Twelfth Night (1910)

*. Twelfth Night, an attempt at the full play and not just highlights, in just under 11 minutes?
*. Surprisingly, it works pretty well. They manage to pack a lot into the short running time by stacking the frame and giving the proceedings a sense of naturalistic flow. Our introduction to Olivia’s court, for example, begins with Sir Toby Belch, Maria, and the Clown all attending Sir Andrew as he presses his fruitless suit. This isn’t in the play, but it does get everyone on stage together. And then later we’ll see Viola/Cesario wandering distractedly through the garden just before Maria, Toby, and Andrew arrive to place the false letter on a bench. That’s an example of the flow I mentioned, and again it’s put in just for the film.
*. The title cards are there to keep things moving. They just break down what’s happening in the story and don’t give us any lines from the play. The exception comes in the note that Maria leaves for Malvolio to find, and even this adapts the note in the play quite a bit (explicitly identifying itself as being by Olivia and addressed to Malvolio).
*. Alas, poor Feste. In the play the Clown is one of the main characters, but he’s a creation of his language, all word-play and song. Since this is a silent film he’s reduced here to doing a cartwheel at the end and that’s about it.
*. The twins are played by two women: Viola (Florence Turner) and Sebastian (Edith Storey). I think that might have been progressive. In their wigs and costumes I couldn’t tell them apart.

*. Malvolio is played by Charles Kent, who was also the co-director. I don’t think that’s the reason it’s Malvolio’s movie though. The gulling of Malvolio has always been the main draw in Twelfth Night, and seeing as it’s both the most familiar part of the play and the one that works the best in performance it’s no surprise it takes precedence here.
*. A lot of the word play in Shakespeare goes over our heads today. It’s hard enough to pick up on when you’re reading his plays, and on stage it can be impossible. I guess it’s not too surprising then how much fun this one-reeler is. For 1910 it also has a nice sense of how to arrange space and move the narrative. Even today I don’t think you could do much better with the same technical limitations.

30 thoughts on “Twelfth Night (1910)

      1. Bookstooge

        But now we know it will be because of our lack of cartwheeling.
        Maybe we can prevent the future if we train up a generation of acrobats 😉

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