Twelfth Night

By William Shakespeare
June 1 2005
directed by Robert Cohen

Sarah Dandridge as Viola; Aimee Phelan-Deconinck as Olivia Orsino, Duke of Illyria, loves the bereaved countess Olivia but cannot persuade her to love him in return. A shipwreck lands Viola on Illyria's shores. Thinking that her twin brother Sebastian was drowned in the wreck, Viola dons masculine attire and presents herself to Orsino as a gentleman named "Cesario." The Duke is impressed by his new attendant and sends him to Olivia to plead his amorous cause yet again. Viola willingly obeys though, having fallen in love with Orsino, she would rather be wooed by him than woo in his stead. "Cesario" delivers Orsino's adoring praises and petitions. So compelling is the performance that Olivia falls in love-with the disguised Viola! Bothered by the meddling steward Malvolio's constant chiding, Olivia's servant Maria, drunkard uncle Sir Toby Belch and would-be suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek play a practical joke on him. Maria forges a letter from Olivia that convinces Malvolio his mistress loves him and desires signs of love from him. Malvolio obeys the letter's commands, which were actually gauged to make him look ridiculous. Olivia thinks him mad and leaves him in her uncle's care. Toby and the others lock Malvolio in a dark room, leaving him alone with a candle, pen and paper. Meanwhile, Viola's twin brother Sebastian has survived the shipwreck with the help of Antonio, a sailor. Having fought in a battle against Illyria, Antonio fears being recognized. He loans Sebastian some money, and they agree to meet later in town. Smitten with Orsino, Viola continues to woo Olivia on his behalf even while Olivia's love for "Cesario" becomes increasingly uncomfortable and obvious. Sir Andrew, seeing the disguised Viola as a rival for Olivia's affections, challenges her to a duel. Antonio happens by and, mistaking Viola for Sebastian, joins the fight. Officers arrive, recognize Antonio and arrest him. When he asks Viola for the money that he loaned to Sebastian, she protests that she does not have it and Antonio is led away, convinced that Sebastian has betrayed him. When Toby and Andrew witness "Cesario's" apparent cowardice, they resolve to ambush him again later. Meanwhile, Feste meets Sebastian in town and, thinking that he is his sister, takes him to Olivia. Sebastian is much more interested in Olivia than Viola was and he marries her (even though she keeps calling him "Cesario"!) Toby and Andrew happen upon Sebastian and attack him, thinking he is the cowardly "Cesario." The disparate characters soon meet and Viola finds herself in serious trouble on all fronts: Antonio believes that she has cheated him; Olivia announces their marriage and when denied, believes Cesario is betraying her; and Orsino wants to kill her for marrying the woman he loves. At that moment, Andrew enters, angrily displaying his wounds at Sebastian's hands. The resulting confusion reminds us of Viola's plea: "Oh time, thou must untangle this, not I; It is too hard a knot for me t'untie!"

