The ‘Twelfth Night’ written by William Shakespeare in the Elizabethan era, is a dramatic comedy enriched with a great deal of hurt to accompany scandalous behaviour and shocking deceptions.
The comical elements of this play are those which contribute to Elizabethan humour. The principal characters are of a high social status, making any disruption to their life humorous. The main characters are part of the whirlwind of unrequited love and mistaken identity, which when together are hazardous.
Viola pays the largest contribution to this play, as she is persistent throughout the scenes. The deceptions and mistaken identity she contributes supplements the play by means of interest, with a string of unrequited love triangles and dramatic irony, of which only the audience observes. The dramatic irony among Viola makes the audience omniscient, as they know something that the characters do not, such as she is a woman dressing herself to be a man, this allowing humour to pass through. Her character is mysterious, as she has no background due to loss of her brother at sea and the death of her father, which made her an orphan at a young age (taken from the film by Trevor Nunn). This holds interest through anticipation to the audience of any time (modern or Shakespearean), making them curious about whom she is.
Viola unintentionally manipulates everyone during the play, as she deceives each person through her disguise as Cesario. As Cesario, she misleads Olivia, as the charm and charisma she portrays overwhelms her. Viola realises this love for her as she says to herself;
“She loves me sure; the cunning of her passion. . .
Poor lady, she better love a dream”
(Act 2 Scene 3)
Viola shows concern for Olivia as she describes Olivia to be “a poor lady” and she is fretful about Orsino as she articulates, “My master loves her dearly”. Her concerns and worries mean that Viola is considerate to others and selfless in ways that she does not want to hurt anyone. In the play, this is shown in her feminine physique, though she portrays a stronger, more man like, character as Cesario.
Olivia, the Lady of the house, has a large involvement during this play, as she is centre of the unrequited love triangle, and not to her own familiarity, is a part of the gag that she is in love with Malvolio. Though Olivia’s contribution is mainly comical, the audience do witness a poignant personality in her. Our first encounter with Olivia shows her to be despondent and depressed, at the loss of her brother. There is an instant connection between Olivia and Viola, in addition to the similarity of their names, they are also both grieving a brother. The sadness that death is relative to the play at the beginning misleads the audience to believe that it is written for a comical purpose, though when the comedy is brought in, the contrast between genres makes each more dramatic, causing greater satisfaction to the audience.
Olivia’s qualities show her to be open, unafraid and courageous as she speaks about her love without hesitation. Her courageousness is admitted when she says to Viola “I bade you never speak of him again”, meaning that in this context she dislikes Orsino and the love he has with her, in spite of his power and wealth, also showing she is sincere and not greedy. Also at this particular scene (Act 3 Scene 1), she confesses her love for Viola, “I love thee so”. Olivia says this despite Violas rejection and pity towards her, showing that Olivia has great intrepidness and is unafraid of her feelings. In addition to this, Olivia has a lot of virtue and moral excellence.
Orsino is a very comical character, as we pity his love and his exaggeration of the rejection, which he has been given. He is intelligent with his word play as he compares love to music through a series of metaphors (Acts 1 Scenes 1-3);
“If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and so die”
The film shows him to be self-indulgent and having concerns for only him, as he lies sickly and emotional, relying on others to please him. As we become more familiar with the play, we find him to be caring and expressive; this is shown where Orsino and Viola nearly kiss and when he describes her beauty (though Viola is Cesario). It is clear that Orsino is in love with Viola, even though she is still misleading people by being Cesario, this makes Orsino scared that he may be homosexual (or so I believe). He describes her beauty where he says, “Diana’s lip is not more smooth and rubious… And all is semblative a women’s part”(Act 1 Scene 5). Here, the description that her lips are like rubies and that she has similarities to a woman, is a strong element of dramatic irony, this is making the audience omniscient to the characters, and therefore the characters act in an inappropriate manner. The irony allows humour to enter in, though it also brings hesitation and anticipation to the audience, of any time, modern or Shakespearean.
