or What You Will by William Shakespeare (1600)

Dramatis Personae

ORSINO Duke of Illyria.
CURIO Gentleman attending on the Duke.
VALENTINE Gentleman attending on the Duke.
VIOLA in love with the Duke.
A SEA CAPTAIN friend to Viola.
SIR TOBY BELCH Uncle of Olivia.
MARIA Olivia's Companion.
FESTE A Jester and Servant to Olivia.
OLIVIA a rich Countess.
MALVOLIO Steward to Olivia.
FABIAN Servant to Olivia.
SEBASTIAN a young Gentleman, brother to Viola.
ANTONIO a Sea Captain, friend to Sebastian.
Lords, Priest (sometimes played as Sir Topas, the curate, whom Feste impersonates), Sailors, Officers, Musicians, and other Attendants.

SCENE: A City in Illyria; and the Sea-coast near it.

Act I

  • Scene 1 - Orsino muses upon his love for Olivia.
  • Scene 2 - Viola, surviving the shipwreck and fearing her brother is dead, decides to disguise herself and enter the Duke's service.
  • Scene 3 - Sir Toby and Maria discuss his drinking, and Olivia's displeasure at his antics. They also reveal that Sir Andrew is an idiot, which is well substantiated when Sir Andrew enters mid-scene. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew discuss Sir Andrew's chances at wooing Olivia.
  • Scene 4 - Viola (as Cesario) is the Count's favorite and confidante. Orsino sends her to woo Olivia on his behalf, and Viola reveals to the audience that she is in love with him.
  • Scene 5 - Feste returns from an ungiven leave and wins back into Olivia's favor although there is some bad feeling between Feste and Malvolio. Viola woos a reluctant Olivia and succeeds beyond anyone's expectations. Olivia sends Malvolio after 'Cesario' with a ring as a token.
Act II
  • Scene 1 - Sebastian takes his leave of Antonio, who had saved him from the shipwreck. Sebastian explains that he will seek service with Count Orsino. Antonio decides to follow him, even though he would be in danger.
  • Scene 2 - Malvolio catches up with Viola and 'returns' the ring. Viola ponders the significance of Olivia's actions and realizes that she must be in love with Cesario.
  • Scene 3 - Sir Toby and Sir Andrew make a drunken ruckus; Feste sings a song; Malvolio berates them for unseemly behavior; Maria takes Sir Toby's part. Maria conceives of a scheme to make a fool of Malvolio.
  • Scene 4 - Orsino and Viola discuss love. Orsino explains what 'Cesario' should look for, and Viola describes the person she loves as being of 'his complexion.' Feste sings a song. Viola tries to convince Orsino that he should give up pursuing Olivia since she does not return his love. She tells the story of her 'sister' who concealed her unreturned love.
  • Scene 5 - Maria drops a faked anonymous love letter from Olivia to Malvolio in Malvolio's path. Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian watch and comment as Malvolio is completely taken in.
  • Scene 1 - Viola speaks with a wise fool and then a real fool. Olivia declares her love for Cesario, and Viola rejects her.
  • Scene 2 - Sir Andrew is offended by the favor Olivia has shown Cesario, and Sir Toby and Fabian incite him to write Cesario a challenge, knowing full well that he is a coward. Maria informs them that Malvolio has tricked himself out exactly as her letter requested.
  • Scene 3 - Antonio catches up with Sebastian in Orsino's city. Antonio explains that he is a wanted man, but was concerned for Sebastian's welfare. He gives Sebastian his purse and then goes to the lodging.
  • Scene 4 - Maria primes Olivia with the idea that Malvolio has cracked. Malvolio comes in, cross gartered, smiling like an idiot, and misconstruing all Olivia's words as he follows the letter, well, to the letter. Sir Toby and Fabian join Maria in baiting Malvolio, and then indicate that they will lock him up as a madman. Sir Andrew arrives with an absurd challenge letter, which Sir Toby promises to deliver. Sir Toby waylays Viola and he and Fabian have some fun convincing Viola and Sir Andrew that the other is an expert swordsman. Just as they are about to fight, Antonio arrives, mistakes Viola for Sebastian, and stops the fight. Soldiers arrive and arrest Antonio, and Antonio asks for his purse. When Viola indicates her confusion, Antonio is terribly hurt and angry, and berates 'Sebastian' for ingratitude.
Act IV
  • Scene 1 - The confusion mounts as Feste mistakes Sebastian for Cesario, and tries to bring him to Olivia. Sir Andrew waylays him, also thinking that he is Cesario, and starts a fight. Sebastian, a healthy specimen well versed in the manly arts, repulses Sir Andrew easily. Olivia comes on the scene, berates Sir Toby, and begs 'Cesario' to not be angry, and to go with her. Sebastian, startled but not unwilling, goes.
  • Scene 2 - Feste masquerades as the curate and baits Malvolio, currently locked in a lightless room, while Sir Toby and Maria look on. Upon being informed that Sir Toby would like to end the prank because he is out of favor with Olivia, Feste agrees to take a letter from Malvolio to Olivia.
  • Scene 3- Sebastian is happily flabbergasted and says 'yes' when Olivia asks that he marry her immediately, although she promises to keep it secret until he wishes it otherwise.
Act V
  • Scene 1 - One last burst of confusion and dismay in which all is revealed. Orsino finally visits Olivia in person, bringing Cesario (Viola) and other attendants with him. Antonio is brought forward as a criminal, and Viola takes his part for having helped her. They are all mystified at his claim that he and ''That most ingrateful boy there'' had spent the last three months together. However, Olivia's arrival distracts Orsino. When she dismisses his devotion, he reveals that he is perhaps smarter than he has heretofore demonstrated. Declaring that he realizes that Olivia does not love him because she prefers Cesario, he angrily states that he will take his revenge out upon that beloved young man. Viola, in choosing to go with Orsino seems to deny the newly wedded Olivia, who reveals the marriage. Orsino rejects Cesario and all looks doomed UNTIL.... Sir Andrew comes in claiming that Cesario has attacked he and Sir Toby. Viola is aghast, and even the distracted Orsino now realizes that something is not altogether making sense. Sir Toby blows off Sir Andrew, revealing that he has been made a may-game of. FINALLY, Sebastian enters, to the startlement of all. When he notices Viola, he is understandably confused, and Viola is revealed. Happiness abounds as Olivia and Orsino both get something of what they want (since Cesario was patterned after Sebastian, and Viola is a romantic and beautiful woman whom Orsino already loves). The loose end of Malvolio is tied up without any sudden and miraculous joy on his part. He departs having the plot revealed to all, being proven a prideful fool.

