Internet Shakespeare Editions

Authors: David Carnegie, Mark Houlahan
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Twelfth Night: Introduction


512. Critical Issues

Date

Twelfth Night is not mentioned in a list of Shakespeare's plays from 1598, but was in the repertoire of the Lord Chamberlain's Men by 2 February 1602, when John Manningham saw a performance at the Middle Temple and recorded his reaction in his diary. Internal evidence in the play suggests a later rather than earlier period of composition within that time frame. For instance, there are various references to people and places in the news: Barents's Arctic expedition (the account not published in English prior to 1598); Hakluyt's publication of a new map "with the augmentation of the Indies" (TLN 1458–9 {3.2.77}) in 1599; Sherley's travels to the court of the Sophy in Persia (account published in 1600); and perhaps the joking about the word "element" as "overworn" (TLN 1269–70 {3.1.59-60}), which is possibly responding to satiric repetition in Thomas Dekker’s Satiromastix, first performed in 1601. Leslie Hotson's ingenious argument that Twelfth Night was first performed on Twelfth Night (i.e., 6 January) 1601 at court, on the occasion of the visit to Queen Elizabeth of a duke whose family name was Orsino, cannot be supported. But if Shakespeare borrowed the name for his own duke, it adds some weight to a supposition that 1601 is the most likely year of composition of the play. It was, in that case, written about the same time as Hamlet, though it is impossible to say which came first.

52Title

Why Twelfth Night? Twelfth Night (6 January) is a feast of the Christian church celebrating Epiphany, the "manifestation" or showing forth of Christ's divinity to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi, the kings from afar (the French title for Twelfth Night is "The Night of the Kings"). But in neither English nor French does the title appear to have much to do with the play, as Samuel Pepys commented in his diary for 6 January (Twelfth Night) 1663: "not related at all to the name or day" (qtd. Furness 377). Nor does English midwinter match references to season and climate in the dialogue: "sweet beds of flowers" (TLN 46 {1.1.40}), "let summer bear it out" (TLN 315 {1.5.20}), "midsummer madness" (TLN 1577 {3.4.55}), "more matter for a May morning" (TLN 1664 {3.4.144}). Spring and summer seem appropriate, too, for "roses, whose fair flower / Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour" (TLN 926–7 {2.4.38-9}).

53Twelfth Night is, however, the end of the Christmas celebrations, the night when the Christmas tree comes down, the final night of twelve days of feasting and revels. In the midwinter of northern Europe, this festivity when the days were shortest, and animals that could not be fed through the winter were slaughtered for the feasts, was a period of intense indoor merrymaking. A Lord of Misrule might be appointed to ensure that solemnity was banished and a topsy-turvy world allowed for a short time. It was a period of licensed overthrow of the usual decorum: servants became masters, and masters, servants, with a parodic distortion of the usual rules of discipline and authority. What You Will, the subtitle of Shakespeare's play, is precisely what was allowed: whatever you wish. And although a specifically winter revel does not seem to fit with the romance plot, similar English traditional festivities were held in the spring and summer, particularly around May Day (1 May) and Midsummer (sometimes called "Reveltide"). So alike were the revels of Christmas and summer that the author of the Survey of Cornwall in 1602 speaks of his partying neighbors at harvest time "spending a great part of the night in Christmas rule" (qtd Barber 25). Summer Lords and Summer Ladies served the same role as the Lord of Misrule at Christmas, and were equally disapproved of by Puritans. (We should perhaps regard Sir Toby or the Clown as a Summer Lord.)

54Thus, although it is difficult to be sure about the precise implications of Shakespeare's title, the thematic implications of a time of inversion of order, confusion and festivity associated with winter revelry, and its summer equivalent, seem well suited to this play, as does the throwaway subtitle What You Will. Equally, Twelfth Night marked the end of such revels, and this too suits the ending of the play, as romance and misrule are replaced by the "rain" of "every day".

55Romance

Shakespeare introduces us to the tone, the subject, and one of the principal characters of the play with the first words spoken: "If music be the food of love, play on." Music, and its continuation and variation, pervade the play, and frame it at the start and finish. This courtly music playing as Orsino enters reinforces both his position in society (rich, aristocratic, with household musicians) and his preoccupation with love (or perhaps fashionable love-melancholy). Yet, although it has become a critical commonplace since the nineteenth century to say that Orsino is in love with love, and although it is true that his first line tells us he is a lover, he is neither solitary nor self-centered. Curio and other lords enter too, so that we see him within a society; a select, and entirely male society to be sure, but (appropriately for comedy) a social context with its own expectations. Furthermore, his instructions and countermands to the musicians--"That strain again," "Enough, no more" (TLN 8, 11 {1.1.4, 7})--establish both a duke in control and a lover habitually changing his mind.

56Orsino's elaborate rhetoric, full of imagery and convoluted syntax, dwells on change; like the music, what is valued one moment ("O spirit of love," TLN 13 {1.1.9}) seems to have diminished the next: "nought enters there, / Of what validity and pitch soe'er, / But falls into abatement and low price" (TLN 15–17 {1.1.11-13}) Fancy is "full of shapes" (TLN 18 {1.1.14}), and Orsino cites Ovid's famous Metamorphoses (a word we use in English for transformations) when he speaks of his love for Olivia changing him from a hunter into a stag being hunted. This was one of Shakespeare's favorite books. Actaeon was tormented by longing for a woman--or rather, a goddess--he could not have. While these images of changeableness have often been taken as showing Orsino himself to be lightweight (thus throwing unfortunate doubt on Viola's choice), we might view them rather as clues placed for the audience, who should be less surprised than Orsino when his love turns out to be "high fantastical" (TLN 19 {1.1.15}), and not at all what he expected. In the Soviet film of 1955, peacocks strutting in Orsino's ornate gardens serve as gentle mockery of Orsino's mistaken ideal.

57The entry of a messenger, less than twenty-five lines into the play, increases the energy of the scene as Orsino eagerly questions him. Nor, surprisingly, does the energy flag when Orsino learns that "like a cloistress she will veilèd walk" (TLN 34 {1.1.28}) for seven years before she will consider a love suit. Far from lapsing into despair, he exults in such commitment. We may think Orsino a bit on the optimistic side, but he exits to "sweet beds of flowers" to continue his "Love-thoughts" about Olivia (TLN 46, 47 {1.1.40, 41}). With music, rhetoric, and an urgent messenger, we have been offered a lover's dilemma full of potential for romance, comic misconstruction, or both.

