Twelfth Night Written by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare & Twelfth night • Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night in 1601, toward the middle of his career. It is said to be one of his best comedies; about illusion, deception, disguise, madness, and the things love causes some to do. Also, it is his only play that has two alternative names; Twelfth Night or What You Will. • Twelfth Night is one of his three transvestite comedies that feature female protagonists who had to disguise themselves as men. • It is also thought that Shakespeare consulted an Italian play from the 1530’s called Gl’lngannati, which has twins who are mistaken for each other and contains a love triangle and also a 1581 play called “Apollonius and SIlla,” by Barnabe Riche, which has the exact same plot to a point.
Character List • Viola- An aristocrat-born young woman who happens to play the protagonist. She is washed up on the shore of Illyria after her ship is wrecked in a storm, and she decides to find a way to make something of herself for survival. She disguises herself as Cesario (an exact replica of her identical twin brother), becomes a page to Duke Orsino, and falls in love with Orsino. The fact that she is disguised as a man helps create the main conflict in the play. • Orsino- A very powerful Duke in Illyria who is lovesick for Lady Olivia. He becomes very fond of his Page, Cesario, who is really Viola disguised as a man. • Lady Olivia- A beautiful and wealthy Lady in Illyria. She is courted by Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek but because she is mourning the death of her brother, she refuses to marry or show her face to anyone for seven years. She falls in love with Cesario, not realizing it’s Viola but quickly marries Sebastian. • Sebastian- Viola’s twin brother who was thought to have drowned at sea. When he arrives, many people think they know him already because of Cesario and Olivia asks him to marry her to which he agrees.
Character List • Malvolio- The head-servant of Lady Olivia’s household who doesn’t care for drinking, singing, or even fun. Because of his haughty attitude Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Maria play a cruel trick on him. He believes he will move up in the world if he gets married. • Feste- The Joker of Olivia and Orsino’s home, he makes his living telling witty jokes, performing music, and offering advice. • Maria- Olivia’s gentle-woman, she also has the same beliefs as Malvolio. • Sir Toby- He is Olivia’s uncle, he lives with Olivia even though she doesn’t agree with his rowdy behavior, heavy drinking, friends, and partying. He has an ally in the house, Maria, who eventually becomes his mate and together they work together to “teach Malvolio a lesson.” • Sir Andrew Aguecheek- A friend of Sir Toby, he attempts to court Olivia but doesn’t stand a chance with her. He thinks he’s a popular, amazing person but is really a moron. • Antonio- Becomes Sebastian's caretaker after rescuing him from the sea. He eventually begins to fall in love with Sebastian although it never leads to anything.
Plot Overview • In Illyria, Duke Orsino pines away for the love of Lady Olivia, who is mourning the death of her brother and refuses to see anyone for seven years. Offshore, a storm caused a shipwreck that washed Viola onto the Illyrian shore, leaving her alone thinking her twin brother had drowned. A sea captain tells her of Orsino trying to court Olivia and Viola decides she wants to work at Olivia’s home, but can’t since she won’t see anyone. Instead, she disguises herself as her twin but named Cesario and begins working for Orsino. She quickly becomes a favorite of Orsino, so he begins to send her to Olivia carrying love messages. Meanwhile, Viola is falling in love with Orsino and Olivia is falling in love with Cesario. • Meanwhile, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria, and Feste take offense to Malvolios constant efforts to spoil their fun. Maria forges a letter, supposedly from Olivia, telling Malvolio that if he wants to earn her favor, he should dress in yellow stockings and crossed garters, act haughtily, smile frequently, and not explain himself to anyone. Olivia herself comes to think that he has gone mad. • Sebastian arrives in Illyria thinking Viola is dead, where many people say they have met him before. Sir Andrew and Toby decide they want to fight Cesario, but when Sebastian shows up instead they beat him up. Olivia enters and asks him to marry her thinking he is Cesario, to which he agrees. Soon after everyone enters and all is revealed. Orsino finds out Cesario is really Viola and that he loves her, Sebastian marries Olivia, and also that Sir Toby and Maria had been married secretly. Oh, and Malvolio is eventually set free.
Film Twelfth Night was first filmed in 1910 in a silent short-movie adaptation by Vitagraph Studios starring Florence Turner, Julia Swayne Gordon, and Marin Sais. The 1996 film was directed and adapted by Trevor Nunn in the 19th century starring Imogen Stubbs as Viola, Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia, and Toby Stevens as Duke Orsino. She’s the Man, a 2006 film, modernized the story as a teenage comedy. The director set the play in a prep school named Illyria and also incorporates the names of the major characters. Although, the movie is set on more of a soccer rivalry the twisted romance storyline is still incorporated.
Television On May 14, 1937, the BBC Television Service in London, England broadcasted a half-hour excerpt of the play. This was the first known instance of Shakespeare’s work being performed on television. Since at the time there was no technology to record programs, no record visually survives except for photos. The entire play was produced for TV in 1939 by Michael Saint-Denis. In 1957, another adaptation of the play was presented by NBC. This was the first ever color version of the play produced on TV. In 2003, a telemovie was adapted and directed by Tim Supple set in the present day. It is most notable for it’s multi-ethnic cast.