Archive for the Twelfth Night Category

Shakespeare’s LanguAGE

Posted in Shakespeare's Language, Twelfth Night with tags , , on March 30, 2009 by Saera

” Shakespeare’s theatre was non-realist, non-naturalistic, relying on conventions shared by actors and audiences, a few props, elaborate costumes, but above all on language and the human voice.”       -Rex Gibson

Shakespeare was a revolutionary artist.  He used words to create beauty, teach truth, or simply please. They were practically all that he had. People of his time placed a heavy emphasis on words.

During the time he was writing, the English language was flexible and fluid, mostly because there was a lack of fixity. Relaxed rules of grammar and spelling (Elizabethans don’t seem to have known what “spelling” was) made the English language into a virtual game of Spin the Tail on the Word(e).  There was no English dictionary until 1604, so words’ spellings, meanings, or uses were not at all tied down for Shakespeare.

However, language was very important to Elizabethans. Rhetoric was given special emphasis in the schools, reading and writing poetry was widely practiced (especially by the noblemen) and society’s main forms of entertainment involved the creative use of words. Sermons, plays,  proclamations, all were part of daily life for Elizabethans.

Because of the centrality of words, and the flexibility of the developing English language, many poets and writers felt free to invent new words. Shakespeare held his own and kept up with the best of them, inventing hundreds of words and expressions which are still used today. For a list of a few words he is credited with, check out His skill profoundly influenced the English language.

 He often used the hyphen to create compund words that “conjure up vivid images,” says Teaching Shakespeare by Rex Gibson. Examples include: tell-tale,  love-sick, side-stiches, sea-nymphs, etc.  He was also a master phraser, inventing phrases that have survived over 400 years of use such as above compare, in a fool’s paradise, what’s in a name?, as gentle as a lamb, on a wild goose chase, as true as steel, we were born to die, past help, fortune’s fool, a rose by any other word would smell as sweet, all’s well that ends well,  and much ado about nothing.

He also made up nonsense words that have meaning in context – hurly-burly, skimble-skamble, etc. He made verbs out of adjectives and nouns: happies, bolds, pale, he childed as I fathered.  He added prefixes  auch as un-, en-, and dis- “to increase the dramatic potential of words” (Gibson).


Because Shakespeare’s theatre was limited, words were essential to creating the atmosphere and setting of the play. He uses dramatic language to describe events/actions that happen in outside the play itself, as well as containing inbuilt stage directions.  Examples:

Avaunt and quit my sight!

Turn thee, Benvolio, and look upon thy death

 It invoked a sense of place:

Upon this blasted heath you stop our way

‘Tis now the witching time of night/ When churchyards yawn, and hellitself breathes out/ Contagion to this world

It embodied the mysterious supernatural:

Double, double toil and trouble;

fire burn and cauldron bubble

It also intensifed the emotional mood of a character:

Death lies on her like an untimely frost/ Upon the sweetest flower of all the field

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,/ My love as deep;? the more I give to thee, /The more I have, for both are infinite


“Be That Thou Know’st Thou Art”

Posted in Twelfth Night with tags , , on March 30, 2009 by Saera

“So full of shapes is fancy/ That it alone is fanciful.”                                                   -Orsino

“O time, thou must untangle this, not I./ It is too hard a knot for me to untie.                  -Viola

“Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?”            -Sir Toby

” She never told her love, but let concealment, like a worm i’th’ bud, feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought, and with a green ans yellow melancholy she sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.  Was this not love, indeed?”                                   -Viola, as Cesario

“We men may say more, swear more, but indeed out shows are more than will; for still we prove much in our vows, but little in our love.”                                                            -Viola, as Cesario

“This fellow is wise enough to play the fool…”                -Viola

“Some are born great, some acheive greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”               

                                                                                                              -Malvolio, from Maria’s letter

“Nothing that is so, is so.”                                                         -Feste

Be that thou know’st thou art, and then thou art as great as that thou fear’st.” 



