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Twelfth Night (1) William Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night is commonly being referred to as one of his most successful works, even though some critics suggest that it lacks metaphysical depth. Play is filled with Renaissance motives, which leaves no doubt, as to when it was written. In late 16 th century, Christianity had lost its religious credibility, in the eyes of European intellectuals, which is why they were subconsciously trying to find a new ideal that could serve as spiritual foundation for the works of art and literature. Shakespeare was one of them. His genius, as writer, consisted of his ability to address the issues that were related to peoples subconscious anxieties at the time.
This is why Twelfth Night is often being described as one of Shakespeare's most erotic plays. In it, author exploits different aspects of peoples eroticism to achieve a comic effect. At the same time, he does not use them to make socio-political statements, as some contemporary critics imply. We can say that, in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare strived to show that every individual is a very complex creature and that gender affiliation does not always define individuals existential mode.
This, of course, was a revolutionary deed, on his part, given the historical period, associated with the name of William Shakespeare. In her article Gender Ambiguity and Desire in Twelfth Night, Maria Doblas is making a good point, when she says: Twelfth Night is an excellent play in which to explore issues such as transvestitism, gender and the importance of clothing (Doblas). Apart from exploring the themes of sexuality, Shakespeare also provides us with the insight on the social essence of Elizabethan society. In Twelfth Night, author portrays class affiliation as factor that defines social dynamics more than any other.
Shakespeare was able to describe these dynamics as such that do not correspond to the objective reality. By doing it, author ridicules aristocratic ideals. In her article Tracing a Heterosexual Erotics of Service in Twelfth Night and the Autobiographical Writings of Thomas Whythorne and Anne Clifford, Mary Ellen Lamb suggests that the reason why play exploits the motives of latent sexuality is not merely to achieve a comic effect: Illicit homosexual relationships may have been less threatening to patriarchal ideology than sexual unions between a male servant and the mistress of the household. Relationships between women and menservants pitted gender hierarchy against class hierarchy (Lamb).
Thus, it would be more appropriate to think of Twelfth Night as play that, besides being funny and witty, also contains a political message, which can only be recognized if close analysis is being applied. (2) Although Twelfth Night plot is complicated, this does not make it less suspenseful. Duke Orsino is in love with beautiful Olivia, who mourns the death of her brother little too hard. Orsino hires a young lad called Cesario, to serve as his page, without realizing that Cesario is actually a woman named Viola. In her turn, Viola falls for Orsino, but she refrains from revealing her true identity to him. Olivia finds Cesario very smart and attractive, which causes her to become affectionate towards him.
However, just as Orsino, Olivia does not know that Cesario is a woman. This causes a great deal of confusion within a context of interpersonal relations, which Shakespeare uses as foundation, upon which plays comical values are based. Olivia's uncle Sir Toby grows increasingly weary of her nieces mournful stance. He also does not like Olivia's prudish steward Malvolio and decides to play a practical joke on him, by composing a letter, allegedly written by Olivia, where Malvolio is being asked to act in foolish manner, to prove his love to Olivia. In a meanwhile, Violas twin brother Sebastian appears in the town with his best friend Antonio.
Olivia confuses him with Cesario and suggests that they marry each other. This shocks Sebastian to a degree, because Olivia is a total stranger to him. However, he agrees to marry her, because he would not be able to find a better match, given Olivia's beauty and riches. Sir Toby's friend Andrew challenges Cesario to a duel, because he grows jealous of Olivia's affection towards Orsino's page. However, Sebastian happens to be in the neighborhood, when Andrew decides to give Cesario a good lesson.
Andrew confuses him with Sebastian - war hardened soldier, who does not like to play around. At the time when situation becomes very dramatic, Cesario appears on the stage, while making everybody to realize that he is a woman. In its turn, this causes Orsino to realize that his affection towards Olivia was artificial and that he actually loves Viola. Thus, Orsino and Viola are being happily reconciled, after all. Sebastian finds his happiness in being married to Olivia. Sir Toby marries Olivia's maid Maria and this marriage makes a better person out of him, since he no longer finds pleasure in getting drunk.
The only person, whose dreams remain unrealized, at the end of the play, is Malvolio. It is not just that he was being ridiculed in front of others. Toby's crank enabled him to recognize his own worthlessness, as individual. Thus, we can say that it is Malvolio's misery that made it possible for other characters to achieve happiness, which can hardly be thought of within a context of comedy. Twelfth Night is a comedy that relies on non-verbal means of creating a comic effect. Therefore, the quality of actors performance, as the main factor that corresponds to plays success fulness among viewers, cannot be underestimated.
