601, noted that it was "much like the commedy of errors or Menachmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni."41 Although there is a play called "Inganni," Manningham was almost certainly thinking of Gl'Ingannati or "The Deceived," a play by the Accademia degli Intronati di Siena, written as an apology to the ladies for a sketch performed the previous evening, which was Twelfth Night, 1531.42Gl'Ingannati seems to have enjoyed a reputation for formal excellence only second, or perhaps not even that, to Ariosto. If Machiavelli (who himself translated Terence's Andria, the play central to Donatus's analysis) could urge the Tuscans to forget their prejudice against Ferarese Ariosto, for his "gentil composizione," the French Charles Estienne, dedicating his translation of Gl'Ingannati to the Dauphin in 1549, argued that this Sienese play surpassed even Ariosto, giving the reader the impression "que si Terence mesmes l'eust composé en Italien, à peine mieux l'eust il sceu diter, inventer ou deduyer."43 [That if Terence himself had composed it in Italian, he would hardly have known better how to express, invent or handle it.] English readers were probably aware of the play's high literary reputation; the scholarly publisher, Girolamo Ruscelli, included a collection of Italian comedies "buone degne di legersi, & d'imitarsi," [well worthy of being read and imitated] to which he appended a critical apparatus "de' modi osservati in esse da gli antichi, cosi Greci come Latini" [in the manner observed in the case of ancient authors, both Greek and Latin] so as to make them into a book of "eloquentia."44

Behind the central plot device of both Ariosto's / Suppositi and Gl'ingannati (and remotely, therefore, behind Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night) lay the notorious play by Terence called Eunuchus, which concerns a young man's gaining access, on the pretext of being a eunuch, to the house in which a virgin is being kept, whom he proceeds to rape45 . The subsequent predictable discovery of her citizenship makes her eligible for marriage without making him guilty of the rape of a citizen's daughter, since the house where he performed the rape was a brothel. Renaissance versions of the plot, of course, have to deal with what we might call the "homosocial" aspect of the crime—that is, the outrage to fathers and kinsmen—since the virgin is no longer found in a house of courtesans. Thus, Polinesta's father in / Suppositi lifts the genre into pathos with his sorrow at the loss of his daughter's honor in his own house. And in Gl'Ingannati, though there is less pathos, the scandal of the daughter's seduction is perhaps even greater, due to the bizarre means by which she is left alone with a man in her bedroom (her father assumed the man was a woman dressed up; maybe it is a reminiscence of this scandalous plot that has Viola asking to be presented "as an eunch" to Orsino's court at the beginning of Twelfth Night46).

Gl'Ingannati begins with a contract between two old men, Virginio and Gherardo, whereby Gherardo is to marry Virginio's daughter, Lelia; "Ne pensar ch'io mi sia permutare di quel ch'io t'ho promesso" [Don't think I'll go back on what I've promised] says Virginio; a merchant's credit depends on keeping his word.47 But his daughter, Lelia—Shakespeare's Viola—has slipped away from her convent and, disguised as a page, has entered the service of Flammineo, with whom she is in love, but who is himself besotted with another, namely Gherardo's daughter, Isabella, the equivalent of Shakespeare's Olivia. Isabella receives letters and "embassies" [imbasciati] from Flammineo by means of his cute page, Fabio (Lelia in disguise) with whom she, of course, falls in love.

It is worth pointing out how much more explicit than Twelfth Night this play is about the fact that sexual desire is not gender specific. Indeed, it becomes very clear that what counts, in distinguishing those who may desire and ask, and those who must be passive, is not gender but social status.48 Thus, when Lelia's nurse, Clemenzia, finds out that, as Flammineo's page, she has been sleeping in the antechamber of his bedroom, she assumes he will ask her to sleep with him.49 And later, when Isabella's maid, Pasquella, asks Lelia, disguised as Fabio, why on earth "he" doesn't want to sleep with her mistress, Lelia-as-Fabio replies: "a me bisogna servire il padrone, intendi, Pasquella?" [I have to serve the master, you know what I mean, Pasquella?] and Pasquella does understand: "O io so ben che a tu padron non faresti dispiacere a venirci, non dormi forse con lui?" [Oh, I know very well that you don't displease your master by coming here; but you don't, by any chance, sleep with him?]. When Lelia replies, "Dio il volesse ch'io fosse tanto in gratia sua" [I wish I were so much in his favor] Pasquella is puzzled; "Oh non dormiresti piu volentieri con Isabella?" [Wouldn't you rather sleep with Isabella?], she asks. And she makes it clear, in an ensuing speech on the ephemerality of Fabio's good looks, that (as a fellow dependent herself) she regards the arrangement of sleeping with Isabella not so much as more "natural" than simply as more stable, practical, and fortunate in the long term for Fabio.50

In good Terentian fashion, the denouement of the play proves that the contract between the old men is not broken, though both are fortunately deceived; their houses are united not by the impotent old Gherardo's marrying Lelia, but by the passionately consummated union of Isabella with Lelia's long-lost twin bother, Fabrizio, who, like Shakespeare's Sebastian, doesn't question his good fortune in happening accidentally upon a rich woman who ardently desires him. But where Shakespeare's Olivia finds out who her lover really is by means of the words he speaks (which, as we've seen, have been recently been read as proof of the inherent instability of gender in sixteenth-century thinking about the body), Isabella and the audience of Gl'Ingannati discover who her lover is in a speech which is more explicitly designed to "appeal to the body." Pasquella, Isabella's maid, emerges from the room in which the two old men have locked Isabella and someone who they think is the truant Lelia, in boy's clothes:


those two old sheep insisted that young man was a woman, and shut him in the room with Isabella, my mistress, and gave me the key. I wanted to go in and see what they were doing, and, finding them embracing and kissing together, I had to satisfy myself as to whether the other51 was male or female. The mistress had him stretched out on her bed, and was asking me to help her, while she held him by the hands. He allowed himself to be overcome, and I undid him in front, and in one pull, I felt something hit my hand; I couldn't tell whether it was a pestle, or a carrot, or indeed something else, but whatever it was, it hadn't suffered from hailstones. When I saw how it was, girls, I fled, and locked the exit! And I know that as far as I'm concerned, I won't go back in alone, and if one of you doesn't believe me, and wants to satisfy herself, I'll lend her the key.52

Pasquella then tries to persuade the distraught Gherardo that it isn't true—his daughter isn't really embracing a man: "vedeste voi ogni cosa, e miraste che gli è femina" [Did you see everything? Well, then you can see she's a woman]. But Gherardo is not to be appeased: "svergognato a me," he says, "I am dishonoured."53 Gherardo has been deceived, despite his own sharp awareness of the nebulous quality of sexual honor and its susceptibility to gossip.

