In this scene, Viola and a shipwrecked crew pull themselves out of the sea onto the shore of Illyria. Viola’s brother Sebastian is not with them and she fears he has drowned. The captain tries to convince her that there is a chance he survived, but Viola seems to have little hope. Viola must find a way to support herself in this new land. The captain is a native of these lands and explains that Duke Orsino rules Illyria. Viola knows of him and instantly recalls that his marital status as a bachelor. The captain confirms that he is still unmarried, yet he also informs her that the Duke is unsuccessfully courting Lady Olivia who is mourning her dead brother. This similar situation spurs Viola to want to be a servant in Olivia’s house so that she too can hide away from the world to mourn her brother. The captain replies that it would be unlikely Viola would be welcomed into the household. Viola then determines that she will disguise herself as a man and gain a position in Orsino’s household instead. She promises to pay the captain handsomely if he helps her complete her plan.
Close Reading Analysis:
- Discussion Points:
Characterization of Viola:
Her immediate lack of concern that her brother may have survived
Her first reaction to hide
Her response to attach herself to a man, particularly one she knows to be an attractive bachelor
Her quick decision to disguise herself as a man to negate that she is a woman alone
How do these qualities introduce us to Viola’s daring character?
(Line 35) What's she?
How is this an interesting way to phrase the question? What does this say about Viola and her opinion of other women?
Willing Suspension of Disbelief for the Moment
Discuss Coleridge’s voluntary non-disbelief we exercise in the enjoyment of poetry and drama. What already seems impossible that we must accept to propel us into the plot?
Potential for Tragedy Within a Comedy
Discuss the elements of a tragedy and how these characters could be set up for a potential tragedy.
Vocabulary and Literary Devices
Use of the word "virtuous" (Line 36)
In Shakespeare’s time, a woman’s virtue was integral to her state of worth and social standing. Even a rumor could be quite detrimental to a woman of the upper class.
1. Shakespeare often disguises one gender as another in his plays. The audiences of past and present believe this to be silly or ludicrous, but yet go along with it to serve the purpose of the plot. How does this cross-dressing add complexity and add humor to the performance? What modern examples do we see used in literature and film?
1.VIDEO Watch the entire scene (Lines 1-63)from Twelfth Night Act 1 Sc 2 QuickTime Video.
Ask the students to critique the actor who plays Viola.
Discuss body positioning to show emotions of fear, sadness, excitement, and perplexity. Ask the students how timing and stage positioning adds to the communicated message or development of mood and emotion.
After watching the video and discussing non-verbal messaging, cast character roles to perform the scene without using any dialogue. Students must show the complex play of emotions Viola experiences and perform the scene in a way so that the audience understands her decision-making process. The class will watch and critique the scene as to what could make it a better performance.
1. What is a eunuch? Were they an accepted part of society or why and how was the term derived? (additional search terms: “castrato, castrati”)