My Time of Shakespeare: Twelfth Night; Or, What You Will

03 Feb
ACT III. SCENE IV. OLIVIA'S HOUSE. OLIVIA, MARIA, AND MALVOLIO.Painted by John Henry Ramberg. Engraved by Thomas Ryder.

Painted by John Henry Ramberg. Engraved by Thomas Ryder.

I remember these peppered irritations of tragedy in Shakespeare’s comedies. We laugh at the tragically misunderstood or deceived characters and the seemingly ill-fated events turning against their hopes. Twelfth Night exemplifies Shakespearean comedy in the sense that the audience laughs at the silly misconceptions and ridiculous manipulations perpetrated in the play. Within Twelfth Night we have other common Shakespearean elements such as the fool, gender disguise and complicated love triangles, squares or pentagons!

I enjoyed the play and nothing more. I found it fun.

I will remember this clown when reading other fools and clowns in Shakespeare’s plays. He contrasts King Lear’s fool in wisdom but also in action. Several characters invited the Clown into their circle of mischief and partnered with him as an equal. I imagine this familiarizes the audience more with Maria, Malvolio and the Sirs than the Clown himself. He executes their plans and plays a vital role in their manipulations whereas Lear’s fool simply remains at his side providing him ironically disguised counsel. As a woman character written in the 17th century, Olivia intrigued me. She doesn’t behave the way society might expect women to behave. She declines the Duke’s offers of matrimony and her social circles excuse it with grief over her brother’s death. I commend her for denying him at all and not excusing her feelings with sadness over a departed sibling, even though others say as much. She refused to allow others to control her and yet fate deceives her by the disguise of Olivia as Cesario. Even the strong-willed and perhaps a little self-righteous characters can fall victim to Fate’s clever playing.

Consider this issue of control. How much do these characters actually control their destinies? The play begins with shipwreck upon the Duke Orsino’s island, the characters separate and make decisions based on misinformation while the play results in the union of several characters and all misinformation brought to rights. But the play also resulted in the demise of the sadly manipulated Malvolio and careless disregard toward the actions of Sirs Andrew and Toby. The fates of these characters resulted in large part from coincidence and sheer folly – except for the actions of the so-called ridiculous troop of characters against Malvolio. They proved him easier to play on than a pipe. The characters end up happy but not in the way they imagined themselves happy and the path to this happiness seems very much against their inclinations. Perhaps Shakespeare imagines people toiling after illusory control and crafting haughty manipulations and laughs. What’s the famous cliche again?

1 Comment

Posted by on February 3, 2013 in William Shakespeare


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One response to “My Time of Shakespeare: Twelfth Night; Or, What You Will

  1. readinpleasure

    February 5, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I read Twelfth Night a long time ago. Thanks for the nice reminder 🙂


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