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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: December ::
Re: Trevor Nunn's *Twelfth Night*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0916.  Thursday, 5 December 1996.

(1)     From:   John King <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 04 Dec 1996 09:42:30 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0909  Re: Trevor Nunn's *Twelfth Night*

(2)     From:   Laurie Osborne <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 4 Dec 1996 14:04:11 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0909  Re: Trevor Nunn's *Twelfth Night*


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John King <
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Date:           Wednesday, 04 Dec 1996 09:42:30 -0600
Subject: 7.0909  Re: Trevor Nunn's *Twelfth Night*
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0909  Re: Trevor Nunn's *Twelfth Night*

In response to Carrie Zoll's comments about the handling of the gender issues
in Trevor Nunn's "Twelfth Night" film, I have to wonder if we saw the same
movie.  One of the things which pleased me the most about it was, in fact, it's
refusal to shy away from exploring the homosexual themes and merely treat the
swapped gender roles as just another stock device. "Cesario's" relationship
with Orsino was played with a defenite awareness of its sexual overtones, with
Toby Stephens as Orsino doing what I felt was a fine job of conveying the
confusion of his situation- a confusion which he would not, realistically,
reveal to ANYONE around him, one which he would most decidedly keep to himself.
 The fact that they almost kiss in the "Come away death..." sequence made it, I
think, abundently clear what was going on; and why, even if Feste DID know
about Viola's disguise, would he have any interest in keeping us from seeing
homoerotic content- it seems to me that their confusion would simply give him
more cause for his dour brand of mirth.  As for the homosexuality of Antonio, I
think that it was once again made sufficiently clear what was going on with
him. Nicholas Farrell played it in a way which left no doubt (as if there could
be any, anyway) how he felt about Sebastian- and in the text, it certainly is
never stated explicitly that he is gay, either.  Perhaps my reaction to this
aspect of the film is affected by the fact that I recently saw a college
production of "As You Like IT," and not only did they NEVER even hint at any
kind of sexual confusion in the relationship between Orlando/"Ganymede," but on
talking to the actors who played the roles afterwards I discovered they had
never even discussed or thought about that issue.  But still, I felt it was
handled with just the right amount of emphasis- I admired the fact that it was
just enough for us to get it and recognize it's importance to the story, but
not enough to hit us over the head with it.  After all, it's not a play about
being homosexual- at least not explicitly.

As for the cruelty displayed towards Malvolio, I have always felt that this was
a fundamental issue of the play.  Shakespeare made his characters cruel, and
Nunn simply portrays them faithfully, without trying to solve it by making
Malvolio even more hateful or by trying to sugar coat it in some way, as I have
seen done (it's never convincing).  And indeed, I think that again the actors
do such a marvelous job of subtly portraying the subtextual information that
there is not only a deeper reason implied for the conspiracy (perhaps personal
for each participant) against Malvolio beyond the fact that he is an
insufferable, judgemental ass (reason enough for him to be the butt of any and
all jokes- he reminds me of the pompous figures they used to use in Marx Bros.
movies for Groucho to insult in an equally cruel manner); likewise, I think
there is an awareness on the part of the practical jokesters that they go too
far- again, not explicit, but there. One other thing:  I felt that he did a
great job of making it a FILM instead of a play; as someone else pointed out,
the kind of intercutting of scenes and adding of material (and cutting of other
material) that normally is the bane of Shakespeare movies works very well here,
helping to underline the themes and parallels which fuel the play.  In all, I
felt the movie did a wonderful job of telling the story and of making it
accessible without spoon-feeding its audience.It takes great courage in this
age of easy information to make a film which lets the audience think for
itself, and even more to take a difficult, ambiguous play like "Twelfth Night"
and present it without trying to provide answers to all the questions it
raises. It was meant to make its audiences think, even as they were laughing,
and Mr. Nunn and his stellar cast have given at least one audience member (me)
that pleasure.

John King
Platypus Theatre Troupe
Mesa, AZ

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laurie Osborne <
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Date:           Wednesday, 4 Dec 1996 14:04:11 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0909  Re: Trevor Nunn's *Twelfth Night*
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0909  Re: Trevor Nunn's *Twelfth Night*

I finally got to see the Twelfth Night this week-- at long last! I enjoyed it
very much, and I really wish I had had the chance to see it twice, because I am
interested in some of their choices--especially the choice to adopt Antonio's
take on Illyria. In this version, Illyria is as much of a dangerous place for
Viola and Sebastian as it is for Antonio--and his lines are even used to
establish the danger! In addition to the interesting "invention" of the
Comedy-of-Errors style arbitary war between Illyria and Messina, the addition
of Viola's fencing lesson (although interrupted) allowed for a more aggressive
duel from Viola than I had envisioned.

Unlike another SHAKSPERian, I found the choice to disperse the interactions
between Viola and Orsino across the surface of the film very interesting. Not
only does the film in effect conform to the 20th c. film convention of the
short take, but also in doing so, the film BUILDS the relationship between
those two characters through an array of interactions: duelling, smoking,
playing cards, playing pool, sneaking off together to the stable to hear
Feste's song. As a result, I found Orsino and Viola's attraction for him quite
believable, even both early critics from the 19c and my 20c students have often
found her attraction to him inexplicable. Of course, they have moved her line
"Oh barful strife, whoe'er I woo myself would be his wife" until after the LAST
rather than the FIRST time that Orsino sends Viola to woo Olivia. I thought
Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia was wonderful, especially in her shock at the
end. And, most wonderful of all, they did not pull punches with Malvolio's rage
or the disturbances in the ending. And even the extended recognition scene
between Viola and Sebastian worked well, I thought.

Laurie Osborne

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