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Twelfth Night

For nearly two hundred years, commentators have generally agreed that Twelfth Night represents the culmination of Elizabethan romantic comedy. By reshaping circumstances, dramatic conventions, and character types he had employed in earlier comedies, Shakespeare created a paragon of this genre—and then turned to other dramatic forms. Many twentieth-century scholars have noted that the play contains elements of the problem comedies and the romances that followed Twelfth Night. Over the past three decades, feminist, new historicist, Marxist, and materialist critics have emphasized these elements, raising questions about the play's depiction of love and gender relations, the treatment of Malvolio, and Feste's role in the punishment of Olivia's steward as well as in the work as a whole.

Over the past twenty years, many critics have looked closely at Shakespeare's portrayal of the principal characters in Twelfth Night. Offering what he has described as an "anti-romantic" interpretation of the play, Richard A. Levin (1979) has assessed Viola as a cunning young woman who intentionally charms and misleads Olivia as part of her overall strategy. In Levin's estimation, Viola is determined from the outset to marry Orsino, and her deceptions reflect the prevailing values of the play. René Girard (1990) has focused on Olivia and Orsino, viewing both of them as obsessed by self-love and desperately in need of a sense of superiority in their relations with the opposite sex. This kind of narcissism, he has argued, places a priority on desire rather than pleasure. Also evaluating the meaning of sexuality in Twelfth Night, John Astington (1994) has remarked that Malvolio is depicted as unsuited for marriage because of his spiritual impotence. The public mockery of Malvolio's lust for Olivia, the critic has maintained, exposes the steward's inadequate understanding of the true responsibilities of heterosexual love. Feste's role in the gulling of Malvolio has intrigued several recent commentators. Joan Hartwig (1973) has regarded it as mean-spirited, severe, and abusive. Feste's concept of justice, she has contended, is the legal equivalent of revenge, and the absence of forgiveness in the conclusion of the subplot leaves readers and audiences uneasy. Hartwig also has noted, however, that the clown offers other characters, including Malvolio, different perspectives from which to view themselves, and that he is particularly concerned with calling attention to human folly. Robert Wilcher (1982) has compared Feste with other Shakespearean clowns, particularly the type known as "the domestic fool." Wilcher stresses Feste's vulnerability—his precarious situation in Olivia's household and his shortcomings as a professional jester—and has argued that the fool's verbal agility is inadequate to fill the role assigned to him. Karen Greif (1988) has termed Feste as enigmatic and inscrutable, but also as a character who serves as "a unifying presence." Reviewing twentieth-century theatrical renditions of Twelfth Night's fool, she has demonstrated that since Harley Granville-Barker's innovative staging of the play in 1912, Feste has become the personification of its melancholy undertone: a poignant mediator between the illusions of romantic comedy and the realities of human existence. Greif also has pointed out the connection between modern critical appreciation of the play's darker elements—stage productions that emphasize its bittersweet tonalities, and late twentieth-century philosophical concerns with issues of identity and alienation. In contrast to Wilcher, Bente A. Videbæk (1996) has recently rated Feste's linguistic abilities highly, noting in particular the different verbal manipulations the fool employs with aristocrats on one hand and with menials on the other. From this critic's point of view, Feste's paramount quality is his aloofness from the intrigues of the dramatic action. But Videbæk also has maintained that Feste's role as mediator between the audience and the on-stage...

(This entire section contains 911 words.)

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characters, his talent for adjusting his clowning to different situations, and his capacity to show up Olivia's and Orsino's sentimental notions of love are vital to our understanding ofTwelfth Night.

Aside from analyses of the play's principal characters, late twentieth-century criticism of Shakespeare's last romantic comedy is dominated by consideration of gender issues. Cristina Malcolmson (1991) has explored the relationship between gender and status in Twelfth Night and has argued that although the play questions the traditional social order, in which men are regarded as inherently superior to women, it also betrays a deep anxiety about independent and upwardly mobile females. In Malcolmson's judgment, Shakespeare resolves this tension and preserves harmonious social relations by portraying Viola as gracious, deferential, and motivated by love for Orsino—not by any interest in improving her rank in society. Douglas E. Green (1991) has also evaluated questions of love and gender in Twelfth Night, and, like Malcolmson, discerns there a repressed fear of strong-willed women. He further has claimed that while on the surface the play suggests that men and women are equally capable of being faithful or erratic in their love, the subtext endorses the value of homosexual rather than heterosexual love. Irene G. Dash (1997) has similarly examined the question of independent, headstrong women in Twelfth Night. In contrast to Malcolmson and Green, however, Dash has asserted that Shakespeare treats the subject with "humor and insight." From her perspective, though Olivia and Viola initially challenge traditional notions of female dependency, eventually their erotic desires lead them to yield their independence and then gracefully conform to the social and sexual norms of a patriarchal world. Clearly there is no general consensus among contemporary critics regarding Shakespeare's depiction in Twelfth Night of human love and gender relations, and it appears likely that these topics will continue to draw the attention of scholars and commentators well into the next century.


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Elizabeth Story Donno (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "Critical Commentary," in Twelfth Night or What You Will, edited by Elizabeth Story Donno, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 8-23.

[In the excerpt below, Donno traces the progress of the play's dramatic action and discusses the principal characters. Although she acknowledges some discrepancies and inconsistencies in the story, she applauds Shakespeare's treatment of the complicated plot.]

After the theatres reopened in 1660, Pepys saw Twelfth Night on three occasions—in 1661, 1663 and 1668. Despite such familiarity, he seems to have missed the evocative and allusive quality of Shakespeare's alternative title, noting in his diary after the 1663 performance that this 'silly' play did not relate 'at all' to the name or to the day. Even for Shakespeare's contemporary audience its most memorable element was the character of the proud, self-loving steward Malvolio—witness a performance presented at court by Shakespeare's company in 1623 (again on Candlemas Day) under the title Malvolio. Leonard Digges, who had contributed commendatory verses to the First Folio, observed in a later and longer tribute:

loe in a trice The Cockpit Galleries, Boxes, all are full To hear Malvoglio that cross-garter'd gull.

(Shakespeare's Poems, 1640)

Some time in 1632 (or later) King Charles inscribed 'Malvolio' against the printed title in his copy of the Second Folio. One may conclude that, so far as contemporary (and later) stage popularity was concerned, the whirligig of time did bring in the revenge on the 'whole pack' of the other characters that the discomfited steward promises as he exits in the final act.

But it is Sir Toby Belch, the Countess Olivia's perennially tipsy kinsman, who has the most lines to speak and who, despite his earlier 'fruitless pranks', contrives the means both to complicate the plot and to resolve it. From the outset the convivial Sir Toby is hard put to understand the countess's vow to abjure both the sight and the company of men in order to mourn her brother's death for seven long summers. This desire to cloister herself for so extended a period reveals, as John Russell Brown observes, that Olivia must be very young indeed;1 so, too, if one judges from their emotional predispositions and actions, all the characters must be, except perhaps for Feste—the Lady Olivia's father having taken much delight in him—and, possibly, the sprightly Sir Toby, though modern productions do not always take such evidence into account.

Shakespeare, in fact, is fairly specific in indicating the ages of the two pairs of lovers. The twins were thirteen when their father died (5.1.228-9, 232); the disguised Viola is described by Malvolio as 'not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy' (1.5.130) and an 'apple cleft in two' is not more like than the pair of them (5.1.207-8). Though obviously beardless, Sebastian is a skilful swordsman (even if Viola is not). Orsino is described as of 'fresh and stainless youth' though he has a beard (1.5.214, 3.1.38-9); since he believes that a husband should be older than his wife (2.4.27-8), he may be assumed to be a little older than both Olivia and Viola. Whether or not he is as young as the four lovers, Sir Toby, like Touchstone in As You Like It (5.4.55-6), pressing in among the 'country copulatives', anticipates the dénouement by taking the 'little villain' Maria as his wife, an action presaged in the jesting remarks of Feste at 1.5.22-4 and of Sir Toby himself at 2.5.150, and performed, it would seem, as early as 4.2, as line 57 suggests. Convinced, on any count, that 'care's an enemy to life', he has brought in a suitor for Olivia, even if it is the fatuous Sir Andrew Aguecheek. As incorrigible a 'gull-catcher' as Maria, Sir Toby also uses him as his own 'dear manikin' from whom he can extract a steady supply of money.

Sentiment, which motivates Olivia's desire to become a weeping recluse (though Feste soon prompts her to laugh again, and she is without a veil when Cesario arrives at her gate), is also characteristic of the moody Orsino, the duke or perhaps simply a count of Illyria—Shakespeare seems to have wavered in his conception.2 Having loved the image of Olivia for a month before the play opens, he continues to protest his love for three more months even before he has a chance to speak to her directly.3 Like Romeo infatuated with fair Rosaline, he is obsessed with the idea of being in love. His inconstancy of mood is emphasised in the first seven lines of the play when, calling for an excess of music in order that his appetite for it may sicken, he at once demands that the musicians repeat one particular strain because of its 'dying fall', but before he has spoken three more lines his appetite has already sickened, and he orders them to desist altogether.4 At the end of this opening speech he foreshadows the hasty replacement of the initial object of his affection that will occur in Act 5 by acknowledging here the capricious quality of love: whatever is held of greatest worth may 'fall into abatement and low price'. Yet as a result of the homage and solicitude of his young page, who bravely masks her own emotions in order to woo Olivia on his behalf, he comes by the end of the last act to recognise the value of the devotion she has tendered to him.

With Olivia and her o'erhasty marriage to Sebastian, the case is different. Shakespeare explains it with a metaphorical reference to bowling; in her case, 'nature in her bias drew in that'. Although it may be Olivia's own tendency to sentiment that prompts her to become so quickly enamoured of the disguised Cesario, her counter-wooing has the function of predisposing her to love Sebastian in accord with nature's bias. The rationale behind this quite absurd situation is, Porter Williams notes, much like that of the lover in Donne's 'The Good-morrow':

If ever any beauty I did see, Which I desired and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.


Still, Olivia remains sufficiently cool-headed to take the wondering but infinitely pliable Sebastian-supposed-Cesario to a nearby chantry to plight their troth before a holy man.

Contrasting with the sentimental Orsino and Olivia is Viola, the charming but quite practical flotsam of the sea who quickly sets about improving her situation. Informed that she cannot serve Olivia, she at once determines to disguise herself as a page and serve the noble Orsino, known to her father and, fortuitously it seems, still a bachelor. Within three days she has endeared herself to him, so much so that he has unclasped to her the book even of his 'secret soul'. In the exchanges with Olivia and the 'lighter members' of her household, she conducts herself with great verbal skill, exhibiting a remarkable range of emotional responses, at times saucy, florid or outspoken, but in some situations she remains quite surprisingly taciturn. Though Antonio, having rescued her from the farcical duel with Sir Andrew, addresses her as Sebastian, she says nothing to interfere with his arrest as a pirate or to question him about the fate of her brother. She simply allows herself to hope that he is indeed alive. Her actions throughout can be said to be predicated on her view that time will untangle all things (2.2.37-8), this in accord with the commonplace doctrine (topos) that truth is the daughter of time (veritas filia temporis). Even in the final scene, when Orsino asks to take her hand and to see her in her woman's weeds, she says nothing more than that the captain who has them has been imprisoned at Malvolio's suit. When some forty lines later he again gives her his hand and declares that from this time on she is to be her 'master's mistress', she utters not a word. Nor does she say anything more for the remainder of the action. Yet underlying her variable responses and her taciturnity is an emotional constancy, well evoked in the lines beginning 'My father had a daughter loved a man' and culminating in the moving self-portrait of the figure of Patience smiling at grief (2.4.110-11).6

The clown Feste, mediating between the courtly milieu and Sir Toby's, is an irresistible figure. This results in large part from the fact that, actively engaged in both worlds, he distances himself from each by means of his witty and facetious comments. It is now accepted that Shakespeare's projection of the role of professional wit who wears the dress of the fool but does not wear motley in the brain, was the result of Robert Armin's entry into the Chamberlain's Company (probably in 1599). Early apprenticed to a goldsmith, Armin was also for some years a writer of ephemeral pamphlets and entertainments; these include an account of six 'natural' fools and a play exploiting the art of impersonation, in which he was adept. Two of the pamphlets he signed 'Clunnico del Curtanio Snuffe' and 'Clunnico del Mondo Snuffe', that is, Snuff, Clown of the Curtain Theatre and Snuff, Clown of the Globe. He was included in the list of actors in Jonson's The Alchemist in 1610, so at that date he was still a member of the King's Men, the title given to the Lord Chamberlain's Company on the accession of James I. He died five years later.7 The following lines, addressed to 'Honest, gamesom Robin Armine', attest to his skill and echo Viola's comment on Feste: 'This fellow is wise enough to play the fool' (3.1.50):

So play thy part, be honest still with mirth, Then, when th'art in the tiring-house of earth; Thou being his servant whom all kings do serve, Mayest for thy part well-played like praise deserve: For in that tiring-house when either be, Y'are one man's men and equal in degree; So thou in sport the happiest men dost school To do as thou dost—wisely play the fool.

(John Davies, Scourge of Folly (1611))

Four years Shakespeare's junior, Armin would have been thirty or so when Twelfth Night was written, and the slightly wry speeches Feste is given seem intended to reflect a maturity of outlook that holds no illusions about the durable nature either of emotional situations or of practical circumstances. Hence his incorrigible begging and hence his stress both in words and in song on the transitory: youth is a stuff—a material thing—that will not endure; beauty is but a flower; present love is justified by present laughter since 'what's to come is still [i.e. always] unsure'. His wit is both corrective and apt. He uses his good fooling to remedy Olivia's displeasure at his truancy from her household and to persuade her of the folly of mourning a brother's soul which, after all, she knows is in heaven, and he pointedly remarks that Orsino's tailor should make him a doublet of changeable taffeta to accord with his changeable mind.

All in all, Feste seems to present through his nonsense a no-nonsense point of view. Accosting Cesario—though, ironically, it is in fact Sebastian—he speaks to him in his own highly ironic fashion:

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.


In the next scene, as he impersonates Sir Topas the curate come to visit Malvolio the lunatic, he observes of his disguise:

'That that is, is', so I, being Master Parson, am Master Parson; for what is 'that' but 'that' and 'is' but 'is'?

Yet Cesario has declared to Olivia, in all truth, 'I am not what I am'; Sir Toby has said to Sir Andrew, with some truth, that 'not to be abed after midnight is to be up betimes'; even the dénouement of the play seems to go contrary to Feste's claim. When the twins are seen together, they seem so like that it is as if there were but one face, one voice and one manner of dress—that is, the same face, voice and dress but still two flesh-and-blood persons. To the others, struck with wonder at the sight, the identical appearance of the twins is declared to be, in the words of Orsino, 'A natural perspective, that is and is not!' Yet in so far as theatrical illusion has been achieved, the dénouement gives substance to Feste's claim, 'That that is, is', at least in Illyria.

The dissembling of one's true nature (conscious with Viola and Feste, unconscious with Orsino and Olivia) is highlighted in the figure of the steward Malvolio. The chief officer in Olivia's household—and one that she would not have miscarry for half of her dowry—he takes to his duties with seriousness and some pomposity. That these responsibilities would have included the preserving of discipline is shown by the rules for his household which a young nobleman, Anthony Browne, the second Viscount Montague, set down in 1595, at the age of twenty-one. The steward should 'in civil sort' reprehend and correct 'negligent and disordered persons', reforming them by his 'grave admonitions and vigilant eye', among these the 'riotous, the contentious, and quarrelous persons of any degree' as well as 'the frequenters of tabling, carding, and dicing in corners and at untimely hours and seasons'.8

But when Malvolio breaks in on the carousing Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste, called to do so, it seems, by the countess herself as Maria has forewarned, he cannot be said to chide them 'in civil sort'. Rather he accuses the two knights of gabbling like tinkers, squeaking out—this of the mellifluous-voiced Feste—cobblers' catches as if they were in an ale-house. Such a rebuke by a social inferior is enough to set off Sir Toby and he rounds on him, 'Art any more than a steward?'; he then follows this up with one of the most quoted lines in the play, incorporating in it what Hazlitt termed an 'unanswerable answer':

Does thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?

Maria is also angered by his charge that she is at fault in providing the means for this 'uncivil rule', and she sums up for the others Malvolio's unpleasant qualities: he is a 'kind' of a puritan, that is, censorious, but one who is inconstantly so. He is, moreover, a time-server, an affected ass who imitates the behaviour of his betters, and is 'so crammed', she says, 'with his own excellencies' that he conceives of himself as worthy of the love of all. On these grounds she contrives the device of forging a love letter from the countess enjoining him to assume ridiculous behaviour and garb in order to secure her favour, a device which feeds his aspiration to become 'Count Malvolio'. Although Feste is not in the group which observes Malvolio's absurd response to the letter, he justifies his share in the 'interlude' on the grounds of Malvolio's having disparaged his ability as a jester, while Fabian justifies his on the grounds that Malvolio has brought him out of favour with his lady about a bear-baiting. The last of his officious actions, noted this time by Viola, is to have the kindly captain who has rescued her imprisoned on some unspecified charge. There is then in Malvolio's 'stubborn and uncourteous parts' sufficient motivation to justify Maria's trick. Intended 'to pluck on laughter', it begins to get out of hand with the confining of Malvolio in a dark room as a madman; at one moment, even Sir Toby wishes they were well rid of their knavery.

Yet Malvolio's lubricious self-projection, cunningly revealed in a day-dream-like soliloquy, is splendidly comic. He imagines himself as three months married to Olivia, now wearing a velvet gown and sitting in a chair of state, having just come from a day-bed where he has left her sleeping; he imagines how he will have 'seven' of his servants summon Sir Toby to his presence and how, after quenching his 'familiar smile' and saying, 'Cousin Toby, my fortunes having cast me on your niece', he will direct him to amend his ways. This fantasy on Malvolio's part is put into perspective when he appears before Olivia wearing yellow stockings and cross-garters, his face crimped into myriad lines by his incessant smiling. Even more startling to her than his dress is the 'ridiculous boldness' of his talk. Tipped off as she is by Maria's charge that he is 'for sure' tainted in his wits, she accepts his strange words as evidence that something is wrong and solicitously asks, 'Wilt thou go to bed, Malvolio?' Taking this in seriousness, since it accords with his secret desires, he responds, 'To bed? Ay, sweetheart, and I'll come to thee.'9 The audacity of his response is further highlighted by Shakespeare's establishing the time-scheme by means of adroit references. At the end of the preceding scene (2.5), when Maria alerts the conspirators to hide in (or behind) a box-tree to spy on Malvolio, it is probably early morning since she comments that he has been 'yonder i'the sun practising behaviour to his own shadow this half hour'. In the exchange between Viola and the fool that opens this scene, Feste comments that foolery like the sun shines everywhere, which suggests that it is now midday. Thus Malvolio's avidity to go to bed at noon (as the Fool in Lear puts it) strikes an even more lubricious note.10 From Shakespeare's time until the mid eighteenth century, the 'sportful malice' prompting the treatment of Malvolio seemed a just matter of comedy, but for Romantic and Victorian interpreters, as well as for some in the twentieth century, the ill-used steward came to seem a victim not of sport but of social discrimination.11

If Shakespeare's characterisation of Malvolio has stimulated a mixed reaction, so, too, has the structure of the play, some critics finding in it signs of hasty composition, though not so many as to distract a viewing audience. One discrepancy is the rank of Orsino, who is consistently called 'duke' in stage directions and speech headings and during two scenes of the first act but is otherwise called 'count'. In his careful analysis of the text, Robert K. Turner suggests that Shakespeare's conception of the character of Orsino changed during composition and that he decided to make him less of a figure of authority (such as Duke Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream) and more of a lover (like Count Claudio in Much Ado about Nothing).12

There are other inconsistencies and loose ends. On Viola's first entrance, when she resolves to serve Orsino, she gives as a qualification her ability to sing and to speak to him in many sorts of music, but when a song is required in the second act, it is Feste who performs. This has led some, including Dover Wilson, to postulate revision, a more radical explanation than is required in view of the favours Orsino has extended to Cesario, which have elevated him above the status of a mere performer: within three days' time (1.4.1-3) he is no longer a stranger to Orsino who has, within that short span, divulged to him his inmost sentiments (1.4.12-13).

Again one notes that it is Fabian who makes a 'third' in the espial of Malvolio's antics, rather than Feste as Maria had specified; yet at the end of Act 5, Feste is able to quote from the letter as if he, too, had been one of the eavesdroppers on Malvolio. In fact, what Maria first declares she intends for him—'some obscure epistles of love, wherein by the colour of his beard, the shape of his leg, the manner of his gait, the expressure of his eye, forehead, and complexion, he shall find himself most feelingly personated' (2.3.131-4)—does not concur with the letter that Malvolio reads aloud two scenes later—except, that is, for its amatory suggestiveness. One small inconsistency is in the two accounts of Antonio's sea fight with Orsino's galleys: for his part, Antonio denies (3.3.30) that it was of a 'bloody nature' whereas Orsino (5.1.45) speaks of the 'scathful grapple' directed against the finest of their ships, though the speech is also intended to acknowledge Antonio's valour even as a pirate. Finally, the appearance of Sir Andrew and Sir Toby with bleeding heads must be the result of a second encounter with Sebastian-supposed-Cesario (see Commentary and stage direction at 5.1.160), but this is not provided for in the text.

In spite of these inconsistencies and loose ends, there is much subtlety in Shakespeare's handling of his complex plot which is particularly evident when an attitude or an action or situation relating to one character is duplicated by another. This creates a 'twinning' effect that reinforces the central situation brought about by a pair of identical twins.13 It is as if—to adapt Ulysses' words in Troilus and Cressida—many touches of nature make the whole world kin.

Despite the difference in the situation of the two heroines there is a similarity: both have lost their fathers and both, it would appear, have recently lost their brothers, but whereas Olivia would extravagantly mourn (even as Orsino would extravagantly love), Viola, trusting to her own escape as a promise of Sebastian's, reacts practically. Yet in the matter of falling in love the two heroines act alike, in that Viola freely extends her affection to Orsino without invitation on his part, even as Olivia extends hers to Cesario without any invitation except that suggested by her role as surrogate wooer. This makes for a slight touch of irony at the end of the first wooing scene, for when Cesario says 'Love make his heart of flint that you shall love', Viola does not know that she herself will turn out to be the inadvertent object of Olivia's love. The wish is also ironically cancelled with Sebastian's arrival in Illyria and the stunning alacrity with which he assents to a betrothal.

The two heroines are alike in their personal orientation. Viola's conviction that time will 'untangle' all things (veritas filia temporis, or, as the English proverb has it, 'time brings the truth to light' (Tilley T324)) is comparable to Olivia's (and Malvolio's) belief in 'fate' which is commented on below. The two are also alike in possessing the virtue of constancy, Viola in her devotion to Orsino, Olivia in her refusal to accept his suit. To Orsino's query in Act 5, 'Still so cruel?', she responds, 'Still so constant'. The emotional impact the twins make is, quite expectedly, alike; Olivia terms it an 'enchantment', Antonio a 'witchcraft'; the harsh denunciation he levels at Cesario-supposed-Sebastian for his seeming ingratitude is paralleled by that which Orsino levels at Cesario for the seeming betrayal of his trust.

Perhaps the most ingenious duplication is that between Olivia and Malvolio. She herself acknowledges their similarity of deportment: he is 'sad and civil', a kind of behaviour that she feels suits well with her own fortunes in love. When Maria informs her that he is surely tainted in his wits since he does nothing but smile, she confesses:

I am as mad as he If sad and merry madness equal be.

And later she alludes to her own 'extracting frenzy', which has made her forget about his. Moreover, such sad and merry madness typifies the deportment of the other characters, whether it be the moody Orsino or the mad-brained Sir Toby; this is finely pinpointed in 4.1 when, out of the blue, Sir Andrew attacks Sebastian, who wonders incredulously: Are all the people mad? Again, in 4.3, Sebastian 'wrangles' with his reason, speculating in soliloquy whether it is he himself or Olivia who is mad. From the confines of the dark room Malvolio's words thus have special point when he asserts to Feste: 'I tell thee, I am as well in my wits as any man in Illyria.'

Malvolio also emphasises the similarity of his deportment to Olivia's when he writes assuring her that he has the benefit of his senses as well as she. But his assurance is Gomically belated; by the time Olivia hears the letter, read madly at first by Feste impersonating the 'mad' Malvolio and then straightforwardly by Fabian, she (like Orsino) has met with a happy corrective, first to her predisposition to grief and then to her infatuation with Cesario. In view of the psychological misrule prevailing in Illyria, it is not surprising that the word 'mad', together with its cognates (madness, madmen, madly), is used more frequently in this play than in any other in the canon, with The Comedy of Errors, and its double set of twins, a close rival.

Another point of likeness between Olivia and Malvolio is their willingness to justify their own desires by readily ascribing them to a power outside themselves called either 'fate' or 'fortune'. In the soliloquies following on Cesario's first visit, Olivia ponders how quickly she has caught the plague, questions her actions, and concludes:

Fate, show thy force; ourselves we do not owe. What is decreed must be; and be this so.


In writing to Malvolio, Maria simulates not only Olivia's hand but also this point of view when she specifies, 'Thy fates open their hands.' To Malvolio, willingly deluded by the letter's confirmation of his own desires, 'it is Jove's doing, and Jove make me thankful', a point he reiterates with supreme confidence after Olivia believes him to be mad:

What can be said? Nothing that can be can come between me and the full prospect of my hopes. Well, Jove, not I, is the doer of this, and he is to be thanked!14


Even before Maria drops the letter, Malvolio prefaces his rationalising hope that Olivia might indeed love him, by saying "Tis but fortune; all is fortune.' When Olivia pleads with Cesario-supposed-Sebastian to admit their betrothal, she echoes this point of view, urging him 'Fear not, Cesario, take thy fortunes up.'

This is, of course, what all the central characters do. If somewhat bewildered by the fortuitous opportunity to marry Olivia after the earlier 'malignancy' of his fate, Sebastian at once accepts 'this accident and flood of fortune', an acceptance that twins with Viola's attitude when, resolved to serve Orsino, she awaits whatever may be the outcome: 'What else may hap, to time I will commit.' The untangling of circumstances by the passage of time and the reliance on fortune and fate create, for characters 'of fresh and stainless youth', the sense of wonder that is proper to the ending of romantic comedy. For the lovers, the result, as it was earlier for Maria and Sir Toby, is to be marriage when 'golden time convents'. For Antonio and Sir Andrew, what's to come is still unsure. For Malvolio, the whirligig of time having also brought in its revenges, there is the hint that he may be entreated to a peace. For Feste, there is still the pleasure he takes in singing.

And, fittingly, in place of an epilogue, he is given a final song. This, while promising that the actors for their part will strive each day to please their audience, also provides a somewhat cryptic ending to the dramatic action. Commentators have ranged widely in their response to it. Eighteenth-century editors, followed by Dover Wilson and others in this century, reacted strongly to its seeming lack of relevance to the play or to the character of Feste; more recent commentators extract a bawdy and sexual import,15 while still others find a strain of melancholy that harkens back to the potential within the play for violence and unhappiness—the arrest of Antonio, the (short-lived) anger of Orsino towards Olivia and Viola, perhaps even Sir Toby's harsh dismissal of the 'thin-faced knave' Sir Andrew. But since this potential is never actualised, Feste's song is perhaps more properly viewed as a means of breaking away from the Illyrian world of illusions with a return to the real world where it may—or it may not—rain every day. The song's cryptic nature, with its catch-phrase 'that's all one', may be particularly appropriate for the ending of a play with the subtitle 'What You Will'. . . .


1Shakespeare and His Comedies, pp. 176-7 n. Elsewhere ('Directions for Twelfth Night', Shakespeare's Plays in Performance, 1967, pp. 207-19, and reprinted in Palmer, Casebook, pp. 188-203) John Russell Brown presents a more elastic charting of the characters' ages.

2 See p. 16 below and n. 4, and Textual Analysis, p. 153.

3 As in other of Shakespeare's plays, there is a double-time scheme: the action requires three months for its fulfilment, but two consecutive days serve for the sequence of scenes. See Brown, 'Directions for Twelfth Night ', where he correlates the references to time with the action.

4 See Commentary (1.1.4) for Joseph H. Summers's suggestion of some comic stage business here.

5 'Mistakes in Twelfth Night and their resolution', p. 181, in Palmer, Casebook, originally published PMLA 76 (1961).

6 Viola's taciturnity in the later part of Act 5 can, of course, be accounted for by the exigencies of the plot. Like his heroine earlier on, Shakespeare has a great many knots to untie. Having given her this moving speech when it applied so aptly to her emotional situation, he can assume (with the audience) that with its happy resolution, words are unnecessary.

7 For a biographical account of Armin, see Jane Belfield, 'Robert Armin, citizen and goldsmith of London', Notes and Queries 225 (1980), 158-9, and M. C. Bradbrook, 'Robert Armin and Twelfth Night', in Palmer, Casebook, pp. 222-43 (originally published in Shakespeare the Craftsman, 1969).

8 'Booke of orders and rules', quoted by Muriel St Clare Byrne, 'The social background', in A Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. Granville-Barker and Harrison, pp. 204-5.

9 For a reference in A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers, 1554-1640, ed. Edward Arber. 5 vols., 1875-94 to a ballad entitled 'goo to bed swete harte', see Commentary at 3.4.28.

10 See Brown, 'Directions for Twelfth Night'.

11 For an account of the theatrical history of the part of Malvolio see pp. 28-33 below.

12 'The text of Twelfth Night', pp. 128-38. Turner explains the consistency of stage directions and speech headings as a scribal normalising of foul papers. See Textual Analysis, pp. 152-4 below.

13 See L. G. Salingar's detailed and perceptive account of this aspect of the play or what he calls 'points of contact' among the characters, 'The design of Twelfth Night', pp. 117-39.

14 The frequency of references to Jove in a play not having a classical setting is often accounted for by the Act of Abuses (against profanity), but as Turner has pointed out ('Text of Twelfth Night', p. 136) 'God' appears about twice as often as the supposed substitute; this scarcely supports the notion of expurgation. See also Commentary at 2.5.142.

15 See Hotson, pp. 167-72, for example, and John Hollander, 'Twelfth Night and the morality of indulgence', Sewanee Review 67 (1959), 220-38.

J. A. Bryant, Jr. (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: "Twelfth Night," in Shakespeare and the Uses of Comedy, The University Press of Kentucky, 1986, pp. 165-78.

[In the following essay, Bryant asserts that Twelfth Night is an iconoclastic work that challenges the reassuring conventions of romantic comedy.]

Ever since the time of the Romantics, high praise for Twelfth Night has been one of the commonplaces of Shakespeare criticism. In our own time Leo Salingar has called it the "crowning achievement in one branch of his art";1 and J. Dover Wilson, implicitly replying to Samuel Johnson, who complained that the latter half of the play "exhibits no just picture of life,"2 has gone even farther: "That gem of his comic art, that condensation of life and (for those who know how to taste it rightly) elixir of life," were Wilson's superlatives; then he added, "He could never better this—and he never attempted to. He broke the mold—and passed on."3 Other commentators have been more specific. Kenneth Muir, by way of introducing his comments on Twelfth Night, cites Barrett Wendell's characterization of the play as a masterpiece of recapitulation and goes on to note that it combines, among other things, the device of mistaken identity that has proved so successful in The Comedy of Errors (making the look-alike pair brother and sister, however, as in numerous Italian comedies); the use of the disguised heroine as emissary, "from the man she loves to the woman he loves," from The Two Gentlemen of Verona; the theme of friendship from The Merchant of Venice; the singing fool (a combination of Amiens and Touchstone); a Falstaffian character in Sir Toby; and a half-witted suitor from The Merry Wives of Windsor.4 T. W. Baldwin has demonstrated that all this variety fits harmoniously into a frame that may well have been derived from Terence's Andria;5 and both Salingar and C. L. Barber have attributed at least part of its unity of tone to a pervasive spirit of saturnalia, Barber adding that the play goes well beyond this in its "exhibition of the use and abuse of social liberty."6 More recently Carolyn G. Heilbrun has touched briefly but persuasively upon the play as a celebration of androgyny;7 and Walter N. King, in his introduction to a collection of essays on the play, has provided an able discussion of the subtly changing perspectives that threaten to bring most of its characters to complete bewilderment and frustration but, in the manner of similar perspectives in a metaphysical poem, ultimately find resolution.8

What many of these critics have been praising in Twelfth Night is the convention of romantic comedy—or rather the romantic version of Italianate comedy—which for Shakespeare's generation served, as it has for most generations since, to reassure audiences about civilized society's ability to renew itself. Joseph Summers, himself an admirer of Twelfth Night, finds the resolution of the play and hence its presumably implicit reassurances less than convincing. Twelfth Night is the climax of Shakespeare's early achievement, he writes, but at the same time it comes close to proclaiming the limitations of that achievement: "More obvious miracles are needed," he concludes, "for comedy to exist in a world in which evil also exists, not merely incipiently but with power."9 Summers's reservation here also has to do with the convention of romantic comedy, which he understandably considers inadequate to represent real life. The details of his diagnosis are questionable, but not the insight that has prompted it: in Shakespearean comedy neither the dramatic convention nor the plot—nor even the special occasion if there is one—is ever more than incidentally determinative. Such things point not to the play but to the expectations that we in our habitual inattention to the complex way in which the world really works bring to the play and to other fictions, and in many cases to life itself.

The patterns of comedy that Shakespeare inherited, like patterns in other traditional forms of art, symbolized communal responses that his world still considered natural and valid—in particular, those responses involving the preservation of stability and order in a society which like its constituents was necessarily forever perishing. For the most part, we today are comfortable with those same responses and expect comic art to confirm their adequacy; thus Shakespeare's comedies still give most of us at least part of what we have always expected from comedy generally. Art, however, is not always the complaisant handmaiden of society. It is her nature, especially when endowed with the vitality of someone like Shakespeare, to deny as well as to confirm, to generate new responses to perennially recurring situations, and sometimes in the process to break as many icons as it preserves. As we have seen, even in such early and relatively conventional plays as The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona Shakespeare gave indications of the iconoclastic character that comic dramatic art was to assume under his hand. In Love's Labor's Lost and The Merchant of Venice he raised questions about human suffering, cruelty, and mortality that writers in fulfilling comedy's responsibility to entertain had traditionally elected to ignore. In Much Ado about Nothing, he challenged the propriety of comedy's traditional ending. In As You Like It he dared to suggest that the mold itself of comedy might ultimately be irrelevant. In short, hints about the limitations of conventional comedy had been lurking at the fringes of Shakespeare's vision all along, and the situation in Twelfth Night was calculated to make audiences uneasy almost from the outset.

To begin with, as Summers notes, there are no parents or their equivalent in Twelfth Night, and the young people are therefore free to make their own way. "According to the strictly romantic formula," Summers writes, "the happy ending should be already achieved at the beginning of the play."10 Just the reverse is true, of course; and the reasons for that, though conspicuous, have apparently not been obvious to the play's admirers. First, Shakespeare at the beginning has provided no visible means of balancing the equation of lover and beloved that he has set before us. Olivia occupies the role of marriageable female in Twelfth Night, but she has no suitor that is both acceptable and available to her—no Fenton, no Orlando, no Ferdinand—until the beginning of Act IV, when Sebastian, who she thinks is the Cesario she knows, glides ready and able into her view. She could have Duke Orsino, but she will not. She would have Viola-Cesario, but cannot—for reasons that Viola, Antonio the sea captain, and we alone know. Thus for three acts the Duke pursues Olivia, Olivia pursues Viola, and Viola yearns for the Duke—a merry-go-round chase, a three-way stalemate, that has no prospect of resolution in matches until a fourth person arrives to turn Olivia out of the circle and make it possible for the other two to confront one another as pursuer and pursued.

Second, the absence of parents is not an unmixed blessing for any of the lovers in Twelfth Night, but it is an especially unfortunate circumstance for Olivia. In the normal course of a comic action, those filling the role of senex have subtle positive functions to perform as well as the more spectacular negative ones; and Olivia's parents and elder brother, all dead as the play begins, would have been expected at least to foster the idea of a good marriage for the girl and more than likely in the end to have come round to her way of thinking about an appropriate candidate. By convention they would have been faulty in their initial judgments about her best interests, but as sponsors distinguished by good will and protective instincts they would have been entitled to seats of honor at the prenuptial feast. As it is, Shakespeare's Olivia stands defenseless in a world that with the death of her brother has suddenly turned threatening. Orsino, whom she does not and apparently cannot love, relentlessly presses his suit, undoubtedly in part because he finds the love-game amusing but also in part because by marriage he would annex Olivia's estate. He has rivals in the latter objective. Commoner Malvolio, taking advantage of a social revolution that has recently made it possible for "the Lady of the Strachy" to marry her yeoman of the wardrobe (II.v.39-40), seeks to rise in the world from steward's quarters to his lady's chamber; and Sir Toby Belch, Olivia's sottish uncle and her next of kin, has presumed to stand in loco parentis and promote a suitor of his own.11 We see no other suitors, but these are quite enough to show the dangerous situation of a landed and wealthy young female in Shakespeare's world, where authority over land and wealth was expected to be vested ultimately in a suitable male. Hence Olivia assumes a mask of grief, not necessarily out of self-love or whimsy (as has been commonly assumed by critics and producers of the play) and perhaps not even out of genuine grief, but out of an urgent need to protect her own interests. Despite her declared intention to mourn for an improbable seven years, the convention of mourning can serve at best as a temporary stay; but that convention is the only protection she has. Into this strained situation Viola enters to become unwittingly a fourth suitor for Olivia's hand—in Olivia's eyes the only suitor, and in the eyes of others, including eventually even Orsino, an impudent interloper to be dealt with contemptuously and with appropriate violence.

One might argue, especially in this last quarter of the twentieth century, that Olivia's need to be rescued by a strong male is to her discredit—that her position is only as parlous as she herself chooses to let it be. So it is; and so can it be considered in the world that Shakespeare creates in his plays, for repeatedly these invite approval for the threatened female who seizes the male role in a male-dominated society and triumphs over the disadvantages that society has imposed on her own sex. The fact remains, however, that Shakespeare lived in and depicted a society in which the woman who does not escape by extraordinary means must settle for being either an ornament or a slave. Moreover, even those who resort to extraordinary means may escape only temporarily—witness Julia, Portia, and Rosalind, all of whom presumably put off their masculine garments and return to live ever after in the subservient role that society has assigned to them. Angry Kate's ironic note, for all we know, was not detected until fairly recently. And Beatrice's concluding remark to Benedick is as follows: "I would not deny you, but by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption" (V.iv.94-97). To this, editors since the eighteenth century would have us believe, Benedick replies with a mouth-stopping kiss.12 Shakespeare, however, apparently gave the quieting to an embarrassed Leonato, who told his irreverent niece, "Peace, I will stop your mouth," and perhaps applied a gesture of a different sort.

In Illyria, consensus about the natural dependency of women seems to be fairly solid. Malvolio is convinced that his mistress is secretly yearning for an appropriate man to take charge, and so when Maria applies the bait to his vanity, he is apt to believe he is that very man. Duke Orsino, denied admittance by the conventions of mourning, continues to make advances through his messengers and tells the last of these, Viola disguised as Cesario, that the problem with Olivia is her woman's inability to comprehend the depth and seriousness of the passion that men may feel:

Alas, their love [i.e., women's] may be called appetite, No motion of the liver, but the palate, That suffer surfeit, cloyment, and revolt, But mine is all as hungry as the sea, And can digest as much. Make no compare Between that love a woman can bear me And that I owe Olivia.


Even Sir Andrew Aguecheek assumes that Olivia is ready for appropriate male advances and recoils in something between indignation and disgust when he spies her making what he believes to be overtures to the Duke's messenger: "No, faith, I'll not stay a jot longer. . . . Marry, I saw your niece do more favors to the Count's servingman than ever she bestow'd upon me. I saw't i' th' orchard" (III.ii.1-7). Sir Toby moves quickly to disabuse him, but Toby is clearly of like mind about women. He resents Olivia's declared state of mourning as a feminine frivolity that interferes with his more serious plans. "What a plague means my niece to take the death of her brother thus?" he fumes to Maria (I.iii.1-2); and in the exchange that follows he details Sir Andrew's qualifications as a lover and thereby further reveals his obtuseness where Olivia's predilections are concerned. Fortunately for her, Sir Toby's implementation of his plans is as inefficient as his judgments about women are erroneous. The proposed duel between Sir Andrew and Cesario backfires upon the head, literally, of its perpetrator, though one should recognize here that but for the lucky presence of Sebastian on the scene to take the challenge intended for Cesario, that duel and the action of the play might have ended quite differently. Unseen by all these watchful males, however, is a clever Olivia driven to extraordinary means of her own, who will abandon proprieties and confound definitions by pursuing forthrightly and then marrying on the spot a young man of no station whatever.

In more ways than one Viola is a counterpart to Olivia. She too is parentless; she has also lost a brother, or thinks she has; and she has put on a pretense for essentially the same reason as Olivia—to protect herself against such predators as may be at large in the presumably civilized world of Illyria. The device Viola has chosen, however, has placed her in an awkward situation. No sooner has she put on male attire and enlisted in the Duke's service than she falls in love with her master, who requires her to advance his cause with a lady manifestly amenable to being woed by someone—though not by the Duke, either directly or indirectly.

This improbable situation is the source for several aspects of the play that have charmed modern audiences—most of these being touches of pathos rather than of comedy. Viola's best speeches are cases in point. For example, she tells Olivia at their first meeting that if she were Duke Orsino she would

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; Hallow your name to the reverberate hills, And make the babbling gossip of the air Cry out "Olivia!"


Her language here speaks of a more intense experience than brief infatuation would warrant. Some critics have postulated a justification for it in Marsilian-Platonist terms,13 but one is probably nearer the spirit of the play to see it as something quaintly amusing, the mysterious attraction of a scarcely grown moth for an unresponsive star. Nevertheless, Viola's argument here has the power of a nascent but very real love for the Duke; and the same bittersweet passion of young love informs the account she gives to him of the depth of women's affection as demonstrated by the unspoken adoration of her "father's daughter":

. . . she never told her love But let concealment like a worm in th' bud Feed on her damask cheek; she pin'd in thought, And with a green and yellow melancholy She sate like Patience on a monument, Smiling at grief.


Because she is apt to feel such stirrings as no longer trouble the Duke, which indeed the Duke for all his declarations about masculine love can no longer even recall, Viola moves in company with Euphrasia-Bellario of Beaumont and Fletcher's Philaster (1608-10), the determined Helena of All's Well That Ends Well, and the Imogen of Cymbeline. Like these, Viola is genuinely and, to speak literally, hopelessly in love; but the special irony of the situation that develops in Act I is that Olivia is no less genuinely in love and in her misapplied affection exhibits to Viola precisely the kind of intense feeling that Viola chides her for not rendering to the Duke.

If we were not dealing with characters whom Shakespeare has endowed with flesh and blood, we might say that Viola is the love-in-idleness in this second play that Shakespeare wrote about "midsummer madness" (III.iv.56). Before her coming, there was no genuine love in Illyria. Her arrival there set all in motion, activating Olivia's suitors to an intensity that had previously seemed unwarranted and, more important, pushing the hitherto diffident Olivia out from behind her façade of grief to discover possibilities in the world that she had not dreamed of. Her newly found love, though it has some of the aspects of the ultimately divine fixation that Marsilio Ficino, Castiglione, and countless sonneteers have written about, is no more Neoplatonic than Viola's equally sudden love for the Duke. One might better say that the love manifested by these two women has an agapeic quality in that it prompts one of them, denied of her station and even of her sex, to offer services and devotion to a duke who barely notices her as anything more than a servant, and prompts the other, a lady of acknowledged station, to spurn suitors at all appropriate levels—duke, knight, and competent steward—to throw herself shamelessly upon a page boy.

Where Olivia is concerned, however, it is important to note that Shakespeare in presenting her initial awakening to the universal call of the flesh depicts it as an unconscious appreciation of that androgynous ideal which is normally conceived in youth and subsequently suppressed in adulthood, here beautifully portrayed by Viola as woman-man and reinforced subliminally for the Elizabethan audience by the boy-actors who were portraying both female characters on the stage. Regardless of how one tries to explain this love, there is much in it that remains inexplicable; and Shakespeare's portrayal continues to succeed with readers and audiences undoubtedly in part because most people subconsciously want something like it to be true and are delighted when Shakespeare's art can bring their wishes to a semblance of reality. Unfortunately, our latter-day conventions, translated into expectations, encourage us to discredit the genuine and innocent warmth present here and in similar situations in other Shakespearean plays and thus prevent our acknowledgment of emotional tremors which even now we hasten to dismiss as inchoate feelings, childish preludes to adult emotions that are presumably more stable and lasting, and in any case more respectable.

Nevertheless, regardless of how seriously one takes the suggestions of agapeic or androgynous attachments in Twelfth Night, one should never lose sight of the heterosexual grounding that is essential to the comic resolution achieved in the play. All the lovers here ultimately demand for satisfaction the physical possession of a member of the opposite sex. Olivia could not have been happy with Viola indefinitely, for all the beauty of Viola's face and form; and Orsino, attuned to practical considerations, finds it possible to disregard Viola's charms until he recognizes that they are as feminine in fact as they appear to be. Moreover, sexual attraction is all that really matters. Rank apparently has nothing to do with love and loving in Twelfth Night. In spite of the outrage Toby expresses at the thought of a steward's aspiring to take the hand of his niece, he does not hesitate to marry Maria, Olivia's diminutive gentlewoman ("the youngest wren of nine"), whom he mockingly dubs Penthesilea and repeatedly calls "wench." Olivia herself has no compunction about marrying someone she takes to be a serving-man; and even after the unveiling in Act V neither she nor the Duke gains any substantial knowledge about the pedigree of the twins they are linking permanently to their fortunes. One looks in vain here for some hint of what is clearly set forth in Barnaby Riche's Apolonius and Silla: that the two were actually children of another illustrious duke, Pontus of Cyprus, and worthy to mate with nobility anywhere.14 In short, practical and even spiritual motives for love ultimately give way in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to elemental sex, and thus the ancient order of society as understood by commentators—political, ecclesiastical, and otherwise—painfully maintained over the centuries and presumably divinely ordained, is here challenged by the basic animal impulses that are the reason, often unacknowledged, why society is essentially not an institution at all but a process.

This reduction of comedy in Twelfth Night to the ground of its being intensifies an ironic dimension in the gulling of Malvolio that is often overlooked in modern readings and productions, which persist in ignoring the complex effects of the play. To begin with, Malvolio is not a mere appendage to the plot; nor is he the insensitive killjoy and social climber that Sir Toby sees or the "time pleaser" Maria would have him be. As one critic has observed, Malvolio's part is structurally at the center of the plot and his gulling is symbolic of the challenge to order that persists throughout the play.15 There is truth in both observations. The setting of Shakespeare's comedies, regardless of designation, is invariably English; and as Shakespeare and his contemporaries knew, the ranks of the English gentry included more than a few families that had achieved their status relatively recently. Lady Olivia's all but defunct family has the marks of being one of these; at the very least, Sir Toby, the one surviving elider member of the family, still has the class-consciousness of the newly arrived and the tavern manners of a serving-man. Malvolio, by contrast, has the marks of a belated aspirant, quite as class-conscious as Toby but awkwardly so, and as zealously committed as any newly arrived neophyte to the preservation of order, precedence, and propriety. Charles Lamb's view of him is not currently popular, but it is closer to the truth and infinitely preferable to the farcical Malvolio that simpers and prances on some stages. Consider this passage from Lamb's essay:

His quality is at the best unlovely, but neither buffoon nor contemptible. His bearing is lofty, a little above his station, but probably not much above his deserts. . . . We must not confound him with the eternal old, low steward of comedy. He is master of the household to a great Princess, a dignity probably conferred upon him for other respects than age or length of service. . . . His rebuke to the knight, and his sottish revelers, is sensible and spirited; and when we take into consideration the unprotected condition of his mistress, and the strict regard with which her state of real or dissembled mourning would draw the eyes of the world upon her house affairs, Malvolio might feel the honor of the family in some sort in his keeping; as it appears not that Olivia had any more brothers, or kinsmen, to look to it—for Sir Toby had dropped all such nice respects at the buttery hatch.16

This is a Malvolio who makes the tactical error of forthrightly confronting one who is technically his superior for indulging in a form of gaiety that has in it no real love of life (Maria calls it "caterwauling") and certainly no consideration for others, and thus finds himself both rebuked by that superior and caught in a mill devised by a fellow servant (again Maria) who also aspires to a higher station no less than he, though with far less warrant. Malvolio is right to regard all of his tormentors with contempt. Maria's ingenuity probably makes her the best of the lot. Sir Toby is a bore as well as a boor. Fabian is an insensitive servingman, whom Malvolio has properly rebuked for staging a bear-baiting on the estate (II.v.7-11), Feste is at best (except for the actual gulling scene) a second-rate clown, and Sir Andrew is a fool. Fabian observes at the end that their mischief has been such as "may rather pluck on laughter than revenge, / If that the injuries be justly weigh'd / That have on both sides pass'd"; but Fabian the bear-baiter is hardly one to give a reliable opinion. Malvolio may be deficient in humor, and he is certainly naive; but he has injured no one, and he has every cause to be angry. Moreover, the gulling that destroys him destroys the last conscious defender of the graceful world to which he would aspire.

Mark Van Doren, who also considered Malvolio central to Twelfth Night, concluded his essay on the play with the following sentence: "The drama is between his [Malvolio's] mind and the music of old manners."17 This is true, but perhaps not quite in the way Van Doren intended. For Van Doren the important thing about the play was its courtly decor, lyrics that could be set to appealing music, carefree roistering belowstairs, expressions of romantic love followed by appropriate matings. Considered solely in the light of these things, Twelfth Night appears to be a triumph of sophistication and wit and a reaffirmation of the values of conventional Italianate comedy. Actually it is nothing of the sort.

As has already been noted, Twelfth Night presents a world in which the opportunity for undertaking a comic action and pursuing it to the conventional conclusion has collapsed. Control of the social unit that occupies the center of our attention, Lady Olivia's estate, has passed for the moment to that lady's keeping; and because she is young, female, and unprotected, the wolves are circling. Wit characteristic of the old order is still present: for all her pretense of grief, Olivia has a large measure of it, and Viola brings in still more; but in the empty corridors where these two meet, its sparkle has more poignancy than brilliance. Music is still present, at least on the periphery of the main action, but music in Twelfth Night no longer symbolizes the harmony and order that comedy would achieve or restore. Of the two memorable lyrics in the play, the one that celebrates young love in its immediacy, "O mistress mine," is caterwauled by the aging Sir Toby and company. The other is a lament for a dead love that cannot be revived: "Come away, come away, Death." A number of older critics—F. G. Fleay, Richmond Noble, and J. Dover Wilson—suggested that this sophisticated piece of melancholy replaced the "old and antique song" that the text calls for (II.iv.3) when Robert Armin, a clown with a trained voice, performed the singing function originally intended for a singing boy who would play the part of Viola posing as a eunuch (I.ii.62). S. L. Bethell, after summarizing the whole argument, pointed out sensibly that it is sufficient the song be "romantically suggestive of antiquity," as indeed it is.18 Orsino in asking for the song notes that it differs sharply from the "light airs and recollected terms / Of these brisk and giddy-paced times" (II.iv.5-6) and thus makes the point of the play: that the old times are beyond recall; the old order is dead. He speaks with more truth than he knows or would like to believe. No amount of music can bring back the world in which courtship of the kind he would pursue can exist. Maria knows this. Olivia shows by her actions that she knows it too. Viola, but for her infatuation with Orsino and her loyalty to him, would know it sooner than she does. Malvolio, who has been outside the magic circle all his life, does not know it and thus is apt to be tricked by a spurious invitation to join in the (to him) unfamiliar dance. Still inexperienced in spite of his years, he has no way of recognizing that the show of courtly manners he is urged to assume can only be an inadvertent parody and a reaffirmation of his incompetence to participate in a game that people are no longer playing. His incorrigible loneliness is merely accentuated by the folly that a heartless anarchy has thrust upon him.

A production of Twelfth Night at Stratford-upon-Avon some years ago solved the problem of Malvolio by playing him for laughs and reducing him to little more than a stick figure with the diminished humanity of a Keystone Cop from the early cinema. The gulling thus became a harmless trick perpetrated on one who had neither dignity nor the capacity to feel. What was left in that production, however, was hardly the graceful apotheosis of Italianate comedy for which Shakespeare "broke the mold—and passed on." Even Shakespeare's language, which was largely uncut, was insufficient to prevent the general charges by London critics of prosiness and farce; the balance had been disrupted, and the illusion dispelled. The glitter was tinsel.19 One production, of course, proves nothing about a Shakespeare play; but Twelfth Night may best be regarded as an elaborate trompe l'oeil. Superficially it resembles Italianate comedy, but actually it is the apotheosis of a development that Shakespeare had been anticipating ever since he portrayed the French ladies at the court of Navarre. It is already a part of the era in which a Helena and a Mariana would resort to bed tricks to snare reluctant males, an Imogen put off her sex to go after a husband who had rejected her, a Hermione retire for sixteen years, freeze a kingdom, and take her man at the end by a trick, and an innocent and uninstructed Miranda out-woo and out-argue a prince who most likely would have preferred a casual seduction. Dr. Johnson was understandably disturbed by the ending of Twelfth Night, but he was wrong to say that it exhibits no just picture of life. Like most of his contemporaries, he was guided by expectations that are essentially inapplicable to this play except by way of ironic contrast. For him it exhibited no picture of life that he could comfortably accept, but one suspects he saw well enough what was there.


1 Leo Salingar, "The Design of Twelfth Night," Shakespeare Quarterly, 9 (1958), 117.

2 In Johnson's edition of The Plays of William Shakespeare (London, 1765); see Johnson as Critic, ed. John Wain (London & Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973), pp. 188-89.

3 J. Dover Wilson, Shakespeare's Happy Comedies (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern Univ. Press), p. 181.

4 Kenneth Muir, The Sources of Shakespeare's Plays (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 1977), p. 132.

5 T.W. Baldwin, William Shakespere's Five-Act Structure (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1947), p. 715.

6 Salingar, Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1974), pp. 8-19; Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959), pp. 248ff.

7 Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Toward a Recognition of Androgyny (New York: Knopf, 1973), pp. 36-37.

8 Walter N. King, ed., Twentieth Century Interpretations of "Twelfth Night" (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968), pp. 5-12.

9 Joseph Summers, "The Masks of Twelfth Night," The University of Kansas City Review, 22 (Autumn 1955), 30-32.

10 Ibid., p. 24.

11 Some critics see in Sir Toby's advocacy of Sir Andrew Aguecheek merely a device to bilk the fool of his money; see Van Doren, Shakespeare (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor-Doubleday, 1953), p. 139. This does not quite account, however, for Sir Toby's eagerness to press for a duel with Cesario-Viola once he has detected a hint of real rivalry in that quarter.

