Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Fun facts about a classic play

1. The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was on Candlemas, 1602. Candlemas is 2 February – better-known in the United States as Groundhog Day – and was the date on which Christmas decorations were often traditionally taken down in Shakespeare’s time (unlike these days, when it’s traditional to take them down by – oddly enough – Twelfth Night). Shakespeare’s classic comedy of cross-dressing, separated siblings, love, puritanism, and yellow stockings was possibly first recorded in February 1602, though there may well have been an earlier (unrecorded) performance, perhaps a year earlier.

Twelfth Night2. Samuel Pepys went to see Twelfth Night three times – despite thinking it ‘a silly play’. Pepys didn’t much care for a number of Shakespeare productions staged during the Restoration in the 1660s, but it must have been a dull season at London’s theatres for Pepys to go and see Twelfth Night (or a version of Shakespeare’s play adapted by William Davenant) three times, despite not thinking much of it. In January 1663, he saw the play performed, and thought it was ‘acted well, though it be but a silly play, and not related at all to the name or day’.

3. The play has been turned into a musical on numerous occasions. These include Your Own Thing (1968), Music Is (1977), the Elvis Presley jukebox musical All Shook Up (2005), and the Duke Ellington jukebox musical Play On! (1997).

4. The first film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was as early as 1910. This predated the advent of talking pictures by nearly two decades, and was only a short film. You can watch the film here.

5. The Baker Street Irregulars think Sherlock Holmes’s birthday is 6 January – because the great sleuth appears to be twice as keen on Twelfth Night as the Bard’s other plays. This is because, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, Holmes quotes twice from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night whereas he quotes only once from other Shakespeare plays. But this is, perhaps, a little tenuous a basis for deducing (or abducing?) the sleuth’s birthday – not least because, according to one school of thought, Twelfth Night is the 5th of January (the eve of Epiphany), rather than the 6th.

If you enjoyed these facts about Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, continue to explore the interesting side to the Bard’s plays with our similar posts about A Midsummer Night’s DreamRomeo and Juliet, and Cymbeline. For more fascinating literary trivia, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.

Image: A scene from Twelfth Night by William Hamilton, c. 1797; Wikimedia Commons.

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