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Playreading Report: Twelfth Night Act II, Toronto Shakespeare Workshop, May 2nd

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 Keeping with the theme of love in Twelfth Night continued to yield insights and surprises. Some love is difficult, some impossible, and some narcissistic. On a personal level, I found myself increasingly drawn to the characters. There is such variety here and ample opportunities for broad characterization as well as moments of intimacy.

The first scene was between Antonio and Sebastien. Similar to the scenes from Act I, this can be played as Antonio loving Sebastien, while Sebastien’s mind is thinking about his sister, Viola. This is a direct mirroring of the Viola/Captan scene. While that scene ends with Viola asking the captain to help her don a disguise, Sebastien throws off his disguise, revealing to Antonio that he isn’t really Rodrigo. We had some discussion on this point, agreeing on a backstory of Sebastien being at some risk – possibly of being taken for ransom – leading him to hide his identity.

So the scene becomes one where Antonio loves Sebastien, but they have reached a point of intimacy that Sebastien feels he needs to leave urgently.

Let me yet know of you whither you are bound.

Let me yet know of you whither you are bound.

There is fondness and trust from Sebastien, but his future and love lies elsewhere. Antonio wants him to stay – but ultimately cannot contain him – and equally cannot contain himself, as he runs off in pursuit of Sebastien to continue his protection.

In the staging, we began the scene with the two characters diagonally opposite; Sebastien on his feet, preparing to leave, and Antonio seated, watching him, distraught and trying to persuade him to stay – or at least take him along. Sebastien makes it to the door, but is turned around by Antonio’s “Let me know of you whither you are bound.” This draws Sebastien back in and seated close to Antonio to tell him “You must know me then…” Both thoughts of Viola and the painfulness of the intimacy drive Sebastien out the door – and that same intimacy pulls Antonio after him.

The next scene was Malvolio delivering the ring to Viola (as Caesario). We gave Malvolio a vocalization to stop Viola as Malvolio puts himself into

Receive it so.

Receive it so.

position to make his delivery. It’s all about him. Malvolio takes stage centre and the first point he raises is that Viola should have saved him the trouble of coming out to deliver it. He then makes it clear that Olivia wants nothing to do with Orsino – which is a direct insult to Viola’s ability to woo on the count’s behalf – says not to come back and then makes a show of delivering the ring. My thought is that the ring is extremely distasteful to Malvolio – and that he handles it like a used hanky – something that is not only beneath his dignity, but unctuous and deeply unpleasant. Viola’s refusal to take it triggers indignation and ire from him, as he physically withdraws a few paces (playing with exaggeration throughout). Our Malvolio made a great show of wiping his hand clean on his jacket after dropping the ring – and continuing to wipe it as he exited upstage centre.

Viola’s speech is a lovely monologue. She goes from puzzlement at what the ring business is about (“What means this lady?”); to delight at the thought of being the object of female desire (“I am the man!”); to concern at what a predicament she is in (“How will this fadge?”). Finding all the gear changes – changes in the tone of delivery – is part of the challenge, and fun, of this piece. I found that the visualization of the love triangle was helpful to clarify the last part of the speech. Viola is centrestage – she pictures Olivia to her downstage right, and Orsino to her downstage left – and as she speaks about one or the other, orients herself in that direction. “What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!” Great stuff.

 

The third scene we looked at is from scene iii – involving Maria, Sir Toby and gang, as Malvolio interrupts their merry-making. Two things to note here.

First, that we had Malvolio take time and care to enunciate and give special weight to each of his admonitions (“Have ye no wit, manners, nor honesty…“). We had him stand at the entrance to the kitchen and pound his hand for attention. He demands the full attention of his audience and enjoys the sound of his own voice.

The second thing is that we continued to play with a notion from Act I – that Feste loves Maria and is something of a competitor with Sir Toby for her

O no, no, no, no, you dare not!

O no, no, no, no, you dare not!

affections. This resonated nicely with the singing. “His eyes do show his days are almost done” is actually a stab at Sir Toby, as is “Sir Toby, there you lie.” And again, they are sparring in their exchange about Sir Toby asking Malvolio to leave. Feste’s “o no, no, no, no, you dare not” is a taunt; to which Sir Toby replies “Out o’ tune sir: ye lie.”

I like the idea of there being these two levels of confrontation happening simultaneously – Malvolio telling them all off, while Sir Toby and Feste are squabbling between themselves.

 

For the fourth scene, between Orsino and Viola, the focus was on playing Orsino broadly. He is also narcissistic, like Malvolio – but in a romantic way, loving love, and loving his own capacity to love. We had Orsino play much of his part out to the audience – with an admiring Viola gazing up at him longingly. The moment of transition in the scene is when Viola makes him turn to her on “Ay, but I know –“. Orsino turns to her with a casual “What dost thou know?” – but gets caught up in the intensity of her gaze. Viola delivers the line “Too well what love women to men may owe” with intense sincerity – an intimate moment. She breaks away immediately after with “In faith…”, but Orsino is drawn after her to ask “And what’s her history?” They hold the intimacy through the following lines – all the way through to “…and yet I know not”.

But dies thy sister of her love, my boy?

But dies thy sister of her love, my boy?

The Arden editor, Keir Elam, notes that the “…and yet I know not” is “an afterthought…evidently prompted by her melancholy reflection on Sebastien and his uncertain fate.” I offer a different reading, that this line continues  to answer Orsino’s question “But died thy sister of her love, my boy?” She is looking into Orsino’s eyes and feeling the impossibility of the realization of her dream to be with him – as herself.

 

 

Finally, we looked at the scene where Malvolio discovers the letter, watched by the pranksters. We had some fun with this – playing Malvolio downstage, with the plotters upstage, upstaging like mad.

these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s…

these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s…

The scene splits the audience’s focus between both Malvolio’s own comic monologue and the plotter’s antics behind him. We had Sir Toby and gang crouching in the background, rising up to speak, and squatting back down again. The image was something like whack-a-mole – and in staging the scene, I would love to play more with this kind of physical comic business.

 

This blog covers the Meetup.com workshop session conducted on May 2, 2015.

Re-published with permission from the Toronto Shakespeare Workshop (https://www.meetup.com/Toronto-Shakespeare-in-Performance-Workshop/)

Organiser: Justin Hay

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