Sunday, June 23, 2013

#2 out of 40 — Enwrapped with Wonder

The last seven books I've read have all been science fiction, and I was ready for something a little different today. So I picked up a copy of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which I've never read before, and worked my way through it. I also watched the 1980 BBC adaptation, which runs just a little over two hours (*cough* and may just happen to be available here *cough*).

What a delightful work (and I really enjoyed this production, too). It's already become my favorite Shakespeare comedy. The characters are wonderfully developed (the Clown is priceless!), and the converging plots are ingenious fun. It's not all just ramshackle merrymaking, though. There's a sense of melancholia and even (I'm struggling to describe it here) a kind of need to "grow up" that seems to permeate many of the scenes.

As with other Shakespeare plays, I struggled a little with the idea of different-gender characters who are repeatedly taken to be the same person. To be fair, though, Shakespeare sort of acknowledges that the events unfolding in Illyria strain credibility, in a beautiful soliloquy by Sebastian in Act IV, Scene 3:

This is the air; that is the glorious sun;
This pearl she gave me, I do feel't and see't;
And though 'tis wonder that enwraps me thus,
Yet 'tis not madness. Where's Antonio, then?
I could not find him at the Elephant:
Yet there he was; and there I found this credit,
That he did range the town to seek me out.
His counsel now might do me golden service;
For though my soul disputes well with my sense,
That this may be some error, but no madness,
Yet doth this accident and flood of fortune
So far exceed all instance, all discourse,
That I am ready to distrust mine eyes
And wrangle with my reason that persuades me
To any other trust but that I am mad
Or else the lady's mad; yet, if 'twere so,
She could not sway her house, command her followers,
Take and give back affairs and their dispatch
With such a smooth, discreet and stable bearing
As I perceive she does: there's something in't
That is deceiveable. 

In the end, you feel bad about the trick played on Malvolio, because of how far it goes, and the fact he genuinely suffers. His unwillingness to forgive the perpetrators of the conspiracy wrought against him at the play's conclusion seems like a credible reaction -- though you almost wish, given the other happy story resolutions, that he could somehow find it within himself to let it go. But the ending is expertly balanced precisely because of this contrast, I think, and because of the realism that results from it.

There may be certain fable-like qualities to the Twelfth Night, but there's nothing fantastical at all about the notion that "Present mirth hath present laughter / What’s to come is still unsure / In delay there lies no plenty." 

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