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SLOGI in Drama

What did we ever will from Shakespeare?

SLOGI and Drama lecture and talk series

Gašper Troha: What did we ever will from Shakespeare?

William Shakespeare: Slovenian productions of What You Want, or Twelfth Night

Shakespeare’s arguably best comedy is entitled What You Want. It was written at the height of his career, in 1600, coinciding with Hamlet and just preceding his most famous plays, including Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. What You Will was first staged at the court of Queen Elizabeth I on the eve of 6 January 1601 (the feast of the Epiphany), when the Queen hosted an Italian nobleman, Virginio Orsino. It is reported that they both had a jolly good time and that Orsino was allowed to keep his headdress on, even though he was in the company of the Queen.

In order not to appear offensive to the first members of the audience, Shakespeare changed the title to Twelfth Night, after the date of the first performance, which took place on the Twelfth Night after Christmas. Clearly, the comedy had been commissioned, but nonetheless one can also detect Shakespeare’s ironic stab at his own audience, insofar as neither of the titles have any connection with the content of the comedy. It is as if to suggest that Shakespeare conformed to the fad of the age, or perhaps to the general taste of all time.

In truth, this comedy contains an abundance of everything: an adventuresome shipwreck and a miraculous rescue of twins (Viola and Sebastian), numerous swaps and disguises (Viola disguises herself as a man, the twins are swapped), passionate love affairs and love triangles (Olivia loves Cesario, Orsino loves Olivia, Viola loves Orsino …) and finally a happy finale with three weddings. And ultimately, there is also the funny Feste, a jester, who is also a philosopher, a sage and a poet.

The comedy was hailed a great success when it was first staged, and has remained so ever since, also when staged in Slovenia. It was first performed in 1923 (at the National Theatre in Ljubljana, directed by Osip Šest) shortly after it had been translated into Slovenian by Oton Župančič. To date, it has been staged in Slovenia 15 times, including 5 times at the SNT Drama Maribor, 3 times at the SNT Drama Ljubljana, twice at the SSG Trieste, twice at the Celje City Theatre, and once at the Prešeren Theatre in Kranj, the Ljubljana City Theatre Ljubljana and the Academy of Theatre, Radio Film and Television, respectively.

In his lecture, Gašper Troha, Director of the Slovenian Theatre Institute, will present a summary of Slovenian productions of What You Will, and will aim to show what Slovenian audiences willed from Shakespeare. At what point were the productions successful and why? Does Shakespeare’s text adapt to new productions and social contexts? Is it a kind of chameleon of likeability, but does not shy away from spurring its audience?

Kar Hočete

William Shakespeare, What You Want, directed by Edo Verdonik, Drama SNT Maribor, opening night on 25 October 1947. In the photo: Edo Verdonik as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Dušan Mevlja as Feste, a jester, and Arnold Tovornik as Sir Toby Belch. Source: Iconoteque SLOGI – Theatre Museum.

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