Twelfth Night (1601)
- First official record: John Manningham's diary on 2 February 1602.
- First published: First Folio (1623), as Twelfe Night, Or what you will.
- First recorded performance: John Manningham saw the play performed at the Middle Temple on Candlemas (2 February) 1602. The acting company is unrecorded but is thought to have been the Lord Chamberlain's Men.
- Evidence: obviously the play was complete by February 1602. However, John Leslie Hotson believes it to have been written earlier, probably in late 1600. On the night of the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January) 1601, it is known the Lord Chamberlain's Men performed a play at Whitehall for Queen Elizabeth and Virginio Orsini, Duke of Bracciano. However, although official records contain much information on the preparations for the play, the name of the play itself is never mentioned. An official description of the unnamed play dictates "that [it] shall be best furnished with rich apparel, have great variety and change of music and dances, and of a subject that may be most pleasing to her Majesty." Hotson believes the unnamed play of 1601 was Twelfth Night, the title of which refers to the Twelfth Night celebrations which bridge Christmas and the epiphany. Most scholars disagree with Hotson on this point, however, believing the description could just as easily fit Much Ado as Twelfth Night, and arguing that rather than Shakespeare naming the character of Orsino in honour of the Duke who would be watching the play, it is more likely he took the name after meeting the Duke prior to writing it. Topical allusions serve only to fix 1599 as a terminus post quem. Maria makes reference to "the new map with the augmentation of the Indies" (3.2.74). This probably refers to Edward Wright's "Chart of the World on Mercator's Projection" in Certaine Errors in Navigation, which was published in 1599, or, less likely, to the second edition of Richard Hakluyt's Principall Navigations, Voiages, and Discoveries of the English Nation, published the same year. Two references to the "sophy" (2.5.170 and 3.4.269) refer to the Shah of Persia, who at the time was Abbas I. In 1599, Sir Anthony Shirley had returned from his travels in Persia, publishing his memoirs in 1600 to great success. This is further evidence of composition around the turn of the century. However, Feste's avoidance of the phrase "out of my element" because the word "element" is "overworn" (3.1.58) may be a reference to Thomas Dekker's Satiromastix, which mocks the expression "out of my element" three times. Satiromastix was first acted in 1601, meaning, if one accepts the reference, 1601 must be the earliest possible date of composition.