Precisely because they involve citizens' wives and daughters rather than courtesans, Renaissance imitations of Terentian comedy exhibit a strong awareness of the resemblance of the Terentian technology of probability—the uncertain, or conjectural argument—to the everyday gossip that destroys female sexual honor. Ariosto makes this a theme in I Suppositi, where the nurse comes out of her house, onto the stage, anxious to avoid the spread of rumor within the walls, and proceeds to announce to the theatre at large that her charge has (probably) been sleeping with a household servant. But here in Gl'Ingannati the joke turns on the way that Gherardo's cautious calculations on the risks of mere probability, uncertainty, and conjecture—calculations as to whether an association with the transvestite (and hence probably promiscuous) Lelia would call Isabella's own sexual innocence into question—are overthrown, by the substitution of Fabrizio for Lelia in Isabella's bedroom, which ensures an unequivocally penetrative defloration. "L'ho veduto con questi occhi," says Gherado, "egli s'era spogliato in giubbone, et non hebbe tempo a corprisi … Io dico che gli e maschio, e bastarebbe a far due maschi" [I saw it with these eyes … he was undressed to his shirt and didn't have time to cover himself … I tell you he was a man, and had enough for two men].54

The rhetorical deceptions by means of which the play's argument attains its probability—"la gaçon de disposer & pursuyure leur sens & argumens en icelles, pour donner recreation aux auditeurs" that Charles Estienne so admired55—thus come to be associated with this act of penetrative sex. To the ladies in the audience, the prologue comments,

As far I understand it, they've called this comedy "The Deceived" not because they were ever deceived by you, oh no, … but they've called it so because there aren't many characters in the plot (favola) who don't, in the end, find themselves deceived. But there is among these deceptions one particular sort which makes me wish (for the malice I bear you) that you might be often deceived, if I were the deceiver … the plot is a new one … and is extracted from no other source than their busy pumpkin heads, from whence also came the fortunes you were allotted on Twelfth Night.56

In this context, it looks as if the most significant single departure from the Italian variants on the plot of The Eunuch in Twelfth Night is its dissociation of the effectiveness of the original imposture of credit—the original pretense of androgyny or emasculation which effectively gains access to both to the person and to the heart of the wealthy Olivia—from the identification of its triumph as explicitly sexual (Fabrizio proving his virility with Isabella), rather than chastely marital (Sebastian contracted to Olivia). To a chance member of the audience of Twelfth Night in the Middle Temple in 1601 who saw the resemblance of Shakespeare's play to Gl'Inganni or Gl'Ingannati, meaning respectively "the deceits" and "the deceived," Sebastian's speech at the end might well recall these plays' themes and titles:

So comes it, lady, you have been mistook.
But nature to her bias drew in that.
You would have been contracted to a maid;
Nor are you therein, by my life, deceiv 'd:
You are betroth'd both to a maid and man.

"Deceiv'd" surely here recalls its Italian translation, "ingannata," and no less surely, there is an ethical distinction being made here between being "mistook" and being "deceiv'd" that turns on the question of whether or not Sebastian is a "maid." His affirmation before the audience that he is both "a maid and man" is less a signal of his inherent androgyny than an assurance that Olivia, not having experienced the same "inganno" as Isabella, remains chaste, honorable, and a prize worthy his, Sebastian's, having.

To the argument implied here—namely, that the explicit eroticism of Gl'Ingannati makes interpretations of Twelfth Night that focus exclusively on the body and sexuality look a little contrived—it could be objected that I am being literal-minded about the theatrical representation of desire. It could be argued (and I would agree) that the very reticence and fantasticality of the amorous language of Twelfth Night ensures the "circulation" of desire or of sexual energy more effectively than the gleeful voyeurism of Gl'Ingannati. If this is so, however, it must also be acknowledged that the same linguistic reticence and latency of meaning which allows us, in the 1990s, to read Twelfth Night as a celebration of the polymorphous potential of desire, equally enabled Anna Jameson in 1832 to find in Viola a paradigm of the sexual self-control that qualified women for access to education and political life. For, within Laqueur's argument, Jameson belongs to that category of nineteenth-century women who based their claims for the recognition of women's political capacity on arguments proving their inherent moral strength.57 If the rest of Laqueur's argument for the importance of the eighteenth-century transition from the endorsement to the denial of female orgasm has substance, then it must follow that Shakespeare's own texts belong among the discourses that have, historically, helped to construct the moral characteristics felt to be appropriate to a biology of incommensurability—sexual difference—between the male and female. And this in turn would imply that, in their own time, Shakespeare's comedies were not just—in Stephen Greenblatt's words—fictions which "participated in a larger field of sexual discourses" but were fictions of the Reformation—that is, they were actively transformative of existing sexual discourses, tending to substitute the intimation of female sexual intention for the representation of the act which would implicate both sexes equally.58

It is, in fact, possible to trace through Shakespeare's plays a consistency of strategy (though not, of course, of effect) in his chastening of the roles and language of women. Whereas in his Italian and Roman sources, the significance of the "woman's part" to the resolution of the dilemma depends upon her having had sex, in Shakespeare this significance is translated into an implicit, or uncertain argument involving her dis-position to have sex, or her "sexuality." To modern readers this can give the impression of a more complex "interiority" or "character" because its doubtfulness requires our interpretation. In the fraught context of the emergent commercial theatre of sixteenth-century England, however, Shakespeare's chastening of Italian and Roman dramatic models was motivated by the need to prove that the productively deceptive arguments of a Terentian-style theatre need not, as its enemies suggested, necessarily advocate the breakdown of trust and honor by endorsing every kind of sexual and financial deception in contemporary society.59

To attempt a reading of Twelfth Night that would seriously try to take account of the play's place in the history of sex and gender would require some elaboration of how, in common with other Shakespeare plays, this comedy makes a theme of being implicated in a humanistic literary culture which, through its privileging of skill in persuasive argument, was in the process of transforming relations of economic and social dependency. Current discussions of the subversive erotics of the Renaissance stage trivialize the economic and social issues at stake in Twelfth Night and similar plays by reducing the whole of the humanist literary culture of which the theatre was a product to the most banal version of Greenblatt's "self-fashioning"—a mere "increased self-consciousness about the fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process."60 "Self-fashioning" thereby becomes synonymous with a quite unspecific notion of "theatricality," which in turn is easily assimilated to the concept of "performativity" articulated by Judith Butler in relation to the category of gender.61 The sixteenth-century investment in masculine education, which crucially enabled the very instances of "self-fashioning" or of "theatricality" so beloved of current criticism—an education which privileged the dialectical and analysis and imitation of classical texts—is simply left out of the discussion. What we have as a result is a criticism of Shakespeare, Jonson and others that is incapable of accounting for the rhetorical and affective excess distinguishing this drama of the English Renaissance from its Continental antecedents; an excess which, in the case of Twelfth Night, permits interpretations as widely divergent as those of Greenblatt, Barber, and Jameson, and which therefore (because of its contribution to the historical "instability" of the play's "identity") surely begs to be interpreted as a thematic aspect of the play's concern with disguise, deception, and "theatricality."

For an example of how even good contemporary criticism effaces the rhetorical content of the play I want to turn to Valerie Traub's argument that the meaning of Viola/Cesario resides principally in the "dual erotic investment" that the play establishes in order to "elicit the similarly polymorphous desires of the audience, whose spectator pleasure would be at least partly derived from a transgressive glimpse of multiple erotic possibilities." In order to "substantiate the play's investment in erotic duality," she continues,

one can compare the language used in Viola/Cesario's two avowals of love: the first as Orsino's wooer of Olivia, and the second as s/he attempts to communicate love to Orsino. In both avowals, Viola/Cesario theatricalizes desire, using a similar language of conditionals toward both erotic objects …"If I did love you with my master's flame, / With such a suffr'ing, such a deadly life, / In your denial I would find no sense; / I would not understand it." …"My father had a daughter love'd a man, / As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, I should your lordship." (my italics)62

I would not for a moment deny the existence of the "dual erotic investment" which Traub does well to point out. However, another brief glance at Gl'Ingannati will show that Shakespeare's text is more remarkable for resisting than exploiting the considerable dramatic potential of any such investment.

Reading Gl'Ingannati, Shakespeare would have come across a model for a scene between Olivia and Viola/ Cesario. The scene in question requires the audience to share the voyeuristic position of Flammineo's servants who stumble across Isabella and Lelia/Fabio during an intimate exchange of words and caresses. The audience, however, knows that "Fabio" is, for the purposes of the play, a woman (though the part was probably played by a boy).63 For the servants, then, the scene arouses sexual feeling and a sense of scandal at the betrayal of Flammineo by the "boy" whom he loved and trusted so much; the audience, however, freed from any sense of the latter, is invited to enjoy the transgression of the scene as if it were a kind of affluence; in Traub's words, it becomes "a transgressive glimpse of multiple erotic possibilities."

