“Twelfth Night” is the play we have been studying in class, written by William Shakespeare. It is named “Twelfth Night” because twelve days after Christmas up to twelfth night on 6th January, was a time of celebrations and festivities, often known as the “feast of fools”, where all kinds of foolishness, trickery and sham were allowed. The play is set in an enchanted dreamland called Illyria. A fictitious world, full of magical possibilities and romantic comedy, where anything can possibly happen.
Illyria is also a secure place, for example brother finds sister, lovers will marry and time itself will resolve any tangling difficult situations, because sometimes Illyria is also an unreliable world of disguise and mistaken identity. “I swear I am not what I seem” is Viola speaking, disguised as Cesario. The name Illyria also helps with the reinforcement of the fictions and exotic picture of the dreamland, something that was important because everyday life could be tough in those days.
The accepted view of love in the Elizabethan times was that personal preference was unimportant, and it was up to parents and relatives to arrange their sons and daughters marriages amongst upper class and rich families in order to level or uphold their wealth, land and power. Shakespeare proved otherwise in this play as we saw the rich countess lady Olivia fall in love with the servant Cesario. Aside in a soliloquy Olivia reveals her love affections for Viola, “… catch the play Methinks I feel this youths perfections”.
Shakespeare’s aim was to send a message out to people that love was a very important and complex matter in their lives, and that love wasn’t about wealth, power or control, but of secure happy relationships. This is a summary of the following events that occur in Act 1 Scene 5; Olivia’s maid Maria is furious at Olivia’s Clown as he continues to joke about with her relation ship with Sir Toby, but is ordered to leave by Olivia. Feste challenges Olivia by offering to prove her a fool by pointing out that she should not mourn her brother since he is in a better place, namely heaven.
The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven”. Olivia is satisfied, but Olivia’s uptight steward, Malvolio is not, regarding Feste as old and lacking in wit “no more brain than a stone”. Olivia gives us an insight into Malvolio’s arrogant and vain character by saying that he suffers from “self-love”. Cesario request for lady Olivias presence, eventually gaining her audience. Lady Olivia is quite taken by Cesario but tells him she cannot return Orsino’s affections stating, “I cannot love him”.
Lady Olivia however requests that she would like to see Cesario again, asking him to come back to report to her how Orsino took the news. Impressed by Cesario speech and attitudes, Lady Olivia sends Malvolio after him to give back a ring. The theme of the events in act1 scene5 focus on the confusing love triangle with a dramatic irony underneath it. Orsino is crazy in love with Olivia, but Olivia has fallen is love with Viola (Cerario) and Viola is in love with Orsino.
Viola has disguised herself as “gentleman” to work as a messenger for the Count Orsino. She attempts to woo lady Olivia for Orsino, even though she is deeply in love with him herself. She reveals her fear at the consequences her actions will have in wooing lady Olivia when she states in an aside, “Who’er I woo, myself would be his wife” terrified that she may never have a chance to become Orino’s mistress. Nevertheless despite her great efforts at wooing Olivia, she is unsuccessful as Olivia insists that she cannot love Orsino back, “I cannot love him”.
Yet what Viola doesn’t realise until later on is that Olivia is falling madly in love with her, as Olivia confesses in a soliloquy “Even so quickly may one catch the play? ” The dramatic irony here is that all the characters are fooled into believing that Cesario is a truthful decent young man, and what’s more terrible is that Olivia is deceived into falling in love with Cesario by his impressing speech and charming appearance although the audience are completely of Olivia great affections for Cesario but are aware that Cesario’s real identity is a woman.
Violas disguise creates suspense and comedy at the same time her disguise affects her life miserably, because she cannot reveal her love to the Duke Orsino, and has unintentionally misled Olivia into falling in love with her, stating “Poor lady, she were better love a dream” She prays, “O time, thou must untangle this” because it is now out of her control. Later on in the play William Shakespeare introduces the character Sebastian, Viola’s lost twin brother, to resolve the confusing love triangle between Orsino, Olivia and Viola.
Sebastian’s first appearance in the play had a negative affect on Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, because they mistook him for Viola and challenge him to a duel ” You are well fleshed. Come on” but resulted injured by Sebastian as Sir Andrew reports to Lady Olivia “H’as broke my head across, and has given Sir Toby a bloody coxcomb”. Although, his presence has a much greater affect on Olivia as she is provided with a real husband who she believes she is in love with, and Viola is reunited back with her brother whom she feared was dead.
To express varieties of moods throughout the play and make it easier for the audience to be able to differentiate the higher class people in society from the lower class uneducated people, Shakespeare uses different forms of writing to achieve it’s purpose. For example in Act1 Scene5 he has used a poetic verse “… and fear to find… a flatter of my mind… we do not owe… and be this so” to signalise to the coming end of the scene. Shakespeare also uses blank verse “Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit Do give thee five-fold blazon.
Not too fast! Soft, soft! ” to specifically illustrate and express the elevated character’s feelings and mood. The last form of writing Shakespeare uses in this play is called prose; ordinary language used by characters in the lower class of the society. For instance when the character Malvolio discovers the love letter from Lady Olivia he begins to express his thoughts aloud in a prose language as he continues “Daylight and is champain not more! This is open. I will be proud, read politic authors, I will baffle Sir Toby… but prose also emphasizes comic relief. The subplot within the play intensifies comic relief. Foolish tricks are played on Malvolio by a few other characters, which led by Malvolio thoughtlessly believing that Lady Olivia actually loves him. They play these tricks on him because he’s an arrogant, self-centred and uptight man, who tries to make life difficult for everyone and believes there should be no enjoyment out of life. This is also a greater opportunity for everyone to have some additional laughter in this great period of festivities.
Shakespeare’s intentions here were to inform those people who tried to make life difficult for everyone else that people did not appreciate their attitudes and will not stand for it. “Twelfth Night” consists of many love types of love like romantic love, love at first sight and self love etc, however some of the characters who are tangled up in the web of love are blind to see that their emotions and feelings toward other characters are illusory. They are being deceived by themselves and or the others around them.
For example the Count Orsino claims to be vastly in love with lady Olivia “And my desires like fell and cruel hounds E’er since pursue me” but as soon as he realises that Viola loves him he quickly switches his feelings towards her and results in marrying her. The part of the play I enjoyed the most was the special reunion of the twins. Sebastian had no idea that Viola was still alive, so the disbelief at seeing her again, and dressed to look like him, was touching, “an apple cleft in two,” describes their close resemblance.
There is great emotion on both sides of this happy reunion. Finally the theme of mistaken identity is resolved, with everyone having been revealed as his or her true self. Also for the first time in this play the name “Viola” is correctly used, and she gets rid of her Cesario disguise, so is finally able to openly reveal on her love for Orsino when she reassures that she still loves Orsino very much when she states “All those swearings I swear I will overswear”.
She is now able to express and act on her love for Orsino as she no longer appears like a man, but as a woman who respects and loves him. I believe that the effect of the play on the Elizabethan people was to make them realise that you couldn’t choose whom to fall in love for the sake of other matters and the other message he would have been trying to sent out to people is not to take life to seriously, but to have fun and enjoy it.