Aristocrats, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby Belch are both two very different characters with dissimilar personalities, though they are each useful for one and other, as Sir Andrew is weak where Sir Toby is a large man, Sir Andrew is rich where Sir Toby would not be so wealthy if he were not friends with him. Their personalities contrast, resulting in the conflicts they occur to be humorous. Sir Toby is self-absorbed, a drunkard, manipulative, greedy and takes everything to excess, where as Sir Andrew is gullible, unintelligent, wealthy and competent. This makes it easy for Sir Toby to use Sir Andrew to his advantage. Sir Andrew’s stupidity is exposed, where previously Sir Toby explains to Maria how he speaks “three or four languages”, and then when he enters this conversation it makes him look a fool, Sir Toby- “Accost, Sir Andrew, accost” … Sir Andrew- “Good Mistress Accost, I desire better acquaintance”, where accost is to front her and board her, which Sir Andrew did not understand. Sir Toby’s greed and selfishness is admitted where he is asked his purpose to be friends with Sir Andrew is and he replies, “Why, he has three thousand ducats a year”. Sir Toby is shown to be an egotist, as occasionally he seems to be conceited and acquisitive.
Malvolio is the centre of farcical humour, which is highly comical, though slightly hurtful at the extent of the physical humour. His name allows us to have a perspective of who he may be before we start the play; Malvolio can be abbreviated to Mal, which translates to Bad in French. It is common for Shakespeare to have hidden qualities in his plays such as names, also with the similarity of Viola and Olivia’s names. Malvolio is a puritan, which is an extreme religious sect, whereby he is strict in personal habits. Along with his plainly dressed figure, usually in black, he despises any drinking, parties and merriment of any kind. He is a great hater of theatre, which is ironic as he is in a theatrical play. Puritans are also thought to be self-seeking and to be social climbers, of which Malvolio is.
Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, Maria and Fabian plan a trick against Malvolio as he interrupts their merriment, thinks he is of a higher social status and speaks for Olivia by threatening to exclude them from the house though he has no authority to do so. They make him believe Olivia is in love with him by writing a letter and leaving it in his path, there are many comic elements contained here through humiliation and gullibility. As Malvolio reads the letter, they do not address who it is to exactly, but they leave initials, this is comical when Malvolio notices this, ” ‘M’ – Malvolio! ‘M’! Why, that begins my name! “. His stupidity throughout this hoax is hilarious as he appears in Olivia’s bedroom wearing outrageous yellow stockings cross-gartered. Olivia is horrified and thinks he is mad, especially here where he asks her to have sex with him, Olivia- “Wilt thou go to bed, Malvolio?”, Malvolio- “To bed? Ay, sweetheart, and I’ll come to thee”, Olivia- “God comfort thee!”
Feste’s roll in the beginning of the play is imprecise. We are not sure whom he is or of his purpose. As we get familiar with him we find he is Olivia’s fool. Feste’s manner and word play show him to be very clever, as he carries theory with everything he says. Despite occasionally him being crawl and heartless (in the gag with Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria against Malvolio Act 4 scene 2), he is very truthful about everything he says mainly. After the funeral, Olivia has an exchange with Feste. In this exchange, Olivia asks for the fool to be taken away, Feste cleverly replies “The lady bade you take away the fool; therefore I say again, take her away”. He is rude towards her, and appears arrogant, though we find he has motive for saying this to her;
Feste Good Madonna, why mourn’st thou?
Olivia Good fool, for my brother’s death.
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. Take away the fool, gentlemen.
We do encounter Feste a lot throughout the play and we see him behaving riotously, this is extremely humorous, though he is a stronger character for revealing hidden truths. As Feste is a trustworthy character to Olivia, the audience seem to trust him as well, through the hidden meanings of what he says he seems to know a lot about the misconceptions of the play, making him an omniscient character. If this omniscience were to be contained with any other character, I feel the truths would be let out, making the play more predictable, resulting in the twists not being as dramatic or as satisfying to the audience.
The main servant of Olivia’s house is Maria. She is very close friends with Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste, as well as also disliking Malvolio. Her character contains sexual innviendo with word play, which is extremely appealing to a Shakespearean audience, also humorous to modern day. She appears to be obedient, but her stubbornness shows her to be not willing as she is aware of her own feelings. She is mentally alert throughout the play, showing concern for Sir Toby, “You must come in earlier o’nights”. She later goes on to run away and marry Sir Toby, she is not particularly comical.
