Love is Love: Gender and the truth in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Love is Love: Gender and the truth in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Love is Love: Gender and the truth in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night (1602) is a play about Love. It is a dark, bittersweet comedy which audiences find at once funny, inspiring, and disturbing. Using the vehicle of comedy, which has the power to heal grave emotional ills, Shakespeare pulls the plug on the antics of human behaviour and the concepts and consciousnesses they subscribe to when it comes to ‘thinking about’ gender, love, and desire.

Twelfth Night hilariously reveals the mad re-interpretations of ‘love’ and ‘gender’ that we have said ‘yes’ to and which have kept us stuck in a repeating cycle of desire, rejection, degradation, excitement, melancholy, and torment . . . all of which we have imagined love to be, but which has actually set us up to keep love at bay.

The opening scene of the play plunges straight into the unmasking of the insanity of desire. Orsino (governor and Duke of Illyria) is in ‘love’ with the Countess Olivia who rejects him soundly as she is in tumultuous grief over the death of her brother, ‘for whose dear love,/ They say, she hath abjured the company/ And sight of men.’[1.2.36-8] Caught in his self-imposed role of the rejected, afflicted lover, Orsino regales the audience as he wrestles with his lovesick condition:

‘If music be the food of love, play on, /Give me excess of it, that surfeiting/ the appetite may sicken and so die./ That strain again, it had a dying fall./ O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet south/ That breathes upon a bank of violets,/ Stealing and giving odour. Enough! no more/ ’Tis not so sweet now as it was before. [Music ceases]/ O spirit of love, how quick and fresh [hungry] art thou.’[1.1.1-9]

Orsino wants music, the ‘food’ of love, to play on and on so that he may sicken of it and die, having had too much of a good thing. Shakespeare, merging food, sex and music through wordplay (the musical ‘strain’ and ‘dying fall’ doubling with sexual innuendo) has Orsino enact the false consciousness and accepted convention of being sick with love which he has aligned to. Orsino wants to be out of love but he wants to be in it. He wants more music but he also wants it to stop. This restless state of mind, caused by his consent to give away his power to the tyranny of passion, typifies the erratic ‘sweet pangs’ of what Orsino claims to be the ‘unstaid and skittish’ behaviour of ‘all true lovers.’ Feste, Olivia’s fool and a pitiless observer of the emptiness of convention, has clocked Orsino’s deluded state and drolly suggests he get his tailor to make him a doublet of ‘changeable taffeta’ to match his mood.[]; [2.4.72-4]

Orsino goes on: ‘So full of shapes is fancy [love]/ That it alone is high fantastical’ [that love is exclusively imaginative in the highest degree]. This statement aligns him unequivocally to the observation offered in an earlier play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that ‘The lunatic, the lover, and the poet/ Are of imagination all compact’… i.e. they are all as mad and fanciful as each other. Later, when Viola, disguised as ‘Cesario’, sent by Orsino to woo Olivia on his behalf, says: ‘Alas I took great pains to study it [the courtship speech], and ‘tis poetical’, Olivia replies ‘It is more like to be feigned, I pray you keep it in’… i.e. don’t bother to deliver it to me it will be pretence and pretentiousness, like all poetry. Here Shakespeare makes a playful allusion to a Renaissance theory derived from Plato that poetry is a lie and an illusory expression, again clearly equating love, poetry and madness. Certainly the distinguished Duke Orsino has become infected by fancy and is in love with his own fantastical imagination and love-sickness.[1.1.14-5]; [5.1.7-8]; [1.5.189-91]; [2.2.25]

He is so smitten that every subject introduced is immediately perceived through the filter of his obsession with Olivia. He transforms the question posed by his gentleman, Curio, ‘Will you go hunt, my lord? . . . The hart [deer]’, into a punning eulogy upon Olivia’s ‘heart’ which he had thought would cure him of his insatiable appetite for love, but, he says; ‘That instant [meeting her] I was turned into a hart,/ And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds/ E’er since pursue me’ – alluding to the myth of Actaeon, who – having seen Diana naked, was transformed into a stag and then hunted to death by his own hounds. This kind of ‘love’ is indeed a ferocious and hungry beast.[1.1. 16-22]; [1.4.41] But can true Love be ferocious?

A Sea-change in Illyria

The scene shifts and changes, with the audience now transported from the stagnant atmosphere of Orsino’s indulgent melancholy to the fresh winds of a wild tempest and shipwreck near the coast of Illyria where Lady Viola finds herself washed up on an unknown shore.

