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How Shakespeare creates dramatic intrigue in Twelfth night, through plot, character and language

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  • Category: Drama

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Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s comedies; its title originates back to the Elizabethan period when the play was traditionally performed on the twelfth night after Christmas. However, it is alternatively referred to as ‘What you will’ which I think suggests that you can interpret this play in whichever form you wish and that it is not particularly serious.

It also makes it unique among Shakespeare’s works In having a double title, this might also introduce the theme of doubling or duplication from the outset- a theme that has other expressions in the two households of Orsino and Olivia, the motif of twins, which most people are intrigued by and the relationship between the almost enigmatical Olivia and Viola who both mourn a dead brother and friend. The play itself is set in the mythical place of Ilyria, taking place in only a few areas such as Olivia’s house.

It consists of a main plot, which is a twisted love triangle involving the Duke of Orsino, Olivia, Viola, and later her twin brother Sebastian. Different types of love are presented in Twelfth night among these characters, similarly to common Shakespeare comedies In order for Shakespeare to create real dramatic intrigue, he uses subplots that are incorporated with the main one, by Violas involvement. One of the main stories within the subplots is the humility of Malvolio before Olivia, confusion regarding the twins and the duel between Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Cesario- Viola in disguise.

These add humour and contrast to the play as well as a variety of interests and the introduction of subsidiary characters. The plays language develops the plot of mistaken identity, but it also approaches a philosophical interest in the relation between things and their names and the difficulty of language ever being truly referential. I will discuss Shakespeare’s use of language and ideas that prove this, throughout my work. In order to engage the Elizabethans, Shakespeare’s target audience at the time twelfth night was written, among other things he uses dramatic intrigue. The plot, characters and language all being contributing factors.

Today, even though the language is interpreted differently, the audience of the 21st century still appreciate Twelfth Nights eternal qualities such as the creative and almost complex plot structure, interesting characters and language including: puns, irony and hyperbole. I particularly feel that the opening scene of Twelfth Night (Act 1 scene 1) portrays a lot of dramatic intrigue. This is probably because, as the beginning of the play, it is important that Shakespeare can capture his audience immediately and set the foundations to build upon, in a way that they will respond well to.

Orisino and his famous declaration of love opens the play ‘if music be the food of love, play on’ this automatically creates a lovesick musing image of Orsino and shows his state of mind, which is that he is preoccupied by the condition of love and about Olivia who he claims he is in love with. ‘That strain again, it had a dying fall’ he is very over exaggerating about his passion for her, but fails to mention her name until his second speech. This helps build up a picture of his character in the way that perhaps he is more in love with the thought of being in love, than he actually is with Olivia.

Shakespeare uses hyperbolic language in this introduction, which suggests the basis of Orsino as a character; phrases such as ‘That breathes upon a bank of violets’ show his obsessive behaviour towards love, this is dramatically intriguing because already the audience want to know whom this lady is and why she is having this sort of effect on Orsino. This sort of description itself is romantic, and throughout the scene the semantic field of love is displayed.

This helps with the emphasis of Orsino’s over -exaggerating character this, also stressed by rich imagery of flowers. He is very individual and original thus creating interest and curiosity in this scene. From the opening lines content, it seems that the play will be much about love, Orsino’s language is characterised by excess, thus introducing this theme. In fact this is continued through the play, when many types of expressions of love are shown.

The language in this scene is conventional and cliche in the way that it is influenced by a vogue for love sonnets as well as there being a lot of imagery. This creates dramatic intrigue because the audience want to know more about this poetical man. When Curio, one of his attendants, suggests the distraction of hunting ‘Will you go hunt my lord? ‘ this too operates as a metaphor for love in the popular Elizabethan pun on hart (deer) /heart. His love is discussed here, in terms of appetite ‘The appetite may sicken and so die’, which is another important theme of the play.

This introduction is also very important in establishing the plot and the status of his love for Olivia, which does seem like a very self-indulgent emotion which has rather little to do with her as an individual but much more as an idealised image of her purging ‘purged the air of pestilence’ The line ‘That instant was I turned into a hart’ also shows him with a romanticised view of her, which again suggests this thought that he is not in love with her. Reference to his ‘desires’ also indicates him thinking of himself.