Sebastian comes in later in the play, as Viola’s brother. Ironically he has a strong similarity to Cesario’s physique, so everyone misconceives him to be Cesario. We immediately like him, as we like Viola and the audience feel relieved that he is not dead. Despite our first conceptions of him, I do not feel this way after analysing the play. He allows Olivia to be misled into believing he is Cesario, and carries on their relationship. I appreciate he was confused, but he deceived people by not telling the truth. Happily, Olivia and Sebastian got married, but realistically this would not have happened. Shakespeare’s plays are full of make believe and illusion, this one in particular resulting in enchanted happiness, not being real what so ever, causing even greater satisfaction to the audience.
The strongest comic/hurtful element in this play for me was the unrequited love triangle between Viola (Cesario), Olivia and Orsino. This seemed to carry throughout the play from beginning to end, like a rollercoaster with its falls and rises. Firstly, in the this scene (Act 1 Scene1), Orsino describes his love for Olivia, of which is unrequited;
“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 I was turned into a hart,
And my desires like fell and cruel hounds
E’er since pursue me.”
This speech wept by Orsino, shows him to have pity and sorrow for himself in the play. It describes how he feels if he were to be a male deer, that hounds would hunt him. Here he uses clever wordplay with similes to portray his feelings of the love he holds. He relates the hounds hunting him like a deer to the plague that he is haunted by for his love for Olivia. This intense comparison, gives him pity from the audience though his vile mannerisms in the film of self pity and greed, makes us feel hatred towards him, of the kind of revenge not reconciliation. All audiences, especially Shakespearean, like to have a villain or someone to hate, on first encounters Orsino seems to adopt this roll.
After this we encounter Olivia mourning her brother’s death. The coincidence that this follows Orsino’s speech is intended, making pity for Olivia and Orsino, as Olivia refuses men for 7 years due to her dead brother. We see this unrequited love from Olivia as she is stubborn in her believes and set in her ways. Already we are aware of the hurtful element that Orsino’s love is rejected, it seems inappropriate at this stage to make it comical as death and unrequited love are both hurtful elements of the play.
Following this duration of the play, Viola (disguised as Cesario), is sent to tell Olivia of Orsino’s love for her, “I can say little more that I have studied . . . that I may proceed in my speech”. Peculiarly, Viola explains to Olivia how she would love her if she were to: ‘Write loyal cantons of contemned love,
Hallow your name in the reverberate hills,
Cry out ‘Olivia!’
This flirtatious speech (shown in the film), shows Olivia to be bewildered by Cesario, as she reveals her ‘Excellently done’ face which is the only man, so far, she has done so to. Strangely, Olivia asks Malvolio to ‘Run after the peevish messenger, he left his ring behind’, and in saying this she handed Malvolio a ring to give to Cesario. She does this, much to the audience’s confusion, even though Cesario gave her no ring. After analysing her reasoning for this, she does it so Cesario will have to return. Olivia calls Cesario a ‘peevish messenger’, in denial to her true feelings, making sure Malvolio does not understand her.
After Olivia and Cesario meeting one another, Cesario realises why she has sent this ring to her:
‘I left no ring with her. . .
For she did speak in stares distractedly,
She loves me sure. . . I am man
Poor lady, she were better love a dream’
Cesario cleverly predicts that Olivia has fallen in love with him, not knowing that Cesario is Viola. Dealing with this situation, the audience knows something the character does not, resulting in Olivia acting in an inappropriate way by falling in love with a woman. This dramatic irony makes this element of the film comical for the audience, keeping the audience hooked with anticipation of what is to happen. Though this may be comical, there is a strong hurtful element where the three main characters are at steak to be either in great trouble, humiliation or disappointment; Viola’s deception to be Cesario, Olivia loving a woman and unrequited love to Orsino. Originally I found this all very funny and ironic, but after considering the effects of these characters on each other, I feel great pity for each of them, making the comedy intended here weak.
