Summary And Analysis Of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Twelfth night is a festival celebrated on the twelfth night after Christmas which marks the time when the wise men followed the star and found baby Jesus. The notion of ‘finding’ just as the wise men had found Jesus, is conveyed when Viola reunites with her twin brother, Sebastian at the end of the play. The twelfth night of the play is important as the truth makes sense to the characters in the play, the dramatic irony ends as Viola finds her brother, and it is the climax and resolution of the play. The twelfth night festival is marked by disorder, reversal of roles (which is under the theme of deception), music, pleasure (under the theme of love), drinking and dance. These events of a twelfth night are the focus of this essay.

Twelfth Night is also referred to as ‘What You Will’. The concealing of this title under ‘Twelfth Night’ is significant as Viola is also concealed by the name Cesario. Therefore, deception is already highlighted in the title. The title ‘What You Will’ sounds carefree and that already gives me an idea of the play and is later revealed, because most characters in the play don’t know what they want, this is seen when Olivia ends up staying with Sebastian even though she knows he is not Cesario, and Orsino ending up with Viola after finding out she is Viola and not Cesario. Futhermore, this is portrayed when Cesario tells Olivia ‘…you do think you are not what you are’ and she does not deny it.

One of the most important themes in this play is love. William Shakespeare creates one of the character’s name to be Valentine, this already gives off a romantic mood in the play. Furthermore, he makes the first lines of the play to be ‘If music be the food of love, play on’ which adds more significance and shows how truly important love is. Love can also be seen to be harmful ‘the appetite may sicken and so die’ here, an imagery of death is conveyed in relation to love, which shows that love is not so pleasant and also shows the extent to Orsino’s obsession with love. His obsession is further highlighted by the use of his exaggerated language. His hyperbolic language makes the audience question whether he really does adore Olivia or it is just all talk and no action. Orsino also tells Olivia ‘their love may be called appetite’ to say that women cannot love as deeply as men. He can be seen as a hypocrite since he ends up switching from one woman to another ‘Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen’. Additionally, the repetition of the word ‘appetite’ shows that Orsino is actually just hungry for love, and if he is so desperate for love, then perhaps that is why he switches women. He only wants to fill up the void just like any other human being. This makes him innocent and only human.

William Shakespeare uses interesting language when Orsino is talking to Cesario ‘Diana’s lip’ the name Diana means goddess, ‘constellation’ which creates an imagery of stars and a romantic atmosphere. This is further portrayed by the use of the phrase ‘smooth and rubious’. All this is done to show the audience how Orsino is feeling; in love. He continuously uses his language to show this, he doesn’t just refer to Diana’s lip as smooth but ‘more smooth’, once again, his hyperbolic language shows highlights his obsession. However, under all this, Orsino is actually suffering. This can be seen from the same phrase ‘Diana’s lip’, Diana is a goddess of hunt. By Orisno referring to her, it can be seen that he feels as though he is being hunted by love and this imagery in unfortunately, not soothing. The word ‘hunt’ is referred to in Act 1, Scene 1 ‘Will you go hunt, my Lord? … The hart’ and Orsino then replies by saying ‘when mine eyes did see Olivia first… I turned into a hart’. Once again, this only backs up the notion of feeling as if he is being hunted down.Moreover, the use of the words ‘small’, ‘pipe’ and ‘shrill’ gives off an uneasy feeling. This could mean that he is uncomfortable by his love for Olivia or he simply just does not know how to handle it, thus, being so uneasy. This creates sympathy from the audience to Orsino, as one should not be so uncomfortable if they’re in love.

When it comes to Olivia, her whole love story is about her being untruthful to herself. ‘till seven years’ heat..’ Olivia claims she will not be with a man and only mourn her brother for seven years. However, she ends up falling for Cesario ‘methinks ‘tis time to smile again’. Just like Orsino, she does seem to be a hypocrite by saying one thing and doing the opposite. However, there should be a connection between Viola and Olivia because they have both lost their brothers ‘My brother he is in Elysium’, ‘A brother’s dead love’. Though they do not know this about each other, the bond is created from their loss. Furthermore, what should not be overlooked in this play is that Viola told only one person that she was not who everyone thought. Yes, the captain from the shipwreck helped her disguise herself ‘I’ll pay thee bounteously.. conceal me what I am’ but she later on says to Olivia ‘I am not what I am’ however, this phrase was not thought of deeply. By revealing this to Olivia, it does show that there was a connection, but it just was not meant to be romantic in any way.

