12 - Saturday 14 July 2007
15 July 2007
Orsino David Gardner
Curio Ann Duarte
Valentine Jane Mayfield
Officer Cliff Burgess
Viola Barbara Salmon
Sebastian Sarah Eynstone
Captain Cliff Burgess
Antonio Graham Fitzgerald
Olivia Margaret Pritchard
Maria Judy Burgess
Sir Toby Belch Moray Jones
Sir Andrew Aguecheek Simon Malpas
Malvolio Matthew Stevens
Fabian Maddalena Schiavon
Feste Bill Risebero
Servant Jane Mayfield
Priest Stephen Tucker
Designer / Technical Director Margaret Willmer
Stage Manager Ann Duarte
Music composition, advice and training Barbara Alden
Music also composed by Stephen Berryman
Lighting Rebecca Siddall
Sound Joanna Siddall
IN THE WINGS - TWELFTH NIGHT
music be the food of love play on '
Or perhaps it's the comedy centred on another of Shakespeare's more or less loveable rogues, Sir Toby Belch. Or perhaps it's the music, for this play has many references to music and some of Shakespeare's best songs, O mistress mine', Come away death', and When that I was an a little tiny boy'. Or perhaps you wonder how the darker moments will be handled in an otherwise sunlit drama. In the library of Windsor castle there is a copy of the Second Folio of Shakespeare's plays which belonged to Charles 1. Charles has altered the titles of some of the plays to suit his preferences. Twelfth Night is renamed Malvolio. The character of Malvolio and the trick that is played on him, where it is hard to discern the line between comedy and cruelty, can seem to overshadow the rest of the play; just so his final line, I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you,' threatens to upset the harmonious couplings at the end.
All these things are memorable in Twelfth Night what is less memorable is the not infrequent references to matters ecclesiastical. Christianity is there somewhat unexpectedly in the wings of this comedy, though it is less obtrusive than in Hamlet. Often it is wrapped up in the comedic prose where the many obscure words and contemporary references pass us by, unless we're reading a text with copious explanatory notes. As in Hamlet, there are several discussions about death and its aftermath after all the plot hinges on the fact that the virtually identical brother and sister Sebastian and Viola each think that the other is dead, while Olivia spends part of the play in mourning for her really dead brother. But in addition and unusually for Shakespeare there are references to contemporary Church politics. Maria describes Malvolio as a sort of Puritan and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, says rather obscurely that he would rather be a Brownist than a politician. Parish churches and the old religious customs of so called Merry England feature not infrequently in Sir Toby's humour, most memorably in his famous line addressed to Malvolio, Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?' - a reference to the celebration of religious festivities. And then of course there is the title of the play, Twelfth Night or What you Will.' Why did Shakespeare choose such a title what expectations should it set up as the action begins?
It used to be the case that critics concentrated on the timeless poetry of Shakespeare, analysing the subtle interplay of its imagery and symbolism; then came the puzzling period of post structuralism and deconstruction when the text was severed entirely from its context and could come to mean virtually anything the critic wanted it to mean. More recently this has been replaced with a new historicism - there are interesting parallels in Gospel criticism here. New historicism puts the text right back in its context so much so that the poetry almost disappears in the search for coded historical messages. The author is restored to life and the plays become the main source of his elusive biography. So, for example, the meaning of Coriolanus is determined by corn riots in the Midlands in 1607.
As we look at Christianity in the wings in Twelfth Night I want to describe for you one of the most recent extreme historical de-codings of the play and then to suggest a more moderate account of the ideas at play under the surface. Biographies of Shakespeare cannot now ignore the debate about his possible Catholicism. The evidence is elusive and uncertain, but that hasn't prevented Clare Asquith from writing a book about the hidden beliefs and coded politics of William Shakespeare' entitled Shadowplay.' She sets Twelfth Night in the context of Catholic politics at the end of Elizabeth's reign the play was written sometime between 1600 and 1601 the first performance that we know of being held at the Middle Temple on Feb 2nd 1602.
This is the period of the so called Appellant crisis. The English Catholics were divided between those who supported an extreme anti establishment position encouraged by Jesuit missionaries, and those who were prepared to remain loyal to the crown if they were allowed to practice their faith in peace. This second group was supported by the secular priests (ie they were not part of any religious order), who believed that Elizabeth could be persuaded to introduce greater religious toleration. When the Pope appointed George Blackwell as archpriest to unify the English mission in 1598, the secular priests took offence believing he was a Jesuit sympathiser. They appealed to Rome to cancel the appointment hence they were called Appellants because they believed it would only cause more trouble. They were allowed by Elizabeth's ministers to publish numerous pamphlets attacking the Jesuits, papal authority and political resistance. The foreign seminaries responded in kind. English Catholics continued to appeal to the Pope in 1601 and 1602 with the support of the French ambassador. Eventually they won Blackwell over to their side, when in 1603, the year Elizabeth died, he repudiated the use of political means for the conversion of England. Unfortunately for them the religious toleration, which the Queen's advisers had allowed them to think might be forthcoming, never was forthcoming then or in James 1's reign.