12 According to The Riverside Shakespeare ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), p. 364, the attribution of the speech to Benedick and the stage direction about kissing originated with Styan Thirlby and Lewis Theobald, respectively.

13 See John Vyvyan, Shakespeare and Platonic Beauty (London: Chatto & Windus, 1961), pp. 33-62.

14 See the text in Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957), II, 346.

15 See the essay by Milton Crane, "Twelfth Night and Shakespearian Comedy," Shakespeare Quarterly, 6 (1955), 1-8.

16 Charles Lamb, "On Some of the Old Actors," in Elia. Essays which have appeared under the signature in The London Magazine (London: Taylor & Hessey, 1823); quoted in Herschel Baker, ed., Twelfth Night (New York: New American Library, 1965), pp. 172-73.

17 Van Doren, Shakespeare, p. 143.

18 S. L. Bethell, Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1944), p. 178.

19 This was a summer production of 1966. Sir Andrew Aguecheek was given unusual prominence, with David Warner in the role.


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Joan Hartwig (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Feste's 'Whirligig' and the Comic Providence of Twelfth Night," in ELH, Vol. 40, No. 4, Winter, 1973, pp. 501-13.

[In the essay that follows, Hartwig contends that Feste helps illuminate the discrepancy between human will and Providence in Twelfth Night and proposes that Feste's enigmatic final song emphasizes the ambiguities of human experiencewhich is neither as grim as the clown's pessimistic verses nor as blissful as romantic comedy.]

Shakespeare's plays frequently counterpose the powers of human and of suprahuman will, and the antithesis usually generates a definition of natures, both human and suprahuman. These definitions vary, however, according to the play. For instance, Hamlet's "providence" does not seem the same as the darker, equivocating power that encourages Macbeth to pit his will against a larger order; and these controls differ from Diana and Apollo in the later plays, Pericles and The Winter's Tale. Furthermore, Hamlet's submission and Macbeth's submission to non-human controls (if indeed they do submit their individual wills) cannot be understood as the same action or even to imply the same kind of human vision.

Many of the conflicts of Twelfth Night seem to be concerned with the contest between human will and suprahuman control; yet, the latter manifests itself in various ways and is called different names by the characters themselves.1 As each contest between the human will and another designer works itself out, the involved characters recognize that their will is fulfilled, but not according to their planning. The individual's will is finally secondary to a design that benevolently, but unpredictably, accords with what he truly desires.2 For example, when Olivia, at the end of Act I, implores Fate to accord with her will in allowing her love for Cesario to flourish, she has no idea that her will must be circumvented for her own happiness. Yet the substitution of Sebastian for Cesario in her love fulfills her wishes more appropriately than her own design could have done. Inversely, when Duke Orsino says in the opening scene that he expects to replace Olivia's brother in her "debt of love," he doesn't realize that literally he will become her "brother" (Li.34-40). As the closing moments of the play bring Olivia and the Duke together on the stage for the only time, she says to him, "think me as well a sister as a wife" (V.i.307); and the Duke responds in kind: "Madam, I am most apt t' embrace your offer," and a bit later, "Meantime, sweet sister, / We will not part from hence" (V.i.310, 373-74). The Duke had not understood the literal force of his prediction, but his early statement of his hope plants a subtle suggestion for the audience. When the play's action accords with Duke Orsino's "will," the discrepancy between intention and fulfillment is a delightful irony which points again to the fact that "what you will" may be realized, but under conditions which the human will cannot manipulate. Orsino's desire to love and be loved, on the other hand, is fulfilled by his fancy's true queen, Viola, more appropriately than his design for Olivia would have allowed.

The one character whose true desires are not fulfilled in the play is Malvolio. His hope to gain Olivia in marriage results in public humiliation at the hands of Feste, who takes obvious satisfaction in being able to throw Malvolio's former haughty words back at him under their new context of Malvolio's demonstrated foolishness:

Why, 'some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrown upon them.' I was one, sir, in this interlude, one Sir Topas, sir; but that's all one. 'By the Lord, fool, I am not mad!' But do you remember, 'Madam, why laugh you at such a barren rascal? An you smile not, he's gagged'? And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.


Feste's assertion that the "whirligig of time" has brought this revenge upon Malvolio neglects the fact that Maria has been the instigator and Feste the enforcer of the plot to harass Malvolio. Time's design, insofar as Malvolio is concerned, depends upon Maria's and Feste's will, which differs significantly from a central point that the main plot makes—that human will is not the controller of events. The characters in the main plot learn from the play's confusing action that human designs are frequently inadequate for securing "what you will," and that a design outside their control brings fulfillment in unexpected ways. Feste's fallacy, of course, makes the results of the subplot seem to be the same as the results of the main plot, but Time's revenges on Malvolio are primarily human revenges, and this particular measure for measure is thoroughly within human control.3 Feste's justice allows no mitigation for missing the mark in human action; and the incipient cruelty that his precise justice manifests is felt, apparently, by other characters in the play.

When Olivia and her company hear Malvolio's case, she responds with compassion: "Alas, poor fool, how have they baffled thee! . . . He hath been most notoriously abused" (V.i.359, 368). Duke Orsino, upon hearing Malvolio's letter of explanation, comments, "This savors not much of distraction" (V.i.304). And even Sir Toby has become uneasy about the harsh treatment of Malvolio in the imprisonment scene: "I would we were well rid of this knavery. If he may be conveniently delivered, I would he were; for I am now so far in offense with my niece that I cannot pursue with any safety this sport to the upshot" (IV.ii.66-70). Actually, to place the responses into this sequence reverses the play's order; and we should consider the fact that Shakespeare builds toward a compassionate comment, with Olivia's statement climaxing an unwillingness to condone the actions of Feste and Maria in gulling Malvolio—at least in its last phase. Feste's exact form of justice without mercy has always characterized revenge, and even the word "revenge" is stressed by several of the characters in the subplot. When Maria voices her apparently spontaneous plot to gull Malvolio, she says:

The devil a Puritan that he is . . . the best persuaded of himself; so crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies that 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.

(II.iii. 134-40)

Maria's successful implementation of her "revenge" elicits Sir Toby's total admiration. At the end of II.v, he exclaims, "I could marry this wench for this device" (168), and when Maria appears soon thereafter, he asks, "Wilt thou set thy foot o' my neck?" (174). The battlefield image of the victor and the victim is mock-heroic, of course; but in the final scene Fabian testifies to its literal fruition: "Maria writ / The letter, at Sir Toby's great importance, / In recompense whereof he hath married her" (V.i.352-54). Sir Toby's submission to Maria's will is a comic parallel for two actions: the pairing off of lovers, and the submission of the individual's will to a design other than his own. Yet the inclusion of a parodic version of marriage-harmony in the subplot does not fully ease the discomfort of the subplot's conclusion. Fabian tries to smooth it away when he suggests that the "sportful malice" of gulling Malvolio "may rather pluck on laughter than revenge" (V.i.355-58).4 Neither Feste nor Malvolio seems to be convinced, however. Feste's "whirligig of time brings in his revenges," and Malvolio quits the stage with, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!" (V.i.366-67). The forgiveness that should conclude the comic pattern is "notoriously" missing from the subplot and cannot be absorbed successfully by the Duke's line, "Pursue him and entreat him to a peace." Malvolio seems unlikely to return. The major differences between the subplot and the main plot is clearest at this dramatic moment: revenge is a human action that destroys; love, graced by the sanction of a higher providence, creates a "golden time."

Feste's "whirligig" seems to be a parody of Fortune's wheel in its inevitable turning, particularly with its suggestions of giddy swiftness and change.5 It provides a perfect image for the wild but symmetrical comic conclusion of the play's action. Feste's speech which includes it gives the appearance of completion to a mad cycle of events over which no human had much control. Only in Malvolio's case was human control of events evident. In her forged letter, Maria caters to Malvolio's "will" and, by encouraging him to accept his own interpretation of circumstances as his desire dictates,6 she leads him not only into foolishness, but also into a defense of his sanity. The discrepancy between Malvolio's assumption that fortune is leading him on his way and the fact that Maria is in charge of his fate manifests itself clearly in the juxtaposition of her directions to the revelers (as she leaves the stage) with Malvolio's lines as he enters:

MARIA Get ye all three into the box tree. . . . Observe him, for the love of mockery; for I know this letter will make a contemplative idiot of him. Close, in the name ofjesting. [The others hide.] Lie thou there [throws down a letter]; for here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling. Exit.

Enter Malvolio.

MALVOLIO 'Tis but fortune; all is fortune. Maria once told me she [Olivia] did affect me.


The gulling of Malvolio which follows is hilariously funny, partly because Malvolio brings it all on himself. Even before he finds the letter, his assumptions of rank and his plans for putting Sir Toby in his place elicit volatile responses from the box tree. And after he finds the forged letter, Malvolio's self-aggrandizing interpretations of the often cryptic statements evoke howls of glee mixed with the already disdainful laughter. The comedy of this scene is simple in its objective exploitation of Malvolio's self-love, and Malvolio becomes an appropriately comic butt. The audience's hilarity is probably more controlled than Sir Toby's and the box tree audience's excessive laughter; still, we are united in laughing at Malvolio's foolishness. And when Malvolio appears in his yellow stockings and cross-garters, the visual comedy encourages a total release in the fun of the game—Malvolio is gulled and we need not feel the least bit guilty, because he is marvelously unaware of his own foolishness. Oblivious to any reality but his own, Malvolio thinks he is irresistibly appealing with his repugnant dress and his continuous smiles—so contrary to his usual solemnity—and Olivia concludes that he has gone mad. "Why, this is very midsummer madness," she says, and, then, as she is leaving to receive Cesario, she commends Malvolio to Maria's care.7

Good Maria, let this fellow be looked to. Where's my cousin Toby? Let some of my people have a special care of him. I would not have him miscarry for the half of my dowry.


Malvolio miscontrues Olivia's generous concern as amorous passion and he thanks Jove for contriving circumstances so appropriately:

I have limed her; but it is Jove's doing, and Jove make me thankful. . . . Nothing that can be can come between me and the full prospect of my hopes. Well, Jove, not I, is the doer of this, and he is to be thanked.


Malvolio's scrupulous praise of a higher designer than himself is a parodic echo of Olivia's earlier submission to Fate after she has begun to love Cesario: "What is decreed must be—and be this so!" (I.v.297). The impulses underlying Malvolio's speech (and to some extent, Olivia's speech as well) exert opposite pulls: Malvolio wants to attribute control of circumstances to Jove at the same time he wants divine identity. He attempts to simulate foreknowledge through predictive assertion: "Nothing that can be can come between me and the full prospect of my hopes." As long as events are in the hands of a non-human control, man cannot destroy or divert the predetermined order. But Malvolio cannot foresee the vindictive wit of Maria (often pronounced "Moriah"), nor can Olivia foresee the necessary substitution of Sebastian for Viola-Cesario. Each must learn that he, like the characters he wishes to control, is subject to an unpredictable will not his own. Precisely at this moment—when the character is forced to see a discrepancy between what he "wills" and what "is"—the possibility that he is mad confronts him.

Feste seems to adopt the disguise of Sir Topas to convince Malvolio that he is mad,8 and the imprisonment scene evokes a different response than the letter that exploits Malvolio by encouraging him to wear yellow stockings and cross-garters. In the earlier phase of the gulling, Malvolio is a comic butt after the fashion of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, unaware of his foolishness; however, imprisoned, Malvolio is a helpless victim, fully aware that he is being abused. With Olivia, his extraordinary costume and perpetual smiles make him a visible clown, and, as a result, he even seems good-humored. But with Maria and Feste in the imprisonment scene, he is not visible; we only hear him and his protestations of abuse. These different visual presentations produce a notable difference in comic effect because visual comedy often changes a serious tone in the dialogue.9

In the imprisonment scene, Sir Topas keeps insisting that things are not as Malvolio perceives them; but Malvolio refuses to admit a discrepancy between what he perceives and reality. Accordingly, Malvolio insists that he is not mad.

Malvolio within.

MALVOLIO Who calls there?

CLOWN Sir Topas the curate, who comes to visit Malvolio the lunatic. . . .

MALVOLIO Sir Topas, never was man thus wronged. Good Sir Topas, do not think I am mad. They have laid me here in hideous darkness.

CLOWN Fie, thou dishonest Satan. I call thee by the most modest terms, for I am one of those gentle ones that will use the devil himself with courtesy. Say'st thou that house is dark?

MALVOLIO As hell, Sir Topas.

CLOWN Why, it hath bay windows transparent as barricadoes, and the clerestories toward the south north are as lustrous as ebony; and yet complainest thou of obstruction?

MALVOLIO 1 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 fog.

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 abused. I am no more mad than you are.


In the darkness of his prison, Malvolio literally is unable to see, and Feste makes the most of the symbolic implications of Malvolio's blindness. The audience perceives with Feste that the house is not dark (that hypothetical Globe audience would have been able to see the literal daylight in the playhouse), yet the audience also knows that Malvolio is being "abused" because he cannot see the light. The audience is therefore led to a double awareness of values in this scene: we are able to absorb the emblematic significance of Malvolio's separation from good-humored sanity and to know at the same time that Malvolio is not mad in the literal way that Feste, Maria, and Sir Toby insist. Although the literal action engenders the emblematic awareness, the literal action does not necessarily support the emblematic meaning. This pull in two opposite directions occurs simultaneously and places the audience in a slightly uncomfortable position. We prefer to move in one direction or in the other. Yet it seems that here Shakespeare asks us to forgo the either-or alternatives and to hold contradictory impressions together. Malvolio cannot be dismissed as a simple comic butt when his trial in the dark has such severe implications.10

The ambiguities of his situation are clear to everyone except Malvolio, but he rigidly maintains his single point of view. Because he refuses to allow more than his own narrowed focus, he is emblematically an appropriate butt for the harsh comic action that blots out his power to see as well as to act. He must ultimately depend upon the fool to bring him "ink, paper, and light" so that he may extricate himself from his prison, a situation which would have seemed to Malvolio earlier in the play "mad" indeed. Feste thus does force Malvolio to act against his will in submitting to the fool, but Malvolio fails to change his attitudes.11 Malvolio remains a literalist—Feste's visual disguise is for the audience so that we can see as well as hear the ambiguities of his performance, a point that Maria brings into focus when she says "Thou mightest have done this without thy beard and gown. He sees thee not" (IV.ii.63-64).

In the very next scene, Sebastian presents a contrast which delineates even more clearly the narrowness of Malvolio's response to an uncontrollable situation. Sebastian, too, confronts the possibility that he is mad: his situation in Illyria is anything but under his control.

This is the air; that is the glorious sun; This pearl she gave me, I do feel't and see't; And though 'tis wonder that enwraps me thus,Yet 'tis not madness. . . . For though my soul disputes well with my sense That this may be some error, but no madness,Yet doth this accident and flood of fortune So far exceed all instance, all discourse, That I am ready to distrust mine eyes And wrangle with my reason that persuades me To any other trust but that I am mad,Or else the lady's mad.

(IV.iii.1-16: my italics)

Sebastian's pile of contrasting conjunctions ("though," "yet," "but") underlines his hesitance to form a final judgment, unlike Malvolio, whose point of view never changes despite the onslaught of unmanageable circumstances. The contradictions of his sensory perceptions lead Sebastian to a state of "wonder" in which he is able to suspend reason and delay judgment, and this signifies a flexibility of perception which Malvolio cannot attain. Malvolio is not stirred by the discrepancies of experience to consider that appearances may not be reality; but Sebastian can appreciate the undefinable workings of a power beyond the evident. Sebastian's ability to sense the "wonder" in a world where cause and effect have been severed gives him a stature that Malvolio cannot achieve.12 Yet the difference between them is due to the source of their manipulation as well as to their response. Sebastian is manipulated by Fate or by Fortune; Malvolio, by Maria and Feste. Human manipulators parody suprahuman control and because they do, Maria and Feste define both levels of action.

Feste, Maria, and Sir Toby are all in a set and predictable world of sporting gullery, and the rules for their games are known. Feste's "whirligig" associates Time with a toy (perhaps even with an instrument of torture) and limits Time to human terms of punishment. On the other hand, the Time that Viola addresses does untie her problematic knot of disguise. Feste's attribution of revenge to this "whirligig of Time" points up the difference between the two controls. The whirligig becomes a parodic substitute for the larger providence that other characters talk about under other titles: Time, Jove, Fate, Fortune, or Chance. Significantly, Malvolio's humiliation is the only humanly designed action that fulfills itself as planned. The subplot performs its parody in many other ways,13 but in Feste's summary "whirligig" it displays the double vision that Shakespearean parody typically provides. The foibles of the romantics in Illyria are seen in their reduced terms through Sir Toby, Maria, and Sir Andrew, but the limitations of the parodic characters also heighten by contrast the expansive and expanding world of the play. Love, not revenge, is celebrated.

But even Feste's whirligig takes another spin and does not stop at revenge: in the play's final song the playwright extends an embrace to his audience. Feste's song creates an ambiguity of perspective which fuses the actual world with an ideal one: "the rain it raineth every day" is hardly the world described by the play. Romantic Illyria seems to have little to do with such realistic intrusions. Yet, the recognition of continuous rain is in itself an excess—it does not rain every day in the actual world, at least not in the same place.14 Thus, the pessimistic excess of the song balances the optimistic excesses of the romance world of Illyria; neither excess accurately reflects the actual world. Despite the apparent progress the song describes of a man's growing from infancy to maturity and to old age, it remains something of an enigma.15 The ambiguities of the first four stanzas build to a contrast of direct statements in the final stanza.

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 first line of this stanza seems to imply that the world has its own, independent design;16 and it also suggests that man's actions must take their place and find meaning within this larger and older pattern. The specific meaning of that larger design, however, remains concealed within the previous ambiguities of Feste's song. His philosophic pretensions to explain that design are comically vague and he knows it. He tosses them aside to speak directly to the audience: "But that's all one, our play is done." This is the same phrase Feste uses with Malvolio in his summary speech in Act V: "I was one, sir, in this interlude, one Sir Topas, sir; but that's all one." In both cases, Feste avoids an explanation.

Turning to the audience and shattering the dramatic illusion is typical in epilogues, but Feste's inclusion of the audience into his consciousness of the play as a metaphor for actual experience has a special significance here. Throughout Twelfth Night, Feste has engaged various characters in dialogues of self-determination. In one game of wit, he points out that Olivia is a fool "to mourn for your brother's soul, being in heaven" (I.v.65-66). By his irrefutable logic, he wins Olivia's favor and her tacit agreement that her mourning has been overdone. The Duke also is subject to Feste's evaluation in two scenes. Following his performance, upon the Duke's request, of a sad song of unrequited love, Feste leaves a paradoxical benediction:

Now the melancholy god protect thee, and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal. I would have men of such constancy put to sea, that their business might be everything, and their intent everywhere; for that's it that always makes a good voyage of nothing.


And later, when the Duke is approaching Olivia's house, Feste encounters him with one of his typically unique and audaciously applied truisms:

DUKE I know thee well. How dost thou, my good fellow?

CLOWN Truly, sir, the better for my foes, and the worse for my friends.

DUKE Just the contrary: the better for thy friends.

CLOWN No, sir, the worse.

DUKE How can that be?

CLOWN Marry, sir, they 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, the worse for my friends, and the better for my foes.


The Duke has in fact lacked some knowledge of himself, and Feste's pointed remark makes it clear that he is using his role as fool to point up the true foolishness of others. In the prison scene with Malvolio, Feste provides a confusing game of switching identities from the Clown to Sir Topas. In each situation, Feste provides the other person with a different perspective for seeing himself. Thus, it is more than merely appropriate that at the end of the play Feste engages the audience in its own definition of self. By asking them to look at their participation in the dramatic illusion, Feste is requesting them to recognize their own desire for humanly willed happiness.17

The playwright, like the comic providence in the play, has understood "what we will" and has led us to a pleasurable fulfillment of our desires, but in ways which we could not have foreseen or controlled. The substitution of the final line, "And we'll strive to please you every day," for the refrain, "For the rain it raineth every day," is a crucial change. Like the incremental repetition in the folk ballad, this pessimistic refrain has built a dynamic tension which is released in the recognition that the play is an actual experience in the lives of the audience, even though it is enacted in an imagined world. The players, and the playwright who arranges them, are engaged in an ongoing effort to please the audience. The providential design remains incomplete within the play's action and only promises a "golden time"; similarly, the playwright promises further delightful experiences for his audience. The subplot's action, on the other hand, is limited within the framework of revenge: the revenge of the subplot characters elicits Malvolio's cry for revenge.

Malvolio is the only one who refuses to see himself in a subservient position to a larger design. And possibly because that design is too small, we cannot feel that his abuse and final exclusion from the happy community of lovers and friends allows the golden time to be fulfilled within the play. Feste's manipulation of Malvolio resembles the playwright's manipulation of his audience's will, but in such a reduced way that we cannot avoid seeing the difference between merely human revenge and the larger benevolence that controls the play's design.


1 Viola's Captain calls this power "chance" (I. ii. 6, 8); Viola submits herself to "Time" (I. ii. 60; II. ii. 39); Olivia and Sebastian refer to "Fate" (I. v. 296; II. i. 4); Malvolio speaks of Jove's control (II. v. 158, 164; III. iv. 68-77); and the forged letter names "the stars," "the Fates," and "Fortune" (II. v. 131-146). Citations of the plays are from William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. Alfred Harbage (Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books, 1969).

2 S. Nagarajan, "'What You Will': A Suggestion," Shakespeare Quarterly, 10 (1959), 61-67, employs Thomistic categories to discuss the function of human will in the play.

3 Notice the similarity between Feste's description of events and Iago's prediction as he encourages Roderigo to join him in his revenge against Othello: "There are many events in the womb of time which will be delivered" (I. iii. 366). Iago implies that he is merely an agent bringing about time's inevitable retributions.

4 Fabian's participation in the gulling of Malvolio has a vengeful motive, because, as he says to Sir Toby, Malvolio has at some previous time "brought me out o' favor with my lady about a bear-baiting here" (II. v. 4-7).

5 The OED cites Feste's line as an example under "circling course, revolution (of time or events)," but other uses of the term cited there are also important in the force of the word in Twelfth Night: "whirligig" is the name of various toys which are whirled, twirled, or spun around; the term was also used to signify "an instrument of punishment"; and the word suggests fickleness, inconstancy, giddiness, or flightiness.

6 Maria indicates her "foreknowledge" of Malvolio's certain response (II. iii. 137-40), and Malvolio's comments fulfill her prediction (II. v. 110-12, 150-52).

7 Olivia has drawn a similar conclusion about herself in the opening lines of this scene: "I am as mad as he, / If sad and merry madness equal be" (III. iv. 13-14). Because Olivia concurs with Maria in classifying Malvolio's peculiar behavior as "madness," she inadvertently begets the subplotters plan for imprisoning Malvolio. We have Rosalind's word for it in As You Like It that the typical treatment for lunatics in the sixteenth centry was imprisonment:

Love is merely a madness, and, I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punished and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.

(III. ii. 376-80).

8 Cf. Julian Markels, "Shakespeare's Confluence of Tragedy and Comedy: Twelfth Night and King Lear," in Shakespeare 400, ed. James G. McManaway (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964), pp. 85-86, for a similar observation. Feste makes evident his assumption that Malvolio is "possessed" by associating carnal sexual interests with Malvolio's request that Sir Topas "go to my lady" (cf. Leslie Hotson, The First Night of Twelfth Night [New York: Macmillan, 1954], pp. 108-09). Feste replies:

Out, hyperbolical fiend! How vexest thou this man! Talkest thou nothing but of ladies?


Obsessive interest in sexual lust seems to have been a commonplace shorthand to indicate madness for Renaissance dramatists: for examples, see Ophelia's mad songs in Hamlet (IV.v); Edgar's speech to King Lear as poor Tom o' Bedlam (III.iv.); and the masque of madmen in The Duchess of Malfì (IV.ii.). Feste is also following Vice's typical role of teasing and tormenting the Devil when he berates Malvolio, who (Feste asserts) is possessed by the fiend—a point that Feste's song at the end of IV.ii reiterates.

9 The two productions of Twelfth Night that I have seen both chose to emphasize visual comedy. One was the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance at Stratford-Upon-Avon in August 1971. During the scene, Malvolio kept popping his head up through a left-front trap door, and Feste responded with a swift stomp of his foot, closing the trap according to his whim. In this case, Malvolio was not allowed to see Feste, but the audience was allowed to see Malvolio. A performance in the fall of 1971, by Florida's Asolo Theater, had Feste roll onstage a wheeled cage with a small barred window on the upper left, covered by a flap. A sign reading "Beware the Lunatic" covered most of the visible side of the cage and evoked a large laugh from the audience. Throughout the scene, Feste was able to lift or lower the flap covering the bars, so that Malvolio was exposed to the audience and to Feste according to Feste's whim. In both of these instances, the visual comedy was heightened at the expense of the text and its suggested visual effects: Malvolio neither sees anyone nor is seen by anyone in the darkness of his prison. An illustration of this scene from Nicholas Rowe's edition of 1709 shows Malvolio separated from the others by a center stage partition, which would allow the audience to witness both situations simultaneously. This is closer to stage directions in the text, but, of course, would not have been probable for Shakespeare's staging of the scene. See "Plate 9 (c)," W. Moelwyn Merchant, Shakespeare and the Artist (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), between pp. 48, 49.

10 The problem of whether to sympathize with or to reject and ridicule Malvolio is an old one. Charles Lamb probably opened this Pandora's box when he praised Malvolio as what Lamb thought he should have been—"brave, honourable, accomplished": from "On Some of the Old Actors," The London Magazine, 1822, reprinted in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, ed. Leonard F. Dean and James A. S. McPeek (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1965), p. 150. Many arguments have been advanced against Malvolio's "humanity" as realized in the play. Two of the more interesting are by S. L. Bethell, Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition (London: Kings and Staples, 1944), pp. 77-78, and Barbara K. Lewalski, "Thematic Patterns in Twelfth Night" Shakespeare Studies, 1 (1965), 168-81.

11 Julian Markels, "Shakespeare's Confluence of Tragedy and Comedy," p. 84, and Barbara Lewalski, "Thematic Patterns in Twelfth Night," discuss the regenerative potentials of madness. Both discussions are pertinent to the emblematic values presented in this scene.

12 Cf. Harold Jenkins, "Shakespeare's Twelfth Night" in Shakespeare: The Comedies, ed. Kenneth Muir (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965), p. 76.

13 L. G. Salingar discusses some of the other parodic functions of the subplot in "The Design of Twelfth Night," Shakespeare Quarterly, 9 (1958), 119-39.

14 Joseph H. Summers makes a similar point, "The Masks of Twelfth Night," The University of Kansas City Review, 22 (1955), 31. In contrast, the song becomes an appropriate description of the play's world in King Lear (III. ii. 64-77).

15 I disagree with John A. Hart's opinion that Feste's song "is not hard to fathom": "Foolery Shines Everywhere: The Fool's Function in the Romantic Comedies," Starre of Poets, Carnegie Series in English, 10 (Pittsburg: Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1966), p. 47. Hart's own reading of the song's "general meaning" differs in several major points from other readings. One of the most generally held readings is by John Weiss, Wit, Humour, and Shakespeare (Boston, 1876), p. 204. It is impossible to list every variant, but worth noting by contrast is Leslie Hotson, The First Night of Twelfth Night, pp. 168-71, who centers his discussion of the song on the sexual innuendoes that proceed from reading "thing" as male genitalia.

16 Leslie Hotson, ibid., p. 171, n. 2, points out that this line "recalls the Elizabethan euphemism for coition, 'To dance The Beginning of the World!'" Without discounting that allusion, I suggest that a much more general pattern of action is implied.

17 Cf. Joseph Summers, "The Masks of Twelfth Night," pp. 31-32.

Robert Wilcher (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "The Art of the Comic Duologue in Three Plays by Shakespeare," in Shakespeare Survey: AnAnnual Survey of Shakespeare Studies and Production, Vol. 35, 1982, pp. 87-97.

[In the following excerpt, Wilcher asserts that, in contrast to the more conventional clowns of Shakespeare's earlier comedies, Feste is a more fully human character.]


Since Francis Douce's pioneering study of the 'clowns and fools' of the Elizabethan stage, a good deal of scholarly scrutiny and critical interpretation has been directed towards Shakespeare's use of his inheritance from popular drama in general and from traditions of fooling in particular.1 But compared with the detailed studies that have been devoted to the serious dramatic functions that Shakespeare developed for the solo-turn exemplified by Launce's monologues in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and the porter scene in Macbeth,2 that other familiar routine of popular comedy—the double-act—has been somewhat neglected. William Willeford traces the origins of the 'knockabout fool pair' to the interplay between the Devil and the Vice in the Tudor moralities;3 and Austin Gray identifies the comic personalities of the actors Will Kemp and Dick Cowley behind the long line of Shakespearian double-acts, from Launce and Speed to the grave-diggers in Hamlet, offering this account of the relationship between the stooge and the lead comedian:

This old fellow is a mere shadow to his wiser gossip. It is his business to ask simple-minded questions or to listen in simple-minded wonder to the dogmatic wisdom of his friend. In short, his main duty is to be the cause that wit and comicality express themselves through the mouth of his friend.4

The fullest account of the nature and function of the double-act is by J. A. B. Somerset who, in the course of tracing the history and significance of the comic turn in Renaissance English drama, spends some time on 'the "vaudeville" interchange in which the master acts the role of straight-man to the fooling of his servant or jester, while realizing that he is doing so'.5 It is the purpose of the present paper to examine the use of comic duologues in As You Like It, Twelfth Night, and Hamlet, in order to indicate the variety of Shakespeare's artistic response to Dogberry's observation that 'an two men ride of a horse, one must ride behind' (Much Ado About Nothing, 3.5.35-6).6

Some preliminary attention must be given, however, to the early comedies, because they establish in simple form the materials which Shakespeare was to manipulate later in more complex ways and also offer glimpses of those insights into human behaviour which he perceived in the very nature of the double-act. Three variations can be distinguished, involving both the status of the participants and the kind of humorous exchange that takes place between them. First there is the Kemp-Cowley type of set-piece described by Gray, in which the lead clown and the stooge share the same low social class. The comedy resides in the ability of the dominant partner to outwit his slower companion, either by confusing him or by trapping him into an absurd situation by verbal trickery. A crude example occurs in The Taming of the Shrew, in the scene where Grumio thwarts his fellow-servant's eager desire for news of their master's marriage for some thirty lines and then clinches his comic superiority in a more material way:

Grumio. First know my horse is tired; my master and mistress fall'n out.

Curtis. How?

Grumio. Out of their saddles into the dirt; and thereby hangs a tale.

Curtis. Let's ha't, good Grumio.

Grumio. Lend thine ear.

Curtis. Here.

Grumio. There. [Striking him.

Curtis. This 'tis to feel a tale, not to hear a tale.

Grumio. And therefore 'tis called a sensible tale; and this cuff was but to knock at your ear and beseech list'ning.


Launcelot Gobbo's determination to 'try confusions' with his sand-blind father in The Merchant of Venice (2.2.28 ff.) is in a similar vein. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, the servants Launce and Speed are more equally matched intellectually, but in each of their encounters Launce is given the upper hand in the verbal sparring and Speed is relegated to the stooge's role:

Speed. How now, Signior Launce! What news with your mastership?

Launce. With my master's ship? Why, it is at sea.

Speed. Well, your old vice still: mistake the word. What news, then, in your paper?

Launce. The black'st news that ever thou heard'st.

Speed. Why, man? how black?

Launce. Why, as black as ink.


This exchange opens into the long sequence in which Speed 'feeds' Launce by reading items from a paper detailing the qualities of Launce's mistress, thus allowing the lead clown all the witty punch-lines.

In each of these cases, the double-act interrupts the progress of the plot and is clearly designed to display the talents of the company's clowns in an interlude of low comedy. At the other end of the social scale are the duologues between characters from the main plot. The Two Gentlemen of Verona opens with a witty scene of parting between Valentine and Proteus, which will serve to exhibit the distinctive features of this second kind of exchange:

Proteus. Upon some book of love I'll pray for thee.

Valentine. That's on some shallow story of deep love: How young Leander cross'd the Hellespont.

Proteus. That's a deep story of a deeper love; For he was more than over shoes in love.

Valentine. 'Tis true; for you are over boots in love, And yet you never swum the Hellespont.

Proteus. Over the boots! Nay, give me not the boots.

Valentine. No, I will not, for it boots thee not.


Here, in contrast to the previous examples, there is no dominant partner. Each holds his own in a mutual display of verbal cleverness. The puns proliferate in the game of keeping the ball of wit in the air. It is more common for this kind of game to be played while other characters are present, and then it takes on the air of a contest, with the spectators frequently commenting on the expertise of the players. Love's Labour's Lost furnishes an example:

Katharine. She might 'a been a grandam ere she died. And so may you; for a light heart lives long.

Rosaline. What's your dark meaning, mouse, of this light word?

Katharine. A light condition in a beauty dark.

Rosaline. We need more light to find your meaning out.

Katharine. You'll mar the light by taking it in snuff; Therefore I'll darkly end the argument.

Rosaline. Look what you do, you do it still i' th' dark.

Katharine. So do not you; for you are a light wench.

Rosaline. Indeed, I weigh not you; and therefore light.

Katharine. You weigh me not? O, that's you care not for me.

Rosaline. Great reason; for 'past cure is still past care'.

Princess. Well bandied both; a set of wit well play'd.


The Princess's image indicates the holiday nature of this kind of repartee, having no other purpose than to exercise the participants and entertain their companions. In a scene from The Two Gentlemen of Verona, however, the sport is given an edge of seriousness when Valentine is challenged by Thurio, his rival for the hand of Silvia:

Silvia. Servant, you are sad.

Valentine. Indeed, madam, I seem so.

Thurio. Seem you that you are not?

A needling interchange ensues, until Valentine catches Thurio on the raw by proving him a fool:

Silvia. What, angry, Sir Thurio! Do you change colour?

Valentine. Give him leave, madam; he is a kind of chameleon.

Thurio. That hath more mind to feed on your blood than live in your air.

Valentine. You have said, sir.

Thurio. Ay, sir, and done too, for this time.

Valentine. I know it well, sir; you always end ere you begin.

Silvia. A fine volley of words, gentlemen, and quickly shot off.


Silvia's two interventions suggest that Thurio, by taking up Valentine's initial 'I seem so' in a malicious sense and then becoming heated as the exchange develops to his disadvantage, is breaking the rules of this kind of social badinage. When personalities and the rivalries of real life become engaged in the verbal contest, the delicate mechanisms of social decorum are endangered. Silvia's concluding attempt to bring the uncomfortable situation back within the bounds of the courtly game is appropriately expressed in an image of warfare rather than sport. Already, thus early in his career, Shakespeare demonstrates how the witty duologue may be exploited dramatically to expose psychological and social tensions among characters.

The third type of comic duologue is that discussed by Somerset, in which a character of high status consents to play straight-man to a socially inferior comedian. In the early comedies, the comic actor had been accommodated in the fictional world of the play as a servant. This figure, as Robert Weimann has demonstrated in his analysis of Launce's contribution to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, moves between the real-life situation of a clown confronting a theatre audience and the dramatic situation of a character relating to other characters:

The real performance of the actor and the imaginative role of the servant interact, and they achieve a new and very subtle kind of unity. Within this unity, the character's relations to the playworld begin to dominate, but the comic ease and flexibility of these relations are still enriched by some traditional connexion between the clowning actor and the laughing spectator.7

It is in monologues and asides, and with his dull companion in the low-comedy double-act, that the clown asserts his function as entertainer of the audience and maintains his semi-independence of the playworld. When he becomes involved in the third kind of duologue, he withdraws into the fiction and exerts his wit to entertain not us, directly, but his employer. The difference between the master-servant conversation and the low-comedy turn is indicated by Antipholus of Syracuse's description of his relationship with Dromio in The Comedy of Errors:

A trusty villain, sir, that very oft, When I am dull with care and melancholy, Lightens my humour with his merry jests.


Launcelot and Grumio play at fooling their social equals and intellectual inferiors, Old Gobbo and Curtis, for the delight of the audience; Dromio and his successors Touchstone and Feste are allowed to amuse their social superiors within the world of the drama.

On two occasions in The Comedy of Errors, Antipholus agrees to indulge Dromio, feeding him in act 2, scene 2 with such lines as 'Your reason?', 'Let's hear it', 'For what reason?', 'Name them'; and in act 3, scene 2 playing up to his conceit of the amorous kitchen-wench as 'a globe' by asking him to locate different countries on her anatomy. These two extended duologues are as much formal double-acts interrupting the plot as the Grumio-Curtis sequence, but the style of comedy is quite different, as we enjoy the inventiveness of Dromio's replies rather than the lower humour of one fool outwitting another. When Launcelot engages his superiors in witty conversation, another feature of this mode of comedy comes to light. He harps upon Jessica's Jewishness and her conversion to Christianity, asserting that she will be damned for her father's sins and complaining that 'this making of Christians will raise the price of hogs' (The Merchant of Venice, 3.5.20). These jokes are typical of the later professional fools' habit of telling home-truths and handling taboo subjects. Jessica is in no way offended or disconcerted, and seems to enjoy the chance to treat these disturbing personal matters in a mood of playfulness. As Olivia says, when Feste makes light of her brother's death: 'There is no slander in an allow'd fool' (Twelfth Night, 1.5.88). . . .


In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare uses the technique of the double-act to conduct his most penetrating psychological study of the domestic fool. The character and personal predicament of the early comic servants had never been the focus of dramatic attention. Launce's parting from his family and affection for his dog, and Launcelot's hard life in Shylock's household, had been used simply as the basis for comic turns. Touchstone's behaviour in the Forest of Arden had provided insights into social manners, but had not involved us in the clown's predicament as a unique individual. He was introduced, we remember, with a philosophical discussion about wit and folly, and it was his functioning as a jester not his character as a man that Shakespeare was interested in. The duologue routine which brings Feste before us for the first time immediately establishes the difference of approach in Twelfth Night:

Maria. Nay, either tell me where thou hast been, or I will not 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 hang'd in this world needs to fear no colours.

Maria. Make that good.

Clown. He shall see none to fear.

Maria. A good lenten answer. I can tell thee where that saying was born, of 'I fear no colours'.

Clown. Where, good Mistress Mary?

Maria. In the wars; and that may you be bold to say in your foolery.

Clown. Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents.

Maria. Yet you will be hang'd for being so long absent; or to be turn'd away—is not that as good as a hanging to you?

Clown. Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage; and for turning away, let summer bear it out.

Maria. You are resolute, then?

Clown. Not so, neither; but I am resolv'd on two points.

Maria. That if one break, the other will hold; or if both break, your gaskins fall.

Clown. Apt, in good faith, very apt!


Feste is a hired man, dependent on his fooling for his living. Whatever licence he may have to speak, he is not free to be absent without his employer's permission, and the threat of being 'turn'd away' hangs over his position in the social microcosm of Olivia's household. The progress of the duologue illustrates just how precarious that position is. He begins with a rather feeble pun on 'colours' and 'collars', and when Maria 'feeds' him with the line, 'Make that good', he collapses into the even feebler conclusion: 'He shall see none to fear.' Maria registers the poorness of this 'lenten answer', and then takes over as dominant partner in the comic routine, with Feste dropping into the role of straight-man: 'Where, good Mistress Mary?' His reply, with its comment 'those that are fools, let them use their talents', is a resigned admission that his 'talents' in the field of fooling are small. A few lines later, after offering a threadbare proverb in response to Maria's repeated warning about hanging, he launches into another joke with an intended pun on 'points'. But Maria is too quick for him, and instead of playing straight-man steals his punch-line. 'Apt', says Feste, crestfallen, 'in good faith, very apt!': the kind of remark that one expects to hear from the impressed audience of the clown, not from the clown himself.

Feste's aside, as Olivia and Malvolio approach, is different in kind from the asides of clowns like Speed or Thersites, which register a critical attitude towards the antics of the other characters. It is more of an overheard thought (a silent prayer for help) than a wink at the audience, and it reveals Feste's critical awareness of his own shortcomings rather than the folly of others:

Wit, an't be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits that think they have thee do very oft prove fools; and I that am sure I lack thee may pass for a wise man.


His uneasiness is quite justified, since Olivia is evidently displeased with him and tired of his predictable brand of humour:

Olivia. Take the fool away.

Clown. Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady.

Olivia. Go to, y'are a dry fool. I'll no more of you. Besides, you grow dishonest.

(11. 35-8)

He desperately produces a lengthy syllogistic proof that Olivia is a fool, to be met not with applause, but with a blocking speech: 'Sir, I bade them take away you.' The mock dignity of his assertion that 'I wear not motley in my brain' only half conceals his resentment at the role in which he has been cast by Fortune rather than by Nature, and he appeals for one more chance to demonstrate that he can perform adequately: 'Good madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool.'10 Olivia relents, and agrees to play her part in the comic duologue with her dubious 'Can you do it?' and the feed line: 'Make your proof.' This opens the way for a comic catechism, which wins Olivia over: 'What think you of this fool, Malvolio? Doth he not mend?' The ensuing dialogue, in which Malvolio castigates 'these set kind of fools' and gets uncomfortably near the truth about Feste's limitations—'unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagg'd'—adds further detail to Shakespeare's study of this particular clown's predicament. He is caught up in the below-stairs rivalries of a great household, and it is easy to understand why he tries to avoid anything that would aggravate Olivia's displeasure—keeping in the background when Sir Toby and Maria hatch the plot against Malvolio, and only allowing himself to be drawn in somewhat diffidently at a late stage in the proceedings, when Sir Toby is looking for a way to be 'well rid of this knavery'.

He seems to be more valued by Orsino for his ability to sing than for his skill in fooling, and it is noticeable that he plays second fiddle to Sir Toby in the great merry-making scene, and that praise for his wit comes from the foolish Sir Andrew, who enjoys such jokes as 'I did impeticos thy gratillity' and 'I shall never begin if I hold my peace.' In the Sir Topas episode, Feste exhibits a skill in mimicry, not in verbal brilliance. His wit is at its most inventive when he is begging money from Orsino and Viola. Warde characterizes Feste's performances as a jester accurately as lacking in both the 'spontaneous humor' and the 'sententious wisdom' we expect from a fool. His wit, he continues, 'is at times labored, frequently forced, and seldom free from obvious effort. It is professional foolery, rather than intuitive fun.'11 And Bradley gets closer to the heart of his mystery in recognizing that the lot of such a man, who is 'more than Shakespeare's other fools, superior in mind to his superiors in rank', must be 'more or less hard, if not of necessity degrading'.12

Apart from his opening exchanges with Maria and Olivia and the Sir Topas episode, Feste's lengthiest involvement in duologue is with Viola. In substance, this scene is as much a comic interlude as the letter-reading turn between Speed and Launce: it contributes nothing to the plot. It does, however, substantiate Warde's and Bradley's insights into Feste's character and raise issues that are of thematic importance in the play:

Viola. Save thee, friend, and thy music! Dost thou live by thy tabor?

Clown. No, sir, I live by the church.

Viola. Art thou a churchman?

Clown. No such matter, sir: I do live by the church; for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church.

Viola. So thou mayst say the king lies by a beggar, if a beggar dwell near him; or the church stands by thy tabor, if thy tabor stand by the church.

Clown. You have said, sir. 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!

Viola. Nay, that's certain; they that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton.


Formally, this is a duologue that belongs to the Launce-Speed type, since both participants are supposedly of the servant class. Viola makes a good-natured approach, calling him 'friend', but Feste, with a mixture of resentment and insolence, underlines his own inferior position in the servant hierarchy by addressing the up-and-coming favourite, 'Cesario', in all but one of his thirteen replies with the mock-subservient 'sir'. In these opening moments of the encounter, the familiar double-act relationships fail to be established. Viola does not take up either of the conventional roles: that of stooge or that of straight-man. She attempts to engage the clown in a conversation between social and intellectual equals. C. L. Barber has pointed out that Feste's exasperation at the abuse of language in the interests of wit comes unexpectedly from the fool's mouth—in The Merchant of Venice, 'it was the gentlefolk who commented "How every fool can play upon the word!"'13 Two further points need to be made: firstly, Feste is not, as far as he knows, addressing more than a fellow-employee of the gentlefolk, for although 'Cesario's' parentage is 'above my fortunes' (1.5.262), 'he' is a dependant in Orsino's household; and secondly, it is in line with what we have seen of Feste's character that he should be contemptuous of the very art on which he must rely for his living. After all, it was he, not 'Cesario', who began the riddling conversation by turning the phrase 'live by' inside out. One might dig deeper, and suggest that his dallying with Viola's words is triggered by his bitterness at being forced by necessity to 'live by' his profession as jester-minstrel.

As the duologue continues, subtle adjustments are made in the relationship between the two participants:

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 wanton. 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.


Viola's control of both the sexual and the social aspects of her disguise as a male servant wavers in the face of Feste's refusal to respond straightforwardly to her greeting. This is delicately registered in the shift from 'friend' to the would-be hearty 'man' in her mode of address to the clown and in her assumption of the socially superior role as 'feed'—more appropriate to her real status—with the questions 'Why, man?' and 'Thy reason, man?'

The crisis of the scene occurs in the next few speeches, as Viola unwittingly nettles Feste and brings his submerged hostility into the open:

Viola. I warrant thou art a merry fellow and car'st for nothing.

Clown. 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.

Viola. Art not thou the Lady Olivia's fool?

Clown. No indeed, sir; the Lady Olivia has no folly; she will keep no fool, sir, till she be married; and fools are as like husbands as pi1chers are to herrings—the husband's the bigger. I am indeed not her fool, but her corrupter of words.

(11. 24-34)

Viola compounds the error of her patronizing tone in 'I warrant thou art a merry fellow' by using the title which Feste resents because of its implications. We remember that he even bridled when Olivia hinted that his jester's garb extended from his office to his nature: 'I wear not motley in my brain.' Viola tries to change this prickly subject, but Feste will not be placated and she breaks off the conversation in a way that places her firmly above him in the social hierarchy:

Viola. I saw thee late at the Count Orsino's.

Clown. Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun—it shines everywhere. I would be sorry, sir, but the fool should be as oft with your master as with my mistress: I think I saw your wisdom there.

Viola. Nay, an thou pass upon me, I'll no more with thee. Hold, there's expenses for thee. [giving a coin.]

(11. 35-41)

Having refused Viola's initial overtures of friendly equality, and resented her assumption of superiority, Feste now tries to turn her into his butt by calling her Orsino's fool. Viola's tip leads him into his routine of begging, but does not stem his insolence. In the very act of wheedling more money out of his antagonist, he is artfully implying that though 'Cesario' may not be a fool, he is nonetheless a hired man, and what is more, a pander:

Clown. I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia, sir, to bring a Cressida to this Troilus.

Viola. I understand you, sir; 'tis well begg'd. [giving another coin.

Clown. The matter, I hope, is not great, sir, begging but a beggar: Cressida was a beggar. My lady is within, sir. I will conster to them whence you come.

(11. 49-54)

When he is gone, Viola gives her famous assessment of Feste and his art:

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 jests, 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.

(11. 57-63)

As Joseph H. Summers points out, most of the characters in the play are wearing masks, and 'Feste is the one professional among a crowd of amateurs.'14 Unlike everyone else but Viola, however, Feste knows he is wearing a mask—that of fool—and must 'labour' to maintain it. This is why it is difficult to accept Roger Ellis's view that Feste 'covers his tracks so completely that we never see what he stands for, but only the folly and affectation which he ridicules in all around him', and that we never do find out what he does wear in his brain.15 Feste may be 'wise enough to play the fool'—with an effort—but he resents the fact that Fortune has made it necessary for him to practise an art which he knows is not natural to him; and in the scenes with Maria and Olivia in act 1 and with Viola in act 3, the routines of the comic duologue are deliberately manipulated by Shakespeare to wwcover his tracks, rather than to cover them. Touchstone was unconsciously trapped in his role; Feste is trapped in his, but with a full and painful awareness. It is typical of him that on the rare occasion when his wit rather than his singing is praised by Orsino—'Why, this is excellent'—Feste replies ruefully, 'By my troth, sir, no; though it please you to be one of my friends', and proceeds to beg for money. . . .


1 See, for example, Francis Douce, 'A Dissertation on the Clowns and Fools of Shakespeare', in Illustrations of Shakespeare, and of Ancient Manners (1807), vol. 2, pp. 299-332; Olive Mary Busby, Studies in the Development of the Fool in the Elizabethan Drama (1923); Enid Welsford, The Fool: His Social and Literary History (1935); Leslie Hotson, Shakespeare's Motley (1952); Robert Hillis Goldsmith, Wise Fools in Shakespeare (Liverpool, 1958); William Willeford, The Fool and His Sceptre: A Study in Clowns and Jesters and their Audience (1969); Victor Bourgy, Le Bouffon sur la scène anglaise au 16e siècle (c. 1495-1594) (Paris, 1969); Robert Weimann, Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theatre, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore and London, 1978).

2 See Harold F. Brooks, 'Two Clowns in a Comedy (to say nothing of the Dog): Speed, Launce (and Crab) in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona'", Essays and Studies, 16 (1963), 91-100; John B. Harcourt, '"I Pray You, Remember the Porter"', Shakespeare Quarterly, 22 (1961), 393-402.

3 Willeford, The Fool and his Sceptre, p. 123.

4 Austin K. Gray, 'Robert Armine, The Foole', PMLA, 42 (1927), 673-85, p. 673. See Busby (pp. 70-1) and Ludwig Borinski ('Shakespeare's Comic Prose', Shakespeare Survey 8 (Cambridge, 1955), pp. 57-68, p. 63) for brief accounts of some of the clown's duologue techniques.

5 J. A. B. Somerset, 'The Comic Turn in English Drama, 1470-1616' (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, 1966), pp. 619-26.

6 All quotations from Shakespeare's plays are taken from Peter Alexander's text of the Complete Works (1951).

7 Robert Weimann, 'Laughing with the Audience: "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" and the Popular Tradition of Comedy', Shakespeare Survey 22 (1969), pp. 35-42; p. 40. . . .

10 Feste wants to prove his own skill at fooling by inventing ingenious proof that his mistress is a fool—one of the traditional ploys of the jester.

11 Frederick Warde, The Fools of Shakespeare (1915), p. 78.

12 A. C. Bradley, 'Feste the Jester', in A Miscellany (1929), p. 213.

13 C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton, 1959), p. 253.

14 Joseph H. Summers, 'The Masks of Twelfth Night,' University of Kansas City Review, 22 (1955), reprinted in the Casebook on Twelfth Night, ed. D.J. Palmer (1972), p. 92.

15 Roger Ellis, 'The Fool in Shakespeare: A Study in Alienation', Critical Quarterly, 10 (1968), 245-68, p. 260.

Karen Greif (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "A Star is Born: Feste on the Modern Stage," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring, 1988, pp. 61-78.

[In the essay below, Greif traces the evolution of Feste in twentieth-century productions ofTwelfth Night. She contends that Feste has become an alienated figure, who is profoundly aware of human frailty and the transience of human existence.]

All the characters in Twelfth Night are masqueraders—all imposters, self-deceivers, and counterfeiters, and all beguiled, to some degree, by the game of charades whirling around them. Only Feste the jester keeps his mask from slipping.1 He alone remains inscrutable, a quality that has made his character particularly fascinating to our century. We are intrigued by ambiguities, obsessed with ironies, and bewitched by paradoxes. So it is natural that the modern theatre has drawn attention to Feste, and in him we have discovered our own key to Twelfth Night. Just as the Romantics found near-tragic pathos in Malvolio's misadventures, or as the Victorians transformed Viola into a model of womanly devotion,2 we have searched for our own answers in the play's mirror; and the image cast back has been that of a wryly smiling, somewhat weary jester, one of life's privileged spies into the mystery of things.


That Feste has not always commanded respect in the theatre is clear from even a quick look at the play's stage history. To past audiences Feste was not compellingly enigmatic. He was simply baffling and all too often tiresome. His addiction to wordplay and witty jests, his oblique mockery, his delight in improvisation, his angling after coins, and his nebulous social rank all seemed alien to playgoers or actors who had lost touch with the Renaissance tradition of the "artificial" fool. Many of his jokes had become obscure and his ironic stance was hard to fathom. From the Restoration on, the standard practice was to play the hijinks in the comic plot for laughs while underlining the sentimental aspects of the romantic tangle, and Feste was odd man out in either simplified context. As a result, his part was invariably edited—sometimes emasculated—in performance. Not until this century has the fool moved from the periphery of the drama into its very heart.

A look at Bell's Shakespeare (London, 1773), an acting edition based on promptbooks used at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, reveals how dispensable Feste was once thought to be. Both of his love songs ("O mistress mine" and "Come away, death") were cut, along with the accompanying dialogue. The change in the revels scene (II.iii) kept the fun high-spirited and sped up the confrontation with the killjoy steward, but it also erased the rueful counterpoint the song provides by reminding us of time's passing. Similarly, the second abridgement (II.iv) showcased Viola's selfless devotion at the cost of the fool's deft parody of Orsino's love-melancholy. Other cuts also weakened Feste's part. His banter with Cesario in III.i was sharply trimmed, as was his mock inquisition of Malvolio (IV.ii). These alterations were eventually codified by John Philip Kemble, who published an acting edition of Twelfth Night in 1810 that became (whether in its own stead or in Oxberry's virtually identical text) the standard theatrical version during the nineteenth century.3 Kemble adopted the cuts in Bell's edition and incorporated new ones of his own, including a few more slices from Feste's lines. Equally important, he re-aligned the scene order so that each act comprised a defined block of action, usually with strong opening and closing scenes that centered attention on Viola or Malvolio, the two leads. Such formal clarity was in line with Kemble's neoclassical standards, but it also broke the original dramatic structure. And in a theatre whether a linear plot was favored over a contrapuntal pattern, Feste's role in linking the story lines was easily ignored.

Of course, there were some managers who substituted their own versions for Kemble's, or who varied his formula, but they showed even less interest in the fool. For instance, one curious anomaly in Twelfth Night's stage history was the "operatic" version concocted by Frederick Reynolds for Covent Garden in 1820. Reynolds specialized in lavishly staged musical adaptations of Shakespeare, which he devised by ransacking the canon for graftable lyrics. Yet oddly enough, in revamping Twelfth Night, he cut all the original music except for the familiar epilogue song. As one might guess, the fool played a very minor role in this mutilated songfest. Some years later, in 1884, Henry Irving presented a more orthodox version at the Lyceum Theatre. Still remembered for Irving's pseudo-tragic Malvolio and for Ellen Terry's sparkling Viola, this star-oriented production gave scant attention to the supporting cast. Dully played by a faltering comedian, Feste won small response from Lyceum patrons.