But another interpretation is that his language indicates his capacity for strong feeling and responsiveness to music, which is said to be a positive aspect of Shakespeare’s characterisation. This is a good example of how Shakespeare’s language works in different ways, creating a real dramatic feel. This particular scene also gives us an impression of Olivia through Orsino ‘wonderful, as clear as the air -etc’ but we still question how truthful this knowledge about her is, considering how extreme and hyperbolic the language used, that is why this scene is so intriguing.

It is also very entertaining, because through the text it is quite easy to picture the way that the characters would perform this sort of scene, due to the amount of dramatic qualities. In this love soaked atmosphere it is very appropriate that the go- between for Olivia and Orsino, is called Valentine but for this reason it contributes to the entertainment factor due to being humorous. His language suggests that Olivia is a too rigid observer of mourning rituals.

While she and Orsino are opposites, we might think that they are rather similar, single-minded personalities. The length of her mourning for her brother, the severity of her veiled demeanour ‘but like a cloistress she will veiled walk’ and her continual weeping -‘And water once a day her chamber round/ With eye offending brine’ – all of these, to me suggest a women of intense passion. In establishing two such extreme characters the play arouses our curiosity and interest about how the events will unfold therefore Shakespeare creates dramatic intrigue.

Another scene, which I particularly thought portrayed a lot of dramatic intrigue, is act one scene three. In this act, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle, is approached by Olivia’s handmaiden Maria, about his late hours and disorderly habits. Toby’s drinking friends, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a rather foolish man who Sir Toby has brought as a potential suitor to Olivia. Sir Toby has great affection for Sir Andrew, but Maria does, she believes that Sir Andrew is a ‘drunkard’ and a ‘fool’, and is not to ‘suffered’.

Sir. Toby attempts to introduce them; word play ensues from a series of misunderstandings, puns, and differing usages of words. This is the audience’s first introduction to Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek, the characters that bear the burden of the play’s comedy. I also notice that the play is now in prose rather than blank verse of the previous two scenes. Like Orsino and Olivia in the first scene, Sir Toby is characterised by excess, and always has a lot to say which is engaging for the audience.

He roundly refuses Maria’s sensible remarks about self restraint; ‘you must confine yourself within the modest limits of order’ Shakespeare displays his character here as robust, earthy, loud personality and boisterous, he seems entirely different to the characters we have previously met, and therefore this adds interest because of the comparison between them. He could also be thought of as selfish, in the way that here, he is following his own pleasures. We get the impression that he is going to fill the play with his humour when he discusses in a bantering and at some point’s bawdy style his behaviour with Maria.

He uses his wit- of which little is true, in lines 8-11, where he uses a pun as Maria has told him to confine himself ‘Confine? I’ll confine myself no finer than I am; these clothes are good enough to drink in’ here he already becomes a character used for entertainment, and as an audience we are waiting for his next comment which will make us laugh. In these lines he appears to enjoy his own jokes and is devoted to self-gratification without much thought for others.

The incorporation of these two characters in the play, help Shakespeare to create a much more light hearted feel they are a great contrast to the elevated emotions and expressions of the two noble households of Orsino and Olivia. The scene progresses on and Sir Toby’s being a juggler and great at play on words, describes Andrew with great mockery, he describes him as ‘He’s a tall man as anys in Illyria’ the Elizabethans and indeed an audience today, would find this amusing, because he probably thinks him cowardly.

His use of ‘Viol-de-gamboy’ a sexual joke would have also had a double meaning for the Elizabethans; in this way Shakespeare is keeping his audience interested through entertainment. Maria also has some humorous qualities, when Toby tells her ‘Hath all the good gifts of nature’ she picks up on this and changes the last word to ‘natural’ ‘He hath indeed all, most natural:’ which was known then at the time we are studying as ‘Idiot! She also takes pleasure in scolding Sir Toby, which again puts more interest into the play, considering he is trying to be the practical joker.

The characters appearance engage the audience, ugly humour regarding his name ‘Belch’ suggests that perhaps he is not the most attractive man and Sir Andrews hair ‘it hangs like a flax on distaff’ this is robust simile which balances out the plays love poetry. It creates the image of long draping threads drying on a pole, this, like the characters is very humorous. There foolish appearances are emphasized through Shakespeare’s use of language. Act 1 scene 3 also incorporates Sir Andrew Aguecheek, whom is called ‘shrew’ by Sir Toby; it develops a clearer picture of both of them, Toby’s personality and how Andrew appears.

