Internet Shakespeare Editions

Authors: David Carnegie, Mark Houlahan
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Twelfth Night: Introduction

11. Twelfth Night In the Elizabethan Theater


"If music be the food of love, play on" (TLN 5 {1.1.1}). The first sounds an audience hears in Twelfth Night are not words, but music. Would the audience at the first performance, probably sometime in 1601 at the Globe theater, have seen the musicians? That is one of many questions about the Globe to which we do not have the answer. The Lord Chamberlain's Men, the theater company of which Shakespeare was a shareholder, actor, and principal playwright, had built the Globe playhouse on the south bank of the river Thames in 1599 (from the timbers of their old theater just north of the City of London), and it seems unlikely that a special music room at an upper level was provided until about ten years later (Gurr 147-9). Therefore the musicians who play for Duke Orsino may have come on stage to perform, may have been revealed by a curtain over an entranceway being pulled back while they played, or may have been out of sight in the "tiring house" (the room behind the stage where the actors attired themselves).

2Wherever the musicians played, the instruments and music for the first scene would not be the trumpets, drums and other loud music required backstage for history plays and tragedies with battle scenes, but gentler woodwinds and strings appropriate to a duke's court. The music itself, as Orsino makes clear, is melancholy, appropriate for an aristocratic lover. Thus even if they are clearly the theater musicians rather than appearing as part of the dramatic fiction of being in Orsino's retinue, they have a vital role in establishing for us where the story starts: in a court.

3The Globe

An audience at the Globe was used to responding to such clues, since the stage was a neutral platform with no scenery to convey visual information about locale. The most concrete illustration of current scholarly theories about the Globe is to be found in the reconstruction in London opened in 1997 as the Shakespeare Globe. {{link here to ise stage history site}} The essential features were the large bare rectangular stage raised to about eye level of spectators standing on three sides in the pit, the roofed galleries surrounding the stage in a complete circle (where the majority of the spectators sat), the pillars on the stage supporting the theater "heavens" (which kept the rain off most of the stage in this open air theater), and the wall of the tiring house at the back of the stage. This wall had at least two, probably three doorways onto it from the tiring house, and curtains or hangings probably covered parts of the wall and door at various times. There may have been an alcove or space behind the hangings for the "discoveries" needed in some plays. (Hamlet, for instance, stabs Polonius through the "arras," then pulls back the curtain to discover whom he has killed.) The playhouse had two other features not required for Twelfth Night, a trap door, and a "terrace" or upper acting area.

4The simplicity of the requirements for staging Twelfth Night explains how the Lord Chamberlain's Men were able to stage it in the hall of Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court, in early 1602. (John Manningham's diary entry recording this occasion is given in A Note on Shakespeare's Sources, p. XX, and Appendix 00.) A great hall such as Middle Temple's could provide the same basic elements as the Globe: a large flat playing space, audience on at least three sides, a screen behind which the actors could costume themselves and remain out of sight, and at least two entrances onto the playing area. No more is needed but the imagination of the audience.

5Costume and Props

The first two scenes of the play illustrate well how information, meaning, and emotion are conveyed on a stage such as the Globe's. After the theater's trumpet call from the height of the turret to announce that the performance is about to begin (it now being 2.00 pm), the courtly music plays and actors enter onto the platform. The Folio stage direction reads "Enter ORSINO Duke of Illyria, CURIO, and other Lords." In the absence of any scenery, the music and actors alone must convey a sense of place, time and situation. In this case, a duke will be costumed in the rich clothing reserved by law for the aristocracy: velvets, silk, brocade, cloth of gold perhaps, feathers in his hat (for all gentlemen wore hats indoors as well as out), or he may wear a coronet. It is possible a "state," a throne raised on a dais, may have been brought out be stage attendants to indicate that he is a ruler, but since there are no political matters being discussed this seems unlikely. His tone with his courtiers is informal, but their deference to him (probably kneeling as he enters, doffing their hats and remaining with heads uncovered in his presence) will make his authority clear enough. These "Lords" will also be richly dressed, and wear thin fashionable rapiers. And although the stage direction does not specify anyone else, at least two and probably more of the company's "hired men" (whom we now jokingly call spear carriers, but were in fact regularly employed by the company to double various small roles, particularly servants, officers and the like, often with a few lines) would be present as attendants and guards. Their costume would contrast sharply with that of the duke and lords, being principally of wool and leather, and the guards' pikes would further establish the power of Orsino's court.

