William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth night
- Pages: 12
- Word count: 2902
- Category: Shakespeare
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William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth night is a play of contrast. Some of the contrast in the play, include humour and seriousness; excess and poverty; appearance and reality. All of these contrasts affect Shakespeare’s audience, because he wanted to appeal to all different classes of the society. This meant he needed different characters that appealed to the different society hierarchy, for example Sir Toby, appealed to the lower middle-class, many of whom loved to drink. Orsino and Olivia appealed to the upper aristocrat, many of whom had power, and beauty.
Shakespeare also used his characters to question political issues in Elizabethan times, for example, the puritans questioning excess, that the twelfth night celebration is wrong. In Elizabethan times, the twelve days after Christmas, up to 6th of January was a traditional holiday time of festival. During those days, excess was the main theme; drinking and partying all night. However at the end of the holiday festival the winter hardship was to follow. The Elizabethan time, was a dangerous time to live in.
The amount of power the wealthy had over the poor was immense; the servants couldn’t question their masters. If they did they would lose their job, or be put in prison. Anyone who questioned their master or the people in power could be jailed in the tower of London, sometimes until they died of hunger. Shakespeare thinks society is too strict, which is why he uses Sir Toby to symbolise, freedom to do whatever we like. The only people that could get away with questioning their masters were jesters, like Feste, one of Shakespeare’s characters symbolising appearance against reality.
Feste spoke to Olivia in any manner he pleased, because they thought his intention was to be comical; but sometimes Feste took advantage of this opportunity to be honest, and no one ever questioned him, except Malvolio a puritan. In the 16th century, puritans, like Malvolio wanted to close the theatre, because they believed people shouldn’t have a good time. They also believed excess was greediness, which to them is a sin. Although Shakespeare in this play portrays Malvolio as a bad person, Shakespeare was also questioning the theme of excess, that perhaps it is wrong when it gets out of hand, like Sir Toby’s revenge against Malvolio.
In the play, some of the serious characters were given humorous lines to contrast their roles. Shakespeare manages to manipulate one of the serious characters in the play, Malvolio, and give him a humorous line, which many people in Shakespearean time would have found very comical. “These be her very c’s, her u’s, and her t’s. ” Shakespeare gave Malvolio a very rude line to say, and for a puritan could mean dishonour to their principles. Shakespeare perhaps wanted to convince the audience that not all puritans are extremists.
However the audience may not be convinced, due to his tone in the previous scene. My fortunes having me on your niece, give me this prerogative of speech”. He is full of himself, while dreaming of riches. However a modern director may be convinced of Shakespeare’s intention to make Malvolio a likeable character. So in a modern adaptation of Twelfth night; the director may want to make Malvolio a man with strict principles, yet light-hearted. Wealthy people in Shakespeare’s time often used the people below them.
They took advantage of their position as aristocrats. This is not the same for Olivia, who seems to like puns, like Feste. Give the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry”. This shows Olivia’s humorous side, instead of being a snob like most rich people were, in Shakespeare’s time. This possibly made the upper-middle class, and lower-middle class, more comfortable to be around rich people. Shakespeare is showing his poor audience that rich people too, can be comical, and they shouldn’t be judged. However Shakespeare also tries to contrast the two wealthy people in Illyria; Orsino, and Olivia. Orsino used Viola to do his own deeds. “I’ll do my best to woo your lady”.
Orsino is using Viola to his advantage, to get Olivia to fall in love with him. One of the few serious characters in the play is honest at heart, but wears a disguise on the surface. Viola is another character who is serious because she kept true to herself throughout the play. “I swear, I am not that I play”. Every chance Viola gets to be honest, she seizes it. “I swear”, it is a word most people use when they are trying to prove to others that they are telling the truth, so viola is ceasing her chance to tell Olivia the truth about herself, but unfortunately Olivia does not see this.
There is a repetition of “I” in Viola’s speech, this is because she is making an emphasise on Cesario, that he is a fake. I think Shakespeare has made viola too sincere, compared to many characters in the play that contradict themselves. The readers are left wondering, how sincere Viola is, and her love for Orsino Is it true? In a modern film, these questions could be answered by a director, who wishes to make Viola, more like Maria; dark, comical, yet pure. Does the companion of a fool suffer harm?
It could be argued that Sir Andrew is a serious character in the play, and it is the influence of Sir Toby that changes our perception of Sir Andrew. “I was adored once too”. A strong heartfelt line by Sir Andrew, which makes the all the different social class audience feel sorry for him. This slow tone creates a very sympathetic atmosphere, towards Sir Andrew. “Once” is a fairytale word, which means his phrase can be interpreted two ways; he is lying, or no one loves him anymore, but the soft sincere tone make us believe him. Therefore the company of Sir Toby may have made people, dislike Sir Andrew.
