Stephen Fry as Malvolio in the 2012 Globe production of Twelfth Night.               Image credit to the Globe Theatre, London (2012)

At a Glance:

Twins Viola and Sebastian are separated by a shipwreck, and land on opposite sides of the island, Illyria. Viola dresses as a boy to become a servant and start a new life, and Sebastian searches for his sister. Allies and enemies turn to love interests as farcical, sometimes dark hijinks ensue. 

Thematic emphases on the performance of gender, the powers of disguise, and the disruption of  other social constructs



1601-2 Christmas season

2 February 1602 (first recorded)

First published in 1623 with the First Folio




Middle Temple Hall, an Inn of Court 

Twelfth Night’s 1602 performance is the first instance of Shakespeare being performed there.It is possible that it was performed at a different venue in the winter of 1601 as well. See Venues for more info.




  • Gender as Role:
  • Disguise
  • Social Disruptions



Gl’ingannati 1531– The Decieved Ones – Accademia degli Intronati, an aristocratic cultural gethering in Siena

“At our feast we had a play called “Twelve Night, or What You Will”, much like “The Comedy of Errors” or “Menaechmi” in Plautus, but most like and near to that in Italian called “Inganni“.” ––John Manningham, diary entry Feb 2, 1602

Matteo Bandello, novellas (also likely supplied inspiration for Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado about Nothing). Twelfth Night’s assumed origin story lies in story 2, part 28. 

¡¡How did WS see these materials??



Twelfth Night, or What You Will ‘s title refers the festival of Epiphany, the final day of the Twelvetide (also known as the Twelve Days of Christmas) festival. The first recorded performance however, took place as part of Candlemas, which takes place 40 days after Christmas as an end to the season of winter’s religious festivities.




  • Emma’s Smith lecture on homosexuality in Twelfth Night available here