6The entry of Valentine, apparently another "Lord," produces further visual information if he is wearing the leather riding boots and spurs which on the Elizabethan stage always indicate, both realistically and conventionally, a journey. {{link to accompanying picture}} If, for instance, Orsino were also wearing boots, dressed to "go hunt" (TLN 20 {1.1.16}), his failure to do so would reinforce a sense of love overwhelming his usual habits and determination; on the other hand, wearing boots when he arrives at Olivia's in 5.1 would reinforce for the audience a metaphorical sense of movement and development in the character, and help prepare for the transfer of his affections from Olivia to Viola. There is a hint later that Valentine may be an older man "of grave aspect" (TLN 278) {1.4.28}), so he may have a grey beard for this role. Stage beards were a standard part of costuming (see TLN 1986n {4.2.1n}), and the Clown later wears one as Sir Topaz.

7As the duke and his courtiers leave the stage, the audience, if given a questionnaire, could not say what country the play is set in, nor Orsino's name, nor even where or at what time of day the scene took place, but they would know they had seen a ruler, possibly a duke, in a tranquil and orderly court, exiting to a spring or summer garden. There is no dramatic need to know more.

8The stage has been neutralized by the exit, and is available to be any place or time the actors create. The courtly music ceased at l. 7. There may now be sound of a different sort, thunder created by drums or the "rolled bullet" (a cannonball rolled on a sheet of metal, or down a wooden trough), possibly even lightning from pyrotechnics in the theater heavens. With the change in weather enter onto the stage several actors who may be, as in The Tempest, wet to indicate that they have been shipwrecked. We know that mariners had distinctive apparel, so the Captain and Sailors will be instantly identifiable. The exact nature of mariners' apparel is not certain, but it seems likely that at this time it included "baggy breeches gathered in below the knee, a loose waist-length coat . . . and a shaggy brimless hat or cap" (Cunnington 56). {{link to image}} These breeches were probably made of canvas, possibly coated with tar (hence "tarpaulin"), and the hat similarly was designed to shed water. Sailors on occasion wore knives around their necks on a lanyard. Chaucer says of his Shipman, in the General Prologue 392-393, that “A daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he/About his nekke, under his arm adoun” (“A dagger on a lanyard falling free / Hung from his neck under his arm and down”).

9Viola's costume does not define occupation, but presumably would indicate social standing, which in her case is the same thing: a gentlewoman is one who, by definition, does not need to work for a living. Her dress, even if wet, will no doubt be of rich material and cut. (Theater companies might pay more for a woman's gown than for the play.) Furthermore, this party of survivors has reached shore in the ship's boat, and Viola still has money and valuables with her. When she says to the Captain "there's gold," the property money or jewellery confirms a hierarchy for us as well as rewarding the Captain. The other crucial aspect of Viola's costume is that it is women's clothing. The boy actor playing Viola (for no women acted on the public stage) would be a specialist in playing women's roles, and would be familiar with the clothes, wigs, and possibly makeup required. The next time the audience sees Viola, this boy actor will appear as a boy playing a girl disguised as a boy, so it is vital that Viola be established in this scene as female. Again, place has been established on the bare stage by actors, costume and props as much as by words. The characters arrive as if from a shipwreck, and their clothing tells us their social relationship (and even their gender) as well. What more we need to know is supplied by the dialogue.

10One costume requires special consideration, that of the Clown who played the character of the fool called Feste. The Clown in the Lord Chamberlain's Men was, by the time of Twelfth Night, Robert Armin, and Shakespeare evidently wrote the Clown's role with Armin's established talents and comic style in mind. We shall discuss later Armin's adoption of the persona not of a rustic (a "clown"), but of a fool (an idiot). By playing a "fool natural" (i.e., someone mentally subnormal from birth) who is a jester or "allowed fool," Armin is deliberately adopting a character well-known since the Middle Ages, and widely pictured in emblem books during the Renaissance {{link to fig x}}. The traditional fool's costume is motley: particolored garments in contrasting colors. The highly-colored coat was sometimes of extraordinary cut (e.g., with four sleeves), and bells were frequently attached to the long hanging elbows of the sleeves. The most instantly recognizable feature was the fool's cap. This originated in the medieval cowl or hood, to which were added asses ears (often with bells at the end) or a representation of a cock's head. Sometimes both features were found together, and sometimes the cock's head was reduced to just the comb (hence "coxcomb" for a fool), or simply to a conical hat with a bell on the end. He was also likely to carry a bauble, which might be a bladder on a stick (a comic club, like a child's balloon now), or a truncheon, slapstick, wooden dagger or the like, or a "marotte." The marotte was a short stick with a carved image of the fool's head, complete with fool's cap, on it, allowing a fool to carry on a mock dialogue with himself as represented by the marotte. This image of the fool was so widespread in the European pictorial tradition that a depiction of a fool in his (or occasionally her) distinctive costume was sufficient to signify Folly in almost any allegory. The Clown's reference to "We Three" (TLN 717 {2.3.17}) is just such a use of the universal meaning of the fool's cap with its asses ears. Erasmus used the image in a similar way in his famous humanistic satire In Praise of Folly (1509).

