A comic masterpiece featuring a lovesick nobleman, a maiden in disguise and an extraordinary love triangle. No one in this play is truly insane, but accusations of madness abound as the confusion unfolds.
In Tudor times, twelfth night was the feast of 'misrule' marking the end of Christmas festivities, where the natural order was often turned topsy-turvy. Shakespeare's plot includes a servant seeking to marry his mistress, women dressed as men and attendant confusions and mistakes - all favourite examples that hark all the way back to the Roman feast of Saturnalia.
Shakespeare may well have written the play for a court entertainment performed in 1601 (finding his Duke's name from the Duke Orsini who had visited court that year). Many commentators believe that his portrait of the kill-joy Malvolio was intended to poke fun at the Puritans who disapproved of twelfth night festivities - and, of course, of the theatre itself. Set against Malvolio are the excesses of Sir Toby Belch, and yet his drunkenness is sympathetically viewed: 'Dost think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?'
From the witty banter of Sir Toby and Maria, the wry commentary of Feste and the foolishness of Sir Andrew to the emotionally charged moment of the discovery of the twins, this is a play whose range and humour have delighted audiences for centuries and which remains irresistibly fresh today.
Published by Oxford University Press and bound in hardback buckram by The Folio Society, The Oxford Shakespeare series offers authoritative editions of Shakespeare’s plays. The early printings have been scrupulously re-examined and interpreted by eminent scholars, who also provide introductory essays covering all relevant background information, together with an appraisal of critical views and of the plays in performance. The exhaustive commentaries pay particular attention to language and staging. Reprints of sources, music for songs, genealogical tables and maps are included where necessary; many of the volumes are illustrated, and all contain an index.
Each book has an individual editor, with the whole series overseen by Stanley Wells.
Roger Warren is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Leicester. He has worked with the RSC at Stratford Ontario, and in particularly with Peter Hall on the season of late Shakespeare plays at the National Theatre, and on recent RSC productions.
Stanley Wells, General Editor of the Oxford Shakespeare series, is Chairman of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon.
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