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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: January ::
Re: *Twelfth Night*
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0012  Saturday, 3 January 1998.

[1]     From:   Bernice W. Kliman <
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        Date:   Friday, 2 Jan 1998 18:06:06 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.008  Re: *Twelfth Night*

[2]     From:   Peter Hillyar-Russ <
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        Date:   Saturday, 3 Jan 1998 18:24:27 -0000
        Subj:   Twelfth Night


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bernice W. Kliman <
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Date:           Friday, 2 Jan 1998 18:06:06 -0500
Subject: 9.008  Re: *Twelfth Night*
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.008  Re: *Twelfth Night*

I recall the production Marilyn Bonomi mentions; it was indeed awful.
The imprisonment of Malvolio high up in a wire cage was excellent,
though, if you like the idea of cruelty in the play. It was about three
years ago; I recall because I went with a granddaughter's class when she
was 11.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Hillyar-Russ <
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Date:           Saturday, 3 Jan 1998 18:24:27 -0000
Subject:        Twelfth Night

Recent discussion of Twelfth Night in this forum has observed a tendency
to produce this play in a "safe" way, making the whole thing into a
"lark". This tendency extends to this season's new production (by Adrian
Noble) at the RSC, which (in my opinion) is strong on humour and weak on
emotion.

Surely the heart of this play lies in the bereavement which both Olivia
and Viola suffer for their lost brothers (in Viola's case, of course,
mistakenly). Viola and Sebastian are twins, and twin bereavement tends,
I understand, to be particularly grievous. One documented feature is a
compulsion often experienced by the survivor to assume the identity of
the dead sibling. This is, in fact, what Viola does by dressing in man's
attire (an action having no clear alternative explanation, beyond its
convenience to the dramatist).

It is perhaps significant that Shakespeare may have witnessed the
effects of twin bereavement, for he was the father of twins, one of whom
died. The survivor (Judith) may be imagined as being of about Viola's
age - in her mid to late teens - when the play first appeared. Judith's
brother, Hamnet, had died when they were eleven, at which pre-pubescent
age they might well have been far more confusible than a seventeen year
old pair of twins would be.

Like Viola, Olivia (why are these names near anagram's?) is also
bereaved by a brother's death, but in her case the slightest touch of
eroticism dismisses her grief - though her brother actually is dead.
Viola's falling in love results in increased sadness, which, when
focused by Feste's "Come away death" song becomes almost unendurable.
When she tells her story to her new love Orsino, in its misleading terms
- "My father had a daughter loved a man, as it may be, perhaps, were I a
woman, I should your lordship". She becomes so caught up in emotion that
her grasp on the normal vocabulary of family relationships slips into
the, to my mind, overwhelming sentence: "I am all the daughters of my
father's house, and all the brothers [we would expect 'sons'] too, and
yet I know not."

When Sebastian does return to resolve the tensions in Viola's story we
seem to be getting little more than a rewrite of "Comedy of Errors"
material - a play written when both of Shakespeare's own twins were
alive and certainly young enough to be confusible. In this play the role
of the male twin is not really developed - but the next play could well
have been Hamlet, and James Joyce, through his character Stephen Dedalus
(in Ulysses, in the chapter commonly called "Scylla and Charybdis"),
presents a case for seeing Hamlet as a work in which the playwright's
own grief for the dead Hamnet is expressed. Here, in Twelfth Night, we
may perhaps see something of Shakespeare's observation of his daughter's
coming to terms with her brother's death; and her simultaneous
developing adult sexuality.

When people refer to the "dark" side of this play I suspect they are
referring to the iniquitous treatment of Malvolio - certainly most of
the examples recently cited refer to Malvolio. This is indisputably
true, but I think there is much darkness in the main plot too. The play
shows a very clever use of the sub-plot by Shakespeare to "reflect" the
opposites of the main plot. The main plot is, I believe, one in which
really agonising emotional turmoil is resolved into a perfect happy
ending: but Shakespeare is not so simplistic - in the subplot jolly
"larking" comedy prevails, but ends in hideous cruelty; enough to blight
the happy ending of the main plot, and it is unresolved (as almost all
happy endings turn out to be unresolved in real life). Feste links the
plots by focusing the drama in both.

Peter Hillyar-Russ

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