Olivia’s way to show her love is odd. She gives a ring to Cesario ‘(giving a jewel)… wear this jewel for me’ and gives Sebastian a pearl ‘this pearl she gave me’ and this is her token of love. Olivia thinks that she can buy love ‘..youth is bought more oft than begged or borrowed’ and in this time, men usually bought the gifts for women. By acting like this, it only reveals her desperate nature and, in a sense, William Shakespeare does mock Olivia as all the men she was with, she gave gifts to. So that leaves me to only question if Sebastian should have still ended up with her at the end of play. Was it for her money and gifts? Or was it because they were married and divorce in this period was a shame upon people?

William Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter in the conversation between Cesario and Orsino:

Viola: …I should your Lordship

Orsino: And what’s her history?

Viola: … Sir, shall I to this lady?

Orsino: Ay, that the theme….

The merging of Cesario (Viola) and Orsino’s half lines into one is cleverly used by William Shakespeare to highlight that these two characters are supposed to be together. Cesario does tell Orsino ‘…were I a woman I should your lordship’ here, she reveals her feelings to Orsino but once again, her words are overlooked. She is also seen to be crafty by the audience because she does tell her truth in a careful manner. This is agitating because we know the truth but the characters simply fail to understand.

Disorder is first created in the play in Act 1, Scene 2, when Viola says ‘conceal me what I am’,this is the beginning of deception and disorder. This also makes the audience feel important and part of the play as they get to keep Viola’s secret. Drinking, deception / reversal of roles all falls under disorder. In Act 2, Scene 3, ‘She shall not know of it, by this hand’. This not only highlights the theme of deception but it is also the downfall of Malvolio. Following the fake letter Maria writes, Malvolio ends up wearing ‘yellow stockings’ and makes a fool of himself. This can be seen as a reversal of him role. Deception creates Reversal of role. This is unusual in the play as the audience has already seen that the reversal of a role is what creates deception or disorder. So that makes Malvolio the odd man out. This makes Malvolio the social reject among the characters in the play. William Shakespeare does add on to this notion by trying to make him enter a love triangle that is already occupied. A love triangle involves three people, and in this play, Cesario, Orsino and Olivia already make the love triangle. When Malvolio tries to pursue Olivia, it sort of distorts the whole concept of a love triangle, once agin bringing up the theme of disorder ; he simply does not fit in. Shakespeare, does in fact make me understand how the ‘outsiders’ feel when Malvolio says ‘…there was never a man so notoriously abused’ and I sympathise with him. The darkness of Malvolio’s prison ‘…keep me in darkness…’ symbolises his apparent madness. This imagery technique is used to try and deceive the audience to thinking that Malvolio is actually crazy. This brings up the notion of people trying to turn everyone against him. Malvolio does say ‘I am not mad … this house is dark’ and this shows that the people outside the prison are actually the mad and dark individuals and if much thought is put into it, it is seen that he is indeed right because all the chaos is taking place outside (involving the characters) and not within him. The mini story of Malvolio in this play is William Shakespeare’s way of showing us the side effects of how we treat people we consider ‘outsiders’; Malvolio does end his last words to the characters with ‘I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you’. Therefore, Malvolio’s story is a warning from William Shakespeare to society.

William Shakespeare ends his comedies with happy endings but it is seen that Malvolio does not get one. However, Malvolio is not the only person that gets a half happy ending. Viola also does not get a full happy ending. Yes, she does reunite with her brother in the climax of the play, but in the falling action, when everyone is getting together, Orsino says to her ‘Cesario, come..’. Though the truth is out, the character of Orsino will always remain with her and that Orsino does see it too. 

16 August 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now