Twelfth Night: Critical interpretations

What are the first criticism we have of the play? -1601 Manningham; -places Malvolio at the play’s centre and praises Shakespeare’s handling of his gulling -His focus is on the comedy created in a steward trying to pursue his mistress- it was unbelieveable and unrealistic that class boundaries could be transgressed.(Link: No doubt Manningham would of expressed similar disbelief over Malvolios visions of a ‘branched velvet gown’ as the Elizabethan Sumptuary laws meant only the higher classes could wear such luxuries)
What are key features of traditional interpretations? -Occupied with character-Happy and resolved ending -Viewing the characters as real people and not dramatic creations -Critises lack of moral lessons in the play -Suggests views of characters are universal -Laughs at the humorous folly of the characters
Early critics (17th century): Dr Samuel Johnson criticism -Embodies the tradition of his time and attempts to find moral instruction in theatre -Suggests Malvvolios pride leading to ridicule is ‘truly comic’ but the plays lack of truthfulness means it doesn’t provide moral lessons (judges as if they are real people)
Early critics (17th century):Dr Samuel Johnson quote on lack of truthfulness ‘no just picture of life’
Early critics (17th century):Hazlitt -Argues the play makes us laugh at the follies of mankind, not despise them -His main focus is on Viola who he believes is the ‘great and secret charm of the play’ and that her confession of love is what excites us
Early critics (17th century):Hazlitt Viola quote Much as we like cakes and ale there is something we like better
Early critics (20th century): Which critic is most associated with ‘character study?’ AC Bradely in 1904
Early critics (20th century): AC Bradley view and why he was criticised -Talks about the characters as if they were real human beings, experiencing familiar human emotions and thoughts and existing in a world recognisable to modern readers. -HIs approach has been criticising for neglecting the Elizabethan contexts of the plays creation and the cultural and intellectual assumptions of the time.
Early critics (20th century): AC Bradly Feste ideas -Bradley did shift focus forwards Feste (who he saw as a modern figure, devoted to his profession, unable to make perennial relationships- but with a sane and realistic attitude in comparison to the absurdities of Illyria. He suggests his name symbolises the plays concern with festivities, alongside linking the love and the comic plot as he appears in both.- Modern criticism is uneasy with Bradleys approach that suggests ‘we’ universally ‘love’ Feste however, and instead prefer to see the character as a fictional creation in the drama.
Early critics (20th century): AC Bradley Feste quote ‘He is as sane as his mistress’
Early critics (20th century): CL Barber argument on the social and sexual roles of the play -She suggests that the reversal of social and sexual roles in the play doesn’t threaten social structure but consolidates it -The idea of women pretending to be men suggests a temporary and playful reversal that occurs because conventional gender roles are so secure (Can be linked to the ideas of russian theorist Bauktin and ‘carnival’)
Early critics (20th century): CL Barber argument on how the play highlights the ‘folly of misrule’ -Characters move from kinds of ‘madness’ to sanity.- They play shows characters in delusions or mishapprensions which bring out what they would keep hidden or what they did not know was there, and they are resolved by the ‘finding of objects appropriate to passions e.g. Orino who finally loves Viola.
Early critics (20th century): CL Barber Malvolio and Viola concerning ideas about decorum -Decorum (appropriate behaviours) -Barber suggests that Shakespeare uses renaissance ideals of coutesy and decorum.-Barber identifys the talk in the play of courtesy and manners, and asserts viola achieves her disguise through ‘perfect courtesy’.-In contrast, Malvoilio lacking ‘free disposition’ that is the basis of courtesy and festive liberty, comes off badly. His desire to lord over others threatens to violate decorum, but the festive spirit exposes the killjoy vanity of Malvolios own decorum.
How does modern criticism view traditional criticism? -New critical approaches argue that the traditional interpretations with their focus on character are indidviualistic and misleading. -Their detachment from the real world makes them elitist, sexist and unpolitical, with no focus on the social context of the time.
