Clarissa Explains It All

Well, no, not Clarissa, silly.  Though that would be a book I’d have to buy…

Indeed, sincere thanks are due to Mr. Isaac Asimov, my new best friend on this journey through Shakespeare.  For now I have a lot more clarity on what the Twelfth Night signifies.

Since I already posted earlier regarding my own ignorance on the matter, I may as well quote you verbatim from the redoubtable Guide to Shakespeare:

TWELFTH NIGHT is the twelfth day after Christmas — January 6. This is the traditional anniversary of the day on which the infant Jesus was viewed by the Magi and therefore the first manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles. The day is also called Epiphany, from a Greek word meaning “manifestation.”

There is no biblical justification for this particular date or for any fixed number of days after the birth of Jesus for the apearance of the Magi. Nevertheless, it did afford the people in medieval times the chance of a twelve-day celebration following Christmas (hence the popular carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas’)

Personal note: Doh! Is this guy good or what?

Twelfth Night was in some ways the climax of the festive period. In connection with this, a lawyers’ guild seems to have commissioned Shakespeare in 1600 to write them an amusing play for Twelfth Night 1601. He did so and the play was called Twelfth Night after the occasion and not because of anything in the play itself.

It was the third of Shakespeare’s joyous comedies, all written at the turn of the century, and he apparently viewed them as trifles designed for amusement only. His titles show it: Much Ado About Nothing and As You Like It. Even the third play, usually called Twelfth Night, has a subtitle which perhaps more effectively describes Shakespeare’s feeling — What You Will.

This was the last warm comedy Shakespeare was to write for many years. The shadows closed in and for a decade he wrote somber tragedies and bitter non-tragedies (scarcely comedies). Why this should be so, we can only speculate.

There you have it. That man knows how to bring the goods!


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