Isa. Do you know what I'd like?
Lel. What would you like?
Isa. I'd like you to come closer.
Sca. Get closer, you bumpkin.
Isa. Listen, do you want to go?
Sca. Kiss her, for Christ's sake.
Cri. She's afraid of being seen.
Isa. Come into the doorway a little.
Sca. The thing is done.
Cri. Alas, alas, I'm dry and thirsty—do it to
Sca. Didn't I tell you he'd kiss her?64

Without denying the possibility of performing the equivalent scene between Olivia and Viola/Cesario in such a way as to maximize its erotic possibilities, I would want to argue that the rhetorical excess which distinguishes Shakespeare's text from the Italian model insists on a far higher level of engagement from the audience as auditors. This, in turn, reorients the dramatic meaning of the scene from pleasure in the spectacle of erotic possibility towards complicity in the act of interpretation by means of which a reader or auditor lends credibility to the figures, tropes, and fictions in the discourse of another.

Such audience complicity in the bestowal of credibility through interpretation replicates what the scene offers by way of a narrative of "desire." Olivia's desire for Viola/Cesario must become intelligible (unless we ignore the text altogether) through Viola/Cesario's progression away from formal literary models of courtship towards the affective intimacy of a more familiar mode of address, exemplified in the deservedly famous speech which begins, "Make me a willow cabin at your gate" (1.5.273). At this point we have already witnessed Olivia's unenchanted exposure of the economics of the Petrarchan argument, her parody of its facile and opportunistic movement from the praise of natural beauty to the imperatives of husbandry and reproduction: "O sir, I will not be so hard-hearted, I will give out divers schedules of my beauty" (1.5.247-48). Cesario's subsequent readiness to improvise a first-person fiction of abandonment in love represents an ability to extemporize, to seize "the gifts of moment" and so illustrate the crowning glory of classical rhetorical education.65

The speech's most obvious analogue in the schoolboy literature which prepared men for such improvisations is that of the impassioned epistolary rhetoric of the women of Ovid's Heroides, whose vivid evocations of their writing, and of the cries that echo through the wild and lonely places to which they are abandoned, resemble (in their simultaneous acknowledgment of hopelessness and its contradiction by the emotions aroused in the reader) the curious emotional power tapped by Cesario's entry into a hypothetical desolation of ineffectual texts that nevertheless defy the premise of their ineffectuality. Like Dido writing "without hope to move you," or Oenone, telling Paris how she made Ida resound with howls ("uluati") at his desertion, Viola/Cesario imagines filling the vacant times and spaces of rejection with "cantons of contemned love" and "halloos" of Olivia's name, suddenly evoking a geography of loneliness in a play otherwise suggestive of houses, estates, and urbanity.66 The implied femininity of Cesario's hypothetically assumed persona here, however, merely complicates the already problematic dramatic hypothesis of a female "Viola" inasmuch as the prominence of Ovid's Heroides within the education syllabus for boys implied, as Warren Boutcher has noted,

a relationship between the path to knowledge and … the mastery of the heroical genus familiare, with its base in epistolary stories which involve—both in the telling and in the action—intimate access to and power over feminine sensibility.67

The "femininity" of the genre, then, is inseparable from its implication in a plot of seduction not unlike that of Petrarchism, except that in this version "femininity" itself—understood as a peculiar susceptibility to artificially induced compassion—is the emotional catalyst of masculine rhetorical success.

Olivia's desire for Viola/Cesario becomes apparent as a response to this speech and is inseparable, in its articulation, from the material expression of belief ("credit") that would exempt the unknown stranger from providing the heraldic display (the "blazon") that would put "his" gentility beyond doubt:

"What is my parentage?"
"Above my fortunes, yet my state is well,
I am a gentleman." I'll be sworn thou art;
Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and
Do give thee five-fold blazon. Not too fast:
  soft! soft!
Unless the master were the man …

Olivia's desire motivates her affirmation of Cesario's somewhat evasive protestation of gentility on the grounds of "his" exceptional beauty, eloquence, and presence of mind. What this implies, then, is that the capacity to arouse desire resides less in the androgynous beauty of the body, than in the body conceived as the medium of elocutio ("tongue … face … limbs … actions … spirit"); that is, the apt delivery of the mind's invention. Viola/ Cesario embodies the capacity of timely and well expressed speech to compel for a mere fiction credit, that is the kind of materially consequential belief (in this case, belief in matrimonial eligibility) that is rarely afforded to the "real thing."

The transgressive "glimpse" being offered to a seventeenth-century audience here, I would suggest, is less that of lesbian desire than that of the opportunity for social advancement and erotic gratification afforded by education for any servant of ability entrusted with missions of such intimate familiarity. That the entertainment of such a possibility is necessarily transgressive (though here held at bay from full recognition by the "femininity" of Viola) is evident from the care taken in the Malvolio plot to exploit the audience's revulsion at the very same idea. As a steward, Malvolio shares with Viola/Cesario the distinction of being a household servant whose "civility" of manner is qualification for a position of exceptional trust in the intimate affairs of the household. Olivia's musing, "unless the master were the man," touches the center of the play's concern with the question of social advancement by means of skills and attractions "blazoned" in the execution of service rather than properly inhering in nobility. How can such social advancement be imagined except as an individualistic pursuit of gain, a betrayal of trust, sexual honor, economic dependency, and love?

Leo Salingar and Emrys Jones have shown how comedies of the late 1590s and early 1600s are concerned with establishing the credentials of a notion of "gentility" that operates independently of the feudal structures of lineage and affinity. "The king might create a duke, but not even he could create a gentleman," writes Jones, echoing a sentiment expressed in plays of this period.68 Gentility thus conceived is less the effect of lineage than of a certain affluence—freedom from manual labor—combined with the type of liberal education that might contribute a civil demeanor in social exchange. The arguments of such comedies therefore require that the discursively and morally cumbersome aspects of the humanist education bequeathed by Erasmus and the grammar schools be adapted to requirements of a style and habitus such as Viola/Cesario exhibits: a non-pedantic conversational facility appropriate to the modest enterprises of urban social encounter.

Salingar sees the conflicts played out through this re-definition of humanistic "wit" in terms of an attempt to distinguish between money values and "the values of a leisure class" whose social and financial ambitions are subliminally expressed as the civilized pleasures of courtship. Jones notes in the early 1600s the "crystallisation of a new theatrical formula":

The plays in question are comedies, usually set in some fictitious vaguely foreign court, often with a double-plot of which one part may be romantic and the other more frankly comic. The comic action sometimes takes the form of a persecution, a "baiting" extended through several episodes.69

About the same time as the Chamberlain's men performed Twelfth Night, the children of the Chapel staged one of the plays to which Jones here refers, The Gentleman Usher.10 In the predicament of its eponymous anti-hero, Bassiolo, the play comments interestingly on Twelfth Night, condensing different aspects of the situations in which Viola/Cesario and Malvolio find themselves. Bassiolo is, like Malvolio, the most trusted servant in the household of Count Lasso, but, like Viola/ Cesario, his being familiarly confided in and befriended by a nobleman for whom he undertakes to woo Margaret, Count Lasso's daughter, immediately puts him in a position of both actual and potential betrayal of trust: Vincentio accuses him of behaving, "as if the master were the man" in an erotic sense, but he has already done so in the sense that in his contract of friendship with Vincentio, he is wooing for himself.

