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    An Exploration of Humour in Twelfth Night Essay

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    While reading “Twelfth Night”, I realised that the audience would notice that there are many aspects of humour evident. Someone might think or argue that this theme is much more present “Twelfth Night” than other play’s written by William Shakespeare, such as “Romeo and Juliet” the theme is that of a forbidden love. In a lot of Shakespeare’s play’s they seem to move from chaos at the start of the play to harmony at the end of the play, “Twelfth Night” also follows this pattern, to a contemporary audience they may find it quite funny, but to a 21^st century audience they would just see this as a pattern.

    Humour, appears in different forms both in real life and in “Twelfth Night”. Sometimes it is in the form of verbal humour, sometimes visual and other times in forms, which cannot be categorised. Among the difficult forms to categorise (and paradoxically these can be visual or verbal) is humour, which is not always primarily funny.

    In “Twelfth Night”, there is a specific character who we would find funny by his drunken antics, he is the uncle to the fair lady Olivia and is called Sir Toby Belch, in “Twelfth Night” Sir Toby is a lord of misrule, in Shakespeare’s era in great households, at ime of festivities a servant would be allowed for say a weekend to get drunk and make a fool of himself so that everyone else in the household is entertained and this way through Toby’s antics an audience would find him funny by his words and his choice of “friends”, we know that he likes to have a drink but he also likes excess of it: ” These Clothes are good enough to drink in… (I iii 9-10) & “… With drinking health to my niece” These are not the last times that we see him drinking.

    These episodes are humorous when performed on stage as we have a visual picture of Sir Toby being quite short and rather fat. These assumptions were confirmed when I recently saw the Royal Exchange’s theatres production of “Twelfth Night” where Toby Belch was in fact small and fat. Toby Belch can be compared to other of Shakespeare’s characters who is Falstaff from the play “King Henry IV Part One”, which I recently saw a video of.

    They are both very similar in their drinking, laziness and general attitude to events happening around them. There is an opposite character to Sir Toby Belch in terms of size; this is Sir Andrew Aguecheek who is slim, very tall (as Maria says) and very stupid. I think that it would appear very funny and trange to the audience (both contemporary and modern) to see both Aguecheek and Belch together.

    Someone could say that they are a sort of a “visual oxymoronic duo”, one being tall and slim and the other overweight and short. image001. gif] There is another droll part of the physical aspect, and that is towards the end of the play when we see the twins Viola and Sebastian, together and the rest of the characters on the stage surprised as well as the people watching, in seeing two identical “Cesarios” and “Roderigos” neither of whom is Cesario or Roderigo. This is perhaps an example of umour, which in its essence is neither visual nor verbal even though the visual is a “vehicle” for it.

    In Act 3, Scene 4, we see a very humorous scene where Malvolio is dressed in such a way that visually funny, this episode is very cruel trick, but Malvolio is the butt of a much more important trick in terms of its effects within the play. “He’s coming, madam; but in a very strange manner. He is sure possessed, madam. ” (III iiii 8-9). This is because of the letter written by “Olivia”, which causes Malvolio to act as a fool dressing in: “… yellow stockings, and wished to see thee ever cross-gartered” (II iiiii 136-7)

    I think that the audience in this case will be laughing to Malvolio because in the play he is not seen as being a good man but a bad on as his name suggests (Mal = Bad; volio = to want), the opposite of “benevolent”, but also for the way he is dressed, and I can say that having watched a production myself I can safely say that the audience did indeed the way Malvolio was dressed and the consequences of this joke played on him very funny, who thinks highly of himself and is self-important as we see when he reads the letter and shows his bumptiousness.

    So far we have mainly focused on the effect of visual humour n the stage and how it makes people laugh. Now we are going to explore the verbal humour in this play. If we talk about verbal humour then we also have to include wit; and a major wit in the play is Feste. Feste’s wit is evident because of the way that he answers people, like the episode when he proves Olivia and not himself to be the fool; at the end he “wins” showing great wit and intelligence.

    This example takes place in Act 1 Scene 5 Lines 63-64, where he has proved Olivia to be wrong: “The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen. Here we see Feste that with witty verbal dexterity shows Olivia’s foolishness in mourning for nothing, because what would be the point of mourning for her brother if his soul is in heaven? In “Twelfth Night” there are consequences that are humorous which stem from the so-called love triangle, which is formed by Viola (Cesario), Olivia and Orsino.

    This situation is comical because we see that Olivia loves “Cesario” not knowing “he” is Viola, Viola loves Orsino who loves Olivia, who in due course marries “Roderigo” not realising not realising that not only is “Roderigo” not “Cesario” but ot “Roderigo” either. Happily in due course she is more than content with Sebastian. The humour is partly that the triangle exists so aesthetically because of the duality of Viola. The audience is aware but the characters are not, except of course, Viola herself.

    This is a case of Dramatic Irony where the audience knows more information about the characters, than the characters themselves. The audience would know very well that the situation is not true because the play itself is false, nothing of this ever happened, but the spectators will pay to watch the play because they want to have fun watching it. The amusement is in seeing Viola embarrassed in front of Olivia asking her to marry her. The “question” of he play being make-belief may well add to the humour when the audience reflects that not only is “Cesario” not Viola but that isn’t Viola either, but an actor.

    Indeed this “layering” occurs even more lately when Olivia sees Sebastian as “Roderigo”, who she thinks is “Cesario” (but who is really Viola) Another comic situation caused by the disguising of Viola is when Sir Andrew wants to fight Viola and the people watching realise that both of them are not very good swordsman; Andrew because he is oo stupid and awkward and Viola because she is a woman and does not know how to fight. So considerable scope for visual humour as two incompetent fighters each believe the other can fight well.

    For the same reason, Shakespeare writes a funny episode; this is when Olivia first sees “Cesario” and falls in love at first sight. The audience would remember that she (Olivia) was supposed to mourn for seven years, but might be pleased at how readily she abandoned her foolish course when first seeing Cesario, who ironically was someone else. The reason why mourning once a day for seven years s foolish is because in Elizabethan times women usually married young (mid-teens plus) and in Olivia’s case after seven years she would be “unfit” to marry.

    In the recent production of “Twelfth Night” that I saw at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, there was an added piece of comedy that was added by that productions director, that is the addition of water on the stage, the floor was drenched and this added a slapstick style to the humour. Having explored “Twelfth Night” and its aspects of humour, we can safely say that to both a contemporary and modern audience this is a very funny play, with many sides to its humour.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    An Exploration of Humour in Twelfth Night Essay. (2017, Oct 28). Retrieved from

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