by William Shakespeare
First sentence: “If music be the food of love, play on.”
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This is an insane play.
Girl gets shipwrecked in a town, disguises herself as a boy (probably a good thing, considering the time period), and goes to work for the head guy. Head Guy is in luuuuuv with the most beautiful girl in town (think: Gaston, starting at about 3:15 of this video) who constantly spurns his, um, affections. (At this point, C, who watched the 1980 BBC production with me as I read, said, “He’s SUCH a brat and dork!”) So, Head Guy sends Girl dressed as guy to woo Beautiful for him, and beautiful ends up falling for Girl (whom she thinks is a guy).
With me so far?
Then, Girls twin brother (whom she thought was dead at sea) arrives in town and suddenly everything become really, really confusing. People think Brother is Girl, including Beautiful, who up and marries him the first time she comes across him (thinking he’s Girl (dressed as a guy)). And Girl, who’s fallen for Head Guy, is trying to sort things out and get out of Beautiful’s obsession with her, and something else happens that involves a really, really, really bad joke gotten way out of hand, and suddenly everyone is happily ever after.
Like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, this one balances right between insanity and tragedy. There’s so much that could go wrong, if people’s attitudes had gone a completely different way. Malvolio — the guy who the really bad joke was played on — was given a sop at the end, and sent off though his parting words are “I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you.” so who knows what could happen next. Besides, all these romances are built upon love at first sight, so who knows how any of them will turn out? I mean, Orsino is all pining for Olivia, but then he realizes she’s
married and Violet is a girl and he’s all of a sudden “Oh, I love you now, how about we hook up”?
I do wonder if Shakespeare was poking fun at something: love at first sight? Stupid nobles with nothing else to do? It wasn’t as funny as some of his other comedies. It was confusing, but lacked the inane hilarity of Midsummer Night’s Dream. And the wit of Much Ado About Nothing. It was a lot of silly people running around falling in luuuv.
But, I suppose, that’s not a bad thing on a hot summer day.