TWELFTH NIGHT STUDY GUIDE

TWELFTH NIGHT

Who is Shakespeare?

William Shakespeare was born in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England, in 1564. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but today it is celebrated on April 23, which is the date of his death and, based on the record of his baptism, may very well also have been his birthday. Shakespeare's father was John Shakespeare, a glover, and his mother was Mary Arden, the daughter of a wealthy farmer.

Shakespeare probably attended what is now the Edward VI Grammar School. At age 18 he married a farmer's daughter, Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children: Susanna, born in 1583, and, two years later, the twins Hamnet (who died in childhood) and Judith. 

Nothing more is known of his life until 1592, when his earliest known play, the first part of Henry VI, became a hit in London, where Shakespeare had gone (without his family) to work as an actor.

Soon afterwards, an outbreak of the plague forced theatres to close temporarily, and Shakespeare turned for a while to writing poetry. By 1594 he was back in the theatre, acting with the Lord Chamberlain's Men. He quickly established himself as one of London's most successful dramatists, with an income that enabled him, in 1597, to buy a mansion back in Stratford. In 1599 he became a shareholder in London's newly built Globe Theatre. In 1603, Shakespeare's company was awarded a royal patent, becoming known as the King's Men.

Possibly as early as 1610, the playwright retired to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, living there and continuing to invest in real estate until his death on April 23, 1616. He is buried in the town's Holy Trinity Church.

In the first collected edition of his works in 1623, fellow playwright Ben Jonson called him a man "not of an age, but for all time." Not only did Shakespeare write some of the most popular plays of all time, but he was a very prolific writer, writing at least thirty-eight works in twenty-three years. Shakespeare enjoyed great popularity in his lifetime, and 450 years later, he is still the most produced playwright in the world. 

CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS

1. All grades: Language/English (Listening to Understand, Speaking to Communicate, Reading for Meaning)
2. All grades: Drama, Music, Visual Art
3. Grades 4-12: Health and PE (Healthy Living: Bullying and Abuse)
4. Grades 4-12: Health and PE (Human Development and Sexual Health: Emotional, Social Impact; Personal Stresses; Understanding Healthy Relationships; Conflict Management; Mental Health)
5. Grade 12: Canadian and World History (The World: Social, Economic and Political Context)

Topics
Shakespeare
• Who he was, his body of work, his significance in English drama and literature
• Dramatists of the Renaissance
• Early modern drama


Elizabethan England
• Social and economic structure (class systems, playhouses, plays and players)
• Values and beliefs (humours, the Great Chain of Being, etc.)
• Conventions of early English drama (comedy, tragedy, pastoral, five-act structure)
• Festivals and holidays (Twelfth Night, etc.)


Language
• Imagery, blank verse


Illyria
• As Utopia, Neverland, Xanadu, Arcadia, Shangri-La, etc.

THEMES AND MOTIFS
• Love (courtly vs. romantic, unrequited)
• Appearance vs. reality
• Acting and theatre
• Madness and melancholy
• Time
• Revenge and reconciliation
• Self-indulgence, fun and excess
• Disguise
• Survival
• Gender identity
• Folly of ambition
• Letters, messages, tokens
• Society and class
• Lies and deceit

Shipwrecked in a storm at sea, twins Viola and Sebastian are washed ashore on different parts of the coast of Illyria, each believing the other drowned. To protect herself in this unknown land, Viola disguises herself as a young man, taking the name Cesario.

Viola's disguise proves all too effective, however, when she enters the service of the lovesick Duke Orsino, who makes "Cesario" his go-between in his persistent suit to the unresponsive Countess Olivia. Viola loyally fulfills this task, despite her own growing feelings for her employer - only to realize to her alarm that Olivia, while still disdaining the duke, has fallen in love with his seemingly male emissary.

The misunderstandings multiply with the arrival on the scene of Viola's twin brother, Sebastian: though the siblings do not yet meet, they are inevitably mistaken for each other, with consequences perplexing to them both.

Meanwhile, Olivia's reprobate uncle, Sir Toby Belch, holds nightly revels with Sir Andrew Aguecheek, another hopeless suitor for Olivia's hand. Rebuked by Malvolio, Olivia's stern and self-righteous steward, Sir Toby retaliates by joining with the maid Maria and the clown Feste in a practical joke: tricking Malvolio into thinking that Olivia is in love with him.

Acting on what he believes to be Olivia's instructions, Malvolio makes such a fool of himself that he is confined as a madman. Confusion reigns until Viola and Sebastian are reunited, Malvolio is freed and all is explained. Orsino asks Viola to be his wife, and Olivia, finding a substitute for Cesario in Sebastian, makes plans to host a lavish double wedding.

DID YOU KNOW

Did You Know?

Like Romeo and Juliet, the plot of Twelfth Night was likely drawn from the tales or Novelles of Matteo Bandello (1480 to 1562). The Bandello story was adapted by Barnabe Riche in a collection of stories titled Riche his Farewell to Militarie Profession conteining verie pleasaunt discourses fit for a peaceable tyme (published in 1581). 

The play also draws on an Italian worked titled Gl'ingannati ("The Deceived Ones), which was written in Siena in 1531. 

In England at the time, Twelfth Night marked the end of the Christmas season and the Lord of Misrule reigned over festivities that saw traditional roles reversed, both hierarchical and gender.

In his introduction to the RSC edition of Twelfth Night, editor Jonathan Bate considers the role of twins in the plays of Shakespeare and in his personal life. The father of twins - Hamnet and Judith - Shakespeare experienced the death of his son at the age of eleven. Bate writes:

Though we should always be wary of inferring authorial autobiography from the words of fictional characters in a play, there is an inescapable poignancy to the images of loss in Twelfth Night: when Fester sings of sad cypress ("Come away, death") or Viola alludes to a funeral monument, it is tempting to think of Shakespeare's own lost son.
- Introduction to Twelfth Night by Jonathan Bate, The Modern Library, New York, 2010

Bate goes on to discuss Viola's ability to play Cesario, suggesting Viola plays Cesario so effectively because of her prior knowledge and love of Sebastian…it is tempting to speculate that the [idea] was sown by Shakespeare' observation of the intuitive understanding between his twins as they learned to speak and to play together.
- Introduction to Twelfth Night by Jonathan Bate, The Modern Library, New York, 2010

Themes and Motifs in Twelfth Night
• Love (courtly vs. romantic, unrequited)
• Appearance vs. reality
• Acting and theatre
• Madness and melancholy
• Time
• Revenge and reconciliation
• Self-indulgence, fun and excess
• Disguise
• Survival
• Gender identity
• Folly of ambition
• Letters, messages, tokens
• Society and class
• Lies and deceit

THE PRODUCTION

LESSON PLANS

ACTIVITIES

THE PLACE

The Stratford Adventure

This 1954 Oscar-nominated film follows the founding of the Festival: how the idea grew, how a famous British director, international stars and Canadian talent were recruited, and how the Festival finally became a triumphant reality.