…and what happened to Antonio?

I’ve always assumed that, since Orsino governs Illyria, the decision to kill Antonio or not belongs to him (indeed, in 5.1 Antonio identifies himself to be “Orsino’s enemy” particularly).  I assumed, too, that, between marriage, festivities, and the recovery of (Sebastian and) Antonio’s purse, Orsino might have decided to give Antonio a legal reprieve: a hefty fine perhaps.

I should know by now that no one ever truly wins in early modern comedy.

Assuming the capital punishment to which Antonio alludes in 3.3 (25-28 ) holds, I now wonder how awkward that final scene must be for Antonio. Certainly he receives an effusive three-line greeting by his beloved Sebastian, who professes that “the hours have racked and tortured […] since [he] lost [Antonio]” (5.1.210-212), but thereafter, the relationship takes a decidedly odd tone:

Antonio.  Sebastian are you?

Sebastian.  Fearest thou that Antonio? (212-213)

These are the last  words spoken to Antonio in the play.  There are no stage directions, or orders from Orsino, indicating that Antonio is removed from the stage at this point: he’s ostensibly and merely ignored during the subsequent  reunion of Sebastian and Viola, and the marriage arrangements of Viola and Orsino, and Sebastian and Olivia.

Does Orsino, after leaving the stage, casually turn to Antonio, “by the way, you’re not invited,” before signalling to the officer to take him directly to the gallows?

Actually, I can believe Orsino would be that petty.  How does one explain Sebastian’s behaviour though?  What in Antonio’s question “Sebastian are you?” incites Sebastian to transform his initial relief and pleasure at seeing Antonio into complete disregard as he redirects his pleasure towards others  (particularly women) onstage?  And what does Sebastian say to  Antonio after their exit, and following this cruel performance? (“Thanks for hanging”?)

There are words for people like Sebastian. I’m not going to type them here though.

Works Cited:

Shakespeare, William.  Twelfth Night.  The Norton Shakespeare Comedies. Ed. Greenblatt et. al. New York: Norton, 1997. 653-713.

5 February 2009 ~ St. Catharines


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