The Heart Has a Mind of Its Own

Twelfth Night, Act One: Scenes 1-5

The first lines of the play tell us exactly what we’re dealing with here:

DUKE: If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

The Duke is a romantic fool, having lost his hart/heart to the witty and despondent Olivia. But I have the sneaking feeling that Shakespeare meant this line to be a direct barb at the audience: “So you like your romantic comedies, do you? Well I’ll give you one that will make you cry uncle and never ask for a movie starring Sandra Bullock again.”

Love is the theme, with all its inherent lunacy and fickle ways.

It’s a comedy, certainly, because of the madcap setup: overzealous infatuations, misdirectional confessions, and the veiled identity of Viola who presents herself to the Duke as a eunuch. Plus, as if there were any doubt left about the mood that’s driving the bus, you have two characters named Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Augecheek. We’re defintely not in Denmark anymore!

Note: I’m not at all sure what Elizabethan audiences found so funny about people in disguise, but it does have the makings of some zany situations. I suppose they would have enjoyed Eddie Murphy movies too, but I’d rather not go there, thanks.

I love that Maria and Olivia have the best lines so far. When Maria summarily puts down the advances of Sir Andrew Augecheek with all but a badoom tish on the drums, Sir Toby turns to his disheartened friend and pops:

TOBY: O, knight, thou lack’st a cup of canary! When did I see thee so put down?

The words I heard in my twenty-first century head were: Oh, snap!

Then again, this Toby fellow is a boozer, a carouser and a cad. Or maybe he’s just a lot looser than the uptight bunch who occupy the stage around him. Malvolio, for one, is a definite stick in the mud. In which case, it’s a good thing they have a fool around to keep them entertained. Literally a fool, though he’s not very punctual and has to scramble to keep his job:

MARIA: You will be hanged for being so long absent. Or to be turned away: is not that as good as a hanging to you?

To which the clown notably replies:

CLOWN: Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage, and for turning away, let summer bear it out.

He’s going down swinging, this fool. And his jests become all the more barbed from his desperation to keep his job.

Viola, who has made her way to the shores of Illyria via shipwreck, takes a whole three days to get in good graces (and fall in love) with the Duke under the identity of a gentleman named Cesario. He looks rather like a girl, however, though this only pleases the lovelorn Duke more. But Viola is burdened with having to be the messenger between the Duke and Olivia, who — and why not — falls in love with Viola/Cesario herself.

She (Olivia) claims she’s in mourning for her brother (and father, you would think) and has foresworn men for a period of seven years. But that’s where the mischeviousness of Cupid comes into play.

Or this play anyway.

And complications ensue, as they say.

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