Introduction to Twelfth Night
The play, Twelfth Night, also titled What You Will written by William Shakespeare is a romantic comedy. It was written approximately in 1601 or 1602 to be staged on the Christmas day. The play is about the twins, Sebastian and Viola, separated during a storm when their ship is wrecked. Viola, disguising as Cesario, loves Duke Orsino. Duke, on the other hand, loves Olivia. The storyline is stated to have been derived from the story of Matteo Bandello. However, its publication is stated to have been delay until the first folio in 1623.
Summary of Twelfth Night
The play opens with Orsino madly in love with Lady Olivia, who does not love him back. Duke Orsino convinces himself that he loves Olivia and that is enough. Hence, he resends a proposal expressing his undying passion for Olivia. As she is mourning following her father and brother’s death, she rejects him, saying she will not marry for the next seven years.
Meanwhile, Viola, along with her captain, Antonio, and crew survive a shipwreck on the seashore of Illyria. The captain helps her to reach the shore. However, she doesn’t find her twin brother, Sebastian, and assumes he must have been drowned. The captain, then, helps her to disguise a young man, Cesario. Viola takes the job of the aide of Duke Orsino. Duke Orsino is still obsessed with Olivia and asks Cesario to visit Olivia and let her know about his unselfish, passionate love. In a surprising turn of event, Olivia falls in love with Cesario, who delivers Orsino’s message to convince her to marry the duke. However, Olivia rejects Orsino again leaving him heartbroken. Viola, at the same time, starts loving the duke. This creates a sort of love triangle.
There is a sub-plot with more comedy involving members of Olivia’s household. Malvolio, Olivia’s steward is secretly in love with her. The other members of the house plot to expose Malvolio’s feelings. Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch, her servant, Maria, and Sir Toby’s friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek are involved in the plot because Malvolio once rebuked them for drinking.
Even Sir Andrew was secretly seeking Olivia’s attention. Olivia’s both servants, Fabian and Maria and the fool, Feste are also involved in this drama. Together, they write a letter to trick Malvolio. They want him to believe that Olivia loves him. The letter lists the things that Olivia demands in order to show his love. They write that Malvolio must wear yellow stockings, cross-gartered, and smile to show his love for Olivia. Malvolio falls for the trick and follows the instructions. The Countess, Olivia is shocked at his appearance. She scolds Malvolio declares him as a madman. Surprisingly, Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, has miraculously survived the shipwreck. He arrives Illyria with his sea-captain friend, Antonio, who is a wanted man for former robbery against Orsino.
Viola’s brother Sebastian saves Antonio’s life. He takes Sebastian to Illyria despite a threat from Orsino with whom he has already fought. When Sebastian appears on the scene, the play becomes even more comic. When Sebastian meets Olivia, she believes he is Cesario. Olivia appeals to him to marry her. However, when this couple appears, others wonder at the physical resemblance of Cesario and Sebastian. Even Oliva and Orsino are flabbergasted. It is here Viola discloses her identity and joins her brother. Then Orsino and Viola proclaim to get married. While Sir Toby plans to marry Maria. However, the interesting character of Malvolio feels twitched at being cheated. He exits the scene, swearing to exact revenge from those who have played games with him.
In the end, Orsino agrees with the union between Olivia and Sebastian. He confesses that even when Viola was pretending to be ‘Cesario’, he was attracted to her. Hence, he jokes that he will marry Viola as soon as she is dressed as a woman again.
Major Themes in Twelfth Night
- Chaotic World: Twelfth Night, is that the world is not in order and smooth. It is chaotic and anything can happen to anybody at any time. The play starts with a shipwreck that separates the twins. The brother, Sebastian, is believed to have gone missing, while Viola pretends as a man, Cesario, and tries to pursue Olivia, where Duke Orsino is involved in his own love story. This all points to the world that may become chaotic or happy at any time.
- Love: Orsino, the Duke, is in love with Olivia, Olivia shows her love for Sebastian, considering him, Cesario. For one love proves an appetite, as for Orsino, while for Olivia, it is a disease or obsession. Even Sir Toby and Sir Andrew love, along with Malvolio with whom they play pranks.
- Madness: Madness in the play emerges from love. Although no character is truly mad, Sir Toby and Maria show this from Malvolio’s behavior who seeks the love of Olivia. Feste, too, shows this when he intertwines it with sanity.
- Gender Identity: The confusion about identity, specifically, related to gender, emerges when Viola becomes a man, Cesario, who attracts the attention of Duke Orsino, despite disguising a male. On the other hand, she makes Olivia fall in love with her, though, by the end she reveals her identity.
- Deception: Deception in the play has been shown through the character of Viola who deceives the duke. Malvolio also deceives himself, though, he knows that he cannot marry Olivia. He also knows that Sir Toby and Maria can deceive him, who does through a forged letter.
- Grief: Two kinds of grief are shown in this play. One is genuine as shown by Olivia and Viola. The second is trivial that a person cannot perform naturally such as Olivia grieves for Cesario, who is Viola. Orsino also grieves this when Olivia rejects his proposal.
- Stupidity: Stupidity of Malvolio shows that a person of such a rank should not become ambitious to join the elite class. He not only proves egotist but also tries to win the social status that does not suit him.
- Melancholy: Orsino demonstrates melancholy through his unrequited love, showing lethargy and mourning. On the other hand, Olivia shows it when mourning the deaths of her father and brother. Viola also shows melancholy on the supposed drowning of her brother.
- Disguise: The thematic strand of disguise creeps into the play in that some characters disguise to live such as Viola becomes Cesario, while some others disguise to hoodwink others, such as Olivia disguises to mourn but fails to impress Cesario. Similarly, Malvolio disguises himself to be from the upper class only to create fun and humor.
- Death: Olivia is mourning the death of her father and brother while Viola considers Sebastian having died in the sea. Therefore, she disguises herself in Cesario to live after her brother.
Major Characters in Twelfth Night
- Viola: As a twin sister of Sebastian, Viola’s character is significant in the play, that she creates a conflict by disguising as Cesario. Not only is she shrewd but she also is very courageous. She tries to carry a message to Olivia on behalf of Duke Orsino. When Olivia sees her as Cesario, she is immediately infatuated. She reveals her identity following the arrival of her brother, Sebastian, and marries Duke Orsino, whom she loves from the very start.
- Duke Orsino: As the count of Illyria, the character of Orsino is significant in that he tries to impress Olivia to marry her. He takes Viola’s help to persuade her. However, Viola tries to make him see things differently as Cesario whom Olivia loves, while she loves Orsino. When the play ends, Orsino sees goodness in Viola after she discloses her identity and marries her. Orsino was also attracted to Viola while she was pretending as Cesario.
- Sebastian: He is Viola’s brother and is lost during the shipwreck. Later, he appears with the captain, Antonio, who has saved his life. He visits Illyria where he is considered Cesario, his sister, Viola’s disguise. There Olivia helps him and marries him, considering him Cesario. He then discovers that his sister, Viola, is alive.
- Olivia: Olivia is a fickle-minded strange character, that on the one hand vows to continue mourning, rejecting all suitors, while on the other hand, she immediately falls for Cesario. Despite Malvolio’s secret wooing thoughts and her uncle, Sir Toby’s pranks, she finds herself falling in love with Cesario, rejecting Orsino. By the end, she is happy to marry Sebastian. Viola’s twin brother.
- Malvolio: Olivia’s servant, he is not only self-righteous but also a very devout fellow. His dislike for Maria and Toby emerges from the pranks that they play with him. Although he is involved in loving Olivia in his heart, he becomes very ambitious when Sir Toby and Maria play with his feelings as Maria forges a letter making him believe that Olivia is dying for him. That is why his bizarre manners appear funny to all. Though they all apologize to him, he leaves the stage with threats to exact revenge from them.
- Antonio: A highly mysterious character, Antonio stays with Sebastian until he reaches the court of the duke. He is a secret lover of Sebastian though he does not express it. His relation with Sebastian could be stated as a sincere friendship.
- Maria: She is the maid of Olivia and works with Malvolio but thinks him an idiot. She is a highly ingenious person as she plays pranks with him, joining hands with Sir Toby. She marries Sir Toby by the end.
- Sir Toby: He is the uncle of Olivia but a very funny man. He joins hands with Maria to play pranks with Malvolio for the latter’s secret love affair. However, at heart, he is a good fellow, as he befriends him later. Seeing the wit of Maria as equal to his own, he marries her at the end.
- Feste: As a jester, he proves very amusing in the play. His dexterity lies in the wordplay. He helps Olivia during her sadness and wins everyone’s heart through his comic behavior.
- Sir Andrew: A friend of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew is not only funny but also knows how to play a prank. His love for brawls come out when he boasts about it. Sir Toby helps him to understand his situation when he expresses the idiotic behavior when challenging Cesario and expressing his love for Olivia.
Writing Style of Twelfth Night
The play, Twelfth Night, shows the mastery of William Shakespeare in using witty and festive language. The title of the play shows this mastery. The play also shows its language becoming funny and humorous as well as comic and romantic according to the situation and context such as it is humorous when Feste appears, while it is ironic when Olivia and Malvolio appear on the scene. Similarly, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are conceited and sarcastic, while their language, too, follows their disposition. At times, Shakespeare has resorted to the use of puns, metaphors, and excessive use of similes that is suitable for prose and verse which reflects the mood of the characters as well as the tone of the play.
Analysis of Literary Devices in Twelfth Night
1. Alliteration: It is a stylistic device in which a number of words, having the same first consonant sound, occur close together in a series. A play written in blank verse, Twelfth Night shows many examples of the use of alliteration. For example,
- “No man must know.” What follows? The numbers altered.
“No man must know.”
If this should be thee, Malvolio? (Act-II, Scene-V, Lines, 91-93)
- By this hand, they are scoundrels and substractors that
Say so of him. Who are they? (Act-I, Scene-IV, Line,30-31)
- And with what wing the staniel checks at it! (Act-II, Scene-V, Line, 108)
The above-given lines taken from different acts show the use of alliteration that means the use of consonant sounds in quick succession in a line such as /m/ in man and must, /s/ in scoundrels and substractors; say and so, and /w/ in what wing sounds have occurred in these lines.
2. Allegory: Allegory is a figure of speech in which abstract ideas and principles are described in terms of characters, figures, and events. Twelfth Night is an allegory in that it shows that the society having different characters acting differently according to the circumstances. The playwright presents circumstances of the people going through shipwrecking, disguising, loving, and un-loving at the same time. These people are the real ones, finding language from the situations they face as human beings. Therefore, it is a fantastical allegory.
3. Assonance: Assonance takes place when two or more words, close to one another repeat the same vowel sound, but start with different consonant sounds. The play, Twelfth Night, shows good use of assonance. For example,
- Forgive the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry.
Bid the dishonest man mend himself – if he mend, he is no
longer dishonest. (Act-I, Scene-V, Line, 38-40)
- Why then, methinks ’tis time to smile again.
world, how apt the poor are to be proud! (Act-III, Scene-I, Line, 121-122)
- Why should I not, had I the heart to do it. (Act-V, Scene-I, Lines, 111)
In the above examples, vowel sounds appear after some pauses in such a way that they create a sort of melodious impacts in the verses. The sounds of /i/ in bid and dishonest, /o/ in longer and dishonest, /ai/ in time and smile.
4. Antagonist: Although as a vain and pompous, Malvolio seems to be the antagonist of the play. Some other critics have stated that the real antagonist is Olivia as she prevents Viola from getting her desires. Between both, Malvolio seems a good candidate to be called an antagonist on account of his not-so-malicious character.
- How will she love, when the rich golden shaft
Hath killed the flock. (Act-I, Scene-I, Lines, 34-35)
- I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia sir, to bring a
Cressida to this Troilu. (Act-III, Scene-I, Lines, 47-48)
- Truly madam, he holds Belzebub at the stave’s end. (Act-V,
cene-I, Line, 275)
These lines show a reference to the earliest mythical figures. The first is a reference to the Cupid, while the second is to Chaucer’s story of Troilus and Criseyde and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. However, the third one alludes to Belzebub, the devil.
6. Anaphora: The deliberate repetition of the first part of the sentence in order to achieve an artistic effect is known as Anaphora. The play Twelfth Night also shows the use of anaphora as given below;
- No man must know.
“No man must know.” What follows? The numbers altered!
“No man must know.” If this should be thee, Malvolio? (Act-II, Scene-V, Lines 93-95)
The phrase “No man must know” is repeated at the beginning of these three verses, showing good use of anaphora.
8. Conflict: There are two types of conflicts in Twelfth Night. The first one is the external conflict that is going on between the lovers and the second is the mental conflict that goes in the mind of Viola and Sebastian when they get separated.
- By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s.
It is, in contempt of question, her hand. (Act-II, Scene-V, Line, 76-79)
- I extend my hand to him thus. (Act-II, Scene-V, Line, 61)
- You have said, sir. To see this age! A sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit. How quickly the wrong side may be turned outward! (Act-III, Scene-I, Lines, 10-14)
In both of these examples, consonant sounds such as /d/ in lady’s and hand; /s/ in this, is, and lady’s and /n/ in extend and hand, and then /l/ in cheveril and glove, and /d/ in turned and outward has been repeated in such a way that they create a musical quality in these lines.
10. Dramatic Irony: Dramatic irony is an important stylistic device that is commonly found in plays, movies, theaters, and sometimes in poetry. Dramatic irony occurs at several places in the play, Twelfth Night. For example, Olivia is not aware of Viola’s identity. Similarly, Cesario, who is Viola, is also unaware that her brother is alive.
11. Foreshadowing: Foreshadowing is a literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story. The first example of foreshadowing in the Twelfth Night occurs in the very first act when Duke says that “So full of shapes is fancy / that it alone is high fantastical.” (Act-I, Scene-I, Lines, 14-15). He is foreshadowing his own fancy that is highly fantastical. The second foreshadowing occurs in the second act when Viola says, “I can sing and speak to him in many sorts of music.” (Act-I, Scene-II, Line, 59).
- Have you not set mine honor at the stake
And baited it with all the unmuzzled thoughts (Act-III, Scene-I, Lines, 113-114)
- If one should be a prey, how much the better
To fall before the lion than the wolf. (Act-III, Scene-1, Lines, 123-124)
- If a bloody coxcomb be a hurt, you have hurt me? (Act-V Scene-1, Line, 181)
These lines show the sensory images that Shakespeare has used sparingly in the entire play. These three examples show the use of sensory images, showing the use of the sense of hearing, sight, and feeling.
13. Metaphor: A Metaphor is a figure of speech that makes an implicit, implied, or hidden comparison between two things that are unrelated, but which share some common characteristics. Twelfth Night shows good use of various metaphors. For example,
- O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother. (Act-I, Scene-I, Lines, 32-33)
- My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that color. (Act-II, Scene-1, Line, 1555)
- Truly madam, he holds Belzebub at the stave’s end (Act-V, Scene-I, Line, 275)
These are the metaphors among various others used in the play. In the first metaphor, Orsino compares her heart to a frame, in the second Maria compares Malvolio to a horse, and in the third Feste compares Belzebub to Malvolio’s state of mind.
14. Mood: The entire play shows different moods according to the situation. When the play opens, it shows chaos of the tempest and the shipwreck. However, when this phase moves to the next, it becomes cheerful with each character loving and showing love to the other and discovering a new disguise of others. It ends on a happy note.
15. Protagonist: Viola or Cesario is the main protagonist of the play, who chooses to disguise as a man to survive. When she falls for Duke Orsino, she does not reveal until Orsino expresses his mind. She is a good person and continues to support Orsino.
16. Pun: A pun is a play on words that produces a humorous effect by using a word that suggests two or more meanings, or by exploiting similar sounding words. The play, Twelfth Night, is full of puns. For example,
- I shall never begin if I hold my peace. (Act-II, Scene-III, Line, 66)
- Ay, but you must confine yourself within the modest limits of order. (Act-I, Scene-III, Lines, 7-8)
In the first example, Feste plays upon the word “peace” in the sense of silence as well as peace and in the second Maria plays upon the word “confine” means to clothe as well as to limit.
17. Paradox: The term paradox is from the Greek word paradoxon, which means “contrary to expectations, existing belief, or perceived opinion.” It is a statement that appears to be self-contradictory or silly, but which may include a latent truth. The play also shows good use of paradoxes. For example,
- ‘Tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have the gift of a grave. (Act-I, Scene-III, Line, 15)
- Love’s night is noon. (Act-III, Scene-I, Line, 115)
The lines given above show paradoxes that means to use contradictory ideas in the same statement. For example, the first statement shows the contradiction in thought and second in time.
18. Rhetorical Questions: A rhetorical question is asked just for effect, or to lay emphasis on some point being discussed when no real answer is expected. The play shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places. For example,
- What is “pourquoi”? Do or not do? I would I had
bestowed that time in the tongues. (Act-I, Scene-III, Lines, 81-82)
- But it becomes me well enough, doesn’t not? (Act-I, Scene-III, Line, 88)
These examples show the use of rhetorical questions mostly posed by the characters of Twelfth Night. The first example shows Sir Andrew posing question by answering it themselves. The next example again shows the same thing as the tag question.
- You will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard (Act-III, Scene-II, Line, 28)
- This house is as dark as ignorance. (Act-IV, Scene-II, Line, 45)
20. Soliloquy: A soliloquy is often used as a means of character revelation or character manifestation to the reader or the audience of the play. The play shows some memorable soliloquies. For example,
- “What is your parentage?”
“Above my fortunes, yet my state is well.
I am a gentleman.” I’ll be sworn thou art;
Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit,
Do give thee fivefold blazon. Not too fast! Soft, soft!
Unless the master were the man. How now?
Even so quickly may one catch the plague?
Methinks I feel this youth’s perfections
With an invisible and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes. Well, let it be.—
What ho, Malvolio! (Act-I, Scene-V, Lines, 271-281)
- Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness,
Wherein the pregnant enemy does much.
How easy is it for the proper-false
In women’s waxen hearts to set their forms!
Alas, our fraility is the cause, not we,
For such as we are made of, such we be. (Act-II, Scene-II, Lines 26-31)
These are some of the memorable soliloquies of Twelfth Night. The first one is delivered by Olivia, second is delivered by Viola/Cesario.
- That you do think you are not what you are. (Act-III, Scene-I, Line, 142)
- By my troth, I’ll tell thee, I am almost sick for one.
This use of verbal irony is apparent as in the first instance, where Cesario is telling Oliva that she is in love, though, she is actually telling a lie. In another way, it is true also, as Cesario is a woman and not a man. The second is also an example of verbal irony as Cesario, who is Viola, wants a beard, though, she cannot have it.