In this innovative union of textual studies and performance criticism, Laurie Osborne explores the important ways in which an apparently single, unproblematic text is in fact multiple and various. Through a close analysis of the performance editions of Twelfth Night, she argues that the complex interaction between text and performance establishes a comedy as a work realized within changing social and erotic constructions.
Because it appears in a relatively clean and dated version in the Folio, Twelfth Night seems to be exempt from arguments for variant texts—but there are significant and persistent variations represented in the performance editions. Osborne's careful reading of these provides a crucial bridge linking theatre history and textual criticism. She employs a wide variety of approaches and disciplines—Shakespearean and Renaissance studies, theatre history, gender studies, contemporary literary criticism, and cultural history—to provide a fresh and engaging yet rigorous view.
Although she focuses on Twelfth Night, Osborne's argument applies more broadly to the history of performance and criticism, including a chapter on video versions of the play. Widely read in Shakespearean and Renaissance scholarship, she employs her archival research in promptbooks, the publishing history of the plays, and the history of Shakespearean production to accomplish a major job of scholarly integration and analysis of Shakespearean drama in performance.