Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
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Twelfth Night Programme Notes

William Shakespeare

(Canon suggested by E. K. Chambers)
1590-2 Henry VI Parts 1, 2, 3 William Shakespeare
1592 Richard III
The Comedy of Errors
1593 Titus Andronicus
The Taming of the Shrew
1594-5 Two Gentlemen of Verona
Love's Labour's Lost
Romeo and Juliet
Richard II
A Midsummer Night's Dream 1594 formation of the Lord Chamberlain's Company in which Shakespeare was an actor and shareholder.
1596 King John
The Merchant of Venice 1596 burial of Shakespeare's son Hamnet, the twin of Judith.
1597 Henry IV Part 1 and 2
1598 Much Ado About Nothing
Henry V
1599 Julius Caesar 1599 opening of the Globe Playhouse.
As you Like it
1601 Troilus and Cressida 1601 death of John Shakespeare, father of William.
1602-3 All's Well That Ends Well 1603 death of Queen Elizabeth. Closure of the theatres due to plague.
1604 Measure for Measure
1605 King Lear
1606 Antony and Cleopatra
1607 Coriolanus 1607 marriage of Shakespeare's daughter Susanna to the physician John Hall.
1608 Cymbeline
1610 The Winter's Tale
1611 The Tempest
Henry VIII
1613 Globe burns down on the occasion of the first performance of Henry VIII.

Twelfth Night

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

Sonnet 33

Full many a glorious morning have I seene,
Flatter the mountaine tops with soveraine eie,
Killing with golden face the meddowes greene;
Guilding pale streames with heavenly alcumy:
Anon permit the basest cloudes to ride,
With ovgly rack on his celestiall face,
And from the for-lorne world his visage hide
Stealing unseene to west with this disgrace:
Even so my Sunne one early morne did shine,
With all triumphant splendor on my brow,
But out alack, he was but one houre mine,
The region cloude hath mask'd him from me now.
    Yet him for this, my love no whit disdaineth,
    Suns of the world may staine, whe heavens sun stainteh.
    Crabbed Age and Youth
Cannot live together:
    Youth is full of pleasance,
Age is full of care;
    Youth like summer morn,
Age like winter weather;
    Youth like summer brave,
Age like winter bare.
    Youth is full of sport,
    Age's breath is short;
Youth is nimble,
    Age is lame;
Youth is hot and bold,
    Age is weak and cold;
Youth is wild, and Age is tame.
    Age, I do abhor thee;
    Youth. I do adore thee.
O! my Love, my Love is young!
    Age, I do defy thee.
    O Sweet shepherd, hie thee,
For methinks thou stays'st too long.
(William Shakespeare: The Passionate Pilgrim)

My masters, are you mad? or what are you?

(Sonnet 144)

Two loves I have of comfort and dispaire,
Which like two spirits do sugiest me still,
The better angell is a man right faire:
The worser spirit a woman collour'd il.
To win me soone to hell my femall evill,
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a divel:
Wooing his purity with her fowle pride.
And whether that my angel be turn'd finde,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell,
But being both from me both to each friend,
I gesse one angel in an others hel.
    Yet this shal I nere know but live in doubt,
    Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

"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.

"If you will learn to jest, laugh and fleer, to grin, to nod and now; if you will learn to swear, tear and blaspheme both heaven and earth ... if you will learn to rebel against princes ... to sing and talk of love and venery ... if you will learn to play the whore-master, the glutton, drunkard, or incestuous person and to commit all kinds of sin and mischief, you need go to no other school (than the theatre), for all these good examples may you see painted before your eyes in interludes and plays". (Philip Stubbes: "Anatomie of Abuses" 1583)

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