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Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night


Historians debate the ritual significance of Twelfth Night,

The gendered Lord of Misrule, the Rough Music,

The Charivari, the World Turned Upside Down:

Was it real and oppositional towards the powerful?

Or a controlled safety-valve,

Turned off and on by the dominant?

In short, mere ritual or real and radical?


Well, I’m turning the world upside down this year,

With a secular epiphany,

By going on a pub crawl at night,

Without going inside a single one:

The robins are singing,

And bats flying at dusk,

As we set off from the Prince Albert,

Reminding ourselves of Matthew Beaumont’s

A Nocturnal History of London NightWalking:

Here’s a summary to re-whet the appetite:

You will know the difference between

The bohemian NOCTAMBULANT

And the indigent NOCTIVAGANT;

You will see that the poor of Merrie England

Could not afford torches or lanterns

To lighten their way through the streets;

You will think of bellmen, curfews and watchmen,

Of the Christian conjoining of darkness and the devil,

Of the class, gender and racially biased

Criminalization of nightwalkers,

Of how the Protestant Reformation

Also criminalized poverty,

Of how Enclosure also created vagrancy

And its consequent criminalization;

You will study the developing practice

and theory of NIGHTWALKING,

You will read of counter- enlightenment

literary peregrinations,

Of how

‘The act of walking for the Romantics,

inscribed a coded rebellion against

the culture of agrarian and industrial capitalism

onto both the material surfaces of city and countryside

– the streets, the roads, the footpaths –

and their social relations.’

Of how John Clare

was a militant pedestrian …

From his youth, he defied enclosure with his feet,

asserting the politics of pedestrianism …

In addition to his commitment

to walking as a political act,

Clare was … apart from Wordsworth …

most attuned to the night’s subtle promise

of a life that cannot be lived in the common day.


And tonight, we are all of us in the gutter

But some of us are gazing at the stars.

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