Shakespeare's Twelfth Night | Analysis


23 Mar 2015 14 Dec 2017

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William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, is a rich comedy delving into the innate human desire for love. Shakespeare uses these characters merely as vessels for a larger insight into society as a whole. No person wants what they can truly have, but rather, what they cannot. Shakespeare conveys a cryptic portrayal of romance where his characters are masochists and shows how love can blind and act so impulsively to satisfy an innate need. By ending of the play with three weddings Shakes pear sends the comments that love has no boundaries.

When the reader is first introduced to Duke Orinso, he is accounting the first time he laid eyes upon the lady Olivia. Through the use of language, the Duke speaks of a love that he wishes he could be full of and die away, “If music be the food of love, play on Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting The appetite may sicken, and so die” (Act I, I, 1-3). The Dukes case seems to be self indulgent, and gains enjoyment from being overdramatic. From the on set of the play, he gives off the impression that he knows he will never obtain the love of Olivia, but he enjoys wallowing in self pity, and encouraging others to be sympathetic to his situation as well. In a separate speech, the Duke refers to his desires for Olivia as “my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, E'er since pursue me (Act I, I, 20-24). It seems as though love or romance for him is a game, rather than an emotion to be taken seriously. Throughout the rest of the play, his pursuance of Olivia never ceases, and at one point the even threatens to kill his own servant Cesario because of Olivia’s mistaken thinking that Cesario was the man she had just married. With that threat from the Duke, this comedy could have potentially been turned to tragedy. The Duke never once elaborates on the finer feelings for Olivia, he merely pines over her in a superficial way, and had Olivia given in to his persistence, the Duke would have gained a trophy wife, just someone pretty to look at. Only when Cesario revels himself as a woman, Viola, does the Duke show the capacity to love someone he has had a deeper relationship with than just looks. With this ends his masochistic ways of loving someone who will never love him back, but it says nothing for the sometimes transparent emotions the Duke has.

Another character that falls deeply into a self satisfying love affair is Countess Olivia. Olivia is blinded by love she and ignores the evidence that points to Cesario as actually not being whom he says he is, and over looks the possibility that Cesario might be a female despite his lack of masculine features. Olivia justifies his feminine features as a eunuch and is will to fall in love with Cesario. Olivia decision to fall in love with a eunuch despite knowing she won’t be able to have children enforces shows how that she is willing to cross the boundaries of society for true love.

She describes love as something that comes upon her unexpectedly and out of nowhere, “Not too fast; soft, soft unless the masters were the man. How now? Even so quickly may one catch the plague? (Act I, V .282 -284). Through the next few acts she schemes to obtain the love of Cesario, a measly servant rather than giving her love to the Duke or Sir Andrew to retain the power she has being the woman of the house. It is hard to take the character of Olivia seriously when we first find her in such despair that she doesn’t want to be seen by any man other than her servant Malvolio and her uncle, then in an instant she can turn to giving her love away to a younger, lower class servant that she barely knows.

Shakespeare’s creativity of the foil between the sayings “loves is blind” and Sebastian’s mistaken disguise as being Cesario, Olivia disregards Sebastian comments about being a stranger ignoring him and insisting that he is the man she fell in love with “So comes it, lady, you have been mistook But nature to her bias drew in that. You would have been contracted to a maid Nor are you therein, by my life, deceived, You are betroth'd both to a maid and man” Act (V, I, 2460). The feeling of true love is so strong with in Olivia that she is will to accept a complete stranger to fill him that gap that true love meant. When Viola raveled herself, the reaction of Olivia is very calm for she has married the disguise that she has fallen in love with. Olivia crosses the boundary of basic society values of getting to know some one before marry that person. In the end of the play, both Olivia and Orinso end up happy, but this is mainly because they marry the man and woman versions of the same person.

Viola who was only trying to find refuge from a shipwrecked, disguises herself as a young boy. Viola is left alone and must look to her own resourcefulness to secure her safety. "Conceal me what I am, and be my aid/ for such disguise as haply shall become/ the form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke" (Act I, II, 49-51).

Viola's disguise soon turns into a dilemma, while falling in love with Orsino; she innocently becomes the object of affection of Olivia, the woman she is suppose to help fall in love with Orsino. Orsino looks past the disguise of Cesario and falls in love with Viola regardless of her depictions. When Orsino learns that Cesario is really Viola his actions are surprising. Orsino gives no second thought to the fact that he has fallen in love with a woman while she was disguised as a man. Viola crosses the boundary deception in taking on a disguise to make the Duke fall in love with her.

Maria and Sir Toby’s wedding at the end of the play was very surprising. Sir Toby who is a drunk and has a bit of noble blood falls in love With Olivia’s maid Maria. Sir Toby love for Maria is not because she is beautiful or very attractive but because of her cleverness in handling the hoax on Malvolio “I could marry this wench for this device.” Act (II, IV, 1208). Sir Toby is willing to cross to boundary of social class by marring Maria who happens to be beneath him in society.

In conclusion in Twelfth Night Shakespeare's commentary on love and romance is that most times it is transparent, that people have their own agendas for their feelings, whether it be beauty, power, or social advancement. None of these characters actually had the true feeling of love, but all were melodramatic and flailed around like they had found the loves of their lives, their missing half.


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