Another contrast Shakespeare explores is between excess and poverty. Orsino’s first speech sums up the theme of excess in Twelfth Night, and how too much can have a bad consequence. “If music be the food of love play on, give me excess of it, that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die”. Although Orsino is talking about love, the fact that he wants so much of it, so he may die, sums up excess. If you have too much of everything, it will later turn bad. There is a paradox of; ‘love’ and ‘death’ in Orsino’s speech, and this could possibly mean that, for every good thing, there are also bad aspects.
This is the same for excess, when it gets too much, there will always be a bad consequence. This is shown throughout the play. Just like the revenge against Malvolio, it took the wrong turn when Sir Toby decides to lock him up, and make him look mad. Shakespeare uses the poor characters in the play to explore excess and revenge. “And on that vice in him will my revenge find notable cause to work”. They pick out each others flaws and use it to their advantage to make the revenge work. This is one of the many dark moments in the play that changes the mood of the play, from humorous love story, to a dark menacing plot.
When Maria said this I would ask and actress to deliver the line, in a slow, subtle, strong tone, this will add a darker, dramatic effect, to the sinister plot. This will leave Shakespeare’s audience in suspense. Furthermore it could be argued that Shakespeare is making the lower-working class people look bad, which will then make the aristocrats, more suspicious of their workers, therefore creating more distrust in society. Shakespeare is questioning the theme of excess in his play. “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale”.
This is one of Sir Toby’s memorable speech, because it differs from his comical, entertaining, drunk character. This speech shows the readers, about Sir Toby’s principle. “Cakes and ale” representing excess, and freedom to do whatever they like. This would have made Shakespeare’s audience like Sir Toby, because he disagrees with Malvolio, a puritan who does not believe in excess. Malvolio is very strict with his life, and does not think excess is a good thing, because it may sometimes get out of control. Shakespeare could be using Sir Toby and Malvolio to balance excess in the society.
Perhaps he thinks a little of Sir Toby’s excessive personality, and a little of Malvolio’s Strict principles, could maybe, balance excess in society. Is Shakespeare obsessed with disguise and distrust? Although Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night is about love, he always seems to use the paradox of death, or disease, when he talks about love in this play. This could perhaps be another disguise to question the love in Twelfth Night, that it is not true love, and that the characters are either; in love for the sexual part, or in love with the idea of love itself. Olivia says, “Even so quickly may one catch the plague”.
Shakespeare equates love with sickness, to show that true love is not present in this play. This could be another hidden message to aristocrats that an arrange marriage does not promote happiness, and the love in the relationship is forced. Shakespeare seems to contrast his characters appearance with the roles they play. “Cucullus non facit monachum”. Feste said the hood does not make the monk. He is also saying that don’t be fooled by appearances, because “I wear not a motley in my brain”. Although appearances can be deceptive, what is within is much deeper. The Latin quote Feste made sums up Feste’s character as a whole.
Many people are fooled, by Feste the jester, whereas he is the most dark, and honest character in the play. This presentation of Feste makes him the most memorable character in the play. In the modern movie version, of the play; the director made Feste dark, yet humorous. Shakespeare also uses his character Feste and Cesario as a disguise to send out a secret political message. That society lacks honesty, and through disguise honesty is spoken. Although Viola’s disguise in the play caused a lot of confusion; surprisingly it did not cause any hurt, which is what would be expected. “Disguise I see thou art a wickedness”.
Viola realises that disguise is a dangerous thing, and it is wrong, but still, she did not reveal her true identity until the end. Shakespeare does not reveal Viola’s identity, due to his construction of the play. He wanted to show both the good and the bad sides of disguise. It is good because it gives you a chance to be honest with everyone and be true to yourself. It is bad, because it can cause a lot of damage to people’s feelings, Olivia for example who married the wrong twin. If Shakespeare had revealed Viola’s identity at the beginning, it would ruin the play, and the clichi?? happy endings wouldn’t have occurred.
The word “Wickedness” in Viola’s speech is a negative human emotion, and Viola personifies disguise to be a harmful thing. Which makes disguise almost sound human, but with evil feelings. Can everything be manipulated to give the wrong meaning? This is true as Shakespeare shows in Twelfth Night how things are easily manipulated. “I am the lady’s corrupter of words”. Feste gives himself this title which makes him sound like a god corrupter of words. “I am the” is slow, bold, but strong line, which shows us how much Feste delights in word play.
