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The Text.

The earliest known edition of Twelfth Night is that of the First Folio, 1623, in which the plays of Shakespeare were for the first time collected. Many of them had been previously published in Quarto editions which are still extant; but there is no Quarto of Twelfth Night. We have no knowledge of the text on which this edition was based; but there are very few passages which bear distinct marks of being corrupt, and not many in which emendations occur preferable to the existing text.

The means of settling the date at which a play was actually written are to be found (1) in the external evidence, i.e. references to it in contemporary writers; (2) in Evidences of the internal evidence: (a) phrases in the play Date. which point to contemporary events or writings, and (3) characteristics of construction, versification, or thought which mark a particular stage in the author's development.

(1.) The Palladis Tamia of Meres, published in Feb. 1602, contains a list of Shakespeare's works up to that time. In this list Twelfth Night is not included, so that External: We Meres. it was almost certainly unknown to Meres. may therefore be sure that it had not been acted before the close of 1601.


The diary of John Manningham, a barrister, which covers the period from Jan. 16021 to April 1603, relates that he saw the play of "Twelue Night or What You Will" performed on Feb. 2, 1602. The extract runs as follows:-

"At our feast wee had a play called Twelue night or what 1 According to the modern method of reckoning the year as beginning on Jan. Ist. At that time, January, February, and March were reckoned as the last three months of the year, so that what I call Jan. 1602 was then called Jan. 1601. Such a date is very commonly expressed as 'Jan. 1601-2'.

you will, much like the commedy of errores or Menechmi in Plautus, but most like and neere to that in Italian called Inganni a good practise in it to make the steward beleeue his Lady widdowe was in Loue with him by counterfayting a letter, as from his Lady, in generall termes, telling him what shee liked best in him, and prescribing his gesture in smiling his apparaile, &c. And then when he came to practise making him beleeue they tooke him to be mad."

There can be no possible doubt that Shakespeare's play is here referred to, the only discrepancy being that Olivia is called a 'widdowe', whereas it was her brother for whom she was in mourning. This extract, therefore, taken in conjunction with the omission of Twelfth Night from Meres's list, practically proves that the play had been written by the beginning of 1602, but had not been acted at the end of 1601. It is of course possible that the omission from Meres's list was accidental, but Manningham certainly writes of it as a new play.

Steevens, who was an adept at discovering attacks on Shakespeare in Ben Jonson, detects a sneer at this play in a passage from Every Man out of his Humour, Ben Jonson. which was acted in 1599; so that if his surmise be accepted, the date of Twelfth Night would have to be moved back. But apart from the other reasons for looking on Jonson's play as the earlier, the passage in question could scarcely be regarded by an impartial judge as referring to Twelfth Night; the misrepresentation would be too gross. The words are in act iii. sc. 2; "the argument of his comedy might have been of some other nature, as of a duke to be in love with a countess, and that countess to be in love with the duke's son, and the son to love the lady's waiting-maid; some such cross wooing". We need not hesitate to dismiss this piece of 'evidence'.

2. (a) Any lingering doubt is practically dispelled by the "Farewell, dear heart, since I must needs be gone” in ii. 3, a song which first appeared in the Book of Ayres, 1601; though the catch where it occurs might possibly have been interpolated in the play.

Internal (α).


Two other passages may be referred to in this connection, but only to be dismissed as affording little if any real evidence. (i) "The new map with the augmentation to the Indies" (iii. 2) was supposed by Steevens to refer to the map for Linschoten's Voyages', of which the English edition appeared in 1598. Mr. Coote, however, has shown that the map referred to was one of which copies are extant bound up in the first edition of Hakluyt's Voyages, but which records discoveries not known earlier than 1596. (ii) Mistress Mall's picture (i. 3), if it refers to 'Mall Cutpurse', must have been inserted in the play a good deal later than 1602; but the reference might easily have been interpolated as a 'topical' allusion after the play was written; it is quite uncertain whether 'Mall Cutpurse' is alluded to; and this certainly could not be regarded as valid evidence against Manningham's diary.

So far, then, the evidence proves conclusively that the play was acted as early as Feb. 1602, and affords very strong presumption that it was not written earlier than 1601.

2. (B) The rest of the internal evidence confirms these conclusions. The technical characteristics of the early plays are wanting. The verse structure and the use

Internal (8).

of prose alike belong to the middle period of Shakespeare's work (see Appendix B); the matured skill of the practised playwright is everywhere evident, while the light-heartedness and buoyancy of the spirit in which it is written are quite different from that grave cheerfulness which marks even the liveliest of the later plays.

So that the final conclusion is, Twelfth Night was certainly not written later than the end of 1601, nor earlier than 1597, and almost certainly not earlier than the end of 1601.


It was the habit of all the play-writers of Shakespeare's time to adopt freely the work of their predecessors in constructing their own plays. They rewrote plays Habit of which had been already acted or published; adaptation. they appropriated the plots and characters of other authors,

English or foreign; in short, they used any material which came to hand without any regard for any notion of 'literary property'.

Thus many of Shakespeare's plays are earlier plays rewritten, and we can usually find somewhere or other a play, a novel, or a chronicle from which he derived the leading situations of his plays. Sometimes he followed his original closely, merely making an occasional improvement. Sometimes he borrowed his main plot and constructed an underplot of his own which entirely changed the general effect. Sometimes he extracted, so to speak, the skeleton out of a story that had never really been alive, and clothed it with flesh and blood, and breathed new life into it till it became living, beautiful, human. Always, whatever the extent of his borrowings might have been, the play when it left his hands was something new, different, instinct with a genius that none but Shakespeare could have imparted to it. There was never a writer whose materials were more deliberately stolen, nor one whose creations were more original, more individual, more unmistakably stamped as the handiwork of the supreme


Parts of the plot were

common property.

The central ideas of the play of Twelfth Night were by no means new. The girl masquerading as a man was a common device: Shakespeare himself had already used it at least three times; in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in The Merchant of Venice, and in As You Like It. The confusion arising from personal likenesses he had borrowed before in The Comedy of Errors. The leading features of his main plot had been already presented in the Novelle of Bandello, in the Italian play Gl'Ingannati, in Barnabie Riche's story of Apolonius. and Silla, and in various other modified forms by numerous writers. But the combination of the main plot with the underplot is Shakespeare's own, it was he who imparted the individuality to every one of his characters, and Twelfth Night is as distinctively, as fundamentally, Shakespeare, as if every conception, every incident, and every character had been without any precedent in literature.

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