The growth of the star-system—like Kemble's disentangling of the plot strands—inevitably sapped Feste's role. Once the spotlight was aimed at the heroine and the gull, the other major characters automatically became "second-string" parts. Just as Olivia turned into a stately contralto because she was so often played by aging ingenues, or Orsino was relegated to the rising—or falling—matinee idol in the company, Feste usually went to whichever actor could muster a decent singing voice and take the obligatory pratfalls. In Augustin Daly's opulent and immensely successful revival, presented in New York in 1893 and the following year in London, Ada Rehan dominated the stage as Viola. The fool—stripped of over half his lines—dwindled away to an inconsequential zany, trotted out to sing a few tunes and crack an occasional jest, but serving mostly as a sidekick to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. The hapless steward also suffered from Daly's scissors-and-paste approach to the text; but the two worst incisions (the abridgement—later the omission—of the prison scene and Malvolio's disappearance from the last act) also seriously diminished Feste, who normally plays a crucial part in these episodes.4 However,this troubled few playgoers, to judge from the reviews.

Most of the later revivals presented under the actor-manager regimes did little to enhance Feste's prestige. Yet in one of history's small perversities, an early hint of the changes in store came from a most unlikely theatrical quarter. At the turn of the century, just after Queen Victoria's death in 1901, Herbert Beerbohm Tree produced a sumptuous staging of Twelfth Night at His Majesty's Theatre. In most respects, this was the usual Tree spectacular. There were extravagant sets, most conspicuously an awe-inspiring garden that seemed to stretch for acres, lavish costumes, and ebullient clowning by Tree as a vainglorious Malvolio. But Tree had decided to mount a joyously festive comedy, and he took as his motto Feste's line: "Foolery, sir, doth walk about the orb—like the sun, it shines everywhere." Tree's staging reserved center stage for the steward—here played as a fantastic grandee—but it also shed new light upon the fool. Set down in an Illyria dedicated to laughter, Feste became the "presiding genius" of the place, impishly serving as the "connecting link of stories otherwise disparate" who alerted everyone that the play's "swooning amorism no less than its roistering fun is 'high fantastical'" (The Times, 6 February 1901). In keeping with the show's sunny spirits, the jester's wit was more whimsical than sharp, and Courtice Pounds acted him as a genial humorist playing his pranks with cheeky nonchalance. "This Feste," Max Beerbohm wrote, "was as constant and as indispensable as punctuation"; and Tree himself called him "the all-pervading spirit of Twelfth Night."5 But while Tree took advantage of the fool's unifying presence to improve the coherence of the heavily cut acting version employed, Feste himself, in a production so relentlessly keyed to merry laughter, remained an uncomplicated figure, a waggish Lord of Misrule overseeing the holiday fun.

It was not until Harley Granville-Barker staged his brilliant Twelfth Night at the Savoy Theatre in 1912 that Feste was anointed as the spokesman for the comedy's bittersweet undertones. Barker's viewpoint, expressed in his preface to the acting edition, was that the fool should not be played as a blithe spirit, flitting gaily through Illyria:

Feste, I feel, is not a young man. . . . There runs through all he says and does that vein of irony by which we may so often mark one of life's self-acknowledged failures. We gather that in those days, for a man of parts without character and with more wit than sense, there was a kindly refuge from the world's struggles as an allowed fool.6

This portrait hints at several traits subsequent directors and actors would fasten on: the fool's ironic, faintly cynical detachment from his companions; his poignant, almost melancholy awareness of time's passage; and his use of wit as a shield against despair.

Sometimes these qualities have been magnified to the point of distortion, but in Barker's production Feste carried his mantle of irony lightly. He shared with his cohorts a delight in fellowship tempered by a keener sense that "present mirth" may vanish by tomorrow. As a member of Olivia's household he could enjoy his pleasures—and, like Sir Toby and Maria, he had a vested interest in protecting that refuge from Malvolio's stringent reforms. But he also showed a rueful awareness that for some listeners his fooling had indeed grown old. Because his part was not whittled down, as traditionally it had been, the full complexities of his nature were preserved. And by casting C. Hayden Coffin, a veteran of musical comedies, as Feste, and restoring all of the songs (set to authentic Elizabethan airs), Barker ensured that the musical interludes would not be slighted. He was careful not to distract attention from Feste during the songs, keeping the listeners onstage absorbed and still while Coffin sang the lyrics with quiet simplicity.

In the closing moments, Feste's role as mediator between the worlds of illusion and everyday reality was subtly evoked when the lovers passed through an arched gateway into the secluded garden, while the fool sang the epilogue verses from the forestage. As the gates closed upon the lovers and their fantasy world, the curtain slowly descended, leaving Feste alone on the apron. Then he, too, vanished through the curtains on the last notes: "But that's all one, our play is done, / And we'll strive to please you every day."7 That fare-well, critic John Palmer wrote, brought the enchantment to a graceful close: "We had wandered in Elia's fairyland, but the time had come for magic to be locked away. The spell, at last, was broken; and, thereafter, with hey ho, the wind and the rain, we must tumble forth into the crowd."8

Significantly, the Savoy Twelfth Night was the first revival to include virtually the full text (only about twenty lines were cut), with the scenes kept in their original sequence.9 Combined with continuous staging that allowed only minimal breaks in the action and balanced ensemble playing from the cast, this reform enabled Barker to capitalize on the intricacy of Twelfth Night's design. The rediscovery in the theatre of Shakespeare's interlacing dramatic structure, which the best contemporary directors have preserved, gave a healthy boost to the fool's long-devalued role. As the one character who encounters all the other major players, in a series of meetings spread over the action, Feste helps to weave together the assorted plot strands. Moreover, in his aspect as observer-cum-sooth-sayer, Feste gives voice to many of the play's thematic motifs. By restoring the comedy's original form, Barker gave Feste both a greater stake in the action and a more rounded, fully human personality.


Although he had demonstrated how much an expertly realized Feste could contribute to Twelfth Night in performance, Barker's cue was not at once picked up by subsequent producers. Most of the Twelfth Nights staged in the next few decades were lightweight affairs—sometimes drawing carefree laughter with élan and sometimes merely going through the motions, but seldom breaking free of the conventional expectation that it be played as a happy golden comedy. The fools in these productions were usually of the cavorting variety—sprightly, gay, always ready with a joke or a song—and little mention was made of such standardized clowns in most reviews.

There were, nonetheless, a few productions that pointed the way toward the present emphasis. Tyrone Guthrie was one director who experimented with a more serious approach. He directed Twelfth Night in 1933, for his first season in charge of the Old Vic, with Morland Graham cast as the fool. This was a fast-paced, rollicking version that reflected Guthrie's concern to liberate the comedy from its stodgier traditions. In place of scenic backdrops, he substituted an architectural setting intended to approximate the openness and depth of the Elizabethan stage. Caroline costumes broke with the rule of sixteenth-century dress. A flippant and skittish Olivia, acted with a disconcerting Russian accent by Lydia Lopokova, replaced the standard regal matron. And a deliberately discordant note was injected by making Feste a white-haired old man. He was still full of fun, but the suggestion that "clowns grow old like other people"10 silently mocked the laughs. There was only muted appreciation from the critics for such innovations; but in his next outing with Twelfth Night for the Old Vic, in 1937, Guthrie once more gave Feste a touch of melancholy. This time playgoers were more receptive to his approach. The Evening Standard (24 November 1937) described the performance as a mellow blend of wit and beauty shadowed by "devouring time," calling particular attention to the nocturnal party when

it is as though the revellers are drinking not for conviviality but to stiffen their hearts against the shadow of death. . . . And the clown, glancing at one and then the other, sings his song of sad mortality while the darkness deepens behind them. This is brilliantly done by Mr. Marius Goring, whose clown appears like a spirit from another world, commenting with bitter humour on the follies of mankind.

Some years later Alec Guinness, who had played Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Guthrie's 1937 production, staged his own revival of Twelfth Night for the Old Vic (1948). Having transposed Viola's shipwrecked arrival to the opening scene, Guinness began and ended the performance in thundery darkness. The intervening scenes presented, in J. C. Trewin's words, "a gentle summer-world with an odd tinge of pensive autumn in its sunlight"11 —and Feste, played by Robert Eddison, served as the chief reminder of that nip in the air. Skeptical critics dismissed him as a refugee from Lear's heath or as a gaunt memento mori: "white-haired, hollow-eyed, obviously tubercular . . . [his] doomed voice and haunted countenance dominate the Illyrian scene."12 Other viewers, however, were moved by the portrayal, which made Feste a more intriguing character than the stereotypical "fidget in cap-and-bells."13 For example, Audrey Williamson, in a sympathetic,although not totally approving, account of Eddison's performance, remembered him as a sad-gay

figure of haunted melancholy: a Pagliacci clown, mournful and elongated, with whitened hair and lines of age on his face, moving among the sad cypresses like a man, not with a load of mischief, but of sorrow.14

Perhaps it was the experience of the war and the frus-trations of its peace that brought this melancholy conception into practice. The same impulses that nurtured such dramatists as Beckett, Osborne, and Pinter may also have fostered the modern tendency to shift Twelfth Night's colors from midsummer brightness to autumnal shadings. Certainly, by the end of the 1950s, the bitter-sweet interpretation of the comedy had fully matured.

In 1957 Tyrone Guthrie re-staged Twelfth Night for the Stratford Festival Theatre in Ontario. Twenty years since his last Old Vic revival had only confirmed Guthrie's impression of darkness within the farcical intrigue: the hints that merriment may spill into madness, that love may turn sour, and earthly pleasures fade. In his program notes, Guthrie argued that, although the story belongs to the vernal season of blossoming exuberance, it should not be taken as a "sentimental Springtime Rhapsody." Rather, he believed that

as always in the work of great masters, the laughter is not far from tears, behind the sunshine there is a hint of storm. The lyric poetry, some of it the loveliest ever written, . . . carries echoes and overtones of winter and death; we are never allowed to forget that soon, too soon, the garland is withered and the burgeoning tree will wave gaunt arms in the tempest engulfing King Lear.15

Despite this impassioned rhetoric, the laughter was not forgotten—indeed, the promptbook in the Festival archives shows that the comic business was both acrobatic and inventive—but the fragility of "present mirth" was keenly felt. Walter Kerr, who deeply admired the performance, reported that "from the outset of the evening an undercurrent of ingrained sadness, of rueful longing for a time when gaiety came easier, serves as a contrast and counterpoint to the abandoned horseplay."16

At the heart of this interpretation was Bruno Gerussi's Feste—a played-out entertainer whose songs had "all fallen into a minor key."17 He was an elderly grizzled fellow, clad in rough homespun, no longer sure of his bearings but ready to improvise his way through the confusion. A Toronto critic remarked that the director's lens had pulled into focus the usually elusive jester:

Dr. Guthrie has probed this strange misfit and found a figure of strange sadness, an aging professional clown, his place in Olivia's household held on sufferance, his jokes as shabby as his clothes, at odds with the world and finding expression only in song.18

In all three of Guthrie's Twelfth Night productions, an aging and saddened Feste was the spokesman for the darker truths that underpin the dreams and revelry. Yet what had seemed to most a daring experiment in the '30s had, by 1957, become an "authentic" reading. Not only had his vision mellowed with time and experience, but Guthrie's audience was now more willing to embrace it.

The following season in England brought two new productions, one at the Old Vic directed by Michael Benthall and the other staged at Stratford's Memorial Theatre by Peter Hall. A twilight mood, often brightened with sportive comedy, permeated the Old Vic Twelfth Night, set in a ruined garden dominated by a trellised pavilion and colored in hues of russet and gold. Derek Godfrey, as Feste, was handy at playing the local games; but he also conveyed that this was a fool with a history. He suggested to Harold Hobson a man too often "bruised by the world" and now in retreat; when Orsino tried to pay him for his song, he gravely refused the proffered coins—"No pains, I take pleasure in singing"—as if tired of having a price tagged to his art.19 By hinting at the sensibility usually camouflaged by Feste's drollery, the actor could expand the dimensions of the jester's personality. Mary Clarke, in her overview of the Old Vic season, not only placed Feste at the center of the play as the "character who holds all parts together," but she also observed, in accord with the widening consensus that his foolery hides an injured soul:

There is indeed an aching sadness at the very heart of his character, something much more pathetically, vulnerably human than can be suggested by the conventional white face of a clown. The secret of Derek Godfrey's success was that he allowed the humanity to shine through.20

Such efforts to find a subtext to Feste's lines are common in modern productions, especially those that give him a pivotal role. Robert Eddison, for example, had implied a motive for Feste's revenge against Malvolio by suggesting that the fool concealed an unrequited love for Olivia that made him jealous of her attentive steward. And in the 1954 Old Vic production, the director Hugh Hunt had supplied his Feste (Leo McKern), a middle-aged jester dressed in faded motely, with a younger rival by turning Fabian into an up-and-coming fool.21 It is as if, by constructing a human face for the creature behind the jester's mask, the actor hopes to let us penetrate Feste's cryptic nature. If pushed too far, such Hamlet-like efforts to "glean what afflicts him" only undercut Feste's credibility as Illyria's resident truth-teller by making his motives transparently personal. But when handled subtly these glimpses into his secret mind can secure our trust that he speaks out of the lessons of heartfelt experience as much as from shrewd observation.

An effort to show a Feste who nurses a bitter knowledge of life without cracking the enigma was brilliantly—if sometimes unevenly—realized in the second of the 1958 productions, Peter Hall's staging for the Royal Shakespeare Company (revived in 1960). In a short essay on the play, written for the Folio Society edition, Hall characterized Twelfth Night as "complex, ambiguous, and heartbreakingly funny." He saw it as a "transitional play" bridging the gulf between the earlier romantic comedies and the disquieting complexities of the problem plays and the tragedies: "There is something of bitterness in its comedy. But the comedy is rich, because there is darkness and disturbance."22 To dramatize this vision, Hall made Feste his presenter. This "allowed" fool, a self-proclaimed "corrupter of words," possessed a unique knowledge of life's inequities and its transience that tinged with irony the other characters' dreams of perpetual happiness—just as the Cavalier setting, evocative of Caroline extravagance and Puritan denial, hinted that history, in due course, would bring in its revenges.

As directed by Hall—and as played by Cyril Luckham and later Max Adrian—Feste was unusually astringent. This was a "dry fool" rather than a melancholy weeper, a man who knew too much and who shared his secrets only in oblique jests and songs. Hall described him as

bitter, insecure, singing the old half-forgotten songs to the Duke . . . his jokes now tarnished and not very successful. He is the creation of a professional entertainer, and we may perhaps relate him to John Osborne's Archie Rice, or to that fearful misanthropy which overtakes most comics when they begin to despise their audiences. He is suffered by all, and liked by few. He is the most perceptive and formidable character in the play.23

Hall detected behind the jokes and the impostures an idealist embittered by experience, a loner made sharply conscious of human folly by the sting of his own failures: "Feste is the critical centre of the play, the Thersites, the Jacques without eloquence, the malcontent, the man who sees all and says little, the cynic. It takes an idealist to be such a cynic."24

The performance began with a theatrical metaphor for Feste's role as go-between: not only in the sense that he makes the rounds of all the unwitting fools residing in Illyria, but also in that he serves as mediator between the real-life audience and the illusions of the stage. When the audience entered the theatre, the stage was screened by a gauze drop-curtain showing the image of a fool wearing an ass-eared cap and holding his bauble. A silvery nimbus shimmered around this central figure, about which could be seen the faces of the other characters, faintly touched by his radiance. Then a spotlight illuminated the image until, as music sounded, the stage lights came up—making the gauze transparent—to reveal Orsino luxuriating in his melancholy in the company of his retainers.

Gauzes were used throughout the performance, along with lighting effects, to give Illyria the atmosphere of "a country of dream that, at the last, melts again into dream."25 Through this mirage world, richly colored in earth tints reminiscent of Rembrandt and Van Dyck, the characters played out their fantasies, wryly observed by Feste, who alone seemed to know that "Youth's a stuff will not endure."

This was a world in which comedy and romance were inextricably mixed, where the clowns had their moments of dignity and the Countess was "a coquettish poseuse who seemed to have escaped from a columbarium for slightly cracked doves."26 But it was also one in which the mirth, however zestful, was always on the brink of dissipating, and the lyricism, however lovely, of falling into decadence. The other players, rapt in their dreams of living "happily ever after," might ignore the hints of mortality in store, but Feste was there to remind the audience with a bemused shake of his head at Sir Toby's and Sir Andrew's idiocies, a caustic poke at Orsino's fickleness, or a flash of triumph at Malvolio's humiliation. His first scene (I.v) intimated that the snubbed jester was all too sensible of "infirmity that decays the wise," as when he turned away at Malvolio's taunt that his skills were failing, and again when word of the young messenger drew Olivia's attention away from him. Later on, finding himself accosted by the new favorite of both lord and lady (III.i), Feste treated Cesario with studied indifference. Distance from his "fellows"—whether real or feigned—was also implicit in the ending given the midnight party (II.iii) to close the First Act. Once Maria began to hatch the plot against the peevish steward, the fool apparently slumbered until, as the pranksters crept out, he raised his head and gazed thoughtfully after them. A more acid humor sometimes entered into his reactions. For example, Orsino's failure to applaud his song added bite to the warning that "pleasure will be paid, one time or another" (; and his mock inquisition of Malvolio (IV.ii) was deliberately harsh, capped by the fool dancing on the trapdoor above the "madman."27 Such antics also exposed the human frail-ties of this disillusioned seer. Isolated from the rest of the characters by his bitterness no less than his prescience, Feste drifted through Illyria, a companion to all, but an intimate to none.

At the same time, other aspects of the production—its visual beauty and rich coloring, its inventive humor, and its lyrical moments—gave romantic love and all the other temptations of the flesh a compelling charm. The audience was left with the thought that to be the possessor of tragic wisdom, especially within the milieu of romantic comedy, might be a terrible burden. This reminder was poignantly enacted in the play's conclusion, eloquently described here by Roy Walker:

. . . the play ended as it began, with music, all the romantic and comic characters, except Malvolio, dancing together in a golden distance behind a gauze curtain in love's now triumphant harmony, with Feste . . . seated on the fore-stage in the gathering dusk, sadly remembering how the world began. Now it was their light that just touched his figure, forlorn at the thought that there was no more for him to do in this world. Even a god who plays the wise fool may be left lonely at the dance of human love.28

With this ending the opening sequence was now reversed. The audience, having been drawn through Feste's agency into the illusory world of Twelfth Night, were at last thrust back out of the golden dreamworld into the reality of "the wind and the rain," still accompanied by their guide, the sadly privileged fool.


These three productions—the Guthrie, the Benthall, and the Hall—consolidated Feste's position both as the messenger for Twelfth Night's darker tonalities and as a keystone to its dramatic structure. In particular, Guthrie's and Hall's versions have had profound effects on subsequent interpreters, sometimes to the point where the plaintive undertones these two directors tried to sound have usurped the melody. Surveying the Twelfth Nights staged since 1960, on both sides of the Atlantic, one uncovers a host of eccentric, heartsick, grouchy, and decaying Festes. The novelty has by now become the convention, even a worn cliché.

At Ontario, Guthrie's precedent has been adopted in several variations by his successors. Eric Christmas, under David Williams's direction in 1966, was made the eldest member of an otherwise youthful and perky cast, appearing to a visiting critic from The New York Times (10 June) "as an oldster . . . who putters about like a damp rustic wit in an Illyrian country-store." He was "as careworn and philosophic a clown," said The Toronto Globe and Mail (9 June), "as the fashion warrants, which is considerable in these gloomy times." A more austere impression of a man at odds with the world, and dissatisfied with fooling, was given, in David Jones's 1975 revival, by "Tom Kneebone's harsh and metallic clown, burnished by wit, but unhappy. This was a tough professional Feste, his eyes quizzical and disenchanted, his distaste for his fellow men beginning with himself."29 By 1980 Feste had mellowed considerably. Robin Phillips's elegant Georgian Twelfth Night had no need of a cranky malcontent to dispel its already low-keyed mirth. Instead, William Hutt portrayed "a warm-hearted retainer who . . . shuffles about in comfortable slippers" (Southern News, 10 June 1980), a wise old fool domesticated to a well-fed and affluent household and in no hurry to venture out into the wind and the rain. Ready to share a companionable chat with Olivia, to indulge Orsino's affectations, or to give a rueful shrug for Malvolio, this Feste injected a compassionate tolerance into the vicissitudes of Illyrian fortunes. There was no mockery of the sentiment in his songs. Rather he moved his listeners with heartfelt pleasure. At the end, the others passed out of view while Feste sang his sad, sweet tune, until he alone was left on stage.30 Much of the edge was lost in this character-ization—indeed, some critics found the production as a whole overly genteel—but in compensation Feste gained a heart for sorrows other than his own.

Meanwhile, the traditional happy-go-lucky fool has proved remarkably hardy in America, where he still often surfaces in regional productions of the comedy. But the modern diagnosis that he suffers from ennui, complicated by mid-life syndrome, has attracted some notable converts. Morris Carnovsky, a tragedian of solid credentials, played "a grey and seedy Feste" (New York Herald Tribune, 9 June 1960) at Stratford, Connecticut in 1960. "Tradition having given us a lineage of youthful, prancing, gay fools," Claire McGlinchee commented, "it was difficult to adjust to Morris Carnovsky's interpretation of Feste as a kind of lamenting Deor" even though he acted it with characteristic skill.31 A less gracious critic dismissed this gloomy fool as "a broken-down, seamed and moss-hung jester, a creaking wit . . . on his last legs" (The Morning Telegraph, 10 June). One severe disadvantage to the actor attempting this pensive mode for Feste was that he was plopped down in a gimmicky production set à la H.M.S. Pinafore in a Regency seaside resort.

Such incongruity has its drawbacks, as does the alternative extreme of muting the contrast between saturnalia and sobriety. When Ellis Rabb staged the play at Lincoln Center in 1972, Feste (George Pentecost) was again a sad-faced clown "happier commiserating with himself in song than he is in his profession of fooling" (The Saturday Review, 25 March 1972); but this time he resided in an Illyria geared to the sadder aspects of the comedy. Set on a vast stage swathed in midnight-blue, with exotic "Arabian Nights" props and costumes, the performance afforded enough visual beauty to lull many critics. Walter Kerr, however, who had so admired Tyrone Guthrie's fusion of "sad and merry madness," complained that Rabb and his actors had overplayed the heartache (New York Times, 12 March):

Feste has always been a faintly weary clown, uncertain that his muse will sustain him through another bout of wordplay, and Feste's mood, as much as anyone's, lurks behind the prankish deceptions of the evening. But that is an undertone, one that can be beautifully exploited so long as it has a grinning surface to mock. Mr. Rabb has made it the whole tone, almost as though the company were singing a requiem for a comedy recently dead.

Kerr's remarks point up a weakness in the modern penchant for brooding Festes. When the hints of mortality and temporal urgency that give resonance to Twelfth Night's celebration of life are diffused throughout, the fool's deft reminders of time's exigencies are apt to become an insistent blare. Then the comedy itself, rather than shimmering with light and shadow, will turn enervating—as it did in the 1974 American Shakespeare Theatre production. Commemorated as the "underwater" Twelfth Night for its aquarium-like setting as well as its listless style, this production culminated in an anagnorisis full of "aching pauses between beats, unnecessary exits that left the lonely principals trying to be cheery in a void, and a visible draining of energy from the actors."32 Feste was a glum hanger-on, singing dirges to his fellow mopers. And in case anyone missed the point that Malvolio was "most notoriously abused," in the prison scene the poor man was strapped down under a spotlight while his inquisitor grilled him from the shadows.

A more playful mood was struck the same year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. There Feste (Jeff Brooks) was restored to his tenure as humorist, and his presiding role as Master of the Revels was given a clever twist:

Feste walked through the play like a stage manager. He oversaw Viola's landing in Illyria. The lighting obeyed the gestures of his hand. In short, he transcended reality and heightened the comic spirit of make-believe.33

Viola's affinity with the fool who wears no motley in his brain was signalled by allowing her to learn the same trick, while for his antagonist, Malvolio, "the lights were less obliging." Though potentially hokey, this method was an imaginative way of evincing Feste's centrality; and by allowing him to be genuinely amusing, the director (Jim Edmondson) kept the pacing nimble and the lessons diverting. Less happily, Feste's role was enhanced in Gerald Freeman's 1978 American Shakespeare Theatre Twelfth Night by subsuming Fabian's lines into the fool's part. Worse yet, in 1980 the jester's deadpan wit was trivialized by rigging him out as a chino-clad, Kool-smoking leftover from "a Bing-Crosby-as-middle-aged-frosh movie" (The Village Voice, 17 December 1980) in David Mamet's campy rendition with New York's Circle Repertory.

The vogue for world-weary Festes has spread as far afield as Paris—where Jean Anouilh cast him as "sad and obsequious, like the romanticized Pierrot," in a mannered 1961 production —34and Stockholm, where Ingmar Bergman staged a headily erotic Twelfth Night (1975) watched over by a timeworn Feste. The Swedish production impressed a visiting American critic as a more robust version of Bergman's own Smiles of a Summer Night, with the choric office of Madame Armfeldt, "that wise old woman who stands outside love's mysteries and comments on them," given to Feste and Fabian, here played as two canny old family retainers for whom "love is only a faded memory."35

But of all the places where Twelfth Night holds the stage, the bittersweet mode has been most persistent in Britain, where Hall's example and the Guthrie/Guinness Old Vic legacy have substantially recast the older notion of Feste. This is less true of amateur players, who often remain faithful to the tradition of flippant wits, but even so there are exceptions. One semiprofessional case was Jonathan Miller's staging for the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company (1969). Vowing to dispense with "the capering ninnies of convention," the director promised instead "a clapped out clown with a bottle nose who knows he is scraping the bottom of the barrel to make his lady laugh."36 The resulting gruff, acerbic fool was de-scribed, with less enthusiasm, by Sprague and Trewin (p. 131n.) as "a vinegary and unmusical hack." Perhaps the best symbol for the resilience of the weather-beaten Feste in the English theatre was Robert Eddison's reprise of his sad-gay fool for the Old Vic in 1978, thirty years after he had undertaken the role at the same house. If his nostalgia for better days, his threadbare outfit, and his forlorn visage gave Eddison something of the look of a retired flower child, this was still a memorable Feste: beautifully spoken and gallant in the face of sorrow.

But then he had some need of gallantry, since the fool, in this sometimes overblown production, was so achingly conscious of his own mortality. A typical instance came when, stricken by Olivia's gentle reproach—"Now you do see, sir, how your fooling grows old, and people dislike it?"—he buried his head sadly in her lap. For B. A. Young this was "a magical moment."37 Yet, though truly affecting, it was also as hopelessly sentimental as any of the touching moments for Viola, or tormented histrionics for Malvolio, that the actor-managers had once devised. Unless Feste takes his own heartaches, as much as his pleasures, with a grain of salt, he is apt to turn maudlin. Just as important, his license to puncture the egocentric follies of others—like Justice Overdo's warrant or Gregers Werle's summons to the ideal—will be thrown in doubt if his own frailties are too much in view. Eddison's acting skill made Feste's troubles genuinely moving, in this case, but the voice of doom did rumble a bit naggingly. As well as demonstrating the tenacity of the sorrowful Feste in the theatre, this incarnation warned how easily he might slip into decadence.


Nowhere has the serious interpretation of Twelfth Night made a deeper imprint than at Stratford's Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This is only natural in a company so responsive—in terms both of influence and reaction—to its own traditions; and Peter Hall's production was outstanding. It was also one that aged exceptionally well in memory. Despite the doubts about Hall's methods and intentions voiced in notices at the time, subsequent allusions reveal how durably this Twelfth Night stood as a measure for alternative visions. Of course, many aspects of Hall's interpretation—including his vision of Feste—were challenged, or else modified, by other RSC directors. Yet Stratford's Feste, although he has come in varying shapes and sizes, has kept with remarkable constancy both his ironic perspective on the masquerade at hand and his fund of privileged knowledge. C. L. Barber, writing at about the same time that Hall directed Twelfth Night, surmised that Feste "has been over the garden wall into some such world as the Vienna of Measure for Measure."38 And we might say that at Stratford he has remained a traveller still, bringing back to Illyria memories from less happy realms beyond its borders.

This was true even in the 1966 production directed by Clifford Williams, which marked the sharpest break with the modern accent on the comedy's darker colors. As demonstrated through the plentiful allusions to carnival and saturnalia splashed across the playbill pages, the 1966 interpretation was a deliberate reversal of Hall's seriocomic approach. Played as a high comedy romp "firmly steeled against pathos and poetry" (The Times, 17 June 1966), Williams's Twelfth Night demoted Feste, acted by Norman Rodway, from the key spot Hall had granted him back to the supporting ranks. He remained, nevertheless, an aloof and unfunny fool "with more of dark, brittle realism than wistful charm" (The Glasgow Herald, 18 June). Curiously, even in a production as determinedly vivacious as this one, Feste sustained his air of knowing more than anyone else, and of finding in such intuitions some cause for bitterness or sorrow. This was a trait, here only roughly sketched, that the next three productions would delineate in richer detail.

Feste was once again a major figure in John Barton's 1969 Twelfth Night (revived at the Aldwych in 1970 with several cast changes), one of the finest of the RSC versions. Intelligently and beautifully staged, this Twelfth Night was widely admired for its imagination and sensitive emotional shadings. Among its many virtues was the strength of the ensemble. The characters were fleshed-out, complex personalities, defined in good measure by the relationships—past and present, actual and desired—that joined them: "Mostly, the production simply explores the half-stated relationships and crannies of the play, loading them with feeling. , . . Everyone is connected to everyone else, with a sympathy which never confuses sentiment with the sentimentality that is the subject of the comedy" (The Observer, 24 August 1969). No single character, therefore, dominated the stage; but the knowing fool did much to set the tone, one of grave lyricism and of laughter shot through with sadness.

According to Robert Speaight, Feste "was quietly in command—seeing everything and through everything, and singing with delicate accomplishment about many of the things he saw."39 Emrys James played him as a wryly compassionate fool, whose experience had earned him wisdom but not bitterness. A white-haired clown long in service to the family, he treated Olivia with affectionate concern and joked familiarly with her uncle. To Maria, who longed to marry the reluctant Toby, he gave quiet sympathy, and a smile to the ever-hopeful, though ever-thwarted, Sir Andrew. As a musician he was a welcome visitor to Orsino's court. Yet he remained detached, never forgetting his status as hired entertainer. Only with Viola, another independent spirit, did he find a momentary kinship when, in their brief interlude, "cross-talk gives way to music and unspoken communication, as the two characters sprawl out together ruefully surveying the human scene from some other plane" (The Times, 22 August 1969). Playing against the wrangling notes in this wit-contest, the actors brought out a shared understanding and respect between these two who play with words, just as they juggle roles, without losing their balance. It was even intimated that he had seen through her disguise when the fool crossed to her "as if [he] realized who [she] is" on the line "Who you are and what you would are out of my welkin."40

But more even than Viola, who at last joins the charmed circle of lovers insulated from loss or care, Feste was attuned to the hard realities of life, especially the sad fact that "Youth's a stuff will not endure." Awareness of time, which brings to a close all lovely things—youth, beauty, pleasure, even the play itself—was his special wisdom; and this gave the fool a crucial role in a production deeply concerned with the passing of time. From the reminders of transience and decay that sound in the lines, to the sundial upon the stage, time was felt as the untangling power that brought fulfillment to some, disillusionment to others, but irreversible change to all. Anne Barton, in the program note she wrote for the production, related the antics and revelry, sometimes bordering on madness, to the topsy-turvy holiday of Twelfth Night—but she emphasized that celebration must have an end. For a privileged few in Illyria the dream is left unbroken ("Viola and Orsino, Olivia and Sebastian remain, by the special dispensation of art, in a romance world that never falters"), but the others must face the "cold light of day." As the audience faces its own "jolt into reality," its guide is Feste:

Left alone on the stage, Feste sings his song about the ages of man. . . . The reality of wind and rain wins out, the monotony of everyday. The passing of time is painful, may even seem unendurable, but there is nothing for it but resignation, the wise acceptance of the Fool. All holidays come to an end. All revels wind down at last. Only in the theatre can some people be left in Illyria.41

These were truths the fool had known all along. One way that this was pointed in performance was to have Feste give snatches of his songs from time to time as counterpoint to the dialogue. He made his first entrance whistling "Hey, Robin, jolly Robin"—the song of fickle love he later sings as he nears the confined steward—and he repeated the same tune in other scenes. For that more poignant lament of unsatisfied desire, "Come away, death," Feste had underlined the oblique parody of Orsino's melancholy by caricaturing a heartsick lover—languidly circling the duke and pressing a hand to his brow—as he sang the second verse; later on, he hummed it again as Olivia pressed her favors on Cesario. Most telling, though, were the reprises of "O mistress mine." At the end of the revels scene, Maria returned and tried to lead Sir Toby off. When he resisted ("Tis too late to go to bed now") and left her, Sir Andrew kissed her hand and Feste closed the scene with a pensive strain of "Youth's a stuff will not endure." He sang the same words to point another touching moment, when outside Malvolio's cell a subdued Sir Toby slipped his ring onto Maria's finger and said, "Come by and by to my chamber."42

These last two instances of invented business exemplify the pensive tinge Barton gave to the comedy's intimations of mortality. In his detailed account of the staging in Royal Shakespeare, Stanley Wells described how sensitively Barton integrated humor with the pathos. Still, he conceded that in such wistful moments the director "was reducing the spectrum," employing effects that were masterly but that "deprived the play of some of its brighter colors."43 Many reviewers noted this rueful undertone. The critic for The Daily Telegraph (22 August 1969) judged that "what has interested John Barton in directing this revival is the melancholy that hangs over a play festive in spirit but concerned with people who misuse time, [who are] sadly deceived themselves and [are] deceived in each other." Others wrote of "the muted gold [light] of a winter garden" and of "the autumnal, sea-wrecked emotion which surged through" the play.44

This plangent strain was not, it should be emphasized, the sole mood expressed. Barton himself stated that his object was to do justice to the play's complexity: "The text contains an enormous range of emotions and moods and most productions seem to select one—farce or bitterness or romance—and emphasize it throughout. I wanted to sound all the notes that are there" (Plays and Players, November 1969). Like Hall before him, Barton sought to harmonize the elements of comedy and romance, of present delight and the regretful hints that "what's to come is still unsure," but without making the swings of feeling too broad. Still, the bittersweet nuances were felt. In an interview given a few years after directing Twelfth Night, Barton described Shakespeare's attitude in this play as "on the whole wry, tolerant and accepting," but with a "very conscious split between the 'happy-ever-after' world of romantic comedy and his sense of what life and people are really like."45 His staging concentrated on the yearnings for satisfaction and security the characters all feel, but with the full knowledge that as many fantasies are shattered as are fulfilled, as many friendships damaged as upheld, as many courtships brought to nothing as to marriage. Sir Andrew carried with him a little bunch of golden primroses to give Olivia until he heard, to his dismay, that she detested anything yellow; Sir Toby spurned Sir Andrew's well-meant assistance, at the end, with "wintry" contempt; Antonio was left alone onstage, after the lovers had swept off, to make a solitary exit; and throughout the performance the distant sound of gulls and the restless sea reminded the audience of a reality circumscribing the Illyrian dreamworld.46 Even Sebastian's trust that Olivia's proposal was a happy stroke of fortune and not some lunacy was given an ironic cast by punctuating his reverie with the offstage cries of the confined "madman," Malvolio.47

One notices, too, in looking through the reviews, how often this reflective sadness was associated with Feste. The Times, for example, recalled the original production as "Feste's Twelfth Night: a shifting perspective of romantic ardour and romantic folly seen through the eyes of the Fool against an ever present sense of the effects of time" (7 August 1970). "Emrys James's exquisite Feste sets the tone," stated The Daily Telegraph (22 August 1969): "This courtly jester . . . brings a Watteau-like dreaminess . . . to the very air we breathe in Illyria." In his lyrics and his word-games Feste reminds us of the rules that festive comedy can only temporarily suspend, but without the rancor or self-importance of a killjoy like Malvolio. And as James played him, the fool's perspective closely resembled the one Barton ascribed to his creator: realistic but "on the whole wry, tolerant and accepting." So it is not surprising that Feste seemed, to some viewers, to be at the play's heart, especially given his involvement with its deep concerns. The limits of fellowship, the problems of love, the fine line separating wisdom from folly or imagination from madness, the inconstancy of words and people, and the confounding of identity endemic to a world of quick-change artists-all these are spoken of or acted out by Feste. In licensing the fool as his truth-teller, Barton followed Hall. But he replaced the earlier embittered veteran with a more resilient, more forbearing clown. What Stanley Wells underlined, in summing up his memories of Barton's Twelfth Night, was its "beauty of communication, of sympathy, understanding, and compassion. It had a Chekhovian quality. . . . Shot through with sadness though the production was, its ultimate effect was a happy one."48 The Feste was very much in keeping with this generosity. Some sharpness was lost and some brightness muted, but the acceptance of frailty and mutability that infuses this last festive comedy was shown without breaking its harmonies or transforming it into a problem play.

Some dissonance, of course, is often wanted in the modern theatre. That vein of bitterness in the fool's utterances was by no means mined out yet. If Cyril Luckham and later Max Adrian, under Hall's direction, had portrayed Feste as a worn-out entertainer in the mold of Osborne's Archie Rice, then Ron Pember—in Peter Gill's 1974 Twelfth Night—carried this idea one step further with his "savage, sardonic teeth-bearing Feste rasping out his songs as if it were 'The Three Penny Opera'" (The Guardian, 23 August 1974). This "unshaven malcontent" (The Times, 23 August) brimmed with contempt for his listeners—and for himself, no less, for pandering to them. Interestingly, whereas prelapsarian Twelfth Nights had often glossed over Feste's money-grubbing, by compressing the dialogue or tossing it off lightly, this production made much of these episodes, thereby underlining both the entertainer's dependence on his audience and his disdain for their limitations. Gill encapsulated this ambivalence, for example, when Sir Toby casually tossed a coin to Feste in anticipation of some music and then Sir Andrew held up his own small offering—which Feste promptly took out of his hand. He delivered the song ("O mistress mine") directly to the audience while the two knights sat at their cups behind him. His stance and gritty voice conveyed that even if the onstage celebrants were too rapt in the present to bother with "what's to come," he knew full well their bills were coming due—and that the listeners out front should heed his meaning and not just wallow in the sentiment. Similarly, his attitude toward Orsino, even as he palmed his fee for a fine lyric or a well-turned jest, was daringly caustic—the more so because his noble auditor so clearly missed the ironic applications to his own foibles; and his encounter with Cesario in Act III stressed the abrasive undertones to their exchange.49

Feste's isolation from his employers—and his cronies—was sociological no less than aesthetic. Peter Thomson incisively described this fallen but still testy class-warrior:

Ron Pember spoke like a Londoner, dressed like a faded Harlequin now reduced to busking, and hinted always at a radical's distaste for the antics of privilege. He despised the effeteness of Orsino's court, and his angry assumption that Viola considered him a beggar had all the spikiness of class pride. . . . He was a working man among the leisured classes, deeply critical of their behavior and bitterly dissatisfied with his own.50

In an illuminating aside, Thomson reported that another member of the audience had compared this fool "with Bosola, another joker who declines to laugh at his own jokes." That to these viewers Feste resembled Webster's grimly sardonic outsider is a helpful gloss on Pember's acting. But that both critic and ordinary playgoer so casually accepted a kinsman to Bosola (however distantly related) as a lawful citizen of Illyria is an even more revealing sign of the preconceptions brought to a modern staging of Twelfth Night. Some reviewers found Pember's saturnine loner a bit eccentric—just as others thought the interpretation brashly original—but few dismissed him as a strange aberration in a festive comedy.

True, Pember's hard-boiled Feste gave a needed edge to an Illyria surfeiting on narcissism and sexual desire. His bitter dependence on patrons and their coins brought to new light all those other reminders of the economic realities that underpin holiday and romance: Orsino's "great estate" and Olivia's "quantity of dirty lands"; his counted-out "bounty" and her "inventoried charms"; Sir Toby sponging off Sir Andrew till the overextended pigeon "hadst need send for more money"; Malvolio dreaming of "some rich jewel" as he idly fondles his chain of office; Antonio's unlucky purse; Maria's "dowry" and Sir Toby's reluctant "recompense"; and all the many warnings that the piper must be paid, "one time or another."

The fool's unconvivial temperament also revealed an unexpected resemblance to another servant in the household: the steward Malvolio. In some ways, Feste was no less a "puritan" than his antagonist. He viewed the daily Illyrian carnival with the same disdainful glance Malvolio gave the impromptu late-night party. He set as high a value on his own opinions as the smug steward, even if they were formed by a keener intelligence. He was sensitive to class differences and monetary considerations. And he set himself apart from his fellows with equal insistence. Such a reading perhaps lays undue emphasis on connections that should only be hinted at. But Illyria is indeed a land where human beings are all mirrors to each other, casting back reflections—whether identical, reversed, or absurdly distorted—that most fail to recognize as images of themselves, so we should expect some correspondences between two fools.51 Nonetheless, linking Feste with Malvolio, like comparing him with Bosola, is an idea only modern audiences would countenance. The irony implicit in seeing Feste as an "ill-wisher" is simply more than we can resist. Today the expectation that every silver lining must have its cloud is so strong that an out-of-sorts or even downright grumpy Feste comes as no surprise to us.

Nor are we likely to be startled when Feste's role is built up, any more than erstwhile audiences were overly dismayed when he was shoved into the wings so that Malvolio or Viola or Sir Toby could reign undisturbed. A case in point was Terry Hands's direction of Twelfth Night for the RSC in 1979, with Geoffrey Hutchings as Feste. The best word for this fool was "ubiquitous." Onstage virtually every moment, Feste observed the other characters act out their fantasies—or meet their rude awakenings—from the sidelines, whenever he was not involved in the action. From the first minute of the performance, when a hooded figure (shortly revealed, minus cucullum, as the fool) piped the notes that so engrossed the lovelorn duke, to the last strummed chords of the epilogue song, Feste was at hand: sometimes watching from the margins of the stage, or closer by, behind a box-tree, sometimes eyeing his own onlookers as he sang or joked for them, and sometimes catching a word or gesture his companions were too fatuous or self-absorbed to mark—but always poised not to miss a thing worth noting.52 The possibilities for tongue-in-cheek dramatic irony, with this framework imposed, were naturally many. Since Feste had witnessed her arrival, Viola's disguise was occasion for wry glances rather than confusion; and his inside-track gave his encounter with Sebastian (IV.i) an almost farcical twist. As Roger Warren noted:

"Your name is not Master Cesario; nor this is not my nose neither" had to be made to mean the reverse of what it in fact does mean, to the extent of Feste actually removing a false nose to emphasize knowingly that "nothing is so that is so."53

Feste's spying also gave him a ringside seat for Malvolio's reactions to the letter and his cross-gartered transformation—scenes from which the fool is textually excluded—so that his amused scrutiny added another circle of awareness to the side-show in motion, enveloping both the gullers and the gull.

In the later version of the staging, Feste even helped to dress the set. The scene throughout was an orchard of several trees planted in box-tubs. At the outset the landscape was wintry and bare, a bleak mirror to the men and women who ventured there, but as the sap began to rise in these repressed, barren, or somehow thwarted creatures, daffodils began to bloom in the tubs—each one planted by Feste, as the signs of warmth, release, and new growth appeared. Several marked the vows of heartfelt love soon proliferating; still more the late-night festivities and the deepening rapport between Viola and Orsino; and more yet Malvolio's headlong plunge into romance. By the time the steward reappeared, after the interval, decked out in yellow stockings, the trees had sprouted new leaves, more daffodils had flowered, and the midwinter chill had warmed into sunshine. The stagehands, of course, produced the greater miracle, but the fool's small plantings led the way into springtime.54

The direction of the role was, in some ways, an extension of Hall's idea of the fool's centrality, but softened by the more generous tone set by Barton. As before, Feste was a penetrating clown who knew more of the truth than anyone else, although in this case he was inclined to smile at what he had discerned. And once again he served as a kind of presenter, a mediator stationed midway between his fellow players and the spectators beyond the stage, but this time as a "showman" of another sort—not so much flagging entertainer as note-taking impresario. To Gareth Lloyd Evans he even seemed in charge of orchestrating the story: "He is on stage virtually all the time, not as the usual wry observer but as a kind of conductor of the action. You feel they dance to his tune, and he dispenses destiny."55

What saved this directorial imposition from heavy-handedness was, in large measure, Geoffrey Hutchings's self-effacing Feste. A small and quirky fellow, with a gnomish face that peered out of faded patchwork, his fascinated interest in the antics and revelations going on before him was seldom obtrusive, and he kept a light touch in his meetings with the other characters. Well aware of his own role-playing, he could smile at the poses that so absorbed the pretenders in his company—as when he snatched away Olivia's veil to show the girlish mirth hidden by her affected mourning or when, in the final scene, he maneuvered Orsino and Viola closer together56 —but he kept his own secrets to himself. As a fool who had learned to live without illusions, he watched the human comedy spin itself out before his bemused eyes, relishing its ironies and accepting its pangs with equal humor. When at the last he sang of life's vicissitudes, a pensive tableau was formed around him: behind him, the quartet of lovers drifting slowly upstage, and off to the sides, sitting under the trees, those chastened by experience—"the wounded Aguecheek, head in hands, the isolated Antonio, and the sobered Maria and Toby, separated and facing away from each other."57


In his staging, Terry Hands carried to its practical limits the modern image of Feste as critic and chorus: the knowing observer who stands somewhere between the illusory fools upon the stage and their counterparts in the audience. Such an emphasis on Feste, like the ground bass of sadness that so often accompanies it, is a reflection of our time, our mind-set. Isolation, problems of identity, and broken dreams pervade modern drama. Similarly, Shakespearean performers gravitate toward the uncertainties and the hints of disturbance ingrained in even the brightest of his plays. Illyria has turned to an unstable world where the enigmatic Feste reigns as master of the revels winding down. Sometimes the fool's ubiquity or his weary wisdom can become mere tricks of habit. Yet, if done intelligently, serious treatment of Feste can still yield stimulating results.

The versions staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company exemplify the modern tradition's potential richness. These Festes, whatever their imperfections, are imaginative enough to transcend convention. His traits remain fairly constant. He is usually an aging fool, unattached but alert to what goes on. Whether cynical or compassionate, he is deeply conscious of infirmity—in himself and others—and of mutability. He is a role-player who keeps his own mask in place, and at the same time a spectator able to see through others' charades. He is a paid entertainer, something of a misfit, and a realist. Yet within the basic formula Stratford actors and directors have ingeniously given new dimensions to the role. The familiar convention is thus revitalized. Moreover, the company's ensemble skills promote strong casting and encourage the actors to test out new balances, new tensions in the relationships they create.

Conversely, some of the examples I have shown illustrate the less attractive features of the jester's modern stage identity. Too-sad Festes can turn maudlin, thereby blunting the comedy. Hack Festes make bad entertainers. Fools whose thoughts have soured or whose failings are too obvious cannot make convincing ironists, and dreary ones are worse. Gimmicky productions trivialize the fool's wisdom. Criticism-conscious productions puff him up unduly. Lastly, monotone productions that take their cue entirely from Feste's saddest utterances, or farcical versions weighed down with a malcontent clown, too often blast the comedy's delicate harmonies.

These are dangers even the finest directors must skirt with some care. A Peter Hall or Tyrone Guthrie may "do it with a better grace," but if carried too far the bittersweetness will turn to Jan Kott's desolate perception that fools like "Feste and Touchstone are not clowns any more; their jokes have ceased to be funny. . . . They live in a bare world, bereft of myths, reduced to knowledge without illusions."58 No doubt, somewhere,Twelfth Night has been or will be played in such a barren lunar landscape—with an unsmiling clown in the foreground—but this is no less a distortion than the winsome, laugh-strewn versions once popular. Twelfth Night celebrates life and heartfelt emotion. The reminders that such things are fleeting, sometimes elusive, even riddled with absurdity, may pierce us. But the poignance is meant to endorse life's value, not deny it. Feste may stand at the garden gates, ready to usher us out of the sheltered world of romantic comedy, but he must not be exiled from its precincts. A Feste without sympathy for love and the good life, however keen his sense of their caprices, cannot open our eyes to that fuller vision of earthly life.

The whirligig of time brings in its revenges as surely in the theatre as in any other human sphere, so we should expect future transformations in Feste. But the odds are that those changes will not be too radical so long as we keep the perceptions and the biases our century has nurtured. Feste has long been seen as a professional entertainer, a shrewd wit, a loner with few, if any, attachments of affection. What has intensified is our sense that he is entrapped, or at the very least defined, by his role—a hired clown who sports his mask because it is the only sanctioned outlet for his insights. His self-containment is now a sign of alienation; his knowledge of human nature the hard-earned wisdom of a social misfit. At best he wins some freedom by hiding his "real" behind his pretended face, but this is necessarily a limited release.

Such problems of identity are a longstanding preoccupation of the modern theatre. From Pirandello's mind-games and Beckett's mock rituals through Sam Shepard's image-locked rock stars and would-be desperadoes, modern playwrights have wrestled with the actor's relationship to his role. Feste's awareness of his roleplaying and the limits it imposes is therefore very much in keeping with our cultural milieu. His pessimism is no less an expression of the times. If romantic aspirations have not been completely extinguished in our drama, they have been searchingly, often achingly, questioned. Our archetypal clowns are Samuel Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon, doing their vaudeville turns to the echoes of "all the dead voices." Feste may be more sophisticated than these poor tramps, but his fooling, too, makes us doubt the promises of happy endings, makes us remember that "the rain it raineth every day." Whether he takes the form of a disenchanted joker or a dreamer gone to seed, Feste tells us that Twelfth Night, the last night of the Christmas season, marks the end to feasting. Even when a warmhearted mood is set, granting holiday and love their pleasures, he sees beyond the passing moment. That blend of irony and compassion in John Barton's Twelfth Night that generated instants when "Shakespeare touches hands with Chekhov" (The Times, 22 August 1969) owed much to the presence of Feste, the wise observer of human folly.

Today a major Twelfth Night without a worthy fool would be unthinkable. This honor has a license from no less an authority than Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who over fifty years ago affirmed: "We must hold and insist on holding Feste, Master of the Revels, to be the master-mind and controller of Twelfth Night, its comic spirit and president."59 Viola may still win our hearts.Malvolio may grandstand all he pleases. The lovers and the merrymakers may take their turns as well. But the wily jester, inscrutable to the last, remains our chosen guide—deftly pointing our way through the comic maze and calling us back, at the end, to the waiting world outside the theatre's walls.


All Twelfth Night citations are from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. B. Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

1 This article focuses on Feste's theatrical metamor-phosis; but, as most readers will be aware, much the same process has taken place in the criticism. As scholarly interpreters (like their theatrical counterparts) have stressed the play's darker, more ironic tones, they have more and more looked to Feste as its key. For anyone interested in comparing Feste's critical image with the stage version shown here, the following studies are representative: C. L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959); Anne Barton, "As You Like It and Twelfth Night: Shakespeare's Sense of an Ending," in Shakespearian Comedy, Stratford-upon-Avon Studies, 14, eds. Malcolm Bradbury and David Palmer (London: Edward Arnold, 1972); A. C. Bradley, "Feste the Jester" in A Book of Homage to Shakespeare (1916; rpt. in A Miscellany [London: Macmillan, 1929]); Roger Ellis, "The Fool in Shakespeare: A Study in Alienation," Critical Quarterly, 10 (1968), 245-68; Gareth Lloyd Evans, "Shakespeare's Fools: The Shadow and the Substance of Drama," in Shakespearian Comedy; Robert Hillis Goldsmith, Wise Fools in Shakespeare (Liverpool: Liverpool Univ. Press, 1958); Joan Hartwig, "Feste's Whirligig and the Comic Providence of Twelfth Night," English Literary History, 40 (1973), 501-13; Leslie Hotson, Shakespeare's Motley (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1952); Clifford Leech, Twelfth Night and Shakespearian Comedy (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1965); Julian Markels, "Shakespeare's Confluence of Tragedy and Comedy: Twelfth Night and King Lear," Shakespeare Quarterly, 15 (1964), 75-88; Leo Salingar, "The Design of Twelfth Night," SQ, 9 (1958), 117-39; Joseph Summers, "The Masks of Twelfth Night," University of Kansas Review, 22 (1955), 25-32; Enid Welsford, The Fool: His Social and Literary History (London: Faber and Faber, 1935); Robert Wilcher, "The Art of the Comic Duologue in Three Plays by Shakespeare," Shakespeare Survey, 35 (1982), 87-97.

2 See Sylvan Barnet, "Charles Lamb and the Tragic Malvolio," Philological Quarterly, 23 (1954), 179-88; Joan Coldwell, "The Playgoer as Critic: Charles Lamb on Shakespeare's Characters," SQ, 26 (1975), 184-95; and Russell Jackson, "'Perfect Types of Womanhood': Rosalind, Beatrice and Viola in Victorian Criticism and Performance," ShS, 32 (1979), 15-26.

3Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night: or, What You Will. " A Comedy Revised by J. P. Kemble: And Now First Published As It Is Acted at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden (London: Printed for the Theatre, 1810; rpt. London: Cornmarket Press, 1971).

4Twelfe Night, Or what you will. By William Shake-speare, Arranged to be played in four acts, By Augustin Daly. Printed from the Prompt Book, and as produced at Daly's Theatre, February 21st, 1883 (Privately Printed, 1893).

5The Saturday Review, 9 February 1901; Preface to the Souvenir Program for Twelfth Night, 5 February 1901, His Majesty's Theatre, Harvard Theatre Collection.

6 Preface to Twelfth Night (London: Heinemann, 1912), p. viii.

7 Harley Granville-Barker's promptbook for Twelfth Night (1912), The University of Michigan, Shattuck, TN, No. 80; supplemented with theatrical reviews in the Harvard Theatre Collection.

8The Saturday Review, 23 November 1912. "Elia's fairyland" is an allusion to Charles Lamb's famous essay, "On Some of the Old Actors," in The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas (1903; rpt. New York, AMS Press, 1968), Vol. I, 132-41.

9William Poel had restored the original scene order, and earlier Samuel Phelps had come very close; but both producers had cut the text substantially. See Poel's promptbook for Twelfth Night (1897), The Victoria and Albert Museum, Shattuck, 77V, No. 43; and Phelps's promptbook (1848), The Folger Shakespeare Library, Shattuck, TN, No. 11.

10The Manchester Guardian, 19 September 1933.

11The Observer, 24 September 1948.

12The New Statesman and Nation, 2 October 1948.

13 Arthur Colby Sprague and J. C. Trewin, Shakespeare's Plays Today: Customs and Conventions of the Stage (Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1970), p. 96.

14 Audrey Williamson, Old Vic Drama 2: 1947-1957 (London: Rockliff, 1957), p. 14.

15 Tyrone Guthrie, Program for Twelfth Night (1957),Stratford Festival Archives.

16New York Herald Tribune, 4 July 1957.

17New York Herald Tribune, 7 July 1957.

18Toronto Globe and Mail, 3 July 1957.

19The Sunday Times, 6 April 1958.