The letter written by Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Feste, with the help of Fabian, the servant, intended for Malvolio to find, is another element of which contains dramatic irony, misunderstandings and deceptions. After a certain night of enjoyment Malvolio rudely interrupts them by saying “My masters, are you mad? Or what are you?” (act 2 scene 3). His questioning of ‘what are you?’ is rude, especially as Malvolio is really only a servant, he also shows himself to be boring and arrogant. Here, he also takes Olivia’s authority of the ownership of the house by speaking for her when she is unaware, ‘she is willing to bid you farewell’. Malvolio threatens Maria’s, Sir Toby’s, Sir Andrew’s and Feste’s existence in the house, of which he has no right.
Following the events of the previous night, the friends decide to make Malvolio look a fool by making him believe Olivia is in love with him. They do so by leaving a letter written by Maria, of whom has similar handwriting to Olivia, in Malvolio’s path. When he finds this letter, he proceeds in reading it in the garden, where Maria, Fabian, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are hiding, able to listen and see Malvolio. Malvolio reads “In my stars I am above thee… Thy fates open their hands; let thy blood and spirit embrace them, and, to inure thyself to what thou art like to be, cast thy humble slough and appear fresh”. He goes on to read that the letter requests him to appear in yellow stockings cross gartered in Olivia’s bedroom.
The irony of him being asked to appear in outrageous clothes for a sexual nature is intended as he is a puritan. Due to his believes lacking any enjoyment or bliss, limits the colours which he wears, causing humour to be immense here. When he does so, he looks extremely foolish, even more so by the shock from Olivia of her lack of knowledge as to why he is like that.
When Malvolio talks here, Shakespeare makes it prose, of which he usually does so for less important characters, making Malvolio’s authority decrease even more along with the humiliation he encounters. This would only be noticed by reading the script.
After Malvolio has approached Olivia, she thinks he is mad, so she decided to lock him in the stables. The friends decide to torment the imprisoned Malvolio, as Feste disguises himself to be Sir Topas, the curate, they make him believe he is truly mad: Feste talks about the metal bars to be ‘bay windows transparent as barricadoes’, making Malvolio doubt his sanity. The cruelness of this joke, and the state of which they have got Malvolio into, makes the audience sympathise him for the first time in the play, as he has let down all his defences and appears extremely weak. Once again the element of comedy has changed into hurt, though it is thoroughly enjoyable for the audience to feel the expectation of the twists.
Concluding from my portrayal of two comic and hurtful elements, and describing the characters personalities and what they contribute to the play, my answer to the essay title ‘Although ‘Twelfth Night’ is a happy comedy, there is great deal of hurt in this play. In your opinion, should the audience be satisfied with the outcome? Discuss.’ is that the audience of any time, Elizabethan or modern, should be greatly satisfied with the outcome of the play.
Originally, I expected the plot of the play to opposite to what it was. I, as well as many others, expected a serious drama, lacking comedy or love, not really appealing to a modern audience of teenagers. Much to our surprise, we encountered a play enriched with love and comedy although accompanying hurtful and more serious elements. The play ended stereotypically ‘happily ever after’, much to the audience’s satisfaction.
The twelfth night was originally the 12th day around Christmas, where the lords and the ladies of a house would exchange roles with their servants, causing havoc and chaos. This title suited the play, due to the servants marrying their lord or lady. The festivity of Christmas in Elizabethan time aloud people to do as they please, especially in Shakespeare’s plays, being called the never-never land.
I feel that watching the play in a theatre, would have been even more rewarding to an audience, of which a Shakespearean audience would have done so. The film I watched by Trevor Nunn, still portrayed each element and detail outstandingly.
The attention to detail Shakespeare gave to the characters in love, was satisfying to an audience of any time, as the passions they portrayed were excellent. The love then blended harshly with deception, misunderstandings, farce, dramatic irony and unrequited love made each of these more powerful. The strong comparisons between the elements made the comedy and hurtfulness dramatic and unexpected. The anticipation of what is to happen next, gave the audience greater depth into the film, keeping them captivated.
The revenge given to the arrogant characters such as Sir Toby and Malvolio was comical, as well as being unexpected. The love and comparisons given to the ‘good’ characters, was tearful to see, making it even more so ‘fairy tale’ like. The outcomes were what was deserved by the characters, making the audience, of any time, fulfilled with the ending, making them satisfied with the play.