My favorite film adaptation? Trevor Nunn's heavily manipulated rendition (1996). The acting is excellent, the soundtrack is marvelous, and the whole thing is a joyous (although sometime poignant) romp. My favorite audio recording? The Naxos unabridged (1999) is, in my opinion, superior to the BBC version. The relative 'ages' of the voices for Olivia and Viola are more realistic, and I also prefer the rougher Orsino, as he makes that whole 'kill him to spite you' bit more believable.

URP! I've just realized that my numbering convention is off. Most texts include the stage direction but not blank lines. I've only counted lines of speech. I'm fixing it, and will list the fixed scenes here: III.ii; III.iii; III.iv; IV.i; IV.ii; IV.iii; V.i.

The text for the scenes comes from Project Gutenberg. However, and I know this is problematic, I've changed a few things. I've removed some contractions (writing out the words), fixed some typos, and added the line numbering.

Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" is one of his more popular romantic comedies. Filled with loads of dramatic irony, this is the story of Viola, a woman in love with the Duke of Illyria. In order to become close to her man, she sports men's clothing and gets a job among the royals.

Olivia, a rich countess, is meanwhile trying to win over the Duke herself. Ironically, she later falls for Viola after meeting her (in men's clothing).

The ending is a happy one... Viola's long-lost brother Sebastian surfaces in the town, and after much mistaken identity between the two, Olivia decides to get involved with her brother instead. Viola, meanwhile, gets the Duke for herself.

This is a must-read for all you drama nuts ;)

An Opal of a Play

The twelfth night of the festivities is the “topsy-turvy” night when servants become masters and, in turn, masters become servants. It is an unpredictable time when strange things could happen. Who knows what Shakespeare has in store for the innocent inhabitants of Illyria … and their uninvited guests?

When this play was written in the early 17th century, England was undergoing a mood of seriousness and a sense of loss. Britain had been very successful in everything that it did under the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1st, however the Queen was now elderly and sick. She had no heirs and these two problems combined made the nation uneasy and uncertain about what would happen when she died. This play could be described as a “festival of fun”, designed to cheer up the whole country.

Although Twelfth Night is designed as a comedy, it has a very sad beginning. The Lady Olivia on Illyria has turned down the Duke Orsino’s love as she is in mourning for her dead brother, and will be for seven years. Also, the twins Viola and Sebastian, who performed together for a living, are separated in a shipwreck. Although both survive, they reached different parts of the shore and each believe the other to have perished. This is terrible for them and the mood is imposed on the minds of the audience by the words “death and dying” being used often. It is also achieved metaphorically, an example of this is by Orsino in the opening lines of the play – “That the appetite may sicken and so die”. However, both twins realize that it pointless lingering on the past and must move on. Shakespeare wanted England to apply this message after the inevitable death of their Queen.

However, Twelfth Night is supposed to be a cheerful play. Viola rejects mourning her dead brother, the same as Olivia, as she regards it as pointless. Although she feels sad for her loss, she decides to see what she can make of herself in Illyria. The comedy begins when Viola realises that the only job she could get is as a eunuch in Orsino’s court. She could sing and dance well and Orsino took an instant liking to her. She renamed herself Cesario. This would be funny to see on stage in any situation, but in Shakespeare’s time there would be another element of humour. All of the actors were boys in this period so this part would have to be a boy pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy.