It is in this context Clare Asquith sees Twelfth Night as a last ditch appeal to the Queen for toleration. She reads many things into the play which there isn't time to go into; her main argument is that Olivia represents the Queen, who wore black and, like Olivia mourning the death of her brother, led a cloistered life after the Essex rebellion in 1600 and the execution of her one time favourite; Malvolio represents one of Elizabeth's chief Protestant/puritan advisers, William Knollys, comptroller of the household; Orsino bears a name very similar to that of an Italian nobleman Don Virginio Orsini, from a family of Popes, Cardinals and bishops, who visited Elizabeth's court on 6th January 1601; Orsino himself is shown as rather decadent, complacent and unreliable like the Catholic monarchs who failed to help the English Catholics there is even a reference to Orsino's ships having been defeated in a sea battle stirring memories of the Armada; Sir Toby represents the reactionary Catholic gentry, who persecuted the Protestants under Queen Mary; Aguecheek represents the vacillating Catholic nobility who conform for the sake of a quiet life but are unable to let go of the old traditions; Viola (who has to disguise herself) and Sebastian represent the good Catholics at home and in exile waiting to be reunited; Illyria represents Catholic Europe while Olivia's household represents England, where Elizabeth the head of the household is refusing to have anything to do with Catholic Europe. The play pays compliments to the Queen's famously elegant Italianate handwriting; Feste's references to her as Madonna recalls the cult of the virgin queen, who on her marriage had promised to marry but by now was leaving the state without an heir Viola's reproach to Olivia that she is in danger of failing to pass on her beauty to her offspring by not marrying, has a royal resonance. Throughout the drama Shakespeare is apparently trying to say to the Queen that she should lift the penal laws against the Catholics and recall the exiles so that everyone could live happily ever after. Further he suggests that the Queen is a victim of the Reformation she is beguiled by her Protestant advisers as Olivia is taken in by Malvolio. The Queen's proper instincts are revealed when Olivia chooses to be married in a chantry and calls the priest, Father'. And the man she marries, Sebastian, represents the English Catholics stranded abroad and longing to come home. Echoes of the Appellant controversy are heard in the fight between Viola and Aguecheek a totally manufactured squabble. Viola's real role has been to woo Olivia for Orsino, the symbol of the universal church and when Viola eventually marries Orsino herself it is as though the disguised English Catholics are able to reveal their real loyalty to the Pope. At the end, England and Rome are in their proper relationship of brother-in-law and sister-in-law. This it seems is the ornamented Chinese box' of a play which only the Queen could fully unlock whilst her subjects enjoyed the hilarious topicality of the comic plot.
The fundamental problem in believing any of this is the fact that Shakespeare's own Catholicism is by no means firmly established and even if he had Catholic sympathies there is no evidence that they went so deep as to lead him to indulge in such improbable political fantasies as this. Such decodings of Shakespeare are it seems to me an insult to his intelligence and of that we have ample evidence. Such attempts at historical reading ignore the much more nuanced resonances of Shakespearean poetic imagery as we shall see in a moment, when I shall argue that the Catholic references are part of the hinterland of religious sensitivities in Elizabethan England which Protestantism had been unable to deface in the way in which Catholic imagery had been defaced. Nevertheless, there are some historical references in Twelfth Night which may well affect our understanding of the play and knowledge of which may be helpful in advising actors how to present their characters. There is a sense of tension in the play which might be termed religious, except that Shakespeare had to be very wary of the censor. In 1589 a censorship commission had been created to strike out or reform such parts and matters as they shall find unfit and indecent to be handled in plays, both for divinity and state.' So we are left with a play which at one level is negotiating and commenting on religious sensitivities, and at the same time making use of traditional Catholic imagery which the reformation had failed to stamp out. It used to be thought that Catholicism in England before the reformation was a superstitious and exhausted faith waiting for a more vibrant, personal and relevant preaching to bring about its natural demise. Now we know better.
Shakespeare's comedies are full of benign Catholic minor clergy, priests and friars, as though they were part of a world we straightforwardly know even if by the end of the 16th century it was becoming a part of old England. Twelfth Night refers to Olivia in convent terms: like a cloistress she will veiled walk and water once a day her chamber round with eye offending brine.' Olivia is married to Sebastian by a priest she refers to as Father who conducts the wedding service in a nearby chantry. But this is evidence only of a residual yet colourful Catholic imagery, which evokes another time and space. More provocative is the title of the play, Twelfth Night or What you Will.' It is possible that What you Will' was the original working title which had to be modified when John Marston brought out a play of that name shortly before Shakespeare completed his own. He then added Twelfth night to his own title. We now think of What you Will' as a sub title but no other Shakespeare play has a sub title so perhaps the two should properly go together. So what's in the name? Is it a throw away line as in As you like it' or is there more? Does what you will' imply make of it what you like' or is it an indication that the play is about the use of the will what people will or desire for themselves, or who or what they choose to be? As we shall see Malvolio's name means ill will' so perhaps there is something more subtly allusive about the first title. And what are we to make of Twelfth Night? Traditionally the evening of Jan 5th was associated with a variety of customs; there was a special cake in which a bean was hidden the person who received the slice containing the bean became Lord of the revels or Festus is Feste in some sense the lord of these revels? It was a night for wassail, and the singing of drinking carols. There is a lot of alcohol in the play, most of it going down Sir Toby's throat. In cathedrals the hierarchy was turned upside down with the election from among the choristers of a boy bishop. The play is about disguise and misrepresentation and the aspirations of a servant. Christmas generally was a period in which it used to be believed that the ghosts of dead relatives would return to inspect their former homes. In the play a brother and sister who think each other dead are reunited. How much of this would still be known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, I haven't been able to check but it is suggestive at least, remembering Toby Belch's argument with Malvolio about cakes and ale. (Act 2: 3)
Which brings us finally to what may be a much more plausible rendering of the religious debate in Twelfth Night if we reject the Catholic decoding of Claire Asquith. Maria refers to Malvolio as a kind of Puritan.' In this period that can mean a variety of things; a kill joy, a moral pedant, a precisionist in religious matters, someone who separates himself from the impurity of others. The title emerges in common use in the 1570ies referring generally to the English Protestants who were unhappy with the Elizabethan settlement and wanted further reform in a Presbyterian direction. They wanted the church to be purified of what they regarded as unscriptural and corrupt forms and ceremonies. The title, however, was one used by their opponents and not by themselves. Shakespeare refers to Puritans on two other occasions; once in All's Well Though honesty be no puritan yet it will do no hurt it will wear the surplice of humility over the black gown of a big heart'; and once in A Winter's Tale where the Puritan among the shearers sings psalms to hornpipes.
Elsewhere in Twelfth Night we find a reference to an extreme Puritan grouping known as the Brownists. Andrew Aguecheek says in relation to the possibility of his fight with Viola it must be with valour, for policy I hate. I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician.' By policy and politician he means intrigue or clever stratagem he would not have been surprised by spin. By Brownist he means the followers of a sect begun by Robert Browne in 1581 in Norwich. Browne soon had to move to Holland to avoid persecution. His writings gained a notoriety throughout England, one of them was entitled A treatise of reformation without tarrying for any'. His aim was to set up congregations as near to a New Testament model as possible. He came back to the Church of England and was from 1586-1591 master of St Olave's school Southwark, so in some sense he might have been a local celebrity for Shakespeare.
context of this debate it is interesting to note the arrangements for Olivia's
wedding. (Act 5, sc 1, ll 154 ff) To us that seems uncontroversial. To many
in the audience of that production in the Middle Temple it would be known
to be controversial. The use of a ring in marriage was one of the customs
that Puritans objected to. Brownists held that only a civil marriage ceremony
was necessary. In Book V of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity published in
1597, Richard Hooker defends the use of wedding rings against the attack made
by the Puritan divine, Thomas Cartwright. In describing Olivia's wedding Shakespeare
is again referring to a Catholic rite about the continuation of which there
was keen dispute.
So what are we to make of Malvolio? Does he represent a Lenten affront to the otherwise festive spirit of the play? Is he the butt of Shakespeare's wit as a representative of that group who were known to want to close the theatres down? Many such puritans were to be found amongst the rich merchants and burgers of London who had a strong influence on the Privy Council. They objected to the theatre not only because it was a place of loose morals but also because it involved cross dressing forbidden in the Book of Deuteronomy. As one Puritan wrote, It adulterates the verity of our own being.' That in fact casts a fascinating light on Shakespeare's comic purpose in this play. For here we have as it were extremes of adulteration. In Viola we have a boy dressed as a girl dressed as a boy. And at a time when Shakespeare's plays are exploring a new sense of identity and inwardness, Twelfth Night represents a fascinating exploration of inner and outer reality and the extent to which we understand what we see and whether we therefore understand ourselves. As Feste says, Nothing that is so, is so.'
But to return to poor Malvolio who when locked up by the Belch gang has to hold on desperately to his conviction that he is in fact in darkness when Sir Topaz is trying to convince him that he is in the light. Are we supposed to relish Malvolio's downfall and laugh at his feeble threat of vengeance at the end? Or are we to feel that the game goes too far as Maria and Feste try to convince the imprisoned Malvolio that he is mad?
