The First Night of Twelfth Night

The First Night of Twelfth Night

The First Night of Twelfth Night

The First Night of Twelfth Night

Excerpt

Is there anywhere a more delightful comedy than Twelfth Night ? The cheerful gale of popular favour has sent it down the centuries full-sailed, on a sea of music and laughter. Grateful for the riches it lavishes, why should we pause to make it abide our question? Nevertheless we instinctively feel that our delight in the experience cannot compare with what the audience enjoyed on the first night of Twelfth Night , when it belonged to the moment, presented with the soul of lively action, framed to the life for the height of pleasure. Imagination longs to recapture something of it. As Quiller-Couch truly said, We can immensely increase our delight in Shakespeare, and strengthen our understanding of him, if. . . we keep asking ourselves how the thing was done.' He might have added, 'and when and for whom the thing was done'. For a jest's prosperity lies in the ear of him that hears it; and a comic dramatist is like a merryman --

He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time.

If only we knew the mood, the quality of persons, and the time of Twelfth Night , we might less frequently resemble the enthusiastic Aguecheek, 'always enjoying a joke, never understanding it'.

What chance have we of conjuring up some of the atmosphere of that first night, of catching a glimpse of its moment in time? Long enough ago Dr. Johnson said of Shakespeare, 'Whatever advantages he might once . . .

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