Twelth Night Essay Research Paper

Twelth Night Essay, Research Paper

“Twelth Night”


William Shakespeare

L.O. To be able to identify and anylse the different forms of comedy in ‘Twelth Night’ by responding, in essay form, to the following title :

Traditionally, in the merrymaking of Twelth Night the general order of things is overturned. Show, by reference to several examples, how this topsy-turvydom is presented in ‘Twelth Night’.

Shakespeare wrote this play in about 1600 to be performed in front of Queen Elizabeth and her court on the Twelth Night of Christmas. Twelth Night is a romantic comedy of misreadings. In the play disguise, mistaken identity and the ambiguities of language all conspire to confuse the characters’ judgement of one another and their perception of the World. Throughout the play the humour in Twelth Night varies from slapstick comedy to dramatic irony. Shakespeare is constantly mocking how idiodically people behave when they are in love. He presents the audience with a range of characters illustrating the different types of comedy and emphasising the contrasts between them. The audience is manipulated by using situations that we can identify with. Throughout the play we find ourselves laughing at the misfortune of most, if not all the characters within the play because we recognise the ironies that they encounter. The situations and themes featured within the play are exaggerated by Shakespeare in order to produce comedy. Twelth Night reflects the way in which people misread situations and how they are blind to the reality that lies in front of them. In short, Twelth Night demonstrates how love is madness – it is Human Nature. The reason that a modern audience can still relate to Shakespeare’s play is because the Human Nature has not changed.

Shakespeare creates comedy through confusion of identity, thus creating farce humour. In Elizabethan time men played the female characters. The original Elizabethan audience would have found special sophistication in viola’s situation, where a man dresses up as a woman, who, in the play disguises herself as a man. Mistaken identity and confusion in love create much of the comedy in ‘Twelth Night.’ Shakespeare creates gentle humour around Cesario, Orsino, and Olivia’s situation. It is ironic that Cesario is saying loving words to Olivia from the Duke, where really Cesario would like to be saying these words to the Duke, Orsino. Shakespeare also creates subtle humour from love and watching confusion in love. Shakespeare manipulates the audience’s feelings by realism and giving the audience an understanding of the characters feelings;

“Nothing that is so, is so”

Shakespeare creates the main humour in ‘Twelth Night’ through his use of mistaken identity.

The most obvious fools of the play are Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. They present the audience with a farcical performance of drunkenness and over indulgence. Even their names suggest that they are excessive in their eating and drinking. Throughout the play they are continually flaunting their foolish behaviour and provoking the pompous Malvolio. They dislike Malvolio because he is a self-righteous puritan and often tries to spoil their fun. Malvolio’s presence as a steward means that he does not accommodate lower gentry fools such as Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. When they are disturbing Olivia’s household, he asks them,

“Have you no wit, manners or honesty?”

Maria, who is Olivia’s gentlewoman, also creates farcical humour when she outrageously takes part in the drunken antics of Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek. Whenever these characters are on stage there is always anticipation about what they will ridicule next. From early on in the play, however, it is Maria’s crafty idea to play a trick on the arrogant puritan, Malvolio.

“I will drop in his way some obscure epistles of love”

Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are straight forward in their comic behaviour whereas Maria introduces an element of mischief. The excited Malvolio thinking that his mistress is in love with him loses his sense of pride and dresses in yellow stockings hoping to please the beautiful Olivia. Malvolio falls for the prank and is persuaded to to indulge in ludicrous behaviour symbolised by his dress. The humour in this is that such a respected figure in society is foolish enough to become the centre of a joke, Malvolio suffers severe Humiliation. The intelligent clown to Olivia, Feste, rightly says,

“Those wits that think they have thee do very oft prove fools”

This is ironic because the professional clown is proved to be cleverer than the more respected characters, like Malvolio. As Twelth Night was written for a sixteenth century audience, it is important to know that the audience would have been of a mixture of classes. The audience knows that Malvolio is going to be ridiculed, and so it creates a sense of anticipated humour. People watching the play are highly amused to see a puritan mocked, especially as it is by the less appreciated servants, Feste, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria.

Shakespeare creates dramatic irony in a scene between Viola and the duke where Viola says,

“I am all the daughters of my fathers house and all the brothers too”

Here Shakespeare is suggesting about the identity of Viola. The audience know that this quote is actually true but the Duke Orsino does not know this. This is dramatic irony that also creates humour as Orsino thinks that his best friend is a man. This form of humour runs throughout the play until the final scene where Sebastien and Viola find themselves together. It is not until then that the Duke realises that Cesario is a woman.

