An Evaluation of the Major Themes in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
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An Evaluation of the Major Themes in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

Themes are central in any examination of literary text; this article will break down the major themes in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in order to help you analyze the text further. In addition, it will find and examine quotes that are used throughout Twelfth Night to further this major themes and develop the plotline even further.

Disguise is often used in great works of literature for a variety of effects. In William Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night, disguise is effectively used to create humor throughout the play, mainly through the characters of Viola, who is disguised as a man, and Feste, a court jester that is far more intelligent then his job demands. Viola is the character that Shakespeare uses to create humor through outer disguise, while he uses Feste in a more complicated manner, creating humor through inner and outer disguise at different points in the play, because of Feste’s occupation and intelligence. Because of these two characters, disguise is effectively used to create comic relief throughout the play.

In Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, disguise is used to entertain the audience through one of the main characters, Viola, who is disguised as a man in the service of Duke Orsino, whom she loves. Shakespeare creates humor from this situation through the conversations between the Duke and Viola, in which there is often a double meaning to what is being said, known to the audience. This is evident especially in Act II, when this conversation is carried out:

“Duke: My life upon’t, young though thou art, thine eye Hath stay’d upon some favor that it loves. Hath it not, boy?

Viola: A little, by your favor.

Duke: What kin of women is’t?

Viola: Of your complexion

Duke: She is not worth thee, then. What years, i’faith?

Viola: About your years, my lord

Duke: Too old, by heaven…”

(II, iv, 23-29)

This conversation creates humor for the audience because they know that Viola is really a woman, and she is on love with the Duke. This would create a comedic effect through dramatic irony, because the audience knows something that not all of the characters do, and the Duke is unknowingly saying that he is too old and unworthy of Viola’s love. Viola also creates humor through her disguise as a man when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, two bumbling knights of the lady Olivia’s household, challenge Viola to duel with Sir Andrew, because they thought that Viola was being flirtatious with Olivia. This also creates humor through dramatic irony because, in Shakespeare’s time, only men dueled, so the idea of a woman battling would have been outrageous and funny to the audience, and Sir Andrew’s foolishness would have added to the hilarity. This passage would have struck the audience as particularly humorous:

“Viola: I beseech you, what manner of man is he?

Fabian: Nothing of that wonderful promise, to read him by his form, as you are like to find him in the proof of his valor. He is, indeed, sir, the most skilful, bloody, and fatal opposite that you could have possibly have found in any part of the Illyria. Will you walk towards him? I will make your peace with him if I can.

Viola: I shall be much bound to you for’t…I care not who knows so much of my mettle.”


[Enter Sir Toby and Sir Andrew]

“Sir Toby: Why, man, he’s a very devil; I have not seen such a firago…They say he has been fencer to the Sophy.

Sir Andrew: I’ll not meddle with him.”

(III, iv, 252-268)

This would have been humorous because Sir Toby and Fabian are playing Viola and Sir Andrew against each other so that they are both scare of the other, Both of these examples show how Viola’s disguise creates humor throughout Twelfth Night.

While Shakespeare uses outer disguise through Viola’s character to create humor, he uses the character of Feste, the court jester in service of Olivia, to create humor through both inner and outer disguise. This makes the humor throughout Twelfth Night more diverse and slightly deeper then if only outer disguise was used. However, Feste uses both forms of disguise because of his intelligence in comparison to his job. As a court jester, he isn’t expected to be very smart. He uses this to his advantage to make fun of people, to the delight of the audience, when talking to other characters in the play. For example, when he was talking to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew while they were drinking:

“Sir Andrew: I sent thee sixpence for thy leman. Hadst it?

Feste: I did impeticos thy gratility: for Malvolio’s nose is no whipstock; my lady has a white hand, and the Mytmidons are no bottle-ale houses.

Sir Andrew: Excellent! Why, this is the best fooling, when all is done. Now, a song.”

(II, iii, 24-29)

Feste is making fun of Sir Andrew, mocking him in a way, by prattling nonsense when he knows Sir Andrew is too drunk to catch him, which the audience would have found entertaining. Feste’s character is also used to create a comic effect through external disguise when he pretends to be Sir Topas, a priest, in order to confuse Malvolio and try to convince him that he’s insane. The audience would have found this passage especially uproarious:

“Malvolio: [Within] Who calls there?

Feste: Sir Topas the curate, who comes to visit Malvolio the lunatic.

Malvolio: Sir Topas, Sir Topas, good Sir Topas, go to my lady.

Feste: Out, hyperbolical fiend! How vexest thou this man! Talkest thou nothing but of ladies?”

(IV, ii, 20-26)

Feste effectively confuses and embarrasses Malvolio with his disguise as a priest, attempting to convince him that he is possessed by the devil, creating humor for the audience. These examples clearly show how Feste, despite his profession, uses intelligence with inner and outer disguise to create humor at different points in Twelfth Night.

These examples show how Shakespeare effectively uses the element of disguise to create humor throughout his play, Twelfth Night.Viola is used to create a comedic effect through outer disguise, as she is disguised as a man in service of the duke, whom she loves, while Feste’s character creates humor through both inner and outer disguise, because of his employment and his intelligence, as there is a major contrast between the two, which, as shown, sometimes creates humor when Feste talks to other characters in the play. While these characters are not the only characters that Shakespeare uses to create humor through disguise in the play, Feste and Viola offer the best examples because they are used so often to create this effect, and are two of the main characters in the play. These characters show how Shakespeare effectively uses disguise to create humor in Twelfth Night.

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Comments (1)

Not bad. But in fact, here were enough new adaptations and films on this sochineniyuyuinteresny approach to the works of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night."