They are often played as a comic double act of fat man/thin man, so this is why they draw interest and are popular with the audience. We get a feel for the characters by Maria’s references of ‘fool’ On entering the scene, Andrew Aguecheek, although encouraged in a mocking manor by Toby, refuses to woo Maria, the use of a sexual innuendo here, adds to the entertainment factor as he compares her to a ship ‘You mistake her knight, Accost is front her, board her woo her assail her’ this is all clever use of language by Shakespeare to engage his audience.

The intrigue is definitely comes from the acting of the characters in this scene, our first impression of the revellers is engaging and the structure of the plot is being formed. Dramatic intrigue is created throughout one of the longer scenes in Twelfth night. But due to it being further on in the play, although there is still a lot of dramatic intrigue, it becomes more necessary to round the plot up rather than build it up, as I have discussed in my previous analysed scenes. Act three scene four is when the grotesque sight of a smiling, yellow stockinged, cross-gartered Malvolio greets Olivia.

Sir Toby promises to calm him down in a darkened room. Sir Andrew’s challenge to Cesario is read out. Viola returns at Olivia’s command. Sir Toby delivers the challenge and describes Sir Andrew’s ferocity. Sir Toby encourages Sir Andrew to fight Viola; Antonio enters and thinks it is Sebastian who is in danger. Before he can do anything he is arrested, and he appeals to Sebastian, but Viola replies that she does not know him! After he has been taken away, Viola wonders whether the mystery might mean that her brother is still alive.

At this point in the play Olivia is preoccupied by thoughts of Cesario, however these are pushed aside at Malvolio’s extraordinary entrance, heralded by Maria. She warns that he ‘is sure possessed’, because ‘he does nothing but smile’ Here, I think Olivia identifies a similarity between them, for she too is mad for love. This could be a good development in the plot. I get the impression that this scene is based around humour, which sure enough makes a lot of intrigue and a good amount of entertainment.

Malvolio’s initial entrance with his greeting ‘Sweet Lady, Ho ho! Marks his jovial and intimate manner. His presentation is another form of humour that interests the audience. As well as the relationship between the audience and the play, which is that they are very aware he has been set up, but realise that Olivia is not. Another comical value is when he quotes from the letter, which to his mistress brings no recognition or any significance; therefore making him look even more idiotic than he already appears.

When Olivia suggests he goes to bed, due to this uncharacteristic behaviour, Malovolio mistakes this as sexual invitation, and promises ‘I will come to thee’ this would be highly amusing for the audience as embarrassment always brings laughter. This humiliation reflects his character as that of a very gullible; this is, apparently, always appealing to spectators, on and off stage. But I feel there is two ways to look at Malvolios entrance to Act III scene four.

Earlier on in the play he is shown to be pompous and therefore perhaps it is his own social climbing self-delusion that sets him up for this degree of mortification. However, if Malvolio is seen in a more positive light, we might look more sympathetically and think that he is only doing his job as the conscientious steward of a household that is still in mourning, so loud revelry is most inappropriate. With this is mind it is Sir Toby and Sir Andrew that are in the wrong, and Malvolio is the victim of his own diligence.

There is also some support for this second view on his character and that is through the words of Olivia herself, ‘I would not have him miscarry for half of my dowry’ Clearly she does rely on him to manage her household. An immediate reaction is the need to know what she will think of his performance and how every character will react. In this respect, to me this is one of the most engaging points in the play, which Shakespeare builds up to in the previous scenes, so that the audience are awaiting Malvolio’s humiliation.

Confusion, resulting in the engagement of the audience, carries on through the scene. As the letter has instructed him ‘to be rude to Sir Toby’ when Olivia orders him to be taken care of by a kinsman, Sir Toby, Malvolio looks at this as an opportunity to carry out the rest of these instructions. To create more of an effect, the revellers then decide to imprison him in a ‘dark room’ and therefore develop Olivia diagnosis of madness and ‘for our pleasure and his penance’ Throughout the rest of this section of the scene, the other characters, Fabian, Sir Toby and Maria, mock Malvolio.

