Baytown Little Theater presents Shakespeare’s intriguing comedy, Twelfth Night or What You Will. One of the Bard’s most popular plays, Twelfth Night has been produced numerous times on stage, screen, television, and radio.
Written in 1601 or 1602, the play was a favorite during the Renaissance. The title itself prepares the audience for a time of merrymaking and general foolery involving unrequited love, mistaken identities, and mischievous pranks. Twelfth Night refers to the twelfth night after Christmas Day, called the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany, a day of revelry in which servants dressed up as royalty, women as men, and men as women. In Shakespeare’s play, class and gender are major issues.
The main plot concerns mistaken identity. Viola, the leading character, disguises herself as a young man after a shipwreck separates her from her twin brother, Sebastian, and lands her on the shores of Illyria, ruled by Orsino, a noble duke. Viola’s dressing exactly as Sebastian creates considerable confusion toward the end of the play when Sebastian unexpectedly appears.
In order to assess her situation in an unknown land, Viola offers her services to the duke and takes the name of Cesario. Impressed with the young “man,” Orsino offers Cesario the position of messenger to the noblewoman Olivia, whom he loves. Actually, Orsino seems to be in love with the idea of love, for he has seen Olivia only once. The plot thickens when Olivia, impressed with Viola/Cesario’s looks and beautiful speeches, falls in the love with her/him. Ironically, Viola/Cesario falls in love with Orsino when he takes her/him into his confidence and reveals his deep affection for Olivia. This mix-up, which includes gender confusion and unrequited love, is the major conflict in the story.
A subplot, providing several comic interludes, involves a clever, conniving gentlewoman, Maria, and a jolly, rowdy drunkard, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle. They contrive to trick Malvolio, a straitlaced, self-righteous steward in Olivia’s household, in believing that Olivia is in love with him. Malvolio’s ambition to marry Olivia and become Count Malvolio is revealed when he acts, dresses, and speaks in a manner that he thinks will win Olivia’s love. Instead, his behavior repels her and she proclaims that he must be a victim of “midsummer madness.”
One of the most interesting characters in the comedy is Feste, Olivia’s fool or clown. As in most of Shakespeare’s plays, the fool usually has the best lines—lines that seem silly on the surface but underneath reveal deeper, even profound, truths. Feste’s beautiful songs also are revealing comments on love’s pains and sufferings as well as love’s joys. Appropriately, the play begins with one of the most famous lines in Shakespeare’s canon: “If music be the food of love, play on.”
The BLT production opens April 13 with subsequent performances April 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, and 29. Tickets will be available online at this website on March 12, or reservations can be made by calling the theatre at 281.424.7617.
Notes provided by Julia Jay.