She is not only shipwrecked and shaken but also bereaved, imagining her identical twin and brother Sebastian drowned in the storm. As always in the plays of Shakespeare, violent storms and shipwrecks deconstruct old perceptions and ways of living life, bringing an offer for characters to re-align to a new, more evolving way of living. ‘Shipwreck’ invariably means opportunity to transform.

Viola hears from the sea Captain, who has also survived the wreck, that Illyria is governed by the noble Duke Orsino who is hopelessly in love with the Countess Olivia. Viola, realising that she has to now survive as a woman in a country where no one knows her, co-opts the Captain into helping with a newly conceived ‘sea-change’, i.e. disguising herself as a boy and calling herself ‘Cesario’. Anyone familiar with Shakespeare’s comedies will know that with Viola’s adopting her male disguise she will inevitably be liberated from the conventional societal mindsets inflicted upon her sex: she will be able to move freely throughout society, and also be able to be more observational and aware, especially of the gender roles we all consent to play, because she is partaking of both. As Viola (now ’Cesario’) later reveals to Olivia on first meeting, ’I am not that I play’. Viola’s cross-dressing introduces the first step in Shakespeare’s ultimate unveiling of the truth about gender.[1.5.179]

In her masculine attire Viola will look exactly like her ‘dead’ twin brother Sebastian, whose memory she can thus keep alive, as well as enabling her to obtain work and shelter in a practical and safe way. Which she does, arriving at Orsino’s court and soon becoming the go-between who carries Orsino’s intimate love-messages to Olivia. From this time forward Viola (whose name also means a low-pitched stringed instrument of the violin family) will be the ‘instrument’ employed to romantically serenade and seduce the desired mistress for the Duke!

Only one catch here . . . Countess Olivia finds herself more enamoured of the messenger than the message – she falls in love with Cesario/Viola! ‘Methinks I feel this youth’s perfections/ With an invisible and subtle stealth/ To creep in at mine eyes’. ‘Cesario’s’ knack of presenting Orsino’s messages in such a natural and essentially beautiful way when wooing Olivia is irresistible to her. Olivia cannot but help respond to the essence of ‘Cesario’s’ being. Newly-washed from the ‘salt waves fresh in love’ of the tempest, Cesario brings a breath of fresh air to the fetid atmosphere of Orsino’s love-sickness and Olivia’s own overwhelming, hyperbolic grief. Because of her detachment in the wooing, ‘Cesario’/Viola is able to intelligently and playfully negotiate Olivia’s cynical guardedness. No matter the gender and Viola’s ‘masculine usurped attire’, ‘Cesario’ embodies something vital, fresh and powerful which works its magic – it doesn’t matter that the wooing is for Orsino, or that ‘he’(Cesario) is actually a ‘she’(Viola). Love is Love. It is clear here that it is the quality of energy in the interaction that counts. As ‘Cesario’ says to her, ‘I hold the olive in my hand: my words are as full of peace as matter’ – playing on Olivia’s name with ‘olive’, and delivering the truth that the quality of energy behind the words is equally as important as the words of the message itself. Olivia, feeling ‘Cesario’s’ quality of expression becomes ever more besotted with him/her and Orsino doesn’t get a look-in! And, as Viola realises that Olivia has fallen for her and not Orsino, it dawns upon her that ‘I am the man’.[1.5.288-9]; [5.1.246]; [1.5.204-5]

To complicate matters, ‘Cesario’/Viola herself has fallen for her master, the Duke Orsino! She too dips her toe into the pining mood of ‘green and yellow melancholy’, but there is something more contained and sane about the way she expresses her feelings and interactions. However, the tension within Viola, of loving Orsino while being under the obligation to woo someone else for him in her role as ‘Cesario’, is substantial and she clearly communicates this to the audience: ‘To woo your lady [aside] Yet a barful strife/ Who’er I woo, myself would be his wife’. Disguising her feelings in riddle, Viola constantly lets slip how torn she feels – she wants to declare her love for Orsino but she must at all costs maintain her disguise as a man to keep a roof over her head. When he asks what she knows about feminine love, Viola replies: ‘Too well what love women to men may owe./ In faith they are as true of heart as we./ My father had a daughter loved a man/ As it might be, perhaps were I a woman,/ I should your lordship’… (In other words, if I were a woman you would be the man I love). She continues her riddle, naming herself outright as that very daughter, ‘I am all the daughters of my father’s house,/ And all the brothers too’. She hands Orsino the truth about her love for him on a platter but he is too blind with unrequited desire for Olivia that he cannot put two and two together.