11Different fools had different specialties, and it is clear that comic mock-dialogue was one of Armin's, as we see demonstrated in the Sir Topaz episode (4.2). Another was music, as is evident from not only the songs, but also from the conversation with Viola at the start of 3.1 about his tabor. A tabor was a small drum slung at the waist which could be played with one hand while the other played a pipe {{link tofig. x [richard tarlton] }}. There is no evidence of whether the Clown carries a tabor (or pipe) throughout the play, but it is a possibility that fits with what we know of the ability of theater Clowns to entertain with or without a dramatic script.

12The Clown in Twelfth Night refers to his motley fool's cap at 5.1.53-5. There is no clear evidence whether he carries a bauble. The rest of his costume is more difficult to be sure about, for two reasons. First, the pictorial tradition of emblem books seems to be considerably more stylized and consistent than the actual clothing worn by historical fools, of which we have evidence from wardrobe accounts and a few portraits. Many fools seem to have worn ordinary dress except for special occasions. We assume, however, that a fool depicted in the theater wore the distinct special costume so that he would be immediately recognizable as an emblem of folly. The second problem is that the evidence in England for the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century stage is both scarce and inconsistent. The most recent major study of Shakespeare's Clowns suggests that their costume was changing about this time from a short doublet or coat to a long one (Wiles 182-91). The long full-skirted coat was essentially the sort of long gown in which children and idiots were dressed, and there is a woodcut showing Armin himself playing John of the Hospital (i.e., an idiot confined to a hospital, as a few were) in a long coat {{link to ise image}}. Evidence suggests that a formal long fool's coat was developed for the stage, perhaps about 1604. The evidence in Twelfth Night is slight, but Maria's joke about the Clown's gaskins (breeches) falling (TLN 317–19 {1.5.23-4}) makes more sense if they are not covered by a long coat.

13It seems most likely, then, that Armin as the Clown wore motley gaskins and doublet or short coat, and a traditional motley jester's cap with one or more of asses ears, cock's head and comb, and bells. The doublet or coat may well have been of extravagant cut, possibly with bells at the elbows. (The theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe listed a number of "Antik sutes" [i.e., antic suits], including "will somers cote." Will Summers had been Henry VIII's fool, which suggests that Henslowe had at least one recognizable fool's coat in his stock) (Gurr 195). Armin may have carried a bauble, and certainly has a tabor, and possibly pipe, for part of the play. Even without the drum, his arrival will almost certainly be accompanied by the jingling of bells on his costume and hat (an effect of great emotional force in the depiction of Lear's Fool in the 1971 Russian film of King Lear directed by Grigori Kozintsev).

14Entrance and space

Since the space of the stage is unlocalized, the question of where characters enter from and leave to assumes a rather different significance from what we take for granted in realist plays and, above all, films. If a character goes offstage in a play, television comedy or film, we almost unthinkingly provide (or in film have provided for us) an offstage continuation of realistic time and place. When characters enter, we expect realistic logic: characters entering shipwrecked from the sea shore should be wet and cold, we should be able to hear the sea and wind, the footing may be stony or sandy, and if they are heading for a town they should not exit in the same direction from which they entered. Elizabethan staging, however, is not realist. There are apparently realistic features, such as the shipwrecked party entering wet, but there is no basis for supposing that Shakespeare and the other actors would therefore perform "as if" cold, hungry, bruised, tired, or whatever. The wetness is a visual signal meaning "shipwrecked"; by the same token, Viola and the Captain may have left by the same door they entered by. In most cases, we simply do not know how the stage conventions worked.

