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Twelfth Night

play, comic and sir

TWELFTH NIGHT. Just before Shakes peare began his series of great tragedies he wrote 'Twelfth Night' (1600-01) — the last of his great comedies. The play is notable for its blending of romantic beauty and charm in the story of the Duke, Olivia, Viola and Sebastian with a comic underplot in which are involved Maria, Sir Toby, Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Fabian and Malvolio. For the romantic story the author was indebted to several Italian stories which had been translated into French by Belleforest, and later into English by Bar naby Riche in his (Apolonius and Silla.' The comic scenes and characters are the invention of Shakespeare, although they repeat many of the devices and effects of previous comedies. In fact the comic part of the play is a recapitula tion of characters and incidents that had been successful in other comedies. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew belong to the family of Falstaff and Slender, while the clown is another Touchstone with a certain added maturity. The scenes in

which the over-serious and self-centred Mal volio is made ridiculous by the clever devices of Maria are among the triumphs of Shake speare's comic genius. Whether the interpreta tion of Malvolio's Puritanism as given in this play may be considered as Shakespeare's judg ment is still a matter of debate. The conclu sion of the comedy, in which the conflicting forces of love caused by the mistaken identity of Viola and Sebastian are resolved and the complete .discomfiture of Malvolio is realized perfectly represents the subtitle of the play— 'What You Will.' The play was thus a sort of farewell to a type of dramatic writing in which Shakespeare had already achieved great tri umphs. No comedy is more delightful or more fascinating. EDWIN MIMS.