The character of Sebastian in “Twelfth Night” represents the dynamic factor in an otherwise static equation. Illyria is an immutable place, and the people who live and visit the land become ensnared in a stasis. Shakespeare uses the device of twins to resolve the static tension in “Twelfth Night”. Separated at sea, the twins end up shipwrecked in Illyria, each believing the other has perished. The first sibling, Viola, falls into the stasis that permeates Illyria. It is not until she is reconciled with her brother, Sebastian, that the stasis is dissolved.As we learn from the character of Proteus in Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, the sea has transformative powers. Another of Proteus’s powers is his ability to change shapes. In “Twelfth Night”, Shakespeare applies both themes to Viola and Sebastian. As twins, they represent two halves of a whole. Separated, they are both powerless; reunited, they have the power to control their own destinies and break the static tension of Illyria.The “static tension” in Illyria is most obviously manifested in the grid-locked situation of Duke Orsino’s unrequited love for the Countess Olivia. Orsino pines for the Countess, but she is lost in mourning for her brother, and has sworn herself from the company of men for seven year’s time. All other Illyrian characters in the play serve either Orsino or Olivia, and are thus pulled into the vacuum of their stagnant situation. When Viola is shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria and decides to disguise herself as a man, she falls into the trap. Although she loves Orsino, she cannot reveal herself to him, because he believes she is a man. It is not until her brother, Sebastian, appears in Illyria, that things begin to change.Sebastian’s character is surrounded by a motif of sea-imagery. The first mention of Sebastian is in Act I, Scene II, when Viola laments for the loss of her brother. The Captain, in an attempt to comfort her, alludes to the mythological figure Arion: in classic mythology, Arion was a famous musician (music is another prominent theme in “Twelfth Night”) who escaped certain death by murder aboard a ship by diving overboard, lyre in hand. Hearing the beautiful melody, dolphins came to his rescue and carried him ashore. In Act II, Scene I, when Sebastian and Antonio are washed ashore, Sebastian refers to the sea as the power, which has separated his life from his sister’s: “[we were] both born in an hour. If the heavens had been pleased, we would so had ended. But you sir, altered that, for some hour before you took me from the breach of the sea my sister was drowned” (2.1.17-20).The operative dynamic that first begins to disturb the ceaseless stasis of Illyria begins when Antonio and Sebastian are separated in Act III, Scene III. Sebastian wishes to explore the city; Antonio cannot safely accompany him on the streets of Illyria, due to his involvement in a sea-fight (3.3.26). Antonio, however, is the only variable that distinguishes Sebastian from Viola, who, disguised as a man, is almost identical to her twin brother.In the following scene (Act III, Scene IV) Antonio mistakes Viola (as Cesario) for Sebastian, attempts to defend her in a brawl, and is incarcerated as result. When Viola refuses him the purse for which he implores her (and which he lent to Sebastian) he is confused and hurt by her refusal. After he has gone, Viola reflects: He named Sebastian. I my brother knowYet living in my glass. Even such and soIn favor was my brother, and he wentStill in this fashion, color, ornament,For him I imitate. O, if it prove,Tempests are kind, and salt waves fresh in love! (3.4.366-371).In this lyrical passage, Shakespeare alludes to the changeable powers of the sea, manifested in Viola and Sebastian. Viola also foreshadows her reunion with her brother. Moreover, the dual identity of the figure that appears to be one and the same in Sebastian and Viola – Cesario – ignites a dynamic changeability that effects the other characters in Illyria. The major changes begin to occur in Act IV, Scene I, when Olivia mistakes Sebastian for Cesario. She implores him to come with her, and he responds, “What relish is in this? How runs the stream?/ Or I am mad, or else this is a dream./ Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep./ If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep” (4.1.58-61). As Feste articulates in Act II, Scene IV, the sea makes one’s destination “everywhere, for that’s it that always makes a good voyage of nothing” (2.4.76-7). The change here from sea to stream imagery (as in, “How runs the stream?” and “Lethe”, which is the “mythical river of oblivion”) thus implies a newfound sense of direction in the play. This imagamatic language employed by Sebastian parallels the conceptual development of the plot. Now that Olivia has Sebastian to focus her attentions on, the static situation, which previously dominated, will be overthrown. Sebastian can requite Olivia’s love, a task that had been impossible for Viola, as Cesario. Also, with her brother present, Viola will be able to reveal her true identity. Thus, Orsino can break off his love for Olivia, when he realizes that love for Viola (to whom, as Cesario, he is already greatly attached) is possible. Sebastian foreshadows this multitude of events as “a flood of fortune” (4.3.11). This “flood of fortune,” eventually comes to pass in Act V, Scene I when, amidst a myriad of sea references, Viola and Sebastian’s identities are revealed, each taking on their own shape, and dissolving the static tension. Both believed that they alone had survived the wrath of the stormy sea, whilst the other had been drowned. On seeing Viola, an astonished Sebastian asks, “I had a sister,/ Whom the blind waves and surges have devoured./ Of charity, what kin are you to me?” (5.1.226-8). Viola replies, “Sebastian was my brother… /So went he suited to this watery tomb” (5.1.231-2). By reconciling their true identities with themselves and establishing for the other characters that they are in fact two separate individuals, they are able to break the static bond between Orsino and Olivia. In this manner, they free the other Illyrian characters, as well. Feste ends the play with a song about a storm, “the wind and the rain” – the element that catalyzed the main action in the play. Shakespeare employs the power of the sea in “Twelfth Night” in a manner similar to the power of the forest in “As You Like It”. The sea has changeable, transformative powers, which allow people to disguise their true identities in order to ignite change in the other characters. The characters that are brought to Illyria from the water bring with them the power of the sea. Once they are reunited, that power is unlocked and it destroys the Illyrian stasis that has previously prevailed.
It has often been said that “the clothes make the man.” It could never seem truer than in Twelfth Night where disguises and mistaken identities run the gamut of use. The identity of people, things and ideas are swept away under the facade of something more convenient for the given time or occasion. Viola’s disguise, Maria’s ploy, Feste’s folly and even love fall beneath a mask at the time which most perfectly complicates things nearly beyond salvation. The entanglements raise questions of the nature of reality that only Shakespeare himself can answer.The play begins with Viola discussing the plausibility and necessity of assuming a disguise during her time in Illyria. To her captain she says, “… Conceal me what I am, and be my aid / For such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent,” thus instructing him in her plan to disguise herself. She goes on to say that she shall assume the form of an eunuch, and it is revealed much later in the play that it is actually the guise of her twin brother, Sebastian, at this early point assumed dead, that she chooses. This introduces from the very beginning the importance of disguises and misleading – right alongside the difficult there is in maintaining the misdirection in the face of verity. When she discovers that the very woman her temporary master is asking her to woo for him falls for her male persona, she says, “Disguise, I see, thou art a wickedness wherein the pregnant enemy does much.” She begins to feel the pressure most acutely even before that: she confesses obscurely to Olivia in admitting that “by the very fangs of malice” she is not that she plays. A juxtaposition between the goodly ease of assuming a disguise and the unpleasant mistruths of maintaining it is effectively posed.A proverb in vogue in England at the time Twelfth Night was written becomes a part of the clown’s lines: “Cucullus non facit monachum.” Translated, it means “the cowl does not make the monk” and is understood to mean “the clothes do not make the man” contemporarily. Though this would seem to be in keeping with the compromising situation Viola has been put herein by assuming a disguise, it is later shown that the opposite is true. Quite ironically, it is Feste himself who makes the contradictory assertion: “I would not be in some of your coats for two pence.” The following dialogue expresses it best:MARIA: Nay, I prithee, put on this gown and this beard; make him believe thou art Sir Topas the curate: do it quickly; I’ll call Sir Toby the whilst.CLOWN: Well, I’ll put it on, and I will dissemble myself in ‘t; and I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown. I am not tall enough to become the function well, nor lean enough to be thought a good student; but to be said an honest man and a good housekeeper goes as fairly as to say a careful man and a great scholar.He seems to say that he cannot fully become the position until he dons the clothing that would outwardly signify him to be a member of that class. At the same time, he restates his prior statement regarding the monk by adding that he is not “tall enough to become the function well, nor lean enough to be though a good student,” which can be taken to mean that even when dressed as such it is not the clothing that makes him what he wishes to become. It is the coats and clothing worn that form the ideas of the person, as the final scene with Sebastian and Viola in the same room together for the first time shows, but it is truly what is inside (even if that “inside” is merely beneath the misleading articles of clothing) that makes the person; as Viola herself says early on in the play, “For such as we are made of, such we be.”The subplot with Maria, Sir Toby, Feste and Malvolio (and, partially, Sir Andrew) is perhaps the greatest tribute to the theme of deception. Malvolio is described by Olivia as being “sick of self-love”; Maria uses it against him, explaining “… it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him,” a state further encouraged by courtly etiquette that denies free reign of speech for her to say as much directly to him. In Act II, Sc. V, Malvolio discovers the fruit of the scheming trio’s labors: the letter, written by Maria, that dupes Malvolio into believing that his mistress does indeed love him. As people are wont to do, Malvolio takes each “clue” he’s received to be full and irrefutable proof that what is writ is the truth, never allowing the uncertainties to resolve themselves into something to the contrary. Maria, Sir Toby and Feste play no part in enlightening him, and indeed Malvolio sits in the darkness of ignorance both literally and figuratively at the end of it. His ignorance is a result of deception and his own unwillingness to face the light of the truth. In much literature, darkness symbolizes evil; in Twelfth Night, Malvolio demonstrates this. His half-complete version of the truth, shaped by the deceptive subplot, becomes a case of delusion to the extreme that is resolved only through the vague promise of revenge the character exit’s the play on. In another plot of deception, Sir Toby and Maria cheat Sir Andrew out of his money by fooling him into believing that they are his friends, when truly it is only his money they are after. There are constant references to Sir Andrew being only as good as his purse; they suffer his idiocies for his money, and he (though perhaps unknowingly) suffers their use for friendship.Many essays could be written on the fool Feste’s character alone: he is at once a paradox, and, throughout, an ironic source of direct information. Though he plays the fool, he is often the most perceptive of any of the characters. Viola even notices this (though only once he has revealed to her subtly that he has discovered her disguise): “This fellow is wise enough to play the fool.” His sarcastic wit serves as a comic foil to the seriousness of Sebastian (however much the latter doesn’t appreciate the former), the distracted passion of Orsino, the nervous eagerness of Viola and the jesting and fooling that genuinely exist in Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria. Shakespeare constantly writes in the dialogues bits about “folly” and “fooling,” things that would suggest that Feste is the lesser of the group. In reality, he is the one that holds his head throughout, never falls prey to passion or deception, and ends the play with a song that, true enough, speaks to the play of the day and to the end and resolution of it, when all delusions, deceptions and half-truths are rectified appropriately.
