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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Oil Paintings on Shakespearean Themes

#116 "TWELFTH NIGHT"
Description of Painting - Oil on canvas 24" x 30"
by Hannah Tompkins

 

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In the summer of 1600 Shakespeare wrote "As You Like It". In the winter of the same year he wrote "TWELFTH NIGHT". He was 36 years old.

Both plays shared the same cast and explored similar themes: the Male-Female/ Good-Evil aspects of the human psyche divided by violent actions. Both plays also employ disguises and mistaken identities and end in forgiveness, reconciliation and multiple marriages.

All these elements are depicted in the painting of "Twelfth Night". Left center shows the twins, ; Viola disguised as a male page in the service of Duke Orsino, holding a scroll, (symbol of learning and enlightenment), and her brother, Sebastian, holding a dagger (symbol of destructive self-division).

It is Sebastian, who, in a crisis of mistaken identity, wounds both Toby and Sir Andrew in a duel intended for Viola. ,

On the lower right is the vessel, shipwrecked in a stormy sea that caused the separation of the twins.

The canvas is vertically divided by an endless stairway: the levels of the consciousness- unconsciousness.

On the upper right, behind the trees, symbols of life and regeneration, a pair of lovers are embracing.

The brightest focus is on the figure of Feste, the Fool, holding a candle that spreads a brilliant radiance, as he looks toward the lovers. He also hold a pen and parchment, the request of Malvolio, locked in the under-stairs closet as a cruel joke to cure his supposed madness.

When Malvolio complains about the darkness, Feste replies:
"There is no darkness but ignorance."
It is his role not only to bring light to the mind and laughter to the heart but also wisdom to the soul.

Robert Armin, who played the part of Feste, was the greatest Elizabethan fool actor. He joined the Shakespeare Co. in 1600 replacing William Kemp, who was, in his own right a true and magnificent clown. The general acting pattern for clowns was improvisational but in "As You Like It" and "Twelfth Night" the lines were written down and are major, starring roles, thanks to the genius of Robert Armin.

FIN


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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