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NA218112 - SHAKESPEARE, W.: Twelfth Night (Unabridged)

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night

or What You Will


Twelfth Night, nowadays one of Shakespeare’s best-loved and most-admired comedies, was not always so regarded: Samuel Pepys saw the play three times in the 1660s and judged it ‘silly’. Modern audiences, critics and directors seem better attuned to its delicate counter pointing of romance and realism, to its ambivalent ending and to the poetic suggestiveness of Feste’s songs.

The Date and Sources Leslie Hotson’s attractive theory that the play was specifically composed for the visit to court of Don Virginio Orsino on January 6, 1601, has now been rebutted: Elizabeth Story Donno (New Cambridge Shakespeare) suggests that Shakespeare wrote his comedy ‘sometime after the visit of the duke in January 1601, and that the mood Shakespeare established in the play prompted him to recall both the name of the visitor and the time of his visit’. Twelfth Night is nevertheless undoubtedly festive—almost anarchic at times—in spirit, and thus suits its title’s suggestion of the celebrations marking the last night of the Christmas season. The alternative title —‘What You Will’—also implies a mood of careless mischief, even misrule. The season Shakespeare actually intends for the setting of his play is in fact early summer—‘more matter for a May morning’—which is appropriate for the prevailing atmosphere of youthful excitement and passion.

Shakespeare’s immediate source for Twelfth Night was probably ‘Apolonius and Silla’ in Barnaby Riche’s Farewell to Military Profession, first published in 1581 and itself based on the Italian play Gl’Inganni (1562). Here the themes of disguise, deception and cross-wooing all appear. Shakespeare softens some of the more outrageous or shocking elements, but is perhaps at one with Riche’s claim that his tale is ‘forged onely for delight, neither credible to be believed, nor hurtful to be perused’.


Synopsis of the Play


Act 1, Scene 1: Orsino, Duke of Illyria, is sick with unrequited love for the beautiful Olivia who is in mourning for her father and brother and has vowed to veil her face, nun-like, for seven years. Scene 2: Viola, shipwrecked in a hostile country and fearing that she has lost her identical twin brother Sebastian in the storm, is helped by the kindly Captain and decides to enter the Duke’s service disguised as a page. Scene 3: Sir Toby Belch, disreputable uncle of Olivia and staying in her house with his foolish friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, is warned by the serving-gentlewoman Maria to moderate his behavior. Sir Andrew, it seems, intends to court Olivia. Scene 4: Viola, calling herself Cesario and already a favorite with the Duke, is asked to woo the unyielding Olivia on his behalf. Scene 5: Feste, the Clown (or Fool), has reappeared in Olivia’s household in spite of the disapproval of Malvolio, Olivia’s pompous steward. Viola (Cesario) talks her way into the presence of Olivia, who almost immediately falls hopelessly in love with the attractive page.


Act 2, Scene 1: Sebastian, followed by the faithful Antonio, mourns the loss of his sister and resolves to go to Orsino’s court. Scene 2: Malvolio delivers a ring to Viola, supposedly dropped by her. Scene 3: in a vain attempt to restrain their behavior, Malvolio interrupts Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste, noisily drinking and singing late at night. Affronted, they seize on a plan of Maria’s to humiliate Malvolio by convincing him through a forged letter that Olivia is in love with him. Scene 4: Viola and Orsino exchange intimate reflections on love; Viola must painfully suppress her own growing infatuation with the duke. Scene 5: Malvolio, walking in the garden, discovers the forged letter, is convinced by it, and decides to follow its instructions: he will ‘be strange, stout, in yellow stockings, and cross-gartered…’ he ‘will smile’.


Act 3, Scene 1: Viola, paying her second visit on the Duke’s behalf, is forced to reject an outright declaration of love by Olivia. Scene 2: Sir Andrew, jealous of Viola’s effect on Olivia, is incited by Sir Toby to challenge the page to a duel. Scene 3: Antonio has followed Sebastian to the town in spite of the danger to himself: the Illyrians want him for grievous damage inflicted on them in a sea-fight. Scene 4: Malvolio appears before his lady, grotesquely obeying the injunctions in the letter. Olivia judges him mad, and his enemies take advantage of this to have him effectively imprisoned. Mischievously provoked by Sir Toby, the two equally reluctant and incompetent duelists (Aguecheek and Viola) are forced to draw their swords but are prevented from fighting by the sudden appearance of Antonio, who imagines that he is saving Sebastian’s life. A baffled Viola prompts his bitter resentment by saying (truly) that she does not know him as he is arrested and carried off by Illyrian officers.