They take great pleasure in wanting to find him so they can purely treat him very badly with no respect at all. Through making these characters cruel, Shakespeare is able to create a real sense of interaction with the audience, because they will have mixed feeling towards this. It is always amusing when some one who thinks he is socially higher than another gets their comeuppance. The language that is used is very patronising ‘We must deal gently with him’ this again gets a good response from the audience, which is all part of keeping them interested.

The moment that Sir Andrew enters the scene, his language is very distinctive ‘More matter or a May morning, this shows alliteration, which in a way, is highly amusing to an audience. The scene also turns to another letter: the challenge to Cesario, Shakespeare uses the semantic field of food here ‘Ii warrant there’s vinegar and pepper in’t’ this is Sir Andrew attempting to be funny ‘Is’t so saucy? This shows Fabian mocking Sir Andrew making another hint of humour.

The opening of the letter, in itself seems strange ‘Youth, whatsoever thou art, thou art but a scurvy fellow’ the language used creates more interest as to what it will go on to read. When Olivia and Viola are in conversation, the language portrays distinct tension between them. Apologetic terms from Olivia are shown as speech between them begins ‘I have said too much unto a heart of stone’ but Viola repeats she wants only her love for Orsino. Further on, the two unwilling parties, Sir Andrew, a man not confident in his fighting, and Cesario, Viola a twin in disguise, are provoked by Sir Toby to participate in a fuel.

This is engaging because the plot has built up to this, through means of the letter. Sir Toby character becomes even more mischievous; as he tells his good friend ‘has been a fencer to the sophy’ which the audience are fully aware is not the case at all, but nevertheless, is entertaining to watch the effect that Sir Toby is able to have over Sir Andrew. The next section, the entrance of Antonio, creates dramatic intrigue due to mistaken identities, this part of the plot captures the audience because they need to stay focussed in order to recall exactly what is happening.

He believes that the man he is seeing is his beloved Sebastian under threat from an armed knight. He immediately intervenes to take Sebastian’s quarrel on himself, but the officers seize him ‘at the suit /of court Orsino’ Under arrest, Antonio requests the return of the purse he gave Sebastian, but considering this is not Sebastian, his request is met with bewilderment: ‘what money sir’ The frustration and shock that Antonio shows, interests the audience, as they begin to feel some form of emotion towards this misfortune with the guards.

He cannot believe that he is being denied friendship when he needs it the most. Viola’s aside, shows that she can hardly dare believe ‘That I dear brother, be now ta’en for you’ Viola admits that she and Sebastian look alike, especially in her disguise as Cesario, which she did to gain a job, ‘I my brother know/ Yet living in my glass. Even such and so/ In favour was my brother, and went/ Still in this fashion, colour, ornament,/ for him I imitate. A number of plots come together in this long scene, which is why is it so engaging for the audience.

The language is used in particular to help with the interest and make it more amusing, and so are the different characters and their personalities. The parallel plots of the twins, which are a topic that already create intrigue in society today and in the Elizabethan period, connect in Antonio’s, mistaking identity. Malvolios humiliation shows the contrast between the uptight ‘puritan’ of the earlier scenes and the grinning lascivious fashion victim of this scene is pointed and when the theme of madness, which is recognised throughout the play, is suggested, the tortures see a way to take their practical joke further.

Creating a huge amount of dramatic intrigue. At one stage, Olivia takes the theme of madness even further, identifying that Malvolios apparent madness is an acute example of the way in which a number of characters make fools of themselves ‘ I am as mad as he/ if sad and merry madness equal be. ‘ Thinking of course of her previous meeting with Cesario, whereupon she pressed her love on him, which was not returned. Her aside ‘a little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man’ is a shared joke with the audience about men. This engages them because some may relate to her and other has mixed opinions.

It is also accompanied by a clever use of a bawdy pun of precisely what ‘little thing’ of a man’s it is she lacks. This scene seems to have untangled the ‘knot’ of the plots complications, as I have demonstrated by giving examples and explanations; Shakespeare has successfully created a lot of dramatic intrigue throughout this section of act III. I have studied this text and explained how Shakespeare has created dramatic intrigue, by using plot, character and language throughout the play. Overall, the scenes I looked at in detail proved that all of these are contributing factors in the way he does this.

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