Archive for the Twelfth Night Category

Movie Review: 12th Night

Posted in Movie Reviews, Twelfth Night with tags on 2010/02/01 by mattermind

If music be the food of love, play on.

The theme of 12th Night didn’t really hit me until I watched the brooding and over-dramatic opening to this filmed version directed by Trevor Nunn. Non-sequential and interpolated from later backstory, it causes the play to stumble out the gates from a contextual weight that takes time for the otherwise breezy story to shed.

Shakespeare intends that the first words intone the prevailing mood that saturates the telling: like the wine that intoxicates Sir Toby, this will be a take on how love makes fools of all of us. It never goes where we will it (thus provoking the clever and self-referential alternative title of “What You Will.”)

It’s a a romp, a sendup, a mockery, a debauch, a celebration and ultimately a surrender to love’s fate being in the hands of destiny or the gods or whomever the powers that be (and quite fitting for St. Valentine’s Day, don’t you think?). I could see the play as perfect material for Blake Edwards, who directed the rollicking early Pink Panther movies — or maybe Hal Ashby, with a dry, deadpan wit so captured by the marvelous and sorely missed Sir John Gielgud.

That said, it may have taken me awhile to warm up to this version, but before long I fell madly in love with the casting.

Who can argue with Ben Kingsley as the Fool? Or as anyone? His stripped, weathered and sardonic take on the jester is a riot, his singing a revelation. As in the play, he becomes the character you miss most when he’s not onstage.

This also occurred to me when I was watching, but that I missed while I was reading: who but the fool to make sense of love’s chicanery? He belongs in this play… he’s vital to this play… for he alone recognizes the nonsensical quality it brings to our lives. It gooses our reason, fondles and pinches our serious aspirations beneath the table. If love makes fools of us all, who better than the fool to sort the madness out?

And yet, while watching Kinsley play his character with such aplomb, I also realized something else that I missed from the play: there is a sadness to the fool as he observes others caught in the emotional whirlwind: he alone is unaffected by the pangs of the heart. Detachment is his stock in trade — but oh, there’s a cruel irony and a heavy price to pay for it.

While I wasn’t smitten by Helena Bonham Carter’s Ophelia, I delighted in her as Olivia. Her beauty here is just that side of rarified that makes it so convincing as the distant object of Count Orbino’s obsession, and yet she transitions so easily into the smoldering pursuer of the trapped and suffocating Viola/Cesario. In scene after scene, she balances her roles so well, one minute arched and distant from the hot pursuit of the lovelorn count, while in the next falling madly for the “boy” whose wordplay matches her own. She is captivating and magical in this role.

Toby Stevens is a riot as the overwrought Orsino. He’s pouty, hunky, smitten and bitten. He could easily transition into a pitch-perfect Pepe le Pew.

I could rave on and on about the rest of the cast as well: Nigel Hawthorne as a vexed and vexing Malvolio; Richard E. Grant as an effete and blundering Sir Andrew Augecheek; Mel Smith as a riotous Sir Toby Belch. The casting here is spot on.

I did not love Imelda Staunton’s Maria, perhaps because I loved her on the page too much. She was more matronly and guarded here than I was expecting. Less playful and the feminine match for Toby’s punch-drunk outrageous behavior. Perhaps she suffered through editing, but her character seemed to change gears on a dime. I didn’t feel the chemistry between Maria and Toby at all. I’m blaming it on Maria — but it could be that the two just didn’t fit together the way they should.

If there’s a weak link here on the whole, it’s the thorny casting demands of the twins, Viola and Sebastian. Viola has an almost impossible task: convincing the characters that she’s a man while maintaining the secret that she’s a woman. Even on the page, where you can suspend your disbelief, you wonder how that would look in real life.

An audience at a play must forego a bit of realism for the play to work. The central farrago has to be credible or all falls apart. Thus, Olivia must confuse the sister for the brother while Orbino fails to recognize the girl as a boy, even as he pulls her ever closer into his inner circle.

And here is where we come full circle, in that the movie is bitten by its central directorial decision: by going for realism, the setting and backdrop become reality. And measured by reality, the tomfoolery of Twelfth Night suffers — if only slightly — from the grounding of its wings.

Certain elements, like Ben Kingsley’s Fool, are enhanced by the realistic setting. He is a mature fool, a bittersweet fool, and in this way steals the whole show. It adds to the elements already there in Shakespeare’s presentation, gives it an extra twist that makes you come away with added meaning from the reading and the play, which is what a good film ought to do.

And so, when all is said and done, I was delighted and captivated by this performance, and recommend it heartily to all who wish to watch it.

I would just warn not to be too dismayed in the beginning by the weight and substance which serve as the setting. For the point is still — and even more so — to banish the prude and Puritan in our spirits that would squander and limit love.

And to remind ourselves, before it’s too late, that the whirligig of time will bring in his revenges for the fancies of our youth.


Win Tickets to See Twelfth Night!

Posted in Twelfth Night on 2010/01/19 by mattermind

If you happen to live in England, or can fly there on a whim (bastards!), and are very, very, very lucky, you might just be the sobs to see thte Royal Shakespeare Company perform Twelfth Night for free!

(I quote:

See the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night

We are giving away two pairs of top price tickets to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night at London’s Duke of York’s Theatre.

Following its sell-out run in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Company returns to London’s West End with Twelfth Night, directed by RSC chief associate director Gregory Doran and starring award-winning actor Richard Wilson as Malvolio.

This new production of Shakespeare’s comic tale of mistaken identity and of love, lost and found, now transfers to the Duke of York’s Theatre for a limited 10-week season from December 19.

Our Play Is Done

Posted in Twelfth Night on 2010/01/19 by mattermind

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.

If It Be Thus to Dream, Still Let Me Sleep!

Posted in Twelfth Night on 2010/01/18 by mattermind

Twelfth Night, Act IV: Scenes 1-3

Tell me you didn’t know that Sebastian would bumble into good fortune… tell me you didn’t know that the mistaken identities wouldn’t result in a clever twist.

Sebastian has stumbled into Olivia’s good graces, but I’m yet to be convinced that this will result in a legitimate “happy” ending.

For one thing, Olivia doesn’t actually know him.. not yet, anyway.  She thinks she does, but that’s part of the mistaken identity bit that the comedy is centering on.  But why is Sebastian assenting to this arrangement? Sure, Olivia may be hot — and rich.  But how does he know what he’s getting into with the girl? And does Olivia not doubt “his” sudden change of heart?

Meanwhile, Malvolio is pushed to his limits by the Fool. Toby is experiencing pangs of remorse — not for what he has done of his own accord, but because he got in trouble with his niece (Olivia).

And where is Viola while all this is happening? Will she hook up with the Duke?

Stay tuned for Act V.

Love’s Night Is Noon

Posted in Twelfth Night on 2010/01/18 by mattermind

Twelfth Night, Act III: Scenes 1-4

I realize this play was meant to be silly entertainment, but I’m not wild about it the way the French are for, say, Jerry Lewis movies.

Screwball comedies walk a fine line.  Blame it on the moon, blame it on my mood, blame it on a hasty read to finish up on deadline… but so far, I’m just not that into this one as much as I had hoped.

Here’s where maybe a commentary or two might help.

A lot of the verbal wit exchanged between the fool and Viola went straight over my modern head. But, truth be told, I’m not overly fond of any of the characters. So all the sport that’s being had at the expense of Andrew and Malvolio seems like frat party overkill to me.  If Adam Sandler wants a crack at Shakespeare, here might make a dubious point of entry.

Andrew is a doofus, sure. And Malvolio is a stick in the mud. But Toby feels no remorse duping Andrew out of 2000 ducats (and now his horse). Malvolio has set himself up for punishment, I suppose, through his vanity and not knowing his place.

Shakespeare seems to be mocking love’s flighty nature, so it’s hard to make much ado about nothing. The point, I suppose, is to savor the skewering of absurdity. But to riff Jay McInerney’s line about David Foster Wallace, an infinite jest easily turns into an interminable joke.

I’m not laughing — yet. Two more short acts follow. Hopefully, hilarity ensues.

She’s the Man

Posted in Twelfth Night with tags on 2010/01/17 by mattermind

Missed this in theaters — whew. Please feel free to convince me otherwise and I promise I’ll watch it. (Note to self: avoid longshot bets in near future.)

