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Twelfth Night in Eight-Part Harmony

The second meeting of the Plymouth Shakespeare Reading Group was held today. Eight intrepid souls (including me) braved the cold weather and gathered for a very enjoyable reading of Twelfth Night. My thanks again to Prashant for organizing this event.

As was done for Macbeth (see post of 11/24/08) the play was divided into three sections with different casting for each section. I myself was pleased to be cast as Viola for the first part (Act I through Act II, scene 3), Andrew Aguecheek and Sebastian for the second part (Act II, scene 4 through the end of Act III) and Olivia for the final section (Acts IV and V).

Although I have seen this play produced many many times (probably over 30 times) I have not often actually read it. I am therefore glad that Prashant has given me this chance. Twelfth Night, as is the case for all of Shakespeare's comedies (and most of the other plays as well) is filled with amazing in-jokes, puns, and wordplay. This occurs mostly in the scenes with the "low characters" (which in this play includes "aristocrats" like Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek as well as members of the servant class). Since most of this kind of stuff is pretty much incomprehensible to the modern ear (shame on us), these scenes are always severely cut by directors. This is a shame as they are quite funny and witty if one takes the time to figure them out (with the help of footnotes and other sources). So, again I say that reading the plays is certainly worthwhile.

Most Shakespeare scholars say that these kinds of scenes were put in by Shakespeare to please the groundlings and others who attended the public performances of the plays. However, it is hard for me to believe that all of the legal terms, nautical terms, terms relating to hawking and other aristocratic pursuits, and the caricatures of real persons (like Malvolio for Sir Christopher Hatton, Sir Andrew Aguecheek for Sir Philip Sydney, and Sir Toby Belch for Edward deVere's brother-in-law Perigrine Bertie) found in these "comic scenes" were meant for the groundlings. I don't mean to be a snob (a term commonly applied to Oxfordians by Stratfordians), but facts are facts. This kind of comedy obviously (to me anyway) is meant for performances at the Inns of Court or at the Royal Court before the monarch (and of course, was likely written by someone [such as deVere] who moved in these circles).

Anyway, I had a great time reading this play along with the other six present at the Plymouth District Library. I am looking forward to January 18 when we will be reading Richard II. See Prashant's blog (there's a link to it on the right side of this Oberon blog) for more details as they become available.

For now, I'll say with Feste (who interestingly is only referred to by this name once-in Act II, scene 4-and is otherwise only known as "Clown" in the Folio):

But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.


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