58Onto the empty stage enters a young woman, clearly shipwrecked, enquiring "What country, friends, is this?" (TLN 51 {1.2.1}) She is evidently not Olivia, but a stranger (and therefore available to fit into a romance plot). The Captain's answer to her, "This is Illyria, lady" (TLN 52 {1.2.2}), seems to leave her no wiser. Various suppositions have been made about what images an Elizabethan audience in England might have had of the land to the east of the Adriatic Sea, what we now call Dalmatia or Croatia: a dangerous place renowned for pirates ("Notable pirate, thou salt-water thief" is Orsino's abuse of Antonio at TLN 2220 {5.1.67}); a literary setting from romance tales or the Metamorphoses where those thought drowned at sea may miraculously be saved; or simply a far-off place of the imagination, a bit like the sea coast of Bohemia in The Winter's Tale. What is important to Viola is that it is unknown ("what should I do in Illyria?," TLN 53 {1.2.3}), and that she has here lost her brother. The scene is constructed in two segments, and the first is dominated by the reiteration of the word "perchance." Viola has been saved, "and so perchance" may be her brother (TLN 57 {1.2.7}). As the Captain comforts Viola with "chance" (TLN 58 {1.2.8}) by telling her of seeing her brother "like Arion on the dolphin's back" (TLN 65 {1.2.15}; as in the previous scene, a story from Ovid serves to establish the tone), Viola resolves to hope, gives the Captain money, and enters with new energy into the rest of the scene and the play.

59The rest of the scene quickly establishes that the local ruler is a "noble duke" (TLN 75 {1.2.25}) called Orsino, a bachelor seeking the love of a "virtuous maid" (TLN 86 {1.2.36}) called Olivia, and her name confirms that it was Orsino we saw in 1.1. Viola's fellow feeling for Olivia is important, both in emotion and situation. Olivia, like Viola, has lost a brother, and she has gone into seclusion under the weight of that grief. Olivia has also recently lost her father the count, and is therefore in the rare situation for a Renaissance woman of having no immediate male family member to decide her future for her. Viola, uncertain "What my estate is" (TLN 95 {1.2.44}), is similarly free of male (or any) family authority. More urgently, she is without protection or support. (In Shakespeare's source, the heroine had only narrowly escaped rape at this point.) Her decision to delay being "delivered to the world" (TLN 93 {1.2.42}) by disguising herself and entering Orsino's service (Olivia's being closed), may in the first instance be simple self-preservation by a single woman alone in an unknown and potentially dangerous country, but is also a parallel to Olivia's withdrawal from the world of courting and marriage expected of a young lady. Viola's desire to make her "occasion mellow" (TLN 94 {1.2.43}), to wait until the time is ripe, hints that she will use this unexpected reprieve from the pressures of family and social expectation to observe and mature. This reflective quality in her, shared with the audience, marks her as both a serious comic heroine, and one likely to share her self-awareness with the audience. She does not actually give her reasons, however; we are left to draw our own conclusions. And unlike Olivia, Viola is not withdrawing from the world, but engaging with it. Her decision that "What else may hap, to time I will commit" (TLN 112 {1.2.60}) implies a willingness to be open to whatever narrative may unfold. Given the events of these first two scenes--a duke in love with an inaccessible countess, a shipwrecked maiden determined to don disguise to serve the duke, and therefore a potential love triangle--the audience can be in little doubt that the narrative will include love complications and further incident.

60In 1.4 two sides of the triangle are linked as Viola has evidently passed muster in her disguise as a page to Orsino for three days. His desire to talk to "Cesario" alone suggests not only his attraction to Viola, but also that she has not fallen "into abatement and low price" (TLN 17 {1.1.13}); he has found an object for his regard. Although he still thinks it is Olivia, his description of Cesario reveals his attraction to the feminine within the "boy" and ultimately to the wholeness of Viola:

61For they shall yet belie thy happy years,
That say thou art a man; Diana's lip
Is not more smooth and rubious: thy small pipe
Is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound,
And all is semblative a woman's part. (TLN 281–5 {1.4.30-4})

62The theatrical reference to "a woman's part" will remind the audience of the pleasure of the comic artifice. Viola herself will usually be well aware of both the danger of her disguise, and its irony. Dispatched to Olivia as a messenger of love on behalf of Orsino, she acknowledges to us what may be no great surprise, but will clearly complicate her life and the theatrical intrigue: "Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife" (TLN 294 {1.4.42}).

63The anticipated complication follows in the next scene, but first Olivia is introduced via her out-of-favor Clown, Feste. The depth of her grief for her dead brother, and therefore her readiness or otherwise to be wooed, varies in productions and in critical approaches, but the Clown succeeds, daringly, in suggesting to her that excessive grief is as unnatural as for young marriageable women (and men) to let their blossoms die unsavored. The stage is set for the entry, after initial refusal, of a messenger who piques her interest by breaking the conventions. Cesario insists on seeing her, alternates between elaborate courtly rhetoric ("Most radiant, exquisite and unmatchable beauty," TLN 464–5 {1.5.171-2}) and casual deflation ("No, good swabber, I am to hull here a little longer," TLN 497–8 {1.5.205-6}), and speaks to her in the language of "maidenhead" (TLN 569 {1.5.219}). Once alone, Viola abandons her speech to ask Olivia to reveal her face. Even as she admits Olivia's beauty ("'Tis beauty truly blent, whose red and white / Nature's own sweet and cunning hand laid on," TLN 530–1 {1.5.242-3}), which makes her embassy more painful because more likely to be successful, Viola urges her conviction that marriage and reproduction should be both pleasure and duty ("you are the cruellest she alive / If you . . . will leave the world no copy," TLN 532–4 {1.5.244-6}).

64This is a reiteration of what appears to be a central theme for Viola and the play: "what is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve" (TLN 482–3 {1.5.189-90}). It is an article of faith for her that love, leading to marriage, mutual support and children, is an obligation that is universal, natural and joyous. Olivia should have the right to decide where she loves and marries, but is "the cruellest she alive" if she is so selfish (almost sinful in this view) as to lock up her natural and divine gifts of beauty, fertility and aptness to complement a man. This complementarity of men and women is an essential element of the Renaissance view of marriage, as Viola implies later when she speaks of "women's waxen hearts" in which men may "set their forms" (TLN 686 {2.2.29}). Some critics have seen in a boy actor's portayal of Viola in disguise as a boy an ambiguity which releases a much wider discourse on, e.g., the feminine side of Sebastian in relation to Olivia's attraction to Viola and Orsino's attraction to Cesario, and the potential for Antonio's devotion to Sebastian to be portrayed as same-sex romantic or erotic love (Greenblatt 66-93; Pequigney 201-21; Shapiro, "Gender," 151-65) But Twelfth Night, while not excluding such mainly twentieth- and twenty-first-century preoccupations, presents heterosexual love and marriage as both the natural course ("Nature to her bias drew" says Sebastian at TLN 2426 {5.1.258} in explaining the rightness of Olivia's mistaken marriage), and the generic expectation in comedy of marriage (sex), feasting (sustenance) and therefore eventually children (continuance). When Viola accepts Orsino's common Renaissance trope of women being "as roses, whose fair flower / Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour" (TLN 926–7 {2.4.38-9}), she laments (with keen irony, given her circumstances) that they die "even when they to perfection grow" (TLN 930 {2.4.41}). "Perfection" carries its usual sense of the fullness of beauty, but may also carry the printing house sense of "perfecting" a sheet of a book. In the hand printing familiar to Shakespeare, once the first side of a sheet had been printed it was left to dry, then returned to the press for the blank verso to be printed. Viola, whose history is "a blank" (TLN 999 {2.4.111}), sees marriage as "perfection."

