Professors discuss Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’

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Steven McDowell
Contributing Writer

--------------------Photo by Danny Sauer-------------------- Psychology professor Erin Freeman examines gender identity in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as part of the Shakespeare symposium.

The University of Dallas Dean’s Office and English and drama departments discussed the upcoming production of William Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night” in a symposium in Haggar Dining Room last Wednesday. English professor Dr. Andrew Moran noted that all the characters in “Twelfth Night” are “possessed by a hyperbolical fiend,” driving each character into an ever-tightening spiral of joyless hedonism.

Moran proposed that this behavior is due to the characters’ fear of “melancholy,” such that the principal actors “pursue laughter to drive away the melancholy” brought on by “that ultimate melancholic inevitability, death.” In Moran’s view, such “joyless festivity” ultimately leads to cruelty and violence because “God, the source of life” is completely absent from it.

Psychology professor Dr. Erin Freeman followed with a discussion of gender identity in “Twelfth Night.” She argued that Shakespeare’s exploration of gender throughout the play leads to the conclusion that much of one’s gender identity depends on outward appearance, and that this raises the question of “how we understand ourselves when what is inside does not match our outward appearance.”

Although she admitted that we will never know Shakespeare’s views on gender identity, Freeman claimed that Shakespeare must have believed gender identity to be much more complex than traditional gender roles allow.

Politics professor Dr. Leo Paul de Alvarez discussed the relationship of prudence and spiritedness in the play, as well as the implications of Malvolio’s Puritan character. He argued that Shakespeare’s treatment of Malvolio comes down to the line, “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?” In other words, Malvolio is a “literalist” whose sobriety has lost its prudence.

According to de Alvarez, it is only when the character of Sebastian enters the play and reunites with Viola that the complete human being is formed, and prudence and power are perfectly united in one entity.

Finally, English professor Robert Dupree and drama professor Kyle Lemieux spoke about the difficulties of producing the play. Dupree demonstrated the musical styles that Shakespeare would have used, while Lemieux – the director of “Twelfth Night” – explained his take on the play in light of past productions of “Shakespeare’s most mature comedy.”

Lemieux noted that, since 1969, “Twelfth Night” has been presented as a psychologically complex work whose “outliers” are just as important as the main characters of the play.

After noticing similarities between the themes of “Twelfth Night” and the works of Anton Chekhov, Lemieux decided to set his production in late 19th century Russia to “emphasize the deep, human, complex psychology” of the play.

The symposium – moderated by English professor Dr. Scott Crider – was followed by a short discussion with the audience and a reception. The drama department’s production of “Twelfth Night” will run from Nov. 2 to Nov. 13 at the Margaret Jonsson Theater.  For reservations, call (972) 721-5314 or e-mail boxoffice@udallas.edu.

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