It is almost customary nowadays to set Shakespeare’s works in places and times he never intended for them. When was the last time you saw a Shakespeare play done in traditional Elizabethan clothing, or even in the setting given in the play? For this production of Twelfth Night, I wanted a setting that would add something to the theme of the play. I chose feudal Japan for two reasons. Feudal Japan had a strict and hierarchical class structure, but one very different from the British model. I needed a setting with some strict class structure due to the great importance of social standing in the plot of Twelfth Night. The other reason for this setting is novelty; the only other Japanese production of Twelfth Night I could find was a kabuki version, and did not use Shakespeare’s script.

I made only a few changes to the script to accommodate the Japanese setting. Specifically, I changed the names and titles for Japanese ones, trying to preserve meaning or at least sound. The sets, costumes, and music are all Japanese in style, though no particular historical period was selecting in making the set, costume, and music choices.

This is not a complete director’s notebook as would be required if I were actually directing a play. Rather, it is a sampling of various scenes, pieces, and visuals of interest that give the theme and direction of the production.

Text of the Play

While this production uses Shakespeare’s script, several changes have to be made to incorporate the Japanese setting. The largest change is the names; each character has been renamed as explained in the Names section. A few other changes need to be made:

Here is the text of the play by scene, from MIT’s Shakespeare site.


I tried to have each name either reflect something about the character, be a translation of the name, or, failing that, sound similar to their English name.

Takashi Elevated
In reference to his rank as Daimyo.
Kuro Ninth Son 九郎
Similarity of sound.
Keiji Respectful Second 敬二
Courtier to Orsino.
Michiko Beautiful Wise Child 美智子
Both attractive and quick-witted.
Sencho Captain 船長
A title rather than a name, but still translated.
Toby Belch
Toshi Geppu Alert Belch 慧げっぷ
Toshi sounds similar to Toby, and Belch was translated directly.
Tomoko Knowing Child 知子
She always knows what is going on.
Andrew Aguecheek
Yuichi Netsu Abundant First Fever 裕一熱
He gives generously to Toby, and Ague means Fever.
Minoru Truth
Ironic, since Cesario is an assumed name.
Matsuri Festival 祭り
Feste sounds similar to Festival.
Hiromi Prosperous Beauty 浩美
Rich and attractive.
Junichi Obedient One 順一
The name reinforces his status as a servant.
Daisuke Great Helper 大輔
Helps Sebastian greatly.
Ichiro First Son 一郎
Viola's elder brother.
Fumio Literary Child 文雄
Similarity of sound.
Ogyoku Topaz 黄玉
Topas sounds similar to Topaz.
Numachi Swamp 沼地
The etymology of Illyria may be the Greek word Ilùs, swamp.
Teki Rival
Messaline is an enemy of Illyria.


The stage is a simple rectangle, with only a few set pieces. The main set piece is a collection of fusuma screens. (Fusuma screens are similar to shoji screens but are opaque and often painted.) These screens can slide on and off stage on rails (kamoi and shikii). Each set of screens represents a different location. There is also a bench that is present in some scenes, and a backdrop which is projected upon for different settings.

In the setting descriptions below, the diagram is an overhead view of the set, with the lines representing fusuma screens. The audience is below in each diagram. For some settings, I have also found images for the projected backdrop and fusuma screen paintings.

