In the midst of constantly thinking about what our students need for success and happiness in a rapidly changing world, I find something almost reassuring about seeing one of Shakespeare’s plays. He reminds us that even though the priorities and mores of an age may change–along with fashion, technology and taste–human nature itself really does not change.
I recently saw the Westport Country Playhouse production of Twelfth Night, one of my favorite plays. I love it because humanity in all its “infinite variety” is captured within the magical and enclosed realm of Illyria, a world of comedy and romance laced with a strong dose of realism.
The characters in Twelfth Night exhibit abiding and universal human traits, the good and the bad, almost in binary opposition to each other: self-awareness and lack of self-awareness; self-deception, deception; love, self-love; generosity, meanness of spirit; kindness, intolerance; and always mischief. However, it is Feste the clown in the Elizabethan tradition of jesters as the truth tellers as well as the “corrupter of words”, who perhaps supplies Shakespeare’s own comment on the story. Feste possesses the wit required by his profession, along with intellectual agility and insights into character that give us Shakespeare’s unerring feel for the universalities of human conduct as well as the frailties of the particular age.
I think the play has an almost perfect ending, with Feste’s song that unites the disparate elements. The song at once bids farewell to the magical world of Illyria, the revelers and the romance, and reminds us of the workaday world of reality against whose wind and rain, whether in the 1600’s or the 21st century, we must constantly be fortified.