Twelfth Night Director’s Notes

From the program notes for Knightsbridge’s 2011 production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, by Director JC Gafford

Thank you for attending our traditional 16th Century Twelfth Night Celebration.  Well, truth be told, our Twelfth Night Celebration is a sort of condensed and adapted version.  We took some artistic license with the specifics of each tradition, but tried to honor the heart nonetheless.  As a primary example, the traditional twelve-day Christmastide celebrated the arrival of the Three Kings to Bethlehem and is observed January 5.  However, the first recorded performance of the play Twelfth Night or What You Will, was on February 2, 1602 as entertainment for Twelfth Night – the close of Christmastide.  So our celebration both starts and ends a bit late.

As is a theme in the play, Twelfth Night tradition included role and gender reversal (i.e., peasants would play nobility, men would play women and vice versa), the wearing of wild costumes and accessories and they indeed elected a Lord or Lady of Misrule.  That person was elected through the Twelfth Night Cake tradition wherein a special cake would be baked which had a bean hidden in a single piece.  Whoever got that piece was dubbed the Lord or Lady of Misrule and they would preside over the unruly festivities until midnight when their reign would end.

Twelfth Night festivities centered around a lavish feast.  At the beginning of the twelve days of Christmastide, people would decorate wreaths and Christmas Trees with fruit and it was the custom to have a wreath on every door.  At that time fruit was uncommon and prized so on the last night, the Twelfth Night, they would remove the fruit and serve it up along side other feast items.  Feasts included such beverages as Wassail, Lamb’s Wool, Wine and Ale while the food included Minced Pies and sometimes a special Christmas Pie was made.  This pie was a pastry wrapped Turkey stuffed with a goose, stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon.

The entertainment during Christmastide would include music, caroling and dancing, and much work was halted.  Spinning wheels would be adorned with flowers and Mummers, members of a traveling acting troupe, would festoon plows with ribbons and other regalia.  One of these dressed-up plows would then become the centerpiece for a Fool’s Plow Dance which would feature a grotesque “Bessy” played by a man, and a fool.  All the while the Hobby Horse, a man dressed in a horse-skull and a wide-hooped petticoat, would chase young women and cover them with his skirt.

In our celebration, the Mummers were in their home village hosting a retrospective Twelfth Night celebration for their neighbors and friends, for their family…and for you!  They performed Twelfth Night or What You Will as entertainment at this celebration.  This is how the play was originally performed, that is, as entertainment at a Twelfth Night celebration and thus, this is how we wanted to present it to you.

Again, thank you for attending.  We hope you enjoyed the time you spent with us.

-JC Gafford

Twelfth Night opens January 14, 2011, running through February 13, 2011. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 student and senior.


About knightsbridgela

My name is Mark Petrie, and I've been a member of the Knightsbridge Theatre of Los Angeles since 2007. The Knightsbridge and the National American Shakespeare Company stage innovative new looks at classical plays, as well as the best of contemporary drama, musicals and new works.
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