15Let us assume for the moment two entry doors onto the stage, and call them A and B. If in 1.1 Orsino and his courtiers enter by door A (from elsewhere in the castle or palace, let us say, using our familiar realist sense of a complete fictional environment), then logic would say Valentine should enter from door B (as representing somewhere away from the interior of the palace, and away from wherever Orsino has come from). If we follow this logic, then the final exit from 1.1 would have to be out door A, since door B has so recently been associated as the direction towards Olivia's. But Orsino is heading for "sweet beds of flowers" (TLN 46 {1.1.40}), so he should exit by a different door by the one he entered from. Since it is associated with Olivia, that is impossible. The problem is, for a modern sensibility attuned to the logic of detective fiction, that we find ourselves having to think out a palace geography in which Orsino has to go within the palace before getting to the gate into the garden or meadows. (This kind of geography is admirably supplied in Trevor Nunn's realist film.) The alternative is to try to think ourselves into different, more emblematic, more Elizabethan assumptions about dramatic space

16Let us continue and consider which door Viola and her party enter by from their shipwreck. It seems certain that a cleared stage (the end of a scene in the English tradition of playwriting and performance) allows the doors to be neutralized of any previous connotations of locale, so they could enter by either door. Perhaps these actors come on by door B so as not to run into the other actors exiting at door A. In that case logic would suggest that they exit by door A at the end of the scene so that they are going from one place to another in the course of the scene. On the other hand, it is possible that the fictional situation did not begin until the actors were on stage, so that the entry question had nothing to do with the dramatic fiction, but only with theatrical traffic control. Perhaps actors always entered by one door (say door A) and always exited by the other (door B) unless otherwise specified, or always exited by the same door they entered by, whichever that was. We simply do not know, and there is much debate over the matter.

17A final instance from Twelfth Night may indicate the pitfalls of detective story realism being applied to Shakespearean dramaturgy. At 2.2 Malvolio, who has been sent after Viola, meets her and gives her Olivia's ring. The Folio stage direction reads "Enter VIOLA and MALVOLIO, at several doors." "Several" means "separate, different," but the spatial logic would seem to dictate that Viola would enter from the direction of Olivia's house and exit by the other door in the direction of Orsino. Indeed, editors from the mid-eighteenth century until the twentieth century have changed the direction to read "Enter VIOLA, MALVOLIO following," since the same logic says that Malvolio must catch up with Viola. Modern editors return to the original direction because we now understand that Malvolio meeting Viola rather than overtaking her is not bad logic, but different logic. Shakespeare is concerned not with realist geography, but with metaphorical geography: a confrontation between Malvolio and Viola. To be concerned with whether Malvolio might have taken a short cut in order to get ahead of her is to miss the (emblematic) point. Thus, although we can never be sure which kind of logic should govern entrances and exits, we should remain alert to the drama of each scene, since each scene may have its own dynamic.

18Doors also serve as the visible boundary between onstage and offstage, between the dramatic fiction and the theatrical machine. Occasionally the boundary is elastic, most noticeably when Malvolio is "within," as the Folio has him in 4.2. He is imagined as locked in a dark room, and his voice may be heard through the door, or perhaps through a small grating in the door, or possibly from behind a stage hanging. Such curtains sometimes covered the stage doors, or a central alcove, and if Malvolio is behind a curtain, he can allow his presence and frustration to be evident by grasping or shaking the curtains even while remaining entirely out of sight "within." {{link to carnegie sq article}}

19Once on the stage, actors could make considerable use of the sheer size of the Globe stage. It is thought to have been about 13 meters (43 feet) wide and 8.4 meters (27 1/2 feet) deep (judging by the contract of the Fortune Theater, which was in part based on the Globe), taking about half the area of the yard enclosed by the galleries (Gurr 136-54). Such stage size is perhaps most obvious in Shakespeare's thinking in a scene like 3.4, when Viola and Sir Andrew are cajoled separately, in sight of each other but supposedly out of earshot, into fighting a duel. Even in apparently simpler scenes, however, space and distance may be eloquent. Orsino in the opening scene may pace the outside of the stage drawing everyone in the audience around him into his mood, or he may stay still, dominating the empty space with Curio and others at the fringes, respecting his privacy or authority. Valentine's return to Orsino's court may be hesitant or formal, retaining deferential distance, or his approach may be charged with tension. Whether he crosses the space before or after Orsino's "What news from her?" (TLN 28 {1.1.23}) will effect the mood. Alternatively, Orsino may throw himself across the distance in his anxiety to hear the answer. Orsino's use of space may become even more eloquent when in later scenes he instructs all his courtiers to stand "aloof" (TLN 261 {1.4.12}) while he and Cesario take the stage space for themselves. And the contrast between one scene and the next will often provide an implicit comment on each scene, as, for instance, Orsino absolutely at home and confident of his space in 1.1, and Viola tentatively enquiring where they are at the start of the next scene. By the end of the play Orsino has to re-evaluate his position, while Viola has found a new home.


