Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” Essay
Shakespeare wrote “Twelfth Night” around 1601 which nearly falls in the middle of his career as a dramatist. It is observed that the play follows a similar pattern in terms of style and depiction as the other plays which he wrote during this time such as “The Merchant of Venice” and “As You Like It”. A major common characteristic in the three plays is the role of the female protagonists in each play, as during the Elizabethan era mostly female characters were missing in the plots of the dramas. Although Shakespeare depicts female characters in the main lead yet ironically during the enactment of each play in the theater the role was played by young pre –pubescent boys whose voices had not changed as yet.
“Twelfth Night” is a confusing yet a highly interesting tale about a variety of human behaviors regarding love, deception, relationships and friendships. It is a story of twin brother and sister, Sebastian and Viola who are separated during a ship wreck and land on the shore of Illyria believing that their other sibling is dead. This one misguided assumption gives birth to the whole plot where Viola disguised as Cesario works in Orsino’s court as his page and messenger to deliver love letter to Lady Olivia while ironically falls in love with Orsino herself. The confusing love triangle unveils a highly entertaining romantic comedy depicting the dynamics of relationships of love, friendship and infatuation.
Technically the play is a complex mix of humor and wit along with serious issues such as the actual definition of love and the true meaning of relationships. There is a constant oscillation between bantering of Toby, Maria and Sir Andrew and lovelorn situation of Orsino, Olivia and Viola. The mixing of songs and dialogues also acts an interesting tool to hold the audience enraptured by the action of the play. The play excessively comprises of subtexts where the readers feel as if Shakespeare is criticizing and mocking the norms of the patriarchal society. For example through the character of Feste he mocks the ruling authorities and the language itself which can be inferred as an indirect comment on Shakespeare and his regard for the court and his Highness. As it is also stated in the play where Feste says at one point that he is in trouble with his “lady” i.e. Olivia because he had taken many liberties, which can be synonymous to Shakespeare’s situation as well when it comes to the depiction of the norms of Elizabethan era. Then again another technique used by Shakespeare is the technique of multiple plots within a play. By using this technique Shakespeare uses a variety of subplots along with the story of Viola, Orsino and Olivia i.e. the story of Sir Toby, Maria, Sir Andrew, Sebastian and Aguecheek.
Nevertheless some of the major thematic concerns that are dealt with in this play include theme of appearance and reality, deception and the cliché i.e. love conquers all. In all these thematic concerns it is observed that all of the themes are directly or indirectly related to human behaviors and reactions. Moreover all of these themes explore human psychology and human behavior and the role it plays in the formation of one’s society.