Twelfth Night

Front cover of the 1531 play Gli ingannati
Front cover of
the 1531 play Gli ingannati
On Twelfth Night, January 5th, 1576, in Siena, Italy,1 a play called The Deceived (Gl'Ingannati), overseen by commedia dell'arte master Alessandro Piccolomini, was performed, as was the custom for the occasion over the previous 45 years. In attendance at this performance was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, who would borrow the basic plot for his own play, Twelfth Night, first performed at court not long after some of the ancillary plots were written as commentary on personal events that took place during the 1580's.

In addition to the A plot—Male and female twins are separated; the female disguises herself as a male, and is enlisted in the service of a nobleman, who has her woo a noblewoman on his behalf. The noblewoman falls in love with the female disguised as a male, who, in turn, has fallen in love with the nobleman she is serving. The plot is resolved when the long-lost twin brother shows up—de Vere created a convoluted B plot, to roast some of his friends and skewer some of his rivals at court.

Jake Walker as Feste
Jake Walker as Feste
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
And in a deft coup d'maître, he employed a sober and sharp-tongued fool, Feste (Jake Walker), to parry and cajole, reflect, and, most eloquently, sing five period madrigals accompanying himself on the lute. In the exquisitely presented production now running at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, director Philip Sneed has given Feste a few additional atmospheric riffs to serve as segues. Indeed, the most famous line of the play, which appears in the first or second scene (depending on the placement of the storm and shipwreck), underscores the importance of music in the world of love:

"If music be the food of love, play on!"
—Orsino, I, ii
Walker shines as both the witty and sarcastic clown and the poetic and mellifluous troubadour. Sneed's choice to use all five of the original madrigals, plus interstitial lute instrumentals, envelops the story in a musical aesthetic capable of resolving the story in a way that words cannot—a rare feat that, alone, puts this production in a class of its own.

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford
The Marcus Gheeraedts portrait
of an elderly Edward de Vere,
the 17th Earl of Oxford
Like Feste's relationship with his mistress Oliva, throughout his career, de Vere was Queen Elizabeth's "allowed fool." Over and over, she turned down de Vere's entreaties for military and commercial appointments, yet, eventually, paid him more handsomely than anyone else on her annuities list (save for James of Scotland, who succeeded her on the throne, and Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Elizabeth and Britain's chief spymaster for 17 years), to write histories that served, along with the pulpit, as the principle tools for state propaganda.

Despite the generally sketchy records of Elizabethan theatrical performances,2—with court records often only noting the names of the troupes that performed, and not the names of the plays, which in any case were often re-titled before they were performed on the public stage—many academicians take the surviving records as the complete record, leading them to characterize second and third revivals of the most popular plays as the premieres. Such speculation can only pass itself off as plausible in the vacuum of any interpersonal and historical authorial context, that is, the virtually groundless case for the Stratford man as a candidate for authorship; otherwise, the satirical and strongly biographical commentary in Twelfth Night, concerning specific events that took place a quarter of a century earlier, would seem hopelessly out of date in the Stratfordian timeline, not to mention a few Euphuistic references, which also appear in the play, that likewise appear anachronistic when shoehorned into the Stratfordian mythological construct.

Kate Berry as Viola (diguised as Cesario)
Kate Berry as Viola
(diguised as Cesario)
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
For example, the order and disposition of Olivia's suitors—in Orsino's stead, first a rejected go-between and then Viola disguised as Cesario—faithfully follows the 1578-79 comings and goings of the ambassadors sent from the French court regarding the marriage of Elizabeth on behalf of François de Valois, the Duke of Alençon, brother to the king, who were dismissed and then followed by the entreaties of Jean de Simier, to whom the queen took a fancy.

In addition, in the play, Oliva presides over a household of characters who represent key antagonists and protagonists in de Vere's life at that time (1579), including de Vere's sister Mary (Maria), her rollicking husband, Peregrine Bertie (Sir Toby Belch),3 and Bertie's dearest friend, Sir Philip Sidney (Sir Andrew Aguecheek).