While Viola is finding work in Illyria, her twin brother Sebastian, is being cared for by Antonio, a sea captain. Sebastian behaves differently to his sister. He is more emotional and impulsive, and is convinced that Viola has drowned. He blames himself and an unlucky star, and declines Antonio’s offer to be his servant as he says “the malignancy of my fate might perhaps distemper yours”. However, he trusts Antonio and shares many his problems and history with him. In a previous war Antonio had fought against Orsino and had caused Orsino’s Titan to lose his leg. For this reason he had many enemies in Orsino’s court. In spite of this, when Sebastian says he was going to Orsino’s court alone, Antonio decides to secretly follow to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble, despite the danger he is putting himself in. This shows the unconditional love Antonio has for Sebastian.

Meanwhile, we learn that Orsino was in love with Olivia. He is an example of a courtly lover. At this time women were put “on a pedestal” and worshipped from afar as unattainable goddesses. Only by long devotion, many trials and much suffering, could a man win his ideal woman, the “fair, cruel maid” of literature. Such love was sexless and idealized. In reality, it usually meant that men (like Orsino) were in love with the idea of love. Orsino always sent messengers of love, rather than visiting himself and didn’t even prepare the speeches on his own behalf. Previously a messenger named Valentine had been put in charge of this task, but Orsino thought that Valentine was failing as he hadn’t managed to woo Olivia for him, because she had said that she was in mourning for her brother and couldn’t love another man. Due to Valentine’s failings, Orsino let Cesario take over.

Cesario did not really want to woo Olivia. She had begun to fall in love with Orsino herself, but she could not show her love as she was pretending to be a man. Cesario did as she was told. She loved Orsino so much she wanted him to be happy even if she was not “the man for whom I woo, I would be his wife”, but when she left she realised that Olivia had fallen in love with her. This put her in a very difficult situation. Not only was she a woman pretending to be a man, another woman had fallen in love with her. Also she was trying to woo this woman for her master. If Orsino found out that Olivia had fallen in love with his servant whom he had trusted to woo for him he would be very angry.

But Viola’s actions were only a build up. The comedy really begins with the introduction of Sir Toby Belch. One of his lines in the play is “Care’s an enemy to life”, and this is a good character analysis of him. He is Olivia’s uncle, and he has brought one of his “friends” along with him to try and woo her. At least this is what he has told Sir Andrew Aguecheek, an idiot with an appropriate name for his personality. Andrew is really there so Toby can leech off him. Andrew isn’t clever enough to realise that he is being used and doesn’t stand a chance with Olivia. But the comedy wouldn’t be complete without Feste. He is employed by Olivia as a professional fool – he is witty, funny and plays music. However, although he is supposed to cheer up everyone, he is described as a “sad fool”. This is contradictory in itself, and is another way that Shakespeare makes everything topsy-turvy. He was the court fool of Olivia’s father, but when he died Feste didn’t accept this and although he was working for Olivia, he was still mourning the death of his true master. Although he was employed by Olivia, he moved freely between both her court and the court of Orsino, his antics thus appearing throughout the island. He is very good at his job and is paid for his wit on several occasions in the course of the play.

This trio acquires its main source of entertainment (closely followed by alcohol) by playing practical jokes on other people.

The first victims are Cesario and Andrew (this proves that Toby has only invited Andrew to finance his regular drinking sessions, and doesn’t care what happens to him as long as he stays). Andrew is a coward and as Cesario is a woman she would not have had any experience in sword play. Sensing their weaknesses, Toby stages a fight between them over Olivia, his niece. Although neither really want to fight, Toby provokes them. Andrew has become jealous of Cesario as he still thinks he has a chance with Olivia. This is how Toby manages to egg him on. Just as they draw their swords, Antonio arrives. Believing Cesario to be Sebastian, he threatens Andrew. Toby then drew his sword. However, some soldiers from Orsino’s court had seen Antonio on the street; they arrive and arrest him for the crimes he had committed against Orsino during the earlier war. Antonio asks Cesario for help and for the return of some money he had lent him. Cesario denies knowing him, but offers him money as he had shown her kindness. Antonio then says “But O how vile an idol proves this God! Thou hast, Sebastian, done good features shame.” Antonio is taken away by the soldiers, but Viola heard her brother’s name and is brought hope that her brother had not died in the ship wreck.

This staged fight was only a source of entertainment for Toby, but his next prank becomes more serious. The only real villain in the play is Malvolio – Olivia’s steward and an important member of her household. However, he is not as important as he would like to be. He is socially inferior to Sir Toby and he resents the irresponsible knights’ riotous behavior. He has no sense of humour and always dresses in black. He could be described as a “puritan”. At the time of Shakespeare, the puritans were a religious group who condemned theatres, believing them to have a corrupting effect on the audience. They dressed plainly, disliked drinking and had a strict code of personal behavior. The ordinary people regarded them as hypocrites. Malvolio embodied all of these attributes, which the Elizabethan audience would obviously despise. There is absolutely no explicit sympathy for him in the play whatsoever.