Much of the play’s tension and entertainment relies upon the ambiguity of Viola’s gender, with the audience, in the know, appreciating the hazardous situation and her growing dilemma . . . but as yet unaware of the powerful truth Viola embodies in her symbolic role as both ‘maid and man’.[2.4.113]; [2.4.105-9]; [2.4.120-1]; [5.1.261]

Twelfth Night Revels

Meanwhile the rest of Olivia’s household are gearing up for the drunken revels of the closing feast of the Christmas season. Twelfth Night was a medieval festival which was celebrated until the eighteenth century – a festival loosely consisting of feasting, communal drinking, the donning of masks and adopting of disguise, as well as the pagan reign of ‘misrule’ with its anarchical inversion of all the norms, conventions and class distinctions of society. A ‘Festus’ or ‘Lord of Misrule’ was elected to preside over the music, antics and merrymaking.

In this sub-plot of Twelfth Night it is Sir Toby Belch, Countess Olivia’s tankard-swilling cousin, who largely presides over these revels in the Countess’s kitchen. He is joined by the fool Feste, Maria (Olivia’s gentlewoman) and the rich but inane Sir Andrew Aguecheek, whom the profligate Sir Toby cultivates because he is a good source of money. Sir Toby is always trying to set Sir Andrew up as a suitor for Olivia. They are all deep in drinking, laughter and ‘caterwauling’ together, with the celebrations threatening to spin out of control, when Olivia’s steward Malvolio bursts in furiously, interrupting their fun:

‘My masters, are you mad or what are you? Have you no wit, manners nor honesty but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do ye make an alehouse of my lady’s house that ye squeak out your coziers’ catches [cobblers’ songs] without any mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, or time in you?’[2.3.85-90]

Malvolio has a point here, but the way he goes about it leaves a lot to be desired.

Sir Toby is hugely affronted by the invasion of this Puritanical self-righteous moralist and tells him to go hang himself! And then says: ‘Dost thou think that because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ and Malvolio immediately threatens to tattle-tale to Olivia. To which Maria replies, ‘Go shake your ears’ (like an ass). Inspired by Maria, the revellers contrive a revenge plot against Malvolio – a love letter purporting to be in the hand of the Countess Olivia (written by Maria) will be dropped in front of Malvolio’s nose with the purpose of setting him up to humiliate himself.[2.3.112-3]; [2.3.112-122]

Fabian, a member of Olivia’s household, opts to also join in the plot because Malvolio has brought him ‘out o’ favour with my lady about a bear-baiting here’. It is telling that the recurrent verbal imagery used by the revellers when planning their revenge is that of blood sports – bear-baiting, trapping, badger hunting – cruel and violent spectacles which were available as alternative ‘entertainment’ near the Globe Theatre.[2.4.4-7]

Likewise Feste, the fool, is prompted to join in with the revenge plot after hearing Malvolio’s snotty and poisonous remarks to Olivia about him: ‘I marvel that your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal [Feste]. I saw him put down the other day with an ordinary fool that has no more brain than a stone’. The usually wise and detached fool is stung by this venomous dig.[1.5.79-85]

Later when the plot is publicly outed, Feste lets slip that it is the barb remaining from this taunt that has lain behind his cruel torment of Malvolio in the notorious dark-room episode – he throws Malvolio’s own words back in his face, mimicking him: ‘ Madam, why laugh you at such a barren rascal.’[5.1.368] Then he adds ‘And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges’ . . . This chilling statement has the power to stop the audience in its tracks. By referring to the earth’s ever-repeating circular movement around the sun, i.e. we are actually going nowhere but round and round like a spinning top, Feste has laid on the table the relationship between revenge and the illusion of time as progress – which hooks humanity into the judgment of another, into the holding of hurts, into withdrawing from life or into revenge, all of which robs us of the space and the powerful ability of being able to observe, read, and understand another’s hurts. Revenge will thus be the predictable response from the worldly position of entrapment in what Feste so aptly calls the ‘whirligig of time’.