Shakespeare also encourages us to laugh at the behaviour of the powerful members of society who are making fools of themselves. This is contrasted with the actions of Sir Andrew and Cesario because Orsino and Olivia have deliberately chosen to behave in outrageous ways. From the start of the play Shakespeare encourages his audience to laugh at their foolish behaviour. In the opening scenes of Twelth Night the audience is familiarised with the unrequited love that Orsino has for Olivia. The language he uses is exaggerated and over indulgent,

“if music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it.”

Shakespeare makes the play funny by presenting the strange behaviour that accompanies love. Also, in the opening scenes we are presented with Olivia who is acting strangely after the death of her brother and has decided that she will be in mourning for the next seven years, meaning that she will not love another man in that time. Shakespeare uses the dubious disguise of viola, who serves the Duke Orsino as Cesario, to link Orsino and Olivia in their self-indulgent moods and to create the mixed up love affairs.

This mistaken identity creates comedy in many scenes throughout ‘Twelth Night.’ Cesario and Sir Andrew Aguecheekhave been set up to have a duel by Sir Toby Belch. On seeing this duel, Antonio enters and mistakes Cesario for his friend Sebastian. He threatens Sir Toby and Sir Andrew and is then promptly arrested. A little later on Sebastien is mistaken for Cesario and is attacked by Sir Andrew. Sebastian responds by beating the knight soundly. These two incidents are examples of how Shakespeare creates comedy through mistaken identity as characters are recognised as other people. Olivia has fallen in love with Cesario while he has been the Dukes messenger. Olivia pledges this love to Sebastian who she believes is Cesario;

“Be not offended, dear Cesario.”

This shocks Sebastian, as he has never met Olivia in his life previously;

“What relish is in this? How runs the stream? Or am i mad, or else this is a dream.”

Shakespeare creates comedy very well through his use of mistaken identity and confusion in love.

In Sir Toby’s relationship with Sir Andrew, Sir Toby displays a manipulative side to his character. He fools the gullible Knight into believing that he could marry Olivia in order that Sir Andrew stays and finances his drinking habit. Sir Toby is continually playing tricks on Sir Andrew and he often plays characters up against each other. Sir Toby sets up a duel between Sir Andrew and Cesario on the basis that Cesario is trying to woo Olivia who Sir Andrew is trying to win. Before the duel Sir Toby goes between Cesario and Sir Andrew telling them that their opponent is a master at sword fighting. By the time they arrive to fight they, both Cesario and Sir Andrew, are petrified of each other and the duel comes to nothing. This visual comedy created by Sir Toby is always at the expense of someone else.

Shakespeare creates a very different comedy through the character Feste.

“Take the fool away.”

In ‘Twelth Night’ Feste is regarded as ‘a fool’ or sometimes ‘a clown.’ To the audience he is not a fool as through his use of Rhetoric language the audience would understand him well and find his language comical.

“Take away the fool.”

“Do you not hear the fellows? Take away the lady”.

This is Feste with Olivia where he manages to twist around conversations and arguements. When Olivia enters accompanied by her steward Malvolio, she is very solemm and in no mood for listening to the prattling clown. She orders him away but Feste eventually amuses her and softens her towards him. Through Feste, Shakespeare creates a quick-witted comedy. In this scene, Act I Scene V, we discover the quickness of Feste’s mind. Feste plays a ‘fool’ but actually he is a linkage to the audience and he frequently proves others to be ‘fools’;

“Good Madonna, give me leave to prove you a fool”

Feste’s character is summed up well when he says;

“Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit”

Through Feste, Shakespeare creates a very clever comedy using Feste’s wit and his sharp mind. Another main character, Malvolio, is the object of other characters comedy. This becomes evident when Olivia says “O you are sick of self-love, Malvolio”. Malvolio is mainly the subject of a trick by Sir Toby, Feste, and Maria where Malvolio ends up being declared as ‘insane’.

All the forms of humour in Twelth Night come from watching people get confused in the madness of love. Shakespeare uses familiar situations so that we do not suspend belief in the plot. By having situations that are serious, like Viola’s unrequited love for Orsino, the foolish behaviour of the other characters is exploited as ridiculous. Shakespeare did this in order to show how comedy can be created through the exploration of different and more serious themes.

A comedy in Shakespeare’s time was a play that ended in the marriage or proposed marriage of characters. At the end of the Twelth Night the mistakes are rectified in the marriages of Orsino and Viola, Olivia and Sebastian, and Sir Toby and Maria.

Shakespeare shows that despite their weaknesses, well-meaning individuals will finally make sense of their situations.



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