- Cambridge University Press
- Publication Date:
- 04 August 2005
- Educational: English Literature
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I love this play. Shakespeare's comedies are very enjoyable.
I read this play in high school. I immediately connected with Viola who hid her true identity (and her emotions) from society. Though modern critics look at (and/or analyze) the story's use of homosexuality and gender/sexual politics, I can't break from my initial path of loving the story for Viola's strength in hiding her identity and love.
I read this in preparation for going to see an upcoming production of this play put on by "Shakespeare in the Park" that's going to be playing June 1st through the 4th of this year in the Botanical Gardens. Considering the myriad summaries and expositions of this play, I won't recapitulate those here. What I will do, both for my personal use and for the remote possibility that someone else might find some use in them, is post my own thoughts and notes I took as I read it. Hopefully they'll serve as an aide memoire if I ever need one.ACT I: Overall themes: identity (masque?), rejection, and desire. It asks whether or not love is something real, or just another human artifice, much like the music that Count Orsino "feeds" on. Orsino's switch of affection from Olivia to Viola is a hint that he loves the idea of love more than one of the women themselves. He's a parody of the hopeless romantic. Viola's wish to be transformed into a eunuch is indicative of gender liminality - or at least this seems to be a common argument, even though it's readily known that men played all roles in Elizabethan and Jacobean theater (so I'm a little confused by the single-minded focus that much modern scholarship has put on gender in this play). Perhaps this gender ambiguity is a sort of defense mechanism to deal with the uncertainty inherent with being tossed on an unknown island. There has also been some focus on Orsino's shift of affection toward Viola (Cesario) from a platonic friendship to a more romantic one. (Could our more modern emotional coldness associated with masculinity be coloring this reading, too?) Feste is obviously one of the cleverest people in the play. "Cucullus non facit monachum" indeed! As a critique of courtly love, this act accomplishes a lot, and Feste comes out being one of the least foolish people on the stage.ACT II: Malvolio (literally, from the Latin, "ill will"), the only character who takes himself much too seriously, is tricked into the tomfoolery that he himself so deplores, ultimately proving Feste right: it's not just the role of the fool to entertain folly.ACT III: Even though, considering Malvolio's transformation from joy-hating blowhard into romantic lover is a drastic one, that Olivia thinks him mad might be telling. Is there any room here for a sort of Foucauldian discussion of what constitutes "madness and civilization" in Elizabethan England? From the little that I've seen of the scholarly literature, I haven't yet seen any discussions that run along these lines.
The text of the play is mostly a delight, though there are a few toothsome things to mull over after the play is done. Its end of multiple marriages is seemingly tidy, but a few characters are left out in the cold, including Antonio, whose love for Sebastian may be the truest and most steadfast love in the play.
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