65Olivia's teasing of Cesario is in prose; Viola's passionate response, starting with "'Tis beauty truly blent" (TLN 530 {1.5.242}) is in blank verse. Olivia tries to reimpose a deflationary prose as she lists her attributes: "item, two lips indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to them . . . and so forth" (TLN 538–9 {1.5.250-2}), but she cannot resist. When Viola says "In your denial I would find no sense, / I would not understand it," Olivia completes the verse line with "Why, what would you?" (TLN 558–9 {1.5.270-1}) Both as an actor and as a character she is co-operating in setting up Viola for her justly famous "willow cabin" speech (TLN 561–9 {1.5.272-80}), in which the audiences and critics sense not only Cesario saying how he would woo Olivia, but also Viola giving rein to her true emotions for Orsino. Furthermore, Viola is drawing Olivia to think not just of herself, but to imagine the feeling of one who might love her. The language has moved from prose to verse to poetry; some critics regard it as all artificial, a mark of Viola's skill and playfulness, but most audiences feel the emotional temperature rising with each change of gears. This partly explains Olivia's reaction "You might do much" (again a completion of a blank verse line), the first verbal indication that she has fallen for Cesario. By the end of the scene she has admitted as much to herself, sent Malvolio after Viola with a love token, and, like Viola, given herself into the hands of destiny. The final rhyming couplet marks the completion of a sequence, as if of a musical movement:

66Fate, show thy force; ourselves we do not owe.
What is decreed, must be: and be this so. (TLN 607–8 {1.5.314-15})

67The completion of the love triangle is understood only by Viola, as a result of Malvolio's delivering Olivia's ring: "My master loves her dearly / And I, poor monster, fond as much on him, / And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me" (TLN 689–90 {2.2.32-4}). Once again she determines that time must untangle the knot. In her final, central scene with Orsino before Act 5, plot takes a back seat to the exploration of situation and character. As Viola edges closer to declaring her love ("by your favor," "Of your complexion," "About your years, my lord," TLN 911–15 {2.4.25-8}) in a punning exchange which may indicate a range of motivation, from sophisticated word play to involuntary testing of the pain or total infatuation, Orsino seems as inconsistent as ever. He starts with "the constant image" (TLN 903 {2.4.19}) of his love, then admits in a moment of intimacy with Cesario that "Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm . . . Than women's are" (TLN 920–2 {2.4.33-5}), an opinion to which Viola offers unequivocal support. They are both, presumably, moved by the sadness of the Clown's song about dying of love. However, as Viola starts to put the hypothetical woman's case (her own case: "Say that some lady, as perhaps there is, / Hath for your love as great a pang or heart," TLN 976–7 {2.4.90-1}), Orsino reverts to his more conventional view: "Make no compare / Between that love a woman can bear me / and that I owe Olivia" (TLN 988–90 {2.4.102-4).

68While there is rich irony in the man who seems destined, by romance tale tradition, to become Viola's husband lecturing her that "no woman's heart [can] hold so much: they lack retention" (TLN 982–3 {2.4.96-7}), there is also pain. Viola's "Aye, but I know--" (TLN 991 {2.4.104}) can be played many ways, but most of them include an element of her suffering for an apparently unattainable love. She compares herself to "Patience on a monument" (TLN 1003 {2.4.115}), a well known Renaissance emblem of patient suffering chained into inaction (see Fig. X). She breaks away from her riddling history of "all the daughters of my father's house, / And all the brothers too" (TLN 1009–10 {2.4.121-2}), which includes the further pain of remembering Sebastian, with an oblique evasion: "yet I know not" (TLN 1010 {2.4.122}). Orsino's pain is more debatable; if he is presented satirically, then both his declarations and his suffering may appear of little worth, but if Viola and the audience take him seriously, then his deep love melancholy may both alarm Viola (as in the Barton RSC production of 1969, and the Nunn film), and reinforce her own anguish. At the same time, we never forget that the situation is ultimately within a romantic comedy.

69Viola's further meetings with Olivia are, like 2.4, bittersweet. In 3.1 Olivia's worst fears are realized when her declaration is met by Viola's "I pity you" (TLN 1336 {3.1.125}). Her attempt to shrug it off is undermined by the intensity with which each of the young women feels the impossibility of the situation:

70VIOLA . . . you do think you are not what you are.
OLIVIA If I think so, I think the same of you.
VIOLA Then think you right; I am not what I am.
(TLN 1354–6 {3.1.141-3})

71Olivia throws caution to the wind in a passionate declaration in which she swears "by the roses of the spring, / By maidhood, honor, truth, and everything" (TLN 1364–5 {3.1.151-2}), but Viola matches both her rhyming and her passion in her reply:

72By innocence I swear, and by my youth,
I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth,
And that no woman has; nor never none
Shall mistress be of it, save I alone. (TLN 1372–5 {3.1.159-62})

73Neither the riddling nor the comedy can entirely hide the anguish. When they meet again, briefly, in the elaborations of 3.4, the stalemate seems complete.

74For Viola, nothing changes until the final scene. For Olivia, however, things get worse: in 4.1, Cesario's life appears to be in danger from Sir Toby. Having come to the rescue, her invitation to Sebastian to enter the house seems to him a dream, and to her a blessed change of heart. Sebastian's grief at the loss of his sister, and his worry about the absence of Antonio, are put aside in the joy of a love and betrothal which, while sudden, are presented in solemn terms with a priest:

75I'll follow this good man, and go with you,
And having sworn truth, ever will be true.
(TLN 2147–8 {4.3.32-3})

76If the play is working well, audiences will relish Olivia's mistake even as they relax in the knowledge that a fitting match has been made.

77Act 5, which constitutes the finale, will be discussed after separate consideration of the comedy subplot.

Comedy

78The heading "Comedy" for this section does not, of course, imply that the "Romance" characters and situations are not funny. But it is convenient to discuss the play in terms of main plot and subplot, romance and comedy, and the characters of the comic subplot do constitute a distinct society within the play.

79The sheer energy with which 1.3 starts is a contrast to the courtliness of 1.1 and the uncertaintly of 1.2, and the switch from verse to prose reinforces the contrast. Sir Toby Belch, as his name implies, is a great drinker, but he is also a great talker. When Maria criticizes him for being "drunk nightly", his response is to disparage anyone "that will not drink to my niece till his brains turn o'th'toe" (TLN 152–7 {1.3.36-42}). It is a neat evasion, and "with a swaggering accent sharply twanged off" (TLN 1696–7 {3.4.181-20}, as he later advises Sir Andrew), serves to deflect any logical return to the issue. Sir Toby is not necessarily Olivia's uncle (he is always referred to by her as "cousin," and by others as her kinsman), but his use of "niece" may imply that he is a generation older than her. This does not mean that Maria need be so, nor Sir Andrew, though they can be. Maria's attempt to persuade Sir Toby to moderation may simply be out of duty to Olivia, or may be more personal: either to protect him from the danger of being thrown out, or to reform him as she would wish him (as, ultimately, her husband). Her wit is displayed against the foolish Sir Andrew, but it is hard to determine whether she enjoys the humor initiated by Sir Toby. Once she has gone, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew establish themselves as a classic comic pairing: fat and thin, witty and foolish, joker and straight man.

80This pairing of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew continues throughout the play. Sir Toby appears to sweep Sir Andrew along with a torrent of verbiage, as when he praises the thin knight's dancing abilities:

81Wherefore are these things hid? Wherefore have these gifts a curtain before 'em? Are they like to take dust like Mistress Mall's picture? Why dost thou not go to church in a galliard, and come home in a coranto? My very walk should be a jig; I would not so much as make water but in a cinquepace. What dost thou mean? Is it a world to hide virtues in? I did think, by the excellent constitution of thy leg, it was formed under the star of a galliard.
(TLN 233–41 {1.3.122-31})

82The inclusiveness of Sir Toby's enthusiasm is infectious, and no doubt accompanied by physical encouragement to Sir Andrew to undertake all the various dance steps he suggests. The text makes it clear that by the end of the scene, Sir Andrew is indeed making a physical display of his ability to "cut a caper" (TLN 229 {1.3.118}) as Sir Toby urges him on: "Ha, higher! Ha, ha, excellent!" (TLN 248 {1.3.139}) In the hands of skilled actors, both roles offer enormous potential for physical humor as well as verbal. Actors of Sir Toby also have a range of choices about how cynical is the gulling of Sir Andrew into giving Sir Toby money ("I have been dear to him . . . some two thousand strong, or so," TLN 1434–5 {3.2.53}) and into believing he may marry Olivia. For some critics, his Falstaffian exuberance makes us ignore or forgive everything; for others, he is morally deplorable. Whatever balance is struck, is Sir Toby aware of the morality of what he is doing? And how does self-awareness influence the tone of the play as a whole?

83Morality and other higher matters do not concern Sir Andrew. Much of his character and humor depend on the low wattage of his brain. He walks into idiocies all the time:

84SIR ANDREW . . . do you think you have fools in hand?
MARIA Sir, I have not you by th'hand.
SIR ANDREW Marry, but you shall have, and here's my hand.
(TLN 179–81 {1.3.63-5})

85Part of his amiability, however, is his occasional dim awareness that he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer: "Nay, by my troth, I know not: but I know, to be up late, is to be up late" (TLN 703–4 {2.3.4-5}). Although Sir Toby is the driving energy of the subplot, and Maria the brains, Sir Andrew gets most of the laughs. Significantly, the Clown, the professional fool, does not join this group until Act 2.

86Feste: Clown or Fool?

In the Elizabethan theater, "Clown" is a theatrical term for a specialized actor of comic roles, and we use it in its capitalized form to distinguish him from the general use of "clown" as an unintelligent country rustic or servant (Wiles) And, since a specialist theater comedian in a play is, to the audience, both performer and character, we shall refer to the performer as Clown and the character as Feste (though he might as justly be called Fool, which is what everyone in the play calls him). A Clown might act a clown, as Will Kemp did as, e.g., Lancelet Jobbe (or Gobbo) in The Merchant of Venice and Peter in Romeo and Juliet, before leaving the Lord Chamberlain's men in 1599. Or a Clown might adopt the dramatic persona of a fool--an idiot, a "fool natural" (i.e., from birth). Mercutio compares "drivelling love" to "a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bable [bauble] in a hole" (Romeo and Juliet, 2.4.92-3), providing a vivid image of the "natural" as an overgrown halfwit dribbling and running around ludicrously with a bladder on a stick (or, in its obscene connotation, a penis with no lodging). The licensed or "allowed" fool (TLN 386 {1.5.93}) was one kept in a household as a jester to provide entertainment. Since a fool might be either highborn or lowborn, he or she stands outside the usual social hierarchies.

87Robert Armin, who took over from Will Kemp as Clown for the Lord Chamberlain's Men's by the end of 1599, adopted the persona of a fool, and Shakespeare wrote fool's parts in a number of plays for Armin: Touchstone in As You Like It, Lavatch in All's Well That Ends Well, Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, the Fool in King Lear, and of course Feste in Twelfth Night. In all of them the character suggests the universality of folly. Parts for the company Clown were written by other playwrights too, notably Buffone in Ben Jonson's Every Man Out of His Humor and Passarello in the additions John Webster wrote for John Marston's The Malcontent. Armin himself wrote ballads, jest books about fools, and cast himself as a "natural fool," a halfwit, as John of the (mental) Hospital in his own play Two Maids of More-clacke, wearing the long gown in which idiots were typically dressed (children's wear because of the child-like nature of their intellects, a handkerchief to wipe his dribble, and penholder and inkhorn to indicate "that this adult has yet to complete his schooling"(Wiles 142). {{link to imag}} Armin would also, like Richard Tarleton earlier, perform not just in plays but also as a solo comedian, telling jests and inviting the audience to suggest subjects; this form of comedy based on improvisation was rediscovered in the late twentieth century by "Theatersports," and was never lost in standup comedy. In the absence of an interlocutor he held dialogues with his bauble, or "Sir Timothy Truncheon," a comic club or slapstick doing service as a "marotte" (the form of a fool's bauble with a fool's face carved on it). It is not obvious that he has such a prop in Twelfth Night, but he may have. The skill obviously fits well with Feste's ability to set up little routines in which he asks a series of questions and the respondent (Olivia in 1.5. or Malvolio in 4.2) is shown up as the real fool. And his talent for mimicry leads to routines like having a dialogue with himself as Sir Topaz.

