I was well impressed a few nights ago when I went to see the cinema-distributed version of the Shakespearian Play “The Twelfth Night”. I have not seen it before and I must say the costumes were astounding and so was the acting. The main setting is purely Victorian, late 1890s, and lace and lush black clothes adorn one mistress and lovely Indian apparel the second.
Talk about a melodrama! The love triangles in this story can be found in abundance and I believe the play was done quite well in a time when talks about gender fluidity are at a peak.
This is a tale of heartbreak and unrequited love, filled with some funny moments throughout – mostly brought on by Malfolio – Olivia’s head butler and aspiring lover.
Two twins are separated in a shipwreck, and forced to fend for themselves in a strange land. The first twin, Viola, falls in love with her master, Orsino, who dotes on another woman, a true lady called Olivia. He sends his beloved boy-servant, Cesario (Viola in disguise), to woe Olivia for him, a practice quite common in the last century, when a rich patron would employ the help of a ministrel or a poet to perform for his heart’s desire in hopes that sweet words or songs can sway a lady to pay closer attention.
Unfortunately, Orsino’s plan backfires after Olivia falls in love with the young messenger, admiring his fiery attitude and beautiful features.
Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out ‘Olivia!’ O, You should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me!
Olivia is the only heiress of a vast fortune and many men have sought her favours and have dreamt themselves masters of the manor. She liked her freedom, though, and adorned the veil of mourning for far longer than necessary in order to dissuade any pretenders. As the laws of the last century went, when a woman married, all her property passed on to the new husband, making her penniless and in need of her husband’s approval for any purchases.
With eye-offending brine: all this to season
A brother’s dead love, which she would keep fresh
And lasting in her sad remembrance.
Orsino is more enticed by such a woman, and he sees great passion behind her veils.
O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother,
How will she love, when the rich golden shaft
Hath kill’d the flock of all affections else
That live in her; when liver, brain and heart,
These sovereign thrones, are all supplied, and fill’d
Her sweet perfections with one self king!
Away before me to sweet beds of flowers:
Love-thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.
Malvolio, her man-servant, is another pretender to his mistress heart (and fortune) and he sings and dances with joy when he finds a missive written in his lady’s hand talking in veiled terms of her adoration of him. What he does not know is that the letter is a cruel ploy designed by the lady’s uncle to put the servant back into his place (and possibly in a madhouse)
Daylight and champaign discovers not more: this is open. I will be proud, I will read politic authors, I will baffle Sir Toby, I will wash off gross acquaintance, I will be point-devise the very man.
I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me; for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me. She did commend my yellow stockings of late, she did praise my leg being cross-gartered; and in this she manifests herself to my love, and with a kind of injunction drives me to these habits of her liking. I thank my stars I am happy. I will be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and cross-gartered, even with the swiftness of putting on.
Jove and my stars be praised!
There is a separate plotline who follows Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian who finds himself first the object of another man’s attentions (poor guy, he never got his mate in the end), and afterwards in a series of humorous mistaken-identity incidents where Olivia mistakes him for Viola and Viola is approached by Antonio only to not recognize the later (in a heartbreaking moment)..
Will you deny me now?
Is’t possible that my deserts to you
Can lack persuasion? Do not tempt my misery,
Lest that it make me so unsound a man
As to upbraid you with those kindnesses
That I have done for you.
I know of none;
Nor know I you by voice or any feature:
I hate ingratitude more in a man
Than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness,
Or any taint of vice whose strong corruption
Inhabits our frail blood.
All is well that ends well, and Orsino can’t resist Cesario (/Viola) and gives him (/her) a kiss, Viola is madly in love with Orsino and ends up together with him (or does she?). Sebastian and Olivia get together. The interesting part is that in the end, Olivia, instead of being content with Sebastian (eg. the ‘appropriately’ sexed replacement twin to Cesario) appears to still have a strong attraction for Viola.
What I loved:
The kiss given to Viola while in disguise. Very Mulan-like!
A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more: but indeed
Our shows are more than will; for still we prove
Much in our vows, but little in our love.
I also loved the comments that Olivia drops about Viola and Viola about Orsino. Love talk was very much flourished in the Shakespearian times and it has a subtle ring to it
I am as mad as he,
If sad and merry madness equal be. Olivia
Here, wear this jewel for me, ’tis my picture;
Refuse it not; it hath no tongue to vex you;
And I beseech you come again to-morrow.
What shall you ask of me that I’ll deny,
That honour saved may upon asking give? Olivia
Upon finding that Viola was a woman, Orsino exclaims:
Christopher Luscombe, Director of the ‘glorious’ (Daily Telegraph) Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing (2014 and 2016), returns to the Royal Shakespeare Company to tackle Shakespeare’s greatest comedy, a brilliantly bittersweet account of ‘the whirligig of time’.