I must confess, my favourite Shakespeare is [i]Hamlet[/i]. It's traditional, I suppose; [i]everyone's[/i] favourite Shakespeare is [i]Hamlet[/i], unless they're a twelve-year-old girl, in which case it's [i]Romeo and Juliet[/i]. However, of the comedies, I have a great love of [i]Twelfth Night[/i], surpassing all others--and I love several of the other comedies full well.
[i]Twelfth Night[/i], for those who are not Shakespearean scholars, is one of the great pageboy classics. It is the play that [i]Shakespeare in Love[/i] ends with (although that's twisting the known chronology of the plays, to have it appear after [i]Romeo and Juliet[/i]). Viola is washed up on a foreign shore after a shipwreck, believing her twin brother dead and herself now alone in the world. To protect herself, she disguises herself as a boy and goes to work for the Duke Orsino.
Of course, her brother [i]isn't[/i] dead; it wouldn't be a comedy if he were. And so there is room for great confusion and misunderstanding; the Countess Olivia falls in love with the girl, thinking he's a boy--and so does the Duke Orsino. And of course, the girl falls in love with the Duke--and is at first amused and later alarmed by the pursuit of the Countess.
There is also a subplot wherein Olivia's drunken uncle conspires with several of her servants to drive her majordomo mad. This plot primarily exists, I think, to provide cheap laughs. However, it also provides an opportunity for the songs of the Fool, Feste--here played by Sir Ben Kingsley, who I didn't know could sing until I saw this. (Imelda Staunton, who plays Maria the housekeeper, doesn't have a bad voice, either.)
Two of Shakespeare's best-known quotes are from this play. The first is the first line--"If music be the food of love, play on." Orsino is trying to make himself sick of love, because Olivia won't love him back. This is in part because he has absolutely lousy timing--her father and brother have both just died. (This isn't the first line of the movie; they have added a prologue on the soon-to-be-wrecked ship.)
Equally taken out of context by most people is "Some are born great; some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them." This is part of the plot to drive Malvolio mad; Maria has written a letter in her mistress's handwriting professing love of him, and this is intended to encourage him to go after her. (It's a very complicated play at times.) It is suggesting that, by gaining the love of so great and noble (literally) a lady, Malvolio has had his own greatness thrust upon him. He falls for it hook, line, and sinker.
The movie's a little hard to find, but it's worth the search. The cast is great--Helena Bonham Carter plays Olivia, and Nigel Hawthorne is Malvolio, in addition to those already mentioned. The music, while not quite Shakespearean, is lovely. And the scenery is breathtaking. I'm not sure why there has been such a fashion of late to set Shakespeare in the 19th Century, but it does work here. The twins don't look quite enough alike to be taken for one another quite as easily as happens at the end, but I doubt the people who originally played the roles looked much like each other at all, so there we all are.