Twelfth Night: elements of comedy and irony

Essay by mczibikUniversity, Bachelor's June 2004

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Trevor Nunn's adaptation of "Twelfth Night" is a masterpiece of insight and nuance. Instead of simply playing this gender-bending comedy of mistaken identity, the director highlights the dark undertones of the plot which show surprising depth. There are some alterations from the original text, but those who are less familiar with Shakespeare among the audience can appreciate the story being more easy to follow. For example, when Duke Orsino utters the famous opening line of the play, "If music be the food of love, play on," ten minutes have already elapsed. But what takes place in those ten minutes sets up the plot and brings the characters to life.

Twelfth Night opens with a scene alluded to, but never presented in the original text., The twin siblings, Viola and Sebastian, are aboard a ship that is wrecked off the coast of the imaginary country of Illyria. Explaining the context of the play, it is a mute ouverture which helps the viewer in understanding much of the otherwise complicated situation.

The unique design of the film allows the story to leave the stage. The locations in Cornwall allow for some marvelous, liberating exteriors, and the late 18th century settings and costumes allow the film to balance on the border between period piece and contemporary romance. The veteran stage director has attempted to modernize the play without changing its meaning. The era has been shifted from the 1600s to the 1800s, giving the film a fresher context.

As a comedy, Twelfth Night is obviously intending to not only entertain its audience but also point out problems in society. It is imperative to entire merit of the play not to be realistic but to allow for empathy. Therefore to have a comedy of complete lightheartedness there would be no balance and...