ON SHAKESPEARE'S POINT OF VIEW IN TWELFTH NIGHT
Folly is indigenous to the soil, and shoots out with native, happy, unchecked
luxuriance. Absurdity has every encouragement afforded it; and nonsense has room to
flourish in. Nothing is stunted by the churlish, icy hand of indifference or severity. The
poet runs riot in conceit, and idolizes a quibble. His whole object is to turn the meanest
or rudest objects to a pleasurable account. The relish which he has of a pun, or of the
quaint humour of a low character, does not interfere with the delight with which he
describes a beautiful image, or the most refined love. The clown's forced jests do not
spoil the sweetness of the character of Viola; the same house is big enough to hold
Malvolio, the Countess, Maria, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
William Hazlitt, Characters of Shakespeare's Plays, 1817
Every character has his mask, for the assumption of the play is that no one is without
a mask in the seriocomic business of the pursuit of happiness. The character without
disguises who is not ridiculous is outside the realm of comedy. Within comedy, the
character who thinks it is possible to live without assuming a mask is merely too naive to
recognize the mask he has already assumed. He is the chief object of laughter. As a
general rule, we laugh with the characters who know the role they are playing and we laugh
at those who do not; we can crudely divide the cast of Twelfth Night into those two
Joseph H. Summers, The Masks of Twelfth Night, 1955
ON BEING IN LOVE WITH LOVE
At the opening of the play Orsino and Olivia accept the aristocratic (and literary)
ideas of the romantic lover and the grief stricken lady as realities rather than ideas.
They are comic characters exactly because of that confusion. Orsino glories in the proper
moodiness and fickleness of the literary lover; only our own romanticism can blind us to
the absurdities in his opening speech.... Orsino is a victim of a type of madness to which
the most admirable characters are sometimes subject. Its usual causes are boredom, lack of
physical love, and excessive imagination, and the victim is unaware that he is in love
with love rather than with a person.
Joseph H. Summers, The Masks of Twelfth Night, 1955
There is only one character [Feste] who can restore some sense of unity to Twelfth
Night at its ending, mediating between the world of the romantic lovers and our own world,
which is (or is about to be) that of the chastened Sir Andrew, the sobered Belch and the
unbending Malvolio. In a sense, he has been doing just this all along in preparation for,
some such ultimate necessity. Throughout Twelfth Night, Feste has served as commentator
and Chorus, mocking the extravagance of Orsino, the wasteful idealism of Olivia's grief,
Viola's poor showing as a man. He has joined in the revels of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew
while remaining essentially apart from them, aware of their limitations. Anne Barton, As
You Like It and Twelfth Night: Shakespeare's Sense of an Ending, 1972
Indeed, Olivia gives evidence of a clear head and a quick mind. She enjoys the combat
of wits between Malvolio and Feste; and, though she is too dignified in her mourning to
make one in it, she eggs on the contestants. She is competent at worldly-wise epigram:
"O world, how apt the poor are to be proud?"; and "...youth is bought more
oft then begg'd, or borrow'd." She is quick-witted, and instantly invents the
stratagem of the ring to oblige Viola to visit her again. She can endure plain speaking,
and is not angry when Viola suggests that her fine complexion may be false and that she is
"too proud." She can be patient with Feste, and can bide her time with Sir Toby.
Indeed, she has poise and self-control.
John W. Draper, The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience, 1950
TWO VIEWS OF MALVOLIO
He is of a new order- ambitious, self-contained, cold and intelligent, and dreadfully
likely to prevail. That is why Sir Toby and his retinue hate him. Feste at the end
provides too simple an explanation. The humiliation of Malvolio, he says, was his personal
revenge upon one who had discounted him to his mistress as "a barren rascal," a
jester unworthy of hire. But the others had been as active as Feste, and they had had no
such motive. "The devil a puritan that he is," Maria insists, "or anything
constantly, but a time-pleaser; and affection'd ass." Puritan or not, Malvolio has
offended them as a class. They could have forgiven his being a climber, his having
affection for himself, if he had been any other kind of man than the cool kind he is.
Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare, 1939
Malvolio is to our minds as poetical as Don Quixote; and we are by no means sure that
Shakespeare meant the poor cross-gartered steward only to be laughed at, any more than
Cervantes did the knight of the rueful countenance. He meant us to pity him, as Olivia and
the Duke pitied him; for, in truth, the delusion by which Malvolio was wrecked, only
passed out of the romantic into the comic through the manifestation of the vanity of the
character in reference to his situation. But if we laugh at Malvolio we are not to laugh
ill-naturedly, for the poet has conducted all the mischief against him in a spirit in
which there is no real malice at the bottom of the fun.
