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Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night – Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ontario

Sir Toby


 

“If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken and so die.”   (Act I, Scene 1)

These are the opening lines of Twelfth Night or What You Will, which is now playing in Stratford, Ontario. Shakespeare has always been a psychoanalytic favorite.  His wide variety of plays has fired the imaginations of English professors and psychoanalysts and “ordinary people,” as universal dilemmas and truths are addressed.  The Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center has a rich history of discussing Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. This dates back some time when Bill Adams, M.D., psychoanalyst, teamed up first with Bob Bamberg, PhD, then Joe Wagner, PhD, and finally with Bart Friedman, PhD as English Professors. There would be discussion groups in Applied Analysis offered through the Extension Division of the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Society.  A wide variety of people would come together once/week for eight weeks or so and discuss a play.  Participants would include Rachel Baker, M.D., Russ Weisman, M.D., Ed Schiff, M.D., Ruth Hall, Joanne Naegele, Hilton Landry, Sue and Howard Tucker and a myriad of other participants.

For those willing to travel to Stratford this summer/fall a feast will be before your eyes and in your ears. You will need to make your own psychoanalytic assumptions and interpretations about the play. These comments will serve as an introduction to the treat in which you will partake and just might stimulate your psychoanalytic imagination.

The production of Twelfth Night is under the creative direction of Des McAnuff, who is in his fourth year as Artistic Director at Stratford.  Not only is this a Shakespearean Comedy but a modern day musical as well.  The sets are spectacular in the large, accommodating Festival Theater. Not only is it an artistic triumph but the revels, folly and madness of life are presented in the characters.

In the story Orsino, Duke of Illyria, pines away with unrequited love for the Countess Olivia. It is a case of falling in love at first sight:

Duke: “…when mine eyes did see Olivia first,

Methought she purg’d the air of pestilence!

That instant was I turn’d into a hart,

And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,

‘E’re since pursue me.”        (Act I, Scene 1 )

But this Countess Olivia has shut herself up at home, due to mourning for her dead brother, into whose care she was given after the death of her father.  It may be a case of double mourning.  Nonetheless, she will have no one, beautiful woman that she is.  As such, she becomes the object of desire of many. Olivia’s Uncle, Toby Belch, arrives on the scene appalled by his niece’s point of view.

Sir Toby:  “What a plague means my niece to take the death of her brother thus?

I am sure care’s an enemy to life.” (Act I, Scene 3)

Sir Toby, as played by the noted actor Brian Dennehy, is a raucous character.  Sir Toby is an unemployed knight who depends on largess from his wealthy niece. In a way he nearly steals the show with his enjoyment of life, mischief and making sport of friends.  He tried to get his “friend in crime,” Sir Andrew Aguecheek, to court Olivia, but to no avail.

Sir Toby’s nemesis is Malvolio, steward to Olivia.  He has charge of Olivia’s household.  Foolish, though no fool, he stands in opposition to what Sir Toby stands for.  He tries to squash the merrymakers in their late night revels.

Malvolio: “My masters, are you mad?  Or what are you?  Have you no wits, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night?  Do ye make an ale-house of my lady’s house,  that ye squeak out your coziers’ catches without any mitigation or remorse of voice?  Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time, in you?”   (Act II, Scene 3)  There is a certain melancholy running underneath the lines of this Comedy and as the play continues it will become more evident.

In Shakespeare’s comedies there is always someone plotting to make a fool of someone, with the plotters behind bushes or curtains to enjoy their mischief. Malvolio is led to play the fool, by finding a forged letter, planted by Olivia’s waiting woman, Maria.  It is supposed to make him think that Olivia loves him, that she has dropped this letter for him and instructs him that she wishes him to smile all the time and to dress in “yellow stockings cross-gartered” to show that he loves her.  He takes the bait and makes a fool of himself. It nearly drives him to madness.

In the midst of all this, a very major part of the plot is unfolding and has to do with twins, Viola and Sebastian.  It wouldn’t be Shakespeare without twins on his mind. A shipwreck has occurred and the twins fear that each other has been drowned.  In reality each was washed up on separate parts of the coast.  Each believes the other is dead and must contend with their mourning. Viola and Sebastian are young adults, nearly identical in looks, slender, good looking and with blond hair.  Viola vows to have the Captain who saves her at sea, present her to the Duke as a eunich who would work for him.  She dresses as a man, looks very much like her “assumed-dead” brother.  Her mourning, in this case, takes the form of assuming the look of the lost loved one, who seems to be a part of herself. She takes the name of “Cesario,” as in caesarean section, and is so employed.

The Duke takes “Cesario” into his service and into his confidence.  He gives him the mission of attempting to “court” Olivia for him.

Duke to Viola/Cesario: “Stand you awhile aloof, Cesario,

Thou know’st no less but all; I have unclasp’d

To thee the book even of my secret soul.

Therefore, good youth, address thy gait unto her;

Be not denied access, stand at her doors,

And tell them there thy fixed foot shall grow

Till thou have an audience.”         (Act I, Scene 4)

Olivia will have none of the Dukes overtures…but she is intrigued by his messenger, Cesario, and begins to fall in love with him/her.

