Twelfth Night

by Nick

A quick post for now: I was at Middle Temple last weekend for the wedding of two of my friends. Appropriately, it was the twelfth night of the month, since Middle Temple Hall is the first recorded venue for a performance of Twelfth Night. The diary of the law student John Manningham records that on 2 February 1602:

At our feast we had a play called “Twelve Night, or What You Will”, much like “The Comedy of Errors” or “Menaechmi” in Plautus, but most like and near to that in Italian called “Inganni”. A good practice in it to make the steward believe his lady-widow was in love with him, by counterfeiting a letter as from his lady, in general term telling him what she liked best in him and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparel, etc. and then, when he came to practice, making him believe they took him for mad.

The Hall is a wonderful example of an Elizabethan dining hall, complete with double hammer beam roof and dominated by a large Van Dyck school portrait of Charles I on horseback.

Although Middle Temple suffered heavy bomb damage during the Second World War, in terms of architecture and design it looks largely as it might have done at the time of Twelfth Night‘s performance. It’s a wonderful thought to imagine oneself there amidst Middle Temple students on that winter night in 1602.

Naturally this is something Shakespearean scholars and enthusiasts have also done. The modern Globe Company staged a reconstruction of the 1602 performance four hundred years on in 2002 – you can read a review of that night in Early Modern Literary Studies here. C. Walter Hodges also included it in his illustrated reconstruction of Shakespearean stagings, Enter the Whole Army, and while it would be cheeky of me to reproduce his illustrations here, happily they’re available as part of the limited preview function on Google Books. He imagines it being acted against the backdrop of the Hall Screen, which would make sense given that there is a balcony above this that could have housed musicians.

1. David Nicol, “Review of Twelfth Night.” Early Modern Literary Studies 8.1 (May, 2002): 10.1-23.

2. Cyril Walter Hodges, Enter the Whole Army: A Pictorial Study of Shakespearean Staging, 1576-1616 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1999, pp. 141-146.