Review: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare


The gentle melancholy and lyrical atmosphere of Twelfth Night have long made the play a favourite with Shakespearian audiences. The plot revolves around mistaken identities and unrequited love, but is further enlivened by a comic sub-plot of considerable accomplishment. In it, Tony Belch and his companion outwit their most outrageous and insulting practical jokes, emerges as an almost noble figure.

I have not read much of Shakespeare. In fact, I’ve seen more on stage than I’ve read. The story of Twelfth Night starts with a shipwreck where identical twins Viola and Sebastian are separated, both believing the other has died. Viola dresses up as a man (Cesario) and begins to serve Count Orsino. Orsino is madly in love with Olivia, who’ll have none of it. Olivia however falls in love with Cesario, who works as a messenger for Orsino (whom he/she is falling in love with). Hence, it is a comedy.

I have never seen Twelfth Night on stage but I’ve watched a movie adaptation (She’s the man, 2006) and enjoyed it. Reading a play is different from reading a novel mainly in that there is less description of settings and emotions. The play in question is a short one and jumps quickly from one scene to another without much explaining. Thus the reader is left with a lot of unanswered questions such as “why the cross-dressing?”, “what about Antonio?”, and  “Is that it?!” For some this might be annoying, but I enjoyed the gaps – they leave more room to imagination.

The main plot was more interesting to me than the comic sub-plot. For a today’s reader the practical joke pulled on Malvolio seems too cruel; to drive someone to the brink of sanity is not funny. I hope that I’ll see Twelfth Night on stage one day because I feel that reading a play does not do justice to a work that has been planned to stage. That said, I would definitely recommend this to others.


For what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’


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