Olivia:  “Methinks I feel this youth’s perfections

With an invisible and subtle stealth

To creep in at mine eyes.  Well, let it be.”     (Act I, Scene 5)

The folly, the mischief, the merriment, the intrigue all develop. Viola/Cesario, while being openly courted as a man by Olivia, she herself, as a woman, has fallen in love with the Duke, her employer.  She thinks about her state with Olivia in the following lines:

Viola/Cesario: “My master loves her dearly,

And I, poor monster, fond as much on him;

And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me.

What will become of this?  As I am man,

My state is desperate for my master’s love;

As I am woman—now alas the day—

What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!

O Time, thou must untangle this, not I;

It is too hard a knot for me t’ untie!”  (Act II, Scene 2)

Meanwhile, in a very displaced and indirect way Viola tells the Duke of her love of him.

Viola: “My father had a daughter lov’d a man,

As it might be perhaps, were I a woman,

Should I your lordship.”

Duke: “What’s her history?”

Viola: “A blank, my lord.  She never told her love,

But let concealment, like a worm i’ th’ bud,

Feed on her damask cheek.  She pin’d in thought;

She sat like Patience on a monument,

Smiling at grief.        (Act II, Scene 4.)

What great lines Shakespeare presents to us! Patience on a monument is such a visual image.  You can see her on an imagined cemetery tombstone, frozen in time.

Sebastian, the “lost” twin of Viola arrives on the scene.  Olivia spots him, thinking he is his “look-alike,” Viola/Cesario, and professes her love. Sebastian is puzzled but responsive:

Sebastian: “What relish is in this? How runs the stream?

Or I am mad, or else this is a dream.

Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep;

If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!”

Olivia:  “Nay, come, I prithee. Would thou’dst be rul’d by me!”

Sebastian: “Madam, I will.”

Olivia:  “O, say so, and so be!”                     (Act IV, Scene 1)

And then comes the happy ending.  Sebastian and Viola reunite, each realizing the other is not dead. The Duke considers all of this and wants to be part of the action.

Duke: “Be not amaz’d; right noble is his blood;

If this be so, as yet the glass seems true,

I shall have a share in this most happy wreck.

(To Viola) Boy, thou hast said to me a thousand times

Thou never shouldst love woman like to me.”

Viola: “And all those sayings will I overswear;

And all those swearings keep as true in soul

As doth that orbed continent the fire

That severs day from night.”

Duke: “Give me thy hand;

And let me see thee in thy woman’s weeds.”        (Act V, Scene 1)

And then on to the happy ending.  Sebastian and Viola reunite, realizing the other is not dead.  The Duke plans to marry Viola.  The only one without a happy ending is Malvolio who declares, “I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you.” (Act 5, Scene 1)

And so a rendition of life and love, of folly and mystery, of deceits and longings await anyone who views this magnificent production of Twelfth Night at Stratford, Ontario. The Clown ends the play singing this song of nostalgia:

“When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With a hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.

 

But when I came to man’s estate,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

‘Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,

For the rain it raineth every day.

 

But when I came, alas! to wive,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

By swaggering could I never thrive,

For the rain it raineth every day.

 

But when I came unto my beds,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

With toss-pots still had drunken heads,

For the rain it raineth every day.

 

A great while ago the world begun,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

But that’s all one, our play is done,

And we’ll strive to please you every day.”  (Act V, Scene 1)

Twelfth NightIMPRESSIONS

Perhaps those who have seen this production might like to post their impressions. For me, psychoanalytic ideas were replete throughout this play. Here are a few of my thoughts.   First of all, is there such a thing as love at first sight?  If so, how do you resolve it?  And why does it happen?  (The Duke has fallen in love with Olivia at first sight and she will not have him.  The Duke is seeking an unreachable object.)  This is not an unusual theme for Shakespeare. It happens as well in Romeo and Juliet.  In Act II, Scene 2, Romeo delays his departure from Juliet’s balcony after their mutual declaration of love at first sight. “Good night, good night!  Parting is such sweet sorrow

That I shall say good night til it be morrow.”

Mourning is a major theme in Twelfth Night.  Olivia has put her life on hold.  She has first lost a father and now a brother.  She intends to make herself unavailable for seven years.  Isn’t this the length of time that needs to be up before a missing person is declared dead? So what nudges her out of this state?  She falls in love with a man/woman!  This is a curious resolution.  Why for her does it work?

Mourning is again involved in the Viola/Sebastian twinship.  The female twin thinks her brother is lost and so she dresses like him and wishes to be presented as a eunuch.  Is this what she feels she is with her brother dead—a castrated male?  Does she don his clothes in an attempt to become him, to keep him alive as herself? How can being re-united with him make her whole again?  It does.  She can now return to being the woman she is and aspire to marry the Duke.

The characters are so beautifully drawn—the unemployed knight who must wile away his days in a state of ennui—making mischief.  The men excited by the mischief of the maid.  It makes two men wish to marry her.  The conflicts presented in this play are grist for the mill of everyday psychoanalytic work within ourselves and with our patients.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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