Logan Ernstthal as Sir Toby Belch and Leslie O'Carroll as Maria
Logan Ernstthal as Sir Toby Belch
and Leslie O'Carroll as Maria
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
Sidney's rigid concept of time sequencing in poetry and drama made him a pointed critic of de Vere's imaginative stagings, an enmity that spilled over into a tennis court spat and challenge for a duel. The queen put de Vere under house arrest to keep him away from Sidney. From de Vere's point of view, Sidney was too cowardly to face him man-to-man, behaving much the same as Aguecheek, who runs from the thought of crossing swords with Cesario. The imbroglio is also referenced in Hamlet by Polonius (William Cecil, Lord Burghley, de Vere's one-time guardian and eventual father-in-law, whose pithy sayings he assiguously repeated in Polonius' famous advice to his son [Robert Cecil]: "To thine own self be true ...," "Neither a borrower nor a lender be ...", etc.).

Jamie Ann Romero as Fabian and Ian Andersen as Sir Andrew Aguecheek
Jamie Ann Romero as Fabian
and Ian Andersen as Sir Andrew Aguecheek
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
Another de Vere rival at court was Sir Christopher Hatton, a clever, well-polished politician, who came down on the opposite side of the proposed Alençon marriage as well as a number of other issues. An early draft of Twelfth Night that focused on Hatton—described as "a pleasant conceit of Vere, earl of Oxford, discontented at the rising of a mean gentleman in the English court, circa 1580," by the antiquarian Francis Peck, in 17324—apparently did not survive, but the character to which Peck refers is Malvolio. By locking him (Hatton/Malvolio) up, de Vere (through Feste) is able to get in his digs in regarding the brutal treatment of the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion (to whom Feste refers as a "hermit of Prague who never saw pen and ink"), one of de Vere's commencement speakers at Oxford in 1566, who was abused and tried for his loyalty to the Church of Rome. Malvolio wants what Campion was denied:

Good fool, as ever thou wilt deserve well at my hand, help me to a candle and pen, ink, and paper ... Fool, there was never man so notoriously abused. I am as well in my wits, fool, as thou art.
—Malvolio, IV, ii
Geoffrey Kent as Orsino and Kate Berry as Viola disguised as Cesario
Geoffrey Kent as Orsino and
Kate Berry as Viola disguised as Cesario
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
At the core of Twelfth Night's love story is the triangle between Viola disguised as Cesario (Kate Berry), Orsino, Duke of Illyria (Geoffrey Kent), and Olivia, a countess (Rachel Fowler). Oliva is in mourning for her father and her brother, who have recently died, and will have nothing to do with Orsino, who hopes to fare better by sending Cesario in his stead; instead, Oliva falls for Cesario, an eloquent and courtly young man, or so she thinks. Viola's disguise, which she had donned to hide her situation—that of a single woman in a foreign land, following a shipwreck in which she presumes her brother, Sebastian, perished—prevents her from honestly responding to Olivia's overtures. Likewise, Viola is prevented from expressing her attraction to Orsino, who has made Cesario (or so he thinks) his confidant.

Sneed has taken great care in helping his actors find the details that will, by-and-by, give the outcome plausibility. Despite Orsino's bittersweet longing for Olivia's attentions, Kent finds an easy-going jocularity with Berry's Cesario, while Berry is wonderfully torn between her strong attraction for Orsino and her need to remain incognito. Contrapositively, Berry's exasperation at Olivia's demonstrative advances is similarly delightful. Seeing Fowler go from ashen mourning to gushing, girlish infatuation sends the audience into conniptions, while Kent plants a surprising kiss on his confidant, following an impassioned monologue by Berry. The sexual subtext is more convoluted than a maze on an English estate.

Timothy McCracken as Malvolio
Timothy McCracken as Malvolio
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
The mischief of the B plot also involves mistaken identity, but not of a person, rather the author of a letter. The letter by which Malvolio (Hatton) is made to look like a fool in front of everyone is signed "The Fortunate Unhappy," an English reversal of Hatton's Latin motto, Felix Infortunatus ("the happy unfortunate"). It is written by Maria (to emulate Olivia's hand and manner), on behalf of Belch, Aguecheek, Fabian (another servant), and herself, in revenge for Malvolio's snide, bullying behavior.

