My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I think Twelfth Night was the first story of Shakespeare I had ever read. I say story because it was just that. A prescribed paraphrase of Shakespeare’s play that I read for the first time at the end of December 2012.
The story is about disguises, mixed identities and love lorn lovers.
Viola and her twin brother, Sebastian, are parted from each other during a ship wreck. Viola is rescued and brought ashore onto a strange land. She believes her brother is dead, and as they had no parents she decides to seek her fortune in this foreign land. However, her plans are not particularly long term. She thinks of survival and Illya is a policed place lorded over by Duke Orsino. So Viola decides to become a man, and serve the duke. She becomes something of his court musician and his confidante. She learns that he is pining away for a beautiful woman called Olivia, but his love is unrequited. Loathe to give up, Orsino charges Viola (posing as one called Cesario) to makes his pleas to Olivia. But when Olivia sees Cesario is falls in love with him. Hers also becomes a love unrequited as quite naturally Viola is a woman and, in her turn, hopelessly in love with Orsino. The rest is for you folk to read.
There is a sub-plot as well. Olivia’s uncle, his friend and Olivia’s woman-in-waiting are all quite put off with the butler, Malvolio . They are annoyed with his superior airs and decide to teach him a lesson. They drop, in his path, a letter supposedly to have been written by Olivia. On reading it, Malvolio becomes convinced that she is in love with him and he makes a fool of himself with her. She is puzzled and think that perhaps her dear butler has gone insane. With concern she asks Maria to take care of him, and he is put into a dark room. The rest of the story pans itself out at the end of the play.
I must admit, I did not care much for the play as I read it. It left me cold and wondering if it had been worth it. It didn’t even give me, at the end, a sense of satisfaction of my having read yet another Shakespearean play . I was terribly disappointed with it, thinking that in many places it had been unbelievable, in others it had been to slap-stick for my taste, and there wasn’t a single character I had liked.
Then, I recalled having started reading Romeo and Juliet with much dislike. But once I had watched a couple of clips of the 1960s move with Olivia Hussey as Juliet, I realised how the play ought to be read — with the stage in my mind’s eye. Thus, the rest of my reading had become quite pleasurably. Sadly, though, I was not able to work with this reading concept while tackling Twelfth Night. However, I recalled mom having mentioned the 1996 movie version of Twelfth Night and decided to watch it.
Again and again, watching Shakespeare proves more and more profitable to reading Shakespeare. I loved this movie. The plots were no longer unbelievable. Imogen Stubbs (many Austen fans might remember her as the conniving Lucy Steele from the 1995 movie version of Sense and Sensibility) is an amazing Cesario (a.k.a. Viola), and somehow the make-up artists contrived to make her and Steven Mackintosh (playing Sebastian) look absolutely identical. Feste the clown is played by Ben Kingsley, and oh I just loved him! He portrays Feste in a way I simply could not imagine on merely reading the play. Orsino is played satisfactorily by Toby Stephens and Helena Bonham Carter makes for a passionate Olivia. While I cannot say that this play (as watched NOT read) did not send me into whoops like Much Ado About Nothing (1993) did, I thought it was beautifully made. I enjoyed the music, especially the pieces sung by Feste, and on the whole Twelfth Night back a very pleasurable experience.
Allow me to tell you that if you, at any time, find any of Shakespeare’s plays dry, boring, hard or incomprehensible, watch his plays in performance, either on stage or as a movie; you’ll understand them perfectly. Then, I suppose, going back to reading the play will make everything different, and allow you to comprehend other nuances of Shakespeare’s art.
Below is a video of the scene where Viola comes to plead Orsino’s case with Olivia for the first time.
On a side note: I watched a wee bit of a stage performance of this play on youtube with Helen Hunt playing Viola/Cesario. This version made the above scene a lot more comical. But I preferred this one a great deal more.
This play is the second one read for the Let’s Read Plays challenge.
- Twelfth Night – November 2012 (ilovetheatre.me)
- [Review] Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare (surgabukuku.wordpress.com)
- Lisa Bee’s #CBR5 Review #04: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (cannonballread5.wordpress.com)