Starting at $19
Starting at $19
Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun. It shines everywhere.
Ring in the summer season with an uproarious comedy about thorny love triangles, mistaken identities … and a pair of twins lost at sea. When Viola finds herself shipwrecked and her brother drowned (or so she thinks!), she begins to dress as a man named Cesario. Meanwhile, her twin Sebastian, very much alive and a near spitting image of Viola/Cesario, also makes his way into town with the help of a friendly outlaw. A night of laugh-out-loud revelry, unexpected romance and original live music from Rinde Eckert follows in this play led by one of the Bard’s most iconic heroines.
Since 1958, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival has delighted audiences with professional theatre on the CU Boulder campus. Complete your Colorado summer with Shakespeare under the stars in the historic Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre—complimentary seatbacks included.
Attending an outdoor show in the Boulder foothills can be unpredictable. Come prepared to enjoy the adventure by reviewing our weather policy and attire suggestions. Learn more
Performance dates and times:
Sunday, Aug. 11, 7 p.m. SOLD OUT, call the box office at 303-492-8008 for waitlist information.
Discounts for groups, youth, seniors, students, active military, CU employees and season ticket orders. Learn more
More about the show:Read more
After a catastrophic shipwreck, the young, resourceful Viola washes ashore in Illyria and concocts a survival plan. Believing her twin brother drowned in the wreck, she dons male attire, calls herself Cesario and finds employment with Orsino, Duke of Illyria.
Orsino pines for the Countess Olivia, who, grieving the recent deaths of her brother and father, refuses Orsino’s advances. Orsino sends “Cesario” (Viola in disguise) to woo Olivia on his behalf. Olivia falls in love with the messenger, and Viola, who secretly adores Orsino, finds herself in a love triangle.
Meanwhile, Olivia’s drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch, encourages the wealthy but dim-witted Sir Andrew Aguecheek to woo Olivia. When Olivia’s butler, Malvolio, interrupts a late-night celebration, Sir Toby conspires with other members of Olivia’s household to get back at Malvolio. They forge a letter from Olivia, convincing Malvolio that she loves him and instructing him to wear yellow stockings to prove his a ection for Olivia. Malvolio obeys the letter and becomes the laughingstock of the household. Because he is presumed mad, Malvolio is confined to a prison, where his enemies continue to torment him.
Unbeknownst to Viola, her twin, Sebastian, survived the shipwreck and arrives in Illyria. Olivia encounters Sebastian, mistakes him for Cesario and proposes marriage. To her surprise, Sebastian agrees, and they quickly wed. Shortly after the wedding, Orsino, accompanied by Cesario, arrives at Olivia’s house to plead his case once more. When Sebastian and Cesario (Viola) appear in the same location, the confusion is sorted out, the twins are reunited and Orsino asks for Viola’s hand in marriage.
Just as happiness appears on the horizon, the wronged Malvolio is released from prison and confronts Olivia. When he realizes he was the victim of a cruel joke, Malvolio swears revenge and departs. The happy couples make plans for their upcoming nuptial celebrations.
—Amanda Giguere, Dramaturg
Twelfth Night is probably my favorite play by William Shakespeare. It is certainly my favorite of his comedies. It is a marvelous contraption combining a shipwreck, mistaken identities, multiple love triangles, a gang of loonies, happy endings, and music. But there are also darker threads of horrific bullying and ruined lives. In my mind, it is a beautiful party (disguised as a play) that goes bonkers. As Fabian notes, “If this were played upon a stage now, I would condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
Anchoring this story, though, is our heroine, Viola: washed ashore in a strange land, uncertain of her future but fiercely determined to untangle her predicament and succeed. Her determination plunges her into the middle of players engaged in a game whose rules she doesn’t yet understand. Her wits and improvisation skills are all she has.
My way into this production of Twelfth Night came from two ideas: the sea and play. First, the sea. By now, you’ve realized this play is taking place outdoors, starting in daylight. In the world of theatre magic where anything is possible, these are two things we cannot alter. Early on, I was inspired by the idea that Illyria is near the sea and what that represents: being born from the ocean and being borne by the ocean. Whether you are coming out of it or heading in, it’s the start of an adventure. I knew I wanted to embrace the open-aired sky and energy of a summer evening in Boulder and to ensure that this seaside story would live in an outdoor world.
Play. Illyria is a fantastical place full of mischief. There are child-like qualities to this play: the flirting, the note passing, the music-making, the make-believe elements—and also the cruelty. When the pranks and mischief go too far, the comedy swerves into territory that is unexpected, unsettling, and ultimately, very human. For many young people in our audience this summer, this will be the first Shakespeare play they have ever seen. I welcome that responsibility. I want them to see how this marvelous contraption—this comedy of misrule—fractures into laughs, pathos, regret, reunion, marriage, heartbreak and joy.
—Timothy Orr, Producing Artistic Director and Director for Twelfth Night
Revelry and misrule: Twelfth Night’s festive roots
Twelfth Night was likely written for a 1601-02 court performance on Twelfth Night, a topsy-turvy celebration in which social order was temporarily suspended. This upside-down holiday is not unique to Elizabethan England; throughout history, other cultures have established comparable traditions of wintertime misrule.
Twelfth Night (Jan. 6, the eve of Epiphany) marked the end of the Christmas season with a final night of merriment, feasting and disguise. One seasonal tradition was a bean baked in a cake (sometimes called the Twelfth Night cake). The lucky bean-finder became the Lord of Misrule and oversaw the Christmas festivities. In most noble households, a Lord of Misrule presided over a mock court, arranged for household entertainment, and was sometimes subjected to a mock execution.
The roots of this type of wintertime social release can be traced to the ancient Roman Saturnalia, a December festival honoring the god Saturn. An appointed leader organized the celebrations, which included role reversals (a master and slave might swap roles), gift-giving, singing, gambling, decorating homes, dancing and candle-lighting. A medieval winter festival emerged in the Christian tradition that hearkened back to Rome’s Saturnalia. The Feast of Fools, established by the clergy in the 12th century, was a liturgical celebration held around Jan. 1. A lord of the revels (Dominus festi) was appointed from the lower clergy to supervise the activities. During the Feast of Fools, the lord of the revels might deliver a mock mass in gibberish, clothes were worn backwards, and clergymen might dress as women. This liturgical festival was an opportunity for the church to playfully mock itself and embrace the temporary suspension of routine. By the early 15th century, the Feast of Fools fell out of favor with the church and largely dissolved. When called upon to defend the event in 1444, a group of French clerics stated, “We do these things ... so that once a year the foolishness in us can come out and evaporate.” Across many periods of human history, it seems that culturally-sanctioned misrule might, in fact, strengthen social order.
Why have cultures, from ancient Rome to Elizabethan England, felt compelled to release something when the temperature drops and turn the world on its head? Some present-day traditions (April Fools’ Day, Halloween) could be interpreted as part of the same tradition. Or perhaps live theatre, with its role reversal, disguise and merriment, functions as yet another incarnation of festive release. As an audience, we have permission to get lost in the temporary madness, celebrate a fictional world, and finally, settle back into our world with a fresh perspective.
—Amanda Giguere, Dramaturg
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