Word of warning: I don’t like the Comedies.
It’s not that I hate them. I just don’t critically appreciate them as much as the other plays. And they’re just not as good as the other genres.
So picking one of the Comedies proved a bit of a challenge. Literally, in the course of writing this, I’ve changed my mind three times. Initially I was thinking The Merchant of Venice, because it’s more akin to a Tragedy than a Comedy. Then I thought Comedy of Errors, because I wrote an essay about it which could possibly turn into a PhD.
But I ended up choosing…
Which actually surprised me.
I shouldn’t really be surprised: it was the first Shakespearean Comedy I ever saw performed. Well, the ‘first’ if you discount Romeo and Juliet like most conversationalists, although I find it to be very funny in points and even said during a seminar. It took me five minutes to work out why everyone was looking at me strangely. But before this turns into why Romeo and Juliet is my favourite Comedy, onto Twelfth Night.
As I was saying, it is my favourite Comedy and it does have some of the funnier lines from the plays:
No, sir, I live by the church.
Art thou a churchman?
No such matter, sir: I do live by the church; for
I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by
So it’s quite quotable, like Romeo and Juliet: ‘Better a witty fool than a foolish wit’, ‘If music be the food of love, play on’, and, of course, ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them’.
In addition to the comedic elements, the reason I like it is for the exquisite, unexpected moments of sadness. I mentioned Viola’s ‘Make me a willow cabin’ speech the other day concerning a passionate but unrequited love: ‘O, You should not rest/Between the elements of air and earth,/But you should pity me’. But the most pitiful and moving speech of the play comes in a song. Throughout the play, Feste the clown provides a comedic commentary of sorts, as well as musical interludes including ‘Oh Mistress mine’. These prove less comedic in one of his final scenes, as his reason for singing is revealed: he loves Maria, who ‘loves another’, Sir Toby Belch.
‘Hey, Robin, jolly Robin,Tell me how thy lady does’.
‘My lady is unkind, perdy’.
‘Alas, why is she so?’
…’She loves another’.
The clever lines of a Comedy, combined with profoundly sad moments of a Tragedy, this is why it’s one of my favourite Comedies. And finally, it certainly has some memorable images, aka Malvolio in yellow stockings!