Sunday, July 25, 2010

Shakespeare by the Sea: July 2 - September 5, 2010

(This R. Staines engraving of Malvolio's famous attempt to court his mistress Olivia in yellow, cross-gartered stockings, was obviously not produced by myself. Yet, as it was originally made in 1859 and is now over 100 years old, it belongs to the public domain.)

There are many Shakespeare festivals around the world, which often go by fancy names like Bard on the Beach or even Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. One of the most recognizable Shakespeare festival names though is Shakespeare by the Sea. Four theatre companies - one each in Los Angeles, California, Sydney, Australia, St. John's Newfoundland, and Halifax, Nova Scotia - share the name Shakespeare by the Sea.

The Shakespeare by the Sea Theatre Company in Halifax was formed in 1994, after poorly advertised, volunteer performances of William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in Point Pleasant Park drew 2 500 people in one weekend . The company officially formed later that year, and has returned every summer since for nightly performances of Shakespearean classics, as well as the additional well-known, non-Shakespearean play.

This year, the festival's seventeenth, the company will perform a version of R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island, as well as Shakespeare's own Julius Caesar, and Twelfth Night again. On the night I attended, the play being performed was Twelfth Night.

In Twelfth Night, a brother and sister, similar in appearance, are separated after their ship is destroyed. The sister, Viola, thinking her brother dead, plans to gain the favour of a Duke by pretending to be a man and becoming his favourite servant, but later falls in love with him. The Duke, however, loves a wealthy woman, Olivia, who has scorned the advances of all men to date, including those of the Duke.

The Duke sends his new young confidante, Viola who has passed herself off as Cesario - the "not yet a man, but also not a boy" - to Olivia, to win her love for him with her/his gift for eloquent speech. Olivia falls in love with Cesario, who obviously does not welcome the advances of Olivia, but must continue to go see her at the orders of her master, the Duke, whose love she hopes to win even though he thinks she's a man. The hilarity multiplies when Viola's nearly identical brother, Sebastian, whose image, as Cesario, she has copied, coincidentally manages to wash up in the same town, also thinking his sibling to be dead.

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