BB: Twefth Night, Act I

Artwork - Leigh MacRae
Artwork – Leigh MacRae

Welcome to the first act of the Bard Brawl’s sixth play, Twelfth Night!

I don’t know about you but after the labyrinthine confusion of Henry VI, part 1 and the utter bleakness of King Lear, I could use a bit of a pick-me-up.

Waddaya say to a little bit of cross-dressing, mistaken identity and drunken merriment where no one dies and which doesn’t end with the kingdom falling into chaos? I thought so.

Go ahead. I’ll give you a minute to top-up your drink.

Ready? So let’s get to it!

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Act 1, scene 1 starts with the Duke Orsino sitting around with his musicians, pathetically pining after Olivia. His servant Curio asks him if he will go hunting ‘the hart’ and Orsino tells him that he is already hunting the finest ‘heart’ that beats, Olivia’s. Punderful. (Harts, for reasons that should be obvious, came up pretty often in love poetry in the Renaissance. Here’s a pretty popular example from Sir Thomas Wyatt, a man who had the misfortune of loving the same woman as Henry VIII.) Orsino’s messenger, Valentine (really Shakespeare?), arrives and informs Orsino that Olivia would not see him but sends the message that she has refused to take on suitors as she wishes to concentrate on mourning her lost brother. Morbid? Not if you;re Orsino, apparently.

The next scene, scene 2, takes place on the coast of Illyria. (Here’s a link.) There has been a shipwreck and Viola is one of the survivors. With her, the only other known survivor, the captain of the ship. The captain tells her they are in Illyria, in the lands governed by Duke Orsino. As a single woman with no resources and allies, Viola realised that she is vulnerable so she decides the enlist the captain’s help to disguise herself as a boy-eunuch and offer her services to the duke until she can figure out more about her situation.

Sir Toby belch stumbles onto the stage at the start of scene 3. He seems to think that she’s spent way too much time and energy mourning her dead brother and that she should lighten up and start worrying about the living. Specifically, it seems that Sir Toby is trying to fix his niece Olivia up with a certain Andrew Aguecheek whose chief quality is that he has money, although it seems that he’s not very good at holding on to it. In fact, he’s a total witless and clueless loser without a thought of his own. He makes a complete mess of his meeting with Maria, confusing terms of address with her name. In fact, he gets totally pwned by Maria. More drinking ensues.

The next scene is a short exchange between Duke Orsino and ‘Cesario’ (Viola in diguise). Not sure what the hiring process was like but Orsino seems to believe that ‘Cesario’ will be able to gain access to Olivia because he’s got gorgeous boyish features… As a final asside before the scene ends, Viola confessees that while she needs to woo Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, she herself has fallen for him.

In this final scene of act I we return to Olivia’s house. It seem her clown Feste has returned from some trip. She’s in no mood to laugh, though she bears Feste’s barbs lightly. Malvolio seems annoyed by Feste but Olivia calls him out for taking himself too seriously. ‘Cesario’ (Viola) is announced at the door but is initially refused entrance. However, it seems that like Orsino, Olivia cannot resist young boyish pages ans she allows Viola to enter. Viola starts with her rehearsed speech from Orsino but the two women quickly get into a war of wit which seems, in the end, only to inflame Olivia’s desire for the messenger, not the message. She tells Viola that she refuses Orsino’s advances but that she would willingly love to have a Cesario of her own… Viola leaves but Olivia, in order to make sure that ‘Cesario’ comes back, sends him a ring which she claims he left behind.

As you usual, we’ll end this week’s post with a list presenting the major characters in Twelfth Night. Hope it helps though this play is nowhere near as confusing as Henry VI part 1 or Taming of the Shrew:

  • Duke Orsino: The duke’s a love-obsessed fool who start of the play madly in love with Olivia. Honestly, he doesn’t really do much besides pine and complain. By the end of the play, he’ll hook up with Viola instead.
  • Viola: The main heroine of the play, Viola washes ashore in Illyria and disguises herself as a boy – Cesario – who is a page to Duke Orsino. Of course, she falls in love with him but all he wants her to do is woo Olivia on his behalf. She has a twin brother who looks exactly like her. Like, exactly. Somehow.
  • Sir Toby Belch: Olivia’s rowdy, drunk uncle. He seems to be the ringleader of a small group of drunken merry-makers. He takes a special pleasure in mocking the uptight Malvolio.
  • Maria: Lady Olivia’s servant. She takes the initiative in mocking Malvolio, who she feels is too uptight and serious. She’s eventually shack up with Belch.
  • Sir Andrew Aguecheek: One of Toby Belch’s friends and a suitor to Olivia. He’s basically a spineless, blubbering moron who Toby keeps around to fund his drinking and make fun of.
  • Feste, the Clown: This is lady Olivia’s clown or jester though, really, everyone spends most of their time laughing at Malvolio. He’s often considered one of Shakespeare’s best clown characters.
  • Olivia: A widow in mourning… although she’s not really mourning her husband, but her brother. Anyhow, she doesn’t want anything to do with Orsino. However, he does find his servant ‘Cesario’ to be to her liking. If only there was some way that could work out…
  • Malvolio: Olivia’s chamberlain, his job is to care for Olivia’s house. So, that makes him a middle-management administrator. Of course, Malvolio sees himself as upwardly mobile and dreams of marrying Olivia… which leaves him wide-open to Maria’s pranks. Think of him as the ugly ancestor of the strong protestant work ethic.
  • Sebastian: Viola’s twin brother. To be honest, he doesn’t have much of a personality though Viola tells us that her Cesario is copy of Sebastien in manner and dress. So, basically, Sebastian is a poor (wo)man’s Viola.
  • Antonio: An older gentleman who cares for Sebastian when he washes ashore in Illyria.

So get ready for act II, where Jay Reid… er, Sir Toby has a few more drinks and this party really gets going!

Bet this works out a touch better than the ending of King Lear.

Sonnet 48 read by first time sonneteer Eric Fortin.

(Also, how awesome is Leigh’s artwork for Twelfth Night?)

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