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    How does Shakespeare portray the theme of identity in Twelfth Night Essay

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    Twelfth Night is a comedy written by William Shakespeare. It follows certain patterns which are commonly found in Shakespeare’s comedies; it ends in marriage and is based around disguise and false identities. The play starts off with a ship that that was shipwrecked just off the coast of Illyria, and the two main protagonists, Viola and Sebastian are separated and both believe each other to be dead. They both end up in different places and only when, at they end of the play, do they find out that they are both alive.

    Viola, when she arrives in Illyria just after the shipwreck, believes that the only way to ensure her survival was to get a job at Orsino’s Court, as a man. She took on Sebastian’s identity, only naming herself Cesario. This means that Sebastian’s memory is kept alive and enabled Viola to fill the gap of his ‘dead’ brother.

    Duke Orsino presents himself as an insecure man who is upset about the fact he has no wife. He, along with Olivia, judges people by their looks and this means no one is good enough for him. He expects, being the Duke of the island, someone will come to him to be his wife instead of the other way round. This shows he is quite snobbish and takes his important position to mean that he is the greatest and the best.

    Duke Orsino has great love for Olivia. He sends Cesario to Olivia’s house to see if she loves him. He obviously assumes she will.

    Olivia is used to getting her own way and waited on hand and foot. She has not stepped out of her house for seven years. This is because she is mourning for her brother and immerses herself in her own grief. She also hides her true self from strangers by wearing a veil.

    When Viola arrives at her house, Olivia is enchanted by Viola and even takes off her veil, a sign that she is in love with her. In her seven years of mourning Olivia has lost the sense to decipher truths from lies and this means she does not see through Viola’s disguise.

    Mavolio, who is Olivia’s butler, also has a secret love on her. As, after many loyal years of being Olivia’s butler, he loves her, he presumes that she loves him. This is why he gets fooled by a letter, that he believes to be from Olivia. The letter tells him that Olivia loved him and commanded his yellow stockings. When he appeared in front of Olivia wearing these stockings, he was much to upfront and when she was surprised he quoted some of the letter, thinking that she would understand him. Olivia, who thinks he must be mad, locks him up in the madhouse. He gets taken in by the letter as it was telling him what he wanted to hear for instance that Olivia loves him. It also appeals to his pompous side. The line, “some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them” really captures Mavolio’s feelings to those lesser than himself. He is also taken in because the letter looked like Olivia’s hand. It was in fact, Maria’s hand.

    Maria was Olivia’s maid and has very similar hand to her mistress. This enabled her to fool Mavolio into thinking that it was a letter from Olivia. She carried out this plan with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.

    Sir Andrew realises he loves Olivia only when she falls in love with Cesario. He knows that Mavolio has a secret love on her and thinks that if he can get rid of all the competition, he has a better chance of getting Olivia’s hand in marriage.

    Sir Toby has a reputation of being crapulous. This gives him a bad reputation with Mavolio as Mavolio thinks that someone as ill-mannered and disrespectful as Sir Toby is not worthy to stay in his mistress’ house. This, is another reason why they were keen to fool him.

    Sir Toby organised a fight between Sir Andrew and Cesario. This is so Sir Andrew can prove to Olivia that he is worthy to be his wife. When they start fighting, Antonio arrives and, seeing who believes to be Sebastian, runs and starts fighting Sir Andrew. Olivia who sees this fight sends for guards and they capture Antonio. Antonio asks Viola to back him up, believing she was Sebastian, but because she did not know him, she didn’t so he got taken away, all because of Viola dressing up as a boy.

    Sebastian arrives in Illyria and comes to Olivia’s house. Olivia asks him to marry her, thinking that this was the same person who she had been going out with before. Sebastian says yes and they get married the next day.. After the wedding Olivia was walking alone when she saw Viola. Olivia goes up to her and talks to her as if she was her husband. She denies this. While they were talking, Sebastian walked over to Olivia and then he saw Viola. They were both amazed to see each other and Olivia was in a state of disbelief. After every one knew their true identities, Duke Orsino fell in love with Viola, now knowing that she was a girl, the marriage still stood with Sebastian and Olivia, and Sir Toby and Maria got together.

    Twelfth Night is a story combining love, disguise and emotions all in one piece of drama. It is a fine example of a Shakespearian comedy and manages to fit in disguise and mystery with comedy and wit.

    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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