Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 2

This is Peter's second blog entry for the 2002 production of Twelfth Night, in which he talks about singing in the production, relationships between characters in the play, and the the Globe audience.

Transcript of Podcast


Feste is the only character in the play that sings regularly, and I’ve been wondering why he does it. I think he believes that the words a person says aren’t necessarily truthful; he tells Cesario that "words are very rascals" (iii.1. 19-20). In Twelfth Night, a play about hidden identities and a lack of obvious truths, words, though entertaining, are uncomfortably malleable. Most of the characters in the play are not truthful with each other, and when they look for truths in each other, they often look in the wrong places. Whereas words are highly cerebral, (hence the wit required for one to become a "corrupter of words" (iii.1. 34), music speaks directly to the heart. Singing is often accompanied, and in this production, I have to play a pipe and tabor at certain points during the play. Although I’ve been practising hard, playing a drum and a pipe with only one hand for each instrument is quite tricky! I thought I was getting somewhere, but then Keith [McGowan, one of the Globe Musicians] came in to give me a lesson, and I realised how much I have left to learn! When a professional musician plays the pipe and tabor, it's something to simply watch and admire. So, I still have some practice to do…

We’ve been working on what I call the drinking scene (ii.3), when Sir Toby brings Aguecheek back to the house. At the beginning of the scene, I think Aguecheek half wants to end the evening and go to bed, but Belch persuades him to continue and when Feste appears, he lifts their spirits, as they feel that they can now have song to entertain them. They then sing a catch, a round, making more and more noise until Maria, then Malvolio, comes down to stop them, interruptions that they treat as great successes.

Character Relationships

Feste and Malvolio have a rather curious relationship, as each is in many ways the opposite of the other. Malvolio believes in structure and order, Feste in freedom from such ties. The challenge facing Olivia is to balance these contrasting forces. At the beginning of the play, the stricture of Malvolio suits Olivia in that it corresponds with her mourning duties. By the end of the play however, she is more ready to embrace freedom and truly live her life. Feste is very keen to relieve Olivia's despair, as he loves her. I don’t mean he loves her in a physical sense, but he knows the household; he was probably her father's fool, and later her brother’s. After both Olivia's father and brother died he left the house, as there's no place for a fool in a house of double death. By the time of the play, he's returned to revitalise the household and to restore Olivia's interest in life; although he recognises a need for sorrow and mourning, he doesn’t want the household to be irreversibly distorted by Malvolio's influence. Those close to Olivia are very pleased that he's returned, because they see him as a catalyst that will help to move the household out from the shadow of Malvolio's influence; Maria really wants to intercede with Olivia on Feste's behalf and tell her why he's been away so long.

Feste wants to affect Olivia, to change her outlook on life, but in the same way, I think he also wants to affect Malvolio. Once Feste has finished playing Sir Topaz, Belch remarks that he wishes Malvolio could be "conveniently delivered," but I don’t think Feste agrees. He wants to change Malvolio, to teach him that we must rely on others, and in the end Malvolio is forced to ask him to "help [him] to a candle, and pen, ink and paper" (iv.2.81). I think Feste hopes this might teach him that to despise others is ridiculous, as we’re all the same, but we don’t get a chance to find out whether he learns this lesson. People have argued over whether Malvolio leaves Olivia's household at the end of the play, but I think he does; surely it would be very difficult for him to stay, having admitted to a passionate yet unrequited love for his boss. Like Malvolio, Feste also leaves the household at the end of the play, but I’m not sure what this means yet.

The Globe Audience

I’ve been thinking about how I might communicate with a Globe audience, whether there are any lines I could deliver directly to them. In Middle Temple Hall, we (as a company) tried to directly engage with the audience as much as possible, but it seems to me that Feste doesn’t have that many opportunities to do so. The first time I speak directly to the audience is in Act 1 scene 5, when Feste is musing on the nature of a wise man and says to them "For what says Quinapalus? ‘Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.’" (i. 5. 32-3). He is asking the audience to back him up. In Act 4 scene 2, I think Feste reluctantly dresses up as Sir Topaz, as his reaction to Maria's urging is not exactly enthusiastic; "Well, I’ll put it on…" But he then goes on to wish that he were "the first that ever dissembled in such a gown." (iv.2. 4-6). When I directed this line at individuals watching the show at Middle Temple Hall, the audience as a whole would start to chuckle; the line seemed rather pertinent in the home of London's lawyers. At the Globe, the impact of the line will be less focused, the idea being simply that those who wear uniforms, whether members of the nobility, the church, the legal profession, the army or any other organisation, are capable of dissembling and deceiving others. There are terrible scandals breaking in the news every day, scandals taking place in different organisations worldwide. It's all about appearances and deception: that's what this play's about. Of course, this is slightly ironic, as all actors are dissemblers when they stand on stage pretending to be someone else. Having said that, the Globe space is a very honest space to work in, as unlike most theatres with their "realistic" sets, it's very clear to an audience that the actors on stage are, well, exactly that.

These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.

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