In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare creates a duality between the worlds of the nobility and its associates and the said “outsiders.” There is a great element of selfishness involved in the actions of the characters deemed “in” as they peruse through the play drunk on love or alcohol and immersed in their personal agendas. Whether it is Olivia, Orsino, Viola, and Sebastian wrapped up in their love entanglement or Sir Toby, Maria, Feste, and Fabian concocting malevolent plots, there is the sense that everyone is out for themselves and that most of the humor comes at the unfortunate expense of someone else. Characters that are not in on the schemes contrived by the influential figures are somehow manipulated or played by these schemes eventually. Due to the humorous qualities of Viola’s disguise, Malvolio’s presumptuousness, and Sir Andrew’s foolishness, a lot of the harsh overtones of the play are lost in its complex and funny nature. Also, the rapid, quick-moving pace that facilitates Twelfth Night works to divert the audience’s attention away from the used and abused characters that haunt the plot. Appropriately, the play concludes with much emphasis paid to the comedic resolution of the love square comprised of Olivia, Sebastian, Orsino, and Viola and little paid to those who have been dragged along the way. This neglect to show the whole unpleasant picture is essentially what deems Twelfth Night a comedy. The play pays no attention to the outcome of the “outsiders” and assumes that the audience will forget about them, just as every out character has. But as its alternate title indicates (What You Will), this is a play that can be viewed and judged from many different angles and perspectives. Therefore, when considering the roles of Malvolio, Antonio, and Sir Andrew, it becomes apparent that Twelfth Night is in fact a disturbing play which only finds humor at the sacrifice of others.Malvolio’s case is one of teasing, which is initially deserved, gone awry. He is presented to the audience from the beginning as an easy target, one who is aggravating and always tempting to mock. He is seen early in the play condemning Feste as a common fool, but really strikes a cord when he interrupts the late night racketing of Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste. For there is something eternally annoying to the average person about someone who behaves out of his/her element and exceeds the authority of his/her status.”My masters, are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do ye make an alehouse of my lady’s house, that ye squeak out your coziers’ catches without mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?”Here Malvolio condescendingly scolds Sir Toby and his companions for their drunken and boisterous behavior. This scene sets up the disdain that will lead to Malvolio’s demise because Malvolio is simply a servant. His input is quite out of line and sparks the hatred of the loud partiers. Since Malvolio is immediately shown to be presumptuous and self-righteous, the crowd is able to laugh at and revel in the trick that is devised by Maria and Sir Toby. It fits perfectly because it is Malvolio’s own presumptuousness that allows the trick to work and for him to believe that Olivia actually loves him. But the situation becomes dark and unpleasant upon his imprisonment and flirtation with insanity. The conspirators are wrapped up in confrontations with Viola -Cesario and Sebastian and forget about the servant whose heart they played with and manipulated. Screaming out in agony and immersed in darkness, Malvolio is further wronged by Feste who pretends to be Sir Topas and exasperates Malvolio beyond measure. Feste, whose character bears its own dark depths, questions Malvolio’s sanity and plays with words in an effort to frustrate the abused servant and make him actually go mad. This last measure is born out of pure cruelty and is undoubtedly the point where even some audience members must consider the harshness of Malvolio’s treatment and its injustice. Because when one recalls the roots of this jesting, it becomes apparent that he has committed no crime and has done no wrong toward anyone. Sir Toby and his fellow conspirators were simply angered over Malvolio’s bold condemnation of their behavior and basically lash out at him to ease this insecurity. Sir Toby uses him to facilitate his own amusement. Similarly, he uses Sir Andrew to accommodate his lazy, alcoholic lifestyle.Sir Andrew is a unique character because although he is of the nobility, he is still an “outsider”. His stupidity and foolish nature place him somewhat on the outside of the ring of conspirators and certainly outside the love square. Sir Toby manipulates Sir Andrew in a comparable way to Malvolio because he convinces Sir Andrew that he is capable of attaining Olivia’s hand. He does this in order to keep Sir Andrew around, because Sir Toby is rather broke and could not enjoy his non-working, alcohol inducing lifestyle without him. Sir Andrew is so foolish that he is very easily swindled into believing that he will be with Olivia. In fact, it is his foolishness that makes this circumstance seem rather amusing and innocent on the surface. But his lack of intelligence does not take away his potential to have feelings. Sir Andrew’s heart is coerced and tricked in a similar manner to Malvolio’s. Just as it was cruel in Malvolio’s instance, so it is here for this silly nobleman whose only crime was not being born with enough brains. Beyond this, there are several times when the audience’s laughter is solely at the expense of Sir Andrew. He is strung along through the play never saying the right thing, occasionally being the butt of the joke, and rarely getting jokes directed at others (“Her c’s, her u’s, and her t’s: why that? ). And once again it is hard for the audience to consider the probable darkness of his emotions as the complex plot of the play rapidly develops. Yet at certain points, such as in Act 1, Scene III, Sir Andrew alludes to the sadness that he feels. “I was adored once, too” The fact that he behaves foolishly and is not too intelligent serves as an excuse for Sir Toby to manipulate him throughout the whole play. In the seemingly comical Act 3, Scene IV Sir Toby puts Sir Andrew into a state of great fear by making him fight Viola and convincing him that Viola is a cunning fighter. It comes off as a funny collaboration of events, especially since the audience knows that Viola is harmless, but there is something undeniably cynical about Sir Toby’s deliberate placement of his “friend” in a frightful situation. The realities of his opinion toward Sir Andrew are finally revealed in Act 5 when Sir Andrew, seeking the companionship in a time of mutual injury, is written off by Sir Toby as “an ass-head, and a coxcomb, and a knave, and thin faced knave, a gull” . After declaring his desire to go together to the doctor to heal wounds suffered as a result of Sir Toby’s trick on him, Sir Andrew is harshly rejected as the true colors of Sir Toby’s feelings are shown. These final lines of Sir Toby are very important in that they secure the maliciousness of his intents all along and force the audience to consider the victimization of Sir Andrew throughout the entire play.Antonio, rather than by Sir Toby, is manipulated by the circumstances surrounding the love square and Viola’s “double-dealing”. Antonio, similarly to Sir Andrew, is set up to be abused. But rather than acting foolishly, he is right away seen as being completely selfless and servile to Sebastian. This selflessness serves to ensure the audience of his benevolence and make it that much more tragic when he is wronged. In the streets of Illyria, Antonio informs Sebastian that he is an outlaw of this land and would be imprisoned if he were discovered. This scene is especially interesting in that Sebastian doesn’t seem to care or be interested in Antonio’s safety (the man who saved his life). He simply parts ways with him and goes sightseeing while accepting Antonio’s money. Confusion ensues when Antonio saves Viola from fighting Sir Andrew because he believes her to be Sebastian. When he is apprehended by soldiers, he feels betrayed because Viola, oblivious to the circumstances, claims no knowledge of him and denies him when he requests the money that he had given Sebastian. “Will you deny me now? Is’t possible that my deserts to you can lack persuasion? Do not tempt my misery…” This theme is played upon again when Antonio is brought before Orsino in Viola’s presence and she again denies association with him. He is therefore imprisoned. Now although these turn of events are not directly Viola’s fault, there is the sense that these games that the nobility play result in casualties. This double dealing, just as with Malvolio’s letter and Sir Andrew’s swordfight, is not as innocent as it seems in that it results in the suffering of others. In order to understand the dark depths of the play, it is necessary to consider unseen images such as Antonio lying in a dark jail cell, certain that his friend whom he was loyal to has turned his back on him and allowed him to be imprisoned. To further accentuate the gloominess of Antonio’s situation, Shakespeare does not directly refer to any kind of release of Antonio after the identities are sorted out. They are so wrapped up in their newly and frivolously attained loves that they (especially Viola who created the confusion) make no mention to the fact that Antonio has been wrongly cast to prison with the mindset that he has been sorely betrayed.Twelfth Night is ingenious in its incorporation of dark, upsetting characters into an apparently comical and resolute play. Although this point of view on Malvolio, Sir Andrew, and Antonio presents a horribly tragic angle from which to examine it, the play does not seem at all so upon its performance. The darker elements are subtly woven in so that it could very well come off as a delightfully comic show. Because the play is “what you will” and in no way one dimensional. “A natural perspective, that is and is not!” The viewer has to take it for what he/she will and enjoy it or examine it based on his/her terms. Any given viewer could laugh at the trickery, disguise, play on words, and mistaken identities or be filled with a sense of contemplation and sadness over the exploitation of the outsiders at the expense of those said comedic devises. The outsiders get tangled up in the agendas of those with control and soon after are spit out. And what’s interesting is that none of the outside characters have any type of resolution. As if in their own little tragedy, these characters’ situations are left hanging in the air: untied with bitter and sometimes vengeful airs. But in the spirit of the main characters’ selfishness, their own resolution defines Twelfth Night’s classification as a comedy.
Topic: One theatre critic has said of Twelfth Night: “…the key question seems to me how much one regards it as a festive piece of saturnalia, written for a very specific occasion, and how much as a dark comedy about impermanence and pain.” What is your response to this question?George S. Kaufman duly notes that, “The trouble with Shakespeare is that you never get to sit down unless you’re a king” (Epstein, 2). Similarly, one can also feel exhausted after attempting to discern whether Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, or What You Will is more a festive piece of saturnalia, or more a dark comedy about impermanence and pain. It can of course be argued that this play is a romantic comedy written for a specific occasion. However, a closer examination of the role of the songs, the absurd ending, and the character of Malvolio leads one to see the darker elements of this “comedy,” and conclude that Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is actually intended to be more tragic, and not simply comedic.The songs play a vital role in creating a somber effect throughout the play. A melancholy tone is created immediately at the onset of the play as Orsino is listening to music. He aptly describes his state of distress when he states:If music be the food of love, play on,Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,The appetite may sicken, and so die.That strain again! It had a dying fall;O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet soundThat breathes upon a bank of violets,Stealing and giving odour! Enough, no more!’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.(Twelfth Night, 1.1)Although Orsino’s comments can be interpreted as a way of satirizing the extreme yet almost mechanical emotions exhibited in courtly love, they nonetheless depict the tragic nature of the play. For instance, the reader can especially observe the theme of emotional pain during the fourth scene when Feste sings the following song:Come away, come away death,And is sad cypress let me be laid.Fly away, fly away, breath;I am slain by a fair cruel maid.My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,O, prepare it!My part of death, no one so trueDid share it(TN, 4.2)The song suggests love is both misery and mortality. Appropriately, the song is preceded by an intimate dialogue between Orsino and Cesario, during which Cesario must “kill” Viola’s sexual frustrations. The motif of misery is further exemplified in Feste’s song at the end of the play. He sings about the wind and rain, a song that could seem like a trivial and ridiculous song at a superficial level. However, this last song plays the very crucial function of bringing the audience out of the world of Illyria and back into the reality of an ending holiday season. Hence the songs in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night are placed at strategic points in the play, such as the beginning, ending and around intimate dialogues in order to stress the melancholic elements of the play throughout.Conversely, it could easily be argued that Twelfth Night is a festive piece of saturnalia. This is made especially apparent in the “double dramatic irony” presented in the play (Belsey). For instance, the audience is uncertain about which romantic pairs will form at the end of the play, thereby adding to the suspenseful and comedic effect of the play. Furthermore, the romantic pairs that do form at the end of the play do so in such a simplistic manner that it would be difficult to suggest that the playwright intended the audience to take a play with such an impulsive ending seriously. For example, Sebastian marries Olivia upon minutes of meeting her. Similarly, Orsino proposes to Cesario while she is still in her male disguise, thereby contributing to the light-hearted ambiance of the play. Likewise, the subtitle of the play, What You Will, further suggests the carefree nature of the play, where everyone “will” do as they desire, especially in their romantic lives. For example, the characters of the play fall in love with whoever appeals to them, without any regard for class or gender. In fact, the Italian word for “will” is “volio,” a word that constantly appears throughout the play in the form of anagrams in the characters’ names (Belsey). Hence, the emphasis on “will,” and moreover, “free will” is continually highlighted in the play. In fact, Shakespeare composes his work Twelfth Night, or What You Will for a holiday season, so it is easy to assume that the play is intended to be a merry comedy.Although it would be easy to mistake Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will as a comic piece of saturnalia written for a specific holiday, it is essential to examine the context in which the play is first presented. Shakespeare premiered his Twelfth Night, or What You Will to a smaller audience as opposed to a larger audience in the Globe theater. An entirely comical play would have been inappropriate for such an intimate audience (Auden, 153). According to literary critic W.H. Auden:…at the time Shakespeare wrote the play, he seems to have been averse to pleasantness. The comic convention in which the play is set prevents him from giving direct expression to this mood, but the mood keeps disturbing, even spoiling, the comic feeling. One has a sense, and nowhere more strongly than in the songs, of there being inverted commas around the “fun.” The plays that followed Twelfth Night are the tragedies, as well as Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well, which are considered his dark comedies. (Auden,152)In assessing the social context of the play, we are given additional insight into its true melancholic nature. Analyzing simply the dramatic irony and subtitle of the play could lead one to falsely conclude that Twelfth Night is only a romantic comedy. In essence, the play is about both “love and grief, their pains and their pleasures and how these emotions are often indistinguishable” (Epstein,135, emphasis added).The greatest example of the melancholy nature of Twelfth Night is evident in the absurd ending. It can be seen as comic when Sebastian agrees to marry Olivia without hesitation upon minutes of meeting her, and that Orsino proposes to Cesario, not Viola. However, there is an extremely unsettling element to this ending that prevents the audience from leaving the play with untainted exuberance. For instance, the individuals of the romantic pairs that form at the end of the play exhibit compromise. That is, Olivia, Viola, Orsino and to some extent Sebastian, do not obtain partners they truly desire. For example, although Olivia is truly in love with Cesario, she must settle for marrying Sebastian as his body is that of a male, unlike his disguised sister. However, it is important to note that it is precisely his disguised sister who Olivia sincerely adores, that is, Olivia loves Cesario for more than just “his” body, but for his mannerisms as well. Of course, Cesario’s personality is undoubtedly comprised of Viola’s feminine traits, and therefore, it would be unfulfilling for Olivia to marry Sebastian. Likewise, it is also crucial to note that Orsino falls in love with Cesario, and not Viola. Although he proposes to Cesario, he must actually marry Viola in order to conform to the social conventions of his time. It could be assumed that Orsino exhibits homosexual tendencies, as is demonstrated by his extreme performance of the courtly lover to Olivia. He professes his undying love for Olivia continually, yet falls out of love with her almost instantaneously. He ironically describes in his dialogue with Cesario that:There is no woman’s sidesCan bide the beating of so strong a passionAs love doth give my heart; no woman’s heartSo big, to hold so much…Make no compareBetween that love a woman can bear meAnd that I owe Olivia.(TN, 2.4)We can infer from Orsino’s remarks and behaviour that he is not just impulsive, but perhaps also a homosexual, for he expresses that only men are capable of loving passionately and later goes on to propose to Cesario. Of course, the character who makes one of the greatest compromises in love is Viola, for she marries a man who does not love the woman in her, but her male form of Cesario. Even Sebastian must abandon his loyal companion Antonio in order to earn a place in the chaotic Illyria. When Antonio is left isolated without his love Sebastian at the end of the play it creates a lasting impression of the pain enmeshed with love. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night certainly emphasizes the impermanence and pain of love, as is most evident in the “not-so happy” ending of the play.In addition to the seclusion of Antonio at the end of the play, the depiction of Malvolio at the end also leaves an unsettling feeling of impending doom with the audience. Moreover, it is not only the unjust treatment of Malvolio at the end of the play, but rather, his entire character throughout the play that dampens the merriment of this supposed comedy. Malvolio is a member of the rising mercantile class, and therefore not a member of the elite aristocratic class of people surrounding him. He is even reminded of his mediocre status by the lewd Sir Toby, who asks Malvolio, “Art any more than a steward?” (TN, 2.1). Malvolio’s desperate attempts to rise in status lead to an uptight and arrogant disposition that elicits scorn from his acquaintances, and ultimately results in his demise. As the practical joke against Malvolio goes to an extreme and he is artificially deemed insane, the viewer may be tempted to lament for a character who is so far obsessed with the appearance of his virtue that he does in a way become insane over the idea of gaining greater influence. Though Malvolio’s thirst for power can be largely attributed to his egotism, one can feel sympathy for him when considering that this thirst stems from his insecurity over belonging to a mediocre class. Most importantly, the audience is left with a very bitter ending with Malvolio’s final cry of “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” (TN, 5.1). As critic David Jones describes, this exclamation “casts an even longer shadow over the play as it is going to have its answer forty years down the line when the Puritans come to power in England and every theatre in London is shut down” (Epstein, 137). Thus, Malvolio only heightens the emphasis on impermanence and pain in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will is a chaotic play infused with elements of sadness that are thinly blanketed by comedic pleasantry. The melancholy aspects are mostly exhibited through the songs in the play, the absurd ending and the character of Malvolio. Shakespeare often employs gender reversal in his plays in order to stress that “All the world is a stage” and we are all merely playing roles, ones that can be easily disguised and reversed. However, I believe that in Twelfth Night his goal with gender reversal is more profound because he suggests that we are not only actors in the drama of life, but we also play the roles that society demands of us. That is, we must suppress our innate desires in order to conform to externally set standards, and ultimately, it is when we deny ourselves our true passions that insecurities develop and lead to our misery and downfall. We see this depressing effect too clearly in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, when the major characters must settle for less than what they desire in marriage partners, and most especially with the tormented Malvolio. Thus, it is difficult to classify this play as simply saturnalia, as it should be more appropriately deemed as a dark comedy about impermanence and pain.BibliographyAuden, W.H. Lectures on Shakespeare. Ed. Arthur Kirsch. Princton: Princeton University Press, 2000.Belsey, Catherine “Twelfth Night: A Modern Perspective”. Twelfth Night. The New Folger Library Shakespeare. Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 2003.Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Shakespeare. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1990.Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night, or What You Will. The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume A. Ed. David Damrosch. Second Edition. New York: Pearson, 2003. 742-796.
Because disguise and mistaken identity is such a central theme in many of Shakespeare’s comedies, so too then is gender ambiguity, with many female characters disguising themselves as men. The fact that young male actors played these characters, making them a boy dressed as a woman dressed as a boy, further augments this ambiguity. This ambiguity then extends from gender to sexuality in Twelfth Night with a true love triangle between Orsino, Olivia and Viola (or Cesario as Olivia knows her). This love triangle could be completely heterosexual, if one interprets Olivia’s character as only attracted to “Cesario” as a male, could be simply bisexual, or could be “sexually fluid,” defying easy categorization and reveling in the complexities of androgyny.
When discussing sexuality in any Shakespeare play one must note that concepts of sexuality were different than from the modern perception of strict, specific identity labels for gender and sexuality. Casey Charles sums the perspective of the Renaissance up neatly in his article “Gender Trouble in Twelfth Night” saying Shakespeare’s plays, including Twelfth Night, were written in “an early modern culture in which the categories of homo- and bisexuality were neither fixed nor associated with identity” (121). This lack of fixed sexual and gender identities in this era means that it would be meaningless to apply such labels retroactively to characters or even historical people of the era as they would have not been conceived of nor conceived of themselves as such. However we still can and should try to categorize the behavior of characters and how that relates to their contemporary attitudes on gender and sex. In fact, there are people such as Lorna Hutson who says in her article “On Not Being Deceived: Rhetoric and the Body in Twelfth Night” that it is a fallacy to contemplate “how characters negotiate their individual desires in the plays as if they were real people and not even partly figures in a persuasive discourse or agents of a plot” (146). Analyzing the sexual behaviors of the characters is important to analyzing the perspective of the play as a whole, as none of their actions are incidental to the plot and therefore message of the play.
Aside from the absence of the concept of sexuality as identity in the Elizabethan era, another important attitude towards sexual behavior and gender is illustrated in Plato’s Symposium. As someone educated during the Renaissance, Shakespeare would have been very familiar with both the original classical writings and the perspectives that they dispersed through society. In his article “‘Maid and Man’ in Twelfth Night” William W.E. Slights describes the fable in Symposium in which humans originally had two faces, four arms and four legs but were split apart by the gods and left to search for their other half. This fable explains the different possible sexual orientations, as some of these original humans were completely male (children of the sun), completely female (children of the earth), or androgynous (children of the moon), being half male and female (331-332). The detail that the androgynous humans were the ones who represented heterosexual union, illustrates a difference from the modern perspective that associates gender ambiguity with homosexuality. Because of their preoccupation with classical ideals, people during the Renaissance also held the perspective illustrated in Symposium in which androgyny is associated with heterosexual unions meaning that the androgyny of a character would not be connected with homosexual behavior, and instead one could see it to represent a perfect heterosexual union.
In Twelfth Night, then, initial Elizabethan audiences would not have necessarily associating Viola’s cross-dressing with lesbian behavior. As Jessica Tvordi argues in her essay “Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night,” “The female transvestite’s activities, however, tend to highlight the potential for male characters— As You Like It’s Orlando and Twelfth Night’s Orsino, for example— to cross erotic boundaries through their interactions with the transvestite figure rather than to illuminate discussions of the representation of female sexuality” (115). Tvordi’s argument then is that female cross dressing in Shakespeare’s plays are not about the women’s sexuality but instead are only opportunities for the male characters to explore their own sexualities. However, one could argue that this a sexist interpretation that asserts that female sexuality is rendered unimportant or at least only the subject to male sexuality once male sexuality is also present. Viola in fact does assert her own sexuality, particularly in her interactions with Olivia, completely removed from the context of male sexuality. Charles says:
the limitation of the consequences of theatrical cross-dressing to the evocation of male homoeroticism ignores the ambiguities that transvestism creates and reinstates the restriction of gender binarism into the discussion of homoerotics. Women were in attendance at the Globe, and there is no reason to ignore female homoerotics as part of the disruptions that cross-dressing explores. (132)
Just because male homoeroticism is an aspect of the sexual ambiguity presented by Viola’s crossdressing does not mean that the homoerotic behaviors between Viola and Olivia cannot also be an aspect.
Viola’s actions while crossdressing can be further pulled into question, especially as to whether her actions while dressed as a man as actually challenging her role as a woman. While Tvordi and even Charles argue that Viola “does not use her disguise to gain power, but only to secure her position as a dutiful wife. She never actually challenges patriarchy” (Charles 135), I would argue that Viola’s actions are subversive. For example, in Act I, scene v, when she woos Olivia for Orsino and improvises instead of reciting what Orsino has written. In this scene Viola has a poem of Orsino’s to read to Olivia which follows the traditional masculine pattern which refers to the female subject in the poem as subject only to the actions of the male speaker, not to her own desires. Olivia asks Viola for her own feelings, Viola improvises, acknowledging Olivia’s desires and by extension her own. In “Glimpsing a ‘Lesbian’ Poetics in Twelfth Night,” Jami Ake describes this moment as breaking “Petrarchan conventions [that] demand…female silence” (379). This scene presents an opportunity for the normal female subjects of poetry to speak for themselves and of their desires. Ake notes that Viola’s speech is particularly interesting in that she, “in imaginatively situating herself as Olivia’s wooer, does not conceive of herself as simply substituting for the duke, but as loving…with the same sort of erotic intensity as Orsino” (380). This is the scene in which Olivia falls in love with Viola as Cesario and in her essay “On Not Being Deceived: Rhetoric and the Body in Twelfth Night,” Lorna Hutson says Olivia’s attraction to Viola as Cesario “resides less in the androgynous beauty of the body, than in the body conceived as the medium of elocutio” (160), which Ake’s argument also supports. That is, it is through her words that Viola accidentally woos Olivia and not through her body, making Olivia’s desire for Viola inherently unconcerned with gender.
Twelfth Night revels in both complexities of gender and of sexual behaviors, but just as in the prevailing attitudes the Elizabethan era, the two are not necessarily connected. However, one could incorporate the historical perspective on gender and sexuality into the modern viewpoint. That is, the perspective must come full circle from an early modern perspective in which concepts of “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” were only just developing, to a modern perspective in which labels for sexual and gender identities are hyper categorized and specific, and we often apply said labels retroactively to historic figures who would have had no such concepts, to finally a perspective where we once again acknowledge ambiguity, because although labels may be useful to a point one can never fully capture every nuance. One cannot clearly define Olivia as bisexual for her love of Cesario/Viola, and it would be a stretch to apply the modern concept of transgender identity to Viola. Humans, it seems, are not cleanly divided as Plato’s children of the sun, earth, and moon.
Ake, Jami. “Glimpsing a ‘Lesbian’ Poetics in Twelfth Night.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 43.2 (Spring, 2003): 375-394. JSTOR. Web. Accessed 21 Oct. 2016. www.jstor.org/stable/4625073.
Charles, Casey. “Gender Trouble in Twelfth Night.” Theatre Journal, 49.2 (May, 1997): 121-141. JSTOR. Web. Accessed 21 Oct. 2016. www.jstor.org/stable/3208678
Gay, Penny. “Twelfth Night: Desire and Its Discontents.” As She Likes It: Shakespeare’s Unruly Women. Routledge, 1994, pp. 17-47. Print.
Hutson, Lorna. “On Not Being Deceived: Rhetoric and the Body in Twelfth Night.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 38.2 (SUMMER 1996): 140-174. JSTOR. Web. Accessed 21 Oct. 2016. www.jstor.org/stable/40755095
Slights, William W. E. “‘Maid and Man’ in Twelfth Night.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 80.3 (Jul., 1981): 327-348. JSTOR. Web. Accessed 21 Oct. 2016. www.jstor.org/stable/27708834
Tvordi, Jessica. “Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night.” Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England. Edited by Susan Frye and Karen Robertson, Oxford University Press (US), 1998, pp. 114-127. Print.
Initially, the salient fool in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night appears to be Feste — a licensed jester. Yet upon further examination, we see that Shakespeare merely uses Feste as a critic of the comedic disarray in Illyria, which parallels the festival Twelfth Night. The nature of the play turns both the class structure and moral values on their head, producing a comedy where even the disciplined Puritan Malvolio is mocked for his social position. His restrained and harsh nature makes him an attractive target for the pranks of others,therefore Malvolio is not only a victim of comedy but a true fool.
Shakespeare presents ambition as Malvolio’s hamartia; this quality ostrcises him from the group of other characters in the play due to his strong belief in his exalted position. Alienation makes Malvolio susceptible to the pranks of others and thus he is presented as the real fool. Malvolio enters Act 2 Scene 5 expressing a sanguine soliloquy which concludes with the rhetorical question “What should I think on’t?,” suggesting to the audience that he is lost in a fantasy, this interpretation is strengthened by the nature of the soliloquy as this is the action of speaking one’s thoughts regardless of who hears. The lexical field of personal pronouns such as “me” and “my” within the soliloquy magnifies his egotistical nature and is particularly effective in presenting Malvolio’s only interest in being his status and marriage to Olivia. Additionally, the disparity between “Count Malvolio’s” soliloquy and the preceding conversation involving Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria is tacit in illustrating Malvolio as foolish. Maria animalizes Malvolio, calling him “the trout that must be caught with tickling”, showing how the other characters perceive him as being witless and easily tamable. It is clear to see that whilst the others mock Malvolio, he is blatantly unaware of this and is therefore made into the laughing stock of the scene. This scene would be particularly constructive in generating laughter from an Elizabethan audience, since an they would have had more of a defined and impermeable class system.
Malvolio’s desire to marry into a higher class would have been deemed controversial within his era, an act of sheer folly which would have been laughed at as interclass marriages were rare and unadvised. With this in mind, Malvolio’s thoughts regarding his position can be said to be nothing less than outrageous and this absurdity leads us to conclude that Malvolio is truly foolish. As well as ostricising Malvolio from the rest of the play’s characters, Shakespeare also juxtaposes Malvolio with Feste, the other recognizable fool . It is especially effective because it allows us to view them as fools in different ways. Feste is the licensed fool- this was the role of someone that was hired in Elizabethan times by the household to entertain its inhabitants. From the very beginning of the play we note even the contrast of their names, “Malvolio” meaning “ill will” and “Feste” congruent with the play’s title “Twelfth Night” meaning “festivity and joyful”. Even in Malvolio’s name, we see that he is divergent not only with Feste, but the context of the Twelfth Night festivity and merry-making, therefore it is understandable that she should be the target of comedy and mockery. Both Malvio and Feste are critical of other characters in the play, in this way they could be seen as alike. Philip Sidney states in The Defence of Poetry that “comedy is an imitation of the common errors of our life” which could be interpreted as comedy being a critical device of both the characters and general population of the time. Feste achieves this comedy through his wit and mockery of other characters, thus he is an outsider in the play who is used to verbalize the idiotic and pernicious actions of the other characters. Feste’s lines are littered with cheek and charm in Act1 Scene5 when he lambastes Olivia for the mourning of her brother. He speaks in prose when he asks “Good madonna, why mourn’st thou?” displaying a casual tone despite the nature of the matter being serious. By addressing her as “madonna” we see that his tone is playful, almost too bold for his social position. The audience sees that Feste has the upperhand in the conversation and so Shakespeare fosters critical comedy though Feste mocking Olivia for her lack of intelligence.
Conversely, Shakespeare creates this same comedy using Malvolio’s own foolishness to mock the folly of the wider audience, which substantially differs from the role of Feste. Malvolio enters Act 2 Scene 3 angry with an accusative tone in his voice when he interrogates Sir Toby and Sir Andrew with “Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty…” which is profoundly ironic as it is Malvolio who possesses none of these qualities. By listing his slanders, Malvolio quantifies them, making his tone all the more abrasive which is haughty considering that his status makes him subordinate to the others. Malvolio is lampooned for this behaviour as it is out of place and arrogant. Moreover, unlike Feste, Malvolio’s social status and well-being decline as a result of this cruel behaviour, presenting himself as a fool once more. Whilst Feste retains his position as the critic throughout the play, Malvolio on the other hand receives “special care” locked and tortured in a dark room as recompense for his censorious behaviour to the others. Certainly, there is merit to Philip Sidney’s statement, however it is the role of the real fool in the play to mock society through their own folly and this is evidently the role of Malvolio. Shakespeare uses Malvolio’s religious position as a “kind of puritan” to present him as an unfortunate natural fool, yet a different interpretation could be that Shakespeare also conceals his own opinion of Puritanism through characters in Twelfth Night. Religious tensions that existed at the time between the Puritans and Catholics were particularly prevalent, despite this Shakespeare was able to give his opinion on the follies of larger society and religion through the voices of his characters.
Malvolio is often relied upon by Olivia for his somber Puritan nature, claiming that he is “sad and civil” which is apt when we consider that she is in mourning. However, audience anticipation is increased when Maria announces in Act 3 Scene 4 that Malvolio is somewhat deranged. Upon arrival — and appearingly upon instruction from Olivia — Malvolio is dressed in “yellow stockings, cross gartered” which would look aesthetically distasteful and bizarre on stage. It is ironic that this clothing should contrast with the black attire of a Puritan. Furthermore his clothing could be likened to a Jester’s motley which is jocular as we see that Malvolio is now also the visual representation of the fool. His entrance proceeds with a conversation between him and Olivia riddled with sexual obfuscation on Malvolio’s part. Self-assured, he declares “To bed! ay, sweetheart; and ill come to thee” which shows a complete disregard for his previous strict Puritan beliefs as sex before marriage would have been extremely injudicious. It is foolish of Malvolio to neglect the fundamental morals which he stands by as this lunacy achieves him nothing but unrequited love. As Malvolio commences with his adage “some are born great…” his lines are cut short by Olivia’s constant questions, making the flow of conversation disjointed and awkward, letting the audience cringe at the senselessness of Malvolio’s advances. Act 4 Scene 1 in the play provides a significant structural turning point where we see Malvolio transform from a mere fool to a victim of Shakespeare’s comedy. After Feste and Sir Toby torture Malvolio the supposed “lunatic,” we see that he becomes truly broken as he pleads with Feste, repeatedly calling him “good Sir Topas” in a desperate bid for sympathy. The title is significant as we finally see Malvolio address someone in a formal and complimentary manner, which makes us sympathise him rather than brand him a fool. Oddly enough, it was popular in Elizabethen England to torture those who may have been mentally ill, as it was believed that they were possesed by evil spirits.
While a modern day audience might view Malvolio as a victim of a cruel dupe, an audience of the time would be desensitized to this barbarity. Malvolio would yet again be deemed the real fool as we see him strain under the oppressive nature of others. There are various opinions as to who is the real fool of the play, some critics argue that the comedy is contingent upon all of the characters being outfoxed by one another, with no true fool. Another interpretation is that it is the audience and wider public that are made to look foolish, with Twelfth Night constructed as a satirical jeer at society’s customs and beliefs. Although these arguments are reasonably strong, Malvolio is irrefutably the most conspicuous fool. He is not only deceived by others, but is also the epitome of hypocrisy, criticising characters such as Sir Toby for immoral behaviour but acting impulsively and recklessly in his pursuit of Olivia. For this reason, Malvolio can be deemed the real fool of Twelfth Night.
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night has a host of characters: a cross-dressing woman, an uppity, lower-class servant, a quick-witted, tricky gentlewoman, a rowdy, vulgar nobleman and his misguided friend. With so many characters to keep track of, an array of relationships comes into play as well. Some of the more prominent relationships discussed concern the alliance of women––specifically Olivia and Maria, the bond between Viola and Sebastian and their deceased father, and the connection between love and service. The bond between Maria and Olivia is examined in “Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night” by Jessica Tvordi. “Missing Fathers: Twelfth Night and the Reformation of Mourning” by Suzanne Penuel discusses the differences and similarities in Viola’s and Sebastian’s use of their dead father’s social status in their new home. Finally, “Love and Service in Twelfth Night and the Sonnets” by David Schalkwyk delves into the love that is formed between servants and their masters in the play and how service leads to intimate relationships.The relationship between Maria and Olivia is analyzed in Tvordi’s “Female Alliance” as being one that is based on social needs. Tvordi discusses how Maria and Olivia use each other to maintain their independence and autonomy as females within the household. She then lays out the course of their relationship, from Olivia’s betrayal of their alliance to Maria’s revenge.Tvordi claims that Maria and Olivia “support one another in the face of male challenges to female authority, and they rely upon one another to secure their positions within social and economic hierarchies” (114). As Olivia’s right-hand woman, Maria has a role of importance in the household. In order to maintain that importance, Maria has to “interfere in the romantic affairs of Olivia (116). In turn, Maria’s meddling allows Olivia to maintain her autonomy within her household, as there are no male suitors to take control. The alliance benefits both of them, so it is continued – until Olivia falls into the arms of Cesario.Olivia’s pursuit of Cesario jeopardizes Maria’s value to Olivia. It is for this reason, according to Tvordi, that Maria involves herself in the humiliation of Malvolio (124). Maria reinstates her importance through her scheme in two ways: “the hostile sexual attacks of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste on Olivia” are directed elsewhere, and “it allows Maria to humiliate Malvolio, the one member of Olivia’s household that most resents Maria’s authority” (124). When the female alliance is broken off, Maria finds a way to ensure that she remains a commanding presence.The broken relationship between Maria and Olivia is patched up by the end of the play, however. They both marry––Maria to Sir Toby and Olivia to Sebastian––allowing them to fulfill their societal obligation as women. After the marriage, they both have energy to refocus their energies and form an alliance that benefits them both once more, even including Viola in the relationship as Olivia welcomes her “A sister! You are she” (V.i.325). In the face of heterosexuality and society’s expectations, the female alliance remains and even gains a new member.In “Missing Fathers”, author Suzanne Penuel discusses the impact of deceased fathers on their children. She contends that the seemingly insignificant absence of Sebastian Sr. actually has a large effect on how Viola and Sebastian find their way after the shipwreck on Illyria. She goes on to examine Viola’s and Sebastian’s use of their dead father’s social position as well as how their relationship with him is through time and doubling of roles.Penuel makes the twins’ father important in the play by arguing that “what is crucial about the twins’ father is his place in the larger world” (81). Both twins speak of their father in high esteem. When speaking to Antonio, Sebastian tells him “my father was that Sebastian of Messaline/Whom I know you have heard of” (II.i.16-18). Viola, when discovering Sebastian was not killed in the wreck, identifies herself by saying “Of Messaline: Sebastian was my father” (V.i.225). It is obvious that their father was an important man, and they both derive part of their identity from his existence as a nobleman high in social status. Without their father’s name, neither one of them would have been given help in Illyria by the captains that rescued them. Sebastian uses his father’s prowess to find help in Antonio, and Viola uses his economic status by using gold to pay the captain for information and help.“The play’s language,” Penuel maintains, “tends to figure the passage of time as deprivation––of people, of pleasure, of love” (78). This is proven by the fact that the time, although relatively short, that Sebastian and Viola are separated during the shipwreck leave them with a feeling of despair, and both wish that they would have died so as not to bear the grief of their twin dying. The same holds true for Sebastian Sr. The time up to the shipwreck has brought the twins through a hectic and trying time, a time that distances them even further from their father’s spirit. According to Penuel, “Sebastian voices a longing for passivity…immobility, for boundness” (77). A suspension of time would prevent the twins from “moving” further away from their father and his name and lineage, and thus the connection between Sebastian Sr. and his children is time.Another connection between the twins and their father is doubling in the play. Sebastian, in name and manner, “is a doubling that replicates the parent and what the parent signifies” (79). Even though the father is dead, his role in the family lives on through Sebastian Jr. In addition, “Viola’s transformation…in it’s female-to-male transvestism, represents the perpetuation of the father’s name and lineage” (79). Essentially, Sebastian Sr., although absent in the flesh, is preserved through his children themselves as well as the desire to suspend time. In this way, the father plays a vital role in the play despite his not having a single line for the entirety of Twelfth Night.David Schalkwyk’s article, “Love and Service,” asserts another relationship: that the presence of service in Twelfth Night is always connected to desire. He uses multiple examples of this sort of relationship to prove his point and proceeds to speak more specifically about why Malvolio fails in his pursuit of Olivia while Cesario/Viola proves victorious with Orsino. Schalkwyk concludes that the intimacy of selfless devotion to a master leads to love and the closing of any social gaps that may be present.Schalkwyk begins his article by giving background information on the common aristocratic household in Shakespeare’s time period, holding that an “extraordinarily complex set of relations existed between authority and service” and that “authority was besieged with obligations of love and care” (78). We can see his point reflected clearly when Malvolio feels that his selfless devotion to Olivia as her steward warrants him the reciprocity of her love. When he confronts Olivia about the wrongs done against him by Maria, Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew, and Fabian, he says that she “Bade me come smiling and cross-gartered to you/To put on yellow stockings, and to frown/Upon Sir Toby and the lighter people” and then imprisoned him when he did exactly what he was told (V.i.331-338). Even though Olivia was clearly innocent of Malvolio’s humiliation, his clear expectation is that Olivia love him for his devoted service.Another point that Schalkwyk makes is that “every instance of desire within the play is intertwined with service” (87). Viola’s service to Orsino is coupled with her desire to marry him, and Olivia loves Viola/Cesario, Orsino’s servant. Malvolio desires social elevation through marrying his mistress, Olivia. Antonio waits hand and foot on Sebastian after the shipwreck and clearly expects love in return. Even Maria is rewarded for her nasty trick on Malvolio in her marriage to Sir Toby. Every relationship in the play is one forged between a servant and a master. Even Orsino, who at first longs for Olivia, ends up marrying Cesario/Viola––his pageboy.But why are some of these desires followed through with marriage while others are left unrequited? Schalkwyk answers this question by comparing Cesario and Malvolio. At the social level, “there is…not a significant difference in rank between Malvolio and Cesario” (87). However, “service facilitates the erotic dimensions of these relationships” (90). Here lies the difference between Malvolio and Cesario. Cesario/Viola’s “complete attentiveness to [Orsino’s] will provokes promises of…reward” but Malvolio’s devotion to Olivia breaks down after his humiliation, even after he learns that she is not at fault (90). Even though Viola finds herself in love with Orsino, she still follows through on his orders promising “I’ll do my best/To woo your lady” while acknowledging to herself “Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife” (I.iv.42-44). Viola/Cesario’s unwavering service brings the reward of marriage to Orsino while Malvolio’s public declaration of revenge on Olivia leaves him bitter and alone.Schalkwyk’s overarching point in the article is that “literal service, sexual desire, and loving devotion intersect in complex ways” (95). He explains that although “the submission required by service infringes on the possibility, quality, and reciprocity of love and desire,” service also results in love because it “holds out the promise of reciprocity in sexual love” (95). Here two contradictory ideas come together to explain why not all servants––like Malvolio and Antonio––have their love returned by their masters.The relationship between love and service is irrefutably present in Twelfth Night, and Schalkwyk makes solid points in reasoning why some characters’ erotic endeavors flounder and why others’ succeed. However, Schalkwyk fails to acknowledge another possible reason for these discrepancies: the economic class of the servants. Schalkwyk mentions that “Cesario and Malvolio are of equal social rank” but doesn’t account for the fact that, although they are both servants, they came from different economic backgrounds. Viola/Cesario is from nobility, but Malvolio is chosen from a lower class. When Olivia meets Viola/Cesario for the first time, she asks, “What is your parentage?” to which Viola/Cesario answers, “my state is well: I am a gentleman” (I.v.252-254). It is only then that Olivia allows herself to pursue Cesario’s love. Olivia, knowing of Cesario’s background, has an interest in him, but not in Malvolio, who was hired as a servant from a lower class.Together, these articles convey the complexities of relationships in Twelfth Night. Each character is part of one or more relationships, and the formation or dissolution of the bond(s) is where the comedy and story lie. Works CitedPenuel, Suzanne. “Missing Fathers: Twelfth Night and the Reformation of Mourning.” Studies in Philology 107.1 (2010): 74-83.ProQuest Research Library. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.Schalkwyk, David. “Love and Service in Twelfth Night and the Sonnets.” Shakespeare Quarterly 56.1 (2005): 76-79, 86-97.ProQuest Research Library. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night; Or, What You Will. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.Tvordi, Jessica. Female Alliance and the Construction of Homoeroticism in As You Like It and Twelfth Night. Maids and Mistresses, Cousins and Queens: Women’s Alliances in Early Modern England. Ed. Susan Frye and Karen Robertson. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 114-117, 121-127. Print.
In Shakespeare’s Othello, the primary obstacle in Othello and Desdemona’s relationship is Othello’s race, and hence, his status as an outsider. This difference becomes a barrier when Brabantio objects to their marriage, however, it plays much more of a role in facilitating Iago’s manipulation and amplifying Othello’s paranoia. Othello’s paranoia changes his perception of his relationship with Desdemona and, by extension, his actions towards consolidating it. On the other hand, Antonio and Sebastian in Twelfth Night do not have to bear the burden of any social stigma by virtue of the fact that they are isolated from society. Though it could be argued that societal pressure, or lack thereof, is what lets Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship thrive and forces Othello and Desdemona’s to fail, the inner workings of the relationships and the forces holding the couples together are more powerful than external factors. The imagery that Shakespeare uses in the dialogue between Antonio and Sebastian suggests that they have had some sort of physical or sexual relationship, whereas each time Othello and Desdemona try to consummate their marriage, there is some form of comedic interruption. Sexual tension functions as a microcosmic representation of overall tension in these relationships. Shakespeare uses this physical expression of a largely emotional sensation to emphasize the links between conscious and subconscious processes. Sexual tension is the most important determinant in the path of these relationships, leading the audience to wonder why certain characters have so much chemistry while others are never able to pursue their connection. The secluded setting of Antonio and Sebastian’s meeting ‘somewhere off the coast of Illyria’ (which presumably occurred before the play takes place) allows the characters to be entirely removed from the rules of society, and, by extension, the stigma surrounding homosexual relationships. At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare portrays Antonio and Sebastian’s love as pure and tender. He also gives the characters feminine qualities. For example, Antonio is ‘near the manners of [his] mother’, and wishes Sebastian the ‘gentleness of all the gods’ (2.1.32-37). This feminine imagery implies that these two men are not obligated to adhere to traditional images of masculinity. Regardless, in the final scene, Sebastian marries Olivia without a second look at Antonio. This suggests that once the two men have entered mainstream society, Sebastian feels the social pressures and quickly conforms to heteronormative ideals. The ease with which societal norms affect Sebastian’s desire gives the impression that his romance with Antonio was not a result of latent homosexuality, but rather a desire for intimacy that could have been fulfilled by a person of either gender. Shakespeare suggests that sexuality is based on a fundamental human need, and is hence fluid, adhering to whatever path obstacles carve for it. Societal pressures are ultimately more powerful than Sebastian’s feelings towards Antonio, and the nature of his desire changes as a result. Shakespeare never offers the audience knowledge of Antonio’s reactions to the denouement of the play, or shares what will happen to him after the play has ended. Rather, Antonio becomes a casualty of the web of arbitrary heterosexual pairings that come together in the play’s finale, suggesting that external circumstances prevail over emotion in determining desire. Similar to the ocean in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare uses Cyprus in Othello as an isolated location where the characters are removed from their daily lives, and, more importantly in the context of the play, their social positions. Cyprus, an island sacred to Venus, the goddess of love, is removed from civilization and routine, and hence Othello and Desdemona are forced to explore the affective aspects of their relationship as the extenuating forces have been removed. Outside of his kingdom, Othello is no longer able to rest on his laurels, as he is now purely a husband and not a military officer. This is significant considering that Desdemona ‘lov[es] [him] for the dangers [he has] passed’ (1.3.171). In this play, Venice represents society, and hence rationality, but the absence of social forces suggests the absence of reason, and puts the characters in an isolated setting where emotions solely dictate their behaviour. Othello’s hamartia is undoubtedly his jealousy, and the isolated environment of Cyprus this natural human sentiment spiral completely out of control. Sebastian and Antonio’s love could bloom on an isolated island, but once Othello and Desdemona are away from their lives, they are forced to confront their emotions without hiding behind their social positions, which leads to the destruction of their relationship. Othello’s insecurity and paranoia is centered around his race and status as a ‘moor’ during the Elizabethan period. At the beginning of the play, Brabantio targets him as a ‘foul thief’, implying that he must have used unjust means to attract Desdemona as she would never be attracted to someone of his race naturally. Although Othello manages to dispel that allegation, Iago constantly reminds him of his racial inferiority, thereby creating an internal conflict and the belief that he is not worthy of Desdemona’s affections. Iago’s statement that Desdemona would be better off with one ‘of her own clime, complexion, and degree’ which ‘in all things nature tends’ (3.3.236-237) consolidates this doubt in Othello’s mind, and Othello seems to acquiesce to his role from this point on. He becomes a victim of society’s racist ideologies and foregrounds them, using the darkness of his skin as an excuse for his darkening morality. Desdemona herself never explicitly addresses his race, and instead focuses on his ‘honors and valiant parts’ (1.3.281-282). She engages in a form of ‘color-blind racism’ by constantly neglecting such an important aspect of his persona. This is an example of silence as a dramatic device, because, paradoxically, Desdemona’s refusal to address race makes it more of an issue in Othello’s mind. He uses his race to hyperbolize any doubts he has about their relationship. When his reputation becomes tarnished, he states that it has become as ‘begrimed and black as [his] own face’ (3.3.390-391). The characters’ different perceptions of the importance of race acts as an obstacle to their relationship. Right before Othello kills Desdemona, he contemplates her infidelity and fixates on her skin being ‘whiter…than snow, and smooth as monumental alabaster’ (5.2.4-5). This implies that Othello feels that there is a power imbalance in the relationship due to racial differences, and it was this imbalance that caused Desdemona’s alleged infidelity. Shakespeare imbues Othello with the racist ideology of the other characters, and he becomes so agitated by his racial inferiority that he ends up fulfilling the racist stereotype that Black males are ‘savage’ (4.1.52).Whereas the unequal power distribution fuels Othello’s paranoia and precludes an honest relationship with Desdemona, it is what makes Antonio and Sebastian’s love so realistic. Shakespeare makes it clear that Antonio dotes on Sebastian, but Sebastian can also seen as a ‘kept man’, which is euphemized by the descriptive phase ‘purse-bearer’ (3.3.48). Though Antonio is wealthier and in a better social position than Sebastian, he still pleads for Sebastian to ‘let [him] be [his] servant’ (2.1.31). The characters are not struggling for power, like Othello and Desdemona, but at the same time they recognize that they are not equals. Their willingness to compromise, seen through the interchangeability of power roles, suggests that they are partaking in the truest form of love because they understand the particular power dynamic of their relationship.This power dynamic is visible through the ways that Antonio and Sebastian engage with each other and the audience, and in the way that they explore their love. Shakespeare describes Antonio and Sebastian only through dialogue, which could imply that all the audience needs to know about their characters is based on their feelings towards each other. However, Shakespeare develops Desdemona and Othello as individuals, and their monologues and soliloquies serve to develop their personalities outside of their relationship. Othello always needs tangible evidence or ‘ocular proof’ of their connection in order to ‘be sure of it’ (3.3.365), and he depends on material objects such as the handkerchief as symbols to attest their love. The handkerchief takes on a magical quality as it was given to his mother by a ‘charmer’ to keep his father ‘faithful’ under her spell. The moment Desdemona ‘loses’ the handkerchief, Othello feels that she has lost her chastity. That such an inconsequential object carries so much weight testifies to the susceptibility of jealous minds and the way that a seemingly small incident can be psychologically magnified into ‘proof’ of love or betrayal. The fact that symbols such as the handkerchief or the bed sheet become so pivotal in Othello and Desdemona’s relationship is indicative of the lack of depth in their love. Originally, Othello’s heroic tales and military rank attracts Desdemona, but there is not enough substance beyond that to sustain relationship. Shakespeare uses external objects to symbolize the internal issues in Othello and Desdemona’s relationship, as well as highlighting the lack of deep love between them. Conversely, Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship is remarkably self-contained, which is not typical of Shakespearean relationships where letters, handkerchiefs, songs etc. often link love affairs back to a social context. In contrast to Othello’s heavy contemplation on the meaning of each symbol and gesture, the lack of intermediary objects in Sebastian and Antonio’s relationship allows them to speak more directly to each other, and this is perhaps even more effective in conveying love than lengthy speeches in describing the strength of their pairing. Antonio’s decisions are so instantaneous that they seem almost as if they are dictated by an innate biological force, ‘But, come what may, I do adore thee so, that danger shall seem sport, and I will go’ (2.1.654). Shakespeare’s use of passive voice gives the impression that Antonio’s decisions are not always well thought-out because he does not devote enough time in his speech to pondering alternatives or considering consequences. Ironically, Othello’s conscious and deliberate analysis of love makes his feelings for Desdemona seem more superficial and tokenistic whereas the lack of tokens in Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship creates a more realistic portrayal of love. The sexual imagery in Twelfth Night is abundant, which can be taken to mean that there was some sort of physical relationship between Antonio and Sebastian before the play begins. Meanwhile, in Othello, Shakespeare projects the sexual imagery onto symbols such as the bed sheet, while he uses the imagery in Twelfth Night to depict the affectation itself. Sebastian describes his desire as ‘more sharp than filed steel’ (3.3.2), which is consistent with the imagery of sexual penetration seen throughout the play. Sebastian justifies his pursuit of erotic fantasies, telling Antonio that ‘danger shall seem sport ‘(2.1.35), which suggests that he receives gratification from the riskiness of the situation, both literally (since he is wanted in Orsino’s court), and figuratively, because he is leaving the transitive environment and entering society in pursuit of a forbidden affair. This sexual desire within Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship serves as enough excitement to keep the relationship animated, and seeing as it causes Antonio to break the barrier between the transitive environment and the social world, the internal forces within the relationship are stronger than any outside threats. Additionally, Antonio and Sebastian seem to engage in a servant-master relationship as Antonio ‘[takes Sebastian] from the breach of the sea’ (2.2.15), essentially giving him new life and leaving him in Antonio’s debt. Shakespeare extends this insinuation of a sadomasochistic relationship through Sebastian’s statement that Antonio makes ‘pleasure of [his] pains’ (3.3.14) and receives gratification from the ‘danger’ of his ‘desire’. The potent sexuality that Shakespeare expresses through his use of language (keeping in mind that during his time, insinuations of homoeroticism had to be kept implicit because homosexuality was an offense punishable by death) affirms the strength of Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship. Their lack of tension and this internal strength is the most important force governing the relationship. Othello’s perception of sex changes throughout the play as the sexual tension builds. Shakespeare effectively uses interruptions each time Othello and Desdemona come close to consummating their marriage. As a result, the sexual tension between them continues to escalate, paralleling the tension in their relationship, and ultimately, the audience is led to believe that the couple never made love. At the beginning of the play, Othello tells Desdemona ‘The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue, the profit’s yet to come ‘tween me and you’ (2.2.8-10). He speaks about sex in positive terms, describing it as ‘fruit’ to enjoy, and as an action that is mutually beneficial and ‘profits’ both male and female. His tone here is patient as he realizes that he has to wait for events to run their natural course before the figurative fruit to bloom. As Iago continues to sow seeds of suspicion in Othello’s mind, and Othello becomes more dubious of Desdemona’s fidelity, he moves away from linking images of sex and the blossoming of new life, and starts to relate sex to death. The inner problems of Othello’s relationship start to affect his outwards persona, tarnishing his reputation and making him ‘a fixed figure for the time of scorn to point his slow unmoving finger at’ (4.2.59-60). When he kills Desdemona, he tells her ‘thy bed, lust-stain’d, shall with lust’s blood be spotted’. Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘lust’ connotes an unfulfilled desire, suggesting that Othello and Desdemona have not consummated their marriage, and the resulting anxiety has driven him to kill her. Othello finds it most fitting to kill Desdemona on the bed they share as a married couple, which suggests that the actions that are supposed to take place on the bed are the cause of the murder. After strangling Desdemona he says ‘Behold, I have a weapon; a better never did itself sustain upon a soldier’s thigh’ (5.2.55). The phallic imagery here forges a disturbing relationship between sex and death, suggesting that all the strong emotions ‘involved in Othello asserting his sexuality, such as ‘desire’ and ‘jealousy, are the same emotions that surface in the act of murder. The residual emotions of an unfulfilled desire affect not only the path of the relationship, but also the fates of Othello and Desdemona, making their unresolved sexual tension more vital than any external agent. In conclusion, though extenuating forces such as location and race significantly affect the relationships in Twelfth Night and Othello, it is the internal chemistry that proves to be the most important force in determining the path of the relationships. The powerful sexual hierarchy amplifies Othello’s paranoia and leads him to project his delusions onto his relationship with Desdemona, which leads to Othello’s downfall. On the other hand, the lack of sexual tension and situational barriers in Antonio and Sebastian’s relationship allows them to fortify their connection, but it is diminished as soon as they leave the liminal realm and have to follow the rules of mainstream society. Society supports Othello and Desdemona’s relationship and manages to sustain it for a while, but the internal mechanics ultimately fail them, whereas Antonio and Sebastian’s connection is enough to support them until they have to submit to external cultural standards. Shakespeare juxtaposes internal and external forces to show how both need to work together in order to support a relationship, portraying love as a multi-dimensional force that has the power to expand from within a relationship and affect characters’ fates.
Feste, the fool character in Twelfth Night, in many ways represents a playwright figure, and embodies the reach and tools of the theater. He criticizes, manipulates and entertains the other characters while causing them to reflect on their life situations, which is similar to the way a playwright such as Shakespeare interacts with his audience. Furthermore, more so than the other characters in the play he accomplishes this in a highly performative way, involving song and clever wordplay that must be decoded, and is thus particularly reflective of the mechanisms at the command of the playwright. Feste is a representation of the medieval fool figure, who is empowered by his low status and able to speak the truth of the kingdom. A playwright speaks the truth by using actors and fictional characters, who are in a parallel low status in comparison to the audience, as they lack the dimensionality of real people. Thus, the role Feste plays in the lives of the characters in the play resembles the role the play itself plays in the lives of the audience watching the performance. This essay will explore this comparison first by analyzing similarities between the way in which Feste interacts with other characters and the way the playwright interact with the audience, and then focus on the similarities between the aims and content of these interactions.Perhaps the most straightforward aspect of the way Feste communicates with other characters that resembles the communication of theater itself is the overtly performative nature of his character. A clown, Feste is often portrayed in productions caked in elaborate makeup or in a fancy jester costume. In this sense, he is almost a caricature of the way actors don new identities when they become the characters they perform as. Dressing Feste up in a funny guise draws attention to the fact that he is a fictional character. Similarly, a playwright “dressed up” his ideas in performance, by having actors and actresses show, rather than simply tell them.In four of the seven scenes he appears in, he sings, which makes other characters praise him and marvel at his talent. He sings about love to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew in 2.3.35-48 as well as with them at 2.3.64; he sings a “silly sooth” about the pains of love to Orsino in 2.4.50-65; he sings a traditional song appropriate to Malvolio’s illusion of love to attract his attention in 4.2.65-72; and he sings about how even happiness is not safe from the rain to end the play at 5.1.376-395. Orsino, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew all reward him with monetary payment for his performances.By singing, Feste gives life to the lyrics to move his audience. This parallels how actors in a more broad sense give life to the script, and convey the meaning of a play only by performing it. The mere text of a play is not enough to represent what a playwright wishes to convey, just as a reading of the mere lines of a song fail to have the same effect as listening to it sung. Feste in particular expresses this fact, for as the “performer” his singing voice is specifically requested, and none of the other characters can convey ideas through song as well as he can. In fact, when Orsino asks for a song in 2.4, Curio responds by saying “he is not herethat should sing it,” and fetches Feste (2.4.9). If someone else were to attempt to sing the song, Curio realizes, they would not successfully “relieve Orsino’s passions.” Through his unique ability to move other characters through performance, Feste symbolizes the actor who moves his theatrical audience by animating the script.In addition to the use of song, Feste dazzles other characters in the play through his use of intelligent wordplay. His wit is best contrasted with that of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, who in 1.3 communicate with Maria through puns which are confusing due to an apparent lack of understanding what each other mean. Feste, on the other hand, is a clever fool, and in 1.5 engages Maria in a quick battle of words. For example, his line “Well, God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents,” (1.5.13) twists a parable from Matthew 25 about doing work with goods, where “talents” refer to currency. Here, he implies that fools should do work with and develop their foolish ability (“talent”). He then makes an appropriate pun on the word “hanging,” which refers to both being put to death and sexual prowess. Feste also impresses Viola with his mastery of language in 3.1, to the point where she rewards him with payment. For example, she asks him whether he lives “by” his tabor drum, and he makes the pun that he lives “by the church,” as in near it; he also puns on the word “wanton,” which Viola uses to describe the mischievous use of words, claiming that he wished his sister had no name, so that she could not be manipulated lewdly.A further, related way Feste demonstrates his thorough understanding of language is through his ability to switch linguistic personalities when it is appropriate. For example, he adopts a pseudo-religious proverbial tone in addressing Olivia when she mourns her brother in 1.5, making fun of her allegedly unnecessary grieving. When he first meets Sebastian and believes him to be Cesario, he is put aback by his high language, and parodies his line “I prithee vent thy folly somewhere else” by responding “I prithee now ungird thy strangeness.” (4.1.13) Indeed, to Feste, “a sentence is but a cheveral glove to a good wit.” (3.1.10) Essentially, he is able to switch voices at will.Feste’s mastery of language and ability to convey any meaning through it parallels the mastery of language required by a playwright such as Shakespeare. A playwright, like Feste, must know all the properties of words in order to convey the message he wishes to. He must know what tones and vocabularies each character requires to have his or her role fleshed out, which in turn elucidates the meaning represented by their character in the larger organism of the play itself. Essentially, both Feste and a playwright demonstrate a full bag of linguistic tricks, which enables them to get their points across.Profundity need not only come from the complicated language shown by Feste; rather, the understanding demonstrated on the part of Feste shows how a playwright understands how to use different tones for different effects. For example, Shakespeare gives Malvolio lines whose language reflects his arrogance. As Maria points out, he “cons state without book,” (2.3.131) that is, he uses pretentious phrases without necessarily knowing their meaning. He speaks with condescending legalistic language as well, such as when he tells Sir Toby “If you can separate yourself and your misdemeanors you are welcome to the house” (2.3.89), which shows how seriously he takes himself. Due to his thorough understanding of language, Shakespeare chose lines for Malvolio that bring out the status of his character as a symbol of self-love.Finally, Feste personifies the idea that truth can be very effectively conveyed through the mouths of low characters. Traditionally, fools in medieval courts were the only individuals allowed to criticize the king or queen, and it was their low status that relieved them of any possible punishment. Yet in their cryptic jokes were seeds of the truth, which no one else dared to utter. In Olivia’s court, Feste calls her a fool on several occasions, criticizing her for mourning her brother. This is an accurate criticism that no one else can make. Olivia and other characters such as Sebastian use the fact that he is a clown to dismiss him. While some characters admire his wordplay and singing ability, almost no one seems to recognize the profound truths he spouts. For example, Malvolio fails to appreciate the appropriateness of Feste’s song about a man’s love loving another man, and none of the characters are on stage to hear his song at the end of the play which reflects on how one should interpret the whole comedy.Just as truth is conveyed through the low character of the fool, the playwright conveys truth through actors in a play, who are analogously “low.” The characters in a play necessarily have a lower status than the audience, since they are directed, fictional entities, who exist solely to perform. Some of the characters are “low” themselves, such as the vain Malvolio, but Shakespeare nonetheless uses his ensemble of confused and misguided characters to tell a truthful story. On a broad level, Twelfth Night, while a comedy filled with entertaining misunderstandings and clever wordplay, at the same time makes some important points about love, misunderstandings, the folly of self-love, and so forth. In this sense, all of the actors are like fools, whose lines are riddles containing truths that the audience must solve. In sum, Feste is like a playwright in that they both convey their messages through performance, incorporate intricate wordplay, and tell truths through low characters.In addition to similarities in the way Feste and a playwright communicate, they also both intend to convey the same sort of messages. My understanding of Feste’s philosophy of fooling is perhaps best represented by his statement to Orsino in the final scene: “My foes tell me plainly I am an ass, so that by my foes, sir, I profit in the knowledge of myself.” (5.1.16) That is, in being directly critiqued, Feste believe, one can better oneself, which is why he responds critically without inhibition to most all the characters with which he interacts. One way of understanding theater is to conceptualize it as a sort of critique on human behaviors. This sort of analysis may at least be appropriate for understanding Twelfth Night, due to the presence of the extensive subplot wherein Feste and others try to teach Malvolio a lesson about self-love. Just as Feste tries to put the other characters in their places by making fun of them, theatrical productions such as this one aim to teach the audience about themselves, through subtle criticisms of characters which in turn represent aspects of behaviors inherent to human nature. The aim of these criticisms, presumably, would be to have members of the audience walk away with a better understanding of themselves.Like the clown Touchstone in As You Like It, Feste reflects the other characters in the play and serves as a truthful judge of their character. He is able to see things in people that other cannot. For example, it is suggested that he realizes Viola is only pretending to be a man, through his line, “Now Jove in his next commodity of hair send thee a beard.” (3.1.39) Viola notices his great skill of perception, and contemplates that “he must observe their mood on whom he jests / the quality of persons, and the time / and like the haggard, check at every feather / that comes before his eye.” (3.1.55-58) Similarly, a playwright implicitly passes judgement on the behaviors of the characters in his play, and it is only fitting that Feste represents this quality. Like the playwright, the ultimate goal of Feste is to get others to reconsider themselves, given his assessment of their flaws.Feste criticizes a number of behaviors, some of which later become corrected over the course of the play. He tells Olivia that her plan to ignore courtship so she can mourn the death of her brother for seven years is a foolish one, and by the end of the play she decides to marry Sebastian. He tells Orsino that his “mind is a very opal” (2.4.74) that is, that he is too moody while at the end of the play, he is content (albeit naively, as the final song suggests) that things shall be fine for all of them. Transparently, through Feste’s criticisms, the playwright also criticizes these behaviors.The way in which Feste handles the caricatured self-love of Malvolio is perhaps the most striking example of the correlation between Feste and the playwright. Just as the playwright aims to manipulate the audience into reconsidering themselves through the use of fictional characters, Feste aims to manipulate Malvolio into losing his self-love by adopting the role of a fictional curate and convincing his that he is mentally ill. Sir Topas, the curate, springs from the imagination of a character who has sprung from the imagination of the playwright, and is thus a caricature of a fictional character. He speaks in an unconvincing faux tone (“Bonos dies”), and makes up authorities (“the old Hermit of Prague”) (4.2.11). That this scene is a microcosm of a play itself is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that the individual who is spoken to is not even on the stage as Feste delivers his lines. Malvolio represents an audience who is entirely too self-involved to realize what is going on around him, and remains unreceptive to the masked “truth” of the fool. It is thus appropriate that he finds himself “in the dark,” no matter how hard Feste tries to instruct him otherwise.Because he is not willing or able to understand what Feste tries to show him, Malvolio stands for one who is unable to learn from watching a theatrical production. His tragic self-love can be construed to imply some sort of closed-mindedness about his character. In this sense, his story becomes one about the importance of learning about one’s self from others, which Feste strains to have him do. This parallels the idea that one should try to learn about one’s self from a theatrical production. Malvolio continues to dismiss him as a fool, even when Feste sings him a song explicitly revealing his current situation with Olivia. Appropriately enough, since he did not learn from the character who tells the truth, at the end of the play his is not a happy ending, and he leaves the final scene in an unresolved huff. Feste’s final song in the play reveals just how well he understands the mechanics of Twelfth Night. While the play is a comedy, and Orsino’s final speech suggests that everyone has had a happy ending, there are several characters, most notably Malvolio, for whom things do not work out so well. The refrain of Feste’s song, “For the rain it raineth every day,” suggests that he realizes the bittersweet nature of the play’s end, and furthermore that while some people have happiness in their lives, others do not. In the fifth verse, Feste replaces the refrain which symbolizes a negative effect on happiness with the self-aware line “And we’ll strive to please you every day.” By placing this line where the normal refrain should go, he gives them a sort of poetic equivalence, suggesting that the audience should try to discern some sort of common meaning connecting the two ideas. This common meaning ties in with the hypothesized aim of the playwright and the aim of the fool that by being exposed to negative interactions and representative criticisms, one can be “pleased” that is, one can reflect upon one’s own life, and come out an improved individual.In conclusion, Feste, while a fool, is also a figure standing in for the playwright. His character screams to be performed, through dress and song, just as a playwright’s text must be performed. He shows off a deep bag of linguistic tricks, and is able to communicate his truthful points through versatile means. He represents truth channeled through a low voice, just as “low” actors channel the truth of a play. His lines are insightful, honest criticisms that serve to better the other characters by having them think about things, just like the body of lines put together by a playwright. Indeed, as Viola notes, Feste is “wise enough to play the fool / and to do that well craves a kind of wit” (3.1.53-54), much like the wit embodied by the playwright himself.
Salinger (1974) calls Twelfth Night a “comedy about comedy” in which Shakespeare demonstrates his “fundamental debt to the earlier Renaissance tradition of comic playwriting and his abiding sense of detachment from it” (pg 242), and it is from this point that this essay will discuss functions of comedy in regards to Shakespeare abiding and deviating at various points from traditional Renaissance comedies and into which category of comedy Twelfth Night can be placed. It will also discuss how realism aids the function of comedy in the play in the particular case of Twelfth Night, that function being primarily a celebration of both joy and of Shakespeare’s comedy for its own sake.Traditional Renaissance comedy is clearly present throughout the text, such as the derisive laughter aimed at Malvolio cross-gartered in yellow stockings or Sir Andrew unsuspecting in the mock duel. The audience laughing at Malvolio serves to ridicule him further for his folly, but also serves comedy value in distinctly Shakespearian terms; we laugh at Malvolio to cast him out and show our dislike of him because he ruins the fun. This is what Charlton (1966) picks as definitive of a Shakespeare comedy, that the characters “inspire us to be happy with them; they do not merely cajole us into laughing at them” (pg 277) and so our ridiculing of Malvolio is not so much as a condemnation of his character but a way of siding the audience with the fun-lovers of the play, notably Sir Toby who claims many comic highlights in the play despite his comparatively flawed character when considered against the puritan Malvolio. Malvolio is ridiculed as he represents puritans of the time (for example, by his dress); as puritans were largely against the comedy tradition in theatre (Barton 1972, pg 164) Shakespeare represents them as against merrymaking and fun in general. We therefore side with Sir Toby and against Malvolio not because of their character, but because as an audience we do not want the fun to end. The characters, too, are desperate for the fun to continue and to seek new pleasures, something which for Shakespeare involves marriage as the ultimate goal when it is accepted that love has great power to awaken the spirit to newfound pleasures (Charlton 1966, pg 277). This, for Charlton, sets Shakespeare’s plays as more imaginative than his rivals’, instead of seeking out existing pleasure and maximising enjoyment Shakespeare has his characters constantly striving for ideals and, due to love/marriage, become “finer and richer representatives of human nature” (Charlton 1966, pg 283).The primacy of love for enrichment of spirit and opening of new avenues of pleasure, as discussed in the previous paragraph, is influential in Twelfth Night’s comedy as, if music is “the food of love” (Shakespeare 1993, pg 29), then much music is required to nourish the spirit and this is the most musical of Shakespeare’s plays. Music therefore plays a major role in the play from the duke’s players to Clown’s songs and adds to the carnival, boisterous mood that the play itself is a celebration. Much of the farce (paragraph below) adds to the comedic celebration on stage, for example Malvolio’s humiliation scene and the transvestite farce of Viola would be a joy to perform as much as they are to behold. Tillyard (1958) categorises comedy into three sections; farce and two variations of Picaresque comedy. Twelfth Night can be argued to fit into any and all of these categories to some extent. Farce comes from the many laugh-out-loud moments in the play provided by the pranks and Clown’s wry humour. The fact that Twelfth Night is also a transvestite comedy adds further farce to have the multiple disguises of a male actor playing a female character who is in turn playing the role of a male. Add identical twins that are less than identical, the boisterous mood created by music, and the pranks mentioned above and all the elements of a farce are there to see. Farce, however does not serve the primary function of this play as there is little celebration of joy in a farce. Whilst an audience may laugh heartily, the comedic devices described below need to combine with intense realism if the play is to have any effect on its audience; that is to say, an unbelievable farce cannot bring the audience into celebration with the characters because the empathy simply is not present in a large enough quantity. The first variety of Picaresque comedy, effectively focusing on the underdog, Tillyard argues to be absent in Twelfth Night but the principals remain; Clown is our underdog who is left alone (unmarried, but also literally left alone on stage) and the collective group, excepting Malvolio and his threat of revenge, fulfils the underdog role of just “and only just” (Tillyard 1958, pg 6) surviving disaster. This feeling is heightened during the final confrontation when Shakespeare suddenly changes from prose to verse to link with Sebastian arriving with a solution to rush on with the happy ending. Again, this does not fully provide the play with the celebration of joy that is its primary function. Certainly one can empathise more with the fool without necessarily pitying him (and perhaps even seeing him as a bridge between Illyria and the everyday world) but there is still not the sense of belonging that the audience has with, for example, Sir Toby. For this, Shakespeare requires a blend of comedic strategies, and it is Tillyard’s (ibid) second variation of Picaresque comedy that is the more obvious for Twelfth Night, being The desire to shed the burdens of duty to self and society without paying too severe a price…[recognising]…perhaps ruefully, that you cannot get away with it forever, that holidays are holidays only because they end, that mankind has after all to toe the line, and that duty has the last word…[but also finally persuading the reader that evasion has]…had a long enough innings and that duty must now reassert itself(Tillyard 1958, pg 6)which, whilst not providing as much convivial laughter as pure farce, is used by Shakespeare to lighten the mood and spirits of his audience. Whilst duty and the real world gets the last word, it is a refreshed reality into which we enter. The title itself refers to a “festive and critical passage of time” during which the characters are “swept out of their previous selves and brought into a fresh harmony with a natural order and sequence in life” (Salinger 1974, pg 13), that is to say the numerous marriages promise a harmonisation with natural order but also, crucially, a return to the normal state of affairs. All that has been removed from the characters by disguise, deception, the “season of misrule” (Salinger 1974, pg 8) and tragedies of shipwreck is wonderfully restored with added value; for example, Viola not only regains her brother but also a lover. Viola’s trust in natural forces and human nature when she leaves it to time to untie the knots which she cannot (Shakespeare 1993, pg 48) puts a trust in the natural balance having the ability to regenerate and, through the ending, give something extra to those with spirits enriched by love (see earlier discussion). Here, then, the audience finally gets to celebrate joy with the characters now that the wholeness of the play and its range of comedic strategies has added to its realism.Whilst realism serves to add to the celebration of joy that is the function of comedy in Twelfth Night, comedy also serves reciprocally to add realism to the play whilst also providing what would be termed today a suspension of disbelief; just as a tragedy teases the audience with false hope before the disaster, so Twelfth Night teases us with false disaster before the happy ending. This, according to Barton (1972, pg 164) adds to the realism of Twelfth Night whilst keeping true to the conventional social viewpoint of a comedy. In Twelfth Night the false disaster suggested during the deadlock in the final act comes when reality starts to re-enter the play and the celebration comes to an end. For Sir Toby, he is denied the surgeon he needs because the surgeon is drunk. We are finally seeing Tillyard’s (1958, pg 6) reassertion of duty; it is through the nightly excess and celebration in which Sir Toby was so instrumental that he is now denied the practicalities of medical care that was not necessary in the utopia of misrule. Moreover, Barton (1972) suggests that Sir Toby marrying Maria is comparable to Sir Andrew’s repentance; they are both paying for their holidays in “ways that have real life consequences” (pg 175). Thankfully, for the audience and characters, the disaster never comes. However, the realism provided by acknowledgment of its possibility makes the ending easier to accept whilst also giving the feeling of dodging disaster (Tillyard’s first division of Picaresque comedy, see above). This relief, again felt by both audience and characters, adds to this celebration of joy; instead of accepting Barton’s argument that the knights are forced to pay for their holidays, it can be argued that the opposite is true and that Sirs Toby and Andrew actually celebrate that most satisfying and joyful of human feelings – getting away with doing something wrong. The comedy value here is only increased by Malvolio’s final cursing and promise of revenge, Sir Toby (and his sympathetic audience) have once again got the better of him even when it is dubious whether he deserved to or not, after all Sir Toby is reliant on others like Malvolio to keep him in his life of leisure.Even though Clown’s final song refers to marriage becoming tedious and the passing of time painful, audience optimism is maintained despite this realisation; the couples of the play may be in the distant and mysterious Illyria but that place is brought back into the reality of the audience now that the festive period is ending by virtue of the aforementioned realism that Shakespeare brings to this comedy. Barton (1972, pg 164) describes the period of the title as a time when the world is turned upside down and there is a constant holiday spirit. At the start of the play, it is the captain that introduces Illyria as a place in which to expect madness but it is during Clown’s song that Illyria comes closer to England; the disguises and deception fall away and natural order (and, arguably, rule) restore with the characters intact with redeemed spirits and happy endings. By maintaining realism throughout the play in such a distant location, Shakespeare can bring this optimism home through his mix of Tillyard’s comedy variations.In conclusion, comedy functions in Twelfth Night to provide convivial laughter/celebration of joy and an optimism of human nature and the capacity for regeneration. The particular blend of comic styles adopted by Shakespeare does not fit neatly into any one category but the function can be clearly shown by its effect; the added realism dimension despite an implausible ending, and a symbolism of marriage as renewal and rebirth following necessary disruption, carnival and “madness” (Barton 1972, pg 164) of the festival. Given that Twelfth Night is commonly held to be Shakespeare’s last comedy of its type, Tillyard (1958, pg 17) states that the play “is not so sure of itself as comedy and may also be on the way to something else”, what Salinger (1974, pg 242), as mentioned in the introduction to this essay, calls a “comedy about comedy”. From this perspective, the widespread happy ending and good fortune can be interpreted as an intentional farewell, in which case the comedy devices in Twelfth Night serve primarily to focus the audience on Shakespeare’s celebration of joy and good times as discussed throughout this essay. Shakespeare is using such a diverse and far-reaching blend of comedy with the primary function being a celebration of not only Renaissance comedy but also his own comedy heritage and legacy of plays. BibliographyBarton, A. (1972). As You Like It and Twelfth Night: Shakespeare’s Sense of an Ending. In: Bradbury, M. and Palmer, D. [eds.]. Shakespearian Comedy. London: Edward Arnold.Charlton, H. (1966). Shakespearian Comedy. London: Methuen.Salinger, L. (1974). Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Shakespeare, W. (1993). Twelfth Night. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.Tillyard, E. (1958). The Nature of Comedy and Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press