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Twelfth Night

16011602

Twelfth Night, or What You Will is a comedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written around 1601–1602 as a Twelfth Night's entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. The play centres on the twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck. Viola (who is disguised as Cesario) falls in love with Duke Orsino, who in turn is in love with the Countess Olivia. Upon meeting Viola, Countess Olivia falls in love with her thinking she is a man.

The play expanded on the musical interludes and riotous disorder expected of the occasion, with plot elements drawn from the short story "Of Apollonius and Silla" by Barnabe Rich, based on a story by Matteo Bandello. The first recorded performance was on 2 February 1602, at Candlemas, the formal end of Christmastide in the year's calendar. The play was not published until its inclusion in the 1623 First Folio.

Malvolio courts a bemused Olivia, while Maria covers her amusement, in an engraving by R. Staines af...

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The full title of the play is Twelfth Night, or What You Will. Subtitles for plays were fashionable in the Elizabethan era, and though some editors place The Merchant of Venice's alternative title, The Jew of Venice, as a subtitle, this is the only Shakespearean play to bear one when first published.

The play was probably finished between 1600 and 1601, a period suggested by the play's referencing of events which happened during that time. A law student, John Manningham, who was studying in the Middle Temple in London, described the performance on 2 February 1602 (Candlemas) which took place in the hall of the Middle Temple at the formal end of Christmastide in the year's calendar, and to which students were invited. This was the first recorded performance of the play. The play was not published until its inclusion in the First Folio in 1623.

The title page of Twelfth Night from the 1623 First Folio

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Published in 17/09/2018

Updated in 19/02/2021

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