The language of Twelfth Night may be divided into prose (60%) and verse (40%) (Bate/Rasmussen, 649), but it may be more useful to consider it as prose, verse, and poetry. A section of 1.5 will illustrate a few of the significant strengths of Shakespeare's use of each form. (For a fourth category, song, see below.)


21Viola's very first speech in 1.5 indicates the dangers of trying to speak of prose, or any mode, as if it were a single form:

22Most radiant, exquisite, and unmatchable beauty—[To MARIA or a Gentleman] I pray you tell me if this be the lady of the house, for I never saw her. (TLN 464–6 {1.5.171-3})

23The vocabulary and balance of the first phrase to Olivia are elaborate, highly wrought, and deliberately artificial: as Viola says, "'tis poetical" (TLN 488–9 {1.5.195-6}). It is appropriate (perhaps) to Orsino's self-consciously artistic mode of loving. The second phrase is so prosaically functional as to provide a comic contrast. Then a third mode is displayed, as Olivia's reply steers a middle course:

24I . . . allowed your approach rather to wonder at you than to hear you. If you be mad, be gone; if you have reason, be brief. . . . (TLN 491–3 {1.5.198-201})

25Olivia combines straightforward vocabulary with a rhetorical series of oppositions (wonder/hear, mad/reason, be gone/be brief).

26Olivia continues to use prose in this scene. As Viola becomes more "poetical," even starting to speak in verse at TLN 530 {l. 242}, Olivia seems to use prose in order to deflate the disturbing messenger, and to evade speaking about love. Finally, however, Viola's passion pushes Olivia into verse.


27At first Olivia's verse is workaday iambic pentameter, the standard blank verse metre with five iambic "feet," each normally containing an iamb (an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable; hence "te-tum, te-tum, te-tum, te-tum, te-tum"). This is the standard language of much of Elizabethan drama, and is so close to ordinary English speech rhythms that "we speak blank verse more often than we think." Olivia, then, is speaking verse in the following passage, but is less "poetical" than Viola's initial prose:

28Your lord does know my mind, I cannot love him.
Yet I suppose him virtuous, know him noble,
Of great estate, of fresh and stainless youth;
In voices well divulged, free, learned, and valiant,
And in dimension, and the shape of nature,
A gracious person. But yet I cannot love him:
He might have took his answer long ago. (TLN 549–55 {1.5.261-7})

29This verse is deliberately flat, unelevated in vocabulary, with no figurative images or rhetorical flourishes. Viola's reply is only slightly more poetic, but a key element of it is that Olivia completes the last line, having finally, as it were, come under the spell of Viola's passionate pressure:

30In your denial I would find no sense,
I would not understand it.
OLIVIA Why, what would you?
(TLN 558–60 {1.5.270-2})

31The Folio, and this edition, print this short speech of Olivia's on a separate line, but we have stepped it here in order to reproduce typographically what an Elizabethan actor would have done in performance: picked up the rhythm of the first three beats of the line from Viola, and then provided the two concluding beats. Jazz musicians keep the beat going in the same way, and just like musicians, Viola and Olivia are now cooperating at a technical level of the verse, which implies and conveys to the audience an ever closer involvement with each other. And this is the point at which the scene shifts unmistakably into poetry.


32Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house:
Write loyal cantons of contemnèd love,
And sing them loud even in the dead of night . . .
(TLN 561–4 {1.5.272-5})

33Viola's deep emotion, as her errand to woo Olivia collides both with her passionate conviction that a woman's purpose and fulfillment are love and marriage, and with her own apparently hopeless love for Orsino, is supported by the full resources of poetic utterance. The first verse foot is not an iamb, but a trochee (stressed, unstressed: "tum-te"); thus she seizes the attention with the irregular contrapuntal stress at the start of the line, which might be printed thus to indicate stress:

34 Make me a willow cabin at your gate

35Just as the actor must be able to scan the verse for irregular feet, so he would have regarded it as his job to elide the word "even" in l. 275 to one syllable, so that "e'en" becomes a contrapuntal stressed syllable following the caesura (pause) in the middle of the line:

And sing them loud [pause] e'en in the dead of night

36The vocabulary and images are heightened too. The willow tree was associated in England with lovers' melancholy, perhaps because of its "weeping" shape as it droops over water, and lovers' garlands were traditionally thought of as made of willow. For Viola not only to stand like a post outside Olivia's door, as she has told Malvolio she will, but to build an actual cabin to maintain her vigil in, and for the cabin to be of willow, is the kind of image that carries both romantic commitment and a slight undercutting of self-conscious exaggeration. She imagines Olivia as the soul separated from her (the hypothetical lover's) body, creating a metaphor of love as a destined union that it is sinful to impede. And having composed her sorrowing songs, she then startles us by saying she would sing them loud at the time when everyone is asleep, as if her passion is too great either to sleep herself or to be restrained by any ordinary pattern of everyday behavior. The entire speech builds to another shared line which is eloquent in its brevity:

37VIOLA . . . you should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me.
OLIVIA You might do much.
(TLN xxxx-xxxx)

38Viola's poetic speech has been successful beyond her intentions.

Character through language

39Language becomes the subject of a witty but serious discussion between Viola and the Clown in 3.1, with particular reference to how slippery and ambiguous a medium it is. Mistaking is very easy. Viola, like the Clown, has a scene with every other character in the play, and her ability to adapt to their language is a measure of her intelligence and sensitivity, and a reflection of their natures. The Captain speaks an easy verse (for it is not only gentle folk who speak verse) and, as if to prove Viola's approving judgment of him right, even matches Viola's couplet at the end of the scene with one of his own. Although in her first scene with Orsino (1.4) she is restrained and does not say very much, it is worth noting that she twice completes his verse lines. Later, particularly in 2.4, Orsino's love melancholy, and his elaborate manner of expression are matched by Viola:

40For women are as roses, whose fair flower
Being once displayed, doth fall that very hour.
VIOLA And so they are: alas, that they are so:
To die, even when they to perfection grow! (TLN 926–9 {2.4.38-41})

41We have already looked at Viola's linguistic entanglement with Olivia in 1.5, to which we could add that Viola can deftly alter her figurative language as needed (e.g., from the language of playhouse to theology). She is also a match for Maria, who as we know from her treatment of Sir Andrew in 1.3 is quick witted and sharp of tongue, and will display her wit even further with the letter to Malvolio. She also encounters Malvolio briefly, and her irony in telling him of her "moderate pace" (TLN 659 {2.2.2}) implies a degree of restraint in the face of Malvolio's usual haughtiness. His tone to her is similar to his tone to the revelers in 2.3. Throughout the play, he tends towards a somewhat exaggerated vocabulary, and several of his words, such as "element" (TLN 1646 {3.4.125}) and "notorious" (TLN 2072 {4.2.90}) seem to be regarded by other characters as idiosyncratically affected.

42The only people whose language gives Viola problems are Sir Toby and Fabian. While she can easily enough slip back into prose, and respond to Sir Toby's "Taste your legs" with a pun on "understand" (TLN 1290–91 {3.1.79-81}), the plot requires that her fear and confusion rob her of any ability to penetrate the extravagance of his description of Sir Andrew's prowess as a fighter. Her generosity does not equip her to detect malice, and her own disguise compounds the confusion. She and Sir Andrew are utterly at cross purposes during and after the fight, as much so as when she left him nonplussed by replying to his French at 3.1.73. As usual, Sir Andrew appears to confuse himself as much as everyone around him by his utterances. Viola's brief scene with Antonio, whom she has never seen, continues the confusion, but Antonio's passionate language of devotion to Sebastian returns her to the realms of ideals and hopes. Her twin brother Sebastian is the only significant character in the play Viola has not yet seen, and their meeting is in a poetic verse that initially hesitates, pausing halfway through lines:

43SEBASTIAN Do I stand there? I never had a brother . . .
Of charity, what kin are you to me?
What countryman? What name? What parentage?
VIOLA Of Messaline: Sebastian was my father . . .
If spirits can assume both form and suit,
You come to fright us. (TLN 2391–2401 {5.1.224-34})

