The Twelfth Night: Comparison Of The Play And The Film

'The Twelfth Night' also known as 'The Twelfth Night or What You Will' was written by William Shakespeare as a play in 1601. It was believed to have been written specifically to perform in front of Queen Elizabeth I to celebrate the holiday of Twelfth Night, a Christian holiday that is celebrated at the end of the twelve days of Christmas. During the Elizabethan era, it was common for people to attend masquerade balls, which were events where attendees would wear a costume and a mask and pretend to be someone else, concealing their real identities. Shakespeare took on this idea and incorporated in his play the main female character, Viola, a girl who dresses up to impersonate a male.

The Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy play. The main focus of the play is romantic love and Shakespeare shows that love can cause pain like when Orsino points out that his desires for Olivia are 'fell and cruel hounds'. The confusion that is caused due to the gender identities of the characters shows to be a sexual mess. In summary, Viola likes Orsino, but cannot tell him as she is impersonating the character of the boy Cesario. Orsino likes Olivia, but Olivia likes Viola who is dressed as the boy Cesario. However in the end, it was all a happy ending as Orsino realises he loves Viola and proposes to her and Sebastian and Olivia are together.

The play was so successful and popular that it was created into a movie called 'Twelfth Night or What You Will'. The film was directed by Trevor Nunn and it was initially released on the 6th of September, 1996 as a remake of the original play. The film stayed true to the plot and followed it without any additions of changes or twists. Both of the play and movie included the same significant characters such as Orsino, Viola, Olivia and many more.

However, when transitioning an imaginary story into a reality using motion pictures, there will always be changes. This can range from actors portraying a different character than anyone and even the author may have expected, to cutting out or restricting the time on important scenes due to the time constraint of movies only being approximately two hours.

It was evident that there were differences in the written text and the film text. For example, a short scene at the start of the film showed the twins, Viola and Sebastian where it was a flashback of when they got separated on the shipwreck. This scene would not be possible to act out in a play as it would not be possible to have the equipment to do so. The scene's purpose is to give the viewers’ background knowledge to whom Viola and Sebastian were. Also, in the scene we observe Viola to be the main protagonist whereas in the play, it is actually Duke Orsino.

Another distinguishable difference was the cast. In Shakespeare's initial production during the 17th century, the performers were all male. This 'all-male cast' was ironic as the character Viola was played by a man acting as woman acting as a man. This is known as double-cross-dressing where males play female characters disguising themselves as males. In the movie from 1996 however, there were both male and female actors. During the Renaissance England era, it was actually illegal for women to perform in theatres, hence the reason why it was an all-male cast.

An additional feature shown in the movie, but not the book is that the fictitious island Illyria is in a state of war for an unknown reason and unknown enemy side. This is shown in the movie where there were many guards and a scene with artillery fire. This added suspense to the film when Viola and the others were washed ashore on Illyria where they had to hide from soldiers because they were refugees.

Another thing that was noticeable was how Trevor Dunn used 'show, not tell'. Nunn was able to depict ideas visually rather than stating them verbally. For instance, when Sir Toby Belch is introduced, Trevor did not include anything verbal that suggested he was drunk, but instead the actor of Sir Toby acted drunk and sipped on alcohol to indicate that he was intoxicated.

Overall, both the film and play writing were outstanding. The text, being more difficult to comprehend allows readers the freedom of imagination to visualise the scenes and characters. Also, Trevor Nunn's screenplay turned out to be incredible too as it was an excellent adaptation to the classic story. Although the movie restricts the visualisation of settings and characters, it gives us a representation from Trevor Nunn's view of Twelfth Night which is really interesting as well. Nunn did a great job of sticking to the main storyline and not changing too many things. Both the written version and the film version is worth watching as even though it is the same story, there are some differences that make them unique from each other.

16 August 2021
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