Shakespeare used to emphasize on it repeatedly, while looking for the actors to perform in the play. In 16 th century, female roles were played by male actors, because medieval theater was being strongly affected by theatrical traditions of ancient Greeks. This meant that the role of Viola was to be played by a man, who needed to act, as if he really believed that he was a woman, pretending to be a man. It needless to say that this requires a great talent, on the part of actor. Lee Lady, in his article Shakespeare's Women in Drag: Viola says: At times, Viola appears as very much the young man, and a few minutes later shes very much the confused young woman, in love with a man who's trying to help teach her how to grow up as a male. Obviously the actress playing her has lots of choices, but for me, this flickering back-and-forth shift from male to female is the most charming thing about her (Lady).
We can only agree with this suggestion. Even though Twelfth Night is often being regarded as very light, comparing to Shakespeare's tragedies, it would be wrong to think that this implies a less degree of artistic talent, on the part of actors, engaged in the play. Quite contrary the reason why quality performances of Twelfth Night are associated with the atmosphere of effortlessness is because actors spend a great amount of time familiarizing themselves with psychological archetypes of their characters. The most challenging part of a play has traditionally been associated with Malvolio being locked up in the dark room, because of his insanity. Apparently, actors involved in the scene have a hard time trying no to laugh.
This explains a fact why it is very hard to perform this play on the stage, if actors did not undergo rigorous repetitions, prior to that. (3) It is commonly assumed that Twelfth Night was being staged for the first time on February 2, 1602. In his book Twelfth Night: Texts and Contexts, Bruce Smith quotes Shakespeares contemporary, law student John Manningham, who refers to the plays first performance in his diary: At our feast we had a play called Twelve Night, or What You Will A good practice in it to make the steward believe his lady-widow was in love with him, by counterfeiting a letter as from his lady, in general term telling him what she liked best in him and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparel, etc. and then, when he came to practice, making him believe they took him for mad (Smith). It shows that, despite plays seeming complexity, it used to attract spectators, because of the issues that were being incorporated into plays plot. Apparently, these issues were being talked about, even in time of Shakespeare. For example, the friendship between Sebastian and Antonio is sexually suggestive.
This gives a reason for some progressive critics to suggest that in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare was striving to promote homosexuality, as lifestyle. Such claim, of course, cannot be thought of as valid, because homosexual eroticism, in the play, often serves as basis for various jokes. The growing popularity of Twelfth Night resulted in play being performed for the members of Britains royal family in 1618 and in 1623. This helped the play to establish its dramaturgic value and added to its popularity. Nevertheless, it was not until 18 th century that Twelfth Night began to be referred to as one of great classical works of Shakespearian legacy. It is one of Shakespeare's plays that is being simultaneously performed in its original and adapted versions.
In 1703, the playwright William Burnaby produced an adaptation of Twelfth Night called Love Betrayed or The Agreeable Disappointment, which used to be performed throughout the England until 1741, when Shakespeare's original work started to attract more and more people. In fact, since there was no copyright law in European countries, until 18 th century, Twelfth Night motives could be found in many works of European literature of the time. The year 1820, saw a staging of adapted version of Twelfth Night, which is now associated with the name of Frederic Reynolds one of the greatest Shakespeare's fans of the time. He was able to enrich original play by providing it with musical score, which was composed by Henry Bishop. Up until today, Bishops music usually accompanies plays performances. In 1931, Sadlers Wells Theatre in London featured notable production of the play starring Ralph Richardson as Sir Toby and John Gielgud as Malvolio.
It was the first time when play incorporated modern settings, as its integral part. The fact that actors were wearing modern costumes did not deprive play of its original meaning. Moreover, it resulted in creating a peculiar dramaturgic effect, when audience was able to relate to the action on the stage in immediate manner. Even though Violas role has traditionally been played by male actors, the situation has changed in recent years. In 1981, Twelfth Night was staged at London's Globe Theatre, when female roles were played by actresses. This did not deprive play of its aura of slight perversion, as it was being anticipated by Shakespeare's fans, thus proving once again that Twelfth Night is a highly versatile play.
One of the most famous performances of Twelfth Night, which took place in London in 2002, involved Mark Romance playing the part of Olivia. This performance was highly praised by critics, as such that provided viewers with a new outlook on the issue of gender relations. (4) The reason why issues discussed in Twelfth Night had never lost their actuality in our days is that they continue to affect the lives of great many people. At the beginning of twentieth century, Sigmund Freud proved that individuals psyche can often be characterized by persons strive to achieve existential completeness. In it other words, it is different emotional experiences that allow us to attain a comprehensive worldview. One of the reasons why men and women get married, besides legitimizing their sexual relations, is to upgrade the existential status of their beings. Thus, when people refer to married couple as one body, it is not because they want to sound nice, but because marriage allow men and women to be psychologically associated with opposite gender, which provides them with emotional comfort.
