Our Play Is Done

Twelfth Night, Act V: Scene 1

With all the neat contrivances at the end, the play hardly feels like Shakespeare — save for the wit.

Earlier I had said that none of the characters seemed convincing. I take that back, now, and claim two for my favorites of the play: Maria, whom I like for her aggressive cleverness. If any of the couples seem well paired, it would be she and Toby. In fact, Toby doesn’t really deserve her. She has high spirits and an independent mind and adds sparkle whenever she takes the stage.

And Feste, the fool, who savors words for wordplay’s sake. He takes no sides, and shares the self-interest of many of the other characters. But for verbal virtuosity alone, he’s great to have around.

When Malvio goes down swinging with his defiant, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” his Puritanical displacement in a comedy finally makes me laugh. He’s a guy who is so serious he can’t get the joke, even — and especially — when the joke’s on him. If I rewind now, I’m sure I’ll LOL in the scene when he becomes the buffoon that Maria has set up so skillfully.

Some background notes have been helpful here, especially All of Shakespeare by Maurice Charney. He points out just how precise Shakepseare’s language is in the play. But I especially appreciated the insight he and Asimov gave regarding Malvolio’s situation as a Puritan in Elizabethan England. It’s a bit like putting Pat Robertson in a frat-house comedy. Or, to parallel a film from my own high school days, Footloose with Kevin Bacon.

He’s a fuddy duddy and we’re making marry. I get it. I’m still not buying the quick and convenient pairings of Olivia/Sebastian and Viola/Duke, but it’s a romantic comedy, after all. And music is the food of love…

Musicians, keep playing on.


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