Plight me the full assurance of your faith;
That my most jealous and too doubtful soul
May live at peace. What do you say?
Maybe not the most romantic of proposals - but perhaps one of the most honest? And, judging by the ensuing acceptance, apparently one of the most effective?
Shipwrecks, twins, disguises, gender reversal and mistaken identity - all staple Shakespearean tropes. But it is love that is the focus in Twelfth Night and in ILL-yria, love hits people like the plague: instantly upending comfortable conformity, provoking rash, risky and inappropriate behaviour and plunging people onto emotional roller coasters.
Attraction is not a choice. Blindfolded Cupid fires his arrows randomly and with no regard to social standing.
Shakespeare, the great humanist, affectionately satirises our absurd and irrational behaviour; he accepts that sex and love will always have their ironic and perverse dimensions; he empathises that we are inheritors of an endless irreconcilable conflict between Apollo and Dionysus: the desire for order and for our desire to free.
Malvolio and Sir Toby are embodiments of these two icons at their most extreme and most mean-spirited - the one, petty and punishing; the other selfish and deceitful. Malvolio sees Toby as an enemy of order, Toby sees Malvolio as an enemy to life. But every character buckles under the pressure of contradictory forces of what they know they should do and what their “desire more sharp than filed steel” spurs them to do.
It’s a comedy – a farce - and is fun to watch the madness, to see pretension unravel, and people make mistakes. We’re relieved when the confusion gets cleared up - but not everyone gets the satisfaction of a neatly tied bow of resolution and in the sweetness of the reunions and the marriages, there is still a lot of mess, foreboding bitterness and knots that won’t easiily be untied.
Just a bit like life, really.