William Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

“At our [Candlemas] feast wee had a play called Twelve Night, or What You Will. Much like the Comedy of Errors or Menechmi in Plautus; but most like and neere to that in Italian called Ingannati.

A good practise in it to make the steward beleive his lady widowe was in love with him, by counterfayting a letter from his lady in general termes, telling him what shee liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparaile etc., and then when he came to practise, making him believe they tooke him to be mad.”

– John Manningham’s Diary, 2 February 1602

Medieval English society brought the Christmas season to an end each year with riotous parties and practical jokes. Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night was written to be performed on – surprise! – Twelfth Night, the final day of Christmas. Manningham’s diary suggests it was also performed on Candlemas for people who stretched their Christmas season for forty days instead of just twelve!

The story of Twelfth Night has nothing to do with the events of Christmas, but there is an awful lot of practical joking, mistaken identity and riotous partying (at least when Sir Toby is on the stage!).

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays. It has introduced us to some of the most hilarious and well developed characters of Shakespeare’s canon. The story expertly weaves between the tragedy and comedy. The deaths of loved ones are treated with dignified grief and the pain of loneliness is canvassed with some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful poetry. And somehow, without cheapening the tragedy, Twelfth Night treats us to some of the most beautiful romantic lines and hilarious comedic moments in western literature. Good work, Twelfth Night. 

If you can get yourself to a performance, please do! Otherwise we suggest getting your hands on a copy of She’s the Man the 1996 Twelfth Night film, starring Helena Bonham Carter, Imogen Stubbs, Toby Stephens, Ben Kingsley, Richard E Grant, and many other amazing British actors that we recognise from everywhere.

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One thought on “William Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

  1. Pingback: The Twelfth Day of Christmas | The Christmas Project

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