Act 4, Scene 1: An enraged Sir Andrew who, striking Sebastian in error for Viola/Cesario, is soundly beaten, interrupts Sebastian and Feste. Further brawling is prevented by the arrival of Olivia who, seeing Sebastian and likewise mistaking him for Cesario, leaves with him. Scene 2: Feste, disguised as a priest, torments Malvolio in prison but finally agrees to provide him with pen and paper so that he may write to Olivia. Scene 3: Sebastian is readily persuaded by Olivia (who mistakes him for Cesario) to enter with her into a ceremony of betrothal.


Act 5, Scene 1: All are now present at Olivia’s house and the disguises begin to unravel: Antonio, pointing out Viola as the ‘most ungrateful boy’ he has been accompanying for the last three months, prompts the discovery of true identity, but not before both the Duke and the Countess Olivia have been briefly enraged by the apparent perfidy of their followers. Orsino then belatedly realizes what has been hinted to the audience before—namely, that he in fact loves Viola/Cesario rather than Olivia. All appears to end happily, if we discount the rejected Sir Andrew—even Sir Toby and Maria are now married—but the celebrations are marred by the furious departure of Malvolio who, now released, cannot forgive his tormentors and vows ‘to be revenged on the whole pack of [them]’.




The play revolves—humorously, affectionately, and at times painfully —around the follies of youth as it pursues love and happiness in a world, which is half-fantasy, half-real. Disguise and deception may paradoxically lead to truth, as in the infatuated Orsino’s eventual discovery that he really loves Viola/Cesario, not Olivia, but they are equally capable of producing pain and humiliation: Malvolio, ‘sick of self-love’, is tricked by his own vanity into believing that his lady is besotted with him, and must suffer for this foolish presumption. Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the butt of everyone’s humor, was ‘adored once’; and what are we to make of the enigmatic, melancholic Feste? Some directors like to develop the faint hints that he nurses a hopeless passion for Olivia (who certainly seems dependent on him), and his songs lend a distinctively plangent note to the play, with their stress on transience and death—‘youth’s a stuff will not endure’ … ‘for the rain it raineth every day’. His often sardonic, reductive commentary on the behavior of those around him is, however, challenged by Viola, who seems to promise a maturity and constancy not found in others—her poignant evocation of one who ‘never told her love’ and ‘sat like Patience on a monument / Smiling at grief’ counters the flightiness and self-indulgence around her. Yet we should beware of making something too serious and solemn out of this most captivating play—for all its darker hints and sharp mockery of folly, the prevailing impression is surely positive: the puritanical world of Malvolio, where there ‘shall be no more cakes and ale’, is rejected, as is the distorted world of the infatuated lover Orsino who, at the start of the play, has not yet learned to understand his own heart, and would prefer to cultivate his emotional suffering—‘give me excess of it’.


Notes by Perry Keenlyside



Twelfth Night as a Microcosm

of Elizabethan England


Although the play takes place in the fantastical world of Illyria, it seems to be rooted in late Elizabethan England; and it is not too far fetched to believe Shakespeare is examining and satirically portraying the state of the nation c.1600. We are shown in Olivia a critical portrait of Elizabeth I, a single lady, mistress of her house, though not of her emotions, rejecting all suitors. Orsino’s obsessive ardor for Olivia puts in mind the headstrong Earl of Essex, whose unsuccessful and fatal rebellion, an attempt to upset the balance of the realm, in 1601, was a recent memory. Shakespeare seems

to be implying that power without responsibility leads to anarchy: the kind of misrule exemplified by Sir Toby and his followers, who live only for pleasure. By this time Elizabeth I was in her 60s, and an elaborate fantasy was being played out at court where poets glorified her as Gloriana the Virgin Queen, whilst she hid the ravages of time behind inches of make-up. A Court so out of touch with reality leaves the way open for a new class to take up the reins of authority. Malvolio represents the worst aspects of the emerging middle-class, materialistic, ambitious, philistine, a figure of fun in the early 1600s, but Shakespeare in creating this ‘kind of a Puritan’ who will be ‘revenged on the whole pack of [them]’ seems to have a foreboding of the Civil War of the 1640s when the old order and the new fought it out for England’s future.


