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Twelfth Night (TV Movie 1980 BBC) Or What You Will

By: Alex Phuong (Two Beers) –

A recent trend in Hollywood is gender-swapping and race-bending characters. Audiences are excited (but also flabbergasted) by the idea of Hailey Berry playing Ariel in Rob Marshall’s upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. However, one of the biggest flops within this current decade (as of 2019) was the all-female version of Ghostbusters (2016). Coincidentally, Melissa McCarthy appeared in that horrendous remake while also being cast as Ursula in Disney’s upcoming and highly anticipated musical. Viewers should be aware, though, that gender-bending and gender-swapping are very common tropes in literature and film, and one of the earliest depictions of a gender swap occurs when William Shakespeare published his timeless comedic play Twelfth Night.

A Toast!

This is one of William Shakespeare’s greatest and most iconic plays! The dialogue is filled with beautifully rhetorical language that begins almost immediately with Orsino’s opening soliloquy. As the play progresses, audiences enjoy what is perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest romantic comedy (even though A Midsummer Night’s Dream is also very funny). The play itself reveals the trials and tribulations associated with love without the depressingly tragic elements that make Romeo and Juliet the seminal classic that it is. *Mild Spoiler* The greatness of its main protagonist, Viola (or should we say “Cesario”?) was also the inspiration for Gwyneth Paltrow’s Oscar-winning role in Shakespeare in Love (1998). Marc Normand and Tom Stoppard must really admire William Shakespeare if it helped them win an Oscar for writing the screenplay of one of the most famous (but also controversial) “Best Picture” winners in cinematic history!

Beer Two

Then again, the frequent gender swapping can make the plot somewhat confusing. It is actually easier to understand the story by reading the play because there are stage directions that indicate whether Viola is pretending to be Cesario and vice/versa. Nevertheless, that is part of the humor and timelessness associated with this classic Shakespearean comedy.


Twelfth Night, by definition, is the evening of January 5th before the feast of the Epiphany. It was also, at a time, the twelfth and final night Christmas festivities. An alternative title for this play is “What You Will,” which meant that people who celebrated this particular holiday did whatever they wanted. Twelfth Night might be a revolutionary and timeless comedy, but it is up to the willpower of readers and film lovers to decide if they want to enjoy one of the greatest comedies ever written for the stage.

Twelfth Night (1980) Bonus Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for every case of mistaken identity throughout the play/film

Drink a Shot: for every zany moment

And Have an Optional Drink: because the full title of this play is Twelfth Night, or What You Will (but please drink responsibly)

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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