Cross Dressing, Fools, and Twins REVIEWING Twelfth Night

It's a new year, but today is still Shakespeare Saturday!!!! 

Today I'm talking about Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

Author: William Shakespeare
Genre: Drama Comedy
Year: 1601/1602

Twelfth Night


Named for the twelfth night after Christmas, the end of the Christmas season, Twelfth Night plays with love and power. The Countess Olivia, a woman with her own household, attracts Duke Orsino. Two other would-be suitors are her pretentious steward, Malvolio, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. 

Onto this scene arrive the twins Viola and Sebastian; caught in a shipwreck, each thinks the other has drowned. Viola disguises herself as a male page and enters Orsino's service. Orsino sends her as his envoy to Olivia -- only to have Olivia fall in love with the messenger. The play complicates, then wonderfully untangles, these relationships. 


'Tis the season to read Shakespeare! The twelfth day of Christmas, or twelfth night, will soon be upon us. To be more specific, it is this Tuesday, January 5th. This play was believed to have been written as a drama for celebrations hosted by Queen Elizabeth, for the end of the Christmas season. In the happy spirit of the season, this is a comedy, which means it has a happy ending and thankfully, the body count is very low. Put more bluntly, the body count is ZERO. This is also the first comedy I have covered here! If you've been here a little while, you know I love Shakespeare's plays, and if you caught my Top 5: Favorite Shakespeare Plays post from back in 2019, you also know that Twelfth Night is my second favorite play. 

I actually read this play last year, around the same time of the year, for the Shakespeare 2020 challenge, but I hadn't yet started doing this feature. I thought I would go ahead it....yet again....specifically to post this review up in time for this year's twelfth night. This is actually the fourth or fifth time I have read the play, so....clearly I am fond of it. Let's discuss why. 

Twelfth Night is a play centered on courtship and mistaken identity. Two twins, a boy and a girl, were on a ship. The ship was sunk in a storm and both twins survived, but they were separated. Therefore, both believe the other to be dead. Instead, both twins wash up on different shores and end up having a strange adventure of sorts in a place called Illyria. We first meet Viola, the twin sister of Sebastian. She survives the wreck and is aided by a Captain. His name in the play is literally Captain. Viola is in mourning for her brother and finds out she isn't the only one. A countess named Olivia has recently lost her own brother and is deep in mourning for him. Viola thinks it would be great to work for her, but Olivia will see no one. Instead, Viola disguises herself as a man and goes to work as a page for a man named Duke Orsino.

Orsino has been unsuccessfully courting Olivia, and when Viola becomes his right hand message deliverer to her household, things get very messy. Between Olivia falling for Viola and the drunken antics of Olivia's uncle, there is a lot of humor to be found. Meanwhile, Viola ends up having feelings for the Duke, so that is a big muddle to be in. Viola's brother, Sebastian, gets assistance from a man named Antonio who is not liked by certain households in Illyria and eventually the twins have their identities mixed up, causing even more humorous situations. This play is honestly just a big bundle of fun. 

Why has this story lasted so long? 

Well, cross-dressing/hidden identity plots are still funny, for starters. Trying to find out ways to keep your identity secret while not messing up too many situations is very fun to observe. Also hiding without lying in the case of this play. Many times Viola says things to Olivia that indirectly are the truth about her situation, even though they don't give away her secret entirely. If you know the secret, it is obvious, and if you don't, then it won't automatically give it away. It boils down to masterful word use and I love it. 

There are a few memorable quotes from this play, which many people may recognize, even if they have never read it or heard of it. 
  • "If music be the food of love, play on/ Give me excess of it; that surfeiting/The appetite may sicken, and so die." (Act 1, Scene 1)
  • "Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em." (Act 2, Scene 5)
  • "Love sought is good, but given unsought better." (Act 3, Scene 1)
There are also humorous scenes. For example, the scene in which Olivia's steward, Malvolio, is tricked by his fellow servants of the house and Olivia's drunken uncle into thinking Olivia loves him. They make him look more a fool than the actual fool. The trick lasts a long time and I always laugh at how stupid they make him appear. I also really enjoy the eventual duel that occurs between Sebastian and Sir Andrew, when Sir Andrew believed he was going to be fighting Viola in disguise (under the name Cesario). He gets more than he bargained for and I always appreciate it. 

The characters are either relatable or memorable, as are the themes. Being in love is still a regular feeling that arises in people. Love still makes people do some silly things. Mourning is an act present in our lives, so the sadness of Viola and Olivia at familial loss is relatable. There are a couple of drunks who don't behave as well as they are expected to and these days people still find videos of drunken people funny. Pranks are also popular and this play has a doozy of a prank. I think there is a character for everyone to enjoy in this play, either to laugh at, or relate to. There's the guy who just won't take a hint, the girl who hides her feelings, and the friend who thinks he has a shot with a beautiful girl despite being a lackluster suitor overall. We've seen these kinds of people in our media, stories, and lives. Times, custom, and language change, but human nature doesn't. 

In case you don't believe me about how enjoyable this play can be, you can check out some movies that were inspired by it, such as the comedy She's The Man or the Disney Channel original movie, Motocrossed. I have seen and enjoyed both. The plot of the popular manga/anime Ouran High School Host Club also plays with the idea of a girl pretending to be a guy, so clearly this is a relatively popular plot situation to have, in many parts of the world. I'm not sure why I find the plot device of a girl having to pretend to be a guy funny, but every instance of it I have seen has been super amusing (ex: Mulan [1998]). I also really enjoy stories about mistaken identities because of all the confusion that ensues with them. 

I definitely recommend this play or an adapted version of it. I think it has a lot of fun in store and people who would never want to read a Shakespeare play could easily enjoy the base points of the story. I have read it at the beginning of the year for many years and will most likely continue to do so as a personal tradition. I give Twelfth Night a Lone Star rating of ✯✯✯✯. It is a treat and doesn't get nearly as much attention as I think it should. Shakespeare isn't all about tragedy, even though his tragedies are some of the most commonly taught plays in schools. Happiness and love are just as important as revenge and power struggles. 

This concludes the fourth Shakespeare Saturday here at The Real World According To Sam, where I bring the books to your screen and even put in my own two cents on them. 

If you'd like to see more, let me know! I accept recommendations, review requests, and critiques!

See you at the next review and have a happy twelfth night of Christmas!