Ten Things I Hate About You had its moments. And I love that Shakespeare keeps inspiring new generations.

But this seems like yet more proof that the Bard’s greatness can survive anything…


Posted in Twelfth Night with tags , , on 2010/01/17 by mattermind

I’m a bit behind on my updates, but life — not unexpectedly — has intervened. I anticipated this, and so I’ve allowed for “make up” time as the readings progress. I figure that as long as I keep on a one-play-every-nine-days pace, there will be time enough to read all the works plus the sonnets and poems as well.

As I mentioned earlier, a buddy I met through St. Vincent de Paul is dying in a VA hospital in Los Angeles. Most of the last 48 hours have passed in a blur keeping him company at his bedside: shifting pillows, speaking with nurses, doing whatever was in my small power to make sure he was as comfortable as possible.

When his brother finally relieved me of my post, I was in too much shock and sadness to return immediately to this project, especially in the midst of one of Shakespeare’s lighter comedies. The clash of moods was all wrong.

This was my first encounter with the special brand of bureaucratic healthcare our veterans receive after serving the call and doing their patriotic duty. To say I was dismayed and appalled would be to put my shock and sadness too mildly. It hurts on a profound level that our heroes return in their pain and suffering to a system that treats them like a serial number.

One of my friend’s nurses stands heads and shoulders above the rest, however. I call her his “sexy nurse” because she’s straight out of a Tolstoy novel. Her thick Russian accent and intense, penetrating eyes could melt an iceberg from 200 yards. But it is her compassion and caring that really stand out.

Whenever she was on shift, she treated him like a human being: finding an extra ice cream when it was all he would eat, making sure the doctor knew that one of his pain treatments worked better and needed to be reinstated. Taking the time to check that he wasn’t aggravating a bedsore. Saying “hi” and “how are you” between scheduled visits.

I made it a point to ask her name before I left. Even I, the dedicated Jungian, the Joseph Campbell fan, was not prepared for the answer.

Viola can’t be such a common name in her country, can it?

“Like, from Shakespeare?” I said.

“Twelfth Night,” she replied. “Do you know it?”

Wheels within wheels…

Some days you feel touched by the hand of God. Why that should be… what it’s all for… what it all means in the bigger picture… I have no clue. But in that single moment I felt like I was right where I was supposed to be.

Then again, it could all be just a great big coincidence, a random crossing of paths.

Though I don't believe in coincidences.

It at least gave me something to blog about while I catch up with the reading that didn't get done — and needs to be posted on — by tomorrow.

Thanks for hanging in there, peeps. Kiss the ones you love tonight for me.

And thanks, Viola, for going out of your way to treat my friend like a human being. The little things really do mean a lot.

Mr. & Mrs. Belch?

Posted in Twelfth Night with tags , on 2010/01/14 by mattermind

Twelfth Night, Act II: Scenes 1-5

  • Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em

In Act II, we discover that Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, did not drown. He is headed for Duke Orsino’s court, thinking just as Viola did about him, that she has perished at sea.

He is loved unrequitedly by Antonio. This dynamic adds to the homosexual undercurrent running throughout the play, with Olivia’s attraction to a “man” who happens to be a woman, and the Duke’s favors toward a “man” who happens to be a woman.

The rest of the act is taken up by a prank played on the Puritanical Malvolio by Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and, most notably, the devilish Maria.

Maria conceives the scheme to drop a phony love letter in Malvolio’s path, designed to convince him that Olivia worships the ground he walks on.

By following the advice set out for him, Malvolio will unwittingly do all the wrong things in front of his lady love: smile while she’s in mourning, act hautily toward fellow servants, wear yellow — a color she hates — and crossed laces, which she abhors as glaringly unfashionable. In short, he is about to make an utter buffoon of himself.

The sheer deviousness of the plot makes a bit of a hero out of Maria. Toby in particular finds a girl with just the high spirits he is looking for:

TOBY: I could marry this wench for this device.

It’s Brad and Angie, 16th Century style.

The Heart Has a Mind of Its Own

Posted in Twelfth Night on 2010/01/13 by mattermind

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.

Clarissa Explains It All

Posted in Twelfth Night on 2010/01/13 by mattermind

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!