Themes in Twelfth Night
One of the major themes in Twelfth Night is the theme of disguise. This theme, with it’s associated ideas of deception and illusion, is a main preoccupation of the Twelfth Night. Viola’s deliberate deception, disguising herself as a page, allows her a freedom of action that would be denied her as a woman. It is both a complication for her and a means to achieve fulfillment. Disguise, ironically allows Viola to, in fact, speak the truth. Because she has hidden her identity, she does have the freedom to make insightful comments on love and relationships closer to the heart of things than characters who are not as “anonymous.” Her emotional honesty contrasts with Orsino and Olivia who have created emotional lives that are “high fantastical.” Olivia’s symbolic unveiling in her conversation with Viola shows a transformation from this fantasy to a greater emotional reality. This more sincere passion has, however become more sincere as a result of their relationship with Viola; they demonstrate the contrast between public appearance and personal reality.
In public, people adopt particular roles that may contradict ourselves. The confusion of appearance and reality is obvious in the use of identical twins. Mistaken identity provides much of the complication that is essential to the plot of this play. This offers most of the dramatic irony which heightens the comedy. The mistaken assumptions made by characters about others as a result have a relevance outside the world of the play. People are frequent victims and perpetrators of deception and are frequently persuaded to accept an appearance for a truth. Every individual perceives reality uniquely and in doing so builds a complex identity that cannot be reduced to one single characteristic. False appearances are manifested