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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: October ::
Questions on Festivity, esp. on Twelfth Night!
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1753  Monday, 17 October 2005

From: 		Jodi D. Clark <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Oct 2005 08:22:18 -0400
Subject: 	Questions on Festivity, esp. on Twelfth Night!

Festivity in Twelfth Night has been a topic I have long been interested 
in.  I directed a production of Twelfth Night in Brattleboro, VT, which 
I set in 1920s New Orleans during Mardis Gras, to give you a sense of 
how strong the festive imagery resonated with my interpretation of the 
play.  There are many images of festive misrule within Twelfth Night 
which are related to traditional festive activities both in England and 
throughout Europe.  There is cross-dressing for starters.  In a 
production of the play during Shakespeare's time, it was even more 
confusing since it was a man, playing a woman who is dressing as a man. 
  But cross-dressing was an activity very popular during festivals such 
as the Lord of Misrule Day.  Also on that day, it was traditional for 
leaders of the lower-class folk to be deemed the "Lords of Misrule" who 
were in charge of the festivities, thus elevating lower-class members of 
society up from their traditional role for a day or so.  Malvolio fits 
into an example of someone who considers himself elevated in the first 
place, and Sir Toby and company play with that notion and get Malvolio 
into trouble with that notion by egging him on with the fake letter 
which encourages him to put on the airs and act upon his presumed 
notions of greatness.  Malvolio is also a Puritan, which is completely 
antithetical to Sir Toby's disposition of festive drunkenness all the 
time (and is frowned on in Elizabethan England), which plays upon what 
is often referred to as the battle between Carnival and Lent, which 
Michael Bristol discusses in his work.  What is interesting to me is 
that Viola's cross-dressing is forgiven by the characters as she 
ultimately renounces it and goes back to her former and "proper" role in 
society and Malvolio's presumptive greatness is not forgiven, though he 
is pitied for it.  Because his intent is to marry Olivia in the guise of 
his put on "greatness," this is a transgression which he plans on 
keeping and not letting go in a timely fashion.  Additionally, his 
Puritanical nature is something that is so frowned upon and his excess 
of it is punished.  Whereas Sir Toby's excess is chastised, but in the 
end, he is rewarded by getting married to Maria.

Even Orsino is guilty of excess in his obsessive love for Olivia.  And 
Olivia has her excess of grief to which she clings.  Excess in general 
abounds in this play, which is inherently, a festive theme.

There is Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who are the 
self-appointed lords of the misrule in their drunkenness and trickery. 
And finally, Feste, who by his very nature is a festive, though often 
melancholy character, depending on how he is played.  The line that best 
describes both Malvolio and Feste are given by Olivia in 1.5, 89-95:

O:  O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste
with a distempered appetite.  To be generous,
guiltless, and of free disposition, is to take those
things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-
bullets.  There is no slander in an allowed fool,
though he do nothing but rail; nor no railing
in a known discreet man, though he do nothing
but reprove.

There are several other books I want to recommend to you, and I'm 
certain other members of the list will have even more than that, but 
here are some others which may prove helpful on this topic:

_Shakespeare's Festive World:  Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and 
the Professional Stage_ by Francois Laroque
_Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater:  Studies in the 
Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function_ by Robert Weimann
_The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England_ by Jean E. 
Howard (which has sections on Twelfth Night and the roles of desire in 
that play)
_Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe_ by Peter Burke
_Vested Interests:  Cross-dressing & Cultural Anxiety_ by Marjorie 
Garber (which has a wonderful chapter on cross-dressing in Shakespeare)

I hope this is helpful!  Good luck!

-Jodi Clark
Marlboro, VT

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