Monday, August 30, 2010

Liveblogging Twelfth Night that "liveblogging" can be a synonym for "slow reading."  Among Shakespeare plays, Twelfth Night is a favorite of Mrs. Buce's.  I've never quite got my mind round it, all the more reason to try to consider it in depth.  Our main guide (aside from the text itself, of course) is Michael Pennington's Twelfth Night: A User's Guide.  Pennington is proving to be a bottomless well of good insights, but there is other stuff around the house also. 

For example, here's an insight that helps me get a handle on matters, derived from Harold Bloom:  give Twelfth Night its rightful place in the chronology.   Shakespeare finished Hamlet in (perhaps) 1601, summing up his first decade-plus in the playwrighting game.   Shortly thereafter, the wheels come off his creative engine and he produces three unpleasant plays--Measure for Measure, All's Well that Ends Well, Troilus and Cressida--not bad plays by any means, but not plays that anybody warms to.  Twelfth Night  falls between Hamlet and the unpleasant plays.  Indeed if you keep your eyes open, you can see the beginning of the unpleasantness in Hamlet itself ("To a nunnery go, and quickly, too!").  Twelfth Night contains some of the same (manic?) energy, with more than a  hint that it is beginning to veer out of control.

Corollary point: Shakespeare is never a servile respecter of genre categories. Hamlet, though a tragedy, is the funniest tragedy.  Romeo and Juliet is not so much a tragedy as a comedy that ends badly.  So also Twelfth Night: a comedy of sorts, but a comedy sauced with the unsettling notion that at any moment, things could go badly wrong. 

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