Monday, July 20, 2009

Just That Good

I've spent the morning prepping, making out a worksheet for the Shakespeare camp. I get the students for an hour and a half, after lunch, so I need to get them thinking and moving and active, or it'll be nap time.

We're going to work through (in groups) the introductory stuff of Twelfth Night, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.5, and 2.1, each of the scenes that introduces (mostly) new characters. (We're skipping 1.4, where Cesario is in Orsino's court, and only doing 1-80 of 1.5 to start).

As I'm prepping, and thinking about staging stuff and all, I think about how else the play could work, and it makes me realize how stunningly tight and smart the opening sequence is.

We set up the problem, because we need to see Orsino first, before we learn that Viola's going to go there because she can't go to Olivia's, or that Sebastian will go there, or that Antonio can't go there. We also need to learn about Olivia's dead brother issue, and Orsino's goofy being in love with love thing.

Then we get Viola, and set her up to go hang out with Orsino in disguise.

So that plot set up is all in place, and we move to the subplot with Sir Toby, Maria, and Sir Andrew, and set them up as a problem in themselves, or several problems: Sir Toby and the household is out of control, and Olivia's being courted by an idiot, sponsored by her uncle, and so sort of in danger of being pressured to marry this idiot.

We make a quick turn, and oh, there's Viola as Cesario, new BBF of Orsino, being sent off to woo. (And yes, imagine how impossible this play would be with text messaging!)

Now it's time to meet Olivia, and we learn that she's smart and witty, and wise enough to allow Feste to speak openly; but we also learn that Feste's been out of the house, and that helps us know that the household isn't under good control (and in a heirarchical world, good control is important). And with that, we start the wooing sequence, and see the matching of wits that is Cesario and Olivia, both smart women. (And like all sit-coms, if just they'd talk to each other for real, the play would be very short and boring indeed!)

Quick cut away to Sebastian and Antonio, resisting the "twin shows up like deus ex machina at the end," and giving just enough time for the Malvolio chase with the ring to make sense. We set up the naughty pirate (because what's a play without a pirate!!), as a bonus.

So in a few short minutes, we learn an awful lot about the whole bunch of folks we'll care about, and get a good sense of their relationships; we know the gender confusion plot that's coming, and we're ready to enjoy the fun, AND we've already had some silly dancing. What could be better?


  1. Make sure to give yourself time to watch She's the Man with Amanda Bynes. It's a cute, high school version of 12th Night.

  2. Not much missing, is there? And all on the night devoted to festive inversion...

    I've occasionally seen modern dress performances of Twelfth Night, and the only thing that can NEVER work is the yellow cross gartered stockings -- you can't translate that, really. (You could visually, with loud argyle socks or some such, but what do you do with the text then?

  3. I'm curious to know what your students think of Olivia. Twice I've had classes of students *hate* her. They think she's stuck up. It really bothers me that they equate her refusal to accept the advances of a man she doesn't love with being stuck up or snobbish or any way other than perfectly fair! (And they don't always get how silly and self-absorbed Orsino is -- he's just 'emo' to them.) I think they're too primed by *modern* rom-com conventions, and next time I teach it I'm going to emphasis what has and hasn't changed.

  4. Roaringgrrl, I've never even heard of it! Thanks for the suggestion!

    Susan, Yep, the cross-gartered thing is just a pain sometimes!

    Dr. V, Yes! My thing is wondering how the heck ANYONE could fall for Orsino. What a sexist! I mean, I totally get Olivia not wanting anything to do with him, but Viola must be nuts!

    I tend to not bring up the "do you like this or that char" thing, though, but try to look more structurally: it's a romantic comedy, and the job of romantic comedy is to get people together in socially sanctioned ways to make the next generation. So Olivia needs to get with the heteronormative breeding program, but not with Orsino.

  5. Well, to be fair to Orsino, he's not consistently sexist; he seems perfectly happy changing his mind about gender relations two or three times in the same scene, so I'm sure Viola won't have much trouble schooling him :)