One night when Andrew, Feste, Toby and Maria (a servant in Olivia’s house) are partying late, Malvolio ordered them to bed. The others already dislike Malvolio, and after this incident they plot his downfall. They write a letter supposedely from Olivia to Malvolio, confessing her undying love for him. Malvolio falls into their trap. He is self-conceited, and marrying Olivia would put him socially above Toby and Andrew – his dream come true. The letter requests that he do certain things so she would know if he returned her love. He was to wear yellow garters and smile all of the time. This is the opposite of what Malvolio would normally do, and the result made him look ridiculous. Olivia assumes he is mad and puts him under Toby’s control. Up to this point the mocking of Malvolio had been lighthearted and funny, making him seem an idiot, but now Toby takes it too far. Contrary to his claims of being light hearted, Toby becomes bitter and puts Malvolio in a darkened cell. He also asks Feste to humiliate him further by pretending to be “Sir Topas” a priest, and condemning him to hell.

In the final scene of the play, all of the plots, mistakes and confusions are resolved. Sebastian arrives as Viola leaves. Toby and Andrew pick on him and are shocked by his willingness to fight (they think he is Cesario). Sebastian easily beats them both. Sebastian then meets Olivia, and after she has confirmed her undying love for him (she thinks it is Cesario), they get married. Sebastian is taken aback by her beauty and doesn’t care that he has only just met her. Orsino now arrives, after finally deciding to woo Olivia himself. When Olivia tells him that she has married Cesario, Orsino is filled with anger and a feeling of betrayal. He threatens to kill Cesario. Cesario emphatically denies having married Olivia, but when the priest who married Olivia and Sebastian confirms that Cesario (getting him confused with Sebastian) had married just two hours before, Cesario appears to be a liar. Toby and Andrew make matters worse when they arrive complaining of being beaten by Cesario in a sword fight, which she also denies. Soon after, Antonio the sea captain arrives, brought in by the soldiers. He claims that he had been caring for Cesario for three months, and that he had been bewitched by that “ungrateful boy”. Cesario also denies this. Orsino assumes that Antonio was a madman as Cesario has been in his court for the previous three months, and sends Antonio to prison.

It is obvious there is something wrong, and Cesario knows she has a lot of explaining to do. When Sebastian arrives the problems are clarified. Everyone is shocked by their similarity. Even Sebastian asks himself “do I stand there?” while looking at his twin. All of the problems become clear, and Orsino forgives Cesario for the things that she had been accused of. The play ends on a happy note with a triple marriage. Sebastian and Olivia are already married; Sir Toby marries Maria – according to Feste this was due to her part in the gulling of Malvolio, and Orsino promises to marry Viola who has now revealed herself.

The only thing that intrudes upon this wonderful moment is when Malvolio is released and realises that he has been made to look foolish. He has lost respect from the other servants and his dignity. He also discovers that Olivia had married another man and that she did not love him or write him a love letter. Instead of forgiving Toby and the others involved in this prank, he leaves shouting “I will be revenged on the whole pack of you.”

In conclusion, Twelfth Night is a play of mixed moods. Although it is considered a romantic comedy it deals with serious themeslove and disguise both add a lot to the play’s humour, but also reflect society and some of the ridiculous ideas and actions that people can be drawn into. Love dominates the minds of most of the characters in this play, whether its real, imagined, wanted, idealized or unrequited. Although Olivia said she was in mourning for her dead brother and used this as an excuse so she didn’t have to marry Orsino, the moment that Cesario turned up she fell in love at first sight. Was this true love? Malvolio was in love with himself and just wanted power, but was quite prepared to marry Olivia for it. Also, did Toby marry Maria for the right reasons – for playing a dominant role in one of his biggest tricks – was this true love?

Not only the obvious are disguised – Viola pretending to be a boy was very obvious, but emotions and intentions are also disguised behind an outer appearance or attitude. Olivia soon stopped mourning her brother when she met Cesario, and Orsino switched his affections towards Viola when he realised that she loved Sebastian. Toby pretends to like Andrew for his money and Feste dresses up as a monk to trick Malvolio even further.

Love and disguise are both everyday occurrences in Illyria, but it is not too different here. Twelfth Night makes the reader consider what our beliefs about ourself and others are based upon. The action brings out the true nature of Olivia, Orsino and Malvolio, but Malvolio is unable to accept what he is really like and this leads him to be excluded from the festive spirit the others are sharing.

In the play everyone’s truths were brought out, but not everyone liked the consequences. What would happen if the same thing happened here?

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How does Shakespeare explore aspects of love, gender and identity in Twelfth Night?

Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness”
Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is Shakespeare’s intricate exploration of complications of desire arising from disguise, and the various manifestations of love. The light-hearted exterior, incorporating in its subplot a comedy of manners, is intertwined with a suitably bleak examination of how self-knowledge can manipulate attitudes towards a character, and the manner in which we are all interchangeable figures.

Feste's final words cast light on one of the primary issues of the play: identity. "But that's all one, our play is done, / And we'll strive to please you every day”; Here Feste invites the audience to consider that it will be replaced at the next performance: just as one’s internal self can be lost by a disguise, and human qualities can change instantly.

Shakespeare metadramatically introduces the bleak concept that we, and our thoughts are merely surrogates, who can be transposed by our own will to be someone else, when he writes, “It’s all one”. The concept of the superficiality of an appearance is raised again when Viola arrives to woo Olivia: Despite the fact that she talks about the “unmatchable beauty” of Olivia, she is still forced to ask which of the two women present (Maria and Olivia) is the lady of the house. This indicates that Maria and Olivia are to others, exchangeable figures.

Look also at how Olivia and Viola are near anagrams of each other - this didn't slip in by mistake.

This is a theme that raises its head later in the play, when Maria claims that she “can write very like my lady Olivia” and that “on a forgotten matter we can hardly make distinction of our hands”.

Leading from this point, Shakespeare explores the possibility that self-knowledge can directly manipulate one’s identity: this means that if we are aware of ourselves, and what others think of us, then the attitude of others will change accordingly. This is perhaps a slightly odd notion, yet it is illustrated in the play through the characters of Feste and Malvolio; one is aware of his identity, the other is very clearly not - as is shown by Malvolio’s failure to realise that others mock his self-love, because he does not acknowledge it, or accept it as a problem.

The very concept of identity is something that can be interpreted differently: Viola, by shedding her femininity, appears to be only changing her appearance. She even states, “And though that nature with a beauteous wall/ Doth oft close in pollution” indicating that one cannot judge by appearances - what is beneath the surface maybe tainted.

However, identity may be a far simpler notion than she believes: Shakespeare gives us reason to believe one’s identity includes only the mind and the appearance, as when both are changed, to others, the identity has changed. This is illustrated by Viola: once she has changed her appearance, she continues to say, “I well believe thou hast a mind that suits/ With this fair and outward character.” Although she is referring to someone else, she tells us that once the mind and appearance have been established, it is safe to judge a character, as she then asks him to “be my aid”.

The extent to which Viola has changed her identity becomes clear later in the play, when we see Viola has grown into her character. She reveals that her new identity has given her respect, strength and freedom - indeed, it is ironic that a symbolic constriction liberates her. At this point, it becomes clear her gender is not the only attribute that she has changed: in my opinion, Viola is, to a certain degree, no longer assuming a disguise, as such. Everyone (the characters) is made aware of her ‘mask’, and this has been almost accepted. However, although it seems as though she has reverted to her past identity, Orsino refers to her as “Boy” and “Cesario”.

She appears unwilling to return to her “maiden weeds”. In fact, these clothes are symbolic of her femininity - the fact that she needs these to be totally accepted indicates the manner in which the characters are tied down with conventional ideas about gender. I Believe that Shakespeare is challenging these conventions, as discussed later.

Having considered this, it is also important to recognise the extent to which identity is also flexible, as it a quality that can change depending on others’ perception of you.

Feste says, “Nothing that is so is so”, and even the subtitle of Twelfth Night is, “What you will”, indicating that the very name and meaning of the play, an important part of its identity, is subject to change. Shakespeare invites us to decide the identity of the play for ourselves - it is not a firm, unchangeable attribute, but something that is itself is a surrogate. Is Shakespeare discussing the very nature of reality? What is the link between signifier and signified? This theme crops up again in Richard II.

Although Viola’s love permeates gender boundaries, Olivia, Toby, Orsino, and Malvolio’s love interests lead them across class lines — another example of the ways in which standards are relaxed or social codes transgressed during Twelfth Night.

Olivia spurns the love of her social equal Orsino, and focuses her attention instead on Cesario. Sir Toby, although he is a knight, admires Maria rather than someone of a higher class, Orsino is fond of Cesario and Malvolio dreams of marrying Olivia. Significantly, it is only the steward’s love that is regarded as “illegitimate”. The upper-class individuals, such as Orsino are permitted to indulge their socially illicit desires.

Ultimately, I do not believe there is any difference between Orsino’s narcissistic withdrawal into his fantasies, and Malvolio’s narcissistic withdrawal into his dreams.

Shakespeare here has raised the issue of class, and its role in the manner in which others look upon you, and its role in forming your identity: from his ideas, I can conclude that a discrimination founded on class is, as Shakespeare suggests, wrongly ignored in society. Shakespeare’s disapproval is evident when we see the extent to which Malvolio is suffering, and when even Sir Toby condemns the “tomfoolery”. Another main aspect of Twelfth Night is love, and its various manifestations. The very first line suggests that love will be the central theme; “If music be the food of love, play on.” says Orsino. Shakespeare first deals with the type of love bordering on obsession; Orsino, for example, places Olivia on a pedestal as an unattainable goddess.

The concept of love towards an icon, instead of an actual individual is brought up several times in the play, and is best illustrated by Viola when she says, “She sat like Patience on a Monument,/ Smiling at grief.”. The poetry is evident, but the words refer to an allegorical figure. Viola is personifying an abstract quality when she mentions the statue: she is suggesting her heart is petrified, and has been ‘turned to stone’ by her inability to express her love. However, at the same time she is illustrating the manner in which Orsino places Olivia on a pedestal, in the manner of a statue: it can be seen clearly, but when one attempts to touch it is stone.

This idea of placing all human desire on an icon, and a human icon at that is discussed in The Great Gatsby which shows the consequences of such idolatry.

Indeed, Olivia is even referred to as the “marble-breasted tyrant”. Viola’s beautiful poetry again depicts the obsessive love when she says, “Make me a willow cabin at you gate,/ And call upon my soul within the house;/...O you should not rest/ Between the elements of air and earth/ But you should pity me!”.

The poetry discusses love that results in a form of stalking: in one way, Viola’s words make the love appear deep and true, yet it is idealised, and unsexual - Orsino shows us that this type of love means that one is in love with the concept of love itself. This melancholic love arises from masculine ideology: women were (hard to obtain, as the case may be) possessions, and this convention is mocked by Shakespeare, perhaps speaking through Viola when she tells Orsino, “Too well what love women to men may owe./ In faith they are as true of heart as we”, in response to Orsino’s comment, “There is...no woman’s heart/ So big, to hold so much”.

Shakespeare also inserts several songs by Feste, one of which is “Come away, Death”. I think that here, he is parodying the capricious, unreal despair of Orsino, and the melancholic tone of Feste may have this amusing layer below the surface. In addition, Shakespeare gives Viola a strong, spirited, shown by her ability to smile “at grief” and sit “like patience on a monument”.

Viola’s love is also a representation of true love: she is self-sacrificing, willing to woo Olivia on behalf of Orsino despite loving him herself, and sincere. She is willing to die for Orsino, and unquestioningly obeys Orsino. Despite this, she fails to see the darker side of Orsino, and is blinded by her desire: this is one example of Shakespeare’s description of love as an illness.

He also refers to the quality as “pestilence”, “more sharp than filed steel”, “the plague” and Orsino claims “And my desires like fell and cruel hounds/ E’er since pursue me”. He enjoys the suffering associated with love (describing love as “sweet pangs”, a phrase that sums up his attitude), and most importantly, he is not aware that his shows of unrequited love are seen as farfetched and less effective then restrained emotion - he lacks the self-knowledge that was discussed earlier, and so is unable to see his own faults: in fact, Viola is the one who turns him away from self-deceiving love.

His destructive love is shown right at the beginning of the play, when Curio asks him, “Will you go hunt, my Lord?”. To this, Orsino replies, “Why so I do, the noblest that I have:/ O when mine eyes did see Olivia first,? Methought she purged the air of pestilence!/ that instant was I turn’d into a hart”. Orsino’s mention of the hart is a reference to the myth of the goddess Diana: the myth explains the manner in that self-willed destruction is sometimes inevitable, owing to human nature.

It is this inevitability that lends the tragic elements to Twelfth Night, and best illustrates the willed destruction that love can bring - this is discussed later, when I mention how Shakespeare describes love as an illness, and a spell, indicating a degree of helplessness.

Self love is personified by Malvolio, and Olivia sums up his attitude when she tells him, “O you are sick of self-love Malvolio”. His inability to acknowledge his own mask is discussed later. The cross-dressing in Twelfth Night forces the audience to conceive ways in which sexual identity might be detached from personal identity; we are cut loose from our assumption that the two are embroiled, that the person is defined by his or her sex: gender can be considered a fluid quality in this play. I feel that this gender confusion is necessary to take Orsino out of his ‘gender dominated’ interpretation of love that is frozen in conventional sentiment meaning that he is unable to deal with the reality of other people's feelings - the best example of this is his claim that women are unable to love as much as he (“There is...no woman’s heart/ So big, to hold so much”).

In conclusion, the backbone of Twelfth Night appears to be the three issues of love, gender and identity: the latter raises the most interesting points: we as observers in life, or the characters, play an important role in our identities. We all wear masks for different circumstances, but it is not the donning of masks, but the self-knowledge that is important - we have a choice of either self-deception or self-knowledge.

The former lures us into a world of illusions, where we can ride our own hopes, while the latter allows us a quiet acceptance of the inevitable. The realm of irresponsibility that finally collapses turns itself and happiness into age, vice, and disillusionment.

We laugh at those who are unaware of their masks, and laugh with the characters who possess self-knowledge, conscious of their masks, notably Feste. Malvolio, however, remains incapable of self-knowledge and so leaves the play unforgiving, his final words being, “I'll be reveng'd on the whole pack of you!". Shakespeare argues, I believe, that love is a broad term; one that encompasses pure desire, self-indulgence and obsession: however, the underlying theme is one of pain, and perhaps ironically, this is self-inflicted. Antonio comments, “A witchcraft drew me hither”, and as mentioned, most of the love discussed is described using malign imagery.

This distress may be a result of over indulgence - Orsino discusses love as an “appetite”, yet still asks for, “excess of it”, aware that it may turn on him. This notion of betrayal comes only a few lines later, when he unwittingly compares love to the sea: “O spirit of love! How quick and fresh art thou,/ That notwithstanding thy capacity/ Receiveth as the sea”. However, he fails to consciously recognise that the sea, at any point, can rush in, and swallow up those wallowing in its “sweet pangs”.

Related Nodes:
Patterns of syntax and sound in Viola's "willow cabin" speech - A great node which explains the speech from Twelfth Night very well.

Node Your Homework presents:
"Is 'Twelfth Night' a tragedy, a comedy, or both?"

When studying Shakespeare's plays, one can usually determine with relative ease which genre it falls into. Macbeth, for example, is the classic tragedy, filled with murder, deceit and our main character's swift rise and fall. A Midsummer Night's Dream, on the other hand, is one of The Bard's best-loved comedies. But Twelfth Night is a different matter. It seems that, depending upon where one opens the book and starts reading, we get an entirely different impression.

But into which genre does it actually fall? Does the plan's tragic elements outweigh its comedy, or do the (often hilarious) comedic parts take precedence? Could it be argued that it fits into neither? My aim here is to decide which of these options best describes the play, and why I believe it to be so.

The Duke, otherwise known as Orsino, is a dual-natured character, himself having both comic and tragic moments during the course of the play. He is the very first character we meet, and his opening line is one of the most commonly quoted pieces of Shakespeare: "If music be the food of love, play on". His main contribution to the play is his love for Olivia. Throughout the play, he describes how he sees her, and what he thinks of her. For example:

"Why so I do, the noblest that I have,
O when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
Methought she purged the air of pestilence"

Yet, thoughout the play, he is continually rebuffed by Olivia, who is far more interested in Viola-Cesario. This is a somewhat tragic series of events, with Orsino continually sending Viola to Olivia as messenger, when all this does is re-enforce Olivia's love for Cesario. (There is a definate sense of dramatic irony here, too, as with many parts of this play.)

But there is a comic element to Orsino, too. His relationship with Viola-Cesario again raises the idea of the audience being fully aware that all is not what it seems - that Cesario is, in fact, Viola - which reaches its comic peak in Act II, Scene Four:

DUKE: "What kind of woman is't?
VIOLA: Of your complexion.
DUKE: She is not worth thee then. What years, I'faith?
VIOLA: About your years, my lord."

How, one might ask, is this comic? Looking back at two key lines of Viola's - "Of your complexion" and "About your years", we are given the impression that Viola is not, as it may first seem, describing someone who is like Orsino - she is describing the Duke himself. Orsino does not know it, but Viola has fallen in love with him, even despite knowing that he desires Olivia. This would be easily recognisable by the audience, who would find the growing confusion between the many characters and their love-lives increasingly humerous. While this situation eventually resolves itself with Orsino and Viola marrying, it is not after Viola has deceived him for virtually the entire play.

"For so you shall be, while you are a man -
But when in other habits you are seen,
Orsino's mistress and his fancy's queen."

Viola's part in the play has its own tragedies and comedies. Her entry into the play is the polar opposite of Orsino's: while he lives in total luxury, surrounded by retainers, she finds herself washed up on a remote beach somewhere in Illyria, after her ship was wrecked. She believes her brother to be dead; one of the few elements of her character we are privy to, and a depressing one at that.

However, things do not remain this way for very long. She is soon in Orsino's court, but dressed as man. For 20th Century audiences, this is already humerous, but for an Elizabethan one, it would be all the funnier. When the play was written, it was forbidden for a woman to come onto stage, so all female parts were played by men. Cesario (Viola's alter ego) would therefore be a man, playing a woman, playing a man!

Her cross-dressing may be amusing for us, the audience, but it brings with it a rather unfortunate (for her, at least) side effect. Orsino sends Viola as a messenger to Olivia. This brings Olivia to fall in love with Cesario, instead. Meanwhile, Viola is falling in love with Orsino. Amongst all this confusion, it's not surprising that Viola-Cesario begins to buckle under the pressure. In her soliloquy in Act II, Scene 2, she decides that Olivia is in love with Cesario, and pours out her emotions for us.

"I am the man. If it be so, as 'tis,
Poor lady, she were better love a dream.
Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness...

...My master loves her dearly,
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him;
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me."

No matter how amusing Viola's appearances as Cesario may be, she will always see herself as the 'poor monster', caught up in a love triange, with the person whom she loves is unaware of her affection, and the woman who has fallen in love with her is unaware of her actual gender.

Olivia is, of course, the third side of this triangle. She is very much aware of Orsino's interest in herself, but is uninterested; at first, she almost pushes away Cesario when 'he' brings a message. But when they do meet, she finds herself falling in love with him. From this, a general pattern for the play can be formed: these three characters are all comic in their affections, yet all are beset by their own personal tragedies.

However, this dual nature of the cast is best shown in two characters Shakespeare uses to ridicule and mock the aristocracy: The two knights, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Sir Toby is clearly a drunkard from his introduction in Act I, Scene Three, as Maria claims "that quaffing and drinking will undo you". The pair soon begin discussing Toby's 'friend', Sir Andrew, who is somewhere else at the time. The exchange of words that follows is one of the play's classic comic moments.

Toby begins "He's as tall a man as any's in Illyria". Maria simply replies, "What's that to the purpose?" - a classic retort. Toby recommences, "he has three thousand ducats a year", prompting Maria to comment that "He'll have but a year in those ducats". This can be taken to mean that Toby means to exploit Andrew's wealth, possibly to fuel his drinking. Toby also claims that Andrew plays the 'viol-de-gamboys', quite possibly used as a euphemism for masturbation.

This is Shakespeare using his play as a satirical look at the upper classes; when it was written, it would have been performed before the Royal Court during the Twelfth Night celebrations, and before the very aristocracy whom he is mocking. If he had openly done this, he would have almost certainly been executed for treason. Instead, he veils it behind this wordplay, masking it as simply an account of a particularly oafish character. The common audience, and indeed today's, however, would be all too aware of the true meaning behind the words, comically twisting Sir Andrew's dipiction from a foolish character to a parody of a corrupt and unworthy aristocrat.

Our impression of Sir Andrew is further strengthened by Sir Toby's next lines. He claims that Andrew can speak "three of four languages, word for word without book". One of these would almost certainly be French, given the period the play was written in. After Andrew's entrance, Toby enquires of him "Pourquoi, my dear knight?" Andrew, however, has no idea what Toby means, asking "What is 'pourquoi' - do or not do? I would have bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in fencing, dancing and bear-baiting. Oh, had I but followed the arts." We see that Andrew is justifiably insulted behind his back. He has no idea of the meaning of the languages he supposedly can speak - it is as if he has memorised the phrases, and not their meanings.

Sir Andrew's self-claimed knowledge of fencing is later debunked, again by his own words. Maria had earlier quipped "he hath the gift of a coward", a statement which is proven true later in the play when Sir Andrew and Cesario are to duel. It is here also that the dual nature of Sir Tody is revealed: he is shown to be more than a mere drunkard, but a scheming, cruel man, interested only in his own selfish gain. The cause of this change is the one and only Malvolio.

The initial idea of having vengeance upon Malvolio was Maria's. Yet it is Toby who decides to raise the conspiracy up a notch. Originally, Malvolio was to be simply ridiculed before his peers - through having him wear yellow stockings, appear cross-gartered and smile almost fanatically. Toby takes this, and decides to present Malvolio as being completely mad, as shown in Act III, Scene Four.

"Come, we'll have him in a dark room and bound.
My niece is already in the belief that he's mad."

Toby no longer seems comical. He has crossed from benevolence into malevolence, and is no longer a humerous character. He is no longer funny towards Malvolio, and now no longer towards Sir Andrew, either. He is now directly manipulating him however he sees fit. Act III, Scene Four's duel between Sir Andrew and Cesario has been sabotaged back Sir Toby, telling each of the combatants that the other is a dangerous fighter; Cesario that Andrew is "A knight, dubbed with unhatched rapier", and Andrew that Cesario's "a very devil".

We already know that Andrew's a coward at heart. Now Toby's given him a reason to be even more afraid of the approaching fight. Meanwhile, Viola is also afraid, as she does not know how to fence at all! But this is not only a dramatic sequence, with Toby manipulating characters left and right - the image of Sir Andrew and Viola, both mortally afraid of their opponent, is quite comic, too.

So far we have touched on most of the cast. But we have yet to consider the play's greatest comic asset: Feste, the fool. One would imagine him to be a simple-minded character, with nothing much to add to the play. So why is it that he is, instead, more intellegent and better-educated than the play's aristocrats?

Feste is a comic character, certainly. But his humour is not that of a fool; instead it relies on trickery and wordplay, often relying upon the audience to decipher a cryptic reference or pun. (Indeed, even today some of his references' origins are unknown) A good reference for this would be his 'Proving a fool' debate with Olivia, in Act I, Scene Five.

"FESTE: I think his soul is in hell, Madonna.
OLIVIA: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
FESTE: The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother's soul being in heaven."

Feste is allowed to openly mock Olivia, due to his status as her fool. She gladly joins in with his jests, and is therefore a great help in setting up comic parts for him. Other characters also help prompt him, especially Maria. This arrangement allows Feste to take on the role of the play's narrator, being able to freely discuss elements of the plot with the cast, expressing their views as well as his.

However, Feste is also capable of changing from this positive influence into a darker one, just as Sir Toby changed. Indeed, he joins with Toby in tormenting Malvolio, assuming the role of 'Sir Topaz', whose role is to confuse their captive and attempt to break his will.

"FESTE: Sayest thou this house is dark?
MALVOLIO: As hell, Sir Topas.
FESTE: Why, it hath bay windows... and yet complainest thou of obstruction?

Feste is trying to help Toby drive Malvolio to actual madness, instead of merely making a fool out of him. Malvolio, obviously, has no idea of this, and as Feste switches between the roles of Topaz and himself, Malvolio's degeneration becomes a symbol of how the play used each character's dual nature as a basis for comedy. Later, Feste begins to relent upon Malvolio, helping him to escape his concealment. But Sir Toby never returns to his original self, instead remaining as a malicious influence. Perhaps that is one of the play's greatest tragedies.

In many cases, a character can be interpreted in many ways, and often what begins as a comic scene can end in tragedy, and vice versa. Sometimes it can bounce back and forth between these two extremes quick rapidly. This is why I feel that Twelfth Night can be classed as neither wholly a tragedy or a comedy, instead filling the niche between the two. It successfully combines the best elements of both to create an excellent play.

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