The Plot and the cross-gartered Malvolio

It is well-known to the household that Malvolio prances around admiring his own reflection, and that he entertains a deluded day-dream in which Olivia fancies him (wickedly encouraged by Maria).

The pranksters come upon him posturing and strutting around, fantasizing that Olivia is already his: ‘Having been three months married to her sitting in my state – calling my officers about me, in my branched velvet gown, having come from a day-bed where I have left Olivia sleeping’ . . . blah blah. The play here is presenting yet another variety of the perversion of true love. As Olivia has earlier said to him, ‘O you are sick of self-love Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite’ – identifying his brand of ‘self-love’ to be an illness, a moral malaise; he is neck-deep in morbid self-aggrandisement. The soliloquy finishes with him fancying himself to be now master of the house, no longer its steward. The revellers catch him, in flagrante, imagining that Sir Toby is curtsying to him! Needless to say as Sir Toby looks on from behind a tree he comes close to feeling murderous: ‘Shall this fellow live?’[1.5.86]; [2.5.41-60]

The letter dropped in Malvolio’s path is addressed to ‘M.O.A.I’ – all letters in his name – with ‘Olivia’s’ words claiming to sigh for him and urging him to wear her favourite yellow cross-gartered stockings: ‘I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them . . . She thus advises thee that sighs for thee. Remember who commended thy yellow stockings and wished to see thee ever cross-gartered’– the big joke here lying in the fact that Olivia particularly hates yellow, and cross-gartering. And further, the letter urges him, to remember to smile madly at all times when around Olivia : ‘If thou entertain’st my love, let it appear in thy smiling – thy smiles become thee well. Therefore in my presence still smile, dear my sweet, I prithee’. All these instructions does he obey and hilariously enact before Olivia who thinks he has gone quite mad: ‘Why this is very midsummer madness’ (in midwinter). She bids Malvolio go to bed (to recover) – with his reply, ‘To bed? Ay, sweetheart, and I’ll come to thee’, thinking that she is in love with him, setting off great hilarity among the revellers. This whole scene, if played well, is one of the most comical in theatre history.[2.5.141-171]; [3.4.28-53]

Malvolio is then officially declared mad, locked up in a dark room and mercilessly tormented and punished by the revellers. This may be a more subtle form of blood sport than bear-baiting, but blood sport it most certainly is, fuelled by the indignation of those threatened by the thought of having their alcohol and bear-baiting curtailed in any way. Malvolio (whose name means ‘malicious’ ‘malevolent’ ‘bearing a grudge’) may be a poseur and unpleasant ‘time pleaser’ (time-server) . . . and of course the audience is nearly always hugely sympathetic to Sir Toby and the revellers (because they themselves wouldn’t want their own drinking to ever be interrupted by a posturing puritan), yet this notorious ‘dark room’ scene is frequently met by the audience with a distinct feeling of ambivalence. There is a general sense that, with the further mental and physical torture of Malvolio, the joke has gone too far.

And Shakespeare intends it this way – the joke certainly has gone too far, with the play exposing the brutality of the drunken company as being equally as despicable as Malvolio’s meanness and pompous self-importance.

The relationship on both ’sides’ bears no truth or love, and is, at some level, symbolic of the long struggle between the consciousness of old ‘Merry England’ with its remnants of Christianised pagan ritual, and the ideals and beliefs upheld by Protestant reformation around custom and conduct. (Sir Toby to Malvolio: ‘Dost thou think that because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?’) Each ‘position’ is laced with consciousnesses that lay down obstacles to prevent any true human relationship. At the end of the play the prank that has been played by the revellers is revealed to the devastated Malvolio, but there is no healing of the wound. Eaten up with anger he cries: ‘I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!’ . . . and exits. His words, ‘whole pack of you’, reveal the level of abuse that has been channelled by the vicious ’pack energy’ or consciousness that the household have allowed to fuel their actions. Olivia, alone of her household, has the grace to admit that ‘He hath been most notoriously abused’.[5.1.371-2]

Love is Love

Shakespeare’s dramatic setting of the play on the Twelfth Night of Christmas signals to the audience that reversal of societal convention and ‘misrule’ will be the ‘disorder’ of the day. On a temporal level there will be drunkenness, feasting, entertainment, and the donning of disguise. But simultaneously, and at a deeper level, we have the shipwreck, with the configuration of Twelfth Night’s ‘misrule’ providing an opening for Viola (and Sebastian) to enter into Illyria. They bring their presence from ‘another world’ to the world i.e. Illyria. The true significance of the use of Twelfth Night as the play’s symbolic setting is that, at this key time which is the end of the old season and the beginning of a new cycle, the usual momentums of society will briefly cease, the tight conventions will be momentarily loosened . . . allowing for the possibility of a newer order to step in and present itself.

