From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Twelfth Night: Misrule rules

Orsino and Viola (by F. R. Pickersgill) 
Twelfth Night is so confusing that people are still trying to figure out just when it is.  You would think that if Christmas were December 25th (which it isn’t always), then the evening of December 25th would be First Night.

Not necessarily. tells us that “the 12 day count actually begins with the eve of December 25” (which is Christmas Eve, but actually the evening of December 24th).  Using this ancient logic, then Twelfth Night would actually fall on Epiphany Eve (January 5th) rather than on Epiphany Day (January 6th).

If this sounds somewhat topsy-turvy, it’s nothing compared to the plot of Shakespeare’s (Bacon’s? Marlowe’s?) Twelfth Night play (the name of which is actually What You Will, but who’s noticing).  The first recorded performance of this play was at the close of the 1601-02 winter merrymaking season, the festivities of which lasted from Halloween until Candlemas (now that’s a lot of eggnog).  The storyline not only entails a man who is actually a woman, but also a ridiculed servant who fancies himself beloved.

It’s not just that Shakespeare had an overwrought imagination, it’s also that he tried to mirror the Feast of Fools.  During this medieval festival, which many believe grew out of the Roman Saturnalia, there was “a brief social revolution, in which power, dignity and impunity is briefly conferred on those in a subordinate
position.”  Wikipedia reports that “young people, who played the chief parts, chose from among their own number a mock pope, archbishop, bishop or abbot to reign as Lord of Misrule."  This Lord of Misrule was then in charge of the festivities, the tones of which were often quite wild and subversive.  According to
Wikipedia, this instant ruler was suddenly given the power “to command anyone to do anything during the  holiday period.”  Makes the antics of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew seem quite tame by comparison…

These days, Twelfth Night is but a shadow of its former self.  Although wassailing remains, nothing much beyond a demand for figgy pudding occurs.  Perhaps folks are instead conserving their energies for the Carnival season, which in many countries begins immediately afterwards.


Copyright January 5, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

No comments:

Post a Comment