20 Mary Clarke, Shakespeare at the Old Vic (London:Hamish Hamilton, 1958).

See Hugh Hunt, Old Vic Prefaces: Shakespeare and

21the Producer (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1954), pp. 70-72, 76-79. Hunt ascribed a personal bitterness to Feste's last song, in which the discredited fool acknowledges that "not only has he lost his place, but his successor has probably already been found" (p. 78).

22Twelfth Night (London: The Folio Society, 1966), p. 3. Cf. C. L. Barber's verdict that Feste "has an air of knowing more of life than anyone else—too much, in fact. . . . His part does not darken the bright colors of the play; but it gives them a dark outline, suggesting that the whole bright revel emerges from shadow" (Shakespeare's Festive Comedy [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959], p. 259).

23 Folio Society edition, p. 5. Clifford Leech draws a similar analogy, but without Hall's emphasis on Feste's bitter cynicism, when he notes that Feste "has amused us, and enriched our transient Illyria, but will not let us go without claiming a common humanity with us. He is a player as well as an imaginary character: we can meet him outside the theatre when the performance is over, and the life-conditions that we know belong to him too. He has a descendant in the Archie Rice of John Osborne's The Entertainer, who ended the play by asking us to let him know where we were working tomorrow: he was ready to exchange roles and to come and watch us" (Twelfth Night and Shakespearian Comedy, p. 54).

24 Folio Society edition, pp. 5-6. Surprisingly, the only sizable cuts in the text were made in Feste's scenes (the mock indictment of wordplay in III.i [11. 11-25] and about thirty lines from the prison scene [IV.ii]). Apparently most of these lines were restored, however, in the later version (Peter Hall's promptbooks for Twelfth Night [1958 and 1960], The Shakespeare Centre Library).

25The Birmingham Post, 23 April 1958.

26 J. C. Trewin, Going to Shakespeare (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1978), p. 163.

27 Peter Hall's promptbook for Twelfth Night (1958),Shattuck, TN, No. 98, Shakespeare Centre Library. Hall remarks in his Introduction to the Folio Society edition that Feste "cruelly tortures the imprisoned Malvolio" (p. 5), and his speculation that the fool might have been a failed priest (p. 6) may help explain the caustic treatment of the Sir Topas scene in his staging. According to a review of the 1960 revival in The Evening News (18 May 1960), Feste—epitomized as an "ageing clown . . . endlessly cracking his stale jokes in a desperate attempt to win brief smiles"—took "a terrible revenge on Malvolio" in the prison scene and danced "a savage saraband" over his enemy.

28 Roy Walker, "The Whirligig of Time: A Review of Recent Productions," ShS, 12 (1959), 122-30, esp. p. 128.

29 Berners W. Jackson, "Shakespeare at Stratford, Ontario, 1975," SQ, 27 (1976), 24-32, esp. p. 29.

30 Phillips's promptbook for Twelfth Night (1980), Festival Archives, Stratford, Ontario; supplemented by the videotape of the production in the archives, and by theatrical reviews.

31 Claire McGlinchee, "Stratford, Connecticut, Shake-speare Festival, 1960," SQ, 11 (1960), 469-72, esp. p. 470.

32 Peter Saccio, "American Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, Connecticut, 1974," SQ, 25 (1974), 401-4, esp. p. 404.

33 Robin B. Carey, "Oregon Shakespeare Festival,1974," SQ, 25 (1974), 419-21, esp. p. 420.

34 Alan S. Downer, "For Jesus' Sake Forbear: Shake-spare vs. the Modern Theatre," SQ, 13 (1962), 219-30, esp. p. 227.

35 Henry Popkin, The New York Times, 7 September 1975.

36 Jonathan Miller, "Director's Notes," Program for Twelfth Night (Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company, 1969), Harvard Theatre Collection.

37The Financial Times, 25 April 1978.

38 Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy, p. 259.

39 Robert Speaight, "Shakespeare in Britain," SQ, 20 (1969), 435-41, esp. p. 438.

40John Barton's promptbook for Twelfth Night (1970), Shakespeare Centre Library. The promptbook for the original production is missing; the one consulted here was used at the Aldwych revival.

41 Anne Barton, program note in Twelfth Night play-bill (1969), Shakespeare Centre Library. A fuller reading can be found in Barton's essay "As You Like It and Twelfth Night: Shakespeare's Sense of an Ending" (cited in note 1, above).

42 Barton's promptbook.

43Royal Shakespeare: Four Major Productions at Stratford-upon-Avon. Furman Studies (Manchester Univ. Press, 1976), p. 57.

44Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 29 August 1969; The Observer, 9 August 1970.

45 "Directing Problem Plays: John Barton Talks to Gareth Lloyd Evans," ShS, 25 (1972), 63-71, esp. p. 63. Here Barton echoes Hall's view, shared by many modern critics, that Twelfth Night is a transitional play bridging the mature comedies and the problem plays. The repertory for the 1969 season also linked Twelfth Night with the final romances. In her program note, Anne Barton wrote that the play "crowns" the preceding run of comedies and "prefigures the final romances."

46The Glasgow Herald, 25 August; The Times, 22 August; and the promptbook.

47 Barton's promptbook.

48 Wells (note 43, above), p. 61.

49 Peter Gill's promptbook for Twelfth Night (1974), Shakespeare Centre Library; augmented by critical notices and my own recollections of the production.

50 Peter Thomson, "The Smallest Season: The Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, 1974," ShS, 28 (1975), 137-48, esp. pp. 145-46.

51 Appropriately, the back wall of the stage presented a picture of Narcissus gazing down at his own reflection in a pool of water. The director may have meant this to suggest the more obvious theme of self-love, but it was still an apt symbol for this pattern of "unreflecting reflectors."

52 Terry Hands's promptbook for Twelfth Night (1979), Shakespeare Centre Library, Stratford-upon-Avon; supplemented with my recollections of the performance.

53 Roger Warren, "Shakespeare at Stratford and the National Theatre," ShS, 33 (1980), 169-80, esp. p. 170.

54 Hands's promptbook.

55Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 22 June 1979.

56 Hands's promptbook.

57 Warren, p. 170.

58 Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary, trans. Boleslaw Taborski (New York: W. W. Norton, 1964), p. 285.

59 A. Quiller-Couch, "Introduction" to Twelfth Night. The New Shakespeare (1930; rpt. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1949), p. xxvi.


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Richard A. Levin (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "Viola: Dr. Johnson's 'Excellent Schemer'," in Durham University Journal, Vol. LXXI, No. 2, June, 1979, pp. 213-22.

[In the following essay, Levin maintains that Viola has an unromantic view of love, a remarkable abilityto handle crises, and a willingness to manipulate both Olivia and Orsino to achieve her goals.]

Viola, the heroine of Twelfth Night, is widely admired as an example of 'selfless fidelity' in love.1 She is praised by critics with divergent interpretations of the play itself. She appeals to those who regard Twelfth Night as a 'festive play', in the course of which characters overcome their illusions, grow in self-knowledge, and gain a sense of community. She is regarded as the one character who is not misled about herself, and who therefore can 'teach others the true meaning of love'.2 Viola appeals just as strongly to critics who puncture the romantic surface of the play, and find excesses in Illyria that cannot be purged as a mere product of a 'holiday' atmosphere. For these critics, Viola stands above her environment. She has been called the single 'reality figure' among characters lost in a variety of illusions about themselves and others.3 Another writer finds it a shame that so wonderful a girl as Viola should marry 'such a spineless figure as the Duke'.4 Finally, Viola is also praised by critics occupying a moderate position. They qualify the generally cheerful tone of comedy by speaking of 'a silvery undertone of sadness', or 'a nostalgic, elegiac' note.5 With this reading, Viola becomes 'the constant and unchanging heart at the centre of several shifting and unstable attachments'. Viola, it would seem, is worthy of the highest admiration.

This essay will argue that she has not been scrutinized with sufficient care, and that there is an important element of calculation in her personality. My purpose is to strengthen the anti-romantic reading of Twelfth Night, which, although it has had very able proponents, has yet to discover the 'worm i' th' bud' at the heart of the play (II. iv. 111).6 In the latter nineteenth century, dissatisfaction with Illyria centered on the mistreatment of Malvolio. Our century has taken more interest in Feste's profound disillusionment and in the aristocratic malaise of Orsino, and, to a lesser extent, Olivia. It is time to move from the periphery to the supposed romantic center of the play, and to find there a young woman with a distinctly unromantic attitude towards love. I begin with a key to Viola's personality provided by Dr Johnson in two succinct footnotes he wrote for Act I, scene ii of the play.

Viola, having come ashore after a shipwreck, determines from a sea captain that she is in Illyria, a land ruled by a bachelor, Duke Orsino, who woos the Countess Olivia. Viola decides: 'O that I serv'd that lady, / And might not be delivered to the world I Till I had made mine own occasion mellow / What my estate is' (41-44; italics added). Dr Johnson paraphrased the lines and offered a gloss:

I wish I might not be 'made publick' to the world, with regard to the 'state' of my birth and fortune, till I have gained a 'ripe opportunity' for my design. Viola seems to have formed a very deep design with very little premeditation: she is thrown by shipwreck on an unknown coast, hears that the prince is a batchelor, and resolves to supplant the lady whom he courts.7

Dr Johnson's reason for concluding that these particular lines illustrate Viola's desire to wed the Duke may not be obvious but we should recall that in editing another play, Johnson suggested that the idiom to go 'to the world' meant marriage.8 In any event, Johnson is undoubtedly considering the lines in context, and he thinks that Viola's general intention is clear. A little later in the scene, Viola, on learning that Olivia is in mourning, changes her course of action. Dr Johnson commented: 'Viola is an excellent schemer, never at a loss; if she cannot serve the lady, she will serve the Duke'.9 Johnson, in effect, suggests that Shakespeare quickly shows that Viola is not introduced as an idealized romantic heroine. He might have said, more cautiously, that Shakespeare provides equivocal details so that we will prepare ourselves to watch Viola and make some very careful judgments. In any event, Johnson's successors, rather than taking up his lead, have been busy to eliminate any suggestion of duplicity on Viola's part. In 1790, Malone explained her quick moves on the basis of a source for the play, Riche His Farewell to Militarle Profession: Viola sailed for Illyria in search of Orsino, who is the man she loves.10 In 1821, James Boswell, the son of a more famous father, added to Malone's account: 'It would have been inconsistent with Viola's delicacy to have made an open confession of her love for the Duke to the Captain'.11 Later still (1854), R. G. White dismissed the whole controversy with great irony:

If there ever were an ingenuous, unsophisticated, unselfish character portrayed, it is this very Viola,—Dr Johnson's 'excellent schemer', who, wretched and in want, forms that 'very deep design' of supplanting a high-born beauty, of whom she had never heard, in the affections of a man of princely rank, whom she has never seen.12

White read both Johnson and the text in a very literal-minded way and was baffled by what seemed an outrageous accusation. Spedding (1865) subsequently gave an eloquent defense of Viola as a romantic heroine who, in very trying circumstances after a shipwreck, does nothing inappropriate 'for a lady of her birth and breeding'.13

This account of Viola's activity has remained intact in our own century. C. L. Barber, for example, writes that 'the shipwreck is made the occasion for Viola to exhibit an undaunted, aristocratic mastery of adversity'; and the New Arden Twelfth Night emphatically declares that Viola's 'disguise appears a natural step and neither a deep laid scheme nor an irresponsible caprice'.14 If Johnson is nevertheless right, then the whole character of the play has been misunderstood, even by critics who put an anti-romantic case. As Spedding pointed out in well-chosen words: 'Ou r conception of Viola's very nature, and with it the spirit of every scene in which she subsequently appears, and the complexion of the whole play, depends on' a correct determination of the issue.15 I am prepared to defend the essence of Johnson's analysis of Act I, scene ii, and to demonstrate Viola's subsequent 'scheming'.

Although Viola is safely ashore, the captain and the sailors (from the latter we hear nothing) are still her lifeline, and she treats them with calculation, beginning with the pretense of camaraderie: 'What country, friends, is this?' (1). The captain replies: 'This is Illyria, lady'. Viola then puns: 'And what should I do in Illyria? / My brother he is in Elysium' (italics added). Viola wittily suggests that a confusion of sounds has caused her to miss her proper destination. She now expeditiously sets about soliciting grounds for hoping that the mistake will in due course be corrected: 'Perchance he is not drown'd—what think you, sailors?' (5). The captain takes his cue and cheers her, and she thanks him with gold (17). This gesture requires scrutiny. Not every romantic heroine has gold in her purse (especially after a shipwreck), nor takes gold out to thank a man for spiritual solace. But Viola, it may be, has a design. She perhaps wishes to demonstrate that she has money, and that she knows how to reward favors. Viola is ready to see if there is more help she can get from the captain.

And, as it turns out, he knows Illyria well, having been born and bred there (22-23). 'Who governs here?' is her immediate response, and when the captain replies 'A noble duke, in nature as in name' she wants only hard fact, not speculation about the duke's character: 'What is his name?' (26). Upon hearing the name, Viola's memory, sharp on critical detail, recalls: 'Orsino! I have heard my father name him. / He was a bachelor then' (28-29). It seems fair to infer that Viola shows immediate interest in establishing herself well in the dukedom, and a royal marriage is entertained as a possibility. She hesitates momentarily, for she is not one to risk unnecessary danger, and thinks of biding her time in the safety of Olivia's court. But when the captain tells her that Olivia will entertain no kind of 'suit' (45), the word catches Viola's attention, and the captain nods in confirmation, adding, 'No, not the Duke's'. Viola's path is now clear to her; her approach to the captain characteristically indirect.

She first addresses him with a compliment that incidentally reveals her knowledgeable in the ways of the world:

There is fair behaviour in thee, captain, 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.


She then proposes to disguise herself and enter the duke's court as a eunuch. 'I'll pay thee bounteously', she goes on to promise (52), and promptly urges: 'It may be worth thy pains; for I can sing / And speak to [the Duke] in many sorts of music' (57-58). Since music is 'the food of love' (I, i. 1), the direction of Viola's thoughts is plain enough. She may even exchange a smile with the captain when she blandly concludes: 'What else may hap, to time I will commit, / Only shape thou thy silence to my wit' (112-13). Only the least suspicious in the audience will be unprepared for Viola's contrivances at court.

The court, in English Renaissance drama, is a place where one seeks fortune, and where one's success—not to say life—depends upon pleasing a monarch. When Act I, scene iv, opens, Viola has disguised herself as Cesario, a male page. We may ask, why not a eunuch, as she had planned? Perhaps she has decided that a sexual identity, even if not her own, is still an asset. She has been at court 'three days', has already 'advanc'd', and is likely to advance further, if, as Valentine points out, 'the Duke continue these favors towards you' (1-4). Valentine is talking from bitter experience, for Cesario is replacing him at court. In Act i, scene i, Valentine, as Orsino's ambassador to Olivia, failed to gain entrance; Cesario is his successor. The duke enters, asks Valentine to stand aside (12), and gives Cesario 'his' instructions. Viola is most reluctant to accept the mission, for two very good reasons. First, she has her own designs on the duke. I say designs, for there has been no evidence yet, nor, I believe, is there reliable evidence subsequently, that Viola actually loves the duke. Second, while the duke mentions only the 'fortunes' that will be hers if she succeeds with Olivia (40), in fact, if she fails she will suffer Valentine's fate. The duke, however, is not to be refused, and Viola undertakes the task, in good faith, apparently.

She listens carefully as the duke urges her on her way. He tells Cesario 'to act my woes' (26), and that to do so 'shall become thee well . . . / [Olivia] will attend it better in thy youth / Than in a nuntio's of more grave aspect' (26-28)—with a stare for Valentine, no doubt. The duke goes on to describe why Cesario will appeal to Olivia, and in doing so reveals that he himself dotes on Cesario's lovely feminine features:

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


Viola can see that the duke is attracted to her; perhaps she also wonders whether the duke is right, and her combination of masculine and feminine characteristics has novelty even among the women of a jaded Illyrian aristocracy. A course of action becomes clear to her. She will do no more than the duke instructs if she 'acts' a role and emphasizes her youthful appearance. Meanwhile, she can cultivate the duke's own interest in her.

The setting now shifts to Olivia's household, and details are soon provided which prove pertinent to our inquiry. Feste, Olivia's jester, is returning after an unexplained absence, and Maria, the lady in waiting, expects that he will have difficulty getting back into Olivia's favor. Nevertheless, he concentrates his skill—'Wit, and't be thy will, put me into good fooling' (I. v. 32-33)—and in a few short lines achieves his end. As Viola is about to enter and achieve comparable success, it behooves us to see whether the two employ parallel means. Feste sees past Olivia's initial reluctance to listen to him. He assumes that a person in mourning for an extended period of time is in need of amusement, and that a young woman has special needs. Therefore, in his introductory move, he disports his colorful wit before Olivia, much as a serpentine Satan plays before Eve in the garden. Feste knows that Maria wants a husband (27-28), and so does Olivia, for 'beauty's a flower' (52). Olivia is soon telling him that, 'for want of other idleness', she will let him 'prove' her a 'fool'. Olivia has a positive desire to be proved a fool—to the good fortune of both Feste and, as it turns out, Viola as well. With a performance requiring minimal skill, Feste soon has Olivia laughing at herself and indulging him.

At this point, Sir Toby enters with the information that a gentleman has come to call upon Olivia. It is immediately apparent that her mourning is little more than a polite way of saying 'no' to the duke, for she issues the instruction: 'If it be a suit from the Count, I am sick, or not at home' (108-09; italics added). But Cesario has cleverly declined to mention whose messenger 'he' is; Olivia is curious, and her curiosity becomes intolerable when Malvolio's description emphasizes Cesario's very youthful appearance: 'One would think his mother's milk were scarce out of him' (161-62). Olivia agrees to see Cesario; as we know, the latter has already been advised, by the duke, of Olivia's predilections.

Within just a little over a hundred lines of Cesario's entrance, Olivia has fallen in love with 'him'. It has been very widely assumed that Olivia does so in spite of Cesario's sincere attempt to woo for Orsino. To take two illustrations from the critics. Harold C. Goddard can usually see through anyone and anything, but he nevertheless says of Viola that 'she never toys with [the] possibility for a moment' of manipulating Olivia's emotions for her own ends. Alexander Leggatt finds that Viola urges the suit 'with the generosity that is part of her nature'.16 Two other critics offer a more qualified account. Herbert Howarth begins very firmly: Cesario 'urges his entreaties on Olivia as no previous messenger has dared'. But towards the end of his discussion, he muses: Viola '"unconsciously" wills Olivia to fall in love with her'. Even E. C. Pettet, writing on Shakespeare's 'detachment from romance', ventures no further than to suggest that in Viola's 'fine love speeches' to Olivia, there is sometimes 'a suggestion of parody'.17 In spite of the weight of critical opinion, and the fact that Olivia is certainly an easy victim, I believe we can discover a systematic effort on Viola's part to awaken romantic affection. Viola, on her entrance, does not invoke 'wit', as we have seen Feste do, but she is a self-proclaimed believer in wit (I. ii. 61) and there is no reason to suppose that in her secretive way she has not gone about making calculations of her own. These should accord with Feste's but Viola has an additional advantage: 'she' is a handsome young man. What, then, if she offered herself as a suitor? To do so has many real advantages, and as many dangers. If Olivia loved her, Viola could be sure of a reception at her court, and Orsino would therefore remain satisfied with his ambassador. However, if the duke were to hear a word of what she were up to, she would be in serious trouble indeed. Hence Viola will have to seduce Olivia without the latter being aware that she does; Viola must appear to refuse and to serve her lord loyally, while Olivia herself can trip head over heels in love. Viola's apparent coolness to the suit would also serve to prolong the wooing, and hence give the patient Viola time to work on the duke.

When Viola enters the room, she begins a dull, stylized address, only to interrupt herself to ask with apparent nervousness, 'if this be the lady of the house?' (171-72). It is improbable that Viola is really in doubt as to Olivia's identity, for only one of the women is veiled and Viola knows Olivia to be in mourning.18 Viola is presenting herself as an awkward and shy youth, who has carefully memorized lines, but who fears 'scorn' (175) and may easily be put out of a 'part' (179). She wishes to suggest that, behind the actor with not very interesting lines, lies a real person with a depth of feeling that Olivia might well wish to explore. Olivia is indeed interested, but Viola has yet to perfect her act, and Olivia's first guess at the person behind the mask is all too accurate: 'Are you a comedian?' she asks (182). Viola answers with a comic touch that she conceals from Olivia, whom she falsely reassures: 'No; . . . and yet (by the very fangs of malice I swear) I am not that I play' (183-84; italics added). Viola hints to the audience that she does not 'play' at all; she is in terrible earnest.19

Olivia now shows an interest in engaging Viola in 'skipping' (201) dialogue, for she answers her question, 'Are you the lady of the house?' with 'If I do not usurp myself, I am' (184-86). Viola, like Feste, now reminds her that a young woman should marry: 'What is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve' (188-89). Olivia is flattered. Viola goes on to suggest that beyond the introduction to the speech she has memorized lies 'the heart of my message' (190-91). She realizes, therefore, that Olivia, in asking her to come to the point, is not requesting that she leave, as Maria seems to think. Viola quickly asks Olivia to silence Maria: 'Some mollification for your giant, sweet lady' (204). Johnson provides a pertinent footnote: 'Ladies, in romance, are guarded by giants, who repel all improper or troublesome advances' (italics added).20 Olivia is not wise enough to take a hint and allows Viola to ask twice for a private audience, the second time with a suggestion of the seductive: 'What I am, and what I would, are as secret as maidenhead: to your ears, divinity; to any other's, profanation' (215-17). Olivia replies: 'We will hear this divinity', and accedes to Viola's request (218-19).

Olivia and Viola alone together, the latter soon gives the conversation an intimate turn: 'Good madam, let me see your face' (230). Olivia picks up the implication and comments: 'Have you any commission from your lord to negotiate with my face? You are now out of your text; but we will draw the curtain'. Olivia waits for Viola's response. Viola looks at her face and says: 'Excellently done, if God did it all'. This is a little light bantering, and, of course, an incidental crack at a rival. Viola then gets down to business, praising Olivia's beauty in lavish terms (239-43). Leggatt describes the ensuing interaction perfectly, but misses Viola's underlying strategy: Olivia 'keeps her defences up with conventional anti-Petrarchan jokes. Viola will have none of this, and persists'.21 Not realizing quite how vulnerable Olivia is at the moment, Viola urges Orsino's suit, rather than hinting at her own love. When Olivia quickly shuts to hear more, Viola replies with the most awful Petrarchanisms, and Olivia quickly shuts her up. Viola now makes the decisive move:

If I did love you in my master's flame, With such a suff ring, such a deadly life, In your denial I would find no sense, I would not understand it.

(264-67; italics added)

Breathless, Olivia responds: 'Why, what would you?' and then Viola, with lyric passions, describes how fervently she would love, in famous lines beginning, 'Make me a willow cabin at your gate'. We have evidence (II. ii. 19-21) that from this point on Olivia speaks 'in starts distractedly'. 'You might do much', she says, and inquires of Cesario's parentage. 'Above my fortunes', is his obliging reply (278), thus reassuring her that he might not be an altogether unsuitable match. Olivia, greatly moved, breaks off the conference, instructing Cesario to give her refusal to his master, but for himself to come again, ostensibly to report the duke's reaction. Viola gone, Olivia comments, more truly than she knows, that Cesario 'with an invisible and subtle stealth' has crept 'in at mine eyes' (297-98).22 Olivia then self-indulgently submits—'Well, let it be'—and sends Malvolio after Cesario to return a ring that Olivia alleges Cesario has brought from Orsino.

Upon overtaking Cesario, Malvolio offers the ring and reports Olivia's request that Cesario visit her again. So quickly does Viola fall in with the deceit, that critics have questioned the text. Malone suggested an emendation: 'She took no ring of me'. But Stevens, and, more fully, Spedding, explained that Viola tells a white lie:

Though taken quite by surprise, and not knowing at first what it exactly meant, she saw at once thus much,—that the message contained a secret of some kind which had not been confided to the messenger; and with her quick wit and sympathetic delicacy suppressed the surprise which might have betrayed it. (Italics added).23

Among modern editions of the play, the New Cam-bridge quotes this passage approvingly, and the New Arden is in essential agreement; Kittredge, however, insists that Viola 'has not failed to understand Olivia's words and manner in their recent interview'.24 To be even more cynical about Viola's motives, we can say that the return of the ring, along with Olivia's request, are clear signs to Viola that her plot has worked. She is not greatly surprised, and has long ago concluded on the need for secrecy; hence, she replies to Malvolio with perfect composure.25 The accuracy of this interpretation, and my general approach to Viola's character, are most fully tested by the speech she gives after Malvolio's exit.

The Folio text follows:

I left no Ring with her: what meanes this Lady? 17 Fortune forbid my out-side have not charm'd her: She made good view of me, indeed so much, That me thought her eyes had lost her tongue, 20 For she did speake in starts distractedly. She loves me sure, the cunning of her passion Invites me in this churlish messenger: None of my Lords Ring? Why he sent her none; I am the man, if it be so, as tis, 25 Poore Lady, she were better love a dreame: Disguise, I see thou art a wickednesse, Wherein the pregnant enemie does much. How easie is it, for the proper false In women s waxen hearts to set their formes: 30 Alas, O frailti e is the cause, not wee, 31 For such as we are made, if such we bee: 32 [Riverside text: 'Alas, our frailty is the cause, not we, (31) For such as we are made of, such we be.'] (32) How will this fadge? My master loves her deerely, And I (poore monster) fond asmuch on him: And she (mistaken) seemes to dote on me: 35 What will become of this? As I am man, My state is desperate for my maisters love: As I am woman (now alas the day) What thriftlesse sighes shall poore Olivia breath? O time, thou must untangle this, not I, 40 It is too hard a knot for me t'unty.

Undoubtedly many actresses have, like Ellen Terry, depicted Viola as pleased when she realizes that Olivia has fallen in love with her.26 I would go further, and call Viola's mood triumphant. However, as is her practice, she does not admit her guilt outright, but lets those in the audience who will appreciate her irony. She begins by pointing out that she has just concurred in a statement that is palpably untrue: in fact, she 'left no Ring' with Olivia. Viola now asks the audience whether it is wondering, 'What meanes this Lady?' She gives the answer in the following line. While in Elizabethan English 'not' frequently follows a verbal negation without yielding a positive meaning, Viola is intentionally equivocal. Her 'fortune' depends on her 'charming' Olivia—and she has succeeded. Viola promptly exhibits the evidence supporting her conclusions, and suggests that she has already drawn the necessary inferences (19-21). She ends with the confident assertion: 'She loves me sure' (22), and adds that Malvolio's message is a final incontrovertible piece of evidence (22-24). We should not be misled by the apparent tentativeness of 'if it be so' for by finishing the line with 'as tis', she contradicts her false modesty (25). Viola follows with one line of mock sympathy for Olivia (26), and four of mock lament for the way evil flourishes in the world (27-30). In line 28, many editors from Johnson on have identified the 'pregnant enemy' as the devil, but Luce, in the original Arden edition, provides an alternative: 'This may be Satan, or any designing foe' (italics added).27 The editor further defines 'pregnant': 'resourceful, ever ready with wiles'. The enemy, then, can be Viola, working silently with 'fangs of malice'. Rather than feeling sorrow on account of the evil in the world, she exults as one of those 'proper false' who have found it 'easie' to seduce women (29-30).

The next two lines are invariably emended much as they are in the Riverside Shakespeare (see insert in the Folio text above). The assumption is that Viola, as a woman, identifies with women, and excuses the fraility commonly associated with their nature. However, in the preceding lines, Viola has identified not with other women, but with the men who seduce them. Therefore, the Folio text is correct, although the emendations undoubtedly catch what may be carelessly heard in the lines. In point of fact, Viola starts off with a sympathetic 'alas', and then promptly excuses the 'frailtie' of seducers. To round off her offense, she teasingly adds, 'if such we be', as if to deny all she has seemed to be admitting about herself.

The passage closes with Viola looking over the damage she had done, and portraying herself as a poor helpless female caught in a terrible web. The couplet embodies this sentiment epigrammatically. That Viola does not know how to 'unty' the knot is perfectly true. The wise, however, will conclude that Viola is already looking around her, and will do all in her power to 'unty', as she tied, the knot, for her advantage. Another Shakespearean heroine who cloaks herself in the garb of patient Griselde is Helena, in Shakespeare's next comedy, All's Well That Ends Well. Critics have been far more willing to see an element of calculation in her. We may think that, like Viola, even in soliloquy she is not candid, so that when she claims she is leaving France to oblige Bertram, she in fact has a new plan to claim her reluctant husband (HI. ii. 99-129). When Helena next appears, waiting on a street in Florence where Bertram is soon to pass, we should ask whether chance or design has brought her to the right place at the right time. Let us use equal caution on Viola's subsequent entrance, in scene iv.

When the duke enters, he draws Cesario to him, but his attention shifts in mid-line: 'Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song, / That old and antique song we heard last night' (2-3). Viola concludes from this interruption that she must compete with the Duke's sentimental interest in music, and therefore, when the duke calls her to him again, and asks 'How dost thou like this tune?' she responds in an intensely lyrical vein (20-22). The duke, visibly moved, says 'Thou dost speak masterly', and becomes interested in Cesario's love-life. It turns out that Cesario has loved one of the duke's 'favor' (25), 'complexion' (26), and 'years' (28). But the duke either misses Cesario's implications, or shies away from them. Perhaps he feels protective of Cesario, or perhaps he simply cannot help giving expert advice on love. He warns Cesario against taking a woman older than himself, and Viola, for the moment, is stymied.

After Feste's song, she pulls out all the stops by inventing a famous narrative. She tells the Duke: 'My father had a daughter lov'd a man / As it might be perhaps, were I a woman, / I should your lordship' (107-09). The duke of course wants to know more, and Viola tells him that the girl 'never told her love' and 'pin'd in thought' (110, 112). The story deeply impresses the duke, and he asks breathlessly, 'But died thy sister of her love, my boy?' Viola now has her chance, and she thinks of taking it:

I am all the daughters of my father's house, And all the brothers too—and yet I know not. Sir, shall I to this lady?


At the last moment, Viola decides against trusting the changeable duke, and quickly brings his attention back to the 'suit' at hand. She has resigned herself to further waiting.

Viola's strategy with Olivia remains unchanged in two subsequent interviews, which can therefore be passed over quickly. Viola of course needs to do very little to precipitate Olivia's outpourings, but that little she does. For example, in Act III, scene i, she greets Olivia in public with a stiff formal compliment, and then asks for a private interview, and gets it (84-85, 88-89, 92-93). Viola promptly introduces herself as Olivia's 'servant' (97, 102). The language of courtly love is sufficient provocation for Olivia, who replies with an outpouring of emotion. Later in the Act, Cesario returns once again—indication of 'his' interest, Olivia presumes—and in the midst of his adamant denials, Olivia places a jewel with her picture around his neck—Cesario accepts the gift! (HI. iv. 208-209). But Olivia is the least of Viola's problems.

Critics have noticed that Viola does not control events in the latter acts of the play, although they have not been as quick to notice her ability to handle unexpected situations.28 The first crisis occurs when, after the interview mentioned at the end of the last paragraph, Sir Toby foments conflict by having Sir Andrew challenge Cesario to a duel. In these circumstances our strategist is not rendered entirely helpless. She knows herself too well to meet the male world with a pale imitation of its 'macho'. Instead, she frankly admits that 'I am one that had rather go with sir priest than sir knight' (III. iv. 270-71), and quickly puts her cunning to work. She tries to extricate herself, first working on Sir Toby, and then, when he goes to Sir Andrew, by approaching Fabian in like manner. Finally, when Antonio enters and diverts the attention of the others, she quietly talks Sir Andrew out of both the duel and his horse (321-24)! But Antonio's presence solves one problem only by creating another.

When he identifies her as Sebastian and accuses her of lack of faith, Viola must shape a careful reply. If she repudiates Antonio sharply, she will provoke his anger, and also forego any chance that, should the occasion arise, he could be made her ally. On the other hand, to treat him kindly and settle his confusion would invite an immediate search for Sebastian, with unforeseeable consequences for herself at the duke's court. Viola's temporary solution is to give Antonio 'half her purse—so she claims, anyway (346-47)—but not to explain his confusion. After Antonio leaves, under arrest, she reflects on what has happened. Taken at her word, she is still in doubt as to whether her brother has survived: Prove true, imagination, O prove true' (376). But she may be far from ingenuous. Not only must the mistake in identity lead to the natural conclusion that her brother survives, but Antonio actually names 'Sebastian' (366) and recalls rescuing him (360). And Viola herself admits that she looks exactly like her brother for 'him I imitate' (383). Viola therefore passes off on whoever will listen an excuse for not seeking her brother, and for not giving real aid to his friend, Antonio. She insists upon waiting until she can make 'occasion mellow' (I. ii. 43).29

Viola is not on stage in Act IV, but an event takes place which could have grave consequences for her. She has brilliantly succeeded in appearing to reject Olivia's advances, and she therefore need not fear direct communication between the Duke and Olivia. However, Olivia now comes upon Sebastian, takes him for Cesario, woos him with new success, and quickly marries him. Therefore Viola, unbeknownst to herself, has a new problem at the beginning of Act V, and, to make matters worse, the Duke has decided to go to Olivia's court himself. As he and Cesario arrive, Antonio is brought before the duke. Fortunately, Viola has already decided how to handle this eventuality, and immediately tells the duke that Antonio has been kind to her, but is mad (66-68). Luck is on her side because Antonio happens to say that he has kept Cesario company for the last 'three months . . . both day and night' (94, 96). The duke quickly adopts Viola's explanation, saying to Antonio: 'Thy words are madness' (98). At this moment, Olivia enters.

She naturally thinks Cesario is her husband, and though she has promised him to keep the marriage secret, she knows no restraint and throws him longing glances. Viola rebukes her in order to show the duke that she is loyal to him, but Orsino seems to have been harboring suspicions, and quickly concludes that Cesario has betrayed him. The duke expresses a cruel intention, and Viola seems to submit:

Duke. 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.

Viola. And I most jocund, apt, and willingly, To do you rest, a thousand deaths would die.


This has been called 'Viola's supreme moment of self-sacrifice',30 but her lines are susceptible to more than one interpretation. As always, she has her wits about her. She has heard the duke finally accept Olivia's refusal: 'Live you the marble-breasted tyrant still' (124); and although Orsino seems to have turned his anger on Cesario, he has nevertheless inadvertently declared his love in the lines just quoted (see also 1.126). And so, Viola has given voice to concealed exuberance. The 'thousand deaths' for which she is 'apt', and which she will die 'willingly', are—sexual deaths.31 Viola once again shares her irony only with the audience; on stage she remains perfectly composed, for she has now to manage the dénouement.

In a moment, the situation actually appears to worsen. As Viola starts to follow Orsino off stage, all the while protesting her love for him, Olivia blurts out: 'Cesario, husband, stay' (143). Orsino turns to Cesario accusingly, and says: 'Her husband, sirrah?' Viola's response is knowing: 'No, my lord, not I' (145; italics added). All the parts of the puzzle are now clear to Viola, and she awaits the appearance of her twin brother. Sebastian enters. The duke speaks, and Antonio, and Olivia, but not Viola. Finally, an incredulous Sebastian turns to Cesario and remarks: 'I never had a brother . . . I had a sister' (226, 228). He goes on to inquire, 'What kin are you to me? / What countryman? What name? What parentage?' (230-31). Viola conceals from him her masculine disguise and instead contrives to perform a duet with her brother. Finally, at the emotional climax, she admits the deception.

Her delay in doing so is the most famous crux of the play. One critic has explained that Shakespeare wishes to freeze the action 'in the contemplation of a miracle'. Another that he is 'fumbling with the details of the . . . plot'. Still another that Shakespeare has created an 'intensely The moving' but obviously rical moment.32 theatdeal best explanation is a good simpler than these. Viola's goal has been to win the duke. A hundred-odd lines back, in his allusion to Heliodorus' Ethiopica (117-19), Orsino revealed himself as an avid reader of romances. Therefore Viola has now seized 'occasion', as she promised she would, to fashion a sentimental and melodramtic reunion with her brother. Her calculation, as always, is accurate. The duke speaks up immediately:

I shall have share in this most happy wrack. Boy, thou has said to me a thousand times Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.


He looks forward to a wedding 'when golden time convents' (382). Viola is to be Orsino's mistress, and his fancy's queen' (388). He will go on living life as in a romance, and Viola will rule Orsino—and a dukedom.

The significance of the foregoing argument for interpretation of Twelfth Night may now be briefly explored, although a full discussion is beyond the scope of this essay.33 That a generation of critics concerned with the theme of appearance and reality in Shakespeare should nevertheless have failed to penetrate Viola's disguise indicates that we still have a great deal to learn about the play. Shakespeare himself is very nearly explicit about the kind of discernment needed. In Act I, scene v, while Feste and Maria are conversing together, he suddenly says to her: 'If Sir Toby would leave drinking, thou wert as witty a piece of flesh as any in Illyria' (27-28). This comment perfectly explains Maria's efforts to reform Sir Toby in an earlier scene, and the truth of Feste's observation is confirmed by Maria's quick effort to hush him. Feste is unromantic, or realistic, call it 'what you will' about Maria's activity. In another scene, Feste looks Viola over, observes that she scurries as quickly as he does between Orsino's court and Olivia's, and, after begging money of Viola, seems to suggest that she is as much a 'beggar' as he is (HI. i. 54-55). It is really Maria and Viola who have most in common, because Feste is of a divided mind about currying favor. Maria and Viola both use their 'wit' to execute a careful plot; they channel their energies in the service of men of superior social rank and inferior abilities. Both are patient, and both prevail. We might conclude, therefore, by saying that in a hierarchical social system, or in any social system, for that matter, there is competition for rewards. Fools like Malvolio and Sir Andrew reveal their motives and fall on their faces; but an intricate web of deception is the norm, and he who would understand, must look beneath the glitter in a romantic comedy like Twelfth Night.


1 D. J. Palmer, 'Art and Nature in Twelfth Night' Critical Quarterly, IX, 3 (1967); reprinted in D. J. Palmer, ed., Shakespeare: Twelfth Night, A Casebook (London: Macmillan, 1972), p. 212.

2 Porter Williams, Jr., 'Mistakes in Twelfth Night and Their Resolution', PMLA, LXXVI (1961); reprinted in Palmer, p. 180. The most influential argument of this kind is made by C. L. Barber in Shakespeare's Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959), pp. 240-61.

3 Ralph Berry, Shakespeare's Comedies: Explorations in Form (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), p. 199.

4 H. C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), I, 304.

5 The first quotation is from John Middleton Murry,Shakespeare (London: Jonathan Cape, 1936), p. 225; the second quotation, and the one in the following sentence, is from Palmer, reprinted in his critical anthology, pp. 216 and 219. Peter G. Phialas, in Shakespeare's Romantic Comedies: The Development of Their Form and Meaning (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966) finds: 'A sense of melancholy characteristic of the general mood of the play' (p. 266).

6 Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Twelfth Night are from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blackemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974). Among the anti-romantic critics, two have already been mentioned: Berry and Goddard. See also W. H. Auden, 'Music in Shakespeare', Encounter, IX (1957), reprinted in The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (New York: Vintage, 1962), pp. 520-22; John W. Draper, The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1950); and Jan Kott, Shakespeare Our Contemporary (Garden City, New York: Anchor, 1966), pp. 305-14.

7Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. Arthur Sherbo, Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, Volume 7 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), p. 312.

8Ibid. p. 365.

9Ibid. p. 312.

10 Edmond Malone, The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare; cited in Twelfth Night, ed. Horace Howard Furness (1901; reprinted New York: Dover, 1964), I. ii. 45-47n.

11 James Boswell, The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare (London, 1821), XI, 347 (n. 2); also in Furness, I. ii. 45-47n.

12 Richard G. White, Shakespeare's Scholar (New York, 1854), p. 282; quoted in Furness, I. ii. 45-47n.

13 James Spedding, Fraser's Magazine, August 1865; quoted in Furness, I. ii. 59n.

14 Barber, p. 241; The New Arden Twelfth Night, eds. J. M. Lothian and T. W. Craik (London: Methuen, 1975), p. lxiii. Both Barber and Spedding (n. 13) give Viola an aristocratic birth. I believe that there is no evidence in the play justifying this assumption, and certainly no evidence that in plotting for a duke she is not aspiring beyond her class. In Shakespeare's London theatre, Viola's accent would have given the audience a precise indication of her social rank (unless she spoke with an ambiguous foreign accent). All Shakespeare criticism suffers from the absence of a direct dramatic tradition surviving from the dramatist's day; we should not make matters worse by inventing biographies out of whole cloth.

15 Spedding, in Furness, I. ii. 59n.

16 Goddard, I. 304; Alexander Leggatt, Shakespeare's Comedy of Love (London: Methuen, 1974), p. 233.

17 Herbert Howarth, The Tiger's Heart (London: Chatto & Windus, 1970), pp. 96-98; E. C. Pettet, Shakespeare and the Romance Tradition (London: Staples Press, 1949), p. 127.

18 See I. ii. 36-41 and 45; I. iv. 18-20.

19 At Act III, scene i. lines 123-25, Viola first tells Olivia that she pities her, and when Olivia answers 'That's a degree to love', Viola's revealing comment is 'No, not a grize; for 'tis a vulgar proof/That very oft we pity enemies' (italics added). Olivia, naturally, does not get the point, but we should.

20Johnson on Shakespeare, p. 313.

21 Leggatt, p. 233.

22 In two subsequent passages, Olivia uses language which can be taken to suggest that she has an unconscious suspicion of what Viola is up to. Olivia blames Viola in the following lines: 'Have you not set mine honor at the stake, / And baited it with all th' unmuzzled thoughts / That tyrannous heart can think?' (III. i. 118-20). Later still, Olivia tells Viola that 'A fiend like thee might bear my soul to hell' (III. iv. 217).

23 Spedding in Furness, II. ii. 14n.

24Twelfth Night, eds. Arthur Quiller-Couch and John Dover Wilson (Cambridge, England: Cambridge, 1968), II. ii. 12n (p. 124); New Arden Twelfth Night, p. lxvii; Twelfth Night, ed. George Lyman Kittredge (New York: Ginn, 1941), II. ii. 13 (pp. 108-09).

25 Our interpretation of Viola's character will survive speculation (were it to occur) concerning her motive for not accepting the ring, and then, when Malvolio has thrown it on the ground, for leaving it there while he is present. No one will ever be able to say that Viola took the gift, but Olivia can think that Viola accepted it covertly. As we will see, Olivia subsequently places a jewel on Viola (III. iv. 208-09), and later still (IV. ii. 2), we learn that she has given a 'pearl' to Sebastian, whom she mistakes for Cesario.

26 See Furness, II. ii. 27n and pp. 393-94. This is also the interpretation given to the passage by Anne Swift in a recent production of the play at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, California.

27Twelfth Night, ed. Morton Luce (London: Methuen, 1929), II. ii. 29n.

28 L. G. Salingar, 'The Design of Twelfth Night ', SQ, IX (1958), rpt. in Twentieth Century Interpretations of Twelfth Night, ed. Walter N. King (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968), p. 30. See also Leech, pp. 36-37.

29 Bertrand Evans, in Shakespeare's Comedies (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1960) comes to similar conclusions about Viola's discoveries, but his assessment of her motives is entirely different, pp. 140-43. Viola also compromises her moral standing by allowing the captain she promised to help to remain in jail (V. i. 274-77).

30 New Arden Twelfth Night, p. lxxvi. See also Porter Williams, Jr, in Palmer, p. 184: 'Comedy here touches for a fleeting moment the pathos of tragedy'.

31 Sexual puns on 'death' and 'will' are too common to need documentation. Partridge, in Shakespeare's Bawdy (New York: Dutton, 1969), gives instances where 'apt' means 'sexually apt'; see also Twelfth Night, I. v. 26-28.

32 The three critics, in order, are: Leggatt, p. 247; Patrick Swinden, An Introduction to Shakespeare's Comedies (London: Macmillan, 1973), p. 130; Anne Barton, '"As You Like It" and "Twelfth Night": Shakespeare's Sense of an Ending', in Shakespearean Comedy, Stratford-Upon-Avon Studies 14 (London: Edward Arnold, 1972).

33 I am presently completing a book with a chapter on Twelfth Night.

René Girard (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "'Tis Not So Sweet as It Was Before': Orsino and Olivia in Twelfth Night," in Stanford Literature Review, Vol. 7, Nos. 1&2, Spring-Fall, 1990, pp. 123-32.

[In the essay below, Girard evaluates Orsino's and Olivia's notions of human love and characterizes bothcharacters as pseudo-narcissists. The critic maintains that in their twin obsessions with mimetic desire, they are identical personalities, each pursuing an inaccessible object and thus avoiding the disenchantment that must occur when desire is satisfied.]

Orsino and Olivia are complex and refined characters. The duke has artistic and intellectual pretensions; before the curtain is raised, at the beginning of Twelfth Night, his musicians are playing a piece of music which Orsino greatly enjoys and, when it is over, he wants to hear it again. "Give me excess of it," he says:

that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Once again, the music is heard and Orsino does indeed find it less beautiful than the first time. In a single instant, as he himself had predicted, his appe-tite has sickened and died:

Enough, no more, 'Tis not sweet now as it was before.

"Surfeiting" suggests our modern nausea, a compulsive disgust, a revulsion so extreme and definitive that the word is a little shocking in the context of art. If we read on, however, we soon find that not exclusively interested in esthetics. In the experience he describes, the erotic life looms larger than the arts. The "spirit of love" dies in the embrace of its objects, regardless of their nature:

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. So full of shapes is fancy That it alone is high fantastical.


It is traditional to compare the course of desire with physical appetite and its satiety. But a healthy individual, even when no longer hungry, does not find good food disgusting, unless, of course, he abuses it. Orsino's experience resembles indigestion and Anne Barton rightly observes: "This love is a kind of glutton that devours dainties only to vomit them up."1

The ups and downs of normal hunger are less extreme than what Orsino describes. His language evokes a pathological version of the natural process. The slant of the duke's metaphor suggests a human nature wounded by original sin.

This man who says that desire never outlives possession is nevertheless in love. During the rest of the play, he never utters more than two sentences in a row without mentioning Olivia, but Olivia is inexplicably absent from his speech on the spirit of love. Olivia is the one permanent goal, the only fixed point in an existence that would be empty and incoherent without her. Orsino's sense of self visibly depends on the unflagging intensity of his desire for Olivia. But he argues that there is no such thing as an unflagging desire once its object is won. If Olivia belonged to the duke, would she lose her charm as quickly as the piece of music? The question never comes up explicitly.

One of the duke's attendants, Curio, interrupts his meditation on desire:

Will you go hunt, my lord?

DUKE.What, Curio?

CUR. The hart.

DUKE. Why, so I do, the noblest that I have. O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first, Methought she purg'd the air of pestilence! That instant what I turn'd into a hart, And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, E'er since pursue me.

(I.i. 16-22)

As soon as the conversation shifts away from desire, the duke remembers Olivia. It takes a hackneyed pun to remind him of his beloved. Orsino's passion seems more at ease among literary clichés than in the context of a serious debate about the life and death of desire.

Orsino's first tirade on the subject is part of a musical prelude to the whole play, but it is more than a decorative hors-d'oeuvre; it is essential to our understanding of the comedy. It must be interpreted in the light of what follows; what it leaves unsaid is just as important as what it actually says.

Like many disillusioned romantics, Orsino speaks cynically about desire in general but he will go on desiring romantically until the end of his life. His cynicism about the past is not really independent from his current passion but the connection is paradoxical and Orsino himself never makes it completely explicit. We must rely on indirect clues that Shakespeare provides for this very purpose; we can and we must uncover the truth that his character never fully acknowledges.

Before we have time to forget Orsino's first speech, he gives the second, so different from the first in some ways that it seems to demand a different author, and yet so similar in other ways that the author cannot fail to be the same:

DUKE. 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.

Alas, their love may be called appetite, No motion of the liver, but the palate, That suffers surfeit, cloyment, and revolt, But mine is all as hungry as the sea, And can digest as much. Make no compare Between that love a woman can bear me And that I owe Olivia.


According to this second speech, the only desires afflicted with the infirmities earlier described by Orsino as his own are feminine desires in general and those of Olivia in particular. Only women "suffer surfeit, cloyment and revolt." To make the contradiction even more blatant, Orsino suggests that these same infirmities are uncharacteristic of men and especially of himself. He opposes the weakness and fickleness of feminine desire to the undying strength of his virile desire for Olivia.

Once again, desire is as hungry as the sea and it can "digest" whatever it devours. The metaphor sounds just as ominous as the first time; in the first tirade, however, the maritime digestion expressed a pathetic contrast between the before and the after of all desires, their apparent inexhaustibility before possession is achieved, their instant death as soon as it is achieved. This time, there is no after, no surfeit for Orsino himself, and we can easily understand why: the passion for Olivia is an eternal before.

Olivia must be the first woman who ever had the upper hand with Orsino, and Orsino realizes that she has for him the eyes that he himself has always had for the other women in his life, the women that he ruthlessly discarded, no doubt, after possessing them.

Whenever Orsino occupies in relation to women the position that Olivia now occupies in relation to him, he feels the same "surfeit" that he now detects in her. He reacts in the very manner that he denounces as specifically feminine when it is her reaction to him personally. The phenomenon is the same but its ethical connotation has shifted from neutral in the case of Orsino to negative in the case of Olivia and of women in general.

To Olivia the story of Orsino's love sounds like a piece of music repeated too many times. Orsino is the one, this time, who has fallen into "abatement and low price." Olivia is sincerely bored with his sempiternal passion. Who wants to make love to an already digested man? It would be a misunderstanding to suppose that Orsino and Olivia have been physically intimate and that he disappointed her as a lover. Orsino is the defeated partner in a battle of pseudo-narcissism. It just happened that Olivia did not respond to his advances and this is how her victory was achieved. This is the only way in which a woman can durably fascinate such a man as Orsino. Were Orsino in Olivia's place, he would feel and behave with her exactly as she now feels and behaves with him. If she gave up the type of superiority they both crave in their relations with the other sex, immediately, he would cease to love her. At a deeper level, Orsino realizes that he and Olivia are very much alike. The spectacular disharmony between them does not stem from a conflict of personalities or from some other intrinsic difference but from the very reverse, an almost perfect identity. When Olivia entered his life, Orsino for the first time lost a mimetic and metaphysical battle that he had always won with everyone else.

Shakespeare wants us to compare the two speeches of Orsino; proof of this lies in the conclusion of the second one: "Make no compare . . ." When we hear this kind of warning from such a man, we should know that a comparison is in order.

Even very intelligent people can be so obsessed with their mimetic rivals that they talk like Orsino on occasions when it would be better for them to keep silent. We always marvel at the naive compulsion that forces these people to divulge the very truth they are trying to hide, but we ourselves will make the same mistake at the first opportunity.

All individuals beset by mimetic desire are easily fooled into believing that the entire world shares their obsession with their current rival. Like all people caught in a mimetic spiral, Orsino wants to convince himself that he is enormously different from his "beloved enemy," whereas in reality there is no difference, and something in him obscurely knows this. The anti-Olivia "propaganda" of the second speech is really an extrapolation of the self-knowledge demonstrated in the first speech.

Orsino thinks that he understands Olivia's desire and he certainly does, but not because of what he says, not because Olivia is one more exemplar of the archetypal woman whom all frustrated men ritually execrate. The sexist cliché is really a mask for a science of desire that does not want to acknowledge its real source. Orsino recognizes in Olivia the successful pseudo-narcissist that he used to be but is no longer, because of Olivia.

Orsino rightly interprets his relationship to this particular woman as a reversal of his habitual experience with the other sex. His banal anti-feminism is an effort to hide the true nature of this reversal and the origin of his insight into Olivia.

The idea that the desire of women for men can be weakened by a specifically feminine self-centeredness has always been popular with men. Men still love to portray as narcissistic in an absolute and non-mimetic sense the women who spurn their sexual advances. Freud gave a new lease on life to that myth with his definition of "narcissism" as a genuine self-centeredness that would be primarily feminine. Freud claimed that he had diagnosed a specifically "feminine" inability to respond to the real "object-love" of genuinely masculine men. But, quite significantly, the genuinely masculine men have a regrettable penchant for squandering their precious object-love on the women who deserve it least, narcissistic women, of course.

This is exactly Orsino's illusion; his second speech seems patterned on Freud's Introduction to Narcissism and as soon as we compare the two speeches, the radical critique that Shakespeare intended emerges. When placed side by side, the two speeches suggest a deconstruction of Elizabethan self-love that really amounts to a deconstruction of the Freudian concept avant la lettre. The words change and the myth of a specifically feminine self-centeredness remains.

The metaphoric continuity of the two speeches indicates that Orsino projects upon Olivia his own experience of the dominant erotic position, the position that Olivia now occupies with him. The fact that his insight is projective does not mean that it is worthless. Our perspicacity in such matters is always rooted in self-criticism; mimetic desire is the same in all human beings, regardless of age, gender, race, culture, etc.

Being projected upon its own mimetic replica, Orsino's insight into himself (the first speech) generates some real knowledge of Olivia's behavior (the second speech), but the duke cannot acknowledge its source without acknowledging his kinship with his mimetic double, thus undermining his resentment against an attitude that he, himself, would have adopted with Olivia, had the opportunity presented itself.

Mimetic doubles are sharp-sighted in regard to one another but their vision is distorted by the need they all feel to abolish the reciprocity in which their perspicacity is rooted. They must indignantly deny that they have anything in common with their rivals and yet, the only possible basis for their remarkable "psychological acumen" is this mimetic desire that divides them because they share it:

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

(Romans 2: 1)

Orsino slanders women not because he truly believes in the masculine superiority that he claims but because he feels inferior as the mimetic double whose desire is enslaved by the successful narcissism of his partner. The indifference that he disparages as feminine insubstantiality is really the source of the metaphysical prestige that Olivia would not enjoy for very long in his eyes, if she yielded to his desire.

Like all romantic thinkers, Orsino sees desire as an object/subject relationship exclusively; he systematically short-circuits the third dimension, the mimetic model/obstacle/rival that makes everything intelligible. This is an especially tempting illusion in cases of pseudo-narcissism, when all roles are played by the same individual. To Orsino, Olivia is simultaneously object, model, obstacle, and rival.

The view of desire as a subject/object relation is false even in the case of art, which esthetes love to bring up because it seems to prove the existence of the solipsistic desire in which they want to believe. In reality, the most powerful component of esthetic emotion is a godlike otherness in the admired work, a quality that too much familiarity may weaken or even destroy, as witnessed by the experiment of Orsino, the two successive performances of the same musical piece.

Like all divinities, beauty eludes the impurity of human contact and the illusion of unmediated desire is shattered. If this desire were truly unmediated, it would not be diminished by the continuous enjoyment of its object; it would survive the ordeal of possession and fulfillment would not turn to ashes. Unlike the romantics, Shakespeare rejects the theatrics of esthetic fetichism and this is part of his greatness.

