Twelfth Night Programme Notes
Present mirth hath present laughter
A great festival of feasting and game playing was central to the Christmas celebrations in England from the time of the Saxons to the seventeenth century. In 1644, Cromwell's puritan-dominated Long Parliament replaced the festival with a solemn fast.
In the reign of Richard II it was customary for the court to be visited by groups of players who performed (probably mimed) comic shows or "disguisings". In private houses, and even in the palace, it was the custom to elect a Lord of Misrule. It was he (usually a man of no rank) who became responsible for organising the revels. entertainments and feastings of the festival. Elaborate court was paid to this King of Folly; the whole hierarchy of the household was turned upside down and the mundane discipline of the rest of the year was respected only in parody form. Although Queen Elizabeth did not elect a Lord of Misrule in her court, the custom was widely preserved in the universities and Inns of Court and in the great houses well into Shakespeare's time.
Youth's a stuff will not endure
My masters, are you mad? or what are you?
"The sea captain who first tells Viola about Illyria might just as easily have said to her what the Cheshire Cat says to Alice: They're all mad here'. Orsino and Olivia are both in abnormal states of mind at the beginning of the play, and there are even madder characters to come: the drunken Sir Toby, the hare-brained Sir Andrew Aguecheek, or Feste, the man whose profession is folly. Even Sebastian and Antonio will admit to temporary insanity. Malvolio alone tries to check the prevailing atmosphere of abandon . . . (but he is) tricked into the service of just that world of play-acting and lunacy he so loftily despised". (Anne Barton 1969)
Clown: "I wear not motley in my brain"
In Shakespeare's day "Puritan" meant firstly a distinct political and religious faction. It was a faction with considerable influence and in the name of godly solemnity, it waged indefatigablewar against the youthful and lighthearted pleasures of the Elizabethan world.
But the "whirligig of time brings in his revenges", and Elizabethan dramatists, including Shakespeare, had their own back by making Puritan characters their comic butts.
What country friends is this?
"Shakespeare seems to have thought of Illyria as a semi-independent fief of the Holy Roman Empire, like the contemporary Dutch Indies". (John W. Draper 1948)
"We are here in fairyland; why should we try to discover the real nature of the personages? They are children of the imagination, of caprice, graceful fairies, sylphs and imps, piccolini stregoni" (E. Montegut 1867)
"The scene is laid in Illyria, whilst the names of the Dramatis Personae are a mixture of Spanish, Italian and English. The best mode of reconciling the discrepancies arising from so many conflicting circumstances appears to be the assumption, first, that Duke Orsino is a Venetian governor of that portion of Dalmatia which was all of ancient Illyria remaining under the dominion of the republic at the commencement of the seventeenth century, and that his attendants, Valentine, Curio, etc., as well as Olivia, Malvolio, and Maria, are also Venetians; and, secondly, that Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are English residents; the former a maternal uncle to Olivia - her father, a Venetian Count, having married Sir Toby's sister". (Joseph Knight 1884)
"Illyria is obviously a land of love, music, and leisure, ... it might be English, Italian, French, Russian (before the revolution) or, with some adaptation, American or Utopian; medieval, renaissance or modern". (John Russell Brown 1957)
"Some stage managers have used Greek dress. For the purposes of the stage there must be a "local habitation". For a reader, the scene of Twelfth Night is the elusive and evanescent but limitless and immortal land of dreams". (H H Furness 1901)
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Last modified: 2012-03-15