December 23, 2012

Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night was the first of Shakespeare's comedies I've actually read, though of course I've seen a lot of adaptations of them. The experience was very different than that of reading a tragedy. There are a lot if puns and practical jokes in it and the focus is really not on the love story. Actually, I felt a bit deprived of the romantic details. I also found it a bit difficult to follow the half-drunken jokes in some of the dialogues. Maybe it's my English, maybe they are really old, or maybe I should have tried better? But it's a light book, and you don't want to linger on passages at all, so I must confess I might have missed something.

A plot is very classical and potent - a girl, Viola, is dressed as a boy for safety in an unknown country and has to help her master, Orsino, with his unfortunate love to another woman, Olivia. Needless to say, Olivia falls in love with Viola, thinking she's a man, and thus there are some funny situations. Should I mention that Viola has a twin brother, who she thinks has drowned in a ship wreck that she herself survived, but who hasn't? =) Or that everything ends well?

Besides the main plot line there is a lot of action for the servants. They are responsible for the most comical situations in the play, which involve fake love letter, dressing the clown as a monk and a lot of drinking on the part of Toby Belch. Among the servants Maria is my favourite. She is a very prototypical "cunning maid", but she is not spiteful, she rather tries to amuse her fellow servants with her pranks.

Overall, it's a very fast-moving and pleasant read, but I must say I'd rather watch it on stage - I think it would be more lively with the addition of proper acting. I have a suspicion that a play was written for specific actors, which is quite probable, if we remember a bit of Shakespeare's history. I'll leave you with the picture from my favourite adaptation of the play - Russian 1955 film "Twelfth Night":

And that's happy end, of course! =)


  1. I read this one to start the year and quite enjoyed it. I've seen a performance of it as well, and I think it always helps whenever I can see Shakespeare's plays performed rather than just read it. His language is so different than today's English that often it is quite difficult to get everything out of it, and seeing a production and the interpretations made can help to clear things up. And they can be fun! I hope you have a chance to see it sometime.

  2. I'll read this next year, but from your review, this play might be better enjoyed on stage than on book.


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