Shakespeare wrote the comedy Twelfth Night probably between 1602 to 1602.This period is referred to as the Elizabethan era. This was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth which was between 1558 to 1603.However it was not until 1623 that this play was printed and eventually included in the 1623 copy of the First Folio. During this time England was enjoying social political stability. Art was also respected and appreciated. However this is not to say that the Elizabethan era was without its far share of challenges and tensions especially when it came to religious matters.
The twelfth night is a reference to the Catholic holiday originally labeled as the Epiphany feast. This usually occurred on the eve of the Christmas holiday. This ceremony was marked with pomp and color. It was also a mock ceremony to the extent that women would dress like men and vice versa and servants would don similar attires as their masters. This is a romantic play where protagonist finally strives over the antagonist and everything finally falls in place and they live happily ever after.
Twelfth Night has a lot of influence from theater, history n terms of composition, genre and characters. Having written this play during the Elizabethan era it was only obvious that his play would be a reflection of the said time. Shakespeare uses down to earth and simple characters that the audience can relate with. Shakespeare intended audience comprised of different social classes. This includes he aristocracy, middle class, commoners and persons of varying intellect. Twelfth Night is a symbol of culture. Character names employed are symbolic and metaphoric. For instance the prefix mal for Malvolio may mean bad intentions or desires. Sebastian just like the Saint Sebastian who was thought dead is actually alive and well. Sir Toby Belch is also metaphoric. Toby refers to a mug and belch is the removal of gas from the respiratory system. Feste on the other hand means joy, fun and celebration.
Twelfth Night borrows a lot from theater history in the early modern age. However his works were more influenced by philosophy, theology and physical sciences. It also borrows words and phrases from different languages a process known as neologizing. Similarly Shakespeare equally transformed theatre by way of plot, language, genre and characterization.
There are various themes in the play twelfth night. The most prominent theme is love .Love explores and exposes misdirected desires towards persons of the opposite sex. Love recognizes not only physical beauty but inner qualities of a person. For instance Duke Orsino is in love with Olivia, however we soon realize it is infatuation as he is attracted to her by her physical beauty not her inner self. It is only much later when he realizes the true Olivia that he loves her fully He loves her inner and physical love, this is true love. Love undergoes many challenges and setbacks. However through persistence love will eventually triumph. This is with the exception of Malvolio who does not succeed in his love journey but instead finds himself in pitfall that he struggles to get out of.
The theme gender is perceived as socially constructed. This is shown by the various performances where men dress as women and vice versa. Gender can thus be impersonated by way of mannerism, costume and voice. This is also depicted by Viola disguising herself as a man for all those years without any detection that she is actually female. The theme of gender is tied together with disguise and deception. This raises fundamental questions on the nature of sexual identity and gender. Viola for instance is disguised as a man. Her distinction between female or male and even heterosexual or homosexual is emphasized.
Class difference is also a theme in twelfth Night. It outlines the differences between the various social classes. The occupants of the high status are held in higher regard than the servants. Malvolio for example looks down upon his fellow servants. He also dreams of marrying Olivia and changing his fortunes. This is also illustrated by the servants dressing in similar attire as their masters during the twelfth night.
Structure employed in the play contributes to the overall meaning of the play. The play comprises of different section which work for the betterment of the overall comedy. These sections are not independent of each other; rather they are dependent on each other. These sections are the exposition, development and denouncement. The exposition attempt is at bringing out the characters and their relationship with each other. The development builds up the conflict and tension keeping he audience in suspense. The various scenes are closely interwoven to create suspense, humor and tension. This is the climax of the play. The denouement as the closing section restores stability by resolving conflict. The structure of this play takes a parallel approach where the various subplots are not closely linked together but move in a separate fashion and later join at the finale of the play.
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The conflict is a recurring theme in the play .It is depicted by Violas love for Orsino. Orsino love towards Olivia, Olivia love towards Cesario, Maria’s love for Sir Toby. Malvolio competition for Olivia’s love and affection brings conflict. The conflict of confusion between Cesario and Sebastian also prevails. Sebastian conflict of war between his native country and the foreign country he is residing in. He is continuously on the run in a bid to evade the enemy. The conflict between Sebastian and Viola is resolved when they finally meet and she declares Sebastian to be her long lost brother. Sir Toby marries Maria thus resolving her conflict and the Duke marries Viola. Malvolio conflict is also resolved when the Duke decides to send Fabian to pacify and calm him down (Lothian 17).
Viola is the main protagonist in the Twelfth Night. Viola realizes that the only chance that she has is to disguise herself as a man. She thus comes to be known as Cesario. She works as messenger for Duke Orsino and the Countess Olivia. She keeps this little secret until when her twin brother reappears. The antagonist is Cesario. This is Viola disguise that prevents her from expressing her affection for Orsino (Lothian 24). She also cannot reveal her true identity to Olivia who is attracted to her thus putting them both at cross roads.
There are a number of crises that lead to the climax in Twelfth Night. Viola ship gets wrecked and she is forced to masquerade as a man being female. Viola is later on employed by Orsino who is in love with Olivia. Viola falls for Orsino. Orsino uses Viola as his intermediary to Olivia. Malvolio mistakenly believes that Olivia is in love with him. Sir Andrew and Sir Toby play games on Malvolio and later insist that he is insane thus putting him in confinement. When Sebastian arrives this sows even more confusion.