Twelfth Night: Critical Comments

Emma Fielding ‘[Viola] carried me, she supported me, improvising a new way of existing for herself…’
Philip Voss ‘I would like the audience to be heartbroken by [Malvolio] and to feel embarrassment. They must laugh, but then feel embarrassed’
Bertrand Evans ‘Shakespeare has balanced our awareness between laughter and pain. These contradictory impulses, equal in power, simulated by complex awareness, do not cancel each other out, leaving indifference’
Charles Lamb 1 ‘Malvolio is not essentially ludicrous… He becomes comic by accident… his pride, or his gravity is inherent and native to the man’
Harley Granville-Barker ‘The play must be viewed, to view it rightly, with Elizabethan eyes. Viola was played… by a boy… Shakespeare’s audience saw Cesario without effort as Orsino sees him; more importantly they saw him as Olivia sees him; indeed it was over Olivia they had the most to believe’
William Hazlitt ‘[making] us laugh at the follies of mankind, not despise them, and still less bear any ill-will towards them’
Charles Lamb 2 ‘even in his abused state of chains and darkness, a sort of greatness seems never to desert him’
Charles Lamb 3 ‘[the] catastrophe of this character [has] a kind of tragic interest’
Leslie Hotson ‘The cheerful gale of popular favour has sent it down the centuries full-sailed, on a sea of music and laughter’
C. L. Barber ‘The most fundamental distinction the play brings home to us is the difference between men and women… just as… playful reversal of sexual roles can renew the meaning of the normal relation’
Ralph Berry ‘Twelfth Night is as much about real pain inflicted upon real people as it is comedy’
Leggatt ‘[There is an] emphasis on the pains, rather than the pleasures of love’
Gibson ‘[Illyria is] a topsy-turvy world of confusion and masquerades’
Caroline Spurgeon ‘Sophisticated and delicious comedy… an atmosphere of repartee and topical fun’
Jan Knott ‘A very bitter comedy’
Massai ‘Allows characters to play out their wildest fantasies of erotic and social fulfillment’
George Norton ‘Feste sees through Viola’s disguise from the start’
Terry Eagleton ‘Words being torn from their material contexts to become self-generating’
Paul Oliver ‘Feste acts as a facilitator and a liberator, using language and discourses in the play to consistently subvert meaning and to amuse’
R. S. White ‘Twelfth Night inevitably raises contemporary issues about gender identity.’
Nigel Hawthorne ‘A sad man, and in many ways completely ludicrous, because he displays the height of conceit and pomposity.’

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