Twelfth Night interpretations

Mid 20th Century readings (Barton 1969, Caird 1983) Tend to focus on sadness, pain, love and grief. They also look at the psychological complexity of the characters.
Late 20th Century (Judge 1994, Noble 1997) Focus on the broad comedy aspect of Twelfth Night, reaction against mid 20th century interpretations. Tend to be non realist with cartoon characters where depth and dimension is lost.
19th century criticism Character based
William Hazlitt 1817 19th century. Placed ‘Viola at the centre of attention’. He argued that ‘it is Viola’s confession of her love’ that incites the ‘strongest’ feeling in the audience. ‘ludicrous’ and makes us laugh at ‘the follies of mankind’ and confesses to having a ‘regard for Malvolio’
Charles Lamb 19th century. Malvolio as centre of dramatic interest. Character has ‘integrity’ and ‘gravity’ and that there was ‘no room for laughing’ in his gulling’ ‘a sort of greatness never seems to desert him’
A.C. Bradley Early 20th century. Feste as centre of dramatic interest. Rex Gibson argues that ‘Bradley’s distinctive contribution to Twelfth Night character criticism was to shift its focus from Malvolio and Viola to Feste, who he saw as a distinctly modern figure’
Late 20th century political criticism Focusses on ‘power and social structure’ (Rex Gibson) For example Elliot Krieger’s Marxist reading (1970s) highlights the importance of social class arguing that ‘a ruling class ideology operates within the play’
Late 20th century feminist criticism Rex Gibson argues that Shakespeare comedies of special interest as women’s ‘actions powerfully influence or direct the development of plot’
Postmodern criticism Geoffrey Hartman on the focus of the ‘instability of language’
Psychoanalytical criticism Inspired by Freud’s theories (Norman Holland)
Samuel Pepys ‘silly play’ (1663) ‘one of the weakest plays that I ever saw on stage’
Ralph Berry ‘twelfth night used to be funny’ (1981)
Trevor Nunn Puts Act 1 Scene 2 as the first scene putting Viola as the protagonist. (1996)
Royal Shakespeare Company 2018 Christopher Luscombe. Starts with Viola so places as protagonist, Feste not very nice, homosexuality between Orsino and Viola, Olivia in love with Cesario and arm reaching at end showing little resolve, Olivia takes Orsino’s last line
W.H Auden (20th century) ‘puritanical aversion’ ‘one has a sense…of there being inverted commars around the “fun”‘
John Barton 1969 Irving Wardle ‘the most austere twelfth night i have ever seen’ Barton describes the subplot and the audience as ‘exiled into reality’ Barton uses sound of sea to create ‘the eternal note of sadness’-Matthew Arnold
National Theatre 2017 Simon Godwin. Female Malvolia. Importance of music.
Royal Exchange 2017 Jo Davies. Transexual Feste-sadness at the end as rained on.
Shakespeare’s Globe 2012 Tim Caroll. All male cast, traditional.
John Caird 1983 Magoulias ‘Set in the Jacobean period, the production accentuated a sense of decay and confinement by employing a ruined garden, rusting gates, and a mortuary chapel as components of the set design’
Ian Judge 1994 De Jongh played ‘the broad comedy to the hilt’ Judge ‘There are a thousand different ways of laughing and I think that Twelfth Night touches them all.’
Adrian Noble 1997 Exaggerated and non realist. Wardle ‘a pop-art playground’ Billington ‘a kind off pop-art Alice in Illyria with little emotional reality or erotic tension’
Bill Alexander 1987 Foregrounds madness ‘their idea of themselves prevents them from taking in the reality of the world’ Set white washed and bright lighting to stress idea of midsummer madness. Elizabeth Schafer on Anthony Sher’s presentation of Malvolio ‘the joke has really been pushed too far and that he has become truly mad’ Says last line in ‘a curiously slow way’
Michael Boyd 2005 All characters mad. Orsino in various states of disarray. Instead of dimming whole stage had it dazzlingly bright audience could tell ‘by the way that they moved around the stage-that neither of them were able to see a thing.’ Feste integral to the plays action with a hopeless love for Maria
King Charles I Renamed his copy of the play ‘Malvolio’. When performed to James I called Malvolio
David Garrick 1741 Charles Macklin as Malvolio-most prominent. Psychological interpretation with tragic characters.
Kemble 1811 First to reverse order of scenes
Frederic Reynolds 1820 Covent Garden-operatic adaptation. At similar time became popular for women to play men.
Samuel Johnson Described Malvolio as ‘truly comic’ but criticised play for lack of ‘credibility’
August Schlegel ‘beauteous colours of ethereal poetry’
1884 Malvolio played by Henry Irving Innate dignity which added pathos to his humiliation.
Charlton ‘the disclosure of unbalanced sentiment’
C.L. Barber 1959 ‘Saturnalian’ quality serves to reinforce the norms which they temporarily suspend. ‘when the normal is secure that playful aberration is benign’ ‘Sebastian is not likely to be dominated’ ‘To see this manly reflex is delightful-almost a relief’ ‘What she lacks, Sebastian has’
Halliday 1954 ‘Shakespeare was above all things a poet’ ‘poetry comparable to that of celestial music’-
Mikhail Bakhtin Fools lay bare ‘any sort of conventionality’ expose ‘all that is vulgar and falsely stereotyped in human relationships’ ‘life’s perpetual spy and reflector’ Shouldn’t be understood as psychologically plausible characters. Nothing is absolute and everything is relative. Fools belong ‘to the borderline between life and art’
Coleridge Fools take place of chorus on Greek drama ‘unfeeling spectators of the most passionate situations’
Bate ‘Viola is diminished when bereaved of her invented second self’
Tim Supple 1998 Ford Eastern exoticism creates ‘an Illyria of othernesss and wonder’
Billington one of hardest plays to bring off in theatre due to ‘its sheer kaleidoscope range of moods’
Jan Kott ‘Illyria is a country of exotic madness’
Peter Gill 1974 Dominated by image of Narcissus ‘a continuous reminder to the audience of the themes of ambiguous sexuality and erotic self-deception’-Magoulias
Kenneth Branagh 1988 Frances Barber as Viola. Soliloquy presented as comical.
Charlotte Lennox 1750s ‘shameful situation’ Gets rid of modestry and reservedness and exposed self to ‘dangerous consequences’
Dr Pamela Bickley Viola is trapped by her disguise.
Stevie Davies ‘Duplicate the traditional inferiority of female status’
Elliot Krieger ‘a ruling class ideology operates within the play’
Leonard Tennenhouse says Twelfth Night makes explicit ‘the transfer of patriarchal power to a woman’
Michael Bristol 1985 ‘The play permanently challenges rather than endorses social order’

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