Chapman's is, however, a far more conservative play than Shakespeare's. Whereas Viola/Cesario's inspired improvisation on the model of the Ovidian heroic epistle actually gains the sympathetic ear and the heart of Olivia, Bassiolo's verbose and cumbersome attempt at amorous epistles merely earns him the noble lovers' contempt, serving to prove that the adaptation of a liberal education to civilized wooing can only be managed by one whose gentleness of birth is beyond dispute. The play is nevertheless concerned to argue the necessity of complementing the hunting and riding skills traditionally definitive of nobility with "wits and paper learning"71 of a non-pedantic kind; the Duke's ennobling of his illiterate minion, Medice, proves disastrous, arguing against the social advancement of servants who are unable to acquit themselves plausibly in noble society. At the same time, however, the play finds, in Bassiolo's dilemma between fidelity to his master, and the opportunity offered by Vincentio's pretended confidence in his rhetorical ability, that any servant so accomplished and entrusted is liable to deceive.

The fantastic unlikelihood of the plot of Twelfth Night and its apparent preoccupation with issues of gender have distracted critical attention from the play's affinity with such contemporary comedies of civility and social advancement. Yet it might well be argued that the very fantasticality of the fiction of gender in Twelfth Night constitutes the play's strategy of engagement with contemporary debates on the legitimacy of the individualistic exploitation of service in order, in Viola's own words, to "make occasion mellow."72

Twelfth Night endorses the notion of rhetorical opportunism, or individual enterprise insofar as it expresses the mastery of fortune and of the occasions of civil life as the metaphorical equivalent of heroic enterprise on the high seas. Thus, for example, the rivalry between Viola and Aguecheek for the favor of Olivia is recurrently expressed in a nautical idiom. Viola is spoken of as having "trade" (3.1.76) and "commerce" (3.4.175) with Olivia, "she is the list of my voyage" says Viola (3.1.77). The hapless Aguecheek, for lack of Viola's witty invention and attractive presence, is berated for having "sailed into the north of my lady's opinion, where you will hang, like an icicle on a Dutchman's beard, unless you redeem it by some laudable attempt, either of valor or policy" (3.3.24-28). Fabian's reference here—to a 1598 translation of Gerrit de Veer's report of the ordeal of Dutch explorers trapped for ten months in Nova Zembla, where they "never saw, nor heard of any man"73—comically imagines Aguecheek's conversational failure both as a failure to prove his masculinity and as meriting exile altogether from the new medium of masculine self-assertion—the profitable commerce of sociability.

The sociability thus defined as heroically masculine, however, must be purposeful as well as facile; Orsino, as Feste says, is insufficiently discriminating in the object of his discourse: "I would have men of such constancy put to sea that their business might be everywhere and there intent nowhere, for that's it always makes a good voyage of nothing" (2.4.75-78). The pervasiveness of such oceanic metaphors, as well as references to maps and narratives of discovery (Malvolio's smiling face is likened to the 1599 map which displayed the new world "as revealed by actual voyages of discovery"74) invests the Renaissance synonymity of "tempest" and "fortune" with specifically economic resonances.75 From the analogy developed between drinking and the hazards of navigation (Feste tells Olivia that a drunken man is like a drowned man—1.5.132) there emerges a chiastic narrative of rhetorical oikonomia, in which the eloquent and beautiful twins exchange near-drowning for domestic security, while the drunken and inept or irresponsible Toby and Aguecheek—initially comfortable with cakes and ale in Olivia's buttery—are finally banished, like the "knaves and fools" they prove to be, to the "wind and the rain" of Feste's song, beyond Olivia's gates.

Oikonomia is rhetorical because linguistic ability is identified with the ability to manage wealth. Maria declares of the wealthy Aguecheek that he is incompetent with his resources, he will "have but a year to all those ducats. He's a very fool, and a prodigal" (1.3.22); this failure in husbandry is then discovered at intervals during the play as Aguecheek's recurrent inability to invent plausible arguments or "reasons" for his words or actions. Aguecheek's companions are always teasing him for the reasons he cannot give; "Pourquoi? " asks Toby when Aguecheek declares his intention to leave at once, but the question bewilders the knight (1.3.89). In a later exchange Fabian joins Toby in demanding evidence of plausibility: "You must needs yield your reason, Sir Andrew" (3.2.2). The letter which Toby urges him to make "eloquent and full of invention" (3.2.41-43) turns out to be as barren as his speech: "Wonder not … why I do call thee [a scurvy fellow] for I will show thee no reason for't" (3.4.152-53).76

When Anna Jameson praised Viola for the moral sensibility she displayed both in the propriety of her fidelity to Orsino, and in "her generous feeling for her rival Olivia," she appropriated for nineteenth-century feminism a seventeenth-century play's concern with calling into question the assumption that eloquent servants, accomplished in the provision of reasons, and entrusted with the intimate affairs of the household, are necessarily opportunists, people who deceive.77 The narrative rationale of the scene I have already remarked upon in Gl'Ingannati, in which Flammineo's servants spy upon Isabella and Lelia's kiss, is to enrage Flammineo against the deceitfulness of his favorite, Fabio; a hilarious scene ensues in which the probability of the kiss is itself called into doubt by the incompetence of the servants in relaying to Flammineo their evidence of Fabio's perfidy.78 The point here, however, is that Lelia/Fabio has kissed Isabella; one deceit leads to another, and Lelia finds herself explaining her refusal of further favors to Isabella on the grounds that "too much love" for Isabella has already led her to deceive ("ingannare") her lord.79 Earlier, however, Lelia/Fabio showed a singular lack of regard for Flammineo's suit, attempting by means of Pasquella to ensure that Isabella would never respond to his affections; Viola, as Jameson notes, is remarkable for resisting the temptation to do this. In Chapman's Gentleman Usher, Bassiolo, also in the position of a go-between or an ambassador between lovers, is tempted not only into exploitation of his position of trust, but into presumptions of equality and friendship with the nobleman who employs him, which the play then ridicules with all the fervor of profound social anxiety.

It becomes clear that the twinning of Sebastian and Viola, and the femininity of the latter, occurs in Shakespeare's play not simply (as in other derivatives of Terence's Eunuch) for the sake of resolving an erotic impasse by offering a means of gaining access to the cloistered woman, but for the sake of foregrounding an outrageously improbable hypothesis about the possibility of combining fidelity in service with rhetorical oikonomia—that is, the heroic exploitation of rhetorical opportunity, which typically achieves both economic security and erotic gratification. Terence Cave has noted that the final revelation of "Viola's" identity remains merely hypothetical, contingent on an accumulation of probabilities beyond the scope of the play: "Do not embrace me till each circumstance / Of place, time, fortune do cohere and jump / That I am Viola."80 It could be said that the femininity of Viola is the grounds upon which the fiction of the servant Cesario can prove the success of eloquence in the narrative of social advancement that Sebastian fulfills, while at the same time ensuring this narrative remains quite untainted by what would otherwise be its precondition—the betrayal of the master by his "man." Viola/Cesario, then, represents more than the "dual erotic investment" that exhausts the meaning of Lelia/Fabio, for s/he is the means by which a seventeenth-century audience could be seduced into entertaining unawares the possibility of a positive version of Malvolio, a servant able to exploit the civility that earns the trust and favor of noblewomen to the extent of achieving the "love" that promises contractual equality. When Fabian imagines himself condemning the crossgartered Malvolio as an "improbable fiction" on the stage, he draws attention to the self-consciousness that marks the play's violation of the Terentian rhetoric of probability, which remains so near the textual surface of Gl'Ingannati. Any audience hearing Fabian, however, must feel that the primary violation of probability lies not in the outrageousness of Malvolio's behavior, but in the very existence of the person called Viola, who represents, as Terence Cave has written, "a particularly fruitful violation of the laws of rational discourse no less than sexual decorum," and whose name performs a number of associative tricks, as it "echoes the erotic flowers and music of the opening scene, insidiously rearranges the letters of Olivia's name, and comes close to naming violation itself."81

