Twelfth Night; or, What You Will by William Shakespeare

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
Summary from Goodreads:

Separated from her twin brother Sebastian after a shipwreck, Viola disguises herself as a boy to serve the Duke of Illyria. Wooing a countess on his behalf, she is stunned to find herself the object of his beloved's affections. With the arrival of Viola's brother, and a trick played upon the countess's steward, confusion reigns in this romantic comedy of mistaken identity.

I was yet undecided about what to read for TFG's Shakespeare month, but then I came across a Shakespeare Made Easy edition of Twelfth Night at a bargain bookstore, so the decision was finally made for me. Also I have come to the conclusion that I need to have some sort of assistance when it comes to reading anything from The Bard. With Much Ado About Nothing, I came into it having seen a couple of You Tube clips of Tennant and Tate's stage production, and I had an audio book version on hand. But I discovered that what truly helps is a modern translation! My comprehension and enjoyment of Twelfth Night increased considerably because of it. 

Twelfth Night is said to have been written sometime in the 1600s, in a reference to the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany, the twelfth night after Christmas Day. The said day is characterized by revelry, which mirrors the play's plot. It is about The Duke Orsion who pines for the lady Olivia, who pines for Cesario (who is actually Viola pretending to be a boy), who pines for The Duke Orsino. Another part of the story has Olivia's handmaiden, her cousin, her servant and her fool playing a prank on Malvolio, an extremely proud and uptight steward. The said prank causes Malvolio to think that Olivia is in love with him. And there's a third story, where we have Viola's twin brother, Sebastian, whom they thought to have died in the shipwreck, being well and alive. And he, along with his companion Antonio, gets roped into the two previously mentioned plot points. Since Viola and Sebastian are each other's splitting image, people started to mistake one for the other. That is how Twelfth Night is, shenanigans and pranks and tomfoolery and confusion.  

I enjoyed the lightness and the silliness of this comedy. Just when I thought sarcasm, and irony and puns were modern inventions.  Shakespeare dishes them out by the handful in this comedy. And in top form too. It's hilarity is even reinforced by his excellent use of Elizabethan language. Twelfth Night explores several themes: love, gender and pride, to name a few. It seems to say that love is both sweet and bitter, and how it knows no gender. And then there's pride, exhibited most explicitly by Malvolio's desire to be a Count. He took the bait laid out by the pranksters because he is a man driven by ego. Also, marriage is also somewhat restricted by pride. Nobles are generally not oft to marry below their stature. Take for example Olivia asking about who Cesario is, by which the latter replies that his parentage is above his present status as a servant. Showing how much of the pride of a noble status figures into love. 

I also noticed how Twelfth Night features quite a number of poetic songs. Again, mirroring perhaps the revelry of the holidays. The play itself, ends with a song that seems to depict the stages of a normal, mundane human life. It feels like such a different tone from the the fantasy world of merriment and romance that is Illyria, the place where Twelfht Night is set. I interpreted it too, as being quite meta. It's like The Bard is drawing the curtains down and dimming the lights to his own stage, telling the audience to go back to their sad and tired lives because the show has come to a close. This is, after all, said to be among the last of the comedies he wrote. It could be a farewell song.

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

But when I came to man's estate,
  With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut the gate,
  For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
  With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
  For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
  With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
  For the rain it raineth every day.

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.

Reading Twelfth Night was a fun experience. And by my troth, knowest thou that this shall not be my last Shakespeare read. 

Comments

  1. How about you read All's Well That Ends Well next and I'll read Twelfth Night? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds like a good plan. :D Hanap ako yung may modern translation! Hehe. Adik na tuloy sa modern translation. :)

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