The Orsino of the second speech is a frustrated lover dominated by the voice of his frustrated desire. The contradiction of the two speeches verifies the law that Orsino himself has formulated in the first: desire seems eternal and inexhaustible as long as it remains unsatisfied, and not one minute longer. The second speech is consistently inconsistent with the first because it is the voice of famished desire, the desire for Olivia, whereas the first is the voice of surfeit. From Olivia's standpoint, to surrender to Orsino's desire would be a bad idea.

The language and behavior of Orsino suggest that he is aware, more or less, of his own pseudo-narcissism and of everything we have just said about him. In spite of his own involvement, he is as lucid about it as Rosalind in As You Like It; he really understands what only outside observers understood in the earlier comedies. He embodies a more "advanced" version of the pseudo-narcissistic configuration.

He knows very well that his daily humiliations at the hands of Olivia are self-defeating. If he really wanted to seduce this woman, he would resort to the strategy outlined by Rosalind, feigned indifference, but he never does. What is the reason for Orsino's theatrically "romantic" behavior?

The duke knows that no desired object can fall into his hands and retain its appeal for very long. Only a victorious rival can invigorate desire; desire is irrevocably self-defeating. The only radical solution to its endless tyranny is total renunciation.

This policy is what all great religions recommend, all great ethical systems, all traditional wisdom. It is Hamlet's advice to Ophelia: get thee to a nunnery. Had she followed it, she would not have died the wretched death that she did.

Fortunately for desire, a rational loophole exists which enables the crafty spirit of love not to draw the correct lesson from its perpetual failures. Experience teaches us the unsatisfactory nature of all objects that can be possessed; it has nothing to say, strictly speaking, about objects that cannot be possessed. If we are punctiliously experimental about this matter, we can always claim that, as long as we do not possess these objects, we do not have enough information to dismiss them out of hand.

On the basis of a myopically interpreted experience, the absurdity of desire can never be demonstrated satisfactorily. A sophistic abuse of methodical doubt permits desire to reason as follows: "Since all objects that can be possessed prove valueless, I will renounce them once and for all in favor of those objects that cannot be possessed."

In Twelfth Night, this solution has a name, Olivia. She seems so impregnable that the duke can sincerely lament the fragility of all desire and yet remain supremely confident in the eternal duration of his desire for her.

The ocean of indifference that engulfs all other desires will never devour this particular one, Orsino thinks, for the very reason that it will never be satisfied. Olivia will remain forever inaccessible, not to Orsino alone but to all men. This creed remains obscure and Orsino avoids facing and formulating it explicitly, but it governs his life.

For the man who proclaims the bankruptcy of all desires, it still makes sense to desire Olivia. Orsino seems "irrational" as long as his real priority remains invisible. The real priority is not pleasure but desire at any price.

It is wrong to assume that, at all stages in its history, desire is seeking positive rewards. This was true perhaps in the initial phases, the ones portrayed in the early comedies. Orsino has reached a stage when, under the pressure of perpetual disenchantment, desire itself moves beyond the pleasure principle. Desire gives up pleasure in order to preserve itself as desire. Orsino is the first but not the last example of this desperate strategy.

The duke's desire for Olivia arises from the depth of his disenchantment and not in spite of it. A "rational" connection exists, but of such a nature that Orsino will never make it explicit, even to himself; we must deduce it from our comparison of the two speeches. In spite of his cynicism, Orsino is a man with a vast capacity for self-delusion.

To say that desire cannot survive the model's defeat is the same as saying that it cannot survive its own victory. The more desire learns about its own operation, the more intractable the dilemma becomes. Since desire dies of its own fulfillment, the road to eternal desire can only lie in the selection of a forever inaccessible object.

Orsino is the embodiment of this desire. The mimetic process takes time to unfold and, on this "historical" trajectory, Orsino belongs to a phase posterior to that of previous Shakespearean heroes. The chronological order of the comedies corresponds to a diachronic development of desire that leads from bad to worse. Orsino is not the end of the process, but he is not far from it.

His "hopeless" passion, I suggested, is a desperate move in a strategy of desire itself, a strategy of self-preservation. This is certainly true and yet a little misleading at the same time because this strategy demands no calculation, no planning of any sort and, in a sense, it does not deserve the name; it results from the normal drift of desire. All it takes to get there is a little too much success with women and then, all of a sudden, a little failure, the chance encounter of an Olivia. The quest for the perfect passion is hardly distinguishable from what happens to a blasé consumerist if and when he finally stumbles upon the forever indigestible dish, the unconquerable object, the only object to which he can become durably attached.

By refusing to love him, Olivia renders a great service to the duke; she gives stability to his life. Deep down, the duke feels rather lucky; he is eager to perpetuate his sentimental deadlock with Olivia. When he and she finally come face to face in Act 5, the only words these strange accomplices exchange sound like a discreet acknowledgment of their negative partnership:

DUKE. Still so cruel?

OLIVIA. Still so constant, lord?


Orsino is confident that he can keep Olivia cruel forever. Since his desire is the model for her self-love, all he has to do, he thinks, to freeze the situation permanently in his favor, is to keep desiring her: she will keep rejecting not only him but all possible lovers; she will be the eternal prisoner of her monumental self-love, Orsino's personal gift to her. Even though he has fallen into "abatement and low price," Orsino feels that his prestige as a handsome young man and as a duke makes him superior to all potential suitors, so that Olivia will be forced to keep her part of the bargain; what she refuses to him she will never grant to any other man.

Orsino makes the usual mistake of "enslaved narcissists"; he has too much faith in the objective strength of his idol. This mistake is fatal. When he learns that Olivia has already betrayed him, he flies into a dreadful rage. Olivia is in love, and with whom? With Orsino's own ambassador! The irony of this is that, if something besides Olivia's narcissism is responsible for her falling in love, it is Orsino's behavior. He dispatched Cesario to his beloved because of the young man's personal charm, hoping that it would operate on Olivia as it did on him, and it certainly has; the duke's expectations are fulfilled beyond his wildest dream.

This plot is one more variation, of course, on the great Shakespearean theme of self-defeating mimetic lovers, who advertise the charms of their lovers to their rivals and the charms of their rivals to their lovers. The refined and subtle Orsino belongs to the same mimetic family as Valentine and Collatine. For a while, after he learns what has happened, he turns into a raving maniac. Olivia has fallen in love through Orsino's own mediation.


This essay is forthcoming as part of my book, A Theater of Envy, William Shakespeare to appear at Oxford University Press in 1991.

1The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1974) 408.

John Astington (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Malvolio and the Eunuchs: Text and Revels in Twelfth Night," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespeare Studies and Production, Vol. 46, 1994, pp. 23-34.

[In the following essay, Astington explores the characterization of Malvolio in terms of the tension between paganism, Puritanism, and traditional Christian viewpoints in Twelfth Night. The critic compares Malvolio's humiliation to the mockery, exposure, and punishment of lust that was frequently a focus of traditional English folk festivals.]

. . . a good practise in it to make the steward beleeue his Lady widdowe was in Loue wth him by counterfayting a leftr

John Manningham

He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

1 Corinthians, 7, 32-3

Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.

But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.

1 Timothy, 5, 5-6

Fashionably enough, the central farcical scene of Twelfth Night concerns an act of reading. What Malvolio reads and how he reads it have significant connections both with other events in the play, and with the wider world of seventeenth-century English society. The letter he finds invites him to join the festive rituals of love—to disguise himself, to smile, and to become a wooer, on the expectation of ending the revelling with epithalamium and marriage. This model for human conduct—the argument of romantic comedy—is in fact endorsed by a secondary text hidden within the first, as we shall see. But Malvolio, reading the words eagerly in the light of his predisposition, sees no subtleties, let alone the gaping trap. The festival in which he has already begun to take part is not the affirmative and sustaining one he imagines, but a punitive, defaming, mocking ritual aimed at him, his pride, pretensions, and authority. His reading—or misreading—marks his entry to a festive world, and festivals, like texts, are ambiguous. Particularly his treatment at the hands of the plotters forms a suggestive inverse ritual to set against those patterns which are traced by the energies of misplaced and baffled erotic desire, eventually untangled and fulfilled.

In the last scene of the play Feste finally delivers Malvolio's letter, excusing himself with the observation that 'madman's epistles are no gospels'. One could say that Malvolio's mistake has been to fall into the trap of taking a mad epistle for gospel, but here Olivia is not to be diverted by Feste's attempt to superimpose a theatrical style on plain sense: Orsino's recognition that 'This savours not much of distraction' echoes her own. Earlier in the play, Toby has pre-empted another plain reader, Viola, by rewriting Sir Andrew's challenge and by avoiding committing it to paper: 'this letter, being so excellently ignorant, will breed no terror in the youth. He will find it comes from a clodpoll. In the course of the play we have, then, two epistles which are gospels, in so far as their sense, or lack of it, is revealed in their style, and one which is dressed as a dish of poison, devilish and heretical.

Malvolio, if he is indeed a 'kind of puritan', should have had some experience in the interpretation of difficult or ambiguous writings, but he capitulates so absolutely to the apparent sense of a text that even Maria is amazed at his extreme folly: 'Yon gull Malvolio is turned heathen, a very renegado, for there is no Christian that means to be saved by believing rightly can ever believe such impossible passages of grossness.' Something has been wrong, clearly, with Malvolio's Puritan discipline, if he can fall so easily for 'some obscure epistles of love', taking the shadow for the substance in such an unguarded manner. In doing so, of course, he is unconsciously aping his betters, and it is the deluded Olivia who is readiest to understand and forgive him, pointedly comparing his case with hers twice in the play. Not that she is aware of her own delusion, however. She confidently assumes she is an accomplished reader of texts, and of bodies as texts, when she dismisses the first chapter of Orsino's heart, which Viola proposes as her gospel: 'O, I have read it. It is heresy.'

The revenge of foolery and holiday on Malvolio is motivated by his repressive and humourless sense of order, and by his self-conceit, but the terms of his humiliation are very deliberately chosen: not only is he made to transgress class barriers, but he is translated into a lover, about which role there is something deeply and fundamentally inappropriate. Malvolio's initial rule over the celibate, mourning household of Olivia is sterile and deathly. Sad and civil, he is customarily dressed in suits of solemn black, and he marks himself all too clearly as an enemy to the life of comic energy: his first line in the play invokes the pangs of death. Olivia's own brooding on death, however affected it may be, aligns her sympathetically with Malvolio's gloomy order: the entirely imaginary affection that Maria invents has at least a germ of plausibility about it. But Malvolio is valued by Olivia as a servant precisely because he appears to be passionless, 'Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow', a defender not only of wit, manners, and honesty, but of honesty in its sexual sense, a symbolic guardian at Olivia's gates. As a classically constructed blocking character, Malvolio inamorato is punished by the passion he apparently denies.

By the beginning of the box-tree scene, the treasons have already been planted in his mind, which is running on marriage: 'Having been three months married to her, sitting in my state—. . . Calling my officers about me, in my branched velvet gown, having come from a day-bed where I have left Olivia sleeping.' Dreams of power and luxury, therefore, accompany the relatively sober, yet preposterous 'married to her'; indeed the fantasy of high social rank runs slightly ahead of dreams of sexual indulgence. Married in his mind, he encounters the fateful epistle, the very letters of which drip with concupiscence.1 The style of the text he reads is a clever mixture of obliquity and directness, fustian riddles, grandiloquence, and minor rhetorical flourishes with a rather dated air. The prose begins with a clear warning—'If this fall into thy hand, revolve'—and immediately passes to an apparently clear statement—'In my stars I am above thee'—followed by a fugai development on the theme of greatness, which Malvolio is naturally disposed to hear with pleasure. Within the famous tripartite clause, thrice repeated in the course of the play, there lurks, perhaps, another warning for the truly virtuous. That is to say that the construction of this part of the epistle is remarkably close to gospel. In the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St Matthew, Christ has been drawn by the Pharisees into a discussion of divorce and marriage. The complexities of morality and law lead the disciples to think that perhaps 'it is not good to marry'. In the King James Bible, Christ replies as follows:

11 But hee said vnto them, All men cannot receiue this saying saue they to whom it is giuen.

12 For there are some Eunuches, which were so borne from their mothers wombe: and there are some Eunuches, which were made Eunuches of men: and there be Eunuches, which haue made themselues Eunuches for the kingdome of heauens sake. He that is able to receiue it, let him receiue it.

Christ's words, he twice warns, are not to be understood by everyone, and the terms of his analogy are in many respects puzzling, but the evident centre of his meaning is that true greatness is not of this world, and that sexuality may be a bar to finding it. If Maria has intended this gospel text to serve as an allusive reflection beneath the surface of her epistle, the sense of the phrases begins to shimmer with opposites and distinctions: physical loss and spiritual gain, greatness and littleness (deficiency), fertility and sterility.

Malvolio has been offered an oblique warning about the futility of his marriage, if not a veiled insult, but fails to catch either. He would not, however, have known the gospel in the Authorized Version, and any kind of Puritan would have been most likely to be familiar with the Geneva Bible. The 1560 text translates the crucial verse in Matthew in a slightly different way:

For there are some chaste, which were so borne of (their) mothers bellie: and there be some chaste, which be made chaste by men: and there be some chaste, which haue made them selues chaste for the kingdome of heauen.2

The effect of 'chaste' is a good deal blander, and implies choice rather than compulsion or accident, although the second clause becomes puzzling in this respect. But the marginal glosses, a chief feature of the Calvinist bibles, leave the reader in no doubt over the sense in the first instance: 'the worde signifieth (gelded) and they were so made because they shuld, kepe the chambers of noble women: for they were iudged chaste.' Malvolio, keeper of the chamber to Olivia, certainly wishes to be judged chaste, but is far from deeming himself unable to marry, from recognizing his own incapacity. The gloss on those that make themselves chaste, or who achieve chasteness, might we say, explains the phrase as a positive effect of grace, and of an effort of free will rather than negative self-abnegation or mutilation: Christ's phrase refers to those 'Which haue the gift of cōtinēce, & vse it to serue God with more free libertie.' And perhaps because the connection between chastity and godliness has an unfortunately Papist slant, the final sentence of the verse, Christ's second caveat, receives the following gloss: 'This gift is not commune for all men, but is verie rare, and give to fewe: therefore men may not rashly absteine from marriage.' The Puritan reading of the text, finally, is to endorse the argument of comedy. This is made particularly clear in Calvin's own commentary on these verses. Speaking of the disciples' uncertainty, he writes, perhaps rather surprisingly:

But why do they not think on their side how hard was the bondage of their wives? Simply because they are thinking only of themselves and their own convenience and are not motivated by the mind of the flesh that they forget others and want only themselves to be considered. Their ungodly ingratitude betrays itself that they reject this wonderful gift of God out of fear of one inconvenience or out of boredom. According to them it would be better to flee marriage altogether than to tie oneself to a perpetual bond of fellowship. But if God instituted marriage for the common welfare of the human race, it is not to be rejected because it carries with it some things which are less agreeable.3

The world must be peopled, and the will of God followed. Malvolio may therefore have some sense of the buried text, but without necessarily reading it as being directed against marriage; God, or 'Jove', as he may have more innocuously become by the time of the Folio text, seems to be overseeing the whole affair, including the interpretative spirit with which the sense of the words is received. Malvolio's reading of the letter, which he imagines to be free of 'imagination', could therefore be said to be a parody of the tendency of Puritan interpretation to read ambiguous texts in the direction of a theological programme, or to invoke the will of God to endorse personal predilections.

Godliness may render a man unfit for marriage, but the Geneva glosses also warn that 'Some by nature are vnable to marie, and some by arte'; 'The worde Eunuche is a generali word, and hath diuers kindes under it, as gelded men and bursten men.' By extension, one might say that the metaphoric application of physiological circumstances, Christ's starting point, hath divers kinds under it.4 Malvolio's spiritual sterility renders him unfit for comic marriage, whatever his physical potency may be. More importantly to the rituals of comedy, the gulling which is initiated in the box-tree scene is an extended episode of humiliation. Induced to declare himself no eunuch by nature, Malvolio then puts himself at risk of being made one by art. His self-exposure, capture, imprisonment, and binding—the entire course of his 'bafflement'—is not only the well-recognized expulsion of repressive order from festival and holiday, but an act of sexual degradation—a displaced gelding, through which Malvolio is emasculated by the laughter of the sexually united pairs:

Maria writ The letter, at Sir Toby's great importance, In recompense whereof he hath married her.

(Twelfth Night, 5.1.359-61)

Yet however absurd the holy duty of marriage may seem in Malvolio's case—and it is not so much that the world has no need of more Malvolios as that he is contemplating marriage with the wrong person and for entirely the wrong reasons—it is extremely important to the play as a whole. 'If anyone imagines', says Calvin, 'that it is to his advantage to be without a wife and so without further consideration decides to be celibate, he is very much in error. For God, who declared that it was good that the woman should be the help meet for the man, will exact punishment for contempt of his ordinance. Men arrogate too much to themselves when they try The to exempt themselves heavenly calling.'5 from their punishsolemnity of God's ment may be out of place in a comedy, as may the name of God itself, but the sense of 'heavenly calling' in sexual union is precisely in key with the magical happiness towards which the romantic comedies move. Resistance against this movement, or surprised acquiescence in it, is generally expressed with reference to purely natural or pagan forces, as when Viola speaks to Olivia about her beauty.

Lady, you are the cruell'st she alive If you will lead these graces to the grave And leave the world no copy.


Or when, at the end of the same scene, Olivia gives in to something beyond her own power to resist:

Fate, show thy force. Our selves we do not owe. What is decreed must be; and be this so.


It is Olivia who most resists her obligation to marry by taking on a vow to what she imagines are higher things. Her withdrawal from the world is cast in the language of religious observance.

. . . like a cloistress she will veilèd walk, And water once a day her chamber round With eye-offending brine—


But the form of the observance, as Feste points out, is really without a religious object, an empty fetish like that of abjuring the sight and company of men, 'as if celibacy contained some meritorious service—just as the Papists imagine it is an angelic state. But all Christ intended', Calvin says of making oneself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven's sake, 'was that the unmarried should set the aim before them of being more ready for the exercises of religion if they are freed from all cares. It is foolish to imagine that celibacy is a virtue, for this is no more pleasing to God in itself than fasting is, nor does it deserve to be reckoned among the duties required of us.'6 The 'divinity' the disguised Viola brings to Olivia shows her the vanity of withdrawing from the world. False and true divinity continue to pursue each other, with ironic effect, throughout the play. Immediately following the scene in which a false priest catechizes the desperate Malvolio, Olivia marries the dream she has loved since the fifth scene of Act I.

If you mean well Now go with me, and with this holy man, Into the chantry by. There before him, And underneath that consecrated roof, Plight me the full assurance of your faith, That my most jealous and too doubtful soul May live at peace.


The wonderful gift of God is celebrated in a religious ceremony which the seemingly arbitrary forces of nature, imagination, and sheer chance have helped bring about. The 'peace' Olivia looks forward to is precisely what has eluded Malvolio at the end of the play—but his symbolic and structural roles are very different from hers.

Viola's loss of a brother does not lead her to a cloistered withdrawal from the world, but she does pursue concealment, and specifically proposes a disguise which will remove her from the responsibilities of sexuality: 'Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him.' She makes herself a eunuch not for the kingdom of heaven's sake but to gain some advantage over the forces of time and occasion, both of which eventually give her the peace they give Olivia. The exotic nature of Viola's proposed role, however, is unlikely to render her unobtrusive: in a Christian climate the eunuch was both freakish and foreign, specifically Turkish, as the Captain recognizes in his acknowledgment of Viola's request. Eunuchs might be fascinating in themselves as human types, but certainly by virtue of being involved in the mythologized fantasy world of Turkish sexuality. No more is made of the oddity of Viola's disguise—she is no Castrucchio, as Orsino's Illyria is not Volpone's Venice—but she retains a troublingly provocative physical presence, constantly drawing attention to her appearance from Orsino, Malvolio, Feste, and chiefly from Olivia. Disguise, and hence denial of sexual identity in her case, is a 'wickedness' as much as it is creative and liberating. It liberates, in fact, only for so long, and time first draws the knot of confusions tighter before untangling it. Olivia's claim on her as a husband, which she is able to corroborate with priestly authority, threatens first Viola's death and then the loss of the man she loves. So, once the appearance of Sebastian has begun to resolve the paradoxes, we have Viola's insistence, echoed by Orsino, that she resume her own clothes: 'Do not embrace me' she tells her brother, and the prohibition is implicitly extended to her future husband. As she is a man—or a eunuch—she is not ready to give herself to anyone.

Viola's superfluous disguise in Act 5 is matched by that of the humiliated Malvolio, still wearing the ludicrous costume he has been gulled into assuming by his reading of the letter—point devise, the very man. The 'notable shame' he has undergone has included his parading in the clothes and demeanour of an aspiring lover—a sexual role quite out of keeping with his peevish, repressed, sterile self-regard. One of the roles of festival customs, modern social historians agree, was to enforce communal order as much as temporarily to subvert it. David Underdown has described the clash in seventeenth-century English society between the cohesive function of festival and the godly order of those with a new vision of and programme for social organization:

The division in the English body politic which erupted in civil war in 1642 can be traced in part to the earlier emergence of two quite different constellations of social, political, and cultural forces, involving diametrically opposite responses to the problems of the time. On the one side stood those who put their trust in the traditional conception of the harmonious, vertically integrated society—a society in which the old bonds of paternalism, deference, and good neighbourliness were expressed in familiar religious and communal rituals—and wished to strengthen and preserve it. On the other stood those—mostly among the gentry and middling sort of the new parish élites—who wished to emphasize the moral and cultural distinctions which marked them off from their poorer, less disciplined neighbours, and to use their power to reform society according to their own principles of order and godliness.7

The church ale—at which cakes and ale were the traditional fare—was one typical site of this conflict. An ancient parish tradition—a kind of communal picnic with drinking, as well as piping, dancing, and sometimes dramatic activity—its function was to bring the parishioners together in a festive money-raising activity to support the parish's charitable works. To the Puritan eye this praiseworthy end was entirely vitiated by the displays of unrighteousness the feast gave rise to. From about the time of Twelfth Night onwards there are numerous instances from across the country of festal customs being used against local Malvolios, in the course of which the representatives of authority were both mocked and, in extreme cases, physically assaulted.

Violence is in fact an entirely traditional ingredient of many forms of game and festival, and hence could give further cause to the godly to suppress festive customs. The liminal and group-bonding functions of football games with neighbouring villages, for example, are noted by Underdown: "Tis no festival unless there be some fightings' is a contemporary saying he quotes (p. 96). Personal or communal rivalries and disputes could therefore be sorted out—more or less symbolically—under the cover of festival licence. In Twelfth Night it is Sir Toby who is the lord of violent misrule, and he is perhaps not uncharacteristic of enthusiastic seventeenth-century revellers in that during his final appearance in the play he is both drunk and bleeding. The particular contest he has just lost, begun in jest and ended in earnest, is with a young stranger over his apparent sexual invasion into territory Toby may regard as his to defend, if not to bestow. However ironically, he has promised Olivia to Sir Andrew, and his oath to his gull earlier in the play is made on the physical manifestations of his own manliness: 'If thou hast her not i'th' end, call me cut' (2.3.180-1). Once Cesario shows some fighting spirit, male prowess is at stake: 'Come, my young soldier, put up your iron. You are well fleshed . . . Nay then, I must have an ounce or two of this malapert blood from you' (4.1.37-43).

Malvolio's heated imaginings about Olivia in the letter scene give rise to a string of violent stage-whispers from the box-tree—'O for a stone-bow to hit him in the eye!'; 'Fire and brimstone!'; 'Bolts and shackles!' (a premonition of Malvolio's punishment); 'Shall this fellow live?'; '. . . does not Toby take you a blow o' the lips, then?'; 'Out scab'; 'Marry, hang thee brock'; '. . . I'll cudgel him, and make him cry "O!"' After this, Malvolio is perhaps lucky to undergo the relatively lenient treatment he gets, although it is certainly a fairly frequent tendency in modern stagings of the play to emphasize the physical punishment in the revellers' teasing of him in 3.4, and since the eighteenth century the pain and privation of the dark house scene have often been stressed, to the degree that Malvolio has seemed on the edge of being mad indeed. His binding—promised by Sir Toby in 3.4—is not usually seen. He leaves the stage free, and while on Shakespeare's stage he may have been entirely invisible in 4.2, these days we tend to see an anguished face and beseeching, clutching hands as he pleads with Sir Topas and Feste. In any event, in fictional terms he must be free enough to write his letter, and when he re-emerges into the world of light he doesn't usually bear about him signs of his bondage (the far commoner stage tradition is for him to have straw sticking to his hair and clothes). Yet he is still dressed in his lover's garb, as I noted above, usually sadly muddied and ripped in performance, to signal the trials of constancy. The absurd costume, Maria's fantastical invention, includes the restricting bonds of the cross garters, which soon after he has put them on are already making him 'sad':

This does make some obstruction in the blood, this cross-gartering, but what of that?


The Grocer's Wife from The Knight of the Burning Pestle could tell him; there are dangers in putting on silly costumes: 'I'll see no more else indeed, la: and I pray you let the youths understand so much by word of mouth; for I tell you truly, I'm afraid o' my boy. Come, come, George, let's be merry and wise. The child's a fatherless child; and say they should put him into a strait pair of gaskins, 'twere worse than knotgrass; he would never grow after it' (2.92-8).8 The innocently lubricious sense of 'grow', typical of the Wife's chatter, alerts us to one element of Malvolio's shaming: his binding is a symbolic sign of his impotence, of his having been made a festival eunuch. I think he should keep his cross garters obediently tied until he finally hobbles off to seek revenge.

I want to return to the rituals of sexual humiliation, but first to explore a second violent festive practice which has frequently been noted in commentary on the play, as seeming in some way to stand for the treatment of Malvolio. The previously unannounced Fabian enters the play in 2.5 as a further resentful victim of Malvolio's war on holiday pastimes: he has been 'brought . . . out o' favour with my lady about a bear-baiting here'. 'To anger him', Toby replies, 'we'll have the bear again, and we will fool him black and blue'. Once again the promised violence happens only symbolically—Malvolio is not beaten up as is Captain Otter (as bear) by his wife (as dog) in Jonson's Epicoene—but we are reminded at this moment of the strong connections between festival and brutal punishment, and the evident need to give vent to disruptive and aggressive tendencies even in the midst of celebrations which affirmed the strength and mutual support of the community. Malvolio's bearishness remains in that he sees his tormentors as a 'pack'—hounds rather than people—at the end of the play.9 The violent accompaniments of festive activity are everywhere apparent in the social world surveyed by David Underdown: bear and bull baitings are the invariable entertainments at church ales. While one may have been attendant on feasting—the bull was baited before being butchered—the other patently was not. That the actual torturing of animals, whatever symbolic function it may have been recognized to carry, could itself take a symbolic form in festival is proved by an intriguing reference Underdown cites from Somerset in 1603, involving some trouble while someone was 'playing Christmas sports in a bear's skin' (p. 60). Such a winter-time activity—very reminiscent of Lanthorn Leatherhead's reported feats in Bartholomew Fair (3.4. 126-28)—may have as much to do with The Winter's Tale as with Twelfth Night, but the ritualized hunting that is expressed in animal baiting, and the deliberate arousal, in the case of cock-fighting, for example, of competitive sexual aggression in the animals, reveal an ambivalent fascination with purely physical power and instinctive drive as forces which must be celebrated, yet punished.10 Jonson, once again, more directly incorporates festive baitings and huntings into his comic structure, and his plays are to that extent crueller than Shakespeare's. Volpone's direct address to the audience following his sentence by the court—'This is called mortifying of a fox'—reminds us of the festive custom of hunting a fox or other small animal indoors, within the hall at a feast, frequently involving killing it by driving it into the fire. One of the fox's sins in Volpone, of course, is lust. The totemic sexual rituals associated with hunting and killing the stag, however, are clear enough in Shakespeare's work. The festive song in As You Like It is an anthem of male prowess and anxiety—the lusty horn is given to the victor as a sign that he is a potential victim of forces which lie outside his direct control. Falstaff's ritual punishment for lust at the end of The Merry Wives of Windsor is suffered in the disguise of a male deer—he is symbolically pinched and burnt, rather than actually butchered and cooked. Falstaff's dis-horning, George Turberville tells us, exactly follows the English practice of dismembering the stag after the kill; following the removal of one sign of the deer's maleness, 'before that you go about to take off his skynne, the fyrst thing that must be taken from him, are his stones which hunters call his doulcettes'. These form part of 'the dayntie morselles which appertayne to the Prince or chief personage on field'.11 In Beaumont and Fletcher's Philaster the cowardly and lustful Pharamond has paid the woodmen for the dowcets and head of a slain deer (4.2)—that he evidently needs them as aphrodisiacs hardly commends his unassisted sexual powers. Following the scenes of actual hunting in the fourth act, Pharamond becomes the human quarry of a popular riot in the fifth, when the citizens, like Laertes' Danish supporters, mutiny to reinstate Philaster. The language with which they threaten him deliberately recalls the hunting terms of Act 4, and his proposed punishment mockingly strips him of manhood.

PHARAMOND Gods keep me from these hell-hounds.

1 CITIZEN Shall's geld him, Captain?

CAPTAIN No, you shall spare his dowcets, my dear donsels; as you respect the ladies let them flourish. The curses of a longing woman kills as speedy as a plague, boys.

1 CITIZEN I'll have a leg, that's certain.

2 CITIZEN I'll have an arm.

2 CITIZEN He had no horns, sir, had he?

CAPTAIN No, sir, he's a pollard; what wouldst thou do with horns?

2 CITIZEN O, if he had, I would have made rare hafts and whistles of 'em; but his shin bones if they be sound shall serve me.


Symbolic hunting therefore carries within it a potential for sexual shaming and degradation. Pharamond and Falstaff are both punished for lust by public exposure, and Malvolio's treatment clearly has something of a similar purpose, although it certainly lacks the direct physical violence the two former figures suffer. At least this is so in the text; there is a theatrical tradition of varying degrees of physical torture of Malvolio by Feste in 4.2. Malvolio's punishment is to be 'propertied', but largely to be forgotten, removed, and 'baffled' until his incandescent entry into Act 5. He is certainly punished for excess, but punished by deprivation, and his physical powerlessness in the dark house is perhaps to remind him of his unsuitability for the preposterous role he has taken on. A born eunuch, in Christ's terms, he is absurdly unfitted for the position of comic wooer and bridegroom.

The impotent lover, in body, mind, and social conduct, is a stock figure of erotic comedy. The absurdly enamoured father, the old man, the stupid heir, the pretentious braggart, the rake, all are variant threats to the union of the true lovers, and they must be outwitted, exposed, or otherwise removed in the course of the plot. In Jonson's Bartholomew Fair the egregious ninny Cokes, the contracted bridegroom of the witty but powerless Grace Wellborn, loses his fiancée to Quarlous in the liberating chaos of a festival atmosphere. He also loses his money, but in having his purse cut—twice—he is symbolically gelded of the manhood he so ineptly represents. He half recognizes what has happened to him in the words he addresses—mistakenly—to Overdo: 'Cannot a man's purse be at quiet for you, i' the master's pocket, but you must entice it forth, and debauch it?' (3.5.213-14), while Wasp scornfully tells his charge 'now you ha' got the trick of losing, you'd lose your breech, an't 'twere loose' (ibid. 221-3).13 Cokes, though he hardly cares in the regressively childish festive world he has entered, is symbolically shamed and neutered. His fascination with the puppets, babies, and trash is a complete identification—he, like the puppet Dionysius, has no sex. It is Jonson's disciple Richard Brome who writes the frankest version of what appears to be a submerged theme of festival and comedy when in his 1639-40 play The Court Beggar a doctor is held down across a table and threatened with castration at the hands of a 'Sowgelder' (4.2). His protests remind the audience of the dangerous uproar of popular holidays:

You dare not use this violence upon me More rude than rage of Prentices.


The gelding turns out to be a 'counterfeit plot'—partly a deliberate degradation in revenge for the doctor's prior actions, and partly to scare him into confessing that the patient he is attending is, like Antonio in The Changeling, a sham madman. The scene could therefore be taken simply as a particularly risqué piece of farce used to enliven a rather creakily episodic plot, yet the larger question remains of why this particular action may have occurred to Brome as being suitable to a comedy filled with spurious and defective wooers.15

Nothing quite so specifically humiliating or violent turns up in the court records of pre-Restoration England, although there is a good deal of material connected with disorders and outrages arising from popular rituals of sexual control.16 The usual individual target for the community to direct its displeasure over aberrant sexual conduct was likely to be a woman; the whore, the adultress, the scold, all suffered ritual mockery, exposure, and varyingly violent degrees of punishment. Yet the ceremonies which marked such disapproval—ridings, parades, rhymes, lampoons, duckings, and so forth—were by no means directed at women alone. The man who suffered himself to be cuckolded or beaten was likely to be a target of mockery as an unmanly man, a man who couldn't wear the breeches. One particularly widespread custom, which has a literary record that stretches at least from Samuel Butler to Thomas Hardy, was the skimmington, a wild processional ride involving disguise, rough music, and, as Martin Ingram has written, 'mocking laughter, sometimes light-hearted, but often taking the form of hostile derision which could, on occasion, escalate into physical violence'.17 The ritual is clearly related to symbolic hunting, and indeed could feature participants dressed in horns or animal skins. If the custom arose to mock unconventional sexuality or deviant behaviour within a marriage its scope could be far wider, as Ingram explains:

While female domination and immorality were the characteristic pretexts for ridings, there were other occasions. A simple form of riding was sometimes used in a holiday context in 'trick or treat' games, and to punish people who refused to join in the festivities or who in other ways offended the holiday spirit. At Chichester in 1586, a game of 'tables' on New Year's Eve was rudely interrupted when 'William Brunne who then played the part of a lord of misrule came in . . . and said that that game was no Christmas game and so perforce took [one of the players] . . . from thence and made him ride on a staff to the High Cross.' The use of ridings to punish people who would not give money to Lords of Misrule on holidays was denounced by Philip Stubbes. Unfortunately, when refusal to take part in festivities (or, worse still, attempts to suppress such festivities) were based on Puritan principles, such ridings were apt to become distinctly less lighthearted and more elaborate. John Hole, the Puritan constable of Wells, discovered this to his cost in 1607. Hole and his associates tried to suppress the city's May games, which had been organised on a particularly grand scale that year in order to raise money for the repair of St Cuthbert's church. Hole's interference raised a storm of opposition, and he and his friends were savagely derided in a series of spectacular ridings performed before thousands of people.

(Ingram, pp. 170-1)

The John Hole case, which was surveyed by C. J. Sisson in Lost Plays of Shakespeare's Age as long ago as 1936, is particularly suggestive about the treatment given Malvolio by the revellers of Twelfth Night. Hole, like Malvolio, set out to oppose holiday revels on principle; the revellers' revenge was character assassination, as Hole was accused of adultery with another godly objector to the festival, the delightfully named Mrs Yard. None of the surviving lampooning verses make what one would think to be the obvious jokes about hole and yard (suitably inverted in good festival fashion), but Hole is simultaneously accused of lechery and impotence, like Malvolio doubly mocked for sexual ambition and incapacity. Particularly the exposure of the Wells killjoys by theatricalizing them—staging them in disguises and caricatured paintings—by making them join, in effigy at least, the very celebrations they have tried to stop, reveals a direct relationship between festive rituals and the comic structure of such plays as Twelfth Night. In the play Malvolio is more subtly tricked into staging himself as a parodic festival figure—a grotesquely inept embodiment of the energy celebrated in holidays, and as such a betsy, a guy, a Jack-a-Lent, a cockshot man, at whom people can hardly forbear hurling things. Death, darkness, sterility, and ill luck are heaped on his back, and laughed out of the play.

His scapegoat function has frequently been remarked on, but one theoretical defence of festive customs, presumably including the shaming rituals, was that they were restorative and socially cohesive. The exhibition of conflict or aberrance under the special conditions of holiday licence would lead, with luck, to resolution and rehabilitation. Thus those accused as rioters at Rangeworthy near Bristol in 1611 defended themselves by pointing out that communal feasting was for 'the refreshing of the minds and spirits of the country people, being inured and tired with husbandry and continual labour . . . for preservation of mutual amity, acquaintance, and love . . . and allaying of strifes, discords and debates between neighbour and neighbour'. This sounds remarkably like the spirit of Fabian's plea to Olivia not to let retributive justice inappropriately be applied to holiday jests:

Good madam, hear me speak, And let no quarrel nor no brawl to come Taint the condition of this present hour, Which I have wondered at. In hope it shall not, Most freely I confess myself and Toby Set this device against Malvolio here

How with a sportful malice it was followed May rather pluck on laughter than revenge If that the injuries be justly weighed That have on both sides passed.


But the victims of the Rangeworthy riot, a Puritan constable and his followers who were beaten when they tried to arrest musicians and dancers, did pursue their case through the courts, and hence we happen to know about the incident. David Underdown holds up this obscure rural scuffle as an emblem of a changing world: 'The Rangeworthy revel is thus a classic example of Jacobean cultural conflict. Rituals appropriate to a traditional society, enshrining ancient values of custom and good neighbourhood, were attacked by people in authority who put individual piety, sobriety, and hard work above the older co-operative virtues' (p. 63).

Malvolio refuses Fabian's open hand. He has, after all, been most notoriously abused, and excluded from achieving greatness in any sense. Donald Sinden's entertaining account of playing the part ends with his invocation of the bitterness of Malvolio's humiliation and disappointment. There is nothing for him following his exit, Sinden suggests, save suicide.18 Yet surely only a particularly sensitive, late-Romantic Malvolio would be snuffed out by a device. I think the seventeenth-century man is heading for his lawyer, and Star Chamber.

To return, finally, to texts, it is worth noting that mock preaching was a recurrent element in popular revels, particularly those with a satiric thrust against a local community figure. Such was the play which Sir Edward Dymock had performed at his house in Kyme, Lincolnshire, in August 1601, and which guyed Henry, Earl of Lincoln. Following the play proper one John Cradock preached a mock sermon in a black gown and cap; a witness said that he wore 'A counterfeat beard, and standing in a pulpitt fixed to the maypole on kyme greene, havinge a pott of ale or beare hanginge by him in steade of a hower glasse.' The costume sounds remarkably like that of Sir Topas, but the performance was evidently a good deal more elaborate, though entirely in key with Feste's excellent fooling. Cradock 'did represent the person of a Minister or Priests, and did . . . utter . . . "The Marcie of Musterd Seed and the blessing of Bullbeefe and the peace of Pottelucke be with you all. Amen."'19 Cradock's spoof text for the sermon, from 'The 22 chapter of the book of Hitroclites', led to a series of improbable romance tales and jests, possibly with further parodic reference to the formulae of the liturgy and scripture. Some years later in Wiltshire a drunken revel included the preaching from the pulpit within the parish church of a mock sermon on the text of 'the one and twentieth chapter of Maud Butcher and the seventh verse' (Ingram, p. 166). Mockery of ecclesiastical authority and liturgical frameworks for mock heroics may be thought particularly Rabelaisian revels, but they were evidently equally English, and survived to the years when they might be employed to deride Puritan earnestness. If they did not appear overtly in plays licensed for the public stage, that should not surprise us. The subtler parodic text Maria includes in the spurious letter is at once a test of Malvolio's reading, a word to the wary, and a libel on his sexuality; as such it lies entirely within the English festival tradition.


1 A further interpretation of Malvolio's chosen letters has been suggested by Leah Scragg: ' "Her C's, her U's, and her T's: Why That?": A New Reply for Sir Andrew Aguecheek', RES 42 (1991), 1-16. Her suggestion that the line may have some reference to cutpurses has an interesting incidental bearing on my argument in this essay: see below.

2 This translation is superseded by the 1582 (et seq.) Geneva New Testament, which gives the word as 'eunuches', and in every other respect is very close to the King James version. The Bishops' Bible (1568) uses 'chaste'.

3A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke, trans. T. H. L. Parker (Edinburgh, 1972), p. 248.

4 That the text was read literally as well as metaphorically is demonstrated by its citation in the discussions over the Essex divorce case in 1614. George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, quoted the passage as clear 'warrant' for annulment of marriage. King James, arguing against too narrow a definition of 'inability', denied that Christ's categories of male impotence were prescriptive. See The Narrative History of King James (London, 1651), pp. 95, 102. I am grateful to Professor Leslie Thomson for drawing my attention to this material.

5Harmony, p. 249.

6Harmony, p. 249.

7Revel, Riot and Revolution (Oxford, 1985), p. 40.

8 Francis Beaumont, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, ed. S. P. Zitner (Manchester, 1984).

9 See, e.g., Ralph Berry, '"Twelfth Night": The Experience of the Audience', Shakespeare Survey 34 (1981), 111-19.

10 See François Laroque, Shakespeare's Festive World (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 47-8.

11The Noble Arte of Venerie (London, 1575), p. 127.

12 Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Philaster, ed. A. Gurr (London, 1969).

13 Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, ed. E. A. Horsman (London, 1960).

14The Dramatic Works of Richard Brome, 3 vols. (London, 1873), vol. 1.

15 For a political reading of the play see Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis 1632-1642 (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 220-8. The aberrant sexual behaviour in the play might be said to be a further manifestation of the madness and corruption Butler locates as its organizing themes.

16 An incident related in a letter by Robert Gell to Sir Martin Stuteville in July 1628 concerns violent revenge for rape at the siege of La Rochelle. Ten men of the town dressed up as women to lure the guilty soldiers of the besieging army, who then 'were so received that all to save their lives yielded unto ye young men, and went into the town, where, beeing most severely and barbarously punished, they were sent back to glory in the camp of their exploit, for which they were never again fitted'. The Autobiography and Correspondence of Sir Simonds D'Ewes, Bart., ed. J. O. Halliwell, 2 vols. (London, 1845), vol. 2, p. 201.

17 'Ridings, Rough Music and Mocking Rhymes in Early Modern England', in Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. B. Reay (London, 1985), pp. 166-97: p. 168.

18Players of Shakespeare, ed. P. Brockbank (Cambridge, 1985), p. 66.

19 N. J. O'Conor, Godes Peace and the Queenes (Cambridge, Mass., 1934), pp. 108-26: pp. 119-20. The Dymock episode is discussed at length by C. L. Barber: Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (Princeton, 1959), chapter 3.

Gender Issues

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Cristina Malcolmson (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "'What You Will': Social Mobility and Gender in Twelfth Night," in The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, edited by Valerie Wayne, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991, pp. 29-57.

[In the essay below, Malcolmson explores the links between gender and social class in Twelfth Night.]

When Sebastian enters the last scene of Twelfth Night and begins to untangle the various intricacies of the plot, Duke Orsino describes his vision of Sebastian and Viola together in these words:

One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons— A natural perspective that is and is not.

Orsino refers to a set of Renaissance artifacts, including complicated mirrors, which highlighted the effect of perspective on human vision. With some of these 'perspectives', a confusion of images would resolve themselves into clarity if viewed from one indirect position. In others, like Holbein's famous painting of 'The Ambassadors', two images could only be seen clearly from two entirely different points of view. Orsino's reference to a 'natural perspective that is and is not' implies not only that he thinks nature has produced before him what is usually the work of art by bringing two mirroring figures on the stage at once; he also suggests that one of these figures, Viola or Sebastian, is a confusion to the eye, and if one took the proper point of view, the confusion would be cleared. But the play reveals that things are more complicated than he would like: there is no view from which Viola will blend into Sebastian; the play proves that Orsino must learn to accept the confusion or the deeper clarity of two, equally viable, points of view.1

Orsino's reference to the 'perspective' reproduces the problem of gender in the play (are women and men twins in their mental and emotional abilities? do they have fundamentally different perspectives?). But it also evokes the play's twin issue: the relationship between gender and status. The play in fact treats these issues as reflections of each other: Viola's relationship to Orsino includes both that of woman to man and that of servant to master. More complexly, Viola's relationship to Orsino mirrors Malvolio's relationship to Olivia: both servants want to marry their masters; both men in these pairs are self-obsessed; both women seem far more intelligent than their male counterparts. Shakespeare considers the compatibility of servants and masters as he considers the comparability of men and women. When Orsino recognises the 'impropriety' of Viola's service to him, he puts it in terms of gender and status:

So much against the mettle of your sex, So far beneath your soft and tender breeding.

(V, i, 322-3)

The artful rather than natural perspective of the play moves us to compare men and women, servants and masters, gender and status, and to ask if one can ever get all these issues clearly into view, while respecting their differences and understanding their connections.

The questions evoked by Orsino's reference to the 'perspective' are remarkably similar to those posed by the historian Joan Kelly in her article on gender and class, called 'The doubled vision of feminist theory'. Kelly urges feminist historians to recognise that a 'woman's place is not a separate sphere or domain of existence but a position within social existence generally. ' She claims that feminists can see 'the relations of the sexes as formed by both socio-economic and sexual-familial structures in their systematic connectedness'. She posits a critical method which would acknowledge the differences of feminism and Marxism, and yet recognise that the issues of gender and class can only be clearly understood in their relation to each other: 'From this perspective, our personal, social and historical experience is seen to be shaped by the simultaneous operation of relations of work and sex; relations that are systematically bound to each other—and always have been so bound.'2

Twelfth Night was written during a period before a woman's place was imagined as a separate sphere, since, for the Renaissance, a woman was considered to be analogous to other social inferiors in a hierarchical society. The Anglican homily on obedience substantiates its political claims through a mirroring set of obligations: 'some are in high degree, some in low, some Kings and Princes, some inferiors and subjects, Priests and laymen, Maisters and servauntes, Fathers and children, Husbands and Wives.' English society linked gender and status in its own, Renaissance version of Kelly's 'systematic connectedness'. The homily on marriage teaches wives to 'cease from commanding, and performe subjection' by using the same set of analogies: 'For when we ourselves doe teach our children to obey us as their parents, or when we reforme our servants, and tell them that they should obey their masters . . . If they should tell us againe our dueties, we should not thinke it well done.'3 The homilies testify to the flexibility of this system of correspondences, since women can be included as parents when it serves the purpose (in the homily on marriage) but excluded when it does not: the homily on obedience prefers 'Fathers and children'. Shakespeare, and other authors, constructed literary representations of these mirroring social estates sometimes to reinforce the ideology preached in the homilies, sometimes to challenge it, but primarily by evoking and manipulating what amounted to a cultural language of the analogies of subordination.

Kelly's article suggests that we need to include a historical perspective of both gender and class in our analysis of literature. My thesis is a development of hers: we can understand how gender operates in Renaissance literature only if we consider its relationship to status or class, and only through focused historical research about socio-economic structures, as Kelly puts it, as well as sexual-familial structures. We have to uncover, first, how representations of gender and status in a particular work operate within the Renaissance language of interconnection, and, second, how these representations express or elide actual conditions. Materialist feminists and, actually, all literary historicists have to create a 'perspective' of their own, in which gender and status, literature and history can be perceived in a modern account of their 'systematic connectedness'.4

Twelfth Night dramatises the issue of social mobility through women who, though servants, are as capable as their male masters, and who rise out of their role as servants to become their master's mistresses. Our problem is to tease out the ideological significance inherent in the play's version of the cultural mirroring process, a version which links women and aspiring servants, marriage and social mobility. Twelfth Night considers advancement in terms of a marriage market which in the play is much more open to personal choice and status exogamy than it is in traditional society, and which also firmly closes down at particular moments. In the play, both men and women improve their lot through this open market, but the play explicitly compares the success of its women to the failure of particular men, who are excluded from the gifts of fortune for reasons which are culturally significant. Not only are female triumphs compared to male inadequacies; the proper attitude towards marriage becomes the mirroring reflection of the proper attitude towards social advancement.5 The play therefore transfers anxieties about fluid social relations onto gender relations, and solves the problem through its ideal of marriage. I will argue that the play dramatises the superiority of women to men in order to call into question the rigid structures of the traditional order, and, in the process, to validate certain forms of social mobility. Nevertheless, such questioning is contained through the play's model of marriage, which requires a 'loving' commitment to others. The ideology of the play resides in its formulation of love, which includes both dominant, traditional notions of interdependence, and newly emerging attitudes towards individual choice and personal desire, or, as the play puts it, 'will'.6

As all critics of the play have noticed, desire or 'what you will' is the motivating force in the play, but this will or appetite is often hungry not only for music, drink or love, but for an improved social position. Maria's forged letter of love from Olivia to Malvolio, which promises him that 'thou art made, if thou desir'st to be so', is a jesting version of the projects of the other characters (II, v, 150-1). Sir Toby Belch seeks to better Sir Andrew Aguecheek's estate and his own by marrying Sir Andrew to his niece, Olivia. After Olivia marries Sebastian, and meets the unknowing Cesario in Act V, Olivia says:

Fear not, Cesario; take thy fortunes up, Be that thou know'st thou art, and then thou art As great as that thou fearest.

(V, i, 147-9)

Olivia points out the social distinction between Cesario and Duke Orsino, but exhorts the servant to embrace his new position as her husband, an estate which makes him as 'great' as his master. Marriage may be the goal of desire in the play, but these marriages can also elevate one of the partners to a higher social estate. Love and desire participate in the process of social mobility made most visible in Cesario's association with the Duke. Valentine says, 'If the Duke continue these favours towards you, Cesario, you are like to be much advanced' (I, iv, 1-2). Orsino says:

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

(I, iv, 38-40)

Viola herself has explicitly chosen her place in the play: 'I'll serve this Duke' (I, ii, 55); her marriage to him at the end of the play turns Cesario's advancement into a love-match.

The notion that one's social estate could be subject to one's will or a matter of desire underlies the play's simultaneous consideration of the relation of man to woman, and of master to servant. When Viola woos Olivia for Orsino, but wins her heart for herself, the wonder of it lies not only in that a woman has been mistaken for a man, but that a woman has been mistaken for a gentleman. When alone, Olivia repeats to herself her questioning of Cesario, and reveals her attraction to what she takes to be his 'gentility':

'What is your 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 spirit Do give you fivefold blazon. Not so 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.

(I, v, 287-96)

Olivia feels the inappropriateness of falling in love with a servant, but we see that she has in fact fallen for a cleverly created illusion, Viola's capable representation of the attributes of an upper-class young man, with his tongue, face, limbs, actions and spirit. As Sir Andrew puts it, 'That youth's a rare courtier' (III, i, 88). The argument of some critics that Viola's nobility shines through her disguise must be qualified by the emphasis that the play puts on manipulating illusions and fashioning appearances.7 Viola's success at this task is measured by Sir Andrew Aguecheek's failure; he is both male and knight, but his inadequate wit and verbal awkwardness ensure that he will be 'put down' by both Maria and Sir Toby (I, iii, 79).

In the play, a gentleman is 'made' and made loveable not by his title or blood, but by his (or her) will. Olivia makes it quite clear that she cannot love Duke Orsino simply for his aristocratic blood, though he is 'noble' and of 'great estate', 'a gracious person' both 'in dimension and the shape of nature' (I, v, 255-60). Cesario instead wins Olivia's heart when he plays the wilful lover:

Viola If I did love you in my master's flame, With such a suff' ring, such a deadly life, In your denial I would find no sense; I would not understand it. Olivia Why, what would you? Viola 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. Olivia You might do much. What is your parentage?

(I, v, 262-75)

Viola's reference to and demonstration of her verbal talents reveal that a gentleman's 'tongue' and 'spirit' are the result of intelligence and will, rather than gender or the 'great estate' that supports Orsino. Olivia in fact only becomes interested in Cesario's parentage after she is impressed with his linguistic potency. Viola is as able as the clown, whom she commands for the skills that she, he and a successful courtier share:

He must observe their mood on whom he jests, The quality of persons and the time.

(III, i, 63-4)

A good wit can turn a sentence inside out, like a 'chev'ril glove' (III, i, 12); he can turn a woman into a man or a servant into a master. Viola and Maria are twinned in the play because, whereas Viola can produce the appearance of a man, Maria can produce the appearance of her mistress, not only through the similarity of their handwriting, but through the use of language that convinces Malvolio that this is indeed 'my Lady's hand' (I, v, 84). The skilful intelligence of Viola and Maria wins for them marriages which improve their social estate: clearly for Maria, whose role as a gentlewoman-in-waiting places her beneath Sir Toby, kinsman to Olivia; and mostly likely for Viola, whose father's noble position is never precisely identified, and is probably beneath the rank of Duke Orsino.8 When Sir Toby marries Maria in recompense for her 'device', the play represents through the advancement of a woman by marriage what was occurring for ambitious men in society: verbal agility could turn a servant into a master, make a gentleman into a peer or send a commoner into the ranks of the upper classes.

Commentators on the social order speak frequently and heatedly during this period about a fluidity in the status structure which they take to be common knowledge and objective fact. William Harrison claims that merchants 'often change estate with gentlemen, as gentlemen do with them, by a mutual conversion of the one into the other'. According to Harrison, many obtain gentility through attending the Inns of Court or the University, gaining the money and leisure to 'bear the port, charge, and countenance of a gentleman', and purchasing a coat of arms from the heralds; by this process, they, 'being made so good cheap, bee called master . . . and reputed for a gentleman ever after'. Thomas Smith agrees with Harrison on this point, comments that the prince can 'make' gentlemen, esquires or peers, and, in a section entitled 'Whether the maner of England in making gentlemen so easily is to be allowed', decides that such changes of status are good for the realm, especially for the treasury. He also considers quite sympathetically the yeomen who 'doe come to such wealth, that they are able and daily doe buy the landes of unthriftie gentlemen'. By sending their sons to school and freeing them from manual labour, yeomen 'doe make their saide sonnes by these meanes gentlemen'. Thomas Wilson concurs that gentlemen have been 'overreched' by yeomen, and adds that city lawyers are in pursuit of a country seat: 'they undoe the country people and buy up all the lands that are to be sold.' Smith is less sympathetic to the phenomenon, as are a multitude of preachers and satirists. However, even a churchman like Robert Sanderson, middle-of-the-road Anglican minister, could in 1621 announce that such fluidity was not only the status quo, but to be preferred to a closed system of rank. In a sermon on vocation, Sanderson urges idle 'gallants' to find their own work:

observe by what steps your worthy Progenitors raised their houses to the height of Gentry, or Nobility. Scarce shall you find a man of them, that gave an accession, or brought any noted Eminency to his house; but either serving in the Camp, or sweating at the Bar, or waiting at the Court, or adventuring on the Seas, or trucking in his Shop, or some other way industriously bestirring himself in some settled Calling and Course of Life.

Only by equal labours can these young heirs merit 'those Ensigns of Honor and Gentry which [their ancestors] by industry atchieved.'9

Modern historians who study social mobility agree in general with these views, but argue that the movement actually taking place was far less extensive than these comments imply. In his original account of the situation, Lawrence Stone represented the social mobility of the period as 'a seismic upheaval of unprecedented magnitude', and his figures suggest as much: between 1500 and 1700, the number of the upper classes trebled during a time when the population doubled; the number of peers rose from 60 to 160, of knights from 500 to 1,400, and of armigerous gentry from 'perhaps 5,000 to 15,000'.10 In his later work, Stone severely restricts his earlier assessment by claiming that newcomers were largely younger sons of the gentry, who, through the professions or trade, re-established their gentility. Nevertheless, he does admit to 'the influx of mercantile wealth into land in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century'.11 Keith Wrightson states that 'social mobility was a constant phenomenon in English society', since gentility was based on 'the acquisition and retention of landed wealth' rather than birth. He also claims that the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries 'produced a quickened pace of upward and downward social mobility'. He cites a study of Lancashire where 278 families lost their place among the gentry between 1600 and 1642, and 210 families (and perhaps 79 more) moved up into it. The rising families were in part those of wealthy townsmen, which Wrightson argues were largely younger sons of the gentry; nevertheless, by far the majority of newcomers were prosperous yeomen.12 Although Stone had originally defined marriage as 'the easiest road to riches', Wrightson concludes, as does Stone elsewhere, that very few marriages took place across status lines. There were, however, some connections made between those in positions close to each other in rank or wealth: the peerage intermarried with the upper gentry, rich merchants and lawyers; the gentry with mercantile or yeoman families.13 Both of these historians agree that there was significant movement between ranks; they also believe that contemporary accounts of its range and frequency were exaggerated.

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare creates a unique version of the age's Commentary about social mobility, since the play represents as primarily a female achievement the advancement noted by his contemporaries. One would like to classify this as pure myth; on the other hand, there is very little historical evidence about the social mobility of women. According to David Cressy:

widows and women who were heads of households were the only women assumed to have any independence, but the polity was normally assumed to exclude women of all sorts . . . While a wife in England was accorded the rank or status of her man, she was, nonetheless 'de jure but the best of servants'.14

The analogies of English social theory were quite inaccurate in their identification of wives with male children or male servants, since women were prohibited from most avenues for advancement. There is evidence that some daughters of rich merchants married into the gentry or peerage, but most marriages occurred within particular status groups.15 It is clear that studies of social mobility are severely lacking in evidence on women; more work needs to be done to investigate whether or not women improved their position through marriage or through trade. We can assume, however, that the play's representation of the mobility of its society through women is historically inaccurate, and curiously and significantly skewed in a way unlike the exaggerations of commentators.

Twelfth Night sets free a fluidity between the roles of man and woman, and master and servant in the case of Viola and Maria, but limits it severely and abruptly in the case of Malvolio. In A Marxist Study of Shakespeare's Comedies, Elliot Krieger argues that Malvolio's aspirations are ridiculed and exorcised by the play not in order to preserve the true 'liberty' of saturnalia, but 'to allow the aristocracy to achieve social consolidation.' He claims that whereas identity is generally mutable in the play, Malvolio's attempt to cross the line between servant and master is condemned as transgressive. Whereas Viola's enactment of gentility is rendered legitimate by our discovery at the end of the play of her 'noble' blood, Malvolio's inferior status ensures that his ambition will be viewed as presumption.16

Krieger is quite right to point out that the play balances the freedom of Viola's fluid identity against the strictures on Malvolio, and that such strictures finally reinforce class prejudice. But in this play such prejudice is more complex than Krieger suggests. The play includes a tentative but radical disruption of conventional categories of identity which is checked but not erased by its ending, and checked in a complicated way. Reducing Viola's astute role-playing to an expression of her nobility ignores the part she plays in this limited but tangible disruption as well as in its containment. Viola's performance as a courtier wins her prestige and potential financial rewards from Orsino and a proposal of marriage from Olivia; her noble breeding may make such success more likely, but her female gender makes it remarkable. Viola is never simply a noble person masquerading as a gentle person without wealth; her rendition of masculine gentility subtly suggests that all social roles can be impersonated. The play treats Viola very differently from Perdita in Winter's Tale, since Twelfth Night emphasises Viola's performative talent rather than her 'authentic' nobility. We may be convinced in Viola's first scene that she is no commoner: she speaks to the Captain and his sailors with authority, they defer to her, she pays them 'bounteously' (I, ii, 52). Yet the scene raises questions about whether Orsino's 'name' accurately represents his 'nature', or whether the Captain's 'outward character', either as behaviour or title, is related to his 'mind' (25, 50-1). These questions prepare us for Viola's experiments with appearance, partially because she has to negotiate in a world where titles may not be trustworthy, and partially because she herself will manipulate the relationship between seeming and being. The scene does not explicitly define Viola's status as either noble or gentle; rather, her rank is veiled from us just as Viola veils it from the people she will meet. Such masking has a purpose: we, and the characters, will know her through her role-playing and her 'intent':

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 . . . Conceal me what I am, and be my aid For such disguise as haply shall become The form of my intent.

(41-4, 53-5)

In these passages, to will or choose her way allows Viola to disrupt conventional definitions of identity: 'my estate', 'what I am.' Not to be 'delivered to the world' is to withhold the details of one's family origins, gender and present situation until one can give birth to oneself at the most propitious moment. Such a self-protective delay replaces birth and status with a flexible identity, since not only can outer appearance be subject to one's will, but this will can also be influenced by the practice of acting: Viola's disguise 'haply shall become / The form of my intent.' The word 'form' reproduces the riddles about inner and outer identity that pervade the scene, and the word 'become' increases the dilemma: will the disguise 'become' or be used as the outward form of her inward intent? Will the 'matter' of her external costume represent decorously the inner structuring 'form' or principle of her willed purpose? Will this disguise itself become or begin to dictate her desires? To what extent do clothes make the man? Not only is rank replaced by intent in Viola's plot, but also the focus of the scene on a correspondence between outer and inner quality is complicated by the suggestion that external forms can determine internal states. When her estate is 'delivered' to us in the last act, it is only after we have seen to what an extent her skilful use of disguise becomes her.

Malvolio also does not fit within Krieger's rigid schema. The play manipulates Malvolio's status titles for dramatic purposes: when Malvolio is to appear presumptuous in his disciplining of Sir Toby, Toby cries, 'Art thou more than a steward?' (II, iii, 113). When we are to recoil and laugh at Malvolio's desire to wed Olivia, his analogy tricks us into overestimating the lowliness of his rank: 'There is example for't. The Lady of the strachy married the yeoman of the wardrobe' (II, v, 39-40). We find out only in the late prison scene, when our sympathy is needed, that Malvolio is in fact not a commoner but a gentleman (IV, ii, 85; see also V, i, 277, 280). He is therefore not disenfranchised in any technical sense; he has already crossed over the most significant boundary line in the society, and is already a legitimate member of the ruling classes. It is true that a marriage between Malvolio and the Countess Olivia would be viewed as unconventional—it would be analogous to the marriage between the Duchess of Malfi and her steward Antonio.17 But Malvolio's dream of marrying Olivia is in principle no more socially disruptive than Olivia's dream of marrying what she takes to be the gentleman Cesario. Shakespeare seems less intent on stigmatising characters for behaviour outside their rank than on emphasising status differences at particular moments for particular purposes. The play veils and manipulates the rank of Malvolio and Viola in order to encourage the audience to compare their relative success at winning their desired marriages. When their status is identified, it seems unlikely that the ideological point would be that women of undefined noble blood can marry dukes, whereas gentlemen cannot marry countesses. We must search more deeply for Malvolio's offending characteristic.

The play presents the problem most forcefully in two conjoining scenes: Act II, scene iv, in which the Duke and Cesario debate whether or not a woman's love is equal to a man's, and scene v, in which Malvolio imagines himself to be equal to Olivia and superior to Sir Toby through the marriage that would make him 'Count Malvolio'. It is here that the play's interest in twin characters and twin issues becomes most complex: Cesario is like Malvolio because both are servants who wish to marry their masters; Viola is like Maria because both use language and counterfeited appearances to manage their chosen male subjects; Malvolio is like Orsino because both are self-absorbed men for whom mastery consists in the exercise of power and the exclusion of any consideration of the perspectives of others. The play calls attention to its twin issues by repeating lines: when the Duke asks Cesario what sort of woman he has fallen in love with, Cesario replies, 'Of your complexion' (II, iv, 26). When Mal volio imagines Olivia's love for him, he remembers Olivia's previous remark that, should she love, 'it should be one of my complexion' (II, v, 23-4). The play invites us to consider love from two angles: Viola's self-abnegating, amorous desire and Malvolio's self-deluded dream of power. It also encourages us to consider Orsino's inadequate sense of women in terms of Malvolio's more explicitly identified 'self-love'. It is in the simultaneous exploration of the worthiness of women and the inadequacy of Malvolio that we find the play's ideological bias: the desire of an inferior to be matched with a superior is acceptable as long as it is motivated by love; to the extent that desire is self-interested, it is foolish and dangerous. In the world of the play, Malvolio represents ill will or bad will (mal: evil; voglio: I will or desire). He pursues his ends for the wrong reasons rather than the right. Viola's name, on the other hand, suggests a female, positive version of Malvolio, one whose will has become, let us say, musical, and capable of harmonising society rather than disrupting it. In this play, desire replaces reverence as the basis of the bond that links master and servant, man and woman; we could say that loving and erotic desire mediates the issue of social mobility in the play, since loving desire acknowledges choice and human will, but it also ensures devotion or a commitment to others. In Twelfth Night, ambition is acceptable, as long as it is the ambition to love. Our question is, why is such devoted desire identified with a woman rather than a man? What does such an identification make possible for the play and what does it obscure?

In Twelfth Night, the current and popular controversy over women mediates the dilemmas about social mobility. This allows the play to question quite fully the traditional ideology that those who rule are mentally or morally superior to those who are ruled, but it holds such questioning in check through an ideal of marriage and a model of marital contract which guards against the dangers of personal independence. The romantic love in the play acknowledges the power of desire, but ensures that such desire will flow into the channels of traditional, socially instituted bonds.

Act II, scene iv, allows Viola to confront the Duke with the value and power of female intelligence, but such intelligence is only discussed in terms of a woman's capacity to love.18 The erotic power of this scene consists not only in the Duke's ignorance that his man-to-man talk with Cesario about love finally allows Viola to express what she feels, but also in the fact that the scene stages between two potential lovers the debate about women which usually took place within the confines of contemporary treatises. Shakespeare stages the debate with a bias: Viola's concealed identity and love for Orsino ensure our sympathy for her point of view. The Duke claims that women cannot love as deeply as he does, but the scene suggests that his love for Olivia is superficial, inconstant and finally repressive, since he seems unwilling to imagine or believe that a woman could initiate a love of her own. The Duke's 'self-love' has already been revealed in the first scene of the play, when he proclaims that, after Olivia's grief over her brother dies out, the Duke himself will take his place as the new male sovereign, the 'one self king' reigning in Olivia's affections (I, i, 40). In their conversation in Act II, scene iv, Viola reminds the Duke that he may not be so successful, and offers him the possibility of seeing things from a woman's point of view:

Viola Say that some Lady, as perhaps there is, Hath for your love as great a pang of heart As you have for Olivia. You cannot love her. You tell her so. Must she not then be answered? Duke 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, 89-96)

The Duke refuses to imagine that a woman could initiate desire as he does, and so he loses the point of the scene communicated to us: a woman, viola, loves as deeply as a man, and recognises that she cannot control her beloved's point of view.

The debate about love in this scene is a submerged exploration of the extent to which Renaissance masculinity depends on denying women a will of their own, and the independent perspective that goes with it. Viola deflates this masculine conceit by her words and her presence:

Duke Make no compare Between that love a woman can bear me And that I owe Olivia. Viola Ay, but I know— Duke What dost thou know? Viola Too well what love women to men may owe. In faith, they are as true of heart as we.


When Viola interrupts the Duke's masculine and mastering order, 'Make no compare', she asserts that her knowledge and experience constitute an identity comparable to his own: 'Ay, but I know.' But what she knows is her erotic attachment to the Duke, 'what love women to men may owe', an attachment that ensures her willing participation in a marital system which fears more deeply the unattached woman than the brilliant wife. Viola's debate with the Duke exposes as masculine tyranny his desire to be Olivia's 'one self king', but protects him and the audience against the play's deeper fear of female independence, expressed in the Duke's reference to the story of Diana and Actaeon:

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.

(I, i, 20-4)

The Duke speaks in the fanciful language of a poetic love, but his words reveal that he already fears rejection, since Olivia, like Diana, might refuse to be married; such a fear must be repressed because it would result in the dismemberment of a sense of masculinity which depends on female subservience. Again, the play questions Orsino's association of masculinity and power, but provides a new protection against the dangers of Diana: women will marry because they want to. When Sir Toby praises Maria for her victory over Malvolio, he calls her 'Penthesilea', the Amazon warrior with whom Achilles fell in love just before he killed her. These dangerous extremes of female independence and masculine tyranny are modified by Toby's affirmation that Maria is 'one that adores me' (II, iii, 176-9).

Viola's response to Orsino in their debate about love is similar to that of Jane Anger in the treatise 'Her Protection for Women' (1589), which answers a lost pamphlet by 'the surfeiting lover'. These two treatises took part in a series of exchanges which fuelled the controversy about women during the period.19 Like Viola, 'Her Protection for Women' declares that women should be recognised for their 'trueness of love' (p. 181), but the difference between the treatise and the play is registered in the difference between the name Jane Anger and that of Viola. Like Viola, Anger counters male views of female love, but less as a preface to marriage than as a reproof of men, uttered, as she says, in a 'choleric vein' (p. 173). Answering an opponent whose treatise seems to have renounced love and women as well, Anger uses the author's term for himself as 'surfeiting' to consider the destructive effects on women of defining male desire as an appetite. Orsino proclaims his inability to 'suffer surfeit' in his appetite for love, since he 'is all as hungry as the sea / and can digest as much' (II, iv, 100-1), but Anger points out the problem with the metaphor: men 'become ravenous hawks, who do not only seize upon us, but devour us' (p. 178). Her treatise clarifies the contradictory nature of Orsino's love, which he describes as both 'so strong a passion' that 'no woman's heart' is 'so big to hold so much', and as 'more longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn, / Than women's are' (II, iv, 94-6, 33-4). His desire for Olivia is described as infinite, like the sea, but he uses words which suggest that marriage itself would be no solution:

Nought enters there, Of what validity and pitch so ever, But falls into abatement and low price Even in a minute.

(I, i, 11-14)

The Duke's description of desire implies that whether the lover surfeits or never surfeits, the fate of his wife will be the same:

For women are as roses, whose fair flow'r, Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour.

Viola's reply is full of pathos:

And so they are; alas, that they are so; To die, even when they to perfection grow.

(II, v, 38-42)

Such a reply is quite different from Jane Anger's comment on the subject:

men's eyes are so curious, as be not all women equal with Venus for beauty, they cannot abide the sight of them; their stomachs so queasy, as do they taste but twice of one dish they straight surfeit, and needs must a new diet be provided for them.

(p. 178)

Viola's careful and caring instruction of the Duke as well as our sympathy for her concealed love prepare us for the harmony of their betrothal in the last scene of the play, but keep us from considering what their marriage will finally be like.

Jane Anger's treatise is unusual in its lack of interest in the subject of matrimony, since most pamphlet-writers defending women during this period praised them most highly for their capacity to be able companions to men. Nicholas Breton in 'The Praise of Vertuous Ladies' (1597) claims that a man should see a great part of a woman in himself, since Eve was made out of Adam, and this proves that a woman is 'no other substance but another himself. For every excellent man, there is an excellent woman, who is 'everie waies his match'. The treatise soon turns to the match it most prizes, that of marriage, but here the equality of women stressed by the treatise becomes a threat. The best companion to a wise man is a witty woman, but 'it is wisdom for a man to take heed that a woman be not wiser than himself.' Finally, the treatise states with a jesting tone, but a serious purpose that the only worthy 'wit' of a maid is to choose a husband well; of a married woman, to love none other; and of a widow, to provide for her children. This treatise suggests that the faculties which made women 'everie waies' a man's 'match' could only usefully be exercised within the institution of marriage, and that even in marriage these capacities had to be restrained.20

A woman's love was essential to a successful marriage, according to the manuals of the period, which prized marriage as a form of companionship rather than simply as a necessity for lawful procreation. For William Perkins, the creation of Eve proved that a woman should not rule her husband, since she did not come out of his head, nor be his slave, since she did not come out of his feet, but, since she came out of his side, 'man should take her as his mate.'21 But the equality that this notion of companionship seems to promise is quickly qualified by the manuals, and the love of a wife for her husband begins to appear as another form of masculine control. Edmund Tilney's Flower of Friendshippe (1568) states:

equalitie is principally to be considered in thys matrimoniali amitie, as well of yeares, as of the gifts of nature, and fortune. For equalnesse herein, maketh friendliness . . . In this long and troublesome journey of matrimonie, the wise man maye not be contented onely with his spouses virginitie, but by little and little must gently procure that he maye also steale away her private will, and appetite, so that of two bodies there may be made one onely hart, which she will soone doe, if love raigne in her, and without this agreeable concord matrimonie hath but small pleasure . . . or none at all, and the man, that is not lyked, and loved of his mate, holdeth his lyfe in continuall perill, his goodes in great jeopardie, his good name in suspect, and his whole house in perdition.

John Dod and Richard Cleaver in The Godly Form of a Household (1598) use almost the same words as Tilney, but their sense of the relationship between love and possession has increased: 'The husband ought not to bee satisfied that, he hath robd his wife of her virginitie, but in that he hath possession and use of her will.' Dod and Cleaver recognise the tension between the requirements that men rule and that women love: 'For although the husband shall have power to his wife, to feare and obey him, yet he shall never have strength to force her to love him.'22

The marriage manuals emphasise the importance of personal choice and consent by the marriage partners, and such choice includes women as well as men, but the equality of choice does not extend much farther than the original decision. The literature on marriage during this period as well as current historical studies suggest that individual desire did influence marriage negotiations much more than we previously believed: Keith Wrightson has shown that Lawrence Stone overemphasised the capacity of aristocratic parents to determine marriages for their children, and ignored the extent to which lower-class marriages were initiated by the partners. Marriage manuals consistently acknowledge the fact of individual choice in their very structure, at the same time that they insist on parental approval. These manuals include chapters on consent and on the contractual nature of marriage, in order to stress the extent to which the marriage must be a matter of free will. It may finally be the case that marriage manuals were written for the children of the gentry or the middling sort' rather than for the aristocracy, whose marriages were more consistently determined by issues of status and wealth rather than personal choice. It is clear that they were written more often for men than for women. The voluntary nature of the marriage vow, in which the promise 'must not come from the lippes alone, but from the wel-liking and consent of the heart', nevertheless preceded a relationship in which a woman's love had to be matched by submission and obedience to her husband's will. Many marriage manuals suggest, in fact, that the only real choice appropriate for a woman after marriage was to choose to love her husband. In Tilney's The Flower of Friendshippe, which celebrates 'perfite love' that 'knitteth loving heartes, in an insoluable knot of amitie', the female speaker, Lady Julia, urges women to apply themselves to their duty, not only to revere their husbands, but to love them:

The first thing, therefore, which the married woman must labour to intende, the first thing which she must with all her force, applie her whole minde unto, and the first thing which she must hartily put in execution, is to lyke, and love well. For reason doth bind us to love them, with whom we must eate, and drinke.23

The fear of unloving wives in the marriage manuals is like the fear of female independence in Twelfth Night: in both cases, women refuse to authorise as mutually beneficial and as benevolent the form of social control inherent in the Renaissance institution of marriage. But this fear of the independent woman in Twelfth Night and the celebration of a romantic love that impels one to choose to be dependent on another mediates and controls the play's twin issue: the danger of self-interested rather than devoted servants. The play and its various literary and social sources testify to a society searching to articulate a new social bond between 'master' and 'servant', one which would acknowledge choice and ensure a new kind of dependability', based on contract rather than feudal obligation.24

In Act II, scene v, which directly follows the debate about love between Orsino and Viola, Malvolio imagines his new estate as 'Count Malvolio', and the play reveals that such self-interest has always motivated his government within the house. It is clear that Malvolio does not pursue Olivia with the poetic abandon of the other lovers in the play; he sees her as his ticket to a higher social position. His desire for Olivia as well as his ethical severity is a mask for a will-to-power:

Fabian O, peace! Now he's deeply in. Look how imagination blows him.

Malvolio Having been three months married to her, sitting in my state—

Toby O for a stone bow, to hit him in the eye!

Malvolio Calling my officers about me, in my branched velvet gown; having come from a day-bed, where I have left Olivia sleeping—. . . And then to have the humour of state; and after a demure travel of regard, telling them I know my place, as I would they should do theirs, to ask for my kinsman Toby—. . . Saying, 'Cousin Toby, my fortunes having cast me on your niece, give me this prerogative of speech.'

Toby What, what?

Malvolio 'You must amend your drunkenness'.

(II, v, 40-71)

Malvolio's fantasy reveals that his disciplinary zeal is impelled by a desire to dominate, unlike Viola's gracious deference. His imagined reproof, 'You must amend your drunkeness', is, like his branched velvet gown and his imperious looks, only another means by which he demonstrates his new position of power within the household. Malvolio's imagined reproof of Sir Toby is to be compared to the kindly correction of Orsino by Viola: their motives, according to the play, establish their difference. Malvolio's crime is not that he, as a gentleman, wants to marry a countess, or even that a steward wants to marry his mistress; it is that he will use his new position to disrupt traditional customs and rituals, and that such use of his 'prerogative' will be motivated by an ambition to establish his superiority and to impose his will on others. His sense of being virtuous is actually a desire for supremacy; for this reason, there will be no more cakes and ale, as Toby puts it (II, iii, 116-17). We find during the play that Malvolio has brought Fabian 'out o' favour with my lady' Olivia for bearbaiting, and put Viola's benevolent captain into jail for some unidentified crime (II, v, 6-7; V, i, 275-6). Although Maria calls Malvolio only 'a kind of Puritan', Malvolio's fantasy of power constitutes the play's critique of London disciplinarians, those Puritan aldermen who were perhaps gentlemen but had originally been merchants, who condemned holiday revelry, bearbaiting and the theatre: such a concern for civil rule, according to the play, masks a self-interested desire to govern, an unwillingness to accept traditional social bonds, and a willingness to disrupt rather than harmonise the social order. London Puritans and Malvolio are like the 'politicians' and 'Brownists' that Sir Andrew fears (III, ii, 30-1): each is a type of 'separatist', one who does not respect the bonds that tie the community together, bonds which may be flexible and fluid, but which must continue to hold if society is to survive.

In 'Pierce Pennilesse: His Supplication to the Divell' (1592), Thomas Nash, Gent., attacks those newly rich men who have no respect for the 'noble' virtue of liberality, which he feels is the main source of income for struggling writers. The contempt for tradition on the part of these 'new men' is the result of a frenetic upward movement of tradesmen and lawyers, who dress 'as brave as any . . . Nobleman'. He makes it clear that he does not oppose social mobility per se, but only that worthy men are left impoverished, whereas the undeserving obtain higher estates through 'delicious gold' or are unjustly promoted like 'some such obscure upstart gallants, as without desert or service are raised from the plough, to be checkmate with Princes'. Indeed, such social advancement would be appropriate if granted to writers whose talents make them superior to their patrons: 'This is the lamentable condition of our Times, that men of Arte must seeke almes of Cormorants, and those that deserve best, be kept under by Dunces.' Like Twelfth Night, Nash questions the traditional notion that social superiors are necessarily better than those they govern, but he also attacks merchants and tradesmen who have no respect for the traditional nobility and no respect for the theatre. 'Pierce' claims that the ethical severity of those citizens who condemn playgoing only masks a desire to usurp the place of the traditional nobility:

I will defend [the theatre] against any Collier or clubfooted Usurer of them all, there is no immortalitie, can be given a man on earth like unto Playes. What talke I to them of immortalitie, that are the only underminers of Honour, and doe envie any man that is not sprung up by base Brokerie like themselves. They care not if all the ancient houses were rooted out, so that like the Burgomasters of the Low-Countries they might share the government amongst them as States, and be quarter-maisters of our Monarchie . . . [They respect] neither the right of Fame that is due to true Nobilitie deceased, nor what hopes of eternitie are to be proposed to adventurous mindes, to encourage them forward, but only their execrable luker, and fìlthie unquenchable avarice.

Social advancement is appropriate for 'adventurous mindes' and 'men of Arte', but not for those who seek to mount upward for the wrong reasons: a hunger for money and power over others. Such as these not only have no respect for the ancient houses of nobility, they want to cast society into a different form, so that, like the 'Burgomasters of the Low-Countries', they will be 'quarter-maisters of our Monarchie'. According to the treatise, this disruption of the social order is caused by the devil himself, 'Nicalao Malevolo . . . the great mister maister of hell'.25

In 'Pierce Pennilesse', Nash reacts against Puritan attacks on the theatres and against the influence of the London city government on the Privy Council. Twelfth Night (1602) was produced only a few years after the office of the Master of the Revels had affirmed its capacity to license theatrical companies and restrict the days of their performances, as well as the bearbaiting that occurred nearby. Such courtly and civic control over theatrical revelry mirrored the repression of holiday pastimes in the Countryside in places like Shakespeare's Stratford. Local Puritan elites were prohibiting many village festivities, including the church ales, in the name of a more thorough 'civil rule' (II, iii, 122).26

Nash's pamphlet illuminates one of the most important contexts for Twelfth Night: urban satire, including the Harvey-Nash quarrel, in which 'Pierce Pennilesse' figures, but also including the war of the theatres, occurring during this period and referring at times to this play. What You Will is one of John Marston's volleys in the war, and its connections to Twelfth Night, or What You Will clarify that, for these playwrights, the intersection between disguise and the problem of fluid social relations is commonplace. In a society where status categories are flexible, apparel becomes a 'god', and opinion, or 'what you will', according to Marston, determines all social value, including personal rank and identity. One of the central characters in Marston's play, Albano, is a merchant who for a time loses his wife, his property and his name because people assume that he is dead and the living person standing before them is an imposter. Whether What You Will appeared before or after Twelfth Night, the attributes they share suggest that Twelfth Night was not only about revelry or carnival, but about the difficulties of estimating the value of individuals when the externals of identity, including rank and gender, are so easily imitated. It is therefore relevant that Shakespeare's play and probably Marston's were put on before an Inns of Court audience, incipient lawyers, well versed in urban satire and preparing for the successes and dangers of social advancement in the city. 'What you will' for Marston refers to opinion, and for Shakespeare to desire, but both playwrights testify to a world in which individually initiated attitudes and acts have replaced a shared consensus about appropriate behaviour and the rules for evaluating it. Both plays fear such a world, in which every man and woman can be a phoenix; Twelfth Night offers us women and servants who exchange their independence for a willing desire for another and so preserve 'all relation'.27

Malvolio may be a kind of Puritan, but he is also the conventional butt of urban satire, the social climber who becomes obsessed with the externals of rank, 'the habit of some sir of note' (III, iv, 77-8), without a sense of 'true' worth and its significance for the community. Viola's decision to trust the Captain at the beginning of the play takes on new importance in this context, because she, like all members of society, must learn to accept and analyse a difference between external appearance and internal value:

There is a fair behaviour in thee, captain, 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, i, 47-51)

Viola's trust in the Captain is a matter of judgement and of will, an opinion not a fact. The problems of disguise in Twelfth Night take the play into the world of Ben Jonson's exploration of character and the ambiguous relationship in his plays between inner worth and social rank.

For Jonson, the nobility are to be revered, but only if they

Study the native frame of a true heart, An inward comeliness of bountie, knowledge, And spirit that may conforme them actually To God's high figures.


In Cynthia's Revels, Or the Fountayne of self-love (1600), the Jonsonian surrogate Crites unmasks the narcissism that motivates decadent aristocrats as well as ambitious courtiers; the play uses terms that look forward to Shakespeare's presentation of the Duke and Malvolio. But unlike Shakespeare, Jonson proceeds to define a positive version of self-love, which transforms narcissism into an honourable method of establishing publicly one's inner value: 'allowable Self-love' quickens 'minds in the pursuit of honour', and impels individuals to reach a social position which will justly match 'that true measure of one's self (V, vii, 26-35). In the play, Cynthia the Queen singles out for promotion her playwright Crites, whom she describes as one 'whom learning, virtue, and our favour last / Exempteth from the gloomy multitude' (V, viii, 32-3).

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare pokes fun at a notion of 'allowable self-love' which results in the preferment of its author. He associates such self-love with the colour yellow theatrically attributed to it in Cynthia's Revels, and with an overly pretentious, censorious steward, who is convinced that his lady will thrust greatness upon him.29 Malvolio's 'self-love' satirises Jonson's version of individual value not only as self-indulgent but as socially divisive, because it privileges censuring the faults of others and praising the self over the more difficult task of preserving the harmony of social relations. Twelfth Night suggests that Jonson's version of merit is just as 'separatist' as the Puritans he derides in his comedies. The 'railing' that Viola's social music tames is not only that of the Puritans but that of the satirists.

Shakespeare is as interested as Jonson in the relationship between the 'name' and 'nature' of nobility, but he explores the issue through 'Viola' rather than 'Crites'. The name of the Duke, Orsino (or 'the little bear'), indicates that the Duke as well as Malvolio is the subject of the play's bearbaiting. Marston's Duke in What You Will is blatantly frivolous and sensual; audiences must have understood that Orsino's attitude towards love and women was not presented uncritically by Twelfth Night. But such criticism never becomes biting satire in Shakespeare's play: 'there is no railing in a known discreet man, though he do nothing but reprove' (I, v, 95-6).30

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare celebrates the social arts, very like his own, which can turn a servant into a master, a glove-maker's son into a gentleman, a woman into a man, a man into a woman. Nevertheless, he reproves those who would use this social fluidity for their own benefit or as an opportunity to reorder the traditional structure according to new ethical and political principles. Such ethical and political blueprints, he suggests, are simply fantasies of power, which exchange the community good for private profit.

The play links the issues of gender and status in order to make marriage, with its inclusion of desire and its commitment to permanence, the model of all social bonds. The Priest's description of Olivia's marriage betrothal to Sebastian represents the play's dream of a perpetual community, in which each member willingly takes his or her place:

A contract of eternal bond of love Confirmed by mutual joinder of your hands, Attested by the holy close of lips, Strengthened by interchangment of your rings.

(V, i, 156-9)

It is not a coincidence that in the last act, as the cases of mistaken identity mount up, willing service is coordinated with the contract of marriage, and the dangers of infidelity to such a contract are considered: Olivia's sense of her husband Cesario's betrayal is followed by Antonio's sense of his master Sebastian's betrayal, and then by Orsino's sense of his servant Cesario's betrayal. Antonio, of course, is the model for the new servant imagined by the play, since his service is based on desire rather than duty or reverence:

I could not stay behind you. My desire (More sharp than filed steel) did spur me forth;  . . . My willing love . . . Set forth in your pursuit.

(III, iii, 4-5, 11-13)31

The marriage bonds that certify the socially acceptable 'willing love' of man and woman are forged by the 'true' priest in the play, who is opposed dramatically to the 'false' priest-fool, Sir Topas, who baits Malvolio. This carnivalesque figure reproaches others in society who have 'dissembled in such a gown' (IV, ii, 5-6), but also members of the aristocracy, who, like Chaucer's Sir Thopas, provide only an empty image of aristocratic superiority. Such an image becomes ridiculous when engendered by a non-aristocratic author-fool, like the narrator of the Canterbury Tales, who cannot get a tale of nobility quite right, but also when manipulated by a Sir Toby, whose name is so close to the Sir Topas he concocts that he becomes implicated in his own critique. Such satirists as Sir Toby miss the point when they bait Malvolio: blood is not the issue, but rather some mysterious quality of inner nobility which Sir Toby himself does not possess.

Viola's 'courtesy' is evidence not only of this inner nobility, but of her willingness to use her performative talent for unselfish purposes, to spin out the modes of social behaviour that can preserve the ties that bind. Orsino and Olivia think nostalgically about 'the old age' or the 'merry world' before true love and loyal servants were replaced by 'these most brisk and giddy-paced times' (II, iv, 6, 48; II, i, 100-1). Twelfth Night is plagued by a fear that when the witty whirl that is its surface and its plot shuts down, no trustworthy social order will remain: 'with hey, ho, the wind and the rain' (V, i, 391ff).

Perhaps this is one reason why the play so relentlessly excludes the figure of the merchant, although in the sources, the father of Viola and Sebastian is almost always a merchant, and frequently the father of Olivia is so as well.32 In Marston's play, Albano the merchant most forcefully represents the fragility of an identity based on fortune or chance, since he has achieved his status in the community through the power of wealth rather than the tradition of family lineage. In Twelfth Night, a play that is filled with imagery of the sea, merchants are never mentioned, although the play does refer to a new map of the world which includes the West Indies, and which is used to describe the lines on Malvolio's smiling face as he pursues his hopes with Olivia (HI, ii, 76-8). The play evokes the sense of treasure that can be obtained from the sea, as well as the riches that can satisfy a desire which is as infinite as the sea. But the treasure from the ocean in this play is Viola and Sebastian; like aspirations for social ascent, commercial interests are turned into romantic appetites.

The play cannot afford the figure of the merchant because such a social role does not fit clearly enough into the traditional hierarchical order of servant and master. The relations of the commercial classes to the classes above them could not easily be described in terms of feudal norms—they are not mentioned in the homily on obedience—since they were constituted more by monetary exchange than by the traditional ideals of reverence and duty. Shakespeare has to consider Malvolio as 'a kind of Puritan'; a real Calvinist merchant would upset the delicate balance of a play which explores the issue of social mobility through the lens of willing servants rather than successful entrepreneurs.33

The play solves the problem of self-interested desire through Viola's harmonious social bonding, and so projects anxieties about status relations onto gender relations. The play's fear of independent women is implicated in its fear of independent servants, since Viola's dependence is constituted in opposition to Malvolio's self-interest. Therefore sexual-familial structures are linked rather explicitly to socio-economic structures, as Kelly puts it, in such a way as to suggest that Viola's attitude to her labour as a servant to the Duke is praiseworthy because it partakes of her attitude towards her beloved, Orsino. As such, loving male-female relations mediate master-servant relations: both partners may be quite equal in intelligence and moral capacity, or indeed the subordinate may be superior to his or her master; nevertheless, an appreciative love should tie both together. Such a formula redefines traditional hierarchical bonds as more flexible in themselves, but also turns anything but the most loving commitment to one's superiors into 'self-love'.

The play's superimposition of labour relations onto marital relations results in a model of 'willing service' formed in the image of the 'mutual consent' required in the marriage contract. The history of the various kinds of contract during this period demonstrates that Shakespeare's model of contract is a selective one, since such an agreement could act as either a conservative or a disruptive force. At the time that the play was produced, changes in the law were eroding traditional restraints on business contracts, and strengthening the individual's control over these transactions. Such agreements required voluntary and mutual consent at the cost of feudal models of obligation, since deference to status was replaced with an interest in the market and personal profit. But such 'freedom' was not extended to labouring individuals, whose tendency to move throughout the country in pursuit of work had resulted in the passing of the Statute of Artificers (1563), which prohibited the sudden termination of contracts between employer and employed, and made illegal a horizontal mobility of workers responsive to new commercial developments. Through its labour-contract clauses, the Statute sought to place labourers under the firm control of a 'master', and often within the structure of the employer's family and paternal authority. Twelfth Night also mediates between a status and a market society through marriage and the family: it dramatises voluntary consent and 'free' will as mitigating the rigidity of the master-servant relationship, but also as preserving this traditional bond at a time when market forces were wearing away its feudal foundations. Shakespeare may have taken his cue from the marriage manuals of the period, which employ the language of contractual 'freedom', but nevertheless hedge it about with a concern for status and authority: 'consent' includes parental agreement and 'equality' requires likeness in rank; both consent and equality fade quickly away before the customary necessities of male authority and female submission. Like the manuals and marital law during this period, Shakespeare attempts to negotiate between individual interests and those of traditional society. He follows Perkins by making marriage the model for 'the commonwealth'.34

Twelfth Night imagines a world in which one's social estate is a matter of desire or will rather than birth or title. Such desire is innocent and successful to the extent that it moves one to be bound unselfishly to another. Shakespeare divides and conquers in his play not only by praising Viola and condemning Malvolio, but also by obscuring what Viola and Malvolio share in the play's various literary and social sources: a connection with a commercial class whose access to money has the power to upset the traditional link between high birth, wealth and status. The ideal that is set before women, servants and merchants in the play is that of loving and willing service, a Viola who chooses her man, but who also chooses to correct gently rather than dethrone the tyrant who will rule over her in the future. We might imagine a play about Mal-Viola (or Jane Anger), who does not wish the Duke well and says so, and whose female desire cannot so easily be presented as 'good will'. Just as Jonson in Cynthia's Revels presents himself in Crites, Shakespeare in Twelfth Night presents himself in Viola, that figure so well versed in the 'arts' of social behaviour, far more intelligent than her superiors, who elects to preserve the social harmony rather than 'put down' her masters.


1 I am grateful for the comments and suggestions made by the participants of the seminar 'Materialist feminist criticism of Shakespeare' held at the 1989 meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America. I would particularly like to thank Catherine Belsey, Barbara Bono, Mihoko Suzuki, Valerie Wayne and Marion Wynne-Davies. 'Perspectives' are discussed in Jurgis Baltrusaitis, Anamorphic Act, trans. W.L. Strachan (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1977), pp. 11-18, 91-114. Orsino's comment on the perspective appears in Twelfth Night, V, i, 215-16 in The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, ed. Sylvan Barnet (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1972). Subsequent citations will refer to this edition and appear in the text of the essay.

2 Joan Kelly, 'The doubled vision of feminist theory', in Judith L. Newton, Mary P. Ryan and Judith R. Walkowitz, eds., Sex and Class in Women's History (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983), pp. 264, 265, 266. The emphasis is Kelly's own.

3 'An exhortation concerning good order, and obedience to rulers and magistrates,' and 'An homilie of the state of matrimonie', in Certaine Sermons or Homilies appointed by the Queenes Majestie, to be declared and read by all Parsons, Vicars, and Curates . . . (London, 1595), 13 and Gg7.

4 Of course, several Renaissance critics have already discussed quite successfully the relationship of gender and status in Renaissance drama. Frank Whigham's 'Sexual and social mobility in The Duchess of Malfï (PMLA, 100 [1985], pp. 167-86) is the best of this sort, and I am indebted to his discussion of social mobility. Nevertheless, in his essay, the gender issues tend to collapse into the status issues: 'the duchess's enterprise is not primarily private and romantic: it is, rather, a socially adaptive action that extends to the zone of gender conflict a maneuver actively in play in the arena of class conflict' (p. 171). Whigham's quotation from Kenneth Burke on Venus and Adonis at the beginning of the essay clarifies this: 'The real subject is not primarily sexual lewdness at all, but "social lewdness" mythically expressed in sexual terms.' If feminist writers in the 1970s ignored problems of class (Paula Berggren, 'The woman's part: female sexuality as power in Shakespeare's plays', and Clara Claiborne Park, 'As we like it: how a girl can be smart and still popular', both in Carolyn Lenz, Gayle Greene and Carol Neely, eds., The Woman's Part: Feminist criticism of Shakespeare [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980], pp. 17-34, 100-16), then new historicists and cultural materialists in the 1980s often reduced gender concerns into a symbolic means of articulating what is 'the real subject': status, or issues of power in general. See Leonard Tennenhouse, Power on Display: The politics of Shakespeare's genres (New York and London: Methuen, 1986) for a fascinating discussion of 'Staging carnival', which attends to the role of women and Queen Elizabeth in the process of inheritance, but which finally defines the comedies and Petrarchan literature as 'presenting us with a political crisis which must be understood and resolved in sexual terms' (p. 19). This is the problem, I think, with focusing exclusively on Queen Elizabeth in discussing these issues: the sexual-familial questions can too easily disappear before the political or socio-economic concerns. Jean Howard avoids this difficulty in 'Crossdressing, the theatre, and gender struggle in early modern England', (SQ, 39 [1988], pp. 418-40), in which she discusses the 'various manifestations of crossdressing' as 'an interlocking grid through which we can read aspects of class and gender struggle in the period', and the particularity with which she does so is enlightening and refreshing. She interprets Twelfth Night quite differently from the way I do, however, because she sees Viola's crossdressing as 'in no way adopted to protest gender inequities' (p. 431).

5 In an essay in this collection, 'The world turned upside down: inversion, gender and the state', Peter Stallybrass argues that 'there is no intrinsic connection between inversions of class [and] gender . . . Politics is precisely the work of making such connections.' I argue in this essay that Twelfth Night performs such work by coordinating the interests of women and servants, and by making female 'good will' the model for socially ambitious men.

6 It is not a coincidence that the centrality of 'will' to the play reproduces the role of 'will' in the sonnets, in which Shakespeare represents his own peculiar linking of love and the potential rewards of patronage. For a largely psychoanalytic account of will in the sonnets, see Joel Fineman, Shakespeare's Perjured Eye (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). My analysis of traditional and emergent attitudes in the play is indebted to Raymond Williams' discussion of his terms 'dominant', 'emergent' and 'residual' in Problems in Materialism and Culture (London: Verso, 1980), pp. 31-49, and in Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 121-8.

7 I disagree with those critics who diagnose and/or dismiss Viola's successes in this play as the result of her noble rank (Tennenhouse, Power on Display, p. 66; Elliot Krieger, A Marxist Study of Shakespeare's Comedies [London: Macmillan Press, 1979], pp. 105-30).

8 As with several other characters, the play confuses us about the status of Maria: she is represented by Sir Toby as 'my niece's chambermaid' (I, iii, 50), but is identified by Olivia as 'my gentlewoman' (I, v, 162). But the play continually groups her with the 'lighter people', as Malvolio puts it (V, i, 341). In her forged letter to Malvolio, Maria herself delineates the line she will eventually cross: 'Be opposite with a kinsman, surly with servants' (II, v, 149-50).

9 William Harrison, 'A description of England' (1577), in F.J. Furnivall, ed., Elizabethan England (London: Walter Scott, 1902), pp. 7, 9; Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum (London, 1583), pp. 27-30; Thomas Wilson, The State of England Anno-dom. 1600, ed. F.J. Fisher (London: Camden Miscellany xvi, 3rd series lii, 1936), pp. 25, 38; Robert Sanderson, 'Ad populum; the fourth sermon . . . London, Nov. 4, 1621' in XXXXVI Sermons (London, 1986), p. 212.

10 Lawrence Stone, 'Social mobility in England, 1500-1700', Past and Present, 33 (1966), pp. 16, 23-24; see also David Cressy, 'Describing the social order of Elizabethan and Stuart England,' Literature and History, 3 (1976), pp. 29-44.

11 Lawrence Stone, An Open Elite? England 1540-1880 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), pp. 399-400; 405-6.

12 Keith Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680 (London: Hutchinson, 1982), pp. 26-30, 140.

13 Stone, 'Social mobility', p. 38; Wrightson, p. 86, cites Vivien Brodsky Elliott, 'Mobility and marriage in pre-industrial England' (unpubl. Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1978), pt. 1, ch. 4; pt. 3, ch. 3. See also Elliott, 'Single women in the London marriage market: age, status, mobility, 1598-1619', in R.B. Outhwaite, ed., Marriage and Society: Studies in the social history of marriage (London: Europa Publications, 1981), pp. 81-100; and Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977), pp. 60-1, 491.

14 Cressy, 'Describing the social order', pp. 34-5.

15 Stone, 'Social mobility', p. 38; Lawrence Manley, London in the Age of Shakespeare: An anthology (London: Croom Helm, 1986), pp. 77-8.

16 Krieger, A Marxist Study, pp. 100-1, and throughout.

17 See Whigham, 'Sexual and social mobility in The Duchess of Malfi'

18 See Catherine Belsey's illuminating and convincing reading of this scene in 'Disrupting sexual difference: meaning and gender in the comedies', in John Drakakis, ed., Alternative Shakespeares (London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 166-90. Belsey argues that Viola-as-Cesario calls 'into question that set of relations between terms which proposes as inevitable an antithesis between masculine and feminine, men and women' (p. 167). I am arguing that the difference between the categories of servant and master are also questioned by the play, and that Viola's success and 'good will' in disrupting these differences in scene iv are compared to Malvolio's failure in scene v. Viola's noble rank, like her role as a wife, is affirmed at the end of the play, and, as Belsey says, closes off 'the glimpsed transgression . . . But the plays are more than their endings' (pp. 187-8).

19 The full title of Anger's treatise is 'Jane Anger her Protection for Women. To defend them against the Scandalous Reportes of a late Surfeiting Lover, and all other like Venerians that complaine so to bee overcloyed with womens kindness' (London: Richard Jones, 1589). See the abridged text in Katherine Henderson and Barbara McManus, eds., Half Humankind: Contexts and texts of the controversy about women in England, 1540-1640 (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985). Page numbers from this edition will appear in the text of the essay. For commentary on the controversy about women and lists of texts, see Henderson and McManus, Half Humankind; Edmund Tilney, The Flower of Friendshippe:' A Renaissance Dialogue Contesting Marriage, ed., Valerie Wayne, forthcoming from Cornell University Press; Linda Woodhouse, Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the nature of womankind, 1540-1620 (Urbana: University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 139-51; and Louis B. Wright, Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1935), pp. 481-502. For a discussion of the intersection of the controversy and later drama, see Sandra Clark, 'Hic Mulier, Haec Vir and the controversy over masculine women', Studies in Philology, 82 (1985), pp. 157-83; and Mary Beth Rose, 'Women in men's clothing: apparel and social stability in The Roaring Girl', English Literary Renaissance, 14 (1984), pp. 139-51.

20 Nicholas Breton, 'The Praise of Vertuous Ladies' in The Wil of Wit, Wits Will, or Wils Wit, chuse you whether. Containing five discourses. (London: Thomas Creede, 1597), pp. 65, 69, 67, 70-1.

21 William Perkins, Christian Oeconomy, trans. T. Pickering (London: E. Weaver, 1609), p. 125. The first occurrence of this representation of companionship is found in Bullinger, Christen State of Matrimony (1541), sig. A4v.

22 Tilney, 'A Brief and Pleasant Discourse of Duties in Marriage, called the Flower of Friendshippe' (London: Henrie Denham, 1568), B2, B6. John Dod and Richard Cleaver include passages from 'The Flower' in A Godly Form of Householde Government (London: Thomas Creede, 1598), pp. 167, 165.

23 For discussions on individual choice in marriage, see Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800, pp. 85-93, 117, 178-95, 270-95; Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680, pp. 70-88; Susan Dwyer Amussen, An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), pp. 70-6, 105-8; and William and Malleville Haller, 'The Puritan art of love', Huntington Library Quarterly, 5 (1941-2), pp. 254-6, 265. Cleaver insists on the 'consent of the heart' (p. 115) and includes discussions on choice, consent, and contract (pp. 96-129). Perkins includes chapters entitled 'Of the Contract', 'Of the choice of persons fit for marriage' and 'Of consent in the Contract' (pp. 18, 23, 68). See Tilney, D4, for Lady Julia's advice on the choice of husbands and the practicality of love after the marriage has occurred.

24 Howard discusses the emerging idea of contractual relations in 'Crossdressing', p. 428. Don Wayne applies it to Jonson's Bartholomew Fair in 'Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson: an alternative view', Renaissance Drama, N.S. 13 (1982), pp. 103-29. See Gordon Schochet, Patriarchalism in Political Thought: The authoritarian family and political speculation and attitudes (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1975) for a consideration of the idea of contract in political relations, although not in socio-economic relations.

25 Thomas Nash, 'Pierce Penilesse: His Supplication to the Divell' (London, 1592), A2, C4, F3.

26 E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Ox-ford: Clarendon Press, 1923), vol. I, pp. 298-302; vol. II, pp. 355-6, 471; David Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion: Popular politics and culture in England, 1603-1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 56-7.

27 For the Nash-Harvey exchange, see Donald McGinn, Thomas Nashe (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981), pp. 104-51; for the war of the theatres, see Roscoe Small, The Stage Quarrel between Ben Jonson and the So-Called Poetasters (Breslau: M. & H. Marcus, 1899), pp. 101-14; and R. W. Ingram, John Marston (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978), pp. 43-54. For the exploration of the fluidity of social relations in the drama of the period, see Jean-Christophe Agnew, Worlds Apart: The market and the theatre in Anglo-American thought, 1550-1750 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), especially pp. 57-148; L.C. Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (London: Chatto and Windus, 1937); Manley, London in the Age of Shakespeare, pp. 75-81, 285-90; and Wayne, "Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson: an alternative view'. The date usually attributed to Marston's What You Will is 1601, one year before Twelfth Night, but this is just conjecture, as Philip Finkelpearl points out in John Marston of the Middle Temple (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969), pp. 162-3. Donne speaks of the disruption of traditional social bonds in 'An Anatomy of the World: The First Anniversary'.

28Cynthia's Revels, Or the Fountayne of self-love in Ben Jonson, eds. C.H. Herford and Percy Simpson, 11 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), vol. 4, pp. 1-183, V, iv, 643-6. On Jonson's analysis of what constitutes 'nobility,' see Don Wayne, Penshurst: The semiotics of place and the poetics of history (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), pp. 129-73.

29 I am not the first to entertain the notion that Malvolio may represent Jonson; John Hollander considers the possibility for reasons quite different from my own in his insightful and informative essay, 'Twelfth Night and the morality of indulgence', The Sewanee Review, 68 (1959), pp. 220-38. Hollander dismisses the possibility, but reminds us that Marston's What You Will 'devotes much effort to lampooning Jonson' (p. 238). See V, vii, 26-35 in Cynthia's Revels for the yellow colour of 'allowable self-love', which later turns up as Malvolio's stockings.

30 As Hollander points out, the Duke's name and na-ture are affirmed as equally 'noble' (I, ii, 25), but the name 'Orsino' suggests quite another character. Jean Howard offers a different interpretation of Shakespeare's treatment of Orsino in her article 'Crossdressing' (p. 432).

31 Antonio is also the character left without a clear social position at the end of the play, since Sebastian never explicitly claims him as his man, nor frees him from Orsino's indictment. The play's tentative sympathy for this homoerotic relationship cannot save it from an exclusion from the community produced at the end of the play and most literally from the social legitimacy of marital bonds. Like that of the other characters, the 'desire' of Antonio for Sebastian begins by flowing into the traditional bonds of master and servant; therefore accounts of its homoeroticism have to be historicised. Nevertheless, Antonio is left at the end of the play a 'masterless' man.

32 Emanuel Forde, The Famous History of Parismus (1578); The Novels of Matteo Bandello, trans. John Payne, 4 vols. (London: Villon Society, 1890), vol. 4, pp. 121-61 (part II, no. 28); Gl'Ingannati (1537), ed. and abridged T.L. Peacock (London: Chapman and Hall, 1862). See also the useful Morton Luce, ed., Rich's 'Apolonius and Silla ', An Original of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (New York: Duffield and Co., 1912), which discusses all the sources.

33 Manley, London in the Age of Shakespeare, pp. 75-81; Ruth Mohl, The Three Estates in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (New York: F. Ungar, 1962).

34 On changes in contract law, see David Little, Religion, Order and Law (New York: Harper & Row, 1969) pp. 204-5. On the Statute of Artificers and its relation to market influences, see F.J. Fisher, 'Commercial trends and policy in the sixteenth century', Economic History Review, 10 (1940), pp. 110-13; and Bernard Supple, Commercial Crisis and Change in England, 1600-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), p. 251. Martin Ingram comments on the implicit use of the family as a 'little commonwealth' in the Statute in Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 126. Ingram also describes the mediation between individual and family interests in the courts (pp. 200-5). Consent was nothing new to the marriage contract; there were in fact some efforts made during this period to increase family control over individual decisions; see Ingram, pp. 135-6. On the contrast between a status and a market society, see C.B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, Hobbes to Locke (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 46-70. Perkins described marriage as a 'seminary to church and commonwealth' in Christian Oeconomy, chapter 6. Also interesting on this subject is David Zaret, The Heavenly Contract: Ideology and organization in pre-revolutionary Puritanism (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1985), who comments that 'by modifying Calvinism with ideas about a heavenly contract, Puritan clerics provided greater scope for individual initiative in religion, but they channeled this initiative in ways that maintained their authority' (p. 129).

Douglas E. Green (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Violation: 'One Face, One Voice, One Habit, and Two Persons'," in Reconsidering the Renaissance: Papers from the Twenty-First Annual Conference, edited by Mario A. Di Cesare, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1992, pp. 327-38.

[In the following essay, Green discusses the portrayal of love and gender in Twelfth Night, maintaining that while the play exposes the narcissism and self-centeredness of masculine love, its ending—with Viola still costumed as Cesarioreinforces the idea that men are the only trustworthy objects of desire.]

However much we may argue about Shakespearean texts, we never doubt that they mean something—and they do, although not quite in the way the old introductory Shakespeare course descriptions once implied. Because "Shakespeare is," according to Alan Sinfield, "one of the places where ideology is made,"1 we have lately had a proliferation of multiply explicated Shakespeares, deconstructing and deconstructed Shakespeares, Marxist Shakespeares, psychoanalytic Shakespeares, new historicist Shakespeares, and feminist Shakespeares.2 In her book The Social Production of Art, the Marxist-feminist theorist Janet Wolff discusses the implications of this sort of "interpretation as recreation": "What is far more important than the fact that, as a literary critical exercise, we may attempt to recover an author's meaning, is the fact that this meaning is effectively dead. What an author intended, or even meant to his or her contemporary public and first readers, is only of interest insofar as that original meaning has historically informed the present reading of the text."3 For many Shakespeareans that is a par-ticularly bitter pill.4 But as much recent feminist and new historical criticism has shown, the various constructions of gender in Shakespeare's plays do not transcend their historical determinants.5 In connection with Twelfth Night, the kind of romantic comedy still admired for the pluck of its heroine, I shall suggest at least one of the dangers of persisting in the myth of a transcendent Shakespeare.

The construction of gender in Twelfth Night raises special issues for the modern reader or audience, which the mere insertion of women into roles originally written with boy-actors in mind does not eradicate, but further complicates. Stephen Greenblatt has recently argued that "licit sexuality in Twelfth Night—the only craving that the play can represent as capable of finding satisfaction—depends upon a [natural] movement that deviates from the desired object straight in one's path toward a marginal object, a body one scarcely knows." Thus, fortunately for Olivia and Viola, Sebastian and Orsino (or rather Antonio?), this deviating "nature is," according to Greenblatt, "an unbalancing act."6 But even if we endorse wholeheartedly Greenblatt's intertextual conjunction of Renaissance medical discourse and Twelfth Night's construction of gender and identity, we modern readers still face our own problematic transcription of the text's construction of gender: how do our diverse re-constitutions of the women's roles, usually without regard to the textual residue of the original mode of production, affect the representation of women on the stage, not to mention their place in the world? The question reminds us that, for feminist critics as well as others, interpretation has present, as well as past, historical and political import. In her provocative psychoanalytic account of gender and genre in Shakespeare, Linda Bamber has claimed that, even in the comedies, "insofar as the Self is within drama and human, it counts itself a member of the dominant social group," whereas "the feminine is Other to society's rules and regulations, to its hierarchies of power, and to the impersonality of its systems and sanctions."7 But if, as Luce Irigaray asserts, "any theory of the subject has always been appropriated by the 'masculine,'"8 then Shakespeare'sTwelfth Night, insofar as it aims to represent versions of woman as desiring subject, not only suggests anxiety about feminine identity and desire, but ultimately denies any Other consciousness at all—that is, any consciousness not constituted in masculine terms. Thus, unlike her literary cousin Rosalind, Viola never returns from boyhood to even the illusion of womanhood; instead she remains Cesario—a colony of that "little Caesar," the boy-actor inscribed in the text, sign of the masculine as prototype of subjectivity.

