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Twelfth Night Themes


Twelfth Night Themes

The list and analysis of the major Twelfth Night Themes. Their similarities and differences from other comedies by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is among his most popular and popular comedies. Regardless of it utilizes the exact same plot weaves that are utilized in his subsequent works, it is thought about by lots of the critics the peak of his work in the category of comedy.

The name Twelfth Night comes from the popular carnival, an event, where everyday guidelines and morals are blurred and everybody can do whatever they please under the mask, till it pleases individuals around. We plainly see the concept of the world turned upside down as one of the primary Twelfth Night styles, like on the carnival. The characters likewise behave more like the participants of the carnival, disregarding their duties and social status to enjoy their stories of love.

The author uses his usual concept of cross-dressing in the play, but here it much more emphasized: the cross-dressing brother or sisters are twins. In Twelfth Night, the author combines the plot twists from The Comedy of Mistakes where the primary characters are 2 pairs of twins, and the theme of women disguised as men that he utilizes a number of other comedies. Like in The Funny of Mistakes there are a great deal of mistaken identities and almost an accidental wedding, but Twelfth Night isn’t about slapstick humor. It touches a lot more major and romantic themes like the real love versus being enamored, mourning and pride and the border in between sincere friendship and romantic sensations.

In spite of its typical misogyny that was considered amusing at the times of Shakespeare, this comedy features two strong primary heroines: Olivia and Viola, who have their own will, opinion and power to get themselves out of the tight spots. The story ends with the classical double wedding event, as most of the funnies by this author, but it isn’t simply for the sake of a happy end. Practically all the characters had the time to comprehend themselves and their feelings. This is what makes Twelfth Night no less funny however a very romantic and heartfelt comedy.

Art and Culture

The art and culture are popular Twelfth Night themes and are mentioned by William Shakespeare frequently. He uses great deals of meta examples to applaud, illustrate or slam the Elizabethan theater and its status in the society. The first recommendation to the cultural traditions is the very name of the play. Twelfth Night refers to the festival of the exact same name, where music, singing, jokes and extracurricular relations were the important part of the event. The behaviour of the characters of the play closely resembles this celebration.

Another recommendation to art is already consisted of in the play. Theater is compared to bear-baiting– a savage sport that was considered the amusement for the lower classes of the society as was theater. Cross-dressing is another meta-example. Viola invests so much time as Cesario both because of practical reasons– females were restricted to play in Elizabethan theatre and the star playing Viola was in fact male– and because of mocking that practical reasons on meta scale. It seems that the author enjoys teasing the Puritan theater requirements.

The carnival is an extremely convenient setting to safely revise the cultural norms, gender identities, sexuality and morality and other topics that are normally tabooed in society. It includes a flavor of double entendre to the funny, still allowing it to be the work of art of Elizabethan art that entirely fits the ethical norms of the audience, simply flexing them a bit.

Topsy-Turvy World

As we stated in the past, the style of topsy-turvy world is carefully associated to the really name of the play and is one of the primary Twelfth Night themes. If we keep in mind that the setting of the play looks like a carnival where everybody does whatever they please, the occasions of Twelfth Night stop being so unusual. The most prominent example of the world turned upside down is, obviously, Viola cross-dressed as Cesario. Ladies were prohibited to use male clothing in the times of William Shakespeare, so it seems to be a quite brave act. What is really unusual– Viola perfectly plays a young male, proving that gender in the play is something that is defined just by clothes. Viola feels unpleasant in this camouflage, however still performs so completely that Olivia, the lady who denies all the suitors, falls in love with her.

Orsino’s character is very close to the “Lord of Abuse”– an individual who is chosen at the real twelfth night after Christmas to be the “king” of carnival. We see that Orsino is the ruler of Illyria, however he doesn’t really guideline: he enjoys music, good food and lovesickness. He acts like a drama queen, enjoying being sorry for himself and his damaged heart.

Olivia is likewise an example of the complete reversal of gender roles. She is brave and big-headed enough to not only decline her lord, however even to refuse his messengers to enter her house (that is incredibly rude and may be even punished). She also falls for Cesario and actively courts “him”– which is rubbish because of their distinction in status and the social expectations which say that a female will be shy and modest.


Gender is a really essential style in Twelfth Night and, aside of the obvious case of Viola-Cesario, there are much more subtle implications in the play. Viola and Sebastian are twins, nearly indistinguishable one from another, and, we can presume that they look rather androgynous. Viola easily changes her gender identity, though briefly, and flawlessly plays a man. That makes us question: if Sebastian is capable of handling the female role as well and what repercussions it could have in the very same story?