As practice shows, people who had never been married are more likely to engage in sexual perversions, because their strive towards self-realization does not derive out of biological purposefulness. Sexuality is a biological mechanism that insures the survival of human kind, because it allows people to associate intercourse with sensual pleasure. However, when sexual acts are being performed for the sake of experiencing sensual pleasure alone, they inevitably become associated with spiritual depravity, which in the realm of gender relations, corresponds to curious eroticism. It its turn, this type of eroticism has only two ways of realizing itself through association with either crime or comedy. In Twelfth Night, transvestitism and latent homosexuality are being referred to as comical means. This is why it is wrong to suggest that in his play, Shakespeare was actually promoting unconventional forms of sexuality.
The article Twelfth Night (Vol. 74) | Introduction, which can be found on the site of Enotes. Com, suggests that plays modern stage and film adaptations do correspond to the original essence of Shakespeare's comedy, because they do not add anything extra to authors message: The play's highly charged sexual atmosphere makes Twelfth Night a popular choice for film and stage adaptation. In 1996, Trevor Nunn directed a film version of Twelfth Night in which he offered his interpretation of the play's sexual and gender issues. Film teases the boundaries of heterosexual decorum but never oversteps them (Enotes.
Com). This explains why great many people still enjoy watching the performances of Twelfth Night. Apparently, while recognizing the existence of psychological motivations for sexual non-conformity, Shakespeare was able to convince viewers that these motivations should not be regarded seriously. In other words, cross-dressing might be exiting for many people, but their strive to wear clothing of opposite sex does not give them good enough reason to think of themselves as special and to demand others to view transvestitism as legitimate pursuit. (5) The dialogs between characters in Twelfth Night often contain statements that have philosophical value, despite the fact that this Shakespeare's play was meant to rather entertain than to educate: Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them (Shakespeare, Act II, Scene V). Also, Shakespeare promotes the idea that men and women percept surrounding reality different, which is why arguments between representatives of both genders rarely result in reaching the consensus. A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband says Sir Toby, in one of his monologues, and it is hard to disagree with him.
In fact, Shakespeare was able to realize that the concept of love associated with different values by men and women, before this was proven by Otto Weinenger, at the beginning of twentieth century. As love doth give my heart; no womans heart. So big, to hold so much. They lack retention. Alas, their love may be called appetite (Act II, Scene 4). This statement can be interpreted as such that exposes Shakespeare's insight on the fact that women are not capable of distancing their understanding of concept of love from their physical sensuality.
This is the reason why women always associate love with sexual tension, whereas men are capable of loving passionately, even when subjects of their affection are not aware of their existence, which explains the cultural phenomenon of knighthood. Thus, we can say that Twelfth Night contain concealed ideas that we now commonly relate to political incorrectness. Since political correctness nowadays is being showed up peoples throats, regardless of whether they want it or not, they subconsciously seek out an emotional relief from ideological brainwashing. It appears that people are able to find such relief when they watch Twelfth Night, which is exactly the reason why play continues to attract viewers, despite the fact that it was being written in 16 th century. Twelfth Night remains relevant in our times, because it exposes the inner dynamics of gender relations as such that are defined by biological factors. Bibliography: Doblas, Maria Gender Ambiguity and Desire in Twelfth Night. 2003.
Dialnet. Universidad de La Rioja. 9 Dec. 2007. web Gates, Anita Shakespeare's Comedy Club, Open All Night. 21 Jun. 2006. The New York Times. 9 Dec. 2007. web Lamb, Mary Tracing a Heterosexual Erotics of Service in Twelfth Night and the Autobiographical Writings of Thomas Whythorne and Anne Clifford. 1998. BNET Research Center. 9 Dec. 2007.
web Lady, Lee Shakespeare's Women in Drag: Viola. 2002. The University of Hawaii. 9 Dec. 2007. web Jardine, Dan Twelfth Night: Or What You Will. 2007. Apollo Guide. 9 Dec. 2007. web Smith, Bruce Twelfth Night: Texts and Contexts.
New York: Bedford St Martins, 2001. Shakespeare, William Twelfth Night. 2007. Shakespeare-Literature. Com. 9 Dec. 2007.
web Twelfth Night (Vol. 74) | Introduction. 2007. Enotes. Com. 9 Dec. 2007. web Seymour, Colin Theater Review: Theatre Works Twelfth Night. 2007.
Mercury News. Com. 9 Dec. 2007. web Abstract: This paper analyses William Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night and explains the reasons why issues discussed in it remain relevant in our time. Outline: Introduction Plot Performance history Psychological implications Twelfth Night within a context of modern living
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