As well as looking at how we’ve staged Twelfth Night, which you can do in the Productions section, it’s important to think about what you would do if you were staging the play. And, if you can, to perform parts of it yourself.

We encourage you to look at the play, or scenes in the play, and think through the decisions a director makes with their actors:

  • Where is the play set?
  • How are the characters connected?
  • What do the characters want?

Here you can find some key things to think about before staging the play yourself. Even if you’re working towards an exam or preparing for an assignment, it’s important to think about different ways of reading lines or words and taking a look at the key decisions a director needs to make could really help your essay responses.

  • Key decisions to make

    There are certain things that every director and creative team consider when staging Twelfth Night. The following key things will be discussed in every production, but the way you answer these questions below can create incredibly different interpretations of the play.

    The Two Households

    • How is society structured in Illyria? How important are the divisions of class and status? Orsino and Olivia both have estates. How are these structured differently? Do they have different attitudes to their servants and attendants?
    • What is the position of women in this society? How unusual is Olivia in the choices she makes? How has her mourning affected the household?
    • What do you want your audience to understand about the power dynamics in Olivia's household between Malvolio, Maria, Feste, Fabian, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew and how can you help them to do that?
    • How will you show the social position of all the characters in how they dress and how they behave towards each other?
    • To what extent will the set and staging of the two different households reflect the characters of Orsino and Olivia? How formal is Orsino and how formal is Olivia?

    Viola’s Disguise

    • How will you design costumes for Viola’s disguise so that the audience can believe that she is a young man, but also that she could be mistaken for Sebastian later in the play?
    • How will the other characters interact with Viola when she is in disguise as ‘Cesario’? Will there be any suggestion that they don’t believe her disguise?
    • What will motivate Viola to dress as a boy and what will motivate the captain to help her? Why does she go to Orsino’s household for work when she has been stranded in a strange country? How does she feel about having to work as a servant and a young man? How comfortable is she in that role and how often does she break out of it? Is she a convincing serving ‘boy’ at all times?

    Music and Entertainment

    • What sort of music might Orsino be listening to in the first scene and how might this help create the setting and tone of the production?
    • How important are Feste’s songs? Are they just musical interludes or do they say something more about the play?
    • How will you stage the singing by Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste in Act 2 Scene 3 that wakes up Olivia’s household? What will they sing? How will they behave?
    • As an entertainer who sings and makes jokes, what sort of person is Feste in your interpretation of the play? What is his status? How does he dress and behave towards others?

    Within each of these choices, there are lots of key moments and scenes to explore.

    Going back through the Productions section of the site and looking at the different performances we’ve had at the RSC, think about those three areas:

    • Can you see how each director has presented the world of Twelfth Night and the kind of society the households and the characters exist in? What clues are there about characters’ status, and why do you think those choices were made?
    • How has Viola’s costume as ‘Cesario’ been designed? When looking at images from the reunion between Viola and Sebastian, how have the designers tried to create the sense that the two characters might be mistaken for each other?
    • What musical instruments can you see in the images, particularly in Orsino’s court and in any pictures of Feste? What clues are there to suggest the kind of music the production used?

    To explore one particular production in even more detail, looking at the specific choices and thinking behind them, take a look at the Casebook for the 2012 Twelfth Night production.

Teacher Notes

This page looks at some of the key decisions a director makes.

Challenge your students to think about how they would want to tell the story of Twelfth Night. How would they respond to the questions here?

The following insight into David Farr’s 2012 production may be useful to share, helping students to think about his choices and responses to those questions.

Internationalism and Migration (2012)

The information can be found on page 3 and can be printed or shared.