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Twelfth Night: Folger Shakespeare Library    by William Shakespeare order for
Twelfth Night
by William Shakespeare
Order:  USA  Can
Washington Square, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is one of a set of new Folger Library editions of Shakespeare's plays, aimed at making them accessible to more readers. Texts are provided in modern spelling and punctuation. There are action summaries of scenes and explanatory notes. The book is illustrated by pictures of objects and clothing (including 'Legs cross-gartered'), mythological references such as Cupid and a cockatrice, and daily life, e.g. a bearbaiting and a game of bowls. It's edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine and based on the First Folio version of the play.

A brief introduction begins by telling us that Twelfth Night, or What You Will 'plays with the intersection of love and power.' It continues to present an excellent summary of the play's story and actors. A helpful section advises on 'Reading Shakespeare's Language', discussing words no longer in use, those whose meanings have changed, unusual sequences in sentence structures, and examples of frequent plays on words. Following that is a fascinating summary of 'Shakespeare's Life', the exciting times in which he lived, and the theaters in which his works were presented (where boy actors played all female roles).

Opposite each page of the play is another of explanatory notes that makes Shakespeare's intent easier to understand. These explain individual words and phrases such as malapert and 'Go to'; underline what's happening, as when Viola disguises herself as the male Cesario; and reveal symbolic meaning, like the willow's representation of grief for unrequited love in the memorable lines, 'Make me a willow cabin at your gate / And call upon my soul within the house'. The edition ends with an essay by Catherine Belsey - 'A Modern Perspective' on the play that speaks of its emphasis on the 'absurdity of love'.

I very much enjoyed re-reading Twelfth Night in this remarkable edition, which immerses the reader in the play's context - by introducing Shakespeare's times, explaining his meanings, and illustrating many of the references he makes, ones that would have needed no explanation to the audiences who first heard his timeless words.

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