Twelfth Night

By William Shakespeare
June 1 2000
directed by Mark Harrison

Orsino, Duke of Illyria, laments his unrequited love for the maiden Olivia unaware that a powerful agent of change has just washed onto his shore. Shipwrecked Viola, certain that her twin brother Sebastian has drowned, decides to offer her services to the Duke in the guise of a boy. She immediately falls in love with Orsion from behind her disguise. Orsino welcomes Viola-pretending to be Cesario-and sends her as an emissary to woo the melancholy Olivia. But the beauty is instantly smitten with Cesario's charm and wit. Meanwhile the sailor Antonio rescues Sebastian and offers to escort him to Illyria. Olivia confesses her affections to Viola-Cesario, ignoring other suitors like her Uncle Toby's friend, fellow drunkard, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Toby, Andrew and the maidservant Maria learn that the steward Malvolio also has a crush on Olivia. As revenge for his conceit and prudish rebukes, the trio decides to fool him with a love letter penned in Olivia's handwriting. Toby goads Andrew into challenging Cesario to a duel over Olivia's affections-a fight the secretly feminine Viola is eager to avoid. Malvolio is imprisoned for insanity after dressing in exaggerated fashions to impress his employer. Unaware that his identical sister is hiding in Illyria, Sebastian enters the city and is immediately mistaken for Cesario. He wanders into both the arranged duel and the arms of the marriage-eager Olivia. As the twins draw closer to meeting, the stage is set for a finale filled with mayhem, reconciliation, and three very different romantic matches. 
--Julie Chase

Date Time
Thursday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Twelfth Night, or What You Will is a play about the loss and recovery of identity. It is also a commentary on who we love and how we love. These themes have enormous resonance in our media-driven society, where image and reality are in a continual state of flux, where the question "what is love?" posed by Feste in his bittersweet song, eludes easy definition. "This is Illyria, lady." The word "Illyria" rolls deliciously off the tongue. Critic J.B. Priestley mused that it's difficult even to sound the name and remain sober. Whatever the Elizabethans knew, Illyria has the ring of fantasy or romance to a modern audience. Into this mythical setting, Viola is washed ashore after a terrible shipwreck which may have claimed the life of her twin brother. She is bereft as she turns to her rescuers and asks, "What country, friends, is this?" To this director, the answer to Viola's question hovers near the top of the priority list. Much has been written about the festive spirit that informs Twelfth Night, or What You Will. The title suggests a time of misrule, role reversal, and merriment. It is perhaps Shakespeare's most musical play. Illyria also has a melancholy side and its citizens a penchant for romantic conceits as they routinely fabricate grounds for deceiving themselves or others. Duke Orsino has cast himself in the role of unrequited lover and pines for a beautiful woman, Olivia. For her part, Olivia plays the grief-stricken sister, sworn to seven years of mourning for her recently deceased brother. Olivia's steward, Malvolio, has visions of becoming his mistress's august paramour and her drunken cousin, Sir Toby Belch, amuses and enriches himself by deceiving another improbable suiter to Olivia, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Self-deception is a kind of disguise more complicated than the forms to which we are accustomed. When Viola arrives in Illyria, she needs to heal and find her bearings, so she assumes a literal disguise--that of her twin brother--and gravitates, as one would expect in a fantasy, to the center of power: Orsino's court. "I am not that I play." Viola knows this much about her gender-bending disguise. Her task is to teach Olivia and Orsino that the same is also true of them. By falling in love with Orsino and wooing on his behalf, Viola becomes a prisoner to her persona. However, because of her disguise, Orsino and Olivia are able to drop their self-appointed roles and discover their deepest feelings in the presence of a virtual stranger--a young (wo)man who truly understands the nature of real love and courtship. For our production, Illyria has been inspired by images drawn from the first half of the 20th century, an era when vaudevillians, glamorous stars, and studios ruled Hollywood. Imagine, if you will, a camera pulling back to reveal a movie studio, where larger-than-life personalities and the characters they play blend seamlessly, a setting where the borders of illusion and reality blur, and the true self often lurks somewhere beneath the surface. The characters of TWELFTH NIGHT are not movie stars; Illyria is not Hollywood. But the echoes give us lots to consider. 
--Mark Harrison

