Wednesday 5 January 2011

Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Festivities of drink, dance, laughter and make merry…

If music be the food of love, play on;

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour!

Twelfth Night love and merriment

Twelfth Night, or What You Will is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written around 1601-02 as a Twelfth Night’s entertainmentfor the close of the Christmas season. It is set in Illyria, an ancient region to the south of Europe. The play is comedy of errors which take place due to mistaken identity.

the story

Orsino, the Duke of lllyria,is in love with his neighbour, the Countess Olivia. She has sworn to avoid men’s company for seven years while she mourns the death of her brother, so rejects him. Nearby a group of sailors arrive on shore with a young woman, Viola, who has survived a shipwreck in a storm at sea. Viola mourns the loss of her twin brother but decides to dress as a boy to get work as a page to Duke Orsino.

Despite his rejection Orsino sends his new page Cesario (Viola in disguise) to woo Olivia on his behalf. Viola goes unwillingly as she has already fallen in love at first sight with the duke. Olivia is attracted by the ‘boy’ and she sends her pompous steward, Malvolio, after him with a ring.

Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, her servant Maria, and Sir Toby’s friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who is also hoping to woo Olivia, and is being led on by Sir Toby, who is trying to fleece him of his money, all plot to expose the self-love of Malvolio. By means of a false letter they trick him into thinking his mistress Olivia loves him. Malvolio appears in yellow stockings and cross-garters, smiling as they have told him to in the letter. Unaware of the trick the Countess is horrified and has Malvolio shut up in the dark as a madman.

Meanwhile Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, who has also survived the shipwreck, comes to Illyria. His sea-captain friend, Antonio, is a wanted man for piracy against Orsino. The resemblance between Cesario and Sebastian leads the jealous Sir Andrew to challenge Cesario to a duel. Antonio intervenes to defend Cesario whom he thinks is his friend Sebastian, and is arrested. Olivia has in the meantime met and become betrothed to Sebastian.

Cesario is accused of deserting both Antonio and Olivia when the real Sebastian arrives to apologise for fighting Sir Toby. Seeing both twins together, all is revealed to Olivia. Orsino’s fool, Feste, brings a letter from Malvolio and on his release the conspirators confess to having written the false letter. Malvolio departs promising revenge. Maria and Sir Toby have married in celebration of the success of their device against the steward.

The play ends as Orsino welcomes Olivia and Sebastian and, realising his own attraction to Cesario, he promises that once she is dressed as a woman again they, too, will be married.

{Images from the film: Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia; Imogen Stubbs as Viola;  Toby Stephens as Orsino}

 

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