Palace of Daimyo Takashi
Takashi has a bench in front of the center panel. Entrances are made from the center from behind a side panel. The panels are gold with floral patterns. Backdrop. For scenes I.1, I.4, and II.4.
Seacoast (Michiko)
The stage is bare, with a projected backdrop of the sea. Backdrop. For scene I.2.
Seacoast (Ichiro)
A different stretch of seacoast, farther from Numachi and more populated. Backdrop. For scene II.1.
Formal Room in Hiromi’s House
The panel is painted to look like a shoji screen with a vase of flowers in front of it. The backdrop is also of shoji screens, but with a view into the garden, as if one panel were open. For the second half of I.5 (from Michiko’s entrance) and the first half of III.4 (until Toshi’s entrance).
Common Room in Hiromi’s House
The panels and backdrop look like shoji screens. There is a somewhat low table in front of the right panel, with a few plain cushions around it. For scene I.3, the first half of I.5, scene II.3, and scene III.2.
Garden of Hiromi’s House
The panels are trees or shrubbery that can be hid behind. The right panel has a separately sliding middle section, and there is a bench in front of the stage left panel. For scene II.5, III.1, the second half of III.4, and scene IV.3.
Street in Numachi
A narrow street in Numachi. The backdrop is of the side of a building. For scene III.3.
Street near Hiromi’s House
The stage is bare. The backdrops show part of the wall surround Hiromi’s house and some vegetation and flowers. For scenes II.2, IV.1, and V.1.
Cell in Hiromi’s House
The center panel is the rear wall of the cell. The side panels are translucent so that the tormentors can be silhouetted against them. The panels are shoji screens. For scene IV.2.


Most characters have one costume, but a few have two.

For most of the play, Hiromi is in mourning. She wears the mofuku kimono, in all black. Costume drawing.
After the yellow-stockings scene (first part of Act II Scene 4), she changes into a homongi kimono in orange with flower motifs. This represents her stopping mourning out of love for Minoru.
Normally, Junichi wears a kimono in indigo with a kaku obi (stiff tied sash). For the yellow-stockings scene, he wears a bright yellow block-pattern kimono with a heko obi, which is a very informal sash. Costume drawing.
In all scenes, Takashi wears the kannoshi sugata, which is leisure-wear for nobles. It is mainly red, with purple underneath.
For her first scene, Michiko wears a wet and damaged komon kimono, with a pattern of leaves on a light green background.
As Minoru, she wears a plain light green kimono in a masculine style.
Yuichi wears a rust-brown kimono with a bright yellow obi. The obi is a joke, as Hiromi despises the color yellow.


Musical instruments
There is a koto to the side of the stage in all scenes in Daimyo Takashi’s palace.
Matsuri has his shamisen with him in those scenes he plays it. (See the Music section for a listing.)
Michiko’s coins
In Act I Scene 2, Michiko gives the captain some money for helping for helping her disguise herself.
In Act III Scene 4, when Daisuke request his purse from Michiko, believing her Ichiro, she offers him half her money.
Hiromi’s purse
In Act I Scene 5, Hiromi offers Michiko a purse which she refuses.
Hiromi’s ring
In Act I Scene 5 and Act II Scene 2, Hiromi sends Junichi to give Michiko a ring.
Knights’ cups
Toshi and Yuichi have sake cups with them in most scenes.
Knights’ coins
In Act II Scene 3, Toshi and Yuichi each pay Matsuri for a song.
Takashi’s purse
In Act II Scene 4, Takashi pays Matsuri for his song.
Takashi’s jewel
In Act II Scene 4, Takashi gives Michiko a jewel for Hiromi.
Tomoko’s letter
In Act II Scene 5, Tomoko has a letter she wrote that imitates Hiromi’s writing.
Daisuke’s purse
In Act III Scene 3, Daisuke lends Ichiro his purse.
Yuichi’s challenge
In Act III Scene 4, Toshi, Fumio, and Tomoko read the challenge Yuichi has written to Minoru.
Swords (Yuichi, Michiko, Daisuke, and Ichiro)
In Act III Scene 4 and Act IV Scene 1, there are swordfights between these four.
Junichi’s letter
In Act V Scene 1, Matsuri delivers Junichi’s letter declaring he is not mad.


