One of Shakespeare's finest comedies, Twelfth Night
was written at the same time as Hamlet
and Troilus and Cressida
, and whilst it shares their fascination with sex, death and confused identities, its exuberant comedy and linguistic inventiveness rises above the introspection of these plays. Viola and her twin brother Sebastian are separated in a storm, which washes them both up at different points on the shores of Illyria. Believing each other to be dead, both attempt to survive by using their wits. Viola cross-dresses and enters the service of the lovesick Orsino, in love with Olivia, an heiress in mourning for the loss of her brother. Orsino's saucy young page Cesario (Viola) soon falls in love with "his" master, who tells "him", "all is semblative a woman's part". Unfortunately, whilst Viola falls in love with Orsino, Olivia falls in love with her alter ego, Cesario, whilst also being pursued at the same time by her pompous servant Malvolio. Olivia's house is also turned upside down by the antics of her drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch, and the whole crazy situation reaches boiling point when Sebastian reappears.
Despite the madcap plot, Twelfth Night remains one of Shakespeare's most complex and inventive comedies, fascinated with questions of cross-dressing, gender confusion, language and inversion, as well as retaining a darker edge to some of its laughter. --Jerry Brotton
From School Library Journal
Grade 4-8-In this verbal and visual treat, readers have the opportunity to enjoy one of Shakespeare's best-loved comedies. Coville's author's note explains that his prose adaptation is "not meant as a replacement for the original, but as an appetizer for the greater feast still to come." Thus, the story is clear and carefully told, making it easy both to follow the primary and secondary plot lines and to appreciate the intricacies of their interweavings. Coville keeps the flavor of the playwright's poetic language by using actual quotes from the play and expressions and a formal sentence structure true to the style of Elizabethan times. Delightful full-page, colored pen-and-ink illustrations add just the right touch of humor to the already wacky tale. Raglin gives a distinctive identity to all of the characters, despite their attempted disguises, and he does a particularly good job of differentiating the buffoons of the subplot from the more realistically drawn dramatis personae. Colors and designs clearly suggest the Italian court dress of the times, and accurate architectural details add life to the settings. More suited to modern audiences than Charles and Mary Lamb's classic Tales from Shakespeare (Signet, 1986), and far better written than Jan Dean's Twelfth Night (Oxford, 2002), this is a version that will have young listeners begging to portray the Bard's scenes onstage. And, isn't that, after all, the whole point?-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI
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