Twelfth Night essentially exiles all but traditionally deceptive and erratic images of women from the stage; the puckish Maria, weaver of Toby's beloved "device," is the rule, not the exception. Her deceptive letter to Malvolio replicates various postures and disguises of Olivia and Viola, but with a difference: it exposes the dangers of feminine wiles and desire, as do Maria's appeal to Sir Toby and her own attraction to him. On the one hand, as her handwriting indicates, Maria is her mistress's diminutive double; as such, she suggests problems with Olivia's rule over the house and indirectly implicates her mistress in the deception of Malvolio. Though her household seems to respect and even fear Olivia, the chaos of the subplot undermines the illusion of her governance. And since Maria uses her mistress's "being addicted to a melancholy" as part of the ruse,9 Olivia's own excesses are at least tangentially linked to Malvolio's cruelly comic imprisonment.

On the other hand, like Viola, Maria masquerades, albeit in the written word only. As in the obvious anagrammatic play among the names Viola, Olivia, and Malvolio, there is in Maria's writing a material illustration of the slipperiness of words that Viola and Feste note and employ in witty quibbles:

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.


Furthermore, like Viola but with greater impetus, Maria maneuvers her way into marriage through her clever deception. True, she uses a "device" (2.5.182), whereas Viola merely assumes a disguise. Still, the audience's sense of Viola's cleverness derives at least in part from her convincing masquerade; subliminally, Viola's clever deception belies her virginal innocence, which has to be reintroduced through the duel manque with Sir Andrew. Finally, the anti-romantic marriage between Maria and Toby exposes many of the artificial conventions of Twelfth Night's romantic main plot—both its chaotic courtships and its protean marital resolutions. Though I do not wish to overstate the importance of Maria, I do want to unmask the disguised implications of the sub-plot for issues of gender in the main.

Needless to say, the subplot's innuendoes hardly tell us everything we need to know about characters in the main plot; in particular, they seem to cast but a shadow of a doubt on Olivia, that remarkable characterization of a woman in love. Olivia recognizes and, unlike Orsino, takes responsibility for the swiftness and instability of her own passion and acknowledges that under its influence "ourselves we do not owe" (1.5.296). From her first encounter with Cesario, Olivia recognizes the pitfalls of the path down which she is headed: "I do not know what, and fear to find / Mine eye too great a flatterer for my mind" (312-13). In each successive encounter, she articulates her own precarious position as a female suitor and yet persists in her desires: "Under your hard construction must I sit, / To force that on you in a shameful cunning / Which you knew none of yours. What might you think?" (3.1.117-19). Like Viola, she submits to her fate as an unrequited lover (1.5.314-15); but, unlike the disguised female orphan and rather like Maria, she exercises her powers—feminine (she unveils her face [1.5.237]) and aristocratic (she arranges the betrothal [4.3] and later calls the priest as witness [5.1])—to get what she wants. Olivia is adept both at disguise and deferral—just why has she adopted that excessive posture of mourning that she so readily discards when the right love comes along?10 —and at assertive forthright action—her most effective commands to Toby and his cohorts occur when having mistaken the besieged Sebastian for Cesario, she defends her beloved: "Rudesby, be gone!" (4.1.50).

But repressed anxiety about such headstrong women surfaces in the text. Finally, Olivia's attraction to the gentlemanly but impoverished Cesario also indicates a desire to retain the kind of authority in marriage that union with Orsino, a social superior, precludes; as Sir Toby remarks, "She'll none o' the' Count; she'll not match above her degree, neither in estate, years, nor wit; I have heard her swear't" (1.3.106-8). Olivia's superior social standing seems to guarantee, if not an equal place in the marriage she wants (Sebastian does, after all, beat her kinsman [5.1.207]), at least a better place than most married women could hope for.11 As we shall see, though this nearer equality between husband and wife is offered as an ideal,12 the final scene casts some doubt on its extra-theatrical efficacy and, from the masculine perspective of one such as Orsino, even on its desirability.

The debate between Viola and Orsino addresses the issue of difference between feminine and masculine desire. As a lover, Orsino claims at times an imaginative capaciousness and mutability as great as the "sea" (1.1.9-15; 2.4.101-2), an image whose feminine associations many critics have noted.13 If Olivia has to adopt the uncharacteristic role of female suitor, Orsino often speaks of being in love as a feminine disposition: "Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, / More longing, wavering sooner lost and worn / Than women's are" (2.4.33-35). By universalizing aspects of the love experience traditionally associated with one or the other gender, Shakespeare seems to eradicate the difference between men and women in love. What Viola, in a moment of solitary candor, says of the smitten Olivia applies equally to the masculine fancy of Orsino: "How easy it is for the proper false / In women's waxen hearts to set their forms!" (2.2.28-29). In this instance, both man and woman are erratic, unstable, unpredictable—in other words, conventionally feminine.

But Viola's remark is only half the story; it belies her later claim, in the person of Cesario, that women "are as true of heart as we [men]" (2.4.105). Though the play suggests that men in love are as erratic as women—we should note that Orsino, like many another Renaissance misogynist, considers fickleness essential to women whether or not they are in love—Shakespeare is also claiming in turn that women can be as faithful as men: "She [Cesario's fictive sister] sat like Patience on a monument, / Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?" (2.4.115-16). By conjuring up the Patient Griselda—that feminine prototype of steadfastness—Viola-Cesario and Shakespeare undercut the masculinist sentiments of Orsino.14 In this way, virtue in love is extended to women; love's transforming power is made universal. The fact that the contradictory statements about women's faith and fickleness in comparison to men's come from the girl-boy Viola-Cesario helps to create the illusion that, at least in matters of the heart, men and women are more or less on an equal footing. Through the boy-actor masquerading as a woman imitating a man, Shakespeare attempts to erase sexual difference: "I am all the daughters of my father's house, / And all the brothers too" (2.4.121-22).

But because this illusion of universality requires the skills of a boy-actor, the mode of production itself accords the masculine a peculiar privilege. Here we see a very basic sense in which "any theory of the subject has always been appropriated by the 'masculine'"; in this Elizabethan script, subjective experience is constituted in masculine terms by men.15 Thus, afflicted with his own version of Malvolio's self-love, Orsino too claims the "trick of singularity" in love (2.5.151), by defining himself as lover in the very manner that men in patriarchal society have defined themselves, the self, and subjectivity itself—as not feminine.16 Indeed, in the key exchange with Cesario, cited earlier, Orsino predicates the depth of his desire and his very being on his difference from the woman, the mere object of desire.17 In contrast to Olivia's, Orsino's passion makes him more himself: "Make no compare / Between that love a woman can bear me / And that I owe Olivia" (2.4.100-102).

Of course, it is not quite so simple; as we have seen, Orsino likes to have it both ways. Even his appropriation of the oceanic capacity of the feminine exposes the extent to which this "man is the measure of all things," including femininity. There is no lack of self-possession here, but a fruitless attempt to possess or appropriate all through the imaginative capacity (often for roleplaying or at least posturing) that love occasions. Unfortunately for Orsino, who seems to believe his protestations at least as much as he presumably believes that Olivia is the only socially suitable match in town (5.1.110 ff.), his love's fancy does not extend much beyond the Petrarchan conceits and conventional courtly attitudes of the masculine, lover.18 Moreover, since Orsino's various declarations, unlike Olivia's or for that matter Viola's, are made in absentia and in isolation or in company supposedly of his own sex, they underscore masculine self-absorption and self-affirmation in love.19

Certainly, given Orsino's rather sudden change of heart at the end, Viola's comment on women's being "as true of heart as we [men]" (2.4.105) suggests the instability of all desiring subjects, masculine as well as feminine. But it is through the image of woman that Shakespeare figures this lack of control, as we see in Orsino's long-awaited confrontation with Olivia in the final scene. Only when he has been repeatedly and undeniably thwarted, does he come in person and then prove the depth of his unrequited love by the will to murder—not the unfaithful woman herself but the object of ostensibly feminine desire: "But this your minion, whom I know you love, / And whom, by heaven, I swear I tender dearly, / Him will I tear out of that cruel eye / Where he sits crowned in his master's spite" (5.1.123-26). Orsino's violent verbal attack on Olivia and his threat against Cesario reveal almost as much as the play's omission of Cesario's transformation back into Viola. Most obviously, they cast all responsibility for his troubles on women, actual or disguised. They expose, furthermore, what Coppélia Kahn calls "his fear of losing himself in passion." That fear—particularly masculine, as I see it—is underscored by the threat against Cesario, the annihilation of Orsino's own ambiguous object of desire; Orsino unmasks once again his need to "defend against Eros as a threat to the integrity and stability of the self."20 Whereas Olivia hauls forth a priest to declare and ratify the love relation she wants (a marital one both we and undoubtedly Queen Elizabeth might question),21 Orsino's anti-social behavior, which culminates in the threat of violence against the boy-girl he loves, exposes masculine paranoia about the loss of self in love and about the indefinition of his own desire. Indeed, the indeterminacy of his own desire is suggested by Cesario (the boy playing a girl playing a boy), the target standing in for Olivia—who by the way is also played by a boy. Though the play certainly exposes many of the inconsistencies and contradictions of masculine love like Orsino's, the Shakespearean solution, the play's resolution, is nonetheless problematic, especially from a modern perspective.

The problems derive in large part from the comedy's mode of production; the boy-actor who plays Viola-Cesario remains a boy even after Orsino has declared his "share in this most happy wrack" (5.1.258). I cannot quite agree with Coppélia Kahn about "what Viola herself never forgets: that no matter how the duke and countess see her, she is not androgynous but irreducibly a woman."22 In fact, Viola's witty disclaimer—"a little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man" (3.4.307-9)—is a two-edged sword, not only undercutting the female character's masculine bravado but also underscoring the boy-actor's irreducible, or at least incipient, manhood.23 Though Orsino seems to deny it in his last lines, he finds his "mistress and his fancy's queen" in the boy Cesario, and not in Viola (5.1.377)—at least in terms of the visual tableau, a fact somewhat obscured in Phyllis Rackin's excellent article.24 The theatrical presence of the boy-actor as a boy manifests what, in The Daughter's Seduction, Jane Gallop calls "homosexuality" or the "sexuality of sames"—precisely the effect that Lisa Jardine claims the boy-players generally evoked, according to Renaissance commentators, both homophobic and otherwise.25 The dramatic resolution of the sexual play and the sexual tensions belies any acceptance of an Other by Orsino; it still relies on what Peter Erickson sees in As You Like It as the "security of male bodies mirroring and confirming a common physical identity."26 Oddly enough, by having Orsino accept his lover untransformed (in some ways a radical move compared to As You Like It's conservative ritualism and mystification of marriage),27 Shakespeare replicates the very narcissism and self-absorption of masculine love that the play supposedly unmasks. In this sense, the self-expulsion of the ill-willed, vengeful, self-loving Malvolio is the text's greatest deception.

Furthermore, Erickson's claim that the comedies' narcissistic mirroring "depends precisely on relief from the specifically genital demand associated with the opposite sex" is especially applicable to Twelfth Night, where the appearance of Viola's male twin Sebastian underscores the all-male mode of production.28 Ac-cording to Kahn, "In Twelfth Night . . . the twin and other doubles function at first as projections of emotional obstacles to identity and then, in Viola and Sebastian, as the fulfillment of a wish for a way around the obstacles."29 But the all-male Elizabethan production and its textual inscription in Orsino's remarks—that in Cesario "all is semblative a woman's part" (1.5.34) and that only "other habits" make the woman (5.1.386)—complicate the fulfillment of Viola's, the play's, and the critic-reader's wish that "imagination . . . prove true" (3.4.384). As Phyllis Rackin explains, "without the illusion (Viola's disguise as a boy), the right characters would not have fallen in love; without the reality, they could not have married. In the figure of Sebastian, gender and sex correspond, both within the play world and between the play and the audience."30 Sebastian apparently re-solves the play's problems because in him theatrical and actual sexual identity are one and the same; for the same reason, I maintain, the object of Orsino's transferred affections never transforms himself from Cesario back to that theatrical illusion—the girl Viola. Even though the transformation only requires the boy-actor's resumption of his "woman's weeds" (5.1.271), there is in a meta-dramatic sense more truth in the undisguised Viola's remaining Cesario, in her showing herself—like Sebastian, but in another way—both "maid and man" (5.1.261).

The uneasy Renaissance conflation of two "contradictory accounts of the origin of gender" that Greenblatt outlines in his discussion of the play may underlie some of the "slippage" in identities. In one version, the domination of male or female seed determines identity; "a double nature becomes single." In the other theory, "the unitary genital structure," conceived as essentially male, "divides into two distinct forms, internal [female] and external [male]"; "a single nature becomes double."31 But how do we explain the rela-tive values the play assigns to and by gender? Along with Malvolio's accusations of "Notorious wrong" by Olivia (5.1.327-28), who is at the end the one theatrically disguised boy remaining on stage, the image of Orsino with Cesario corroborates the traditional privilege the text accords to masculinity, as well as its imputation of duplicity to femininity. The bias of the text in this case is not nature's "bias" (5.1.258), but the culture's—akin to men's age-old wish for a singlesex utopia, a world without women.32 The minor Sebastian-Antonio plot exposes this sub-text. Antonio's homoerotic infatuation with Sebastian, his "willing love" (3.3.11), is an unmasked version of Orsino's attraction to Cesario and, again, given the mode of production, even of the relationship between Sebastian and Olivia. In fact, it brings to the fore the all-male mode of production. When Antonio mistakes Viola-Cesario for the adored Sebastian, the error involves an indictment not only of beauty without virtue, but also of the disjunction between exterior and interior—in other words, of Viola's masquerade as "unkind" or unnatural: "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" (3.4.375-77, 377n). Is it an accident that Antonio directs his accusations at a female character, who has already acknowledged her disguise "a wickedness" and herself a "monster"?33

The moment recalls Viola's own words to the Captain in act 1, words that conjure up the traditional masculine suspicion of feminine beauty: "There is a fair behaviour in thee, Captain; / 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" (1.3.47-51). Indeed, the proof that Viola is a virtuous woman, that she is worthy to be loved, and that she is everything she claims and seems to be requires not only her reunion with the brother she imitates to the life (3.4.389-93), but also her conforming to the masculine standards of truth reiterated by Antonio—an absolute correspondence between interior and exterior, spirit and body, even word and thing. Is it then an accident that Antonio, whose very presence exposes the inability of the theatrical illusion to achieve such a correspondence, "is left out in the cold," displaced by a second boy-actor masquerading as a woman, the Lady Olivia, without any authority calling to "entreat him to a peace" (5.1.379; emphasis mine)?34 The ulti-mate corroboration of social order and expectations through the mediation of laws conceived as natural or providential makes this text's intersection with our own culture a problematic one. Though the "pleasure" of the play is less concerned with "truth of identity" than the "titillation" aroused by the "dangers that follow from the disruption of sexual difference,"35 this com-edy also closes down the possibilities implicit in Viola-Cesario's admission of sexual indeterminacy—"I am not what I am" (3.1.143)—and in Antonio's undisguised and unresolved homoerotic attraction.

Why then has Shakespeare refused to return to the initial illusion in which boy plays girl, the illusion that corroborates the traditional social union of male and female in marriage? I propose that, although other Shakespearean comedies may also manifest uneasiness toward their feisty heroines, Twelfth Night exiles its heroine—perhaps more thoroughly than it exiles Malvolio himself. Herein lies the danger of a supposedly transcendant Shakespeare, and herein lies as well the problem for the modern reader (or viewer or performer), who wishes to avoid complicity in this text's "bias." Ultimately there is not even the pretense of a sovereign female consciousness. Viola remains in masculine guise because that is the sign of her truth; Orsino can trust her only insofar as she is "masculine." Indeed, in the end, we realize that the play's model for true love is not heterosexual, but rather "homosexual" in Gallop's sense—the love of Antonio for Sebastian and, by a comforting displacement, of Orsino for Cesario nee Viola. In contrast to the androgynous epilogue of As You Like It, the last of Shakespeare's high comedies elevates the heroine by eradicating her, by letting her be absorbed into the masculine; for as Viola herself says, and as the play's dramatic illusion underscores, women "die, even as they to perfection grow" (2.4.40).


1 Alan Sinfield, "Introduction: Reproductions, Interventions," in Political Shakespeare, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), 132.

2 See the excellent bibliographies—and commentar-ies—in Edward Pechter's "The New Historicism and Its Discontents: Politicizing Renaissance Drama," PMLA 102 (1987): 292-303, and in Phyllis Rackin's "Androgyny, Mimesis, and the Marriage of the Boy Heroine on the English Renaissance Stage," PMLA 102 (1987): 29-41.

3 Janet Wolff, The Social Production of Art (New York:New York Univ. Press, 1984), 95, 102.

4 See Pechter, passim.

5 See, for instance, Lisa Jardine's Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (New Jersey: Barnes and Noble, 1983); Leah Marcus's "Shakespeare's Comic Heroines, Elizabeth I, and the Political Uses of Androgyny," in Women in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. Mary Beth Rose (Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1986), 135-53; and such essays by Adrian Louis Montrose as "A Midsummer Night's Dream and the Shaping Fantasies of Elizabethan Culture: Gender, Power, Form," in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 1986), 65-87, 329-34, and "'The Place of a Brother' in As You Like It: Social Process and Comic Form," Shakespeare Quarterly 32 (1981): 28-54. Jean Howard's excellent article "Crossdressing, the Theater, and Gender Struggle in Early Modern England," Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 418-40, an early version of which was delivered at the 1987 CEMERS conference, rigorously discusses from a feminist-historicist perspective several issues addressed here.

6 Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1988), 68. Not long after I had presented the original version of this paper at the CEMERS conference (October 1987), Greenblatt's controversial essay on "Fiction and Friction" appeared in the foregoing collection of essays (66-93, 175-84) and has since become the center of a debate among feminist and new historical critics of Twelfth Night, not least for the authority it grants Renaissance medical discourse on gender and for the effect its general acceptance might have on political and, in particular, feminist criticism. (See, for instance, Jean Howard, 422-23.) Therefore, since I am addressing concerns relevant to the current debate, it seems appropriate to note some points of agreement and disagreement between Greenblatt's views and mine.

7 Linda Bamber, Comic Women, Tragic Men (Stanford:Stanford Univ. Press, 1982), 27-28.

8 Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), 133.

9 William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, ed. J. M. Lothian and T. W. Craik, Arden Edition (London: Methuen, 1975), 2.5.202-3 (p. 73). All further references to this work appear in the text.

10 For an answer to the question, see Coppélia Kahn's "The Providential Tempest and the Shakespearean Family," in Representing Shakespeare: New Psychoanalytic Essays, ed. Murray M. Schwartz and Coppélia Kahn (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980), 226.

11 Marilyn L. Williamson, The Patriarchy of Shakespeare's Comedies (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1986), 38-41.

12 Marianne L. Novy discusses this view in Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1984), 32-44.

13 E.g., Kahn, 225.

14 For the reference to Patient Griselda and further implications of this image, see Catherine Belsey's "Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies," in Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis (New York: Methuen, 1985), 186-87.

15 Notable among the treatments of masculine appro-priation are such diverse ones as those by Peter Erickson in Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare 's Drama (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1985), 1-13; by Lisa Jardine, 9-36; by Phyllis Rackin, 31-32; and by Linda Woodbridge in Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1984), 152-56.

16 Greenblatt notes that "if a crucial step in male individuation is separation from the female, this separation is enacted inversely in the rites of crossdressing; characters like Rosalind and Viola pass through the state of being men in order to become women. Shakespearean women are in this sense the representation of Shakespearean men, the projected mirror images of masculine self-differentiation" (92). But when is Viola seen as a woman again? Whereas she remains Cesario, the boy-actor has undergone the passage through femininity to masculinity—and in this case, he never closes the circle by re-appearing in female guise. At the end of Twelfth Night the boy-actor remains true to himself; indeed, even in developing the heroine, the text manifests an unconscious association between individuation and maleness.

17 Relevant to this point is Toril Moi's discussion of Kristevan "positionality" in Sexual / Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (New York: Methuen, 1985), 166-67.

18 Williamson, 35.

19 Kahn, 226-27.

20 Ibid.

21 On the issue of Elizabeth and marriage, see Marcus,passim, as well as Greenblatt, 68-69.

22 Kahn, 228.

23 In contrast, Rackin notes the boy-player's economic dependency, an extra-dramatic extension of the feminine role, which underscores the indeterminacy of the boy-heroine both on and off the stage (33).

24 Rackin, 38.

25 On "homosexuality" in this sense, see Jane Gallop's "Impertinent Questions," in Psychoanalysis and Feminism: The Daughter's Seduction (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1982), 80-91, especially 84. On the matter of the erotic effect of the boy-players, see Lisa Jardine's provocative argument (9-36).

26 Peter Erickson, 5.

27 Regarding the ending of As You Like It and that play's quite different construction of gender, see my article on "The 'Unexpressive She': Is There Really a Rosalind?," Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 2, no. 2 (1988): 41-52.

28 Peter Erickson, 5. Erickson's insightful comments have meta-dramatic significance that he suggests but often does not discuss in detail.

29 Kahn,225.

30 Rackin, 38.

31 Greenblatt, 84.

32 See Greenblatt's explanation of the "metaphor from the game of bowls" and nature's bias; heterosexuality is conceived as a normal, "happy swerving" (68). Greenblatt's argument is fascinating, and the pattern he describes does indeed resemble the plot of a Shakespearean comedy (86). But unlike Greenblatt I would argue that, however problematic the Renaissance accounts of gender, the valuation of the genders is less so; at the very least the second theory of gender—with its play upon the male organ, the latter's inward or outward, hidden or open, disposition—is less ambiguous about the primacy of male nature and hence of masculinity. Indeed, if one combines this view of sexuality with Viola's and Antonio's talk about truth, the correspondence between interior and exterior, one finds that women are never quite themselves. Twelfth Night, as well as the context that gave rise to it, tends to promote the truth that shows itself—in Sebastian and in Viola-Cesario, emblem of the theater of boys and men that represents the world of women and men. For a provocative historicist reading that differs from Greenblatt's, see Howard, 430-33.

33 Rackin, 37.

34 Greenblatt notes that, though Renaissance church and state sanctioned only the heterosexual consummation of desire, "it did not follow that desire was inherently heterosexual. The delicious confusions of Twelfth Night depend on the mobility of desire. And if poor Antonio is left out in the cold, Orsino does in a sense get his Cesario" (93). But though Greenblatt mentions also the way in which the all-male cast of Shakespeare's theater embodies a double-sided Renaissance view of gender, he eschews the implications, for us, of the inscription in the text of this mode of production and this construction of gender. What values are inherent in these "delicious confusions," this "set of exchanges and transformations"? To formulate the matter at its most extreme, do the play's exile of the explicitly homosexual and the enforced masquerade of woman within marriage (or, in another sense, the absence of women altogether) recommend themselves, as immediately and unequivocally as Greenblatt implies, to the modern reader? What does it mean to accept Greenblatt's brilliant "corollary" theory about the play—"that men love women precisely as representations, a love the original performances of these plays literalized in the person of the boy actor" (93)? Pleasurable, "delicious confusions" perhaps—but not neutral ones, not ones without present ideological efficacy, given the place of Shakespeare in our culture.

35 Belsey, 185.

Irene G. Dash (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: "Challenging Conventions: Twelfth Night" in Women's Worlds in Shakespeare's Plays, University of Delaware Press, 1997, pp. 211-44.

[In the essay below, Dash stresses the similarities between Viola and Olivia as young, single, upper-class women who, for a brief period, challenge patriarchal restraints on female independence. She also calls attention to the textual alternations put in place by generations of theatrical directors which have minimized the difficulties Viola and Olivia face as they try to resolve the tension between erotic desire and the norms of society.]

"But if she cannot love you, sir?" "I cannot be so answer'd."


Endowed with wealth, their lives graced by neither fathers, brothers, husbands, nor lovers, the two major women characters of Twelfth Night briefly challenge patterns of patriarchy. Not revolutionaries, but merely young women grasping at suddenly available freedom, each would taste independence in her own way. One retreats behind the garb of mourning for her dead brother while the other, also turning to her supposedly dead brother—her twin—for support, retreats into his persona, adopting his clothes and his pose. Although at the play's end, neither woman achieves her goal, defeated by contemporary conventions surrounding love and matrimony, the dramatist, here, raises questions about women, wealth, power, and conformity, and teases his audience with contradictory evidence.

Shakespeare takes the contemporary debate about women's attire, for example, holds it lightly in his hand, turns it like a multifaceted prism, reflecting and refracting the light, then puts it down, revealing the larger issue that it illuminates: women's independence.1 With humor and insight, he asks how impor-tant is conformity in dress in defining an acceptable woman? Is the woman in breeches really a monster as some of the tracts of the period proclaim because the blurring of fashion could lead to "confusion . . . something that can't be accommodated, a monster" (Shepherd, 1-2)? Or is she related to the tradition of the warrior woman who, like Britomart in Spenser's Faerie Queene, fights for virtuous ends (Shepherd, 67)? Denying these extremes and laughing at the debate, the dramatist offers another answer in Twelfth Night. In the mode of the modern social scientist, he presents a case and a control, revealing that whether dressed in her own garments—those proper to her sex—or in the borrowed clothes of the other sex, a single woman when young and wealthy faces problems in a patriarchal society, especially if she dares to fall in love and opt for marriage.

Although the play's two major women characters, Viola and Olivia, often have been presented on stage as exact opposites because one wears skirts, the other, breeches, the dramatist has carefully sculpted their roles as parallels—not the wealthy, self-confident, or arrogant Countess in skirts compared with the poor, clever, girl-disguised-as-a-page in breeches, but two bright, literate, young women, each with a sense of herself, each in her own way trying to cope, and each believing she has power. Economic independence and the absence of male authority figures in their families seem to promise self-sovereignty. The play explores the options each woman chooses, the resulting interaction between the two women, and the impact of sexual drives and patriarchal mores on their lives.

And here their difference in attire leads the women into unexpected situations and deflects them on their road to freedom. Disguised as the youth Cesario, Viola wins the heart of the independent Olivia but also, in this disguise, loses her heart to the Duke Orsino. Clothes, rather than freeing her, confine her to silence. In contrast, the woman in skirts forthrightly expresses her desire, overtly pursuing the "youth" Cesario.

As a result, Olivia suffers both in criticism and staging. Since patriarchal values favor the compliant woman over the aggressive one, Viola's breeches, ironically, appear far less threatening than Olivia's decision-making and husband-wooing. By endowing the young women with so many similar attributes with the potential for independence, the dramatist not only explores the limits on that independence for women, but also illuminates what is acceptable and unacceptable in women's behavior.

Even in the twentieth century, acceptable behavior for a young woman has been linked with her loss of independence. According to Simone de Beauvoir, women's "erotic urges" in a male-dominated society cause the problem. She writes of the decision women reach at maturity after having struggled during adolescence with the choice between self as primary and self as "Other." Using the term subject to refer to a person's perception of herself as central, or primary, de Beauvoir writes: "For the young woman, . . . there is a contradiction. . . . A conflict breaks out between her original claim to be subject, active, free," and the pressure of "her erotic urges" which dictates that she "accept herself as passive object" (314).2 In Twelfth Night Shakespeare lightly dramatizes the shift in goals for both women. Because this is a comedy, the painfulness of the dilemma is not stressed as it is, for example, in a tragedy such as Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet has not yet recognized the necessity to "accept herself as passive object" and struggles to retain her self-sovereignty even while expressing her "erotic urges."3 Here, in the comedy, Viola says merely, "O time, thou must untangle this, not I, / It is too hard a knot for me t' untie" (II.ii.40-41). But the dramatist's choice of opposite-sex twins, the weakness of Viola's argument for donning disguise, the basic social equality between the two women, and the subsequent hasty desire of each to discard the protective pose she has chosen suggest the applicability of de Beauvoir's comment.

The difference, however, in the ways the two women react to their "erotic urges" explains their "acceptability" in the eyes of critics, directors, and audiences. Unlike Viola, Olivia refuses to perceive herself as "Other," seeking instead to solve her problems by aggressively taking charge. After having claimed fealty to her dead brother's memory and adopting a vow of seven years of mourning, a period meant to discourage all the suitors who do not appeal to her, she then changes her mind about marriage when an attractive young "male" arrives at her door. Still retaining that sense of self as "subject, active, free," she nevertheless pursues Cesario, the disguised Viola. Thus in some ways, Olivia resembles Helena of All's Well That Ends Well But Shakespeare has not only endowed Olivia with freedom, wealth, and power, he has also created an alternative double to her in Viola. Unlike Viola, however, Olivia refuses to leave everything for time "to untangle." Thus, while partially illustrating de Beauvoir's thesis—of the effect of "erotic urges" on women's decision-making—Olivia fails to conform to the properly acceptable behavior for a woman.

Behavior is ultimately more important for society than appearance: the debate on women's dress withers before that larger issue of woman's forwardness. Stage productions and criticism of Twelfth Night attack Olivia's violation of conformity in a variety of ways. First, they blur or ignore the many similarities between the women, magnifying Viola's role as a servant, and excising lines indicating her wealth and class. Thus, she becomes the "poor servant girl" as contrasted with the wealthy, aggressive Countess. In criticism, a blatant example of bias appears in William Winter's introduction to Augustin Daly's large souvenir promptbook of the 1893 production of the play. Winter writes that "Viola is Shakespeare's ideal of the patient idolatry and devoted, silent self-sacrifice of perfect love" (5). In contrast, Olivia draws the following comment:

The poet has emphasized his meaning, furthermore, by the expedient of contrast between the two women. Olivia—self-absorbed, ostentatious in her mourning, acquisitive and voracious in her love, self-willed in her conduct, conventional in her character, physically very beautiful but spiritually insignificant—while she is precisely the sort of woman for whom men go wild, serves but to throw the immeasurable superiority of Viola into stronger relief.


This hardly defines the Olivia whom we meet in the play—the young woman who graciously speaks of Orsino's virtues although she "cannot love him" (I.V.257); who good-naturedly accepts the criticism of her fool; and who even apologizes to the disguised Viola.

Although extreme in its language, Winter's reaction is not isolated. It had both predecessors and successors. Mrs. Inchbald's edition (1808), for example, faults Olivia for another aspect of her behavior, citing the "impudence of women in placing their affections, their happiness, on men younger than themselves" (4). For Inchbald the text itself warns against this in the Duke's words to Viola:

Let stil the woman take An elder than herself; so wears she to him So sways she level in her husband's heart, & C


Unfortunately, the editor lifts the speech out of context—a humorous context. The lines occur during a conversation between Duke Orsino and Cesario. Attempting to express herself as a man, Viola describes the person she loves (the Duke) as one "About your years, my lord" (II.iv.28). This leads to his swift reply that Cesario should choose a woman younger than "himself." The humor of the exchange is apparently lost on the indignant editor who even censures Olivia's treatment of her glum steward, the egocentric, puritanical Malvolio. He, like the Duke, has dreams of marrying her. Misreading his role in the play, Inchbald recommends him:

It might nevertheless be asked by a partizan (sic) of Malvolio's, whether this credulous steward was much deceived, in imputing a degraded taste, in the sentiments of love, to his fair Lady Olivia as she actually did fall in love with a domestic; and one who, from his extreme youth, was perhaps a greater reproach to her discretion, than had she cast a tender regard upon her old and faithful servant.


Prejudice against a strong woman who fails to conform to accepted societal patterns leads the editor astray. She forgets that Cesario is not a youthful domestic but a young woman whose background very much resembles Olivia's, as the dramatist subtly informs us.

Using a sophisticated theatrical methodology, Shakespeare introduces each woman in a different way—playing upon potential audience bias even while revealing the similarities between the women. Shipwrecked in a foreign land, Viola strides ashore, speaks in her own voice, paints a picture of her misfortunes, and quickly decides how to deal with them. During her first appearance, in scene 2, she also reveals her background. In contrast, hearsay precedes Olivia's entrance. In scene after scene a variety of characters evaluate her decision to mourn her brother's death for seven years. Some of these characters also raise questions about the proper behavior for a young countess. Through this technique, the dramatist employs a series of incomplete vignettes by others to suggest the obstacles confronting her.

Critics and actor-managers—or directors—often fall into the trap. They accept the hearsay about Olivia then find the lovesick Duke Orsino—whom we meet in the opening scene—just as irrational as the woman he so passionately wants to marry but who emphatically rejects him. Herschel Baker, for example, calls them "a pair of high-born lovers [who] indulge a set of attitudes untested by experience" (xxiv) and writes of "Orsino's egomania" and "Olivia's silly posture of bereavement" (xxx). Geoffrey Bullough, too, observes that "by the end of the first scene we know by Olivia's oath to spend seven years grieving indoors that she is akin to [the Duke] in sensibility" (2:278). Actually, we never see Olivia weeping or miserable; the closest she comes to discussing her mourning is in her opening scene when her clown berates her, and she responds by commending his cleverness. Hearsay, primarily, reveals her "silly posture of bereavement." On the other hand, Orsino exhibits his foolishness through his own actions and words in the play's opening scene although many of his lines are frequently cut from productions to make him seem less silly.4

That opening scene appears to have a purpose—to establish the world of Illyria, a mythic, ancient, unavailable world. Again we witness the dramatist's skill. For while he offers realistic reasons to suggest the kinds of options available to women who might freely move in society as equals of men, he quickly withdraws those options by creating this world. Though not inhabited by otherworldly creatures, this land of Illyria derives its magic from the sequential arrangement of scenes, keynoted by Orsino at the start. Unlike Hippolyta and Theseus, who provide a frame through which we, the audience, move into the enchanted wood on a midsummer's night, or the weird sisters who set the mood for Macbeth, here the lovesick Duke sets the distinctive tone and establishes the particularities of place.

The opening scene not only immerses us in that unrecognizable and slightly skewed world of Illyria but also provides the first glimpse of Olivia through the eyes of the Duke. In love with love as well as the Countess, he seeks solace in music. "That strain again," the Duke commands, noting, "it had a dying fall" (I.i.4). And then abruptly, three lines later, "Enough, no more, / 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before" (7-8). He stops the instrumentalist then continues, his lines a mockery of the Petrarchan sonneteer's lyric to his love. Although the comedy later ranges between low, raucous farce and sophisticated verbal jousting, this opening scene carries the audience to that mythical land where both women seek to understand the meaning of freedom.

Recounting how he lost his heart, including a pun on the word hart, the Duke speaks in labored metaphors.5 Languishing in adoration of Olivia, he offers a por->trait of the lover according to the most exaggerated sonnet conventions:

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, And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, E'er since pursue me.


Poor Orsino, transformed into a hart, has been pursued by his desires. Enhancing the otherworldly quality of this scene, Shakespeare dubs the courier "Valentine." He, too, contributes to the portrait of Olivia by admitting his failure to deliver Orsino's message. Denied an audience, Valentine reports on Olivia:

The element itself, till seven years' heat, Shall not behold her face at ample view;


Since the message was conveyed by Olivia's "handmaid," whom we later discover to be Maria, a woman with a tendency to trickery and a love of giving instructions, we cannot be certain whether Valentine's language and delivery characterize the speech patterns in Illyria, or whether they belong specifically to Valentine, Maria, or Olivia. The message has been sifted through two messengers; thus we are twice-removed from Olivia. Valentine continues his report:

. . . like a cloistress she will veiled walk, And water once a day her chamber round With eye-offending brine;


Once again an overblown metaphor colors the speech as the reporter describes a woman constantly weeping, a condition never to be witnessed by the audience. Shakespeare has begun the portrait that he will develop in each succeeding scene. Here, indeed, we might agree with Baker's evaluation, until we meet the young Countess.

In this dual portrait—of Orsino as well as Olivia—our sympathies hardly go out to the fatuous Duke even while we wonder what sort of woman would make such a vow. Shakespeare's audience may have recognized the satire on the Renaissance courtier—as we do not; however, Orsino's method of wooing proved as unconvincing to the young Countess as it does to us today. As for her seven-year vow, while it seems an extreme measure, it certainly should have discouraged this persistent wooer. Like the women of Love's Labour's Lost and Queen Elizabeth herself, Olivia chooses to postpone marriage. Unlike the women of the earlier play, whose one-year wait may imply later acceptance, Olivia's drastic seven-year postponement should prove sufficiently discouraging to send all her suitors elsewhere.

Ironically, at this early moment in the play, Orsino admires her decision even while wondering how she will respond when she does fall in love:

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 kill'd the flock of all affections else That live in her.


Despite the awkwardness of this metaphor, as critics have noted, Orsino's shaft hits the mark. Olivia will soon offer love, gifts, and marriage to Viola disguised as the Duke's page, Cesario.

Lyrical, musical, with a touch of melancholy as well as humor, this first scene, with its shimmering surface, quickly dissolves before the next in which we hear the simplicity and directness of Viola's language. Differing in style and tone from Orsino, she tramps ashore and immediately questions the sea captain who has rescued her from shipwreck: "What country, friends, is this?" (I.ii.l) "This is Illyria, lady" (2), he replies. This is the land where she is unknown, where the Duke Orsino rules, and the young Countess Olivia rejects his advances. This is the land where Viola, herself, will seek new identity. In language revealing her skill with words and sensitivity to puns, she continues: "And what should I do in Illyria? / My brother he is in Elysium" (3-4). Even while she captures the resonances in language between "Illyria" and "Elysium"—between life and death—she attempts to sum up her own situation at this moment. We may be in the distant land of Illyria, but we are listening to a realistic young woman with practical wisdom, an ear for words, and a sense of the ludicrous in contrasting Illyria with Elysium.

This short exchange reveals a good deal about her: her concern for her brother, her obvious upper-class background and education through her reference to "Elysium," and her positive attitude: "Perchance he is not drown'd—what think you, sailors?" (5). In five lines, she poses three questions. And when the captain suggests that her brother may also have survived—tied "To a strong mast that liv'd upon the sea," (11-14)—Viola answers with the directness already evident:

For saying so, there's gold. (18)

This first impetuous offer of gold springs from her reaction to his words of hope. She will reward his reassurance with money, a learned pattern, indicating her upper-class background. Later, a second, more considered promise grows from her resolve to conceal her true, female identity and pose as a eunuch. "I'll pay thee bounteously" (52), she vows.

Viola's social status emerges again when, in seeking to convince the captain to recommend her (in her disguise) to the Duke, she lists her musical skills.

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


Critics have noted that she never does sing in the play. They therefore cite this as one of the many inconsistencies that tend to thwart audience expectations. M. M. Mahood writes in an otherwise perceptive analysis: "A further puzzle created by the second scene is that it leads us to expect Viola will sing to the Duke, but she never does so" (17). Nor is Mahood alone. Others, including W. W. Greg in his bibliographical and textual study The Shakespeare First Folio, had earlier seemed to establish this expectation as a fact:

It is almost certain from the insistence on Viola's musical accomplishments at I.ii.57-58 that she was meant to be a singer, and from the awkward opening of II.iv that the song "Come away, come away death" has been transferred from her to Feste.


More likely the insistence on musical training was meant to strengthen her class identification. As Warnicke points out, at this time upper-class young women frequently received a limited musical education (117 and passim). Nor would such an education qualify Viola as a professional—the role of Feste in this play. Rather she is providing one of her several "job qualifications" even if she does not use them once she is employed.

Scene 2 must be understood as Shakespeare's swift, frank introduction of Viola—one that will not be repeated. Rather than anticipating specific later actions, it sketches in her upper-class background. Not only her offers of money and reference to Elysium, but her indication of a musical education, would have been familiar clues to contemporary audiences. In addition, despite its ambiguity, her quick response to the captain's mention of Orsino, "I have heard my father name him" (I.ii.28), followed by the delightful specific, "He was a bachelor then" (29)—leading audiences to believe that the Duke and her father knew one another (never actually confirmed in the text)—seems to reinforce the class connection.6 Not until the play's closing moments does she refer to her earlier life again, except in momentary lapses, such as her lines:

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

(II.iv. 107-9)

Or it surfaces in her boast of her parentage to Olivia: "Above my fortunes, yet my state is well: / I am a gentleman" (I.v.278-79). In that instance, however, the gender shift masks her identity. But at this point in the play, scene 2 prepares the audience for the combat of wits that will ensue between the two women of similar backgrounds when they finally confront one another three scenes later.

Yet societal values and accepted stereotypes about women blur those similarities and stress the women's differences. As I pointed out earlier, hostility to the young woman who would defy conventions creeps into the criticism just as sympathy for Viola, who suffers in silence, develops. Like the critics, editors and actor-managers, too, prefer to sharpen the contrast between this shipwrecked young woman soon to masquerade in breeches and the wealthy young Countess Olivia who exercises nonconformist attitudes towards men.

To strengthen the difference between the women, staged versions help reshape Viola by excising her line "For saying so, there's gold" (I.ii.18) and deemphasizing her class through costuming. The excision has persisted from the eighteenth century into the twentieth. The Bell edition (1773), for example, which claims to record the play "As Performed at the Theatres-Royal," jettisons Viola's offer of gold to the captain, suggesting what audiences saw at Drury Lane and Covent Garden after 1741.7 Mrs. Inchbald (1808), >as we have seen, refers to Olivia's falling in love "with a domestic" (4-5) and John Philip Kemble, whose acting version, first published in 1810, becomes the standard for theatrical productions for close to a century, also excises the reference to gold.8 By >the end of the nineteenth century, Henry Irving creates his own version, one which stresses his role of Malvolio. Nevertheless, Irving adopts many of Kemble's excisions, including Viola's offer of a reward.9 In the twentieth century, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, among others, also excises the line, perhaps thinking it unseemly for a young woman to be so comfortable with money. More likely, Tree is following a tradition both in text and attitude towards Viola.

As well as introducing her, scene 2 further develops the portrait of Olivia through hearsay. The captain narrates and Viola listens. A down-to-earth and non-involved spectator, he responds to Viola's query about Orsino's bachelorhood with uncertainty, assuring her only that a month earlier, before the captain left, Orsino was seeking Olivia's hand:

And then 'twas fresh in murmur (as you know What great ones do, the less will prattle of) That he did seek the love of fair Olivia.


In scene 1, Orsino had provided the emotional background; in scene 2, the captain fills in many of the publicly known details about the young woman. A "virtuous maid," the phrase identifying her youth and unmarried status, she is also:

. . . the daughter of a count That died some twelvemonth since, then leaving her In the protection of his son, her brother, Who shortly also died;


Alone and wealthy, Olivia has much in common with the young woman listening. Malcolmson makes a similar point although she leaves Viola's exact status in doubt: "The scene does not explicitly define Viola's status as either noble or gentle; rather, her rank is veiled from us just as Viola veils it from the people she will meet. . . . [W]e, and the characters, will know her through her role-playing and her 'intent" (37). Although staging tends to obscure Viola's status, I believe that the dramatist offers sufficient clues both in her speeches and her actions to indicate her upper-class background.

As the captain continues, he also helps identify Illyria's social system, one that places an unmarried woman under the governance of a male in the family.10 Fi-nally, the captain speaks of the Countess's actions now that her brother's protection has ceased. In deference to the love she bore him: "They say, she hath abjur'd the company / And sight of men" (40-41). Omitting any reference to the seven-year limit on the mourning period, relayed by Orsino's messenger in scene 1, the captain's "they say" confirms his general reliance on hearsay and his distance from Olivia. When, therefore, Viola resolves to serve this countess, the captain quickly discourages her:

That were hard to compass, Because she will admit no kind of suit, No, not the Duke's.


Obviously, if the Duke has failed, Viola should not even consider such an option. Accepting the captain's advice, she quickly shifts her objective and decides on wearing breeches: "I'll serve this duke; / Thou shalt present me as a eunuch to him" (55-56).

Critics have questioned the ease with which Viola changes her mind, considering her later persistence and success in meeting Olivia. As Ruth Nevo observes, although Viola, upon hearing of Olivia's loss, exclaims, "O that I served that lady," she "does not fly to the Countess Olivia for succour, woman to woman, despite her sympathy for a fellow-mourner. Instead she chooses to be adventurously epicene in the Duke's entourage" (205). Nevo believes that Viola makes a sacrifice here by asking to be presented as a eunuch, a rational explanation for her high voice and feminine appearance. More importantly, the young woman's transformation permits her to enjoy the freedom of action allowed her twin brother, and formerly denied her because of her sex. The speed of her decision also leads C. L. Barber to comment that "the shipwreck is made the occasion for Viola to exhibit an undaunted, aristocratic mastery of adversity—she settles what she shall do next almost as though picking out a costume for a masquerade" (241). He is less concerned with the reason for her choice than with her free and easy manner, her language in making the decision. Unlike these modern critics, Samuel Johnson expresses disdain for Viola's actions and considers this a plot weakness:

Viola seems to have formed a very deep design with very little premeditation: she is thrown by shipwreck on an unknown coast, hears that the prince is a batchelor, and resolves to supplant the lady whom he courts.


The play, however, refutes this theory, as we discover later on when Viola, having fallen in love with the Duke, bemoans the limitations placed on her by disguise then courts the Countess for him.

Differing from Johnson, most actor-managers and directors, as well as critics, favor Viola over Olivia. To focus more sharply on the disguised young woman, these men often transpose the first and second scenes. Again Kemble's influential version dominates. It opens with noise, thunder, and lightning, heralding Viola's arrival on the shores of Illyria. Beerbohm Tree, in 1901, dramatizes Viola's weakness on arrival although the text offers no such suggestion. Sailors bring her ashore "as if insensible. She is put reclining on the steps. Wet dress. Sailors with chest and bundles." Winthrop Ames, in 1906, also has the sailors "supporting a woman, then carrying in a child" (a character added for pathos, I suspect). Augustin Daly, the famous American manager at the end of the nineteenth century, goes even further. He opens the play with the arrival of Viola's brother on the shores of Illyria, eliminating all suspense as to whether or not her twin has survived.

Despite Daly's more radical alteration of sequence, it was only a temporary aberration whereas Kemble's pattern has persisted. As recently as the summer of 1986, New York audiences were treated to a Kemble format under the aegis of Joseph Papp, the production opening with Viola's arrival in Illyria. Possibly the drive for realism and interest in plot development contributed to the decision to open with the second scene. More likely, however, the uncreased emphasis on the heroic Viola in contrast to the foolish Olivia was responsible.

Unfortunately, that transposition sacrifices the airy, wistful tone of the first scene with all its implications and resonances—a scene as important to the play as the three witches who open Macbeth or the ghost on the ramparts who chills the air with foreboding in Hamlet, In Shakespeare's sequence, Orsino's impassioned pleas and posing in the first scene add credibility to Olivia's decision whereas when the play opens with scene 2, she sounds arbitrary and unreasonable since the sea captain warns Viola of the impossibility of meeting this woman.

Shakespeare's scene sequence (as Clifford Leech observed) has its own specific validity and dictates a pattern of relationships (36-37). The patterns in the plays usually affect and often heighten the impact of the work on the audience. Shakespeare's method resembles that of the painter who establishes positive and negative areas of a painting, each helping to illuminate the other while through both he weaves color, line, and design that unify the whole. In Twelfth Night, Orsino's opening scene provides the background (or negative) area—of fantasy—against which Viola's realistic approach proves refreshing. Woven through both is the slowly developing character of Olivia.

Scene 3 intensifies the portrait of the Countess. This time the dramatist takes us closer to her world, introducing us to the ebullient and varied characters who inhabit her home. There, the multidimensional, and skewed, characterization continues to grow as others' words fill in the blank spaces of the sketch first begun by Orsino. The robustious, roaring, frequently drunk Sir Toby, identified in the cast list as "uncle to Olivia," introduces us to the comic characters even while he stews, "What a plague means my niece to take the death of her brother thus? I am sure care's an enemy to life" (I.iii.1-3). Maria, the serving woman, rather than answering, sharply reprimands, "Your cousin, my lady, takes great exceptions to your ill hours" (5-6), bearing witness to a more dynamic Olivia than thus far promised by either Orsino or the sea captain. With these two speeches, Shakespeare has catapulted us into Olivia's household and established the firmness of the mistress's control. She has accepted the obligations of her position. A life of mourning has led neither to a retreat from reality nor to an abdication of responsibility, merely an affirmation of the single life.

Challenges to that single life, however, seem endless. Suitors spring up everywhere. Even Sir Toby has a candidate—his drinking companion, the foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a gull easily separated from his money. Nevertheless, Sir Andrew, skeptical of his chances, would withdraw from the field, admitting, "Your niece will not be seen, or if she be, it's four to one she'll none of me. The Count himself here hard by woos her" (I.iii.106-8). For the third time, we hear of the Count's persistent wooing. Anxious to prevent the departure of his wealthy drinking mate, Sir Toby confidently insists, "She'll none o' th' Count. She'll not match above her degree, neither in estate, years, nor wit" (109-10). Although his motive is suspect, Sir Toby, while he ultimately will prove wrong about the "degree" of Olivia's intelligence, or wit, is correct about her rejection of the Count and probably about her youthful age. Sir Andrew does not contradict him.

Interestingly, critics, too, have wrestled with the question of her age while directors have indicated their opinion through dress, make-up, and stage movement. They usually decide in favor of seniority, thus emphasizing the ways in which an older woman can be bested by a younger, more conventional one. The hostility to the older, aggressive woman on stage remains; she is a subject for laughter and audience mockery. And here the language of the text may inadvertently contribute to this misreading, for whereas Olivia is acting herself, a young single woman, Viola, playing a man's role, is described as "not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy" (I.v.156-57). Leo Salingar in 1958, for example, considers the Countess, "psychologically an elder sister to Viola" (125). 11 Although not censorious, as was Mrs. Inchbald in 1808, Salingar resembles Inchbald in stressing an age differential between the two women. However nowhere, neither in the language nor actions, does the text indicate an Olivia chronologically older or more psychologically mature than Viola. On the contrary, perhaps because of her disguise and the challenges it poses, Viola reveals keen insights into both her condition and Olivia's, insights unavailable to the deceived Countess.

In fact, Sir Toby's comment supports the notion that the two young women were approximately of the same age, thus reinforcing the similarities introduced at the start. Only later, when trapped in a comic relationship and engaged in wit combats built on disguise does confusion arise as to their respective ages. This, however, may result from costuming and staging. For example, an illustration of an older Olivia actually appears in the pages of costume designs in an Augustin Daly souvenir promptbook. Her face looks a bit pinched as well as haughty, in contrast with the illustration for Viola, who, with blonde, curly hair worn in a version of a wide pageboy, has an innocent, inquiring, friendly look on her face and stands in a deferential pose.12 Although both illustrations seem to have provided the basis for the women's costumes, they must also reflect perceptions of the characters in the nineteenth century.13

Occasionally, of course, some independent thinking occurs and we read in a promptbook, "Olivia's youth should be emphasized in every way possible to make her love affair with so callow a strippling as Viola convincing" (Ames prompt, facing I.v.294-95). The comment is sparked by Olivia's soliloquy at the close of the scene where she first meets Viola. Again in a 1988 production at Stratford, Ontario, Olivia's youthfulness was stressed when she giggled with delight at discovering this new young "man," then subsequently discarded her black dress for a pink one.

As the play moves towards this moment when the two women meet, their divergent introductions continue: Olivia's through hearsay, Viola's through direct presentation. In scene 4 Orsino describes his passionate love for the incomparable Olivia, meanwhile confessing to his new page, the disguised Viola, "I have unclasp'd / To thee the book even of my secret soul" (I.iv.13-14). Incredibly, she has won her way into his confidence in a mere three days. Despite her brief period of service, Orsino is revealing all his innermost thoughts to her. The ease with which she accomplishes this suggests that she had no trouble being accepted in an aristocratic household because she could draw on the mores of her upper-class background to adjust to her new situation. But Viola has lost her heart to him even as he is entrusting her with his most precious errand, the wooing of Olivia. Shakespeare thus presents the first challenge to a wealthy young woman who would gain freedom from her sexual identity by donning male attire. Breeches have their drawbacks; but so do skirts, as Olivia too will soon discover.

When she finally sweeps onto the stage in scene 5, in all her grandeur or loneliness, certainty or uncertainty, age or youth, arrogance or self-confidence, she has been thoroughly characterized by the conflicting impressions passed on by others. John Russell Brown writes of the silences in the play—the moments when words are not spoken but audience attention is riveted to a character (28). Surely audiences are waiting to see just what she looks like, how she carries herself, and how she behaves. But the tendency to tamper with the text again changes the portrait. Just as the transposition of the play's first two scenes combined with the omission of many of the Duke's foolish self-pitying lines alter audiences' perceptions of him, and excision of Viola's reference to gold masks her upper-class background, so standard cuts in scene 5—some going back to the early nineteenth century—affect our first impression of Olivia.

Although the scene opens with twenty-five lines of teasing conversation between Maria and the Clown—lines preparing the audience for the Countess's annoyance with him—they seldom reach the stage. Henry Irving, John Philip Kemble, Augustin Daly, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree, among others, chopped off some or all of the exchange.14 As a result, Olivia usually sounds arbitrary and arrogant at her entrance. To the Clown's "God bless thee, lady!" (I.v.36-37), she replies, "Take the fool away" (38). Nor does his "Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady," (39-40) amuse her. Olivia angrily charges, "Go to, y' are a dry fool; I'll no more of you. Besides, you grow dishonest" (41-42). In the conversation usually omitted, however, Shakespeare provides an explanation for this behavior. Officiously acting as her mistress's surrogate, Maria reprimands the Clown for his several absences. In their exchange lies the rational basis for Olivia's opening speeches, particularly her anger at the Clown. The excision contributes to a one-sided and distorted impression of her.

In fact, in the full text, she proves a tolerant manager of this conglomerate household. We glimpse her reasonable governance particularly when she allows the Fool his famous argument against mourning for her brother. "I think his soul is in hell, madonna" (68), he begins, quickly contradicted by her, "I know his soul is in heaven, fool" (69), leading to his conclusion, "The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother's soul, being in heaven" (70-71). The reasoning wins her admiration. "What think you of this fool, Malvolio? doth he not mend?" (73-74), she laughingly concedes. But her steward, a somber man with a great sense of self-importance, is not amused. Olivia then criticizes him, offering astute character analysis in her reprimand: "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 bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets" (90-93). Shakespeare has endowed her with a directness of language that matches Viola's. But in some promptbooks, such as those based on the Daly edition (p. 16, 77V 21; p. 22, TN 10), the second sentence, with its analogy to "bird-bolts" and "cannon-bullets," has been excised. As written, the full text reveals Olivia's strengths. During the brief time that she is on stage, she appears neither unintelligent, intolerant, nor humorless. Nor does she exhibit any extremes of grief.

