Twelfth Night by Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is one of the most celebrated playwrights of all time. He is an English poet and an eminent dramatist who has as many as 154 sonnets, 38 plays and many poems to his credit. He is famously known as the “Bard of Avon” and many consider him as England’s National Poet. Some of his renowned works include Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, The Tempest, As you like it etc.  His writings cover various genres like Comedy, History, Tragedy, Poems and many more. Many of his books are adapted into Motion Pictures in Hollywood as well as Bollywood like Romeo & Juliet, Omkara (Othello), Macbeth (Maqbool) etc..

Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy written by him around 1601-02 as a Twelfth’s Night entertainment for the close of Christmas.  The other name for this comedy is What You Will. Many of the Shakespeare’s comedies are based on mistaken identities and this one is no exception.

The protagonist of this story Viola, a survival of a wrecked ship which lands on the coasts of Illyria, loses contact with her twin brother, Sebastian who has similar face as hers’. She believes him to be dead. With the support of the captain of the ship she gets herself a job at the Duke’s palace by disguising herself as a man called Cesario. Orsino, the Duke of Illyria, is in love with bereaved Olivia, a beautiful rich countess who recently lost her father and brother.  In remembrance of her brother she decided to abjure herself from the sight of men for seven years.  Sir Toby Belch, kinsman to Olivia, moved to her place in order to give her company. He wanted to get her married to Sir Andrew Agucheek, who is a fool, a quarreler and a coward, so that he can enjoy Andrew’s wealth. Malvolio is a steward to Olivia, who is also in love with her. Antonio is the one who saves the life of Sebastian from the ship wreckage and also gives him company in search of his sister Viola, in the land of Illyria. Other characters include Maria, Olivia’s gentlewoman, Fabian, a gentleman in the service of Olivia, Feste, a fool to Olivia, Valentine and Curio, gentlemen attending on the Duke, Lords , Priests, Sailors etc.. .

Orsino was impressed by the work of Viola and decides to use her as a mediator between him and Olivia, to express his love for her.  Olivia, believing Viola as a man, falls in love with her when Viola visits her. Impressed by the Duke’s love to Olivia, Viola herself falls in love with him, who the Duke believes is a man and his confidant. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew get drunk and disturb the ambience of the Olivia’s continuously, prompting Malvolio to chastise them. In order to teach him a lesson, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria conspire a game with Malvolio. Maria writes a love letter in her hand and makes Malvolio believe that Olivia is in love with her and has asked her come dressed in yellow stockings and cross-gartered, always keep smiling at her. Much of the comic plot lies in this conspiracy where Malvolio becomes the fool.

Olivia gets saddened by the unusual behavior of Viola towards her. She along with Maria, Clown, Malvolia, plans to marry Viola secretly.  Witnessing the peculiar behavior of Malvolio towards her, she asks his tormentors to move him away from her. They lock him up in a dark cellar and he realizes about the game played on him at the end of the play. The growing interest of Olivia in Viola (as Cesario) becomes a cause of concern for Andrew. So he plans invite Viola for a fight with him, and sends a letter to Viola through Toby. Viola, being a lady, wasn’t interested in fight as she knew her limitations being a lady. Toby and Fabian knew that both Viola and Andrew were cowards, so they plan to make a mockery of them by each one going to the other and boasting about each other’s valor, skills and their anger bringing both of them in a scenario where they face each other to fight.

Meanwhile, Sebastian and his friend Antonio enter the scene sowing some fun to the present scenario. Both of them land up in Illyria. Olivia mistook Sebastian as Viola and asks him to marry her and they get united secretly. Many other acts go on the side track, finally bringing down all the leading characters in a front of the Duke. How the twins land up face to face with each other, how the people react knowing about them, who marries whom lays the climax.

The language is not so familiar, but the story is wonderful and is well supported by the humor. It’s fun reading it.

Akhilesh Gupta

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