• Born 1564; died 1616
  • We know surprisingly few details about Shakespeare’s early life
  • married Anne Hathaway in 1582
  • Worked as an actor and a playwright in London by the early 1590’s
  • Versions of his plays circulated as hand-written manuscripts, prompt books, and possibly pirated texts, None of these versions have survived

Publishing Plays

  • Folio: Books come in different shapes, depending originally on the number of times a standard sheet of paper is folded. One fold produces a large volume, a folio book; two folds produces a quarto, four an octavo, and six a very small duodecimo. Generally speaking, the larger the book, the grader and more expensive. Shakespeare’s plays were, for example, first printed in quartos, but were gathered into a folio edition in 1623 (NA, Appendix).
  • Eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays were published in quarto form

The First Folio

  • In 1623, seven years after his death, two of Shakespeare’s colleagues – the actors John Heminges and Henry Condell – published Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, which is also known as the “first folio” edition of Shakespeare’s plays
  • This edition was quite expensive, it cost around 1 pound to purchase, and was prefaced with a poem by Ben Jonson describing Shakespeare as “not of an age, but for all time.”
  • The first folio is divided into three sections: tragedies, histories, and comedies
  • Twelfth Night – which was written around 1601 and first performed in 1602 – was included as one of Shakespeare’s comedies
  • When considering the play, we should pay attention to the ways in which it conforms – or does not conform – to our expectations of comedy as a genre

Staging Gender

  • “Women did not perform on the English public stage during Shakespeare’s lifetime; all the great women’s roles in Elizabethan and Jacobean plays, from Juliet and Lady Macbeth to the duchess of Malfi, were written to be performed by trained adolescent boys…Twelfth Night, or What You Will, written for Shakespeare’s all-male company, plays brilliantly with these conventions. The comedy depends upon an actor’s ability to transform himself, through costume, voice, and gesture, into a young a noblewoman, Viola, who transforms herself, through, costume voice, and gesture, into a young man, Cesario” (NA 510)
  • “The play’s delicious complication follow from the emotional tangles that these transformations engender, unsettling fixed categories of sexual identity and social class and allowing character to explore emotional territory that a culture officially hostile to same-sex desire and cross-class marriage would have ruled out of bounds…” (NA 510)

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