Orsino, Duke of Illyria, laments his unrequited love for the maiden Olivia unaware that a powerful agent of change has just washed onto his shore. Shipwrecked Viola, certain that her twin brother Sebastian has drowned, decides to offer her services to the Duke in the guise of a boy. She immediately falls in love with Orsion from behind her disguise. Orsino welcomes Viola-pretending to be Cesario-and sends her as an emissary to woo the melancholy Olivia. But the beauty is instantly smitten with Cesario's charm and wit. Meanwhile the sailor Antonio rescues Sebastian and offers to escort him to Illyria. Olivia confesses her affections to Viola-Cesario, ignoring other suitors like her Uncle Toby's friend, fellow drunkard, Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Toby, Andrew and the maidservant Maria learn that the steward Malvolio also has a crush on Olivia. As revenge for his conceit and prudish rebukes, the trio decides to fool him with a love letter penned in Olivia's handwriting. Toby goads Andrew into challenging Cesario to a duel over Olivia's affections-a fight the secretly feminine Viola is eager to avoid. Malvolio is imprisoned for insanity after dressing in exaggerated fashions to impress his employer. Unaware that his identical sister is hiding in Illyria, Sebastian enters the city and is immediately mistaken for Cesario. He wanders into both the arranged duel and the arms of the marriage-eager Olivia. As the twins draw closer to meeting, the stage is set for a finale filled with mayhem, reconciliation, and three very different romantic matches. 
--Julie Chase

Cakes and Ale: Twelfth Night as Festival Unlike Julius Caesar or Henry V, the title Twelfth Night, or What You Will makes no obvious reference to the world of the play, at least not to the ears of a modern audience. Shakespeare's contemporaries would have thought otherwise. Twelfth Night was traditional carnival time, the culmination of a twelve-day holiday during Christmas season that reached back at least to the thirteenth century. A subversive rejoinder to religious austerities of the nativity, it was a time when the church could be mocked and services were interrupted by the rex fabarum-the king of fools. Such kings were elected or selected by lottery throughout the realm: by the royal court, local municipalities and Oxford Colleges. Twelfth Night was punctuated with timeless carnival behavior. Wassailing (caroling and drinking) costumes, elaborate feasts, bawdy masques and plays and elaborate pranks were all part of the festivities. Yet despite the title, Twelfth Night traditions are not literal in Shakespeare's play, which is set in the warm Mediterranean landscape of Illyria, far from the cold shores of an English winter. The subtitle, or What You Will, hovers like a disclaimer; an invitation to the audience to interpret the play as more than just a holiday romp. Indeed, the world of Illyria is more complicated than Christmas revelry; carnivals end and the world returns to normal, but the characters of Twelfth Night are transformed by their passions; they are seeking something more lasting than the brief liasons of festival time. Similarly, the revels and pranks in the play take the festival spirit well beyond the bounds of traditional comedy, as can be seen in the treatment of Malvolio. Given the context that Twelfth Night festivities provide for the play, the question arises why was Shakespeare not more explicit about them. He never mentions Christmas or Epiphany, the feast days book-ending the holiday period: Why not? After the reformation, many English folk traditions associated with Catholicism were officially discouraged and even forcibly suppressed. Mocking the church was an affront to Puritanism, which had become an influential political force. Although Twelfth Night was still celebrated during Elizabeth's reign, censorship was common. In 1580, election of a King of Fools was forbidden at the Middle Temple -- the same influential Inn of Court where Twelfth Night premiered in 1601. As folk customs were suppressed it seems carnival retreated to a new haven - the rising commercial theater. The rex fabarums of medieval England became the Festes and Falstaffs of the great Elizabethan stage. Shakespeare transformed the transient festivities of carnival into the poetry-and theatre-of timeless lovers. 
--Julie Chase