Sunday, January 5, 2014

Shakesblogging 450: Happy Twelfth Night!

Fulfilling my resolution to post more regularly, even if it's just idle and random thoughts about Shakespeare:

Today is Twelfth Night, and who doesn't love Twelfth Night? It's certainly one of my favorites, at least most of the time. (I always have problems answering the "what is your favorite Shakespeare play?" question, because I change my mind all the time, and I certainly can't pick just one anyway. Shakespeare is awesome because he's varied. But Twelfth Night is delightfully varied in itself, so it is a pretty good pick.)

Anyway, I've just been thinking: I really like Orsino. Students tend not to like him all that much, because yeah, he is silly and self-dramatizing and "in love with being in love" (somebody always uses this exact phrase, every single time I teach this play). And he does say some dumb, sexist things, although it's hard to take him seriously when he turns around and says the opposite thing five minutes later. Opals and changeable taffeta, indeed.

So by the end of Act One, you can see exactly why Olivia doesn't want him, but you also see why Viola does. Because she gets to know him as his servant, and this is a man who is consistently polite and generous to his social inferiors. Valentine assures Viola that he's not "inconstant in his favors" where his servants are concerned; he also accepts Feste's teasing with good grace and insists on paying him properly for his song, even when Feste insists that it's no trouble at all. It's a nice little set of character notes; and it's particularly nice that he starts to get over his posing and eventually wakes up to Viola's love for him because he listens to his servant. He doesn't just treat "Cesario" as a convenient sounding board; he asks questions, pays attention to the answers, and apparently remembers every word of it later ("Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times / Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.")

(All this characterization, by the way, for someone who isn't even in the play all that much -- he's got a grand total of four scenes and fifty-nine speeches, and disappears for two whole acts in the middle. Orsino is right up there with Shylock, in terms of being a presence without actually being present all that much.)

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