Analysis Of Shakespeare

’s “Twelfth Night” Essay, Research Paper

Analysis of Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare, arguably the most important writer in all of English literature, is certainly the most influential playwright of the English Renaissance. Born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon in rural northern England, he was the son of a middle-class glovemaker. Competing against such illustrious company as Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson, Shakespeare quickly became one of the most popular playwrights in the city of London and a favorite of the monarch, the powerful and long-lived Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare wrote thirty-eight plays in the course of his twenty-five-year career; a few of them apparently in collaboration with other people, but most of them solo. Twelfth Night was written near the middle of Shakespeare?s career, probably in the year 1601, and most critics consider it one of his greatest comedies. This play?s plot of illusions, deceptions, disguises, and the extraordinary things love causes us to do and to see, made it very entertaining for its audience four hundred years ago, and after all this time this comedy still gets some good laughs out of most of us.

The story begins when, off the coasts of the country of Illyria, a terrible shipwreck is caused by a storm. Viola, the play?s protagonist, is swept onto the shores along with the friendly sea captain that saved her life. Finding herself in a strange land, Viola assumes that her twin brother, Sebastian, has drowned in the wreck, and tries to figure out what kind of work can she do. The Captain tells her about a local nobleman, Duke Orsino, who is courting a beautiful but reluctant noblewoman, Lady Olivia. Since Lady Olivia refuses to talk to any stranger, Viola cannot look for work with her. But she decides to disguise herself as a man, taking on the name of ?Cesario?, and goes to work for the Duke.

Viola, dressed as Cesario, becomes a favorite of the Duke and makes him his page. But Viola finds herself falling in love with Orsino; a difficult love to persue as Orsino believes her to be a man. But this is not all, for Lady Olivia falls in love with ?Cesario? (Viola), when this one is delivering Orsino?s love letters. Now Viola, who is disguised as Cesario, loves Orsino, Orsino loves Olivia, and Olivia loves Cesario who is in fact Viola, and everyone is miserable.

Meanwhile, Shakespeare gives us all the other funny characters. These are the characters that represent the common people, and they are adored by the lower class, which made up a great part of the audience. Olivia?s rowdy uncle, Sir Toby Belch; his foolish friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who is trying in his hopeless way to court Olivia; Olivia?s witty serving-woman, Maria; Fester, the clever clown of the house; and the dour, prudish steward of Olivia?s household, Malvolio.

Sebastian, who is still alive after all but believes his sister Viola to be dead, arrives in Illyria, along with his friend and protector Antonio. When Sebastian coincidentally approaches Olivia?s grounds, cases of mistaken identity begin to pile up, and nearly everyone winds up getting into a fight or thinking that someone has betrayed him or her. In the midst of all this, Olivia encountering Sebastian, and thinking he is ?Cesario?, asks him to marry her, to her great joy, finds him willing at last.

Eventually, Viola and Sebastian wind up in the same place at the same time, and all is revealed. Orsino realizes that he loves Viola, and now that he knows that she is a woman, he asks her to marry him. Sir Toby and Maria were also married somewhere private, and finally someone remembers Malvolio who was locked in a dark room under Olivia?s order who was lead to believe he was insane by Maria?s trick. When he finds out about everything, he storms off leaving the happy couples to their celebration.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare?s ?transvestites comedies?, a play that features female protagonists who, for some reason, have to disguise themselves as young men. It is important to remember that in Shakespeare?s day, all the parts were played by men, so Viola would actually have been a boy pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy. This is another reason that made the play so entertaining and interesting at the same time. The play met the expectations of the varied audience of Shakespeare?s time. It was entertaining for the lower class, whose members loved characters like Maria, Toby and Malvolio playing tricks on each other. And it was interesting for the upper class that wanted to observe the characters? moral and intellectual conflicts, like Violas disguising as a guy, and leading the life of a man with woman?s feelings and in love with her master.


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