Certainly Viola’s cross-dressing in her brother’s clothes is in keeping with the festival’s ambience of mask and disguise – boys can be girls and girls can be boys. And a lot of hilarity is to be had by the audience with the confusions and fights that occur when there are ultimately two identical ‘Cesarios’ running around the streets of Illyria – Cesario/Viola and Sebastian, still alive and restored from the sea.

Yet the deeper communication of the cross-dressing during Twelfth Night is that mindsets and misconceptions about the exclusivity of gender and the nature of love lend themselves to the possibility of deconstruction.

The magic, the breath of fresh air that enters Illyria with Viola/Cesario and disperses the malaise can be felt by both Olivia and Orsino. Despite his melancholy love-sickness, Duke Orsino can feel that something significant is being constellated at this point in time with the arrival of the girl-boy Cesario/Viola in his household and realm. Verbally playing on music and sexuality, Orsino says re Viola’s role in wooing Olivia for him: ‘Diana’s lip/ Is not more smooth and rubious. Thy small pipe/ Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound,/ And all is semblative a woman’s part./ I know thy constellation is right apt/ For this affair’.[1.4.29-36] He innately recognises, and is drawn to, the womanly quality of Viola within ‘Cesario’, and, at some level, he also knows that she has been constellated as the catalyst for transformation – the one who will break the stale-mate of the barren dukedom and get things moving.

The act of unveiling of ‘Cesario’ to the inhabitants of Illyria as being Viola, exposes the arbitrariness of desire: Olivia falls in love with a girl dressed as a boy and then marries her twin brother. The figure of Viola further exposes the tyranny of passion: the true meaning of passion has been re-interpreted (by our filtered perceptions and our clichéd images of romantic love and gender) to mean; ‘to give oneself over to a force that utterly disempowers and whisks one away from the joy of true love’. And when all these imposed images, clichés, perceptions, and behaviours are dropped, what is left? Nothing but Love. As contemporary Shakespearean actress Joely Richardson has so well observed about the role played by the device of cross-dressing in Twelfth Night: ‘Age, gender – none of it matters – we get to love another best, one essence to another essence’.[1] Shakespeare’s own memorable words from Sonnet 116 relate here: ‘Love is not love/ Which alters when it alteration finds’.

It is Viola’s vital and loving presence that likewise breaks the momentum of melancholy and the damp tendrils of grief that hang over the domain of Illyria, swamping all joy.

In the course of the play Viola’s wooing ignites the fire of love in Olivia, and quite literally ‘unveils’ her, delivering her from mourning into the arms of Sebastian. Feste has had an admirable ‘verbal’ go at breaking the curse of Olivia’s extended and exaggerated mourning but it is not until the spark of love is ignited in Olivia’s heart that she can throw off the veil of grief – witty words alone just don’t cut it. Viola further delivers the love-sick Orsino out of melancholy and into the embrace of her own arms; and, by not withdrawing from life into grief-stricken mourning over her apparently ‘drowned’ twin Sebastian, but instead aligning to commit to life in Illyria, she delivers herself to love, and the ‘resurrected’ Sebastian to the marriage bed of Olivia. Viola has broken the old rules of engagement that have held Illyria in the bonds of stagnation.[1.5.227]; [1.5. 62-68]

And so we have in Twelfth Night an entertaining comedy in which a Countess falls in love with a boy who turns out to be a girl, and a Duke marries a girl who has been living in his household as a boy. And, at an everyday level, the ambiguous gender figure that is Viola/Cesario, who ‘can sing both high and low’ (Feste’s song)[2], can be for the audience simply a part of the acceptable frolics and expected dressing up that occurs with the revels of Twelfth Night.

