When did Shakespeare write Twelfth Night - and how do we know?

First Folio edition of Twelfth Night, 1623.
© RSC – Image Licensing

Twelfth Night signals the end of the Christmas season and was a time of revelry, in which the norms of society were inverted.

It would be nice to believe that this was the play performed by Shakespeare's company on Twelfth Night 1601 in front on Elizabeth I and her guest, Duke Orsino of Bracciano in Tuscany. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support this.

It is, however, likely that the play was written in that year. It is first mentioned by John Manningham, a student at Middle Temple in London, who noted that on the feast of Candlemas (2 February) 1602 'a play called Twelfth Night or What You Will?' was performed.

The reference to 'The Sophy' (the Shah of Persia) may refer to Sir Robert Shirley's return from Persia in a ship called The Sophy in 1599 and 'the new map with the augmentation of the Indies' was first published in the same year.

The play was not published until the First Folio of 1623, seven years after the playwright's death.

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