Date Time
Wednesday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Dramaturg: Michelle Liu Carriger Sarah Dandridge as Viola; Augustus Truhn as Orsino; Aldo Pantoja as Curio "Now kiss, embrace, contend, do what you will," says Julia in Two Gentlemen of Verona. And Julia's "what you will" offering to her absent lover (as well as to the theatre audience for this soliloquy) is Shakespeare's starting point - as well as his alternate title - for the play we have heretofore largely called Twelfth Night. But the alternate title is the preferred one, as the dramaturg's essay in this program makes clear. Everyone in Illyria wills him/herself in love with the wrong person: Orsino, Sebastian and Sir Andrew with Olivia, Olivia with Viola, Viola with Orsino, and Antonio with Sebastian. And Malvolio, whose name means "ill will," has essentially fallen in love with himself. Of course, Shakespeare himself was in love around this time as well - with a dark lady to whom he wrote, in his ribald Sonnet 135 (and the italics are his): Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will, 
And Will to boot, and Will in overplus; 
More than enough am I that vex thee still, 
To thy sweet will making addition thus. 
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious, 
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine? 
Shall will in others seem right gracious, 
And in my will no fair acceptance shine? 
The sea all water, yet receives rain still 
And in abundance addeth to his store; 
So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will 
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more. 
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill; 
Think all but one, and me in that one Will. which series of puns Shakespeare concludes, a sonnet later, with the pun that places himself squarely in the willing set: Make but my name thy love, and love that still, 
And then thou lov'st me,--for my name is Will. What? - You, Will? Being a comedy of romantic misalliances and mistaken identities (one John Manningham mightily enjoyed seeing a play called Twelve Night, or What You Will, much like the Comedy of Errors, in 1602), the play has an exuberant comedic buoyancy, playfully skirting the restraints of realism. "So full of shapes is fancy/ that it alone is high fantastical," declares the lovestruck Orsino in the play's first moments, and we have certainly aimed for the "high fantastical" in our production - which locates Illyria in a Caribbean island in the 1930's, infusing our locale with vintage calypso rhythms and a multinational mix of delightfully extraordinary characters. But the high fantastical casts a shadow of the tragic. The play tells us of separated boy and girl twins, the girl believing her brother dead. Shakespeare had boy and girl twins, and the boy - Hamnet by name - had died at age 11 in 1596 - about five years before Twelfth Night. His twin sister, left in Stratford with her mother and two-year-older sister (William living in London), must have been absolutely devastated. The playwright, as with any father, must have been even more devastated - both losing his son (for whom he would write another play), and his inability to solace his daughters, particularly Hamnet's twin. Both of the principal women begin What You Will grieving their (presumed) dead brothers. Shakespeare provides each of them - and the audience - a happy ending. For him, this must have been the most fantastical part.

Sarah Dandridge as Viola; Aimee Phelan-Deconinck as Olivia Orsino, Duke of Illyria, loves the bereaved countess Olivia but cannot persuade her to love him in return. A shipwreck lands Viola on Illyria's shores. Thinking that her twin brother Sebastian was drowned in the wreck, Viola dons masculine attire and presents herself to Orsino as a gentleman named "Cesario." The Duke is impressed by his new attendant and sends him to Olivia to plead his amorous cause yet again. Viola willingly obeys though, having fallen in love with Orsino, she would rather be wooed by him than woo in his stead. "Cesario" delivers Orsino's adoring praises and petitions. So compelling is the performance that Olivia falls in love-with the disguised Viola! Bothered by the meddling steward Malvolio's constant chiding, Olivia's servant Maria, drunkard uncle Sir Toby Belch and would-be suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek play a practical joke on him. Maria forges a letter from Olivia that convinces Malvolio his mistress loves him and desires signs of love from him. Malvolio obeys the letter's commands, which were actually gauged to make him look ridiculous. Olivia thinks him mad and leaves him in her uncle's care. Toby and the others lock Malvolio in a dark room, leaving him alone with a candle, pen and paper. Meanwhile, Viola's twin brother Sebastian has survived the shipwreck with the help of Antonio, a sailor. Having fought in a battle against Illyria, Antonio fears being recognized. He loans Sebastian some money, and they agree to meet later in town. Smitten with Orsino, Viola continues to woo Olivia on his behalf even while Olivia's love for "Cesario" becomes increasingly uncomfortable and obvious. Sir Andrew, seeing the disguised Viola as a rival for Olivia's affections, challenges her to a duel. Antonio happens by and, mistaking Viola for Sebastian, joins the fight. Officers arrive, recognize Antonio and arrest him. When he asks Viola for the money that he loaned to Sebastian, she protests that she does not have it and Antonio is led away, convinced that Sebastian has betrayed him. When Toby and Andrew witness "Cesario's" apparent cowardice, they resolve to ambush him again later. Meanwhile, Feste meets Sebastian in town and, thinking that he is his sister, takes him to Olivia. Sebastian is much more interested in Olivia than Viola was and he marries her (even though she keeps calling him "Cesario"!) Toby and Andrew happen upon Sebastian and attack him, thinking he is the cowardly "Cesario." The disparate characters soon meet and Viola finds herself in serious trouble on all fronts: Antonio believes that she has cheated him; Olivia announces their marriage and when denied, believes Cesario is betraying her; and Orsino wants to kill her for marrying the woman he loves. At that moment, Andrew enters, angrily displaying his wounds at Sebastian's hands. The resulting confusion reminds us of Viola's plea: "Oh time, thou must untangle this, not I; It is too hard a knot for me t'untie!"

