Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Twelfth Night

I try to write a little something most days. I read once that to be a writer you must discipline yourself to writing at least a thousand words a day. Heck, I sometimes don't even say a thousand words in a day. So when inspiration is hiding from me, and I know it's been a day or two since my last post, and I don't want to take the easy way out and write about music, I have to just force myself to write something and hope that the action of writing will coax something readable from my fingers. So what to write? Well, I will say that it is the 5th and the decorations and tree are down, just in the nick of time. January 5th is supposedly the traditional day to take down all the Christmas decor. Why? Because January 5th is Twelfth Night. What is Twelfth Night, you say? Isn't it some Shakespeare play? Well, yes, it is that, but why's that called Twelfth Night?

Twelfth Night is a festival on the Christian calendar marking the conclusion of the Twelve Days Of Christmas. And you thought that was just some goofy Christmas song about a guy giving his girlfriend a bunch of strange stuff for presents? Turns out that despite some modern folklore that the song was written as a 'catechism song'  to help young Catholics learn their faith, at a time when practicing Catholicism was discouraged in England (1558 until 1829), the song is indeed just a goofy song.
The festival, however, marks the beginning of Epiphany. The belief that it is unlucky to leave the decorations from Christmas up past the 5th of  January comes from the festival of Candlemas on February 2.

The play, Twelfth Night, Or What You Will  is believed to have been written by Bill The Shake around 1600-01 with the express purpose of being entertainment for the close of the Christmas season. Its earliest known performance was on Candlemas 1602. 
I remember reading Twelfth Night in English class in my 3rd year of secondary school, in Geoff Reed's class. I've written about Geoff before, in the post Poetry Corner. As usual he lent his lovely West Country brogue to the reading of this play. As is usual, though, along with most of what I read in school, I retained very little of it. Pretty much all I remember of Twelfth Night is the opening lines:

"If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour!"

These lines are delivered by Count Orsino, not the protagonist of the play, but certainly an important character. In the 1996 Trevor Nunn version, these are not the opening lines. Nunn puts in a whole scene of the shipwreck, so that those who have never read or seen the play before will know how Viola came to be shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria.
Here's that production, starring such luminaries as Imogen Stubbs, Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness Of King George), Ben Kingsley (Gandhi), Helena Bonham-Carter and the awesome Mel Smith in a wonderful turn as Sir Toby Belch.

See, I told you if I make myself write, something readable happens.

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