Twelfth Night

If music be the food of love, play on.

This singular phrase has been echoing in my mind for the past two or three weeks. It’s not the only line of Shakespeare I remember, and certainly not the solitary line I know. So why has it been playing over and over in my mind?

Well, I suppose – first and foremost – I like my Shakespeare. It’s the first line of Twelfth Night, a play all about disguise, mistaken identity, love, and misplaced emotion. What’s not to like?

Also, according to my high school teacher, it had passages that alluded to homosexuality – always welcome in a classic play (just in case teenagers get bored of it, yeah?). The passages in question were the dialogue between Antonio and Sebastian, where you can occasionally find the word “love” and strong words reflecting passion and a more-than-friendly relationship. I always felt she was stretching it, mainly because many interpretations of Shakespeare are very sterile and clinical. Schools and teachers like to tell you what they think a book and its content means, whereas its author may have just written it to while away the hours or entertain a king or queen.

To be fair, I think Shakespeare might’ve added the ‘homoerotic allusions’ to keep people guessing. By this point in the play, he’d already constructed the romance between Olivia and Cesario (aka Viola, who was dressed as a man for her own protection). Perhaps he felt the need to keep the plot balanced: Olivia developed feelings for Cesario (Viola), Viola had feelings for Orsino, and Orsino had feelings for Olivia. Also, Cesario/Viola looks identical to Sebastian, so it is easy to see where the disguise comes into the romantic relationships.

I dunno… Admittedly, I don’t know why that play is important – aside from the fact that it was written by Shakespeare. In the spectacle that is theatre, if we don’t look to Shakespeare, it is assumed we know very little about it.

I guess it’s also an important play because Twelfth night was the English version of Venice’s Carnival – it took role-reversal to the extreme. And it was part of the system, when society allowed for it to happen. Or so I’ve been told…

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.

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