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Twelfth Night: Interpretations Through the Directors Staging

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Twelfth Night: Interpretations through the Directors Staging Antonio: I could not stay behind you: my desire, More sharp than filed steel, did spur me forth; And not all love to see you, though so much As might have drawn one to a longer voyage, But jealousy what might befall your travel, Being skilless in these parts; which to a stranger, Unguided and unfriended, often prove Rough and unhospitable: my willing love, The rather by these arguments of fear, Set forth in your pursuit. (Twelfth Night, 3. 3. 6-16)

For hundreds of years people from all over the world have seen the works of William Shakespeare performed by thousands of actors. Twelfth Night or What you Will is but one of the many comedies written by William Shakespeare that have been produced in many formats, from theater, television and even several feature films. So many different productions of the same works have opened the door to directors adding their own twist to the original script to make it their own. One play can be performed countless different ways, from very conservative or to unconventional depending on the director’s interpretation and intentions.

So all writings are open for creative interpretation thus being for this paper I am going to focus on the directorial staging of this play and how the staging and direction brought the focus of the subplot of Antonio and Sebastian into a homoerotic relationship opposed to other renditions of Twelfth Night that were homosocial. Directors have creatively reconstructed these plays pulling from the era, the popular ideology of the community and political correctness at the times the different styles and interpretations so that Shakespeare can be adapted to the current times.

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My most recent exposure to the Shakespeare is Twelfth Night as it was performed in Ashland, Oregon, during the 2010 Shakespeare Festival, directed by Darko Tresnjak. The design and style of the set design and costumed was reminiscent of the movie Mozart in the play bill the director did mention that this movie did give him some inspiration for these choices. The white costumes of the Dukes court. The season was summery with no hint of the holidays, no Christmas ornamentation. The actors who played Sebastian and Antonio with the direction from the director acted out the relationship between them as overly homosexual, as if they were lovers.

Antonio was far more feminine and flamboyant (similar to the role played by Johnny Depp in the movie Pirates of the Carrabin) and Sebastian was more masculine. I think the director used this opportunity to emphasize this aspect of our modern American homosexual subculture. I think the director wanted to reflect upon homosexuality in America currently instead of the over emphasized the traditional comedic element of cross dressing and mischievous misrepresentation of the sexes that has been a popular and humorous way to perform Shakespeare’s plays.

True this play has homoerotic elements in it that hundreds of years ago were considered humor, cross dressing, falling in love with a “perception” of what is not what you perceive. This was recreated in several comedies during this time. At the time this was written for popular entertainment to be funny and absurd. A romantic comedy where someone falls in love with an illusion and is made to look foolish is an underlying theme in many comedies of the time.

The director in the Ashland example defiantly imposes the ideology of modern homosexuality into this version of Twelfth Night. This becomes evident in Act 2, Scene 1 (2. 1. 1-52); “… ANTONIO: If you will not murder me for my love, let me be your servant. SEBASTIAN: If you will not undo what you have done, that is, kill him whom you have recovered, desire it not. Fare ye well at once: my bosom is full of kindness, and I am yet so near the manners of my mother, that upon the least occasion more mine eyes will tell tales of me. I am bound to the Count Orsino's court: farewell.

Exit…. ” Because the director in the Ashland production had the actor playing Antonio over emphasize his lines in this part of the scene and seam to beg Sebastian as a lover. I would like to introduce two other performances of Twelfth Night that I have selected for this paper, on top of the live performance in Ashland, two other performances of Twelfth Night to exhibit the different ways directors can creatively interpret Shakespeare through the staging and direction to intertwine modern ideas and ideology through their direction, making it relevant for today.

I am using a BBC television performance and an American film and I have decided to focus on the characters of Sebastian and Antonio in all three performances to compare the director’s style and depiction of this relationship, of these two, and to see the effect on the whole production. Second I want to introduce an example from the American produced feature film of Twelfth Night or What you Will (Nunn) from Fine Line Features Presents a Renaissance Film, directed by Trevor Nunn run time 134min.

The actors who played Sebastian and Antonio, under the directors guidance, created a relationship between these two men that suggested a fatherly bond as if Antonio, who saved Sebastian from the ocean, became a surrogate father to this young man Sebastian, who has lost his sister and father. Of all the versions this particular depiction made the most sense and really brought the words to life between these two. Antonio in Act 5, reaction became so believable first the betrayal and confusion with Cesario (Viola) response of not knowing him and then later when Sebastian enters onto the stage, Antonio’s comments on both of them.

Act 5 (5. 257-277) “…ANTONIO: Sebastian are you? SEBASTIAN: Fear'st thou that, Antonio? ANTONIO: How have you made division of yourself? An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin than these two creatures. Which is Sebastian?... ” I found the performance of the actor who played Antonio as a genuine caring father type to be accurate and in this moment the film captures the disbelief of a man who is seeing a mirror image of his own child. This is what made the words of Shakespeare come alive and gave a hint of truth to this unbelievable tale.

This is why I believe that this particular twist is more believable and follows more closely to what the original production would have suggested. The third performance I am introducing is the British production by a Renaissance Theatre Production of Twelfth Night or What you Will A&E, Thames Television in association with the BBC television production directed by Kenneth Branagh run time 165min. the setting of this production was late 1800’s in depth of winter with snow and wind and barren trees, almost on the brink of spring.

The director kept in pace with the title of the play by having a Christmas tree, and other holiday novelties. The actors who played Sebastian and Antonio in this production, were staged and directed in the relationship between them as “sportsmen”, as if they had become best sportsman like friends “Good Chaps” in the intonations the director has obviously instructed the actors to play down the dialogue that leave a hint of homosocial relationship. This is evident in the way that the end of ACT 2 (2. 1. -52); “SEBASTIAN: If you will not undo what you have done, that is, kill him whom you have recovered, desire it not. Fare ye well at once: my bosom is full of kindness, and I am yet so near the manners of my mother, that upon the least occasion more mine eyes will tell tales of me. I am bound to the Count Orsino's court: farewell. Exit (this was spoken up beat and as if he was going to a sporting event. ) ANTONIO: The gentleness of all the gods goes with thee! I have many enemies in Orsino's court; else would I very shortly see thee there. This was spoken with a challenge and boisterous. ) But, come what may, I do adore thee so, (this phrase was almost whispered as if it was a second thought. ) That danger shall seem sport, and I will go. Exit” (the last statement before his exit was stated as if he was embarking on an adventure. ) the way that this was performed by the actor who played Antonio played up the masculine and down played the tenderness. This being a British production the topic of homosexuality has been downplayed and not openly addressed, because it is improper etiquette.

The idea of still being a man in the public and not projecting your personal preferences is a very real behavior, where as in America it would be acceptable to be “Out of the closet”. In Europe men’s sexual preference is not something of polite conversation and is not labeled as it is in America because in England the perception of “man” doesn’t lose their manly hood by having male relations. So this being a British Television production the director would have never broached the subject of homosexuality.

In America we have grown accustomed to labeling relationships and categorizing everything where in Europe they have grown beyond that and do not need to push labels I believe this was touched on in Manliness Before Individualism: Masculinity, Effeminacy, and Homoerotic in Shakespeare's History Plays Rebecca Ann Bach points out that “…all of which depict England in disorder, are profoundly interested in how manliness is constructed and maintained. Because gender roles and the social order were deeply intertwined in Renaissance England, masculinity surfaces constantly as a point of tension…. (Bach) and she goes on to discuss “…Today we live in a world in which men and women are, by definition, separate kinds of people; our culture expends enormous energy from the birth of a child creating and maintaining the distinctions between men and women…” showing the separation of the perception of the rolls of men and women in the very different eras. This seems to be what draws so many to Shakespeare is that he interweaves this idea of separation into a comical theme and makes light of this need to separate and label. This may be why today in England the separation seems to be less than in America.

From the evidence I have discovered I surmise that in the time of Shakespeare, the rolls of men and woman were quite different, and to have a young man play the role of a woman was common place due to no female actors, as they do today. To reverse the reversal is somewhat funny for the time, it can also be ironic, or homoerotic. The debate will continue through my time and for eons as to what was really intended by the words of Shakespeare. I do believe though that is the directors who project modern ideologies into the plays, not the writer.

I believe it is the director’s drive to personalize and to modernize the work and bring it up to date. The desire to connect the past on a deeper intimate level that makes this director inject such modern ideas into these classics. Humans have a deep seated need to connect with the past and to interpret the past on a personal level and to be able to see ourselves in the past. I believe that the modernization of Plays actually pull us farther away from the past. So even though I may have thought that the staging of Antonio and Sebastian were homosexual and I thought it took away from the whole of the play.

The director injected his views of this performance of Twelfth Night to reflect on today’s society and to touch the audience of today, not of yesterday. Directors have always brought the past to life and this is another example of the modern interpretation of Shakespeare. I have to wonder though, what would William think about this production? Work Cited Page: 1. Bach, Rebecca Ann. Manliness Before Individualism: Masculinity, Effeminacy, and Homoerotic in Shakespeare's History Plays. Online October 14, 2010. http://www. blackwellreference. com/public/tocnode? id=g9781405136068_chunk_g978

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