I’m currently involved in a production of Twelfth Night, not too far into rehearsals. During a recent discussion of the text involving the director the question of “who is protagonist and the antagonist” was raised. There didn’t seem to be a happy answer. Before the conversation took a turn to something else, the last view that was pressed upon us was that Viola was the protagonist, and Malvolio (although he does not strongly hold this position) is the antagonist.
Malvolio is really less a part of Viola’s story and more a strong figure in the sub plot involving Maria, Toby, Andrew, etc. who play a really nasty trick on Malvolio. I heard some interesting thoughts on who Viola’s real antagonist is… what are your thoughts?
A few of us could have kept the discussion going for quite some time, but we had things to do. We also compared the characters to Commedia dell’Arte stock characters, which is somewhat part of the concept. I was having trouble with a lot of what was going on…
Shakespeare’s characters and stories are not simple. They usually don’t have one easy plot with a clear single protagonist and antagonist. These are not stock characters. Some fall into categories nicely while others are a little harder to pin down.
You might think this is all obvious but I think it’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. As I re-examine the primary and secondary plots in the plays and think about the complex characters it’s all rather exciting, wouldn’t you agree? Clean cut and simple can be boring sometimes. The Bard gives us many complex stories with twists and turns with plenty of ambiguity… but the possibilities created from the unanswered questions are what keeps the plays alive. New works of art are created every day that use one of Will’s scripts. It’s truly awesome.
In case you were wondering what my involvement with this production is (and I know you’re so curious about my activities): I’m playing Feste, the clown. I need to brush up on my juggling skills.