Yet it becomes clear that the figure of Viola/Cesario embodies a much deeper meaning in the potent symbol of the ‘hermaphrodite’ – the energetic hermaphrodite referring, not to a physical body exhibiting both sexes, but to a state of being that holds the qualities of both genders, a state of being that is universal and contains the fullness of the whole, both maleness and femaleness. Viola has, early in the play, already referred to her ‘Cesario’ self as a ‘monster’, meaning an androgynous creature/ half man and half woman. And Sebastian says to an amazed Olivia when she beholds Sebastian and ‘Cesario’ side by side for the first time: do you realise that ‘You are betrothed both to a maid and a man?’ Add to this that we already know Viola is an ‘instrument’ (a viola) that will bring about the union of lovers.[2.2.34]; [5.1.259]

Within the deeper metaphysical dimensions of the play, Viola works as a powerful cypher signifying that, from an energetic point of view, no matter what gender body we happen to occupy, we are, by essence, both male and female – we can sing ‘both high and low’. We do not need to be defined by gender stereotypes but, in the subtle world of vibration and resonance, we can rather feel and express what is available and known from the all, from the essence within – and so within the one gender we can have equal access to everything that we have always assumed belonged exclusively to the opposite sex – including the tenderness and sensitivity of a man and the sacredness and nurturing of a woman.

And more. We can in truth be the ‘gods making love’.[3] The profound implication of the symbol of the divine hermaphrodite that sits at the centre of the play is a far cry from the reductionist world in which Sir Toby can enthusiastically praise Maria, the woman he will marry, as ‘a beagle, true bred, and one that adores me’.[2.3.174]

In Twelfth Night Shakespeare invites us to ponder the immense and universal meaning of gender: imagine being able to bypass the limitations of identification with the images and beliefs around gender and feel the richness of the whole? Could this largely eliminate comparison and competition which lie at the root of the conflict and abuse between the sexes?[3]

The inner re-union of the genders is poignantly celebrated in the play with the reconciliation of the twins Sebastian and Viola, a scene which could easily be visualised as a classic Renaissance emblem, so popular in Shakespeare’s day, symbolising the ‘hermaphroditic’ nature of the Soul – in Orsino’s words, ’One face, one voice, one habit and two persons’.[] And this reconciliation of the ‘twins’ takes place on the streets of Illyria before the gathered crowd – the implication being that this union is denied to no-one – the man in the street can witness it and know it. Further, a potent statement re-affirming the play’s message, that it is the truth and reality of the ‘essence’ that counts and not outer appearance and outer gender, is clearly made when Viola – now betrothed to Orsino and still being called ‘Cesario’ by him – leaves the stage to celebrate her nuptials, remaining dressed in her ‘masculine usurped attire’ until she can later reclaim her ‘maiden weeds’ offstage. Viola’s earlier words: ‘I am not that I do play’[5.1.246]; [5.1.251]; [1.5.179], at this point in the play reveal an even more profound meaning: I am not the appearance, whether male or female, but the reality – the essence.

It is interesting to note that in The Gospel of Thomas, it is recorded that when a question was put to Yeshua about entering the kingdom of Heaven he answered: ‘When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, the upper like the lower, when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female . . . then you will enter the kingdom of heaven.’[4]

The world goes on

Meanwhile the merry-go-round of daily life in Twelfth Night’s Illyria – ‘our’ world – carries on with its histrionics, its drunkenness and its antics. Malvolio storms off the stage in bitterness and rage, ‘I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you’. And the fool Feste delivers his final song – his wry, unsettling observation about the ‘whirligig’ of the world, a world which has been shown the truth of the sacred union of the genders, but will just carry on as usual . . . the inebriated world with its prevailing winds of bitterness and harshness, going round and round, which will stubbornly resist truth and keep refusing to budge from its conflicts, cruelties and comforts:

"When that I was and a little tiny boy
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day . . . (stanza 1)

But when I came, alas, to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.      (stanza 3)

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With tosspots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day . . . (stanza 4)"

Twelfth Night ends with the cold bleakness of the mundane world, yet at the heart of the play there remains a shimmering, fiery vision of the nature of true love . . . a taste of what will be known to humanity when it ultimately comes to embody the truth of gender. This profound presentation of the subtle union at the inner level is Twelfth Night’s true gift to the bitter creation we know as ‘the world’.


  • [1]

    Shakespeare Uncovered</i>, DVD, Blakeway Productions

  • [2]

    ‘O Mistress Mine’ [2.3.238-250]

  • [3], episode 14 ‘The Gods making Love’

  • [4]

    Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer, The Scholar Translation of the Gospel of Thomas, 22 9

Inspired by and based on the Ageless Wisdom as presented by Serge Benhayon

Filed under

SexMaking loveRomanceSame sex relationshipsSacrednessTime Gender

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