Saturday, March 13, 2010

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

In William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night Viola and her twin brother Sebastian are separated by a disastrous shipwreck. Viola, believing her brother dead, finds her way to the court of Duke Orsino in Illyria. There, dressed as a man, she becomes the confidant of the Duke under the name Cesario. Orsino is madly in love with Olivia, a wealthy countess. The duke sends Viola to woo Olivia in his name, but Olivia falls in love with Viola and Viola falls in love with the Duke.

While all the wooing and falling in love is happening, Sir Toby Belch, kinsman to Olivia, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a friend of Sir Toby's and suitor to Olivia, pull a practical joke on Olivia's steward, Malvolio. Maria, Olivia's lady in waiting, forges a letter that she drops where Malvolio will find it. The forged letter convinces the steward that Olivia is in love with him. It instructs him to dress and act in a way guaranteed to annoy the Duchess. Upon doing so, Malvolio is thought to be mad and finds himself confined to the cellar.

Sebastian, rescued by the sea captain Antonio, now arrives in Illyria. Antonio gives Sebastian his purse to use while sightseeing. Antonio cannot go with Sebastian because he is a wanted man in Illyria, and so leaves to find lodging. Meanwhile, Sir Toby decides to prank Sir Andrew, convincing him to challenge Viola/Cesario to a duel over Olivia. Sir Toby conspires to convince both would be combatants that a duel is unavoidable. When the fracas begins, Antonio stumbles in and intervenes, mistaking Viola for Sebastian. Antonio is promptly arrested. He asks Viola for his purse, hoping to pay his way out of his legal troubles, but she of course knows nothing about it. Antonio curses the confused Viola.

Sebastian, while wandering about the city, encounters Olivia. The countess takes him for Viola and bundles him off to the church where they are married in secret. Later, Orsino visits the Countess. When he once again proclaims his love, Olivia reveals the secret marriage to Sebastian. But it Viola in attendance, not Sebastian. Viola denies the marriage, but the priest is called in to verify it. Orsino curses Viola as a betrayer and Viola is finally forced to reveal the truth that she is a woman. Orsino falls in love with Viola. Sebastian returns to the court and is reunited with his sister. Malvolio is freed from the cellar. Everyone agrees that his was badly used, but Malvolio remains angry and stalks off at the end of the play.

I rather enjoyed this play. It is certainly not on the level of Hamlet or King Lear, but it was a delight to read. I would recommend it if you have already read Shakespeare's great plays already, but this is not where I would recommend the new reader of Shakespeare begin.


Read for:

  • Much Ado About Shakespeare Challenge - an extra because it's Shakespeare and he is that good.

  • Numbers Challenge

  • GLBT Challenge - because of Viola's cross-dressing and Antonio's professions of love for Sebastian along with what he says about his time with Sebastian: ... and for three months before, / No interim, not a minute's vacancy, / Both day and night did we keep company.

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