The Madness of Twins

1625

Title: Twelfth Night

Rating: 4 Stars

This is the second of three plays that I’ll be seeing when I’m off to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in a couple of weeks.

This is simply a delight of a play to read. It has a clear plot, clear characters, and it moves along smartly to its conclusion. This is a comedy written by someone who has mastered the format.

I find that interesting, because Twelfth Night was really the last true comedy (if you believe the conventional chronology) that Shakespeare was to write.  After this, there is All’s Well That End’s, with its forced marriage, virgin seducer, and woman pretending to be another in bed so that she can become pregnant. There is Measure for Measure, which has a man trying to force a woman to yield her virginity to keep her true love from being executed. There is The Winter’s Tale, which is at best forty percent comedy and sixty percent tragedy.

I wonder if, after finishing Twelfth Night, Shakespeare felt this was the best that he could do with the genre or maybe just got bored with it and wanted to mix it up a bit?

Regardless, as I read through this, I heard many echoes from previous plays.

  • The twins, Sebastian and Viola, hearken back to the twins in The Comedy of Errors
  • The gender confusion of Viola brought about by her dressing as a man brings to mind The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • The twin comedy duo, Belch and Aguecheek, remind me of Dogsberry and Verges from Much Ado About Nothing

It feels like he’s been working around this for a while, and here is the culmination of his efforts.

As is usual in comedies, seeing them on paper makes you realize how unrealistic the characters motives really are.

  • Orsino, with his great love of Olivia, rather quickly switches his allegiance to Viola
  • Olivia, after swearing seven years of mourning for her dead father / brother, immediately casts that off and pursues Cesario with abandon
  • Is dressing up as a man really the only option Viola had after surviving the shipwreck?

However, even with all of that, as well as the ultimately cruel treatment of Malvolio, all is forgiven as the humor, pace, and lightness of the play sweeps aside all such concerns.

I’m really looking forward to seeing it!

 

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