The World of the Play Sean Tarrant as Malvolio "So full of shapes is fancy/ that it alone is high fantastical," declares the lovestruck Orsino in the first moments of Twelfth Night, or, What You Will. Matching the fanciful action of the play, director Robert Cohen aims for the "high fantastical" in this production. Cohen locates Shakespeare's Illyria on a Caribbean island in the 1930s, a place infused with vintage calypso rhythms and a mix of Italian, English and Creole characters. Janice Lacek's costumes are exuberant reminders of the period but the set designed by Arthur Chadwick illustrates best of all the spirit of the "high fantastical" so important to Cohen's vision of the play. Featuring an ocean-blue floor and twinkling globes, the set incorporates elements of the original Elizabethan theatre in whimsical ways while providing space for the play's tropical antics. The play's alternate title What You Will would have suggested to Elizabethan ears the phrase "Who You Want." Cohen conceives of the play in these terms because so much of the action raises precisely this question: exactly who do the characters want? All of the major characters fall in love with the wrong person: the servant Malvolio with his mistress Olivia, Olivia with the girl Viola, and Orsino with the boy "Cesario." Romantic confusions multiply until, like a moebius strip, the characters come out on the other side of the story with the right person-all except one, the pitiful, misplaced Malvolio.

What's in a Name? Matthew Erickson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek; Dennis R. Elkins as Sir Toby Belch; Damian Thompson as Fabian In 1662, Samuel Pepys called Twelfth Night "a silly play, and not related at all to the name or day." The question of silliness aside, why the title? One possibility is that the play was named after the day it premiered. January 6 is the twelfth day after Christmas, the Christian feast of Epiphany. Scholar Leslie Hotson believes that the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the company Shakespeare wrote for and performed with, first presented Twelfth Night for Queen Elizabeth on the evening of January 6, 1601. Other scholars link the wacky antics of the characters to Epiphany celebrations featuring a Feast of Fools "in which the normal rules and order of life were suspended or else deliberately inverted, in which serious issues and events mingled perplexingly with revelry and apparent madness." This could describe the trickery and disguises that invert gender and class roles: Viola disguises herself as a boy but falls in love with her master; the servant Maria impersonates her mistress; and Feste and Fabian help fool their superior, the steward Malvolio. Malvolio himself becomes convinced that his mistress Olivia loves him while she actually falls for a different servant, Viola. Despite these explanations for the title, many scholars agree with Samuel Pepys that the text has no real reference to the feast celebrated on "Twelfth Night." After all, the play's action has a distinctly summery feel; Olivia evens proclaims at one point, "This is very midsummer madness!" In addition, the content is far from religious. While there is one brief appearance by the priest who marries Sebastian and Olivia, the only other religious figure is Feste's version of a sham priest, Sir Topas. Those unconvinced by arguments for the appropriateness of Twelfth Night often prefer the play's other title. In fact, Twelfth Night is Shakespeare's only play with two titles: Twelfth Night, or, What You Will. The phrase "What You Will" expresses the topsy-turvy atmosphere of the play. Moreover, as Shakespeare actor Michael Pennington points out, the word "will" conveyed "an overtone of sexual impulse or passionate whim" at the time. The phrase also carried the connotation of "Have at you!" which nods to the preponderance of duels and cruel tricks in the play. And, of course, many people have also noticed the pun on the author's name. The play's two titles are evident in European productions. Like "Twelfth Night," the French title Le Nuit des Rois or "The Night of Kings" refers to the Epiphany while the German title Was Ihr Wollt uses only the phrase that directly translates to "What You Want." As early as 1623 one actor decided to follow his own will and just called the play Malvolio with himself in the title role. Of course, the text itself does not rely on its title. Whatever it is called, the play we know as Twelfth Night remains one of the best-loved comedies of Shakespeare, an uproarious comedy shot through with darker tones of violence and passion. As Shakespeare elsewhere wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet."