As this was my first exposure to Twelfth Night, I found it to be a funny and lighthearted read all with the thematic message that unfortunately, love is often a rollercoaster of pain and suffering. The love triangle between the Duke, Olivia and Viola reiterates just how much we can suffer from love, even if it is resolved by the play’s end. For less fortunate characters such as Malvolio, this idea is especially ingrained. He is duped into believing the beautiful Olivia is in love with him, not through her own words, but rather through the secrecy of a love letter written by Maria. Meanwhile, the other servants are in on it, providing themselves with entertainment at his expense. Perhaps, in locking away Malvolio for his strange and love-blinded behavior, Shakespeare is suggesting that not only is love pain and suffering, but this suffering can lead to adverse effects such as psychosis. The successful unification of the Duke and Viola, and additionally, Sebastian and Olivia, represents the best possible situation achieved through love, while the unresolved suffering of Malvolio and, likewise, Antonio, seem to signify the worst outcomes associated with being in unreciprocated love.
While I had not read Twelfth Night before this class, I have seen the film, She’s The Man, (2006) multiple times. I had not previously made the connection that She’s The Man is an adaptation of this Shakespearean comedy, but I had always really enjoyed the plot (although slightly modernized to the setting of a high school soccer rivalry at a prestigious school). This was before Amanda Bynes’ loony days – she did an exceptional job of representing a young woman who is fearless, dismissive of gender norms (such as rejecting the idea of a debutant ball), and willing to chase her dreams, all while disguised as her twin brother in the hopes of playing in an elite soccer championship that she otherwise would have been exempt from because of her true female identity.
The major difference between the text and the film is Viola’s reasoning for impersonating a man (to compete in an all-male soccer league because the girls’ league was shut down) and also the fact that the man she impersonates is her brother, Sebastian, and not the made-up Cesario. Another significant difference is the exclusion of Malvolio – he is seen briefly as a pet tarantula in one of the minor character’s dorm rooms. In his place are characters like Monique, a haughty cheerleader and the previous girlfriend of Sebastian, intending to do away with Olivia, as she becomes the object of Sebastian’s desire. In the film, Viola’s motivation for cross-dressing is based on ambitious purposes. She (Bynes) is still confined by gender roles, but less so than Shakespeare’s Viola, who might be viewed as an extremely vulnerable young woman living without the protection of a male family member, given the time period. Therefore, Viola in the film is limited by societal expectations, while Viola in the text is bound by the vulnerability of being a woman in general. I think this idea can be supported by the fact that the loss of Olivia’s brother (and father) leaves her in a compromised emotional state. Shakespeare seems to be suggesting that women need protection, or even love, to feel whole. Surely, this is in accordance with the times.