Olivia, though clearly female, shows the characteristics that, in Elizabethan society, are thought about to be typically male. She handles her estate alone, without any male figure around, she is brave, sharp and big-headed. We may even state that Olivia mirrors Duke Orsino, pitying herself after the loss of her brother and still being a strong personality. When she succumbs to Cesario, she acts quite manly, pursuing him and even making a contract with a priest to conduct a wedding ritual right after Cesario says “yes”.

Orsino, though lovesick, that justifies all his actions for the times of Shakespeare, is rather effeminate in his behaviour. He enjoys hedonistic satisfaction, weeps, writes poems and ignores his responsibilities. When we compare the styles he and Olivia handle their families, we see that Olivia is a lot more strict and attentive ruler than Orsino.

In general, the concept of gender ends up being blurred in Twelfth Night. We see guys who act like females and females who act stereotypically manly, and understand that gender is a socially built identity that consists of manners, clothes and stereotypes. The author even has fun with the concept of same-sex love in the dialogs of Orsino and Cesario. The only thing that stops Orsino from falling in love is that his servant is male, as he thinks. However we can clearly see the affection in Duke’s words and good manners.

Love and Madness

At the times of Shakespeare love was thought about a factor to get mad, particularly for males. The whole level of madness in the play is currently high with all the carnival things, but love is just a special sort of it. The play begins with Orsino regreting his unrequited love and applauding the love itself as the most great thing that can occur to an individual. But he likewise states about the less incredible qualities of love, like idealizing the cherished one. Orsino hardly understands Olivia, however considers her an embodiment of all possible virtues. He represents her as a solemn angel and is really surprised when he sees her as an enthusiastic woman.

While Orsino represents the love that drives people mad, Olivia is no much better. She has time to comprehend that something is wrong with her, however then she begins to straight-out stalk Cesario, mistakenly misinterpreting Sebastian for him and even making a contract with a priest for him to be prepared to wed them at the same time. Even when she understands that her precious Cesario is a woman and for that reason can’t be with her, she happily takes Sebastian as a replacement. Additionally, Sebastian accepts marry a lady he has never seen before. He questions for a second, if he is crazy, however, but then he gladly accepts the proposal.

A more humorous example is Malvolio, who is so self-obsessed that he decides that Olivia can like him and he can share her power with him. He loves not her however her status and honorable origin, but, ironically, idealizes her in the exact same way Orsino does. He ends up being so blinded with love that the remainder of the servants play jokes with him and finally convince Olivia that poor Malvolio has gone bananas and requires to be locked away.

Language and Communication

In the beginning, letters are the most important way of interaction in between the characters. Composed language is an essential theme in Twelfth Night for obvious reasons: William Shakespeare is a playwright, so he assesses the importance of the eloquence of tongue and wordplay. The only way for Orsino to impress the remote Olivia is to compose her love poetry so gorgeous that it would warm her heart. The author, as an author himself, assesses his own attitude to the poetry, revealing it through the actions of the different characters. He declares that no matter how perfectly rhymed is the verse, the one which is spontaneous and loaded with passion will constantly defeat it, winning the heart of the audience.

The letters represent the power that can alter one’s life. Not just it can express the true sensations, it also can deceive an individual and end up being a cause of their fall. We see it when Malvolio gets his created letter from “Olivia” composed by his fellow servants. The letter is composed so trickily that the unclear hints can be interpreted in any possible way– however Malvolio, drunken with his fascination, reads it the method he wants it– like the confession of love from Olivia.

The language is portrayed as an effective tool that can disguise, destroy and motivate individuals to do the difficult. Viola utilizes language to develop into Cesario and even to alter Orsino. Orsino has just language to woo Olivia, however his eloquence is bleak in contrast to Cesario’s sincerity. Feste and the rest of the servants create a letter that was custom-made for Malvolio to misinterpret it, however still doesn’t state anything straight. The words with double entendre permit all the characters to reveal their sensations without them being exposed completely.

Recklessness and Sorrow

Grief is still one of the important Twelfth Night themes, however it isn’t depicted very seriously by the author. We see Orsino at the start of the play, who acts like an enamored teen or a drama queen– showing his sorrow and lovesickness, delighting in the very state of being hopelessly in love. Olivia, from the other hand, has endured through a genuine loss just recently, grieving her dad and bro. But she is likewise too demonstrative about it, making a ridiculous vow to seclude herself from the world for 7 years, wearing a grieving veil and not accepting any guests. The Fool amounts it up completely, saying that if her household is in Heaven, she doesn’t need to be so extremely unfortunate. Malvolio is the only one who doesn’t attempt to cheer his mistress up, fanatically preserving the solemn atmosphere in her house– and he ends up buffooned and ridiculed.