The motley crew of Logan Ernstthal (Belch), Ian Anderson (Aguecheek), Leslie O'Carroll (Maria), and Jamie Ann Romero (Fabian)—make for lively entertainment while the nobles stumble along, hoping to find their proper mates. That issue can only be resolved if Sebastian (Josh Robinson) shows up. At the time the events in the play take place (advanced at this point to the 1580's), King Sebastian of Portugal had disappeared leading an ill-advised crusade against Morocco. It was a strong wish on the part of the English that Sebastian would show up and prevent the Spanish from seizing Portugal, consolidating their navies, and laying waste to Britain. When it appeared that Sebastian was indeed lost, a pretender to the throne, Antonio, was supported by Elizabeth's court. Here, Antonio (Stephen Weitz) is a worldly and loyal sea captain who befriends Sebastian and eases the shipwrecked lad's entrance into Illyrian society. (Step back for a minute and consider the elegance of this metaphor as it was first presented at court, when it was still topical, not in 1602 when it first made it to the public stage, which Stratfordians assume to be a woefully out-of-date premiere!)

Rachel Fowler as Olivia and Josh Robinson as Sebastian
Rachel Fowler as Olivia
and Josh Robinson as Sebastian
Photo: P. Switzer ©2012
Robinson can hardly contain his glee when, for reasons unknown to Sebastian, Olivia invites him to her bed. As the proceedings draw to a close, Sneed's strong musical thread provides the catalyst for a perfect, crowning synthesis of plot and song.

About the only things the production gets wrong are some notes in the program guide, overemphasizing the contrast (in the B plot) between the Dionysian Belch and the Apollonian Malvolio, which, as we see on the stage, in Sneed's melodious finale, are eminently reconcilable. Clearly, the playwright enjoyed his cups, yet possessed one of the most disciplined minds in Europe. This "us versus them" perspective has made its way into local commentary on the play, positing that the Dionysian vs. Apollonian motif is being played out today in Europe as represented by Greece vs. Germany in the financial crisis. This metaphor would only be valid if the present financial system were a legitimate and sane means of measuring anything other than the depravity of those who control it. It is nothing more than a worn-out trick used to subject the world to debt-slavery and artificially manipulated events and information through a corporate banking pyramid.

If money were restored to a sovereign function, and nations no longer had to pay interest to the money changers to bring their currency into circulation, Germany and Greece could thrive, each in their own way. Of course, Germany will have to give up being the bully for the central bankers' Euro scam, by which they mean to destroy sovereign currency. Wouldn't you know it that the arguments for the Stratford man and the central bankers would get tied up together. Apparently, by ignoring the incredible depth and breadth of knowledge in the Shakespearean canon and attributing it to a fellow who couldn't spell his own name the same way twice, we would somehow be content in believing that our present educational system—wholly compromised by censorship, groupthink, and corporate puppets—is adequate. Who is it, do you think, that benefits from dumbing down the masses? Why do you suppose they fear the consequences of a world in which we all had the marvelous education afforded Oxford? Part of the necessary changes required at the present crossroads of human evolution is the jettisoning of dogmas designed to obfuscate the truth and protect those whose position and power is illfounded and misappropriated.

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's production of Twelfth Night runs through August 4th, in repertory with Richard III, Noises Off, Treasure Island, and Women of Will. 303-492-0554 or

Bob Bows

1 Among the the many fine pieces of art in the cathedral in Siena is a circular mosaic representing the proverbial "Seven Ages of Man," a description of which found its way into As You Like It.
2 For many seasons, all we have is the name of the troupes that performed, not the names of the plays, which, in any case, were often changed before they were performed in the public theatres.
3Peregrine Bertie and Mary de Vere's courtship and early marriage are satirized in The Taming of the Shrew. Twelfth Night provides a sequel, of sorts. Like Maria, Mary was a lady-in-waiting, to Elizabeth. Maria is greated in her first scene by, "Bless you, fair shrew." Bertie brags she is tamed: "She's a beagle true bred and one that adores me."
4 Mark Anderson, Shakespeare by Another Name, Gotham Books, 2005, p. 154.


Current Reviews | Home | Webmaster