Twelfth Night

Fast facts

  • While the play is commonly known as ‘Twelfth Night’, the actual title of the play in full is ‘Twelfth Night or What You Will.’ We do not know what the latter part of the title definitively refers to, however many believe that it may refer to the topsy-turvy nature of ‘Epiphany Eve’ where anything is believed to be possible.

  • ‘Twelfth Night’ refers to the twelfth night after Christmas. a celebration, also known as ‘Epiphany Eve,’ falling on the 5th of January. The holiday is associated with disguise, misrule, and the idea of turning the world and societal order on its head for one night. In some traditions, cakes were made for the celebration and if you were to find a dried pea or bean in your slice of cake, you became ‘royalty’ for the day. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night this relates to Viola disguising herself as a man, and Malvolio thinking that he could raise himself to a higher status, becoming a nobleman and the partner of countess Olivia.

  • Illyria is a real place, not a place of dreamlike, romantic fiction as the name has come to connote. Illyria was a Roman province situated in modern day Albania, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy.To Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Illyria would have been a place synonymous with piracy.

  • Shakespeare labels Malvolio a Puritan which was a divisive term at the time. The Puritans were anti-theatre, anti-revelry, and most certainly anti-Catholic. Later in the 17th Century the Puritans would align themselves with the military regime headed by Lord Protector Cromwell who abolished the monarchy and formed the ‘Cromwellian’ Commonwealth of England. In 1642 Parliament ordered the closure of all theatres in London, with actors and theatre makers considered rogues and criminals. Theatres would not reopen until the English Restoration under Charles II in 1660.

  • Twelfth Night is the only Shakespearean play that mentions neither ‘child’ nor ‘children’.

  • Twelfth Night has been adapted for various mediums. It was made into a silent short film in 1910, several musicals in the late 20th and early 21st century, and the 2006 film adaptation She’s the Man starring Amanda Bynes.