The play's erotic investment in Viola/Cesario is less, I would argue, than its investment in the violation of probability constituted by the twinship of Viola and Sebastian, which first casts the desire and emotion aroused by Cesario into extremity, and then resolves that extremity as a miraculous disproof of the betrayal of trust that would, in the ordinary circumstances of daily life, be its explanation. Thus, for example, where the sodomitic behavior of Fabrizio's traveling companion, the pedant in Gl'Ingannati, merely fuels the sexual comedy of that play,82 the love Antonio feels for Sebastian, while equally open to homoerotic interpretation, is not sidelined by mockery, but rendered able to share on equal terms in a dramatic climax which turns less on the nuptials that unite the two houses than on the proof that not one of the lovers of a beautiful "boy"—neither his wife, nor his master, nor his friend in need—is "therein, by my life, deceiv'd." The "hints of corruption and aggression," which, as Cave notes, recur in the play, accumulate around the common sense perception that the youthful beauty of a stranger is probably as deceitful as it is irresistibly attractive.83

Certainly Orsino, having charged his lovely ambassador with the ethically problematic obligation to make "discourse" of his "dear faith" and "act" his woes, reads the apparent consequence—Cesario's contract to Olivia—as presaging the youth's career in similar deceptions: "thou dissembling cub! What wilt thou be / When time hath sown a grizzle on thy case?" (5.1.162-63). The pathos of Olivia's case is more marked, as she interprets Viola/Cesario's love for Orsino as the "fear" rightfully aroused by the consciousness of having betrayed his master. In attempting to prevent Viola/Cesario's protestation of innocence, she exposes the instability of her own grounds for belief in the youth's continued fidelity to her. "Oh, do not swear!" she begs, "Hold little faith, though thou hast too much fear" (5.1.169-170). Most moving of all, however, is Antonio's apology for being obliged by love into an extremity that makes demands of the one he loves. "What will you do, now my necessity / Makes me to ask you for my purse?" he gently enquires (3.4.342-43), only to be moved by Viola/ Cesario's non-recognition, into an outburst against the deceptiveness of the "promise" that was the boy's manner and looks (3.4.369-79).

A contemporary reader, perusing a popular anthology of the period known as The Parodyse of daynty deuises, found one poem entitled thus: "Who mindes to bring his ship to happy shore / Must care to know the lawes of wisdomes lore." By this poem he wrote, "rules of wary life," bracketing off for particular annotation a verse referring to trust in friendship. Do not bestow credit on boys, the verse advised, for, "Ful soone the boy thy freendship will despyse / And him for loue thou shalt ungrateful find."84 As Erica Sheen has pointed out, the protracted denouement of Cymbeline features a "boy" called Imogen who refuses to plead for the life of her savior and friend, Lucentio. His moralizing comment, "briefly die their joys / that place them on the truth of girls and boys" does nothing to assuage the audience's impatient desire to resolve his mistake, proving the "truth" that probability and versified common sense would deny.8S Just so here, in Twelfth Night, Antonio's sententious conclusions on beauty and deceit merely fuel the audience's desire to relieve him of the pain of believing he has loved a "most ingrateful boy" (5.1.75). In view of this, Greenblatt's observation that, at the end of the play, "Viola is still Cesario," seems not so much to argue for any specific beliefs about instability of gender, as to be a part of that complex affective structure by means of which a boy proves, most improbably, to be "true" to all the kinds of lovers he might have—right up until the end of the play.

What, then, of the play's place in a history of sex and gender? The least that should be said is that any attempt to de-essentialize and historicize gender by appealing to a Galenic theory of men and women differentiated only by degrees of body heat is of strictly limited value in the analysis of a complicated tradition of comic writing in which what distinguishes men is their privileged access to allusive and intertextual levels of meaning—in other words, their access to active participation in the historical and discursive process of defining the social roles and characteristics of either sex. But something rather more positive may be said about Twelfth Night in particular. For here once again Shakespeare has chastened the argument of a neoTerentian play in such a way as to maximize the interpretative possibilities, and consequently the historical tenacity, of the English dramatic text.

That the meaning of the Viola/Olivia courtship for a seventeenth-century audience resided at least partly in its capacity to seduce them into condoning the social (rather than sexual) transgression elsewhere reviled by the play's mockery of Malvolio is suggested by the history of critical reaction to Shakespeare's conception of Viola. The probability of Lelia's dressing up as Fabio is established in Gl'Ingannati in an exchange with her nurse during which she admits that since being kept prisoner by soldiers, she has become sexually suspect irrespective of her conduct: ever since the sack of Rome, she says, "ne credevo poter vivere sí honestamente, che bastasse a far che la gente non havesse che dire" [I didn't see how I could live honestly enough to stop them gossiping].86 In 1753 Charlotte Lennox, writing a criticism of Shakespeare, objected to the want of any similar argument of probability in relation to Viola's decision to dress as a man:

A very natural scheme, this for a beautiful and virtuous young Lady, to throw off all the modesty and Reservedness of her Sex, mix among men, herself disguised as one; and prest by no Necessity; influenced by no Passion, expose herself to all the dangerous consequences of so unworthy and shameful a Situation.

The Italian source, she notes, "is much more careful to preserve Probability" than "the Poet Shakespeare."87

However, by 1832 the very want of any "probable" argument for Viola's behavior (since any such would reflect upon Viola's modesty) enabled Anna Jameson to celebrate her femininity as the source of the peculiar integrity which characterizes her relations to both master and mistress.88 The very improbability of Viola, then, serves to break down the identification of rhetorical virtuosity (the capacity to make things probable) with the sexual conquest of women that marks the plot of the Italian play. The literal intertwining of the names of Malvolio, Olivia, and Viola has often been pointed out, but it many not be entirely fanciful to recall that the identification of "inganni" (deceptions, probable arguments) with the sexual deception that makes Isabella unchaste is signaled in the prologue of Gl'Ingannati with following innuendo:

But there is among these deceptions one particular sort which makes me wish, for the malice I bear you, that you might be often deceived, if I were the deceiver.89

Here "il mal ch'io vi voglio" is a kind of flirtatious joke on the euphemism for fancying someone, "ti voglio bene." In entertaining ambitious fantasies which suddenly and indecorously make the audience aware that these are also sexual fantasies about Olivia (2.5.47-48), Shakespeare's Malvolio bears the trace of the erotic "mal … voglio" by which Fabrizio's economic success is identified as a sexual conquest and extended through innuendo to characterize the terms upon which a female audience may be imagined capable of enjoying the argument of the play.

What was positive for seventeenth-century women about the way in which Twelfth Night addressed them, then, was due less to the "high cultural investment in female erotic pleasure … because it was thought necessary for conception to occur" than to its opposite:90 the extent to which, by refusing to subject Olivia to the "mal … voglio" of an explicitly sexual encounter with Sebastian on the model of Isabella's with Fabrizio, Shakespeare manages to portray a heroine whose prudence, good judgment, and ability to govern others remain uncompromised even by her contract with the beautiful youth. For in marrying Sebastian, Olivia has arguably yielded to no whim, but carried out the strategic plan first made known to us by Sir Toby Belch: "she'll not match above her degree, neither in estate, years, nor wit" (1.3.106-108). Olivia never wavers from this purpose, and in providing the precedent that it elsewhere pretends to deny—marriage between a noble-woman and one beneath her—the play endorses the real-life example of the highly intelligent Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, who, after having been married at fourteen to her forty-nine-year-old noble guardian, later decided to marry none other then her gentleman usher, who was "an accomplished gentleman, well versed in the study of the languages … bold in discourse, quick in repartee." There were, as Katherine Brandon's biographer commented, "many reasons why the clever and serviceable gentleman usher who conducted her business … should seem to the Duchess a more desirable husband than an ambitious noble."91 Shakespeare's play, around 1602, contributed to the undoing of the social and sexual stereotyping that would make of that last statement nothing but a dirty joke.


1 Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, The Scornful Lady, The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, ed. Fredson Bowers (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970), 2: I.i.82-86. This paper was first written for a seminar led by Alison Brown at the Institute of Historical Research; see Alison Brown, "Renaissance Bodies: A New Seminar on the Renaissance," Bulletin for the Society of Renaissance Studies 12 (1994): 20-22. I would like to thank Pamela Benson, Alan Bray, Terence Cave, Helen Hackett, David Norbrook, Diane Purkiss, and Erica Sheen for their helpful criticisms and comments.

2 Stephen Greenblatt, "Fiction and Friction," Shakespearean Negotiations (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), 86, quoted by Valerie Traub, Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (London: Routledge, 1992), 119.

3 I should acknowledge here my gratitude to Gayle Kern Paster, who, on reading a version of this paper, pointed out that my concern here is more with textual cirticism's historicizing of erotic desire rather than with body history per se.

4 For example, see C. L. Barber's still very interesting Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1959).

5 See Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters (London: Harvester, 1983), 9-36.

6 Catherine Belsey, "Disrupting sexual difference: meaning and gender in the comedies," Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakkakis (London: Methuen, 1985), 180. For another poststructuralist challenge to traditional readings of the comedies, see Malcolm Evans, "Deconstructing Shakespeare's Comedies" in the same volume.

7 Thomas Laqueur, "Orgasm, Generation and the Politics of Reproductive Biology," Representations 14 (1986), 3.

8 See Stephen Greenblatt, "Fiction and Friction," Re-constructing Individualism, ed. Thomas C. Heller, Morton Sosna, and David E. Wellberry (California: Stanford UP, 1986), 30-52.

9 Greenblatt 80; Laqueur 4-5.

10 Greenblatt 74-75, 79, 85, 181; Laqueur 12-16.

11 Greenblatt 81; Laqueur 13.

12 Greenblatt, 88.

13 Greenblatt, 87.

14 William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, ed. J. M. Lothian and T. W. Craik (London: Methuen, 1975), 5.1.257-61. Further references to this edition will appear in the text.

15 Greenblatt, 72.

16 Greenblatt, 82.

17 Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP), 114.

18 Laqueur, 115.

19 Stephen Orgel, "Nobody's Perfect: Or Why Did the English Stage Take Boys for Women?" South Atalantic Quarterly 88.1 (1989), 13.

20 The examples Montaigne cites are those of Iphis, from Ovid, Metamorphoses IX, 793ff, and of Lucius Constitus, from Pliny, Naturalis Historia VII, iv. See Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays, trans. M. A. Screech (London: Penguin, 1991), 110. In his chapter of "histoires memorables de certains femmes qui sont degeneres en hommes," Ambroise Paré, Des Monstres et Prodiges, ed. Jean Céard (Geneva: Libraire Droz, 1971), includes the same example from Pliny, the story of Marie Germaine, and the example of Maria Pateca, told by João Rodrigues in Amati Lusitani Medici Physici Praestantissimi, Curationum medicinalium centuriae quatuor (Froben: Basel, 1567), 168. Needless to say, Rodrigues also cites Pliny, confirming a certain sense of circularity and repetition in the gathering of such instances. One might want to argue for a belief in the frequency of the phenomenon from Montaigne's comment, "Ce n'est pas tant de merveille que cette sort d'accident se rencontre frequent" [It isn't surprising that this sort of accident occurs frequently]. However, as Montaigne attributes the "accident" in question to the power of the imagination, which elsewhere in the same essay becomes responsible for un-founded beliefs in the magic that causes impotence, it is not clear how sceptically he means this. In any case, Montaigne's version of Marie-Germaine's accident does not conform to Paré's analysis, since Montaigne attributes to the power of the imagination the capacity to satisfy itself a sexual longing by producing the desired genitals of the (opposite?) sex—"si l'imagination peut en telles choses, elle est si continuellement et si vigoureusement attaché à ce sujet, que, pour n'avoir si souvent à rechoir en même pensée et âpreté de désir, elle a meilleur compte d'incorporer une fois pour toutes cette virile partie aux filles." This would seem to argue that girls did not already possess "cette virile partie." See Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Oeuvres Complètes, ed. R. Barrai (Paris: du Seuil, 1967), 54. An excellent article by Patricia Parker, which came to my notice after I had written this article, criticizes both the functioning of medical discourse and the teleology of masculinity as a "reassuringly stable ground" in the arguments of Laqueur and Greenblatt and points to the preoccupation of Montaigne's essay with the anxiety that masculinity itself requires supplementation, to repair the "defect in sex" which is impotence. See Patricia Parker, "Gender Ideology, Gender Change: The Case of Marie Germaine," Critical Inquiry 19 (Winter, 1993), 335-64.

21 Judith C. Bown, Immodest Acts: the Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986), 12, 169.

22 Traub, 51. This seems unlikely, since Paré explicitly says that the mutation can only go one way: "nous ne trouvons jamais en histoire veritable que d'homme aucun soit devenu femme, pource que Nature tend tousjours á ce qui est le plus parfaict, et non au contraire faire ce qui est parfaict devienne imparfaict" [we never find in any true history that any man whatsoever became a woman, because Nature always tends towards that which is the most perfect, and does not on the contrary make what is perfect become imperfect].

23 Orgel, 10.

24 Traub, 103, 117, 141.

25 Thus, Traub, in her concern to refute or modify Orgel's argument that the transvestite theatre was at least in part motivated by a recognition of the value represented by female chastity, misleadingly represents the arguments as being about "the fantasized dangers posed by women" (121), which obscures beyond recovery the notion that women's chastity was valuable because it affected male honor and, therefore, economic power. The latter argument has been well made in relation to "desire" in the ancient world by John Winkler, The Constraints of Desire: The Anthropology of Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece (London: Routledge, 1990), 74-75.

26 Greenblatt, 88.

27 The idea that women in the audience fell in love with the players seems to have been common enough; see Beaumont and Fletcher 1.1.46-48, of a waiting maid: "She lov'd all the Players in the last Queenes time once over: she was strook when they acted lovers, and forsook some when they plaid murtherers." Women's susceptibility to the fiction, then, seems to have been laughed at, whereas the ridicule of men turns on the degree of aptitude or otherwise with which they make use of the wit they have heard at plays.

28 James Shirley, "To the Reader," Comedies and Tragedies Never Printed before and now published by the Authours Orginall Copies, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher (London: Humphrey Moseley, 1647), sig. A3r.

29 T. W. Baldwin, Shakespeare's Five Act Structure (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1947); Marvin T. Herrick, Comic Theory in the Renaissance (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1950); Georgia S. Nugent, Ancient Theories of Comedy: The Treatises of Evanthius and Donatus, Shakespearean Comedy, ed. Maurice Charney (New York: Literary Forum, 1980); Emrys Jones has pointed out how easily Shakespeare's accessibility becomes an argument for his comparative lack of learning, The Origins of Shakespeare (Oxford: Clarendon, 1977), 2-4. In this part of my argument, I draw on evidence represented more fully in my book, The Usurer's Daughter, (London: Routledge, 1994) chs. 5 and 6.