Viola and Sebastian both grieve their loss, but they also select to proceed and attempt to live their lives– so, in the end they are just more happy to see each other once again. They are portrayed as properly to manage the loss: cry about it and live even more.

The Fool, who is a standard smart character in the Shakespearian plays, frequently comments the experience of other characters. He concludes that the awful events like infirmity, disease and death might be the source of grief, but when they go excessive, they likewise increase folly. The Fool reminds the characters– and the audience– the requirement of being moderate in sorrow and look for consolation, not overindulging in grieving and making it the main part of life. As he says in the last tune, when all the characters leave, “the rain it raineth every day”, indicating that the live has plenty of solemn things and individuals have to get along with them and learn to be pleased whatever life tosses at them.

Guidelines and Order

Regardless of the events of the play might seem to create a growing number of chaos, rules and order are still a prominent Twelfth Night theme. The rules of the real world are inappropriate in the setting of the play, however the guidelines of carnival can perfectly fit. Orsino– the King of Misrule– is not the actual ruler, his primary responsibility is to be splendid and drive attention to himself. He behaves effeminate and carelessly, not governing his land but doing the specific opposite thing. Olivia, who might seem a proper Puritan lady, rigorous and solemn, is likewise revealed being over-the-top major. Her supreme disrespect to her ruler can be excused and validated that she is his carnival Queen, the exact opposite of whatever the King of Misrule shall embody. In the middle of the play she seems a very enthusiastic and emotional woman, who actively courts the male she likes, that represents the triumph of life and love over death and guidelines.

The cross-dressing of Viola likewise violates all the guidelines that can exist in the real Elizabethan world, however in the setting of the play it works completely. Nobody sees the woman under the camouflage that again indicates that gender is simply a socially built entity on the carnival. The ease everybody consents to marry each other in the end simply stresses this point. Orsino likes Cesario-Viola anyway, he simply wants to see her in a gown. Sebastian is so shocked by Olivia’s advances that are more suitable for an enamored man that he gives up and accepts marry her immediately, regardless of being a total stranger.

The servants, who work as a comic relief in the play, take it all straight. They dispose of all the rules, drinking, feasting and deceiving each other for their own amusement. The only personification of Puritan worths is Malvolio, who is a continuous laughingstock and a chewing toy for the others, showing that the guidelines, order and rigorous morals of the mundane life are extremely unwelcomed at the carnival.

Society and Class

To understand the class concerns and differences implied by the author in the play we must know the concepts of the society of his times. We might understand that cross-dressing and the behaviour that isn’t common for the biological sex might be viewed as scandalous, however there are lots of other layers we have to believe a bit to discover. Social ambitions play a fundamental part in the story. For instance, we see Malvolio, who is charmed not by Olivia herself, but by her image as a wealthy and noble lady he considers himself to be equivalent to. The concern of Malvolio isn’t unrequited love, it is self-obsession that makes him believe that Olivia is the only possible set for such a wonderful guy as him.

Olivia’s own love to Cesario is exceptionally inappropriate considering the wide space in their social statuses of a wealthy honorable girl and a simple messenger. She is surprised by her own sensations and feels rather uncomfortable about it till finally catching her enthusiasm and starting to pursue Cesario. In the cultural context of that time the image of a wealthy woman who chases after an attractive young servant of her suitor looks rather comical.

Another prominent illustration that might be rather autobiographical, is the image of Feste. He is very intelligent, sharp-tongued and smart, however, when the worthy individuals behave silly like the main characters or simply drink, consume and spend their life like Sir Toby Belch, Feste needs to work for a scarce income and sometimes is identical from the rest of the servants– regardless of being a lot more competent than them.

Lies and Deceit

Lies and deceit isn’t a popular Twelfth Night theme, unlike the remainder of the plays by W. Shakespeare. The only individual from the main cast who has to lie is Viola, camouflaged as Cesario, but she does it to provide herself with a good job and without any sinister intent. Deceit is utilized mainly as a comic relief, lie isn’t thought about bad if it is needed to have a good time. The whole trick with Malvolio proves it completely: Malvolio is irate and upset in the end, to the extent that he makes a vow to have vengeance, but no one takes it seriously, considering it a perfect end of a prolonged joke.

The atmosphere of carnival indicates that lies is a necessary part of it to maintain the real identities concealed. The cross-dressing, the behaviour inappropriate for one’s gender or status, the letters filled with self-delusion make deceit simply a background for the main story. No one gets upset genuine, no one is injured by the innocent lies that is either joke or flirting. The author treats this style rather light-heartedly even making us not observe that lies is lies often. The remainder of the cast represents it in such a relaxed manner (and we constantly have Malvolio to see what happens with overly severe people) that we have no other option than to join them.

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