The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0995. Thursday, 2 October 1997.
From: Louis C Swilley <
Date: Wednesday, 1 Oct 1997 17:16:11 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Twelfth Night
After a video viewing of the Trevor Nunn "Twelfth Night," a member of
our reading group, Patricia Lamb, re-read the play and gave us the
following valuable notes on it:
The keynote of the play is rule/misrule. The title refers to a time of
misrule. Love may be said to combine rule and misrule because on the
one hand it is madness and fantasy, yet on the other it is the greatest
wisdom and reality. If a man has not some of this madness he has not
love, or has at best a distorted love.
Viola has the madness of love but she also has self-control. Like
Olivia she is mourning a brother, but she must mourn in secret. As
Olivia manages her household, Viola manages her own emotions and the
emotional affairs of Olivia and Orsino. Viola lives vicariously (as
long as she cannot otherwise express herself) by teaching Olivia about
love - it's her own love she is describing.
In the first line, Orsino asks to be fed with love. In the second line,
he asks to be cured of love. In the seventh line he asks that the
food/cure be stopped - it has already palled. Yet this unruly man runs
a dukedom successfully: he says to one man "go" and he goeth, etc. The
disorder in him is confined to his emotions. He is in love with love,
and Olivia's refusal to consider his suit relieves him of the need to
deal with her actual self. His recognition that he loves Viola, and his
intention to marry her, are the signs of change in him. Viola will give
his love an object at last and she will go on drawing him to order
through the endurance of her love.
Olivia's situation is comparable to Orsino's. Her emotional state is
topsy-turvy. She has turned her natural grief into self-indulgence and
is already finding it boring. If she were to adhere to her 7-year plan
of mourning she would be wasting the prime of her life; she should be
getting married and bearing children. Her emotions are in suspense and
ready to rush forth when the beautiful and beautifully expressive
Cesario comes along. At the same time, as Sebastian points out, she is
able to run a household with authority and (considering what she has to
work with) order. Nevertheless, her household is divided against
itself. One part is excessively lax and frivolous while the other is
excessively humorless and priggish. This is an extension of her own
self-imposed state, which is loveless and silly at the same time.
Sir Toby misrules things below stairs, getting drunk, disregarding time
and decorum, and embarrassing his niece. Maria is the real organizer
and her imagination is fed by her resentment. The marriage of these two
cures them both, for she will be able to control him to a certain
extent, while her social elevation will remove any reason for her to
Sir Andrew has been mismanaging his estate by ignoring it and wasting
his money at Olivia's. He now must go home and get himself and his
house in order.
Malvolio has not the madness of love. He has an imperturbable self-love
to balance his isolation from society, and this balance may be what
keeps him sane. Solitary confinement of one who is already isolated by
nature only confirms him in his attitudes.
Antonio is as humorless as Malvolio but at least he loves someone
outside himself. Everything is orderly in him except the wildness of
his love for Sebastian. He tries to be Sebastian's providence, which
could be an acceptable way to show his love. He puts himself in peril
for him, which is unreasonable - yet this is the unreasonableness of
love. He would be happy to die for him if it would do him any good. (He
is thus like the Antonio in *Merchant of Venice*.)
Viola and Sebastian have to question each other when they meet because
they are surrounded by illusions. It is prudent for each to doubt the
other's appearance in this place where every other appearance has been
Feste's final song describes a life misspent in drunkenness and knavery,
growing less and less amusing to others as time goes by. A man who does
not grow up and get himself in order will pay the price in bad
reputation and painful hangovers.