David Timson



The Cast of Twelfth Night


Orsino            Jonathan Keeble

Valentine       Nick Fletcher

Curio/Second Officer          Daniel Philpott

Olivia  Lucy Whybrow

Sir Toby Belch          Gerard Murphy

Malvolio         Christopher Godwin

Feste  David Timson

Maria  Jane Whittenshaw

Fabian           Brian Parr

Viola   Stella Gonet

Sebastian     Benjamin Soames

Sir Andrew Aguecheek       Malcolm Sinclair

Antonio          Adam Kotz

Servant/Captain/Priest       Peter Yapp

Director          David Timson

Producer       Nicolas Soames

Engineer       Simon Weir

Stage Management Alison Mackenzie

Scribe Beth Hammond

Recorded at Motivation Sound Studios, London



JONATHAN KEEBLE’s (Orsino) theater appearances include leading roles at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, Coventry, Liverpool, Exeter, Lancaster and West Yorkshire Playhouse. Television includes People Like Us, The Two Of Us and Deptford Grafitti. Jonathan has featured in over 250 radio plays for the BBC and was a member of the Radio Drama Company.


NICK FLETCHER (Valentine) began his career in Henry V and A Chaste Maid in Cheapside at Shakespeare’s Globe. Other theater work includes A Difficult Age for English Touring Theatre, seven plays at the Orange Tree in the’98/’99 company and Silence at the Birmingham Rep. Also, After the War for Granada TV.


DANIEL PHILPOTT (Curio/Second Officer) trained at LAMDA and, after success in the prestigious Carleton Hobbs Award for Radio Drama, has been prolific in BBC Radio and the Spoken Word industry. His theater work includes numerous productions on the London fringe.


LUCY WHYBROW (Olivia) credits include Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet for the Royal Shakespeare Company. She won the Ian Charleson Award in 1996 for her role in Katie Mitchell’s Easter. For Carnival Films she played Lucy Deane in The Mill on The Floss. For radio she has recorded Dombey and Son and Alice in Wonderland.


GERARD MURPHY (Sir Toby Belch) is an associate artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company where he has worked extensively as an actor and director. He has performed in many theaters throughout Great Britain, in the West End, on television, in films and on the radio.


CHRISTOPHER GODWIN (Malvolio) worked extensively for Alan Ayckbourn in the 70s. At the Royal Shakespeare Company he played in The Relapse, The Devil is an Ass and Woyzeck. Plays in the West End include Hay Fever, Noises Off, School for Scandal, What A Performance and two seasons at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park (including the role of Malvolio).


DAVID TIMSON (Feste) has performed in modern and classic plays across the UK and abroad, including Wild Honey for Alan Ayckbourn, Hamlet, The Man of Mode, and The Seagull. He has been seen on television in Nelson’s Column and Swallows and Amazons, and in the film The Russia House.


JANE WHITTENSHAW (Maria) trained at Guildhall. She has worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company touring the USA in The Life And Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby and has also worked extensively in radio drama for the BBC. Her television credits include Eastenders, Silent Witness, Peak Practice and Kiss Me Kate.


BRIAN PARR (Fabian) trained at RADA and has since played many parts including seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company as mostly killers and clowns, Costard in Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice. He has also worked for the BBC Radio Drama Company. TV credits include Eskimo Day, Midsomer Murders, and Summer in the Suburbs. In addition, he writes and directs pantomimes.


STELLA GONET’s (Viola) series of key roles have placed her in the forefront of young British actresses. These included Titania and Isabella for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac and Ophelia in Hamlet at the National Theatre.


BENJAMIN SOAMES (Sebastian) trained at LAMDA. He has appeared in the television series Sharpe and Absolutely Fabulous as well as the films Heavy Weather and England, My England. He toured worldwide in the acclaimed Cheek By Jowl production of Measure For Measure.


MALCOLM SINCLAIR (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) has worked extensively for the National (Racing Demon, Richard III). His most recent London appearances include Hay Fever (Savoy), Uncle Vanya (Young Vic/Royal Shakespeare Company), Heartbreak House (Almeida), and the title role in By Jeeves (Duke of York). On television he was in four series of Pie In The Sky. He has narrated Schoenberg’s A Survivor In Warsaw for the Boston Symphony and the LPO, and Bliss’s Morning Heroes for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.


ADAM KOTZ (Antonio) has worked extensively in leading roles with, in particular, The Royal National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl Theatre Company. Plays include Racing Demon, Measure for Measure, and A Family Affair. Television and film work includes Band of Gold, Touching Evil and

Shot Through The Heart.


PETER YAPP (Servant/Captain/Priest) has appeared in plays and theaters across Britain and in the West End including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Piccadilly, and The Black Prince at the Aldwych, and spent a year with the BBC Radio Drama Company. His television credits include House

of Elliot, Martin Chuzzlewit and Poirot.

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