30 William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, ed. Brian Morris (London: Methuen, 1981) Induction, line 140.

31 For Donatus and Melanchthon see note 29, and Joel Altman, The Tudor Play of Mind (Berkeley: U of California P, 1978).

32 Lyndal Roper, The Holy Household (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989), 112.

33 "E vi confessa in questo l'Autore avere e Plauto e Terenzio seguitato, … non solo ne li costumi, ma ne li argumenti ancora de le fabule vuole essere de li antiche … imitatore" [And the Author confesses that in this he has followed Plautus and Terence … because he wants to be an imitator of the ancients not just in their customs, but in their arguments and plots]: Tutte le Opere di Ludovico Ariosto, ed. Cesare Segre (Milan: Mondadori, 1974), 197.

34 See Marvin T. Herrick, Tragicomedy, Its Origins and Development in Italy and France (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1962), 17-46; John Palsgrave, The Comedy of Acolastus translated in oure englysshe tongue after such maner as children are taught in grammar schoole, ed. P. L. Carver (London: EETS, 1937); M. Christopherus Stummelius, Studentes, comoedia de vita studiosorum (Frankfurt: 1550).

35 Laura Levine, Men in Women's Clothing: Antitheatricality and Effeminization, 1579-1642 (Cambridge UP, 1994), 2; Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England (London: Routledge, 1994), 40.

36 Stephen Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions (London: T. Gosson, n.d.) sigs. C6r -7r . Gosson's example of the schoolmaster is taken from Xenophon, Cyropaedia I.6.26-39. The example is used to caution against fraud in civil life but to justify fraud in hunting and war, an argument Machiavelli refers to in Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, Il Principe e altre opere Politiche, ed. D. Cantimori (Milan, 1976) III. 39, 455-56.

37 George Gascoigne, The Complete Works, 2 vols., ed. John W. Cunliffe (Cambridge UP, 1910) II. 6.

38 George Whetstone, The Right Excellent and Famous History of Promos and Cassandra: Devided into Two Commical Discourses, Shakespeare's Narrative and Dramatic Sources, ed. Geoffrey Bullough (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968), 2: 443.

39 Gascoigne's Supposes as The Taming of the Shrew and Whetstone's Promos and Cassandra as Measure for Measure.

40 Anna Jameson, Shakespeare's Heroines: Characteristics of Women, Moral, Poetical and Historical (London: George Newnes Hd., 1897), 130. The first edition was published in 1832; see Clara Thomas, Love and Work Enough: The Life of Anna Jameson (London: Macdonald, 1967).

41 See Shakespeare, Twelfth Night xxvi-liii.

42 See Guido Bonino, "Introduzione: Il teatro a Siena tra Rozzi e Intronati," // Teatro Italiano, 6 vols. (Milan: Einaudi, 1977), II. xxxvi-xliii, 87.

43Les Abusez, comedie faite à la mode des anciens comiques … traduit en Françoys par Charles Estienne (Paris: Estienne Grouleau, 1549), sig. A4v On the supremacy of Ariosto, and for Machiavelli's estimation of him, see Aulo Greco, L'Istituzione del teatro comico al rinascimento (Naples: Liguri, 1976), 10 and Machiavelli, Discorso o dialogo intorno alla nostra lingua in Tutte le Opere di Machaivelli a cura di F. Flora e di C. Cordie (Milano, 1950) II. 816.

44Delle Comedie Elette Novamente raccolte insieme, con le correttioni, & annotationi di Girolamo Ruscelli (Venetia, 1554), 164. Unfortunately, there are few annotations after Bibiena and Machiavelli, and there is nothing interesting on Gl'Ingannati.

45 See Terence, The Eunuch, Terence, 2 vols., trans. J. Sergeant (London: Heinemann, 1912). Arisoto explicitly derives his seduction plot from The Eunuch (Opere, IV. 197), but mitigates its scandalous effect by crossing it with Plautus' highminded Captivi. Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew makes several references to The Eunuch, which assimilate it to the humanist debate about the ethics of teaching schoolboys the classics, and to the anti-theatre argument that theatre works like pornography, to arouse men to commit sexual crimes. For the centrality of The Eunuch to sixteenth-century debates about art and pornography, see Carlo Ginzburg, "Titian, Ovid and Erotic Illustration," Myths, Emblems, Clues, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (London: Hutchinson, 1986), 77-95.

46 1.3.56; "Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him"; compare Terence, "Chaerea. o fortunatem istum eunuchum qui quidem inhanc detur domum! … Parmeno. pro illo te deducam" [Chaerea. o what a lucky eunuch to be made a present for that house! … Parmeno. I could take you instead], The Eunuch, in Terence, II. 270-71.

47 7/ Sacrificio, Gl'ingannati, Comedia degli Intronati celebrato nei Giuochi d'un Carnovale di Siena (Venetia: Altobello Salicero, 1569) 1.1, fol. 18v . There is a translation of this play by Geoffrey Bullough in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London: Routledge, 1958), 2:286-339, but it omits or censors a fair amount.

48 On this topic in relation to Twelfth Night, see Lisa Jardine, "Twins and Travesties: gender, dependency and sexual availability," Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, ed. Susan Zimmerman (London: Routledge, 1992), 27-38.

49"Clem. Dimmi un poco, & dove dormi tu? / Lelia. In una sua anticamera sola. / Celm. Se una notte tentato dalla maladetta tentatione ti chiamasse che tu dormisse con lui, come andrebbe? / Lelia. Io non voglio pensare al male prima che venga" 1.3, fol. 26r.

50Gl'Ingannati, 2.2, fols. 32v -33r.

51 This isn't quite accurate as a rendering of "s'era maschio o femina," but any other way would announce the gender of Isabella's partner too soon by assigning a pronoun.

52Gl'Ingannati, 4.4, fol. 58v . This is one of the passages that Bullough omits in his translation.

53Gl'Ingannati, 4.8, fol. 62v.

54Gl'Ingannati, 4.8, fol. 62v.

55 Estienne, Les Abusez, sig. A3r.

56Gl'Ingannati, "Prologo," fol. 15r.

57 See Laqueur, Making Sex, 194-205 and Barbara Taylor, Eve and the New Jerusalem (Virago, 1983), 28. Laqueur and Taylor both refer to the use made by feminists like Jameson of texts such as John Millar's The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks (Basel, 1793), which suggested that position of women in any society might be taken as a measurement of its civility and well being. Millar's influence is certainly traceable in Anna Jameson's Sketches in Canada, or Rambles among the Red Men (London: Longman, 1852), and is compatible with the project of The Characteristics of Women as outlined in the introductory dialogue, 20-31.

58 Greenblatt, Fiction and Friction, 75.

59 For an account of how this happens in The Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew, see "Why do Shakespeare's women have 'characters'?" The Usurer's Daughter, 178-213.

60 Levine, Men in Women's Clothing, 11; see also Both Levine and Howard reduce the meaning of "theatricality" to the subversions, sexual and social, effected by the assumption of disguise, as if clothes themselves made the theatrical fiction credible and powerful.

61 Levine, Men in Women's Clothes, 8.

62 Traub, Desire and Anxiety, 131.

63 None of the authorities on sixteenth-century Italian drama that I consulted [Mario Baratto, La Commedia del Cinquecento (Venice, 1975); Nino Borsellino, Rozzie Intronati (Rome, 1974); Aulo Greceo, L'Istituzione del teatro comico nel rinascimento (Naples, 1976); Marvin Herrick, Italian Comedy in the Renaissance (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1960); Louise Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare's Time (New Haven: Yale UP, 1989)] could inform me on this question of staging. However, Pamela Benson very kindly consulted the current expert on Italian theatrical production, Richard Andrews, whose reply suggested that although plays in convents had all female casts, courtesans were famous for improvising scenes in their salons, and there is some evidence that women did play at court and in some touring companies, they were unlikely to have taken parts in a play put on by a learned academy, such as the Intronati di Siena. I would like to thank Pamela Benson and Richard Andrews for this information.