Common features of modern criticism -Sceptical of character approaches -Concentrates on political, social and economic factors-Identifies fragmentation and disunity in the plays-Questions happy and hopeful endings, preserving ambiguous or sombre ones-Produces readings subversive of existing social structures -Looks how the play expresses the interests of dominant groups (eg rich and powerful males)-Insists theory (marxists, feminist, psychological) is essential -Argue traditional approaches have interpreted Shakespeare conservatively and maintain the interests of the ruling classes
Political criticism: Which critic offers a marxist reading of the play and what is it? (Indulgence) -Kreiger highlights the importance of social class and argues that a ruling class ideology operates throughout the play. -He argues that only a privileged social class has access to the morality of indulgence; if the members of the ruling class find their identities through excessive indulgences in appetite, the other characters either work to make indulgence possible for their superiors, or else, indulging themselves sicken and so die.
Political criticism: How have some productions shown Illyria to be a feudal male dominated society? -Many productions highlight the trade wars and Orsino’s role as a military leader-(eg in Nunns version the reason that Viola has to conceal herself is that her home country is at war with Illyria) -(National Theatre: boxing between Viola and Orsino)
Political criticism: How had the Play been interpreted as criticising the callous behaviour and self indulgence of Elizabethan nobility? -Toby’s cruelty towards Malvolio and his exploitation of sir Andrew is seen as uncaring to social inferiors and wanting to profit from the weakness of his equals. -Self indulgence of Olivia and Orsino claimed as evidence of a privileged class which licenses its members to believe that only their emotions are important. -Olivia automatically questions Cesario ‘What is your parentage?’, wanting to assure that cesario is an appropriate social status to be considered a husband.
Political criticism: Meaning of ‘Puritan’ in Elizabethan England -It was used by King James to condemn opposition to his authority: -Malvolio’s meaness of spirit is seen to represent an emerging self made class. Impatient with the old order and intolerent of festivity, new groupings of socially mobile men sought to take over the power tradiotnally exercised by the aristocratic class.- Thus contempory audiences mocking Malvolio can be seen to trying to defuse the threat that such a challenge to traditional authority represents.
Political criticism: Russian critic best known for his ideas of ‘Carnival’ and how modern critics use him -Bakhtin (Russian critic) is best known for his concept of carnival; the spirit of collective misrule. -Modern critics use Bakhtins argument to argue that Elizabethan authorities used the licence foolery of carnival as an instrument of social control. They permitted an allowed license to subversive challenges to power structures. In terms of carnival like the 12th night activities, dissident social energies could be released and the powerful could be imitated but the real power structures remained in place
Feminist criticism: Which critic argue Women transgress stereotype and what do they say Tennenhouse: Olivia and Viola escape patriarchal control and show they can do much more than survive e.g. Olivia is anchorage of her household and Olivia’s quick wit and agency is a dynamic contract with orsino as the stagnant self indulgent lover.
Feminist criticism: Tennenhouse quote ‘Transfer of patriarchal power to women’
Feminist criticism: Which critic argue Women don’t transgress stereotype and what do they say Jean Howard: -Viola for all her clear sightenedness falls head over heels for orsino and her love makes her blind to the less attractive side of his nature. She is not an active agent for change in the play, and decides to see how matters develop (‘O Time, thou must untangle this, not I; It is too hard a knot for me t’ untie’ ) -Howard highlights this, seeing how Olivia and Viola both end up as subjects of conventional male dominance in the hearty of marriage.
Feminist criticism: Key points -Antonios strong desire leads him to follow sebastian, which mirrors olivias pursuit of cesario; both transferss patriarchal convention which forbade homosexuality and women taking the lead in courtship (even though Olivia is aware her pursuit oversteps social boundaries ‘have you not set mine honour at the stake?’ but still rejects restriction)-Some feminist readings claim that when Orsio declares Viola his ‘fancies queen’ at the end of the play what male spectators saw was the sight of two men holding hands- challenging the conventional views of love. -Violas silence in the last 100 lines of dialogue has been incepted as the reduction of a womans status. They claim it shows even a feisty character like viola can only submit to male desire and dominance.
Who suggests twelfth night is a protean play and how? John Russel Brown, ‘The characters, the situations, the speeches are protean’ (can mean many different things, versatile, oppositional moods and ideas)

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