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  • Title: Twelfth Night: Introduction
  • Authors: David Carnegie, Mark Houlahan

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    Authors: David Carnegie, Mark Houlahan
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    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).

    Wherever 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.

    The 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.

    The 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.

    The 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.

    As 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.

    The 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”).

    Viola'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).

    Different 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.

    The 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.

    It 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).

    Entrance 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

    Let 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.

    A 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.

    Doors 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}}

    Once 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.)


    Viola'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:

    Most 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})

    The 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:

    I . . . 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).

    Olivia 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.


    At 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:

    Your 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})

    This 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})

    The 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.


    Make 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})

    Viola'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:

    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 singthem loud[pause] e'enin the deadof night

    The 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:

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

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

    Character through language

    Language 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})

    We 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.

    The 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:

    SEBASTIAN 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})

    The 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})

    Viola'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).

    Casting, 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 Nighthas 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.

    Since 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.

    Elizabethan 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.