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Twelfth Night
(or What You Will)

Please see the bottom of each scene for detailed explanatory notes on Twelfth Night.


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Why Two Titles?

The name Twelfth Night has no particular connection to the events in the play. The name likely comes from a performance of the play twelve days after Christmas, on the Feast of the Epiphany, possibly at Whitehall Palace in 1602. The mood of Twelfth Night certainly suits the occasion.

The alternative title, What You Will, possibly was Shakespeare's own name for the play (note the similarity to As You Like It), which might have been changed to distinguish it from John Marston's play, also called What You Will, written in 1601. A prominent nineteenth-century German scholar, Dr. Ulrici, found this second title very noteworthy, because "the groundwork of the piece is the general comic view itself, and because it does not here assume any modification, but all its motives and elements are put forth at once. It is left to the spectator to select at pleasure from them all, and to give to the whole the special signification and reference that may suit him, and to apply it according to his own personal humour and circumstances." (Shakespeare's Dramatic Art, Trans. A. J. W. Morrison)


More to Explore

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The First Malvolio... Richard Burbage, the greatest actor of the Elizabethan era, is thought to have been the first Malvolio. Richard Burbage achieved success as performer by the age of twenty and during his career he appeared in plays by Jonson, Kyd, Beaumont and Fletcher, and John Webster. He also played Othello, Hamlet, Lear, and, most notably, Richard III. Read on...


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