44The reunion of the two halves of a pairing that has been too long severed is sealed in an irresistible flow of verse that requires of the actor great technical breath control as much as it requires the deepest wells of emotional truth:

45If nothing lets to make us happy both,
But this my masculine usurped attire,
Do not embrace me, till each circumstance
Of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump
That I am Viola. (TLN 2415–19 {5.1.247-51})

46Viola's brief sequence in 3.1 with the Clown, mentioned above, may stand as a key to a significant strand of the play. The sequence has no plot function; its purpose is thematic and entertaining. One of its most striking elements, apart from their agreement that "words are very rascals," is the way in which Viola can keep up her end of the wit contest with Feste. Her wit is as good as his, just as it is a match for Orsino's and Olivia's. More important, her skill is cooperative, not competitive. She extends the Clown's metaphors more than trumping them, picking up his cues and throwing back responses to him. "Mutuality" is the key to both joking and loving, and Viola, far from being passive in either situation, proves the best, because the most responsive, player of all (Novy 21-44).

47Casting, directing and performing

Twelfth Night would have been a very easy play for the Lord Chamberlain's men to cast because the derivation of the plot from Italian and Plautine comedy leads to a compressed action with a few main characters. The elaborate patterns of doubling required by the expansive history plays, often with over forty characters, is not required here. The Lord Chamberlain's men at this time probably numbered about sixteen adult actors, and at least four boys to play women's roles. Twelfth Night has only fifteen male speaking roles, and three female, plus a few silent sailors, attendants, and servants. The play could indeed be done by a smaller cast, since it would be easy to double, e.g., the Captain with the Priest, sailors as Officers, and so on. Modern productions have been done with as few as eight, but that requires rewriting in order to combine characters (e.g., Fabian and the Clown) and avoid the need for servants, courtiers and other extras who form part of the courtly context of the play. This approach has Elizabethan precedent, however, for plays are known to have been modified on occasion when a reduced company went on tour.

48Since Shakespeare was an actor in the company, it is a safe assumption that the parts were written to fit the particular strengths of his colleagues. We can, for instance, recognize the likelihood that Sir Andrew was written for the same thin actor who had played Justice Shallow in Henry IV, Part 2; there are similar jokes and speech mannerisms too. There were obviously highly skilled boy actors in the company about this time, and we may speculate that the same boy took the role of Viola who had played Rosalind As You Like It in 1599. The only partial exception to this pattern of fitting the actor to the character is the case of the Clown. He was already a solo entertainer, and recognized as such by the company and the audience. A role was written for him, but even more than for other actors he was a performer first and a character second. Whatever role he played, the Clown would never subsume his personality in the character; the Clown in Twelfth Night does not become Feste, but plays Feste. The Clown is "occupying a space in front of the fiction" (Mann 57) so as to join the audience in laughing at the fiction in which he and they are also participants.

49Elizabethan theater companies operated a repertory system which meant presenting a different play each day, having up to forty plays available to be played at a day's notice, and adding a new play every two or three weeks as old ones were played less and less frequently until dropped. Actors were not given a copy of the complete play, merely a scribal transcript of their own parts, plus a word or two as a cue from the end of the speech prior to each of theirs. Under these circumstances, time for learning parts and rehearsing new plays was minimal (since each day's play required at least part of the morning, and the afternoon was the performance). Nor did the modern director exist, so each actor must have been responsible for presenting a character in such a way that it would fit easily with others. There is a general belief, therefore, that particular kinds of character, emotion and action must have been played in a conventional manner: kings, dukes and countesses would presumably have adopted a recognizable decorum of power and authority. Similarly, conventional bearing, gesture and speech would have characterized lovers, gulls, servants, aged parents, fools and other standard types. Anger, grief, love and other emotions had a shorthand of action with which to be conveyed to an audience attuned to the conventions. Unlike the twenty-first century Stanislavskian expectation of stage action appearing exactly as we would expect to see the same situation in real life, the Elizabethan stage used rhetoric and action in a more stylized way. Modern opera may be a useful analogy, or traditional Asian theater forms, in which the audience understands and appreciates a series of dramatic conventions far removed from realism.

50Performers on the Globe stage, surrounded by spectators whose presence they acknowledged, told a story that was not realistic, in a literal sense, but certainly was real and convincing, if by real we understand a full participation of the skills of audience imagination responding emotionally to the full visual and aural resources of the Elizabethan theater.

512. Critical Issues


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.


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".


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.


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.