Maybe it’s just been a bad time, but I tried for two weeks to read and get into this play. I think I should read it again another day, but honestly, I think I’m a bit tired of these “comedies of errors” that keep cropping up. Week after week of romance, pining, mistaken identity, tricks and traps… I feel like I’m stuck watching a Hallmark romantic comedy marathon or something!
There’s a lot of crazy complicated relationship twisting in this one. I couldn’t quite get into it, but Viola is probably the main character, though she spends most of the play disguised as a man, Cesario.
That’s getting the most annoying, women disguising themselves as men to get somewhere. I suppose that’s a helluva commentary on the times, that deep down the only way a woman could be extraordinary was to either be high born or pass themselves off as a man.
Sheesh. My cynicism and rough few weeks are really showing through today, aren’t they?
Anyhoo, the basic gist is Lady Olivia is in mourning over her dead brother, and has been for years. Suitors try for her attention all the time but she refuses to see anyone. On the shore, shipwreck survivors gather and one’s Viola, who thinks her own brother, Sebastian, may be dead. She needs to find a way to make a living, though she’s aristocratic herself, and since she can’t try to work for Lady Olivia with her seclusion, she disguises herself as a man (Cesario) and goes to work for Duke Orsino, who happens to be in love with Olivia and tries to visit her often. This leads to Viola/Cesario meeting Olivia occasionally and Olivia falling for Cesario.
And here comes the predictable love triangle of misery, with assorted interlopers, schemers, tricks and traps.
But things get stirred up more when it turns out Sebastian, Viola’s brother is still alive and thinks his sister is dead. His dedicated friends, Antonio, tags along (despite being under threat of death from the Duke in Illyria) and they set off to the town.
This cross-dressing bit leads to some super confusion (similar to The Two Gentlemen Of Verona) because when Viola is dressed as Cesario, she looks like Sebastian. So as the two go about their business in town separately, it creates some pretty major problems with other characters.
There’s so much going on, but it doesn’t feel as fun to me as before. Only some of the characters seem to make it feel fresh (since the disguise scenario is wearing thin with me right now). Malvolio the servant is probably the most interesting character. He has an arc to play with and undergoes the most changes, though the changes are manipulated by a prank from Sir Toby (Olivia’s often-drunk uncle) and Maria, (Olivia’s servant), who are annoyed that he’s always such a stick in the mud and can’t just let everybody be happy.
I’ve heard good things about this play, and wanted to try and like it, but some of the comedic moments are wearing out their welcome because I’ve read them too often right now. Perhaps another day I can try and enjoy it for what it is…but right now, after reading so many comedy plays in a short time…it’s just not that amusing anymore.
Worth a shot, but you’ll need a more open mind than mine is right now.
One thought on ““Twelfth Night, or What You Will,” From The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare”
I’m pretty sure I haven’t read it myself although I took a class in Shakespeare in undergraduate school. It sounds very complicated and confusing to keep track of. I wonder if anyone made a movie of it?
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