book reviews

Book Review: Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare

Title: Twelfth Night, or What You Will
Author: William Shakespeare
Dates read: 03/01/22 – 04/01/22
Rating 3/5

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Number of pages: 140
Fiction or non-fiction: fiction
Subject or genre: classics, play

Book blurb: Twelfth Night is one of the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays in the modern theatre, and this edition places particular emphasis on its theatrical qualities throughout. Peopled with lovers misled either by disguises or their own natures, it combines lyrical melancholy with broad comedy.

The introduction analyses its many views of love and the juxtaposition of joy and melancholy, while the detailed commentary pays particular attention to its linguistic subtleties.

Music is particularly important in Twelfth Night, and this is the only modern edition to offer material for all the music required in a performance. James Walker has re-edited the existing music from the original sources, and where none exists has composed settings compatible with the surviving originals.

How I discovered or acquired this book: Read for Open University module A112 Cultures, as part of the English Language Block

I watched a Royal Shakespeare Company performance on Britbox while reading which definitely helped my appreciation of the play. More information about this performance is available on the RSC website here

I struggled just reading it (IMO plays are meant to be performed, not read) and the course recommended listening to a BBC radio drama with David Tennant as Malvolio – but honestly, they’d made a bunch of changes and I got really stresed trying to follow it, so my betrothed, Li, suggested watching a performance. She was right and I definitely ended up enjoying it more.

After a shipwreck, Viola disguises herself a boy, Cesario to work for Duke Orsino. Cesario quickly beomes favoured by Orsino who sends him to woo Olivia. Olivia continues to reject Orsino, but falls for Cesario. Meanwhile, Viola falls for Orsino. It’s a very bizarre, bisexual, cross-dressing love triangle. And then Violet’s twin brother comes along.

I don’t know that I’d voluntarily read it again but I did enjoy the exploration of themes of gender & sexuality, and disguise & deception