Rather, the young Countess appears well qualified for the battle of wits that will follow between her and Viola—two women who have, in their own ways, built their independent personas on the death (or seeming death) of their brothers, one through mourning, the other through disguise. The equality of their verbal gifts emerges at their first meeting. Sent to woo Olivia for Orsino, Viola combines flattery with insolence. "Most radiant, exquisite, and unmatchable beauty—I pray you tell me if this be the lady of the house. . . . I would be loath to cast away my speech; for besides that it is excellently well penn'd, I have taken great pains to con it" (I.v.170-74), she complains. When Olivia answers only "Whence came you, sir?" (177), Viola persists in her emphasis on the prepared speech being spoken to the properly identified Olivia: "I can say little more than I have studied, and that question's out of my part" (178-79).

Seeming to be aware of what Viola is doing, Olivia queries next, "Are you a comedian?" (182). To this Viola somewhat saucily responds, "No, my profound heart; and yet (by the very fangs of malice I swear) I am not that I play" (183-84). Why the expression "by the very fangs of malice"? What is its relevance? Does it have an underlying message or reveal her envy of Olivia? For surely, a suitor would not be using the "fangs of malice" to support an argument. Rather while the phrase may suggest an arrogance and a pose of self-confidence on Viola's part, it may also reflect her attempt to simulate male assertiveness first by swearing and then by calling up this strange phrase, perhaps a substitute for "by the devil." In closing, she repeats her request, "Are you the lady of the house?" (184-85). Finally Olivia gives an almost direct answer—although still equivocating—"If I do not usurp myself, I am" (186). But Viola responds in kind. "Most certain, if you are she, you do usurp yourself (187-88). And then once more she refers to her memorized speech "in praise" of Olivia, the suggestion being that not Olivia herself, but the conventions of love are responsible for this praise.

This short exchange is usually reduced on the stage. Since drama is built on the interaction between characters—in other words, since dialogue helps define personality—the omissions alter the portraits of the women. The section leading to Olivia's question "Are you a comedian?" and Viola's mixed answer with its "fangs of malice" are frequently excised. What remains is Olivia's simple "If I do not usurp myself, I am."15 Nor do audiences usually hear Olivia's sardonic ad-monition to Viola to "Come to what is important in't. I forgive you the praise" (192-93), indicating her sense of humor and awareness of the verbal battle under way. In the subsequent conversation, the cuts in Olivia's lines are rather curious. "Speak your office" (207) is all that remains of a speech that includes "Sure you have some hideous matter to deliver, when the courtesy of it is so fearful" (206-7). Eliminated too is the contretemps touched off by Viola's "I hold the olive in my hand" (209-10)—an offer she finds difficult to sustain after Olivia's simple observation "Yet you began rudely" (212). Viola immediately takes up the challenge, "The rudeness that hath appear'd in me have I learn'd from my entertainment" (214-15).

Their verbal combat continues, intensified by Viola's request that Olivia raise her veil although as the Countess notes, "You are now out of your text" (232). Nevertheless, she agrees to "draw the curtain, and show . . . the picture" (233), challenging, "Is't not well done?" (235) A too-quick response springs from the woman in breeches, "Excellently done, if God did all" (236). Just as sharply, however, Olivia retorts, "'Tis in grain, sir, 'twill endure wind and weather" (237-38). But much of this verbal jousting disappears from the stage, and Viola's speech begins instead with the flattering, "'Tis beauty truly blent" (239).

Consider too, the exchange triggered by Olivia's wonderful speech outlining the "divers schedules" of her beauty:

It shall be inventoried, and every particle and utensil labell'd 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?


Undaunted, the page Cesario/Viola disapprovingly comments: "I see what you are; you are too proud; / But if you were the devil, you are fair" (250-51). And then, as if remembering her mission, she jumps from critical direct address to her major subject, "My lord and master loves you" (252). Promptbooks, reflecting stage productions, tend to retain only the last line, omitting Olivia's "schedule" of her beauty as well as Viola's accusation of pride. Thus the text, mocking the ideal of courtly love, emphasizes pertness and honesty over flattery. These excisions rob the portrait of Viola of irony and reduce Olivia to a stolid, unimaginative woman.

Finally, cut too is her gracious observation:

Your lord does know my mind, I cannot love him, Yet I suppose him virtuous, know him noble, Of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth; In voices well divulg'd, free, learn'd, and valiant, And in dimension, and the shape of nature, A gracious person. But yet I cannot love him.


The speech indicates Olivia's sensitivity as she lists his specific strengths. It is a remarkable statement to give to a young woman, since it suggests less an emotional reaction than a thoughtful evaluation of the man she rejects. She mentions none of his weaknesses but bases her decision only on her own taste: "I cannot love him," implying also that nothing in the future will change her mind. Adamant in her insistence that she will never love Orsino, the Countess repeats the words yet again near the scene's close. Viola understands and later attempts, unsuccessfully, to explain Olivia's point of view to Orsino.

Historically, most of the speech disappears from the stage. Kemble's version, setting the pattern for those to follow, combines the single opening line with the speech's closing, resulting in the cryptic, abbreviated message: "Your lord does know my mind, I cannot love him: / He might have took his answer long ago" (Kemble, 1810, p. 19). Conforming to the developing portrait of her in criticism, an arbitrary Olivia emerges here. Other acting texts follow Kemble's lead. Beerbohm Tree (1901) retains the first line of the speech. Augustin Daly (1893), Henry Irving (1884), and others retain its first three lines. These productions span almost an entire century and surely must have affected criticism.

In fact, in 1865, decrying this omission, Spedding writes:

These lines are left out in the acting, which is surely a great mistake. As addressed by Olivia to Viola, they have a peculiar and pathetic meaning, and it is strange that the mixed emotions which they must have excited in her should not have been made one of the "points" in the play.

(Fraser's Magazine; quoted in Variorum Twelfth Night, 90)

The lines not only affect Viola, who herself would like to "be his wife" (I.iv.42) but also illuminate the character of Olivia. She knows her own heart and mind; she can recognize virtue in others, even someone who is a bit foolish, like Orsino. Of course, she has only seen that side of him which is tangled in the conventions of wooing. Viola, on the other hand, hears a more relaxed man confiding his ideas not only about wooing and women but also about life generally. Employed as his page, she has also found him generous and trusting, having given her, an unknown youth, a position and quickly taken her into his confidence. Like Hermia and Helena, who encounter two different aspects of Demetrius in the early scenes of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Viola and Olivia encounter two different Orsinos.

Unmoved by the Orsino she knows, Olivia is captivated by his envoy, Viola. In this disguised woman of comparable background and wit, Olivia finds the perfect wooer—the one who verbalizes her own dream of what wooing should be: a challenging wit exchange between equals; honesty; and an absence of posing. Direct language can open a path to the heart. In scene 5, Viola adopts this method. Without realizing it, she once again departs from her "text" (232). This time she delivers an impassioned love lyric. Though meant to win Olivia for Orsino, it also reveals something of Viola's own feelings for the Duke: "If I did love you in my master's flame, / . . . I would. . . . / Make me a willow cabin at your gate, / . . . Hallo your name to the reverberate hills, / And make the babbling gossip of the air / Cry out 'Olivia'" (264-74).

The speech overwhelms the young Countess as it does the audience. Here are lines that differ from Orsino's flowery words; familiar images flood the language. One need not search for hidden meanings, merely visualize the youth standing before a simple cabin and hear him hallowing the name "Olivia." The air and the hills echo the name; the speaker captivates the listener, who admits in soliloquy after the young page leaves:

How now? Even so quickly may one catch the plague? Methinks 1 feel this youth's perfections With an invisible and subtle stealth To creep in at mine eyes. Well, let it be.



But she doesn't "let it be." Instead, Olivia immediately sends Malvolio on a false errand, to return to the young Cesario a ring he never gave her. Each woman has been caught in an emotional response that will alter her self-perception and her desire for anonymity or privacy. No longer thinking of the brother she was mourning, Olivia seeks only to assure a return visit from Orsino's youthful page.

Perhaps squeamish about the possible impact of individual lines or simply choosing to cut at this point, actor-managers excised and revised. Charles Kean, the mid-nineteenth-century manager, for example, crossed out some of Olivia's speech above, specifically those lines expressing admiration for "this youth" (296-98). The intention was probably to remove any suggestion of Olivia's being homosexually attracted to Viola. In this comedy of mistaken identity, however, Shakespeare, not only suggests such an attachment, but then, through the sequential arrangement of scenes quickly offers an alternative possibility.

Olivia's startling emotional discovery precipitates an immediate scene change to the lost Sebastian, Viola's twin brother, who has survived the shipwreck. Derrida argues that the meanings of words are constantly being modified by the next signifier (Moi, 105-7). Building on Derrida's insight, I propose that meaning in drama derives not only from verbal signifiers, particularly the interaction of characters as they speak on stage, but also from the sequence of scenes as they unfold. This arrangement affects both our first, immediate response as well as the modification of that response. Moreover, because theater differs from the written text in at least one significant detail, it addresses a captive audience who must listen and react as the play progresses, this "deferral of meaning" occurs to a far larger extent with drama than with written literature since a reader may put down a book and stop reading.

The young Countess's comment about the disguised youth now takes on a different perspective with the introduction of Sebastian. His presence holds the promise of a possible new pairing, although audiences will have to wait to see when, and if, Sebastian meets Olivia and how that meeting will develop. The striking physical similarity between the twins will eventually resolve Olivia's dilemma. She will later woo Sebastian as Cesario although, as Heilbrun points out, Shakespeare, himself the father of opposite sex twins, surely knew such an indistinguishable resemblance to be impossible (37).

Similarities do, however, exist. Like Viola, Sebastian is first introduced with a sea captain, Antonio, who rescued him. Also like her, Viola's brother arouses intense feelings of affection, in his case from Antonio, who would serve the youth. And again like her, Sebastian stubbornly resists. "If you will not undo what you have done, that is, kill him whom you have recover'd, desire it not" (II.i.37-39), the young man insists before departing. Left alone on stage, Antonio, in soliloquy, first blesses the youth: "The gentleness of all the gods go with thee!" then reveals the intensity of his feelings.

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.


The speech suggests a strong, even if one-sided, affection. The captain will risk capture for the pleasure of following Sebastian.

Brother, like sister, rejects an implied homosexual relationship. Unlike Viola, however, Sebastian is not suffering from a misreading of his sexual identity since no disguise exists. And so the soliloquy is seldom heard on stage. The Bell version retains only a form of the first line, "The gentleness of the Gods go with thee!" (335), after which the two men "exeunt severally" (335). Kemble's text, followed by the French edition (TN 18) and others, transforms Antonio's first line into part of a brief dialogue, Sebastian answering with an invented line, "Fare ye well."

This first scene between Sebastian and Antonio often changes not only its shape, but also its place in the sequence. Despite its importance in the pattern of alternating scenes that illuminate the development of the two principal women characters, actor-managers and directors have often reshuffled the text—sometimes to simplify plot, sometimes to stress Malvolio's role (although it is shorter than those of Viola and Olivia), and sometimes to sustain a contrast between the women, favoring the disguised youth in breeches. Again Kemble's text set the example, transposing the Folio sequence by placing Malvolio's scene with Viola immediately after Olivia's order to "return the ring," although the introduction of Sebastian interferes with such a smooth narrative sequence.17 Other directors, such as Irving, who played Malvolio, have withheld Sebastian's surprise appearance until later in the play.18 Focusing on his own role, Irving also abbre-viated the women's lines.19 Other actor-managers tended to fall into similar patterns, sometimes stripping the scene of most of its intense lines with their homoerotic implications, sometimes transposing the sequence, and often doing both.

Occasionally, as in the Sothern and Marlowe production at the beginning of the twentieth century, the scene was even merged with the second brief Sebastian-Antonio scene even though each of these functions differently. The first creates that happy shock of recognition of the physical resemblances between the twins; it also introduces the relationship between the two men. The second adds important plot elements: the captain decides to remain in Illyria, despite the hazards, then lends his purse to Sebastian, later seeking to retrieve it from Sebastian's double, Viola. The scene also testifies to the intensity of Antonio's affection for the youth. Sequentially, the second scene separates Maria's description of Malvolio in yellow garters from his actual appearance on stage.

In contrast, the Sothern-Marlowe merged scene (II.ii. in typescript—TN 31) retains only the factual information necessary for the plot's later development. It begins with the opening of Shakespeare's second of the two scenes (III.iii.1-15) where Antonio reveals his decision to accompany the young man, but it excises specific references to his love for Sebastian. Next follows the youth's disclosure of his identity, plucked from the earlier scene (II.i), thus confirming as well Viola's upper-class background. Finally, returning to the later scene, this new mongrel concludes with Antonio giving his purse to Sebastian. Sequentially, it follows Malvolio's outburst to the drunken Sir Toby and Sir Andrew (II.iii) and precedes Viola's debate with Orsino on love (II.iv). Although in many ways the Sothern-Marlowe version defeats the purposes of the two separate scenes, it does not subvert the play's ability to construct strong parallels between two wealthy, young, single women who have lost father and brother. That was Daly's contribution and he achieved it by opening the play with Sebastian's arrival in Illyria. This assured audiences that the relationship between Olivia and Viola was just a game and that Viola's early quest for independence had no reality since her brother lived.

Shakespeare, however, not only raises this issue of independence but also further develops it in Viola's retort to Malvolio when he delivers the ring. For the dramatist here offers a significant example of women bonding. Knowing she never gave Olivia a ring, the disguised page nevertheless answers the steward: "She took the ring of me, I'll none of it" (12). Although the line has puzzled some editors, it seems consistent with Viola's constant makeshift attempts both to conceal her disguise and to reveal her insights as a woman into another woman's actions. This will occur again two scenes later when she attempts to explain to the Duke Olivia's feelings for him, but instead nearly trips over her own identity. Clearly in her scene with Malvolio, Viola understands what has occurred, as her soliloquy, following his brusque departure, indicates: "I left no ring with her. . . . / Fortune forbid my outside have not charm'd her" (II.ii.17-18). Indeed it has. But Sebastian's arrival may promise a "happy ending," even while the play continues to explore the women's struggles, whether in breeches or skirts, to assert their sense of self.

In the scenes that follow, Olivia's struggle once more comes to the fore, again through hearsay and inference as Shakespeare thrusts us ever more intimately into the dynamics of her household. Again the challenge to her independence grows out of her position as a marriageable, wealthy young woman. When the drunken Sir Toby and Sir Andrew wobble in, raucously singing, Maria first reprimands them, invoking the name of her mistress, but then later joins them. Less flexible, Malvolio, awakened from sleep by this boisterous crew, more vehemently chastises them, again invoking Olivia's name:

My lady bade me tell you, that though she harbors you as her kinsman, she's nothing allied to your disorders. If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanors, you are welcome to the house; if not, and it would please you to take leave of her, she is very willing to bid you farewell.


Since he never carries out the threat but is himself bested, his lines indicate his misreading of Olivia, exhibiting his lust for power and his method of exercising it. Betraying his ambition as well as his vulnerability to the gulling he will later suffer, his speech illuminates the extent and intensiveness of another of Olivia's pursuers. He will readily adopt cross-garters and attempt to smile in his effort to win her hand and, with it, permanent power as her husband. Little disappears from this comic scene in staged versions—only the songs. First omitted from the Bell edition, they are later excised by Kemble and Irving who substitute other, briefer drinking songs.

A far different fate on stage meets the scene which follows: the debate between Viola and Orsino on men's and women's capacity for love. The scene loses much of its substance through cutting. It is full of inconsistencies and contradications in Orsino's arguments while stressing at the same time the complexity of Viola's position as she strives to convey to the Duke something of a woman's point of view. Filled with humor and further mockery of the conventions of the Petrarchan lover, it continues the portrait of Orsino begun in the first scene—a silly lover drowning in self-pity. Again, his desire for music opens the scene:

that piece of song, That old and antique song we heard last night; Methought it did relieve my passion much, More than light airs and recollected terms Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times.


Still seeking to "relieve" his passion, Orsino sounds very much like the melancholy character we met earlier. But this request for music does not appear in the Bell edition, the Kemble edition, or the French edition, basically covering a century of staging. Instead, in those editions, the scene opens with Orsino attempting to warn his page of what to expect from love. "Come hither boy," the Duke instructs, "If ever thou shalt love, / In the sweet pangs of it remember me" (15-16). Observing Cesario/Viola's downcast expression, her master quizzes her about her beloved's appearance: "Of your complexion" and "about your years" (26, 28), confesses the disguised woman.

Her lines trigger Orsino's first dissertation on love, which will eventually be contradicted by his second. "[H]owever we do praise ourselves, / Our fancies are more giddy . . . Than women's are" (32-35), he claims, advising Cesario to choose a woman younger than himself. Later, however, when describing his own love for Olivia, the Duke contradicts himself, insisting, "no woman's heart / So big, to hold so much; they lack retention" (95-96). He also compares a woman's love which "may be call'd appetite" (97) with his own, which is "all as hungry as the sea" (100). Kemble and Bell omit the first assertion and Kemble, Bell, Irving, Daly, and Sothern and Marlowe omit its contradiction. As a result of these excisions, the Duke sounds consistent, a quality that Shakespeare denies him. The elimination of both groups of quotes by Bell and Kemble alters the scene's emphasis, losing much of its irony.

In these editions, reflecting stage performances, not only do the contradictions disappear, but also Orsino turns into a fairly direct, attractive man. Reduced, the text's long lecture on love becomes merely a brief comment to Viola/Cesario on her beloved, "too old, by heaven" (29), followed immediately by the direction: "Get thee to yond same sovereign cruelty" (80), Olivia. Covering a mere two pages in the Kemble text, the scene fails to develop the portrait of a melancholy and self-pitying Orsino resembling Shakespeare's Duke. Instead, it becomes a brief interlude of disagreement between the disguised page and the man she loves in which she stumbles when trying to fictionalize her love for him.

Juxtaposing the young page's clearly reasoned defense of Olivia against the Duke's confused and contradictory comments on men's and women's capacity to love, Shakespeare in this scene once again illustrates women bonding and also gives Viola rational arguments favoring a woman's right to free choice. Furthermore, the scene reaffirms Viola's sense of her own identity; she is always emotionally and intellectually clearly a woman. Attempting to deliver Olivia's message and sensitive to its intention, Viola tries to convince Orsino of its finality, transposing Olivia's words. "But if she cannot love you, sir?" (II.iv.87, emphasis added here and throughout this paragraph). In response, the Duke retains only the original "cannot." "I cannot be so answer'd" (88), he insists. Viola then cites the parallel of an imaginary woman (herself) in love with him. Suppose "You cannot love her" (91). The pronouns have shifted from that first expression by Olivia but the body of the line has been restored. The debate surrounding a woman's right to express or reject love on a plane equal to a man's is given clear expression through Viola as Cesario, the young lad, while the refusal of the man, Orsino, to respect Olivia's wishes resonates through the text.

In this scene, Viola seems torn between revealing her identity and maintaining her disguise. Earlier she had decided, "Time, thou must untangle this, not I" (II.ii.40). But here that resolve weakens, when, in trying to convince the Duke, she says, "My father had a daughter lov'd a man / As it might be perhaps, were I a woman, / I should your lordship" (II.iv.107-9). "And what's her history?" (109) the Duke quickly asks. Surely her answer, "I am all the daughters of my father's house, / And all the brothers too" (120-21), should have led to a full revelation. But the Duke is so self-absorbed in his own feelings that his ear is not keyed to Viola's words. And so she continues in her role as his messenger.

Having chosen her disguise almost whimsically, she finds its advantages quickly fading. First, her success in winning a place with the Duke has led to her appointment as his surrogate wooer although she confesses, in soliloquy: "Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife" (I.iv.42). Then her enchantment of Olivia further intensifies Viola's problem. Next, when she tries to explain the other woman's position to the Duke, he refuses to listen. Later, despite her protests, Sir Andrew challenges her to a duel for Olivia's hand, leading Viola to muse to herself: "A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man" (III.iv.302-3). And finally, she must confront the issue of a dual identity, having become embroiled in the circle of pursued and pursuer. The problems Viola faces caused by her disguise are, if less life threatening, more subtle and emotionally complex than those that confront Shakespeare's other women in breeches: Rosalind of As You Like It, Imogen of Cymbeline, and Jessica of The Merchant of Venice, who choose disguise to evade pursuit; Julia of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, who concealed herself to pursue her lover; or Portia and Nerissa, who dress as lawyer and law clerk to save their husbands' friend.

If, however, Shakespeare were less interested in realistic reasons for the disguise than in the larger concept—the relationship of sexuality to women's economic independence—the silliness of the breeches controversy would be exposed by the similarities between the women's plights. Although differently dressed, both must revise their self-perceptions, modifying them to accommodate erotic urges as these affect women's lives in such a society. Viola's choice of disguise, like Olivia's choice of mourning, tests the limits of self-sovereignty when supported by economic independence.

Thus their new erotic interests conflict with their development of independence. Nevertheless, both women persevere in their chosen direction. Viola remains in service to Orsino, wooing Olivia, while she, in turn, continues her forthright pursuit of Cesario. Two other brief exchanges mark the women's time alone together. In the earlier one (III.i.93-164), Olivia apologizes for sending the false message and the ring and quite directly declares her love. In the second (III.iv.201-17), an exchange of less than twenty lines within a much longer scene, she acknowledges having compromised herself:

I have said too much unto a heart of stone, And laid mine honor too unchary on't. There's something in me that reproves my fault; But such a headstrong potent fault it is That it but mocks reproof.


Recognition but not retraction leads to her next speech, "Here, wear this jewel for me, 'tis my picture" (208), promising Viola, "it hath no tongue to vex you" (209). Olivia is ready to embark on what appears to be a cross-class marriage to a young page. Is she using her wealth to lure a husband, who, in fact has the virtues of a woman and is, perhaps, therefore attractive? In the text, ambiguity then prevails. Does Viola accept the jewel? No hint appears in the language. Her response, like so many of her answers to Olivia, evades the subject, asking instead, "your true love for my master" (213).

Further evasion appears in promptbooks, many of which excise this brief moment between the disguised woman and the lady who openly vows her love. For example, the encounter is crossed out by Charles Kean, who used a Kemble text (TN 14). And the Irving version retains only the last four lines of the women's conversation. Their brief moment is then over: no apologies for having declared her love, and no giving Viola "this jewel" that contains Olivia's picture (TN 15, p. 52). Was Viola's behavior not exemplary enough for the adaptors? Was the intensity of Olivia's passion, directed as it was to a woman, embarrassing? Probably both. In the text, the exchange amplifies their portraits, which have been acquiring dimension with each new scene.

Like a juggler, Shakespeare keeps aloft the atmosphere of romance as well as the realities of drunks and duels and always, whether directly or through hearsay, he illuminates the challenges facing the two women. Perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the middle section of the play are we witness to this balancing act. Act 3, scene 2 includes the conning of Sir Andrew (into penning a challenge to Cesario) and the report on Malvolio's appearance (wearing yellow cross-garters)—both men wishing to win Olivia through their actions.

Opening in her garden, scene 4 of act 3 shows the Countess ranging from one interest to another in quick succession.

I have sent after him; he says he'll come. How shall I feast him? What bestow of him? For youth is bought more oft than begg'd or borrow'd. I speak too loud.


The excitement generated within this speech, even including the suggestion that it is spoken in a whisper reveals an altered Olivia—one neither disinterested nor in mourning. The Bell edition contains a footnote on her appearance: "Olivia should possess beauty of countenance, elegance of figure, grace of deportment, and sensibility of speech" [bottom, p. 357, vol. 5, of Bell edition]. The edition also records a seemingly slight alteration in the opening line, but one which changes the idea. It reads: "I have sent after him; say he will come, / How shall I feast him? What bestow on him?" (emphasis added, p. 357). The conditional here contradicts the straight assertion in the Folio. Her lines reflect her excitement.

She then changes the subject, "Where's Malvolio?" (5).20 Asking for him and commenting that his sad state suits her well, Olivia learns from Maria that he is as one "possessed." When he appears before her in yellow garters and smiling, she attempts to understand this sudden change, but the arrival of Cesario cuts short the interview, leading Olivia to assign Malvolio to Maria and Sir Toby—thus asking his gullers to be his handlers. After the steward's triumphant soliloquy celebrating what he believes to be his new status—the prospective husband to Olivia—the scene moves without a pause to Sir Andrew's timidly worded letter of challenge to Cesario. Here both Viola and Olivia are the subjects—the one's problems created by her disguise, the other's by her lack of disguise, but clearly her marriageability. Thus both illuminate challenges to the women's pursuit of their own independence. The brief interlude between the two women follows.

The focus then shifts to Viola. Suddenly her resemblance to her brother fades as she faces the "terror," Sir Andrew, an equally reluctant adversary. Their swords at the ready, both participants back off from one another, even as Antonio, mistaking Viola for Sebastian, interrupts their duel, finds himself under arrest by officers, requests his purse of "Sebastian," and denied, offers Viola her first inkling that her brother lives.

He nam'd Sebastian. I my brother know Yet living in my glass; even such and so In favor was my brother, and he went Still in this fashion, color, ornament, For him I imitate.


We discover how completely Viola has mimicked her brother and are prepared for the confusion that will result.

The dramatist next adds depth and shading to the design, for the following scene has the cinematic quality of a "double take." "Will you make me believe that I am not sent for you?" (IV.i.1-2), challenges the Clown to Cesario's double, Sebastian. But we have already witnessed the interview between Viola and Olivia. Replaying an earlier moment, the Clown's confrontational attack seems to precede the previous scene. But the take is skewed. The line is addressed to Sebastian, not Viola/Cesario, and the outcome differs from the expected. We are caught in Shakespeare's double time as he confirms, through witnesses, the extraordinary resemblance between the twins. Sir Andrew and Sir Toby provide the next testimony. Again challenging the character they assume to be Orsino's page, they little realize they are encountering a different adversary. Finally, Olivia rushes out to save one she believes to be Cesario, but instead overwhelms Sebastian: "Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep; / If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!" (IV.i.62-63). Brother, like sister, uses a classical allusion. Just as a painter places small dabs of similar colors strategically throughout his painting to orchestrate its parts and help unify it, the writer paints resemblances through language and literary references.

Culminating in Olivia's "Would thou'dst be rul'd by me!" (64), this scene has carried the accidental disguise motif to its climax, when Sebastian replies, "Madam, I will," and Olivia joyously exclaims, "O, say so, and so be!" (65) and departs to plan a wedding. In contrast, a scene of intentional disguise follows, its darkness contrasting with the light of the previous scene as well as the subsequent one. Both literally and figuratively, darkness prevails as Sir Toby, Maria, and the Clown seek to frustrate Malvolio and convince him he is mad while keeping him imprisoned in darkness and calling it light. Again, Olivia, though absent is present: hearsay and hope, Malvolio's hope of marriage, keep her in the audience's consciousness.

Darkness then gives way to light. "This is the air, that is the glorious sun" (IV.iii.l), Sebastian marvels in soliloquy at Olivia's gifts, then later follows her to church to exchange vows. The soliloquy wanders over several topics, but always with Olivia at its core. Wondering what has happened to Antonio and wishing for his advice, the youth speculates,

For though my soul disputes well with my sense, That this may be some error, but no madness, Yet doth this accident and flood of fortune So far exceed all instance, all discourse, That I am ready to distrust mine eyes, And wrangle with my reason that persuades me To any other trust but that I am mad, Or else the lady's mad.


Debating with himself as to whether she is mad, he concludes this to be impossible—else she could not run her house, command her followers, and manage her affairs with such skill and "stable bearing" (19). Here in the testimony of a stranger who has observed the lady in action we are told of her ability.

But again the glorification of Olivia falls before the actor-manager's or director's pen. Since she is here challenging patterns of patriarchy, these producers of the play seem to assert that her more positive features need not be emphasized. Cuts in Sebastian's soliloquy appear in early promptbooks or acting versions and continue well into the twentieth century although they outline her skills. Clearly, the lines testify to her never having left this world, but merely having divorced herself from availability to suitors. And so, acting texts excise.21 Kemble omits the lines as do the Oxberry and the French texts (TN 9). By the time we reach the Sothern-Marlowe version the soliloquy has been reduced to its first four lines, followed by its last two. With only its skeleton remaining, this abbreviated scene is then attached to the beginning of the closing scene (V.i) without a break.

Meanwhile, Viola is confronting the clear possibility that her brother lives. Although a joyous prospect, it will end her adventure into independence just as Olivia's decision to marry will end hers. In the single scene in act 5, Shakespeare, for the last time, presents the challenges the two single young women face and weaves together fact and fantasy, for this is Illyria.

Maria, too, has won her objective. Although she does not appear in the scene, we learn that through her successful plot to ensnare Malvolio "at Sir Toby's" wish, he hath "In recompense . . . married her" (363-64). A strong character, Maria differs from the other two women, having persistently sought marriage. Viola and Olivia, however, have had a momentary chance at self-ownership.

The conflict between the qualities referred to by de Beauvoir—the sense of the self being primary, and the "erotic urges and social pressures" to conform—is dramatized. By refusing to sacrifice the sense of self being primary, Olivia wins a husband; but he is only a facsimile of the "man" she pursued. However, because Sebastian's easy compliance to Olivia's proposal of marriage sharply contrasts with the passion of his rejection of Antonio earlier, one must question its reality. It is almost as if the dramatist were sending a signal to the audience to observe the character of the twin so as to realize the challenge to realism in the ending.

Critics have noted the weakness of this ending—its basic disregard for logic.22 Anne Barton, for example, observes that in Twelfth Night "Shakespeare began to unbuild his own comic form at its point of greatest vulnerability: the ending" (171). The brief scene between Antonio and Sebastian at the beginning of act 2 contributes to the absence of logic in the ending. In the earlier scene, the youth exhibits qualities clearly out of character with his impulsive actions near the comedy's close. One need only compare the attitude of Bertram to Helena with that of Sebastian to Olivia, a total stranger who asks him to marry her thinking he is Cesario, to see Shakespeare's lack of interest in a realistic ending. Nor do audiences react negatively to this strange and speedy marriage where the characters do not know one another. Because this is a comedy and because the young man himself does not object, we accept the convention of marriage as the outcome and delight that here in Illyria, Viola's twin brother shows up at just the right moment.

We also realize that the relationship between the two people to be married is inconsequential in this play, as is the need for a realistic reason for Viola's decision to disguise. Rather, the comedy seems to concentrate more closely on the changes in the women's self-perception from "primary" to "other" as they accept their identities as sexual beings in a male-dominated world. Attire, whether breeches or skirts, fades in importance as the dramatist explores the potential for independence by single women with wealth when unhampered by brothers or fathers.


1 Louis B. Wright, 491-507 and passim. Juliet Dusin-berre ascribes the debates on women's rights in the late sixteenth century to the rise of Puritanism, which encouraged mutual respect between husband and wife. See especially the introduction and 231-40. Linda T. Fitz, although less optimistic about women's achieving new rights, believes that the magnitude of the literature dictating what women should do indicates that they were not following prescribed paths: "the irrepressible spirit of those Renaissance English women . . . made sober treatises necessary" (18). Preceding the earliest production of Twelfth Night, works such as Jane Anger's (1589) appeared and, as late as 1620, the John Chamberlain letter records the king's "express commandment . . . to inveigh vehemently against the insolencie of. . . women." See Edward Phillips Statham, 182-83. See also Lisa Jardine, 9-36, where she also discusses the censuring of boys playing women's roles. She also quotes a letter of John Rainoldes in 1592 citing Scripture that says: "a woman shall not weare that which pertaineth to a man, nether shall a man put on womans raiment: for all that do so are abhomination to the lord thy god" (14).

As Linda Woodbridge writes:

In 1620, a controversy about women which had been simmering for nearly fifty years came to a boil in two essays, "Hic Mulier," an attack on women who wear masculine clothing, and "Haec-Vir," an answering defense which attacks male foppishness. In the unpromising context of fashion, the two essays really joined combat on the nature of the sexes. . . . The transvestite controversy began, as nearly as we can tell, in about the 1570s, when some women began adopting masculine attire.


Woodbridge then cites George Gascoigne's satire The Steele Glas, 1576; Phillip Stubbes's Anatomy of Abuses, 1583; and William Averell's A mervailous combat of contrarieties, 1588 (Woodbridge, 140). She concludes that because the movement received no attention in the 1590s and early 1600s it "was apparently quiescent," comments not arising again until 1606 when Henry Parrot's The Mous Trap and Richard Niccols's The Cuckow appeared. According to Woodbridge, the movement then gained momentum, "climaxing between 1615 and 1620" (141). This supposes that because we have no literature during the intervening years, either none existed or women suddenly gave up this attire only to don it again around 1615 when Swetnam's Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward and Unconstant Women appeared, followed by the anonymous Hic Mulier; or, The Man-Woman: Being a Medicine to cure the Coltish Disease of the Staggers in the Masculine-Feminines of our Times, 1620, and the anonymous response a week later, Haec-Vir; or, The Womanish Man: Being an Answere to the late Booke intituled Hic-Mulier. Exprest in a briefe Dialogue between Haec-Vir the Womanish Man, and Hic-Mulier the Man-Woman (Woodbridge, 142-46).

2 Although some critics use the terms self and other to describe Shakespeare's relationship to, or perception of, his male and female characters, my reference is to de Beauvoir's use of these terms as they describe the self-perceptions of men and women.

3 See the chapter "Growing Up," on Romeo and Juliet, in Wooing, Wedding, and Power.

4 Aside from the scene transposition, which I discuss later, the following lines are excised in these works: the Bell edition; the Kemble edition and those deriving from it; the Irving edition where the scene is compressed with the later scene 4; the French edition; TN 21 (listed as "Ada Rehan's" but using the French text, not that of Augustin Daly, her manager); and the Southern-Marlowe typescript—among others:

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. So full of shapes is fancy That it alone is high fantastical.


Also frequently cut are the scene's closing lines also spoken by the Duke:

Away before me to sweet beds of flow'rs, Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bow'rs.


5 See Stephen Booth's article ("Twelfth Night: 1.1") on the verbal incongruities in this scene and the ways in which these incongruities prepare us for the rest, of the play.

6 Robert Kimbrough, in an excellent article on androgyny, theorizes that Viola adopts male disguise to prevent being sent home immediately by the Duke (her father's friend) if she appear at his palace in her own attire ("Androgyny," 29).

7 Several versions that barely resembled Shakespeare's were presented during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. However, no acting edition of the play appeared before 1750 although Hogan records productions, referring to several of these as "the original" (1:545-57). I suspect, however, that the Bell edition recorded what had been performed during the 1740s, prior to its publication. Odell notes only that: "both the Clown's songs, 'O Mistress mine,' and 'Come away, come away, Death,' with their surrounding context are omitted, more's the pity, but nothing of importance, otherwise, is cast aside" (II.29). Obviously, to Odell, Viola's reference to gold was unimportant; to paraphrase Odell, "more's the pity."

8 As well as productions that used Kemble editions of 1810, 1811, and 1815 into the late 1850s, the Modern Standard Drama edition published by William Taylor and Company with Samuel French as general agent includes many of the same inserts and textual changes as do the Kemble editions. Because the French publications hardly ever bear a date, one must usually date them by the cast list for a particular production, which is printed in the edition. Among the books I have seen are those of William Burton, 1852, and Miss Neilson, dated 2/78. Thomas Hailes Lacy (1867) also followed Kemble's format. Charles Kean altered Kemble's 1811 edition of Twelfth Night, for the performance of 28 September 1850. See also Folger prompts TN 16, TN 17, 73V 4, TN 5, TN 3, TN 18; also Shattuck, 469-89.

9 While Henry Irving's adaptation differs somewhat from Kemble's, it contains many of the same excisions and follows Kemble by beginning at scene 2. Irving, however, does not introduce scene 1 until after I.iv.7. Thus Viola is present during his mooning for Olivia although the scene itself is much abbreviated, containing only lines 1 to 8 and 16 to 38. See Folger promptbooks TN 13, TN 15.

10 See Schochet, 65-66, for a discussion of the hierarchical structure in the patriarchal family in Renaissance England. Obviously the dramatist was drawing on generally accepted patterns in his society. In this play, however, both Viola and Olivia have temporarily been freed from this pattern.

11 Salingar's article has many fine insights, particularly where he compares Shakespeare's play with his sources. As a matter of fact, Salingar may have made this statement because he was transferring the identity of a source character for Olivia to Shakespeare's Olivia.

12 The illustration is taken from Cassell, Petter & Galpin (G. Greatbach, Sculpt, [i.e. engraver]; C. Green, Pinxt [this word means he drew the original illustration]). Greatbach flourished in mid nineteenth century.

13 Daly's illustrations of the performance have a warmer and younger looking Olivia than appears in the designs for the role.

14 Folger prompts: 16, 17 (Kemble); 15 (Irving); 10, 21, 29 (Daly). University of Bristol: HBT 138 (Tree).

15 Excised by Irving (TN 15).

16 Although some critics have read this phrase as an indication that she has formerly been weeping and now her eyes are tearing for joy, I believe that she is referring to the image of Cesario that is creeping into her heart through her eyes. The language is ambiguous.

17Daly, Irving, Tree, and others followed Kemble's lead although often slightly altering the exact sequential revision. Henry Irving, after first adopting Kemble's opening with Viola's I.ii, then moved immediately to "Court-yard of Olivia's house" (11), with Sir Toby's line "What a plague means my niece, to take the death of her brother thus?" Since Irving played Malvolio, the play was reshaped to emphasize the comedic scenes, while yet retaining Viola's role, played by Ellen Terry. Orsino's Palace, the setting of the third scene, opens as does I.iv., where Viola as Cesario has already won her way into the Duke's favor. Only after having established this time sequence, does Irving insert Shakespeare's opening lines, "If music be the food of love, play on" (15), continuing with abbreviated material from that first scene, and then moving on to Orsino's conversation with Cesario and his assignment to her to woo Olivia.

18 It follows the second interlude between Viola and the Duke (H.iv), where she almost discloses her identity (III.ii in Irving's version—TN 15).

19 According to the Concordance, Viola has 13.0 percent of the speeches, 13.0 percent of the lines and 13.2 percent of the words; Olivia has 12.7 percent of the speeches, 12.0 percent of the lines and 11.8 percent of the words. Actually the longest role belongs to Sir Toby who has 16.5 percent of the speeches, 14.0 percent of the lines, and 13.8 percent of the words, whereas Malvolio trails with 9.4 percent of the speeches, 11.0 percent of the lines, and 11.4 percent of the words. However Malvolio's role has frequently been taken by a lead actor since it allows for great antics and hamming. Spevack, Concordance 1:1162-1213.

20 Irving begins his scene here, eliminating the earlier reference to Cesario. Sothern-Marlowe too delete the reference although it clearly anticipates the later intense interview between the two young women. Rather, in the Sothern-Marlowe typescript Maria's description of Malvolio (in the text's III.ii) immediately precedes his actual appearance (in the text's III.iv) without a break.

21 Acknowledging the foolishness of excising the last six lines (16-21), the editor of the Bell edition even comments, "Why omit these lines? to us they seem necessary" (338), then prints them in small type at the bottom of the page. Daly also omits them. The entire soliloquy is crossed out in the Irving prompt, while Charles Kean (TN 14) cuts the entire scene.

22 Several critics have recently written on the impor-tance of the impact of the full text rather than of the ending, noting an overemphasis on closure. See, for example, Belsey, 187-88, and Jensen, 99-117.


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[Daly, Augustin.] Twelfe Night, or what you will, by William Shakespere. Arranged to be played in four acts by Augustin Daly. Printed from the Prompt Book, and as produced at Daly's Theatre, 21 February 1893. With an Introductory Word by William Winter, Esq. Privately Printed for Augustin Daly, 1893. Folger Prompts TN 29, TN 10, TN 11.

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[Kemble, J. P.] Twelfth Night; or What you will. A Comedy. Revised by J. P. Kemble; & now first published as it is acted at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden. London: Printed for the theatre, 1810 Folger prompts TN 16 (ms. cast list for 1818; bookplate and autograph of Walter Lacy; bookplate of Sir Henry Irving).

——. No t.p. 1810 or 1811. "Mr. Charles Kean. Prompt Copy" (embossed on cover). Charles Kean altered this edition of Twelfth Night, for the performance of 28 September 1850. Souvenir promptbook made in 1859 by T. W. Edmonds, the prompter. Folger prompt TN 14.

——. Twelfth Night; or, What you will. A comedy. Revised by J. P. Kemble; & now first published as it is acted at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden. London: Printed for the Theatre. 1811 "Operatic version" by Frederick Reynolds, 1820 at Covent Garden. Folger prompt TN 17.

——. Twelfth Night; or What you will: a comedy. Revised by J. P. Kemble; and now published as it is performed at the Theatres Royal. London: Printed for John Miller, and sold in the theatres, 1815. Folger prompts TN 4 (in ink at top of p. 5: "Mr. J. B. Buckstone . . . 1859." ms. cast list for "July 2d 1856 Haymarket"), TN 6.

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——. Twelfth Night or What You Will; a comedy in five acts. As performed at the Theatres Royal, Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Printed under the authority of the managers, from the promptbook. With remarks by Mrs. Inchbald. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1808.

——. Twelfth Night; or What You Will: A comedy. With prefatory Remarks. The only edition existing which is faithfully marked with the stage business and stage directions; as it is performed at the Theatres Royal, by W. Oxberry, Comedian. London. Published for the proprietors, by W. Simpkin, and R. Marshall, stationers' Court, Ludgate-street; and C. Chappie, 59, Pall-mall. 1821. Folger prompt TN 20 (marked by Samuel Phelps and W. C. Williams, also reference to 1857 production on p. 69) (Shattuck dates this 1848).

——. Twelfth Night; or What You Will: A Comedy, In five Acts. London: Samuel French, publisher 89 Strand. New York: Samuel French & Son, publishers, 122 Nassau street, [n.d.]. (Autograph on front cover "Arranged by Miss Neilson 2/78"). Folger prompt TN 18.

——. Twelfth Night; or What You Will: A Comedy in five acts. With the stage business. New York: Wm. Taylor & Co. Modern Standard Drama no. 58. S. French, general agent. 151 Nassau Street, [n.d.]. [Folger prompt TN 5 (In ink on front paper cover, "Prompt Book Twelfth Night Burton's Theatre." In the hand of John Moore. According to Shattuck, the production was March 1852). Prompt TN 9 (cut and paste in a notebook: on cover in autograph "Twelfth Night Prompt Book Augustin Daly")].

——. Twelfth Night; or What you will: a comedy, in five acts. London, Thomas Hailes Lacy. [n.d.]. Folger prompt 77V 3 (on first page: J. B. Buckstone . . . Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 1867).

——. Twelfth Night. Herbert Beerbohm Tree workbook, 1901. University of Bristol Collection.

——. Twelfth Night; or What you will. London, Edinburgh, & New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, [n.d.]. P.359-428 from vol. 2 of Dramatic Works. Folger prompt TN 1, Viola Allen preparation copy for 1904 production.

——. Twelfth Night. Typescript of Winthrop Ames's production. *NCP+1906.

——. Twelfth Night. Published playscript. With producer's preface of Harley Granville-Barker. Produced at the Savoy Theatre, London. Opened 15 November 1912. London: William Heinemann, 1912.

——. Twelfth Night. As presented by Sothern-Marlowe [n.p., n.d]. Typescript (some notes refer to 1923 production). Folger prompt TN 31.

——. Twelfth Night. Joseph Papp, presents. New York Shakespeare Festival. Wilford Leach, director. Delacorte Theatre, Central Park, Summer 1986.

——. Twelfth Night. Stratford, Canada. 2-8 August 1988.

Shattuck, Charles H. The Shakespeare Promptbooks. Urbana and London: University of Illinois Press, 1965.

Shepherd, Simon. Amazons and Warrior Women: Varieties of Feminism in Seventeenth-Century Drama. Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1981.

Spevack, Marvin. A Complete Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare. 6 vols. Hildesheim, Germany: George Olms, 1968-70.

Statham, Edward Phillips. A Jacobean Letter-Writer: The Life and Times of John Chamberlain. London: 1920.

Tree, Herbert Beerbohm. Twelfth Night promptbook, 1901. Tree collection, University of Bristol, HBT 138.

Warnicke, Retha M. Women of the English Renaissance and Reformation. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

Woodbridge, Linda. Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984.

Wright, Louis B. Middle Class Culture in Elizabethan England. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1935.

Further Reading

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Bellringer, Alan W. "Twelfth Night: or What You Will: Alternatives." Durham University Journal LXXIV, No. 1, n.s. XLIII, No. 1 (December 1981): 1-13.

Evaluates the characters in Twelfth Night with reference to the theme of constancy versus flexibility. On one hand, Bellringer contends, Sir Toby and the other members of Olivia's household are each ruled by a single passion; by contrast, Orsino, Feste, Sebastian, and Viola demonstrate a willingness to modify their behavior and adapt to changing circumstances.

Breuer, Horst. "Shakespeare's Signior Fabian." English Studies 74, No. 5 (October 1993): 441-44.

Offers textual evidence to support the notion that Fabian is a member of the landed gentry, not one of Olivia's serving men. Brewer sees Fabian as a dramatic type or stock character—a humorous older gentleman who is contemptuous of parvenus and social climbers.

Cahill, Edward. "The Problem of Malvolio." College Literature 23, No. 2 (June 1996): 62-82.

A psychoanalytic evaluation of Olivia's steward and his connection to the main plot. From Cahill's perspective, Malvolio's confusion of identity and desire reflects the principal characters' search for love and selfhood.

Callaghan, Dympna. "'And all is semblative a woman's part': Body Politics and Twelfth Night." Textual Practice 7, No. 3 (Winter 1993): 428-52.

A feminist reading of the play's representations of the female body. Focusing on the scene in which Malvolio parses the forged letter, Callaghan asserts that both here and throughout Twelfth Night, the female body—as well as men who try to improve their social status—are ridiculed and disciplined because they threaten the patriarchal system.

Carroll, William C. "To Be and Not to Be: The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night." In The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy, pp. 63-102. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Analyzes the linguistic and dramatic expressions of double perspectives in Twelfth Night. Carroll compares the characters who rigidly resist change with those whose capacity for self-transformation permits them to achieve redemption. His discussion of Twelfth Night appears on pp. 80-102 of this chapter.

Cave, Terence. "Recognition and the Reader." In Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook 2, edited by Elinor Shaffer, pp. 49-69. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Assesses the application of the Aristotelian concept of anagnorisis to modern European dramatic theory—specifically to literary analyses of Corneille's Héraclius and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Translating anagnorisis as "recognition," Cave reads Twelfth Night as a comedy that both exploits and exposes rhetorical tricks, creating cognitive confusion of form and meaning.

Craik, T. W. "Critical Analysis by Acts and Scenes." In Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, edited by J. M. Lothian and T. W. Craik, pp. lxi-lxxix. Arden Edition. London: Routledge, 1975.

Traces the structural development of the principal and secondary plots as well as Shakespeare's elaboration on the theme of love.

Davies, Stevie. "A Note on Fools." In Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare, edited by Stevie Davies, pp. 62-68. London: Penguin Books, 1993.

Discusses Feste as an emblem of the humanist tradition of Folly, which satirized human pretension and self-delusion. As Feste points out the affectations of all the other characters on stage, Davies notes, he implicitly mocks the audience's own hypocrises and poses.

Elam, Keir. "The Fertile Eunuch: Twelfth Night, Early Modern Intercourse, and the Fruits of Castration." Shakespeare Quarterly 47, No. 1 (Spring 1996): 1-36.

Argues that Viola's fleeting reference to emasculation—"present me as an eunuch" (I.ii.56)—is rich in significance for the play as a whole. Elam lays out the long tradition of the theme of castration—from Terence to Italian Renaissance commedia to post-Reformation English comedy—which Shakespeare drew on and reworked.

Freund, Elizabeth. "Twelfth Night and the Tyranny of Interpretation." ELH 53, No. 3 (Fall 1986): 471-89.

Uses Twelfth Night to compare semiotic and mimetic approaches to literary criticism. In Freund's judgment, the play illustrates the indeterminacy of language and is a perfect example of the challenge of recovering meaning from a text.

Hasler, Jörg. "The Dramaturgy of the Ending of Twelfth Night" In Twelfth Night: Critical Essays, edited by Stanley Wells, pp. 279-302. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986.

An analysis of the direct and indirect theatrical notation that governs the gestures, grouping, and movement of characters in the play's final scene. Hasler calls attention to the series of entrances that culminate in the appearance of Sebastian; the jarring interlude with Malvolio; and, most importantly, the way Cesario/Viola remains the focus of attention despite the fact that she is given few lines to speak.

Hunt, Maurice. "The Religion of Twelfth Night" CLA Journal: Official Quarterly Publication of the College of Language Association XXXVII, No. 2 (December 1993): 189-203.

Evaluates allusions in the play to Christian and other religious doctrines. In Hunt's view, the play satirizes the Puritan notion that Providence can be relied on to operate directly in human affairs and instead demonstrates that Providence works obliquely, through such natural agents as Time and Fortune.

Jardine, Lisa. "Twins and Travesties: Gender, Dependency and Sexual Availability in Twelfth Night." In Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, edited by Susan Zimmerman, pp. 27-38.

Discerns in Twelfth Night a reflection of the sexual vulnerability of boys and young women in early modern England. The financial dependence of Viola and Sebastian leads each of them into household service, Jardine notes, and because of their subservient status both are objects of general erotic desire until they are safely married.

Muir, Kenneth. "Twelfth Night.'" In Shakespeare's Comic Sequence, pp. 91-101. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1979.

Praises Twelfth Night as the capstone of Shakespearean romantic comedy and comments particularly on its fully rounded characterization, the play's uniquely lyrical atmosphere, and the masterful way in which various plot strands are instigated.

Priest, Dale G. "O r else this is a dream': Ambivalence and Madness in Twelfth Night" CLA Journal: Official Quarterly Publication of the College Language Association XXXIV, No. 3 (March 1991): 371-83.

Focuses on the "darkhouse" scene—Feste's badgering of the imprisoned Malvolio—and the play's ambiguous treatment of comic madness. Priest claims that Twelfth Night demonstrates that madness can be a carnivalesque release from social decorum, a psychological delusion, or a perceptive vision of the illogical nature of human existence.

Scragg, Leah. "'Her C's, her U's, and her T's: why that?': A New Reply for Sir Andrew Aguecheek." Review of English Studies: A Quarterly Journal of English Literature and the English Language XLII, No. 165 (February 1991): 1-16.

Assesses the significance of Malvolio's repetition of "C. . .U. . .T. . . P" as he reads the forged missive in II. v. Elizabethan audiences would have enjoyed the bawdy implications of these initials, she remarks—"cut" was a vulgarism for the vagina, and "p" a slang abbreviation for "piss"—but this sequence of letters would also remind them to safeguard their wallets against cutpurses and pickpockets, who found golden opportunities in theatrical playhouses.

Shapiro, Michael. "Anxieties of Intimacy: Twelfth Night" In Gender and Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages, pp. 143-72. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

Compares Twelfth Night's depiction of Cesario/Viola with other English plays of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras that also feature a heroine disguised as a male. Shapiro contends that Shakespeare's treatment of the homoerotic possibilities inherent in this role is both fresh and subtle.

Slights, Camille. "The Principle of Recompense in Twelfth Night." Modern Language Review 77, No. 3 (July 1982): 537-46.

Suggests that the design of Twelfth Night is governed by the principle of reciprocity—the continuing process of give-and-take that binds individuals together in a healthy community. Slights asserts that the action of the play moves from isolation and self-absorption toward each character's recognition of the necessity for mutual obligation and dependency in human society.

Smidt, Kristian. "Or, What You Will." In Unconformities in Shakespeare's Later Comedies, pp. 62-75. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Theorizes that Shakespeare heavily revised Twelfth Night after its completion and early staging. Smidt believes that the role of Feste is an interpolation, written to bring the famous Elizabethan stage clown Robert Armin into the cast, and that when Shakespeare added this character he overlooked the resulting textual anomalies—especially the mix-up of parts between Fabian and Feste.

Tromly, F. B. "Twelfth Night: Folly's Talents and the Ethics of Shakespearean Comedy." Mosaic VII, No. 3 (Spring 1974): 53-68.

Maintains that in this play Shakespeare shows folly as a positive value, indeed the principal means of coming to terms with human frailty and the harshness of the world. Tromly points out that it is delusion itself, created by Viola's disguise, that liberates Orsino and Olivia from their self-absorption and draws them into human society.

Videbæk, Bente A. "Feste in Twelfth Night" In The Stage Clown in Shakespeare's Theatre, Greenwood Press, 1996, pp. 95-109.

Remarks on the nature of Feste's foolery, calling attention to the differences between Feste and Shakespeare's other court jester clowns.

Warren, Roger, and Stanley Wells. Introduction to Twelfth Night, or What You Will, by William Shakespeare, edited by Roger Warren and Stanley Wells, pp. 1-76. Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

An extensive overview of the play. The editors discuss a variety of issues, including Twelfth Night's stage history, its Latin and Italian models, its complex presentation of romantic love, its characterization, and its dramatic structure.

Weiss, Theodore. "A Dying Fall: Twelfth Night" In The Breath of Clowns and Kings: Shakespeare's Early Comedies and Histories, pp. 298-330. New York: Atheneum, 1971.

Views Twelfth Night as Shakespeare's most graceful and mellow comedy, but acknowledges an undertone of poignancy as well. Emphasizing Shakespeare's mature artistry Weiss proceeds through the play scene by scene to demonstrate its author's surehanded control of tone, characterization, and dramatic effects.

Westerweel, Bart. "The Dialogic Imagination: The European Discovery of Time and Shakespeare's Mature Comedies." In Renaissance Culture in Context: Theory and Practice, edited by Jean R. Brink and William F. Gentrup, pp. 54-74. Aldershot, England: Scolar Press, 1993.

Examines the paradoxical nature of time in Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Westerweel argues that each character in these two comedies inhabits a different and distinctive world of time; in the case of Twelfth Night, he calls particular attention to Orsino's fanciful image of a pastoral golden age, Feste's solid footing in the present, and Viola's belief in providential time.

Westlund, Joseph. "Twelfth Night: Idealization as an Issue." In Shakespeare's Reparative Comedies: A Psychoanalytic View of the Middle Plays, pp. 93-119. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Finds consistency in the characterization of Orsino and Olivia, and contends that the apparently sudden shifts in their affections in the final scene are psychologically plausible. Westlund proposes that Orsino and Olivia are initially narcissistic and lack self-confidence, but Viola's receptivity to their needs helps them gain less idealistic appraisals of themselves, so they can recognize appropriate objects of desire.

Willbern, David. "Malvolio's Fall." Shakespeare Quarterly 29, No. 1 (Winter 1978): 85-90.

Analyzes the gulling of Malvolio in relation to both the prevailing theme of festivity and the underlying tone of melancholy in Twelfth Night. In Willbern's judgment, the steward is punished for three reasons: his rationality, his social-climbing, and his latent desire to sleep with Olivia.


Twelfth Night Literary Criticism (Vol. 34)


Twelfth Night Literary Criticism (Vol. 62)