There are a million ways to spend a lockdown.
We may take solace in our daily walks, or learn to paint with Bob Ross Youtube tutorials. Maybe we write and conquer to-do lists or make our way through the entire Netflix catalog. We become full-time caretakers, educators, and personal chefs. We master the art of feigning interest during a Zoom meeting.
Here at the American Shakespeare Center, we have had a productive quarantine. We have delivered quality, uplifting theater to your door through our innovative digital platform, Blkfrs TV and begun preparations for our Summer 2020 SafeStart season. (Performances begin July 25 outdoors at the Blackburn Inn and Conference Center and July 31 indoors at our beautiful Blackfriars Playhouse!)
Throughout rehearsals, we couldn’t help but draw connections between Shakespeare’s plays and current events. When it comes to Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s comedy of misidentity, we started wondering: how would its characters spend their quarantine? What would have happened if stay-at-home orders were issued when Viola and Sebastian surfaced on the shores of Illyria? How would Orsino cope with his inability to woo Olivia? How would Malvolio react to a lack of control? Using extensive research, i.e. reading the play (and re-reading and re-reading and re-reading and then re-reading a few more times) we unpacked these quarantine personalities.
Feste the Fool is the only character to quarantine in isolation, but his final song in the play suggests he is no stranger to loneliness (V.I). He is an artistic individual and is used to being alone with his emotions. Still, he always finds the silver lining, like when he tells Olivia that she shouldn’t be sad if her brother is in heaven (I. V. 68-69). A witty wordsmith, Feste pours all his emotional energy into his music and poetry. He would crave an audience, and his original lyrics and sarcastic humor would quickly earn him thousands of TikTok followers (@festethefool).
The character to most easily adjust to quarantine would be Olivia because she has already resigned herself to a life of isolated grieving for her late brother. She feels emotions intensely, and news reports only amplify her fear and sadness. She distracts herself by posting filtered selfies on Instagram, writing melodramatic Facebook posts and fending off her countless suitors on Twitter. By confining herself to her room, she is also able to avoid interactions with her boisterous and drunk uncle Toby, her unwelcome love interest Andrew, and her stifling steward Malvolio. At least she has Maria to keep her company and ease her anxiety.
Maria has the healthiest work-life balance out of all the quarantiners of Illyria. She is loyal to Olivia, fulfilling her duties as personal assistant, housekeeper and confidante; she even goes the extra mile in attempting to shoot down Andrew’s romantic pursuit of Olivia. Clearly, she is a busy woman, and it doesn’t help that Malvolio is breathing down her neck all the time and accusing her of shirking her duties. It is not surprising that Maria would do anything to get Malvolio out of her hair, including orchestrating a not-so-harmless prank that leads Malvolio to don ridiculously bright stockings and profess his love for Olivia (II.V).
If you think Malvolio’s personality in the play is annoying, just imagine him in quarantine. While most characters in the show are self-indulgent, Malvolio is the most explicit. He pretends to be “thriving” during lockdown and posts pictures of his daily walks, experimental cocktails, and home improvements on Instagram. The truth, however, is that Malvolio is extremely paranoid about the virus. He forces the rest of his household to wear masks around him, compulsively washes his hands every 20 minutes, and berates strangers for improper social distancing. While he should be commended for taking the virus seriously, his quarantine personality is quite frankly insufferable.
Sir Toby Belch spends his quarantine doing exactly what he does in Twelfth Night: consuming alcohol and making mischief. Andrew is the only person to entertain his bad habits and humourless pranks, and he convinces him to overstay his welcome by promising to coax Olivia from her isolation. Toby would tear the house apart with his poor dancing and constant duels, but luckily Maria and Malvolio are around to keep him in check.
We round out our discussion of Lady Olivia’s household with Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who is more of an unwelcome houseguest than a beloved member of the family. He happened to be visiting Toby when the stay-at-home order was issued, and now he refuses to leave. He consumes all the snacks without replenishing the pantry, and he leaves his clothes everywhere. He spends his days pining for a glimpse of Olivia, and his failure compels him to drink excessively every night.
Viola hands-down would have the most productive quarantine. Unlike other characters, she doesn’t sit and mope when things are difficult; instead, she goes into survival mode. When she believes her brother to be dead, she succeeds in securing a job, so we believe she’d find a way to pay the bills during lockdown. Viola is the ideal quarantine housemate, not only because her coordinated coronavirus action plan puts Governor Cuomo’s PowerPoints to shame, but also because she is a joyful and comforting presence. She never misses the weekly Zoom call, and you can rely on her to stock up on dry foods, cleaning supplies, and CDC-recommended face masks.
Like Olivia, Orsino lived his pre-lockdown life in moody isolation. Rather than experience rejection in-person, he sent his friends to woo Olivia on his behalf. Orsino craves an excess of love (I.I), so he spends his days searching Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble for his soulmate. After five months in lockdown, however, this bachelor still hasn’t formed a lasting connection. He is currently contemplating risking coronavirus to ask for Olivia’s hand in marriage (again) because she won’t answer his DMs.
Sebastian is the luckiest character in Twelfth Night. Antonio magically saves Sebastian from a violent shipwreck, and a case of mistaken identity leads Sebastian to marry the beautiful and wealthy Olivia. We aren’t convinced that Sebastian possesses any survival skills, and he is probably used to Viola taking care of him. He also doesn’t protest when Antonio encourages him to spend his money on impulse online purchases throughout the pandemic (III. III. 50).
Antonio is the most authentically loving character in the play. He has enemies in Illyria, but he risks his safety for Sebastian’s sake. Though he would prefer to keep a low profile, Antonio ventures to the grocery store so Sebastian can continue playing video games on the couch. Antonio has a servant’s heart, so even though money is tight he donates what he can to Feeding America and coronavirus relief funds. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Antonio doesn’t get the thanks he deserves.
Which character mirrors your quarantine personality? Are you social media-obsessed like Malvolio, checking off to-do lists like Viola or a burgeoning artist like Feste? Let us know by sharing this post on social media! AND — be sure to check our website for ticketing information. Plus, we now have Shakespeare Mustache Face Masks for sale — pick one up in our online gift shop! We can’t wait to welcome you to Illyria in just a few weeks.
BY KATHRYN BAKER; MaRKETING INTERN
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