“Be that thou know’st thou art, and then thou art as great as that thou fear’st,” echoes in my mind. It perfectly depicts Olivia and Orsino’s self-centered attitudes in Twelfth Night. Both think that they know themselves very well, and show an unwillingness to both look at themselves from another’s eyes or look at others rather than themselves. At the play’s beginning, Orsino is continually commenting about his feelings, how much he loves Olivia, how miserable he is, etc. Is that love? Is it not rather self-infatuation?

But Olivia is also infatuated with herself. She refuses Orsino’s attentions, which is not indicative of selfishness, but her reasons for doing so do seem to be. She is very proud.  It takes Viola to show these two how selfish they really are. Viola’s listening, her willingness to see both sides of the matter, not simply her own (although she is working towards her own ends), enables her to make friends of both, and likewise completely changes their worlds. Instead of loving Olivia, Orsino ends up loving Viola. And instead of loving Cesario (Viola), as she thinks she is, Olivia ends up loving Sebastian.

The characters of Orsino and Olivia also are very inconstant. Orsino is more inconstant than Olivia because he deliberately chooses to be, yet Olivia is inconstant with her whole confuse love affair with Viola/Cesario/ Sebastian, although it is not knowingly done. Still though, one could argue that, had she paid more attention to Cesario instead of herself, she would have noticed the differences in Sebastian’s voice, attitude/emotions, display of those emotions, etc.

Although she shows the appearance of undergoing the most change, Viola is the most constant character of the play, besides Antonio. She changes her physical appearance, but she remains true to Orsino, in that she continues to do his bidding even at her own cost, and she also tries to be fair and true to Olivia.

Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Posted in Twelfth Night with tags , , , on March 26, 2009 by Saera

12night2       Twelfth Night is not one of my favorite plays. I guess it just doesn’t really catch my interest, and I think that it has very dark undercurrents for a comedy. I cannot reconcile what Maria and her companions, especially Feste end up doing to Malvolio.

While in the Shakespeare for Teachers course, I read through Rex Gibson’s  Teaching Shakespeare,  by Cambridge University Press. It has many helpful tips to understanding and teaching Shakespeare’s works, but one that I found especially helpful was his separation of what he calls the “Four Common Themes” of Shakespeare: conflict, appearance and reality, order and disorder, and change.  These can be applied to almost any Shakespeare play, but I found them to be quite relevant to this one.

In Twelfth Night, the main conflict is between Malvolio and the servants/Sir Toby/Sir Andrew/ and company. This conflict is between seriousness and fun, and some see it as between good and evil. For my part, I have a hard time believing Sir Toby to be a likeable character (he seems to be just as full of himself as Malvolio is), so I cannot see him representing “good” (is fun always “good?”), and although Malvolio certainly has his faults, I cannot see him as a villain. There is also conflict between Orsino’s will and Olivia’s will.

Appearance versus reality is one of the central concerns of the play. Most of the play’s conflict does seem to come from this theme, actually. There is the appearance of love (Orsino’s constant complaints, outward shows of love, etc.) vs. its reality (Orsino ends up loving Viola instead of Olivia, and Viola proves that loveinvolves more than its appearance?), Viola’s outward appearance as a man vs. her true identity, Malvolio’s act as his appearance contrasts sharply with reality of Olivia’s sorrow, Sir Andrew’s appearance of being a knight, but in reality being only a wealthy fop who bought the title, and Malvolio’s appearance of insanity vs. his true saneness.

Order and disorder is also present. The order of the court is upset by the twins’ arrival – Viola’s disguise matching Sebastian causes much confusion and disorder, Malvolio’s attempt to order the lives of Sir Toby and his companions and their overthrow of him and resulting disorder.

Change is also a prominent theme of the play. Viola’s change is perhaps most apparent, her initial change into the appearance of a young man, then her reversal back to her old self. But Orsino’s change is also prominent. He appears to love Olivia very passionately at the play’s opening, but his heart changes, and he becomes enamored with Viola. Olivia also changes, and loves Sebastian rather than Cesario. Malvolio also changes from his drab Puritan garb into the gay costume that he believes Olivia will like.  However, one character who contrasts all these changing ones, a character remaining constant, is Antonio. He never abandons Sebastian, even when Viola (whom he mistakes for Sebastian) spurns him and denies ever knowing him.