A theme is an overarching idea that runs through a literary text in one or some parts. It makes up the major point the author he wants to convey to his readers. William Shakespeare has also used wide-ranging themes in his play, Twelfth Night. Some of the major themes of Twelfth Night have been discussed below.
Themes in Twelfth Night
Twelfth Night shows the chaotic world through various characters. Viola disguises as a man, Cesario and woos Olivia, while Orsino is dying for Olivia’s love. Olivia is in chaos and mourning for her brother’s loss. However, she sees Viola and falls for her, not knowing she is a woman. Olivia marries Sebastian believing he is Cesario. In such a mix of characters and their relationships, Feste, the court jester appears the sanest. The chaos comes to an end when Viola’s brother, Sebastian is married to Olivia.
Love is one of the major themes of the play because of the ending where lovers meet each other. Although love is shown causing pain, it is also shown that for some characters it is a curse while for others it is an ultimate goal. Orsino depicts it as an appetite that he wants to satiate. For Olivia, it is a disease that she suffers from. Even Viola suffers from love. Metaphorically, love is shown as something that shakes its subjects violently. On the other hand, Antonio and Malvolio face hurdles in fulfilling their desires. Antonio does not realize the social norms hindering his attraction to Sebastian. Otherwise, other characters have achieved their goals in love show that it is a blissful emotion.
Malvolio’s character exudes the sense of madness in love and is a sub-plot in the play. Later Sir Toby and Maria see Malvolio’s suffering from madness and prank him. Fest in the final scene also shows some of the features of madness in the play. It is interesting to note it from this observation that madness is actually intertwined with the sanity of the characters. It is also similar to chaos.
Confused Gender Identity
Viola shows this confusion of identity about gender when taking up the role of Cesario, a male character. For example, Olivia is in love with Cesario despite his feminine nature. On the other hand, Orsino agrees that he was attracted to Cesario too, though he was a male. When he realizes that Cesario is Viola, he is relieved.
Deception is another theme of the play, Viola is successful in deceiving Orsino and all the court members by pretending to be a man. Malvolio deceives himself and loves Olivia because he wants to be part of a noble circle. Olivia deludes herself by saying that she would mourn for seven years but breaks her vow when she meets Cesario.
There are two types of griefs; serious one as well as trivial. For example, Olivia loses her brother and father, hence she is going through serious grief. She, however, trivializes the mourning occasion. She declares to mourn for seven years and refuses to accept Orsino’s proposal. Orsino suffers from grief as well due to unrequited love. Viola and Sebastian grieve for each other’s death until they meet. In other words, the play has various forms of grief different from character to character.
Stupidity of Ambition
The stupidity of ambition is another minor theme of the play depicted through the character of Malvolio. He proves an egotist of the first order when he becomes highly ambitious to cross over to his social status. To teach him a lesson, Maria forges Olivia’s letter. Sir Toby and others find him highly funny, for he does not see the contrast between his status and ambition. Every character displays their ambition throughout the play. For example, Olivia’s ambition to gain Cesario’s affection which is also stupid because Cesario is Orsino’s messenger and is revealed to be Viola.
Firstly, there is love-melancholy which Orsino suffers from. Its symptoms include inactivity, mourning, lethargy, and interest in music or poetry. Secondly, melancholy due to loss. Olivia mourns her brother’s and father’s death. Viola, too, is sad because she believes Sebastian died in the shipwreck. Viola is also sad because had to disguise as Cesario and cannot express her love to Orsino. Olivia believes Malvolio is suffering from melancholy because of his narcissism.
Viola disguises her true identity and pretends to be a man, Cesario. Maria and Sir Toby’s pranks is also a disguise of their severe hatred towards him. They tease Malvolio to make others laugh at his lovesickness. On the other hand, Feste becomes a scholar, Sir Topas. Olivia and Orsino also disguise their unrequited love.
Olivia refuses to love Orsino because she mourns the death of her brother and father. On the other hand, Viola and Sebastian, who are brother and sister, also mourn the loss of each other’s supposed death.