When the trick is revealed, Olivia describes him as having been notoriously abused'. Earlier in the play she clearly wishes he could be more generous in his outlook but can elsewhere describe him as' sad and civil' suiting well for a servant with her fortunes. There is a sense in which perhaps Olivia should guide our reactions she can both smile at Malvolio's pretensions and sympathise with his misfortunes. In the same way though she can appreciate the joke played on him she is exasperated by Sir Toby and clearly wants to get rid of him when he gets out of hand. Sir Toby in some ways represents the best and the worst of Merry England, as he teases Sir Andrew and raucously encourages him to go to church in a galliard and come home in a coranto.
perhaps keeping here a careful balance? We are not meant to like Malvolio
his Puritanism is devastatingly revealed as unintelligent, deficient in natural
affection, contemptuous of others, censorious and complacent. And yet there
is something pitiful about his belief that Olivia might love him as pitiful
as Aguecheek's pathetic line I was adored once'. At the end when Malvolio
storms off breathing threats of revenge Orsino says Pursue him and entreat
him to a peace.' Which raises a question as to how should the play end. Will
Malvolio be reconciled? Is there a way for the Puritan to join the party,
to find his way into the theatre? I have sometimes wondered whether as the
main company go off, the servant sent to follow Malvolio, might bring him
back on stage so that he overhears Feste's song. And something in it strikes
a chord in him and slowly he begins to follow the lovers and slowly he begins
to regain his confidence and to walk like Malvolio again. And as he does so
Feste, having finished his song follows him off stage, imitating his walk.
The joke will go on, the tensions may remain unresolved, but the truths revealed
in the mirror of the theatre may sometimes make reconciliation possible at
Notwithstanding the loveliest opening line of any play ("If music be the food of love, play on") - well spoken for us by David Gardner - and the richness of humour, fun and romantic love, Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is an ugly play, which sends us home with a bitter taste in the mouth. Olivia acknowledges that Malvolio has been "notoriously abused" but while positing an enquiry reminds modern man of public enquiries which are half-hearted and come to nothing. Duke Orsino, after Malvolio exits, understandably saying "I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you" somewhat naively suggests that he be "pursued and entreated to a peace". Furthermore, we hear that Toby Belch and Maria have got married; they do not re-appear on stage to get in any way their come-uppance for their dastardly deed. Yes, a bitter taste or, if you will, make of it "What you Will".
Fortunately, I am not asked to review or analyse the play itself (for this I refer the reader to Father Stephen's words in our Church's June Magazine) but only on the Hampstead Players' production of it this last week. My first thought is how excellently it was cast, each actor and (please pardon my age) actress having been excellently fitted to his/her role - from Orsino to Antonio, Feste to Maria, Belch to Aguecheek, Viola to Olivia and the rest, the characters real and appropriate. John Willmer and his assistants are to be congratulated for their success in what must have been hard work in this particular task.
Your reviewer, being a (previously active) member of the Players, is at risk of appearing incestuous when praising the group or individual actors/actresses, but I believe that, subject to one point, even an 'outsider' will have been delighted with the performance and production, the cohesion and continued movement forward of it and, of course, the acting. The one reservation I might place on the outsider's as well indeed on the insider's enjoyment is the fact that we missed a stage which would have helped the audibility of some of the cast and enabled some sitting only a few rows back better to see (visibly) what was going on.
I found the letter scene - Malvolio reading the forged letter while Belch, Aguecheek and Fabian desperately tried to avoid being seen by him - hilarious, while at the other end of the spectrum I was moved almost to tears by the final reconciliation (between the twins, Olivia and Orsino) showing in each case the cast's ability to maintain tensions.
Unlike boys in my childhood who, when Captains were picking sides for a match suffered the tension of "will I be picked next" or "will I be picked at all" or "am I not better than he", I hope that any member of the cast who happens to read this review will not be sitting on the edge of their chair wondering if they will be mentioned. If they are not, let them not worry for all did well and are to be commended.
however, pick four members of the cast:-
I determined to mention 4 people, but at risk of being incestuous on another level I would mention Sarah Eynstone as Sebastian, because I understand that this is the first time that my fellow clergyperson has appeared on stage (except, of course, a pulpit!). She moved well and spoke with a clarity and expressiveness that many a young professional might envy. Can she, like Bill Risebero, also have missed her true vocation??!! Surely not but it can no doubt be found useful in that true vocation!
Incestuously again, Ladies and Gentlemen, I say well done to John Willmer and all those engaged in this production, both cast, front of house and behind the scenes.
I do not wish to end this Review without stating my and our regret that because of illness, our usual and remarkable reviewer, Diana Raymond, could not see and write about this production.
This review appeared in the Hampstead Parish Church Magazine.