Act II, Scene 5

Toshi, Yuichi, and Fumio enter left (line 1) behind the panel, chatting, with Toshi in the center. On line 11, Tomoko enters right behind the panel, causing Toshi to step forward. As Tomoko talks, she moves the men one by one to behind the right panel, hidden. She gives the letter to Fumio on line 19 and exits left behind the panel. Junichi enters down center on line 20 through the house, ending center stage. On each of the three watchers first lines (26, 27, and 29), they draw back the middle section of the panel partway to reveal their head. Junichi walks over to the bench on line 31. On line 40 he sits on the bench. Junichi pantomimes his actions as Count. When Fumio finishes line 68 he brandishes the letter then throws it to center stage. Junichi gets up on his line and begins walking center, reaching there on line 74. He picks up and looks at the outside of the letter, but does not break the seal until line 85, glancing around furtively before doing so. As he reads (lines 88-99), he walks back over to the bench. He may walk around a bit while thinking. On line 130, he walks forward slowly, reaching the front of the stage on line 148. Upon finishing the letter, he strides purposefully to down center, stating each line proudly. When he reaches line 162, he kisses the letter and so notices the postscript. Reading it, he walks back over to the left panel, exiting on line 169. As each of the three watchers has a line (170, 172, and 173), they step out of hiding, drawing the panel back as they go. They are boisterous and laughing. On line 176, Tomoko enters in front of the left panel, cautiously in case Junichi is still there. When the three men notice her, they run over and lift her onto the bench, praising her. After line 196, she leads them off behind the right panel.

Act IV, Scene 2

The stage is black, with Junichi in front of the center panel and the side panel offstage. Tomoko and Matsuri enter stage left, talking, on line 1, and the lights come up on each side of the center. Matsuri holds a gown and beard. Tomoko exits left on line 3. During Matsuri’s speech, he dons the gown and beard Tomoko gave him. Toshi and Tomoko enter left on line 10. On line 17, the side panels draw in, the lighting changes so that Matsuri, Toshi, and Tomoko are silhouetted behind the side panels, and Junichi is revealed lying face-down on the floor in front of the center panel. Matsuri as Ogyoku crosses to stage right before saying line 18. On line 23, Junichi stands. The dialogue between Ogyoku and Junichi continues until line 55, where the lights and panels shift back to before Junichi was revealed. On Toshi’s request, on line 60, Matsuri removes the fake beard. After line 65, Toshi and Tomoko exit together stage left, and the panels and lights switch to silhouette Matsuri and show Junichi. Matsuri sings and then talks with Junichi, eventually exiting stage left.


Junichi’s main motivation throughout the play is his aspiration to marry Hiromi. He is acutely conscious of the class structure, and marriage to Hiromi would greatly increase his rank. As it is, he delights in reminding the other servants of his social superiority to them and his authority inherited from Hiromi. Junichi is also very uptight and against the parties held by Toshi. Morally, he is quite strict, and so makes every effort to remove the excesses of Toshi from the house.
Initially, Michiko is grieving over Ichiro’s death. She effectively disguises herself as him, in a sense memorializing him. In her interactions with Takashi, as Minoru, Michiko has two conflicting motivations. She must keep up her male disguise for safety, but this prevents her telling the daimyo of her love, which she greatly wishes to, and on some occasions almost does. In her interactions with Hiromi, she feels, as she says, pity for Hiromi. She tries to stop all of Hiromi’s advances to avoid embarrassment for both of them.
Yuichi Netsu
Yuichi’s main goal throughout the play is to marry Hiromi. To this end, he associates with her uncle Toshi, and follows his advice, even when it makes fun of him. An example is the duel between him and Michiko. Another motivation for the duel is that Yuichi is jealous of Minoru. He also enjoys parties and revelry, and in participating and paying for them, allows Toshi to swindle him.


For Act I Scene 1, in Daimyo Takashi’s palace, the music he requests is played on the koto. In Act II Scene 4, the music is initially an instrumental peace for koto, later joined by Matsuri’s singing.

Matsuri accompanies himself on the shamisen for two songs, O mistress mine in Act II Scene 3 and When that I was in Act V, Scene 1.

The remaining songs in the play, Hold thy peace in Act II Scene 3, Hey Robin and I am gone, sir in Act IV Scene 2, and various song snippets in Act II Scene 3, are all performed a cappella.