Charles Knight, Studies of Shakespeare, 1849
[Twelfth Night Contents]
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to
meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
- Sandra Dunn, English Teacher Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York
- Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English Suffolk County Community College,
Selden, New York
- Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department State University of New York at Stony
- Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee National Council of Teachers of English
Student Guide Series Fort Morgan, Colorado
- Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher Tamalpais Union High School District Mill Valley,
- Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English State University of New York College at
- Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English McGill University, Montreal, Quebec,
- David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies State University of New York College
- Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education State University of New York at
- Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing Ohio State University,
- Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee National Council of Teachers of
English Director of Curriculum and Instruction Guilderland Central School District, New
- Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts Chicago Public Schools,
THE END OF BARRON'S BOOK NOTES
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S TWELFTH NIGHT
[Twelfth Night Contents]
FURTHER READING -
- Barber, Cesar Lombardi. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1959.
- Barton, Anne. "As You Like It and Twelfth Night: Shakespeare's Sense of an
Ending," in Shakespearean Comedy. London: Edward Arnold, 1972.
- Berman, Ronald. A Reader's Guide to Shakespeare's Plays. Glenview, Illinois: Scott,
- Brown, John Russell. Shakespeare's Plays in Performance. New York: St. Martin's
- Draper, John William. The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience. Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1950. Analysis of Twelfth Night in terms of Elizabethan social codes.
- Evans, Bertrand. Shakespeare's Comedies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969. Detailed
structural analysis of Twelfth Night.
- Goldsmith, Robert Hollis. Wise Fools in Shakespeare. Michigan: Michigan State
University Press, 1955. An exploration of the nature of the fool's skill.
- Hazlitt, William. Characters of Shakespeare's Plays. London: Oxford University Press,
1970. A classic study of Shakespeare, first published in 1817.
- Hotson, Leslie. The First Night of Twelfth Night. London: R. Hart-Davis, 1954.
Speculates that the play was first performed for Queen Elizabeth at court, and interprets
the play as topical satire.
- Kantak, V. Y. "An Approach to Shakespearean Comedy." Shakespeare Survey
- King, Walter N., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Twelfth Night. Englewood
Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1968. A collection of essays about the play.
- Knight, Charles. Studies of Shakespeare. New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1971. Reprint of
a guide to Shakespeare's works first published in 1849.
- Nagarajan, S. "What You Will," in the Shakespeare Quarterly Vol. X (1959):
61-67. Examines the theme of the difference between what we are and what we desire.
- Salingar, Leo. "The Design of Twelfth Night," in The Shakespeare Quarterly
Vol. IX (1958): 117-139. A very good introduction to the play.
- Salingar, Leo. Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy. London: Cambridge University
- Summers, Joseph H. "The Masks of Twelfth Night," in University Review, XXII
(1955): 25-32. Explores the theme of disguise.
- Van Doren, Mark. Shakespeare. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1939. - Welsford, Enid.
The Fool; His Social and Literary History. London: Farber and Farber, 1935. Tells the
history of traditional Twelfth Night revels.
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays (38 if you include The Two Noble Kinsmen) over a 20-year
period, from about 1590 to 1610. It's difficult to determine the exact dates when many
were written, but scholars have made the following intelligent guesses about his plays and
1588-93 The Comedy of Errors
1588-94 Love's Labor's Lost
1590-91 2 Henry VI
1590-91 3 Henry VI
1591-92 1 Henry VI
1592-93 Richard III
1592-94 Titus Andronicus
1593-94 The Taming of the Shrew
1593-95 The Two Gentlemen of Verona
1594-96 Romeo and Juliet
1595 Richard II
1594-96 A Midsummer Night's Dream
1596-97 King John
1596-97 The Merchant of Venice
1597 1 Henry IV
1597-98 2 Henry IV
1598-1600 Much Ado About Nothing
1598-99 Henry V
1599 Julius Caesar
1599-1600 As You Like It
1599-1600 Twelfth Night
1597-1601 The Merry Wives of Windsor
1601-02 Troilus and Cressida
1602-04 All's Well That Ends Well
1604 Measure for Measure
1605-06 King Lear
1606-07 Antony and Cleopatra
1605-08 Timon of Athens
1607-09 Coriolanus 1608-09 Pericles
1610-11 The Winter's Tale
1611-12 The Tempest
1612-13 Henry VIII - POEMS
1592 Venus and Adonis
1593-94 The Rape of Lucrece
1600-01 The Phoenix and the Turtle
THE END OF THE BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR BARRON'S BOOK NOTES WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S TWELFTH NIGHT
A STEP BEYOND
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