The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience

The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience

The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience

The Twelfth Night of Shakespeare's Audience

Excerpt

The scholarship on the major plays of Shakespeare has quite outgrown the scope of an edition; and scholarship in America, one hopes, has also outgrown the naïve interpretation of a masterpiece by mere without historical foundation. If one is to seek (in the words of the late Professor Schelling) the meaning, rather than merely a meaning, of Shakespeare's text, one should set forth with full and systematically marshaled evidence the reason why this interpretation, rather than any other, is indeed the one that Skakespeare meant and that his audience gathered from the performance: this holds true not only for short loci in the dialogue but also for larger matters of plot and characterization and theme. Even for a single play, so elaborate a scheme demands a monograph, and ergo, for Shakespeare's major plays a series of monographs, rather than mere editorial introductions. Some years ago, the present writer brought out, at Duke University Press, such an interpretation of Hamlet; now, in like manner, he offers Twelfth Night to the public.

Indeed, under this closer scrutiny, the comedy presents much greater scope and depth than is usually ascribed to it: Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, and Feste, and Maria, and Malvolio illustrate current types, and their situations and aspirations express current problems. The Countess Olivia's whole household is an Elizabethan household in transition from easygoing feudal paternalism, when crowds of retainers served their lords for mere board and keep, to the modern era of a more stringent economy. The change gave rise to hardships and uncertainties and fears, and all the major figures in the play -- even the Duke and the Countess -- are seeking on their several planes for some sort of social security. Many in Shakespeare's audience had reason to sympathize with them; and thus the pleasure of the comic ending must have had a large element of personal wish fulfillment. The characters of the piece, moreover, run a social gamut as wide as that of an Elizabethan audience, from nobility to servants, with an old soldier like Sir Toby and a professional fool like Feste. Such jocund company has the present writer been privileged to keep; he only hopes that his labors have given these merry friends of his a more authentic reality to the gentle reader of Shakespeare.

To his elders and betters in Elizabethan scholarship, on whose labors he has of necessity relied, he expresses the thanks that each generation owes its forebears, and also to his contemporaries who in one way or another contributed to this volume, to his students, who have been an inspiration and whose published work is occasionally cited, and especially to his friend, the late Arthur Dayton, of Charleston, West Virginia.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.