Thursday, January 26, 2012

If music be the food of love, play on

First challenge book completed! I just finished up Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which is my Classic Play pick for Sarah's Classics reading challenge.Also this sort of counts for Allie's Shakespeare Reading Month even if I'm not actually participating in it. But everyone else was reading Shakespeare and I wanted in on the action. (I cannot withstand blogging peer pressure, even when it's indirect.)

Now, I can't review Shakespeare. I am not smart enough for that. So instead of even making an attempt I've instead decided to give you a couple of my thoughts about Twelfth Night. I also wrote a plot description at the bottom of the post in case you're not familiar with story and want to follow along.

Random thoughts about Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or What You Will:

First Orsino is super taken with Viola/Cesario. I mean, he does make her a super trusted servant and messenger-of-love not long after meeting her. Then Olivia lays eyes on her and instantly decides "What the whole mourning-dead-family-so-I-can't-love-anyone-right-now thing? That's nothing. I just had to keep the weirdos away. Now come here you!" Is really Viola just that awesome?

Sir Andrew and Sir Toby are the best characters, although better to watch than to read. They provide most of the comic relief, which is kind of a weird thing to have in what is a comedy. But the Orsino/Viola/Olivia story isn't super funny. Or funny at all really, except I guess the whole "Olivia being in love with Cesario who is really a girl!" The two cowardly drunks, however, are hilarious.

When Malvolio gets the letter from "Olivia" he says it has to be from her because he recognizes her hand-writing. "By my life, this is my lady's hand! These be her very c's, her u's, and her t's." (II.v.88-90). Two things about this: Shakespeare is careful about the words he picks, so that must extend to letters and the guy was all about the sex jokes. This is the take Dr. Pauline Kiernan, author of Filthy Shakespeare, believes. "'Cut' is slang for cunt; the word 'and' was pronounced as an 'n'." Also if you say "c's, her u's and her t's" fast it sounds like you're saying "c,u,n,t". (pg 62) It's a classy cunt joke.

Sebastian is found by this guy Antonio, who seems to be in love with Sebastian even if my Folger's copy won't admit it. It also only vaguely acknowledged the dirty joke above, so I think it likes to keep things clean. Not bowdlerized but just classroom appropriate. Folger can tell me all it wants that when Antonio tells Sebastian "There shall you have me" (III.iii.46) he means "You will find me there", but it's not convincing me that's all he means. Later he comes to Viola/Cesario's defense during her duel with Sir Andrew, thinking she's Sebastian. When she tells him she has no idea who he is, Antonio is deeply hurt. Now you could argue he's mad because earlier he had given Sebastian his purse full of money and now he's asking Viola for that money and she's refusing, but he hardly seems to care about the money. "This youth that you see here/I snatched one half out of the jaws of death,/Relieved him with such sanctity of love,/And to his image, which methought did promise/Most venerable worth, did I devotion" (III.iv.378-382) Pretty much any scene with Antonio has him declaring his love for Sebastian. And Sebastian is clearly oblivious. Or he doesn't swing that way but I'm going with oblivious (maybe a little dumb too) given the whole marrying Olivia thing. I feel so bad for Antonio.

Viola and her twin brother Sebastian's ship is caught in a storm, and they each wash up on shore thinking the other sibling is dead. Viola disguises herself as a boy Cesario (so in the original stage productions it would be a boy, playing a woman, playing a man. Not confusing at all.) and seeks refuge as Count/Duke Orsino's servant. Orsino is in love with Countess Oliva, who refuses to love anyone until she finishes mourning her brother's and father's deaths. Which seems kind of reasonable, but Orsino wants the love now! Orsino sends Viola/Cesario to court Oliva on his behalf, but Oliva falls in love with Viola/Cesario. Meanwhile, Viola/Cesario has fallen in love with Orsino, but can't tell him cos she's dressed as a boy. Love triangle!

Oliva has suitors other than Orsino: Sir Andrew and her servant Malvolio (although his is more a secret crush). Sir Andrew is friends with Oliva's kinsman the drunk Sir Toby, who mostly keeps Andrew around because he wants his money. And a drinking buddy. And Sir Andrew is pretty wimpy and easy to boss around. Malvolio doesn't care for Sir Toby and Sir Andrew's drunken revelry and is also kind of douchey snob. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Oliva's lady-in-waiting Maria plan a trick on Malvolio because he interrupted their drinking and that must be punished. They leave him a letter supposedly from Oliva professing her love for him, and telling him that if he loves her back he should profess his love by smiling at her a lot, wearing ridiculous clothes, and being mean to Sir Toby and company. He follows the letter to the T and Oliva thinks he's gone mad and has him locked up.

Sir Andrew sees that Olivia is love with Viola/Cesario and decides he should give up and go. Sir Toby doesn't like that he's going to lose his cash cow and drinking buddy, so he convinces Sir Andrew to challenge Olivia to a duel. But Sir Andrew is a wimp and Viola/Cesario is actually a lady, which in this play anyway means she can't fight. Not like "I'm not allowed because of my lady like disposition" but because (apparently) "My uterus makes me unable to know how to fight." Or maybe Viola/Cesario just sucks at fighting but whatever the reason, these scenes are pretty great.

Meanwhile! Viola's twin brother Sebastian is alive and has been hanging out with a man named Antonio, who totally has a thing for Sebastian, even if we're not acknowledging it, Folgers New Shakespeare Library. Antonio comes to Viola/Cesario's aid during the duel, thinking he's Sebastian. Antonio isn't exactly welcome in these parts and he's arrested. Earlier Antonio had given Sebastian a purse full of money and now he asks Viola/Cesario for that money back. Viola/Cesario has no idea what he's talking about, Antonio's heart is broken and he's taken away.

Another meanwhile! Sebastian runs into Olivia who thinks he's Viola/Cesario and proposes marriage. Sebastian doesn't know who she is but goes with it anyway because why not? They even get the betrothal sanctified by a priest. Then Sebastian runs into Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, who challenge him to a duel again, thinking it will go a lot like last time (meaning it won't happen at all). Sebastian is apparently super impulsive because not only does he agree to marry Olivia upon first meeting her, but he also has no problem beating the hell out of the two drunk knights without figuring out why they're so angry.

Orsino and Viola/Cesario go to Olivia's so Orsino can give his Olivia-wooing one more try. Antonio shows up and yells about how he gave Sebastian all this love and Sebastian pretended not to know who he was. But he's yelling all of this at Viola/Cesario, who is just all sorts of confused. Then Olivia comes out and talks about how excited she is that she and Cesario are going to get married, and again Viola/Cesario is confused and denies this. Now Orsino, Olivia and Antonio are all angry at Viola/Cesario, who has no idea what's going on. Then Sir Toby and Sir Andrew come in all beat up and there are more people yelling at Viola/Cesario. Then Sebastian stumbles in, doesn't seem to notice his twin standing RIGHT THERE (he's both impulsive and unobservant) although everyone else does. Viola reveals she's really a lady and declares her love for Orsino who figures Olivia's already taken so Viola's a good consolation prize. Olivia is likewise pretty OK with marrying someone that looks a lot like the lady/guy she was actually in love with and even keeps calling Sebastian Cesario because this is a totally non-doomed relationship. And everyone lives happily ever after except Malvolio who vows revenge on everyone for his mistreatment. The End.

Title quote from I.i.1

Kiernan, Pauline. Filthy Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Most Outrageous Sexual Puns. Gotham Books, 2006.

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night or What You Will. The New Folger Library, 1993.