Celebration Quotation – January 5, 2016
We’re celebrating Twelfth Night with a quote from Twelfth Night:
So what is Twelfth Night? It’s a Christian holiday – the end of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” that marks the final evening of the Christmas season and the coming of the Epiphany on January 6. On Twelfth Night, people gather together with family and friends to eat, drink (a lot), and celebrate. Historically, Twelfth Night was also a time for playing pranks on friends and neighbors.
In Shakespeare’s day, Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival season that began on All Hallows Eve (Halloween). At the Twelfth Night celebration feast, a cake was served that contained one bean. The person who found the bean in his piece of cake was crowned the “Lord of Misrule” and presided over the feast. The Lord of Misrule – who was often a peasant, a servant, or a child, even at a royal feast – had the power to command anyone to do anything – no matter how outrageous – until the end of his reign at midnight.
There is an alternate title for Twelfth Night: What You Will. Shakespeare scholars still argue about the meaning of the title. Some say that the play was written at the command of Queen Elizabeth I, and first performed for her and her guest Count Don Virginio Orsino, on January 6, 1601. (Orsino, you may remember, is the name of a character in the play.) The What You Will title is speculated to relate directly to the Queen – the equivalent of “Here’s my play, as Your Majesty commanded.” Other scholars disagree and say that Twelfth Night was written later than 1601. The What You Will title is speculated to be Shakespeare’s way of saying to his audience, “Here’s my play: make of it what you will.”
I’m sure there are other theories out there, but it’s not our intention to turn these posts into a scholarly thesis. The truth about what Shakespeare intended in the meaning of the title may never be known. But it doesn’t matter – Twelfth Night is a glorious play, and one of my personal favorites!
The image is from a painting of Sir Toby Belch – a character in the play whose role in life is to be a perpetual “Lord of Misrule” – the painting is by Sir George Henry Hall, c. 1854. Image Source: Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection