Also considered a time of merrymaking, some cultures mark the occasion by exchanging of gifts, and Twelfth Night, as the eve of the Epiphany, takes on a similar significance to Christmas Eve. In Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of an autumn/winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve, which is now celebrated as Halloween. On this day, the king and his upper-echelon would become the peasants, and vise versa. At the beginning of the Twelfth Night festival, a cake containing a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean became king and would run the feast. Midnight signaled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal.
Harkening back to this tradition is perhaps what influenced the turn of events in William Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night, or What You Will,” which centers on mistaken identity, long-lost siblings and a rather unconventional love triangle. By searching in American Memory for “twelfth night” or “Shakespeare,” you can find sheet music in “Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 and 1870-1885,” promotional brochures in “Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century” and articles in Harper’s new monthly magazine as part of “The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals.”