Feste’s word plays are meant to be comical, but the word “corrupter”, makes his puns sound much darker. This is one of the many areas where Shakespeare switches from light-hearted tone, to a much darker tone. This proves to us that there is always an inner-depth to Shakespeare’s most memorable lines. The fact that words can be corrupted to give a much deeper or darker meaning; will echo the word distrust in the heart of Shakespeare’s audience. Twelfth Night is a comedy, therefore the ending can be predicted, because all comedies have their problems resolved at the end, and always have a happy ending.
Do all happy endings, end happily? Olivia ends up marrying Sebastian at the end of the play, because she marries the wrong twin. This then tells us of Olivia’s naivety, also suggests to us that the love between the characters is fake. The fact that Olivia marries Sebastian could be interpreted as an arranged marriage; Shakespeare is saying arrange marriages between the aristocrats are inevitable. I believe that Olivia and Sebastian’s happy ending is unreal; neither of them know each other well, therefore has not learnt to love each other.
Besides she can’t easily switch her love from Viola, to Sebastian so quickly. Although Orsino from the beginning has always been in love with Olivia, he ends up marrying Viola. The happy ending between the characters is true, because they have got to know each other for a period of time, so they know each other a little bit. It could be argued that Orsino marries Viola to get closer to Olivia, because Viola and Sebastian are family; this means Orsino can be closer to Olivia. Sir Toby and Maria have a happy ending, because neither of them ended up alone like they should have.
Feste’s ending can be interpreted in two ways, that he has a happy ending, or a sad ending. He has a happy ending, because he is his own man, and needs no companionship. He is most probably better off alone, because as one of the many excessive characters it would be hard for him to have a family. Besides he might want more than one woman in his life. He has a sad ending because, he ends up alone, and the song he sings at the end could be his opinion on life, which makes him a pessimist. In addition Feste is comparable to the song, because the song is not a happy song, so Feste is not a happy man.
Since Shakespeare’s play is set in Illyria, an imaginary world, it also means the happy endings are imaginary. In addition he could be saying that there are no such things as happy endings in this cruel, harsh society we live in. Shakespeare play, is a contrast of light and darkness. The dark aspects of the play always seem to overshadow the light parts, because that is what stays in the readers, and audience’s minds. Feste’s last song is a very disturbing, and cheerful. Disturbing, because he talks about the circle of life, as a negative thing, he only sees the negative aspects. With tosspots still’ had drunken heads”. It is cheerful because the melody is of a happy tune.
“With a hey,ho, the wind and the rain”. “Hey, ho” are words we say when we are cheerful. Furthermore, Malovolio’s last line rings alarm bells of hatred in our minds, because it’s such a negative thing to say. “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you”. This shows it is not the end for Malvolio and the worst is yet to come. Ironically, the puritans did get revenge; they shut down the theatres, and banned Christmas celebrations, for a short period of time, some fifty years after Shakespeare’s death
Shakespeare shows Illyria, as the Elizabethan society; and Orsino and Olivia as smug, self-centred aristocrats who take advantage of their position, and manipulates the people below them. They drive poor people, to punish others for the errors of society; unfortunately for Malvolio, he is the scapegoat. The aristocrats will never learn the errors of their ways and will continue to do wrong; Orsino, and Olivia, are the same throughout the play; madly in love and must get their way by any means possible, which leaves society very brutal, and deceitful.
The lower working class would have noticed Shakespeare’s failed attempt to make society see, how wrong they are, but the upper middle class, and aristocrats wouldn’t have seen this because of their; self-loving, self-centred, excessive ways. Since Shakespeare realises that society will always be unkind, and corrupt, he creates a world like Illyria in his comedies, where there are always happy endings. This could be said for directors who make films, they try so hard to show society the errors of their ways, but have had many failed attempts, because no one is prepared to pick out their flaws and learn from it.
Another way of interpreting the play is that, it a fun filled, comical, comedy play. It has lots of different characters that create humour. The main example is Sir Toby, a likeable character. In every scene that he is present, there are often elements of humour. The play is also very amusing, with many laughter; the scene where Malvolio is wearing a yellow stocking and cross gartered. This is light-hearted humour; where the audience and readers are suppose to roar with laughter.
It could be argued that Shakespeare is not creating an in-depth understanding play, but a play that shouldn’t be taken seriously, and another form of entertainment for Shakespeare’s audience. It should be enjoyed by a wide variety of people, and the different characters should appeal to the different social classes, like Olivia’s comical side, and Orsino’s excessive idea of what love is. Shakespeare wanted his audience to enjoy the delightful play, and it should not be taken to heart. I enjoyed the play very much, because it was entertaining and hilarious.