64Gl'Ingannati, 2: 6, fol. 37v.

65 See Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 127.

66 See Ovid, Heroides and Amores, trans. Grant Showerman (London: Heineman, 1977), 62-63, 82-83. Twelfth Night is implicitly urban, by virtue of the stress placed throughout on "civility"; Olivia, for example, berates Toby as an "ungracious wretch, / Fit for the mountains and barbarous caves, / Where manners were ne'er preach'd" before begging Sebastian to forgive the "uncivil" injury he has sustained at the hands of her kinsman. Twelfth Night IV.i.46-52.

67 Warren Boutcher, "Catching the Court Ear in Sixteenth Century Europe," The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, ed. Jill Kraye (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995). For the centrality of Ovid's Heroides to the sixteenth-century grammar school syllabus, especially as practice in letter writing, see T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespeare's Small Latine and Lesse Greeke, 2 vols. (Urbana, 1944), 1: 119, 148, 157; 2: 239. See also

68 Emrys Jones, "The First West End Comedy," Proceedings of the British Academy, LXVIII (1982), 215-58, 232.

69 Jones, "The First West End Comedy" 233. See also

70 The date of Twelfth Night is established by Manningham's Diary as being before February 1602; see Twelfth Night xxvi. Champman's The Gentleman Usher was printed in 1606, and the date of first performance is conjectured to be between 1601 and 1604. See "Textual Introduction," The Gentleman Usher, ed. Robert Ornstein, The Plays of George Chapman: The Comedies, ed. Allan Holaday (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1970), 131.

71 Chapman, The Gentleman Usher, 2.1.58.

72 Charlotte Lennox complains of the improbability of Shakespeare's plots in Shakespeare Illustrated … by the author of the Female Quixote (London: 1753), 244. That Lennox's response was still commonplace in the nineteenth criticism is suggested by Jameson's comment, "The situation and character of Viola have been censured for their want of consistency and probability," Shakespeare's Heroines 130.

73 Gerrit de Veer, The True and Perfect Description of Three Voyages by the Ships of Holland and Zeland [1609] (Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1970), sig. A2r . The account was entered on the Stationers' Register in 1598; see Twelfth Night xxxii.

74 Helen Wallis, "Edward Wright and the 1599 world map," The Hakluyt Handbook, ed. D. B. Quinn (London: Hakluyt Society, 1974), 73.

75 See Jones, The Origins of Shakespeare, 209-10.

76 Chapman, in The Gentleman Usher, also assumes a relationship between rhetorical skill, household management, and the favour of noblewomen: "You are not knowne to speak well? You haue wonne direction of the Earl and all his house, / The fauour of his daughter, and all Dames / That euer I sawe, come within your sight," Vincentio flatters the steward (3.2.167-70).

77 Jameson, Shakespeare's Heroines, 33.

78Gl'Ingannati, 2: 8, fol. 40v.

79Gl'Ingannati, 2: 8, fol. 38r.

80 Terence Cave, Recognitions: A Study in Poetics (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988), 279.

81 Cave, 280.

82Gl'Ingannati, fol. 53v , Stragualcia, the pedant's servant, rails, "che voi sete … un sodomito, un tristo, posso dire" [I could say you were a sodomite, a miserable specimen].

83 Cave, Recognitions, 280.

84 Richard Edwardes, The Paradyse of daynty deuises (London: Henry Disle, 1578) Bodleian Library Pressmark: Wood 482 (6), fols. 5r -6v.

85Cymbeline, ed. J. M. Nosworthy (London: Methuen, 1969) 5.5.106-108. I would like to thank Erica Sheen for pointing out the similarity of this affective moment to that in Twelfth Night.

86Gl'Ingannati, Hi., fol. 23v.

87 Charlotte Lennox, Shakespear Illustrated … by the author of the Female Quixote (London: 1753), 244.

88 See above, note 72; Jameson observes that "The situation and character of Viola have been censured for their want … of probability," Shakespeare's Heroines, 130.

89Gl'Ingannati, "Prologo," fol. 15r.

90 Traub, Desire and Anxiety, 141.

91 Lady Cecilie Goff, A Woman of the Tudor Age (London: John Murray, 1930), 213.

Further Reading

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Berry, Ralph. "Twelfth Night: The Experience of the Audience." Shakespeare Survey XXXIV (1981): 111-19.

Argues that, during the course of the play, Twelfth Night transforms the audience's perception of the performance, portraying "theatre as blood sport, theatre that celebrates its own dark origins."

Brown, John Russell. "Twelfth Night." In Shakespeare's Dramatic Style, pp. 132-59. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1971.

Explores the syntax and diction in three extracts from Twelfth Night and how they contribute to characterization.

Champion, Larry S. "The Perspective of Comedy: Shakespeare's Pointers in Twelfth Night." Genre I, No. 4 (October 1968): 269-89.

Considers Twelfth Night to be one of the richest of Shakespeare's comedies in terms of its characterization, moving beyond farce to a consideration of unique and complex identities and motivations.

Davies, Stevie. "Boy-girls and Girl-boys: Sexual Indeterminacy." In Twelfth Night, pp. 113-35. London and New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

Contends that the figure of Viola/Cesario defies natural sexual categories by affirming the plasticity of gender.

Gérard, Albert. "Shipload of Fools: A Note on Twelfth Night." English Studies XLV, No. 2 (April 1964): 109-15.

Asserts that Twelfth Night contains disturbing elements that prefigure the bleak worlds of such plays as Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida, because in Twelfth Night "Shakespeare was beginning to outgrow the pure mirth of the comic vision."

Hassel, R. Chris, Jr. "Malvolio's Dark Concupiscence." Cahiers Elisabethains No. 43 (April 1993): 1-11.

Interprets Malvolio's imprisonment according to the religious teachings of Martin Luther.

Levin, Richard A. "Viola: Dr Johnson's 'Excellent Schemer'." Durham University Journal LXXI, No. 2 (June 1979): 213-22.

Reviews Samuel Johnson's interpretation of Viola.

Markels, Julian. "Shakespeare's Confluence of Tragedy and Comedy: Twelfth Night and King Lear." In Shakespeare 400: Essays by American Scholars on the Anniversary of the Poet's Birth, edited by James G. McManaway, pp. 75-88. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Explores the plot elements and characterizations (especially of Malvolio and Lear) shared by Twelfth Night and King Lear, and what distinguishes them as comedy and tragedy, respectively.

Nagarajan, S. "'What You Will': A Suggestion." Shakespeare Quarterly X, No. 1 (Winter 1959): 61-67.

Argues that the source of the comedy in Twelfth Night is "self-deception as it manifests itself in love."

Willbern, David. "Malvolio's Fall." Shakespeare Quarterly XXIX, No. 1 (Winter 1978): 85-90.

Considers Malvolio to be essential to the "merriment" of Twelfth Night, especially in his expression of repressed sexual desires.

Wilson, John Dover. "Twelfth Night'' Shakespeare's Happy Comedies, pp. 163-83. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1962.

Provides an overview of Twelfth Night, comparing it to the comedies that preceded it.

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Twelfth Night Literary Criticism (Vol. 26)


Twelfth Night Literary Criticism (Vol. 46)