88Often Armin's fool roles set him up as a "natural" philosopher with a series of logic-defying leaps from one conclusion to the next, and an extraordinary facility with invented polysyllabic names and terminology (Sir Andrew recalls a typical example: "thou spok'st of Pigrogomitus, of the Vapians passing the equinoctial of Queubus: 'twas very good, i'faith," TLN 722–4 {2.3.23-5}).

89It seems that Armin's other main talent was as a singer, which would explain why Shakespeare puts so many songs in Twelfth Night for him. But unlike his predecessor Kemp, he does not seem to have been noted for dancing. This may in part explain why jigs apparently went out of fashion at the Globe, and why Twelfth Night ends with the Clown on stage singing that the "play is done," whereas earlier plays left Kemp out of the finale probably because he and two or three other comedy actors (e.g., Bottom and the other mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream) were off stage preparing for the jig (a comic song and dance, usually with a jokey obscene scenario) which rounded off an Elizabethan play. It is just possible, however, that a jig was performed after Twelfth Night, in which case we might expect its performers to be drawn from the Clown, Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and/or Malvolio. If so, the modern experience of seeing Twelfth Night is sharply different in this respect from that of an Elizabethan audience.

90It seems that Armin was small and somewhat grotesque in appearance, even possibly a dwarf (though this is not supported by the woodcut of him in Two Maids of More-clacke). We meet Feste in 1.5, as he returns after a significant absence which has brought him into disfavor with Olivia. He is a significant touchstone for other characters, for we almost immediately see him use his Clown's interrogatory technique ("I must catechise you for it, madonna," TLN 354 {1.5.60}) to break through Olivia's melancholy about her brother's death. He may well be older than she is, since he is "a fool that the Lady Olivia's father took much delight in" (TLN 894–5 {2.4.11-12}). He is sometimes seen as the kind of father-figure which Sir Toby so evidently fails to provide (as in, e.g., Ben Kingsley's performance as Feste in Nunn's film, in which he comforts a weeping Olivia in 1.5). For Sir Toby, Feste is a drinking companion ("How now, sot?," TLN 414 {1.5.122}). Malvolio, however, is not open to the Clown's life-giving reflection of folly, which is another way of saying that Malvolio is "sick of self-love" (TLN 382 {1.5.89}).

91Just as the Clown is first introduced with only one other actor (Maria at the start of 1.5), so he is given a separate sequence with Viola at the start of 3.1, and later with Sebastian in 4.1 (and even Fabian in 5.1). With Viola, the subject quickly becomes the nature of wit and the ambiguity of language: "they that dally nicely with words may quickly make them wanton" (1227–8 {3.1.14-15}). Viola comments that "This fellow is wise enough to play the fool," and the corollary that "wise men, folly-fall'n, quite taint their wit" (TLN 1271, 1279 {3.1.61, 69}). We are invited to consider the theme of folly running through the play, and the way in which language, sexual attraction, loyalty and rational responses are all like a "cheverel glove"--"the wrong side may be turned outward" (TLN 1225–6 {3.1.12-13}). Different performances and critical approaches will vary in how widely spread the folly is perceived to be, and how serious.

92When Feste joins Sir Toby and Sir Andrew in 2.3, it is principally as a musician. His famous love song "O mistress mine" conveys the same traditional message he gave Olivia in 5.1: "Youth's a stuff will not endure" (TLN 752 {2.3.53}). The implication for the young, like Olivia (and possibly Sir Andrew), is to marry now and take advantage of their youth; for everyone, but particularly an older Sir Toby, it is a "memento mori," a reminder of mortality. This mixture of love and melancholy repeats, in a different key, as it were, the pain of the Viola–Orsino relationship. Sir Toby's instigation of the "caterwauling" (TLN 771 {2.3.73}) catch "Thou knave" is perhaps deliberately an abrupt change of tone, as if Sir Toby has taken "Present mirth hath present laughter" (TLN 748 {2.3.49}) as a watchword for squeezing every ounce of pleasure from the moment, with no thought for tomorrow.

93The interruption by Malvolio, so vital to understanding both his character and the play's structure, is preceded by Maria's attempt to quieten down the revelers. Although she warns them of Olivia's anger and Malvolio's approach, she seems herself to be infected with the gaiety of their behavior. This ambivalent reaction is in contrast to the entirely unsympathetic strictures of Malvolio, and his threat that Sir Toby may be turned out by Olivia. In performance, Malvolio is likely to wear a nightshirt and carry a candle to indicate that he has been roused from bed, but a critical decision has to be made about how ridiculous he may look. He has been played wearing his steward's chain of office even with his nightshirt, in hair curlers under a nightcap, with a teddy bear under his nightshirt, or secretly wearing yellow stockings. As Stanley Wells has pointed out, an ethical balance must be considered here: Malvolio's plot function is to be a wet blanket. Too much absurdity may undercut the seriousness of the threat he poses, and the seriousness of the character he cultivates (which the rest of the subplot will attempt to subvert or reform) (Wells 57).Equally, critics have been divided over the extent to which Malvolio is right to try to close down an irresponsibly noisy late-night party, or is a humorless spoilsport irritated by anyone having even innocent fun. The upshot, whatever the view of Malvolio, is Maria's plan to gull him by using his own weaknesses: not that he is a Puritan ("or anything constantly," TLN 839–40 {2.3.146-7}), but that he is so conceited that he believes "that all that look on him love him" (TLN 843–4 {2.3.151-2}).

94The appearance of a new character, Fabian, in 2.5 is something of a surprise, as Maria had suggested to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew that they "let the fool make a third" (TLN 863–4 {2.3.173-4}) in secretly observing Malvolio's interpretation of her false letter. Some critics have suggested the unexplained change is the result of revision of the play, even to the writing of a part for a law student for the performance at Middle Temple. But most question why such a lively character as the Clown should be kept out of a key scene of comedy. One critical view is that Shakespeare wished to allow Malvolio a dominant role in this scene, and did not trust the Clown to "speak no more than is set down" (Hamlet, 3.2.39). This hypothesis, however, takes no account of the replacement of Kemp, who as a theater Clown did evidently take over the stage from the play on occasion, by Robert Armin, who seems to have been much more amenable to staying with a dramatic character. Critics more sympathetic to comic acting think Shakespeare may have wished Feste to be somewhat detached from the gulling so as to better comment on it later. Few, however, comment on the positive benefits of introducing a new character here: among other things, Fabian can serve, in a minor but useful way, as "a reasonable man" (to use a term devised to describe the fair-minded observer whom the French playwright Molière usually provided in his comedies). Fabian helps us judge the gulling of Malvolio. He has his own reasons for feeling aggrieved (because Malvolio brought him out of favor with Olivia over a bear-baiting), but at the end of the play he presents a balanced view of how, "If that the injuries be justly weighed / That have on both sides passed" (TLN 2538–9 {5.1.366-7}), laughter may be more appropriate than revenge. Although the role looks insignificant on the page, solid acting can give Fabian a very substantial presence in the play.

