Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or, What you Will. Loved it. Trevor Nunn's film adaptation. Loved it,too (more, even). I've not read many of Shakespeare's plays, but this is my favorite so far. So much so that I've already ordered the DVD. I wisely divided up the acts and read one or two each day last week (the first three being much longer than the last two). My edition of the play estimated that a read through would average about three hours. A careful read through taking in footnotes would take about six hours. I'm a slow reader anyway, so six hours was a fairly conservative estimate. It is a little clunky reading a play, I'll admit. Sometimes I had to reread a passage after stopping to read all the notes, which really puts a damper on the flow of the story, but in the end it really helped as I was watching the film. The dialogue would go so fast as I was listening that I couldn't catch everything, and even if I did I'm sure I still wouldn't have understood it all (despite a careful reading of the play), but I caught a lot of words and phrases and could follow the action and appreciate what was happening much more so than had I not been exposed to it first.
Twelfth Night is a comedy (bear with me you Shakespeare whizzes, this post will seem pretty basic, but I'm still a novice when it comes to his work, so there won't be any deep critical analysis just my own little overview). Much of the play's humor comes from a case of mistaken identity, which will reverberate throughout the play as various characters fall into love with each other, or they think they do anyway. Viola and Sebastian, twins, are shipwrecked on the island of Illyria. Each believes the other to be dead only they washed ashore in different places. As Viola is now on her own in a foreign country, she takes on the guise of a man to move more freely about without fear. She becomes a fixture at the court of the Duke of Orsino who is wildly in love with the beautiful Lady Olivia. Only Lady Olivia couldn't give a fig about Orsino, and besides she's only lately suffered the deaths of her father and brother so is in mourning. Orsino becomes close to young Cesario (our Viola), and sends him off in his stead to woo Lady Olivia, as he's too languid and melancholy to do it himself. Of course you know who Olivia is going to fall for. And you probably know who Viola is going to fall for as well. Things will get messy.
Now, if all that wasn't enough to keep track of, Olivia's household is chock full of characters that are going to cause all manner of problems and grief. Sir Toby Belch, is Lady Olivia's uncle. His names fits him well. He's a jolly drunk who delights in playing tricks on others and mooching off his friends. Particularly off of Sir Andrew Aguecheek. While Toby is stout, Andrew is lean and tall and as foolish as he sounds. He's also in love with Lady Olivia (he's not the last, so hang on) and will be egged on by Toby to push his suit with Olivia. There are also several servants and a jester who play important roles, if only to make the lives of other characters miserable. Maria is Olivia's lady in waiting who plays a naughty trick on Malvolio, the steward. Malvolio will come to believe he's in love with Lady Olivia as well, and that she reciprocates. If it sounds a little confusing (and I've not even filled in any details), it is. However, Sebastian's arrival later in the play will eventually help sort things out.
As you might imagine there is a lot of talk of love and identity and disguises. It was great fun to read and especially to watch. Surely Shakespeare was a genius in the way he winds everything and everyone up into a complicated twist and then lets it all unravel, and how he uses puns and plays on words and classical references to create this world. Even though listening I didn't take in all the language, it was still so musical that it's a pleasure just to listen. The film is excellent, gorgeously made, set in the Victorian period with beautiful costumes. I tried to follow along with the book, but I quickly gave up as scenes were switched or cut to fit the adaptation. It's a comedy and watching it, it really is very funny. My favorite scene is a sword fight which is totally contrived by Sir Toby between Cesario and Sir Andrew Aguecheeck, and it's obvious that neither has any interest in fighting. During classical antiquity Illyria was a region on the Mediterranean coast (now the Balkan peninsula), so there were lots of long shots of waves breaking on the shore and picturesque sunsets (my favorite!). I have another adaptation to watch later, which I have a feeling won't be quite so lavish but might follow the play more closely (and be a good reinforcement of what I've read).
Although I still plan on reading the Marjorie Garber essay and watching another Twelfth Night adaptation, I think Macbeth or Hamlet will be next. I won't tackle the next play for another month or so, as I'd rather savor the plays than rush through them (not sure it's possible to rush through a Shakespeare play, really). I think I might even find a retelling in novel form of the latter two, which would be fun to read as well (not sure if there is such a thing for Twelfth Night?). And I always have a few other books to pick up and read as well.