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TWELFTH NIGHT was first printed in the Folio of Early Liter1623. Its history begins, for us, with the feast in ary History the hall of the Middle Temple, 2nd February 1602, when it was apparently first performed. John Manningham, an otherwise undistinguished law-student, described the performance in terms which leave no doubt of its identity :-'At our feast wee had a play called Twelue night or what you will, much like the commedy of errores or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni, a good practise in it to make the steward beleeue his Lady widdowe was in love with him by counterfayting a letter, as from his Lady, in generall termes, telling him what shee liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparaile, etc. And then, when he came to practise, making him beleeue they tooke him to be mad.' The play thus described must have been comparatively new; it is incredible that the creation of Malvolio, in after years extraordinarily popular, should have already been familiar. to the London stage when Manningham jotted down this essentially 'first-night' précis of his rôle. But there is no scrap of definite external evidence on the point; even Meres's omission (1598) of the play, in his well-known list of twelve Shakespearean pieces, does not quite decide that it had not yet been written, 353
since his purpose was to exemplify, not to enumerate. Some recent critics have set the serious element in the play-the Viola story-at a much earlier date (c. 1593), chiefly on the grounds of its obvious relation to the stories of The Two Gentlemen and The Comedy of Errors, which it combines. Professor Conrad also dwells upon certain parallels in phrase to these and the other early comedies. Some of them are striking, but they are few, and largely balanced by other parallels to plays undoubtedly later; while the very similarity of the situations in which they occur would account for more resemblances of phrase than in fact exist. And the similarity of the stories only accentuates the differences in art. Only the
most mechanical criticism can associate Viola chronologically with Julia in The Two Gentlemen, because they both serve their lovers in disguise. That the Malvolio story belongs to 1600-1 is, in any case, beyond question; some slight indications point to the latter year, especially the catch (sung in ii. 3.): 'Farewell, dear heart, since I must needs be gone," which first appeared in the Book of Ayres, 1601.
Of the later history of the play there is little to be said. The evidences of its popularity are more striking than abundant, and they concern only the comic plot. Ben Jonson paid the duel scene the compliment of an elaborate imitation in the similar scene between Sir Amorous La-Foole and Sir John Daw in The Silent Woman (1609). Marston's What You Will (pr. 1607) may possibly owe its title to Shakespeare, it certainly owes nothing else,-and have led to the final disuse of this second title of his play in favour of the apparently meaningless first.1 On the eve of the closing of the theatres, Twelfth Night was still, with Henry IV. and Much Ado, 1 Fleay, Chron. Hist. of Shakespeare, p. 219.
among the Shakespearean comedies which the town' thronged to see :
loe in a trice
The Cockpit Galleries, Boxes, all are full
To hear Malvoglio, that cross-garter'd gull.1
After the Restoration it was twice revived, in 1663 and 1669, and found great favour, though severely condemned by Pepys as 'but a silly play, and not at all related to the name or day.'
Manningham, as we have seen, thought the play Sources of 'much like the commedy of errores or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni.' Inganni was the title of several Italian plays, none of which has any further resemblance to Twelfth Night than the elementary one, that the heroine assumes male disguise. A play called Gli Ingannati, however, had also long existed, which contains the Viola story in its bare outlines. This was itself founded on a novel of Bandello's (ii. 36), which became still more widely known in the French paraphrase of Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques. An Elizabethan ex-soldier and pamphleteer, Barnaby Rich, told a story of similar type in 'Apollonius and Silla,' one of the eight Histories' of his Farewell to the Militarie Profession (1581). Both of these have in common an indistinguishable pair of twins, brother and sister, an irresponsive lover whom the sister pursues in male disguise, only to be employed by him. in wooing a new mistress, who is finally consoled by the brother. Most of this matter reappears in the present comedy; but none of Shakespeare's comedies which can be said to borrow its plot at all owes less to the plot it borrows than does Twelfth Night to these gross, characterless, and in part ill-told tales.2
1 Digges, verses prefixed to Shakespeare's Poems, 1640.
2 Thus the essential fact of the
likeness of brother and sister is
Above all, the character and situation of Viola are handled with an exquisite refinement of which none of them shows a trace. By making her fall in love with the stranger she has taken service with, instead of taking service with him in order to gratify her love, he avoids the situation-dear to romance, but supremely difficult in psychological drama-of a pure and high-bred woman pursuing her lover. The immense psychological and dramatic resource expended on this situation in All's Well shows how keenly Shakespeare then realised the problem imposed by the motif he had handled with so much facile grace in The Two Gentlemen. Helena and Viola may be said to divide between them the two rôlesof self-assertion and self-effacement-daringly combined in the forsaken Julia. Helena pursues Bertram,
but far from wooing another in his name, she uses his alien love-bonds to seal her own; Viola takes no single step to further her own hidden passion, but throws all her intelligence into the prosecution of her master's suit. In her we see for the first time the full beauty and pathos of faithful self-abnegation; her reticence is eloquent, and her eloquence, though it finds vent in two of the most thrilling descriptions of love in Shakespeare ('Make me a willow-cabin at your gate,' etc., and 'She never told her love'), ostensibly expresses the love of others, not her own. Outwardly, her relations with Olivia are like those of Rosalind with Phoebe, but the humour is here far more delicate and subdued; and Viola, far from exploiting the absurdities of Olivia's mistake in Rosalind's madcap vein, loyally conceals them, as by the adroit fiction, 'She took the ring of me' (ii. 2. 13), which deceived Malvolio and puzzled Malone.
Even the duke is treated without any disposition to accentuate the ludicrous aspect of his character and
fortunes. He is among the figures which suggest that Shakespeare was attracted by the methods of Jonson. Luxurious emotions are the elements in which he lives; they run to seed in him like a 'Humour.' His opening words, If music be the food of love, play on,' incisively denote him. His love is not a master who subdues all his faculties and energies to its service, but an exquisite companion whom he dotes on and dallies with. He has no doubt a choice and graceful mind, and this saves him from ridicule, though hardly from contempt; but it serves rather to extract and formulate the finest essence of each passing moment than to draw obvious practical conclusions from facts. Hence the clown-no inapt observer-admirably prescribes for him a doublet of changeable taffeta, 'for thy mind is a very opal'; his speech flushes with the warmth and brilliance of each passing mood. He is sick of self-love, and his persistent courtship of Olivia rests upon a fatuous faith in his own prevailing fascination; but his egoism is amiable and effusive, and he enters easily into tender relations with his subordinates. Apolonius, in Rich's tale, has no kindness for his serving-man; but the charm of Cesario has conquered the sensitive duke long before the climax, and the discovery of his sex transforms it without effort into love. This change might seem to involve a modification of the climax of Rich's story, where Apolonius vows his man's death to avenge his lady's honour (Hazlitt's Shakespearean Library, i. 408). In Shakespeare's hands, however, the incident adds a piquant trait to the duke's character. His tenderness for the lad he dooms converts the act into a sacrifice, and invests it with a tragic significance full of relish to his artistic sense :
I'll sacrifice the lamb that I do love