95It is important to note that Malvolio has already been "yonder i'the sun practising behavior to his own shadow" (TLN 1032–3 {2.5.16-17}) before he appears, and that his fantasies about being "Count Malvolio" (TLN 1050 {2.5.35}), sleeping with Olivia and disciplining Sir Toby, all occur before he sees the letter. The reaction of the eavesdropping group builds the comedy as first one and then another is so outraged that he has to restrained from bursting out of hiding and giving away the plot. This may extend to considerable physical comedy if they have to change their hiding place, pretend to be garden statues, or adopt other comic business of hiding or nearly being discovered. Nevertheless, it is essentially Malvolio's scene, and can be played as stand up comedy to the audience, using audience laughter as part of an implicit dialogue with them. Often Malvolio seems occupied with the audience while the eavesdroppers are commenting, so that his speech may be seen as structured as a monologue with pauses for audience reaction:

96MALVOLIO "M" [sharing his realization with the audience] - Malvolio! [making sure audience understands the implication] "M"! Why, that begins my name! [He checks that the audience has understood, returns to the letter as FABIAN comments, then complains to the audience.] "M" - But then there is no consonancy in the sequel; that suffers under probation: [perhaps showing the letter to the audience] "A" should follow, but "O" does. [Getting little comfort from the audience, he checks the letter again. FABIAN and SIR TOBY both comment. MALVOLIO demonstrates to the audience, perhaps again showing the place in the letter, further proof of what he has been saying, possibly in confusion or with a sense of grievance.] And then "I" comes behind.
(TLN 1133–1141 {2.5.126-35})

97Malvolio, surprisingly for a serious man with Puritan leanings, gives thanks not to God, but to Jove, the Olympian god. Since "God" is used a number of times elsewhere in the play, the use of Jove cannot be a result of the printers censoring the text to conform to the 1606 statute against blasphemy, nor a revision by Shakespeare for the same purpose. It has been suggested that swearing by Jove is part of the Illyrian atmosphere, or that Shakespeare wanted to make Malvolio look foolish by swearing by a god known for amorous exploits. Heartfelt thanks to God might have increased the seriousness with which we regard Malvolio's subsequent treatment. And he may simply be responding to the phrasing of Maria's letter: "Jove knows I love" (TLN 1109 {2.5.98}).

98Although the scene ends with Sir Toby and the others eagerly anticipating Malvolio's transformation in front of Olivia, their brief appearance in 3.1 sets up Sir Andrew's realization that Cesario is "a rare courtier" (TLN 1299 {3.1.88}). 3.2 then provides, like 1.3, renewed energy and a change of direction after the painful parting of Viola and Olivia at the end of 3.1. Sir Andrew's decision to leave requires Sir Toby and Fabian to extemporize a new scheme on the instant to retain the rich knight with them. This further complication then alternates with the Malvolio plot, which Maria once again heralds. Malvolio enters in the yellow stockings of a bridegroom, cross-gartered in fashionable style totally inappropriate to Malvolio or a mourning household, and smiling in a manner so grotesque that it provokes Olivia's first comment: "Smil'st thou? I sent for thee upon a sad occasion" (TLN 1540 {3.4.18}). As a lover he takes Olivia's suggestion that he go to bed as an invitation, with of course potential for physical comedy if he pursues her around the stage. He assumes he is sharing a secret understanding with her as he quotes the letter, and she is totally baffled by indecorum so gross that madness is the only explanation. The comedy is heightened by Malvolio's belief that she has confirmed his love by instructing that her kinsman Sir Toby look after him. His extravagant arrogance arises from both his character and the plot, allowing Sir Toby, Maria and Fabian to carry out their elaborate charade of treating his "madness" as demonic possession. Nothing could more infuriate a respectable Puritan, and every self-righteous exclamation provides more ammunition for his tormentors. After he leaves, they determine that they will carry the prank further by confining him "in a dark room" (TLN 1657 {3.4.136}), the standard treatment at the time for lunatics and those possessed.

99A key element in the gulling of Malvolio here and in the "dark house" scene (4.2) is not so much the comedy, which is readily apparent, but the seriousness of what lies behind it. If, as Charles Lamb argued in the nineteenth century, Malvolio is "neither bufoon nor contemptible," but "brave, honorable, accomplished," then his baiting by more trivial characters may evoke, as it did for Lamb when as a very young man he watched Robert Bensley play the role, "a kind of tragic interest" (Lamb, Essays of Elia, 157-9) A number of twentieth-century critics have, however, perceived a structural morality underlying the play at a deeper level than that of Malvolio's character, a morality based on the ancient rituals of celebration, social cohesion and rough justice associated with the great festivals of the pagan and subsequently Christian year, particularly Christmas, May and Midsummer. The merriment which inverts the usual norms of respect and behavior (for a strictly limited time) is therefore, at a deep level, a moral positive. Malvolio's tragedy is not that he is mistreated, but that he fails to perceive his own folly.

100No sooner has Malvolio left than Sir Andrew arrives to provide "More matter for a May morning" (TLN 1664 {3.4.144}) by showing them his ludicrously inept challenge. The development of the fight between a cowardly knight and a fearful and unqualified woman depends to a great extent on the preparation and anticipation of what will ensue. In plot terms, it is significant in joining the subplot to the main plot through the involvement of Viola. When Antonio interrupts the beginning of the duel in order to rescue Viola, we move from the farcical stage business over the fight back to the high comedy (and potential seriousness) of Antonio's arrest and demand for his money back from, as he thinks, Sebastian. This jumbling of the plots continues in 4.1 with the Clown's attempt to bring Sebastian to Olivia, and Sir Andrew's sadly ill-advised decision to assault Sebastian. Olivia's intervention draws Sebastian into the main plot, and we can see, though the characters as yet cannot, how the resolution of the romance plot will be achieved.

101As if to tantalize us, however, the denouement is delayed by the Clown's long set-piece scene with Malvolio in the dark house. Malvolio is "within" in the Folio stage direction, so on the Elizabethan stage the Clown had center stage. By disguising himself as Sir Topaz the priest (a disguise he does not need, as Maria makes clear at 2049–50 {4.2.66-7}), he may in the first instance be drawing our attention to the role of disguise in the play. His perhaps surprising reluctance to don the beard and gown echoes Viola's earlier concern: "Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness, | Wherein the pregnant enemy does much" (TLN 682–3 {2.2.26-7}). Sebastian too, by wearing his usual clothes, is inadvertently disguised as Cesario, and Antonio abandons his "sea-cap" (TLN 1847 {3.4.38}) in an attempt to conceal his identity. Although Olivia's veil, raised for Viola, is not strictly speaking a disguise, it nevertheless forms part of a revealing shift in costume code as Olivia gradually abandons mourning for brighter clothes as the play progresses. More pertinent to 4.2, Malvolio's totally inappropriate attire, in yellow stockings and cross gartered, is a form of guising or masking which reveals far more than it hides. Both the disguise and the theological language of the Clown's catechism imply a deliberate attack on Malvolio's Puritan tendencies. An Elizabethan theater audience would certainly share the Clown's antipathy to those who wanted to close down traditional festivals, morris dancing, bear baiting--and theaters. The Clown's choice of Pythagoras to test Malvolio's sanity provides an absurdly inappropriate subject, but at a thematic level it is significant. While Shakespeare would no doubt align himself with Malvolio in giving an orthodox Christian rejection to the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, Twelfth Night is a play in which Viola, in a sense, does become her brother; in which the qualities Olivia loves in Cesario do transmigrate into Sebastian; in which an apparent pageboy transforms into "Orsino's mistress, and his fancy's queen" (TLN 2558 {5.1.387}). For the audience, Malvolio's darkness will thus be not only the darkness of his ignorance about the comic intrigue against him, but even more importantly, of his own delusions about Olivia and his place in the Illyrian world of romance.

102Ever since Charles Lamb's "tragic interest" in Malvolio, and the tendency from at least the mid-nineteenth century to allow the actor of Malvolio to be seen through a grating or chained in a dungeon, or in the twentieth century imprisoned beneath a stage trapdoor through which his hands and sometimes head can piteously appear, critics of the play have been increasingly disturbed about Malvolio's treatment. For some, the play shifts at this point, preparing us for a more serious and critical view of the ending, removing our sympathy from Sir Toby and company, and even making us look more critically at the romantic denouement of the main plot. Further detail of this aspect will be considered in the "Performance" section.

103The final confluence of the romance plot and the comedy plot occurs in Act 5, which also focuses the various critical views of the play's overall theme and meaning.

104Theme and Meaning

The Clown and Fabian open Act 5 with a joke about a dog; a joke that would seem very weak were it not that it seems to be a story then in circulation about Queen Elizabeth. {{link to manningham}} It is once again a reminder that seventeenth-century performance of Twelfth Night was overtly presentational, to an audience whose presence and participation was acknowledged at all times. This is significant in considering theme and meaning, because while Orsino prior to Antonio's arrival jokes with the Clown as Feste, the Clown as performer jokes to the audience at Orsino's expense. This framing context of joking and play at two levels is essential to the meaning of the play in the theater.

105Orsino's evocation of Antonio's exploits in battle may bring into the play "an experience much tougher than we have associated with him so far" (Warren 61), and in doing so may ensure that we do not view Orsino entirely in terms of love melancholy and blindness to Viola. Antonio, however, did not slay "great number of his people" (1497 {3.3.29}); the inference must be that he did not slay any. We must presume that Orsino's nephew Titus lived, despite the loss of his leg (which is not blamed on Antonio personally). The episode, like Antonio's proud defiance of Orsino, and Orsino's equally honorable acceptance of Antonio's "fame and honor" (TLN 2210 {5.1.57}), raises the stakes, but does not remove us from the realm of comedy. Indeed, the comedy is intensified by the incomprehension created by the time scheme: Antonio knows that they only arrived at Orsino's court "Today", and that prior to that Sebastian has been with him "for three months . . . day and night" (TLN 2247–9 {5.1. 92-4}), while Orsino knows with equal certainty that "Three months this youth hath tended upon me" (TLN 2254 {5.1.97}). Both are right, so each is faced with a circumstance in which rationality is called in question: "fellow, thy words are madness" (TLN 2253 {5.1.96}).

106Although the three months seems to establish a period within which the mutual attraction between Orsino and Viola can mature, and Antonio's devotion to Sebastian deepen, the main plot seems to occur in a few days. From the time Viola comes to Orsino's court it is only three days before she is sent to woo Olivia in 1.5. Sebastian and Antonio set off for Orsino's court the same day (2.1). Viola's return to Olivia in 3.1 seems to be the "tomorrow" she specified at TLN 602 {1.5.309}. In 3.4 Olivia's servant "could hardly entreat him back" (TLN 1580 {3.4.57-8}), which suggests Viola may not even have got back to Orsino's before returning. Since Antonio is arrested later in the same scene, and Olivia betrothed straight after the continuation of the fight by Sir Andrew, and only two hours prior to 5.1, as we are subsequently told by the Priest, there is definitely a double time scheme in operation. The effect in the theater is of both: love maturing over time, and events occurring with headlong rapidity.

107The emotional turning point for Orsino occurs as Olivia rudely ignores him to talk to his page Cesario. As he finally turns away from his commitment to Olivia, he seems to consider, briefly, killing her: "Why should I not . . . Kill what I love?" (TLN 2273–5 {5.1.115-17}). But his full and frightening frustration is redirected against Cesario: "Come, boy, with me; my thoughts are ripe in mischief" (TLN 2285 {5.1.127}). This threat, however, is formulated in terms that will precipitate the romantic discovery, since Viola, whom, he says "I swear I tender dearly," is "the lamb that I do love" (2282, 2286 {5.1.124,128}). Viola's response that she will follow him willingly because she loves him "More, by all mores, than e'er I shall love wife," (TLN 2293 {5.1.134}) seems the ultimate betrayal to Olivia, who knows she has just been betrothed to Cesario. She demands "Cesario, husband, stay!," (TLN 2301 {5.1.141}) and brings in the Priest to confirm her (mistaken) reality.

108Orsino's departure, which would usher in tragedy, is deflected by the eruption of the subplot onto the stage. Since Sir Andrew and Sir Toby have been beaten, though not very seriously, we know Sebastian must be in the offing. Before he arrives, however, Sir Andrew is rejected by Sir Toby: "Will you help? An ass-head, and a coxcomb, and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull?" (TLN 2369–70 {5.1.204-5}). We have known all along that Sir Toby is gulling Sir Andrew, both financially and for his amusement value with the duel; the critical question is how serious and how cruel this revelation is now. Is it the beginning of a Sir Toby sobering up, parallel to his marriage with Maria? (It seems too much to hope that Sir Andrew can learn anything by being told the truth.) Is it a mark of a society which Shakespeare invites us to view as corrupt, self-seeking and self-deluding? Some, like J. W. Draper, have regarded the play as reflecting social and economic struggles of late Elizabethan England and, for instance, sees Sir Toby's prime motivation as fear for his financial security if Olivia should marry. Or is this a minor element of reality showing itself as we near the end of the play, sufficient to complicate our view of the meaning of the play, but not enough to divert the main flow towards comic closure and completion?

109Sebastian's long-delayed appearance creates on stage the "natural perspective, that is, and is not" (TLN 2381 {5.1.215}). Whatever critical view is taken of the play, this moment is a kind of magic in which each twin sees his and her impossible, hoped-for, reflection. "Most wonderful!" (TLN 2390 {5.1.223}) says Olivia; and a sense of wonder does indeed surround the rightness of the reunion. Viola has kept her brother alive not only in her hopes, but also in her impersonation of him, despite the increasing danger. Anyone blinkered by realism might legitimately complain that Viola should, since the Captain's story in 1.2 and Antonio's speeches in 3.4, have guessed that this is Sebastian; but the structure and tone of the play are not intended to be realistic. The coming together of the twins resembles the final chords of a piece of music, or the closing steps of a dance that seemed confusion and is now revealed to have a perfect shape. Choreography is necessary in the theater anyway, since Sebastian must not see Viola until after he has spoken to Antonio, thus giving everyone else on stage time to register the marvel of the apparition. But choreography in modern productions often goes further than this in order to emphasize the "natural perspective", the apparent optical illusion of Cesario/Sebastian "cleft in two" (TLN 2388 {5.1.221}). The twins frequently circle each other, suggesting dance, interchangability, and a cautious approach to what may be a spirit. The dialogue, too, holds the moment in suspension, as each tentatively seeks confirmation of what seems to good to be true; and if not true, too cruel to be borne. When Peggy Ashcroft played Viola in 1950, the British critic J. C. Trewin described the moment thus:

110At the end, as Sebastian faces his sister, he cries: "What countryman? What name? What parentage?" There is a long pause now before Viola, in almost a whisper (but one of infinite rapture and astonishment) answers: "Of Messaline." Practically for the first time in my experience a Viola has forced me to believe in her past. . . . (qtd Brown 210)

111The next two stages of reconciliation fall into place with the inevitability and satisfaction of placing the final pieces of a jigsaw. Sebastian and Olivia, total strangers who are now effectively married, have no complaint with how "nature to her bias drew" (TLN 2426 {5.1.258}), like the weighted curve of a ball in bowls. Heterosexual couples constitute Nature's bias, and alternatives are given no voice. Furthermore, everything that attracted Olivia to Viola is fulfilled in Sebastian, plus some things that were missing. Similarly, but having gone through a steeper learning curve, Orsino realizes his folly and his unexpected reward: "I shall have share in this most happy wreck" (TLN 2432 {5.1.264}), he says, as Viola reiterates her pledge of love to him.

112In traditional terms this ending to the romance plot is complete and satisfying. The difficulties with which the play and the characters started have, after a period of further confusion (including both comedy and danger) been resolved. The conventions of comedy as a genre lead to marriage and feasting, to "cakes and ale" (TLN 811 {2.3.115}). The formality and artificiality (artifice) of the ending, like the diminishing number of pages at the end of a novel, tell us that the ending is come.

113Yet unfinished business intrudes. Because Viola cannot get at her woman's garments, Malvolio is needed, and his resentful letter leads to his appearance and accusation of Olivia. Unless we are excessively hostile to "cakes and ale," and sympathetic to Malvolio's humorlessness, we are unlikely to relish the prospect of his being "both the plaintiff and the judge" over Maria, Sir Toby and the others. Fabian's intervention seems in the spirit of the traditional comic ending, in which the happiness of Viola and the other lovers "spreads to the other characters on the stage, creating an emotional solvent in which their problems are resolved; and it spreads to the audience too" (Wells, 60). Fabian confesses, shields Maria from most blame, reveals the unexpected news of a further marriage, and submits that all that has passed should "rather pluck on laughter than revenge" (TLN 2537 {5.1.365}).

114Feste's reminder to Malvolio that "the whirligig of time brings in his revenges" (TLN 2546–7 {5.1.375-6}) because of Malvolio's foolishness in love and his initial lack of human sympathy may be simply an expansion of what Fabian has said, or may be a twist of the knife. There are many ways to interpret it, and many ways to play it in the theater. Whatever the interpretation, Malvolio's line following, "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you" (TLN 2548 {5.1.377}), sounds a discord in the harmony of the ending. He may or may not be entreated to a reconciliation later; what is certain is that he is not part of the completion of the play now. The tone of Olivia's conclusion that he has been "most notoriously abused" (TLN 2549 {5.1.378}) will vary according to the interpretation that a production or reader places on Malvolio's gulling, and on the validity of the romance ending. Various Olivia's have delivered the line as an accusation at Feste and Fabian, as sympathetic but not overly concerned for Malvolio, as initially concerned and then bursting into laughter on the Malvolioism "notoriously," and in many other ways. For some critics, Malvolio's refusal to be reconciled creates a darkness at the heart of the play, a human despair too deep for conventional romance endings to encompass. In this view, Shakespeare at the time was turning away from romance to the darker worlds of Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, and Measure for Measure (Leech 29-62). For others it is seen not as in opposition to the romance ending, but more like a dark border of reality by contrast with which the wonder of the romance is that much more magical. Others again see it as a recognition that there will always be some who place themselves outside the reach of forgiveness and generosity (Barton, Ryan).

115Orsino reiterates the golden promise of the double marriage to come, and the play is complete.

116Except for the Clown's song. Just as each stage in the ending has been qualified by what follows, so the epilogue in the form of a song (which may or may not be by Shakespeare) seems to comment on the play as a whole, even as it gently removes us from the world of illusion and art to the world of "every day" (TLN 2579 {5.1.407}). The Clown sings of a sad, even cynical view of downward progress of a man through childhood, adult knavery, marriage, drunkenness and death. If this reflects back on the play's presentation of aspirations, pain, love and mortality, it does so in a minor key, repeating that "the rain it raineth every day" (TLN 2563 {5.1.399}). Nevertheless, it is a song, not a sermon. And the final two lines change the focus to the theatrical event in which the audience has participated:

117But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.
(TLN 2579 {5.1.406-7})

118Far from insisting on a cynical view of the play, the Clown concedes that we have to leave the theater because the "play is done," but reminds us of the hard work of the actors on our behalf; and also reminds us that their hard work is available to us every day that we choose to participate with them in the creation of the dramatic event.