Twelfth Night, or What you Will is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved romantic comedies. Set in Illyria, Twelfth Night is a play about love, loss, mischief. And it uses one of Shakespeare’s favourite comedy tropes; mistaken identity.
Early in the story our heroine, Viola is shipwrecked on the shore of Illyria. Believing her twin brother, Sebastian drowned at sea, Viola disguises herself as a man (Cesario) for her protection. She begins working for the lovelorn Duke Orsino, whom she falls in love with. Orsino sends Cesario (Viola) to woo a beautiful woman named Olivia on his behalf. But Viola is so witty, charming and passionate in her speech, that Olivia falls in love with her/him.
This love triangle only becomes more complicated, when Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian washes up on shore alive. He is initially aided by his friend Antonio but when they split up, Sebastian runs into trouble. The twins look identical and everyone mistakes him for his sister.
Olivia comes to his aid and also believing him to be Cesario, Olivia urges Sebastian to come to her house and he obliges.
What has just happened?
Sebastian having just left Antonio to explore the town, runs into a bit of trouble. Sir Andrew has just been duelling with Cesario/Viola and believing that Sebastian is Cesario, tries to continue the fight. Of course, Sebastian is confused having never met this man before and easily defends himself. Olivia rushes in to break up the fight and convinces Sebastian to come to her house. This monologue takes place after some level of wooing on Olivia’s part, indicated by the pearl she’s given him. Sebastian is confused by all these strangers treating him bizarrely, especially the beautiful Olivia.
Space = New beat/idea
, or ; = build on a thought
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. But here the lady comes.
This is the air; that is the glorious sun;
This pearl she gave me, I can feel it and see it.
And though I feel wrapped in wonder,
It is not madness.
I could not find him at the Elephant.
Yet he was there; and I was told
That he did go walking about the town to find me.
His advice now would be so valuable;
For although my soul agrees with my mind,
That all this is some mistake, not madness,
Yet this situation of extremely good luck
Exceeds my experience, and all rationality,
That I am ready to distrust my eyes
And argue with good reason,
That I must be crazy.
Or the lady’s mad; yet, if that were so,
She could not manage her household, command her servants,
Deal with domestic business
With such a capable, modest and stable attitude
As I see she does. there’s something misleading
Going on. But here the lady comes.
Unfamiliar words & Phrases
Feel’t, See’t: Feel it & See it. Shakespeare often abbreviates words so that they’ll fit into the iambic pentameter. By squashing these words, there are still ten beats to this line.
Tis’: It is
Elephant: The Elephant is a fictional Inn that Antonio and Sebastian were going to stay at. Interestingly there was an Inn called The Elephant not far from the Globe when this play was written, so audiences would have enjoyed the joke.
This credit: Report, account, story
Range: Wander, roam
Golden service: Be worth gold to me, be valuable
Doth: Normally means ‘do’, but in this context it is closer to ‘does’
Flood of Fortune: Large amount of good luck
Sway: Dominate, control
In’t: In it
This is great comedic monologue for a young male actor. The comedy comes from the audience knowing something that he doesn’t; that everyone has mistaken him for his sister. In order to find that comedy, the more committed you are to the strangeness of the situation the better. The opening line this is the air, and that is the glorious sun indicates that he is trying to ground himself in reality. But the use of glorious might be another clue; that he is feeling very happy due of the attention of a certain beautiful woman.
Notice how the rhythm of the speech builds throughout the text. The first few lines are shorter and the thoughts change quickly. Then, by the middle of the speech all the ideas keep building on themselves, lots of punctuation and no full stops for thirteen lines. While that doesn’t mean you can’t pause at all, it does indicate the way the thoughts build on one another. It could mean he is flustered or working himself up. But, the again, it’s always your interpretation.
While the text doesn’t explicitly say this, many modern-day performers interpret that this scene takes place right after Sebastian and Olivia have slept together. How does would this change the way you approach the text?
While a realistic response to having a woman throw themselves at you might be to run away, this, after all is a romantic comedy. The more an actor commits to the heightened emotions of love, confusion, trepidation and delight; the funnier the speech becomes.