Love and Mistaken Identities in Twelfth Night, a Play by William Shakespeare
Twelfth Night Analysis
“Twelfth Night” is a play written by Shakespeare. This play, mainly based on love, begins with Orsino trying to win Olivia’s love. Viola, who was shipwrecked, assists the Duke by disguising herself as Cesario and ends up falling in love with the Duke. Olivia’s servant, Maria, plays a prank on Malvolio. Maria sends Malvolio love letters as if they were written by Olivia, leading Malvolio into believing that Olivia loves him but instead, makes a fool of himself. The Duke wants Cesario to win Olivia’s love for him, however Olivia confesses her love for Cesario. One of Olivia’s men, Sir Andrew, challenges Cesario to a fight but he declines. Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother who was also shipwrecked, makes an appearance and is led to marriage by Olivia who mistakens him for Cesario. Cesario uncovers himself as Viola, and the Duke asks her to marry him, meanwhile Sir Toby and Maria get married. The central idea is often everyone falls in love. To understand “Twelfth Night,” one must know how mistaken identities create humor, how love affects the conflict, and the opposites Malvolio and Sir Toby represent.
Shakespeare uses mistaken identities to create humor. Humor is created when Viola asks the captain to “Conceal [her] of what she is” (I.2.51) “to assure her own protection” (Roberts). The audience is well aware that Cesario is a woman but the rest of the characters in the play don’t know this. This fact entertains the audience in many scenes. For example, when Cesario is asked to win Olivia’s love for the Duke, Olivia falls in love with Cesario instead. It is known to the audience that Olivia is falling for a woman but she is not well aware of this which creates amusement. When Sir Toby creates a feud between Cesario and Sir Andrew for a fight, little does Sir Toby know that Cesario is a woman. This unknown fact to the characters enlightens the audience to anticipate what will happen in the fight. Viola being disguised to look a lot like her brother, raises tension when Antonio mistaken Cesario for Sebastian. Humor is also created when Olivia marries Sebastian instead of Cesario and the Duke’s love shifts from Olivia to Viola. Viola disguised as Cesario creates dramatic irony and keeps the readers entertained by the humor created in the scenes.
The theme of love affects the conflict in a couple of ways, Viola’s love for Orsino and Olivia’s love for Cesario. Viola’s love for Orsino is true love. She falls in love with him instantly but can do nothing about it because she is still disguised as Cesario. Even though she is pretending to be a man and is not known by the people of Illyria, she “would be his wife” (I.4.41) and is hoping he is “constant to her” and “inconstant in his affections for Olivia” (Roberts). The Duke and Cesario become very close and have a great bond working together so when Cesario reveals himself as Viola, it is easy for them to marry each other. In another love scenario, Olivia loves Cesario but he does not love her back. As Cesario tries winning Olivia’s love for the Duke, Olivia falls for Cesario because he knows what exactly a woman would like to hear. Love plays a major role in this play. The theme of love affects the conflict because other characters fall for each other but when true colors are revealed in the end of the play, the characters love for each other switches up.
Malvolio and Sir Toby Belch obtain opposite characteristics in this play. Malvolio is Olivia’s steward and is of the lower class. He is very stern and hates almost everyone. He criticizes everything and what everyone does. Malvolio is the opposite of happy. He likes to maintain a good manner but loses it when he tries to impress Olivia. On the other hand, Sir Toby Belch is Olivia’s uncle and is of the upper class. He loves to drink, sing, and dance. Sir Toby is pretty obnoxious and rude. He uses Sir Andrew, his drinking buddy, to marry Olivia so he can get away with drinking. Sir Toby is also a careless man and has no shame in being loud and drunk as his niece mourns for her brothers death. Malvolio bickers at Sir Toby’s habits and calls him out by asking him, “Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty” (II.3.82). Sir Toby does not like Malvolio because he only cares for his social rank and mainly because he judges Sir Toby of his partying habits. Malvolio doesn’t like Sir Toby because of his improper behavior. The two come from different social classes but act the opposite of their class. These two are completely different; Malvolio wants “everyone to be as austere and priggish as he is” and Sir Toby “always finds pleasure in life” (Roberts).
Knowing how mistaken identities create humor, how the theme of love affects conflict, and the opposites Malvolio and Sir Toby represent need to be understood when reading this play. Being able to identify who the characters are and what characteristics they portray will help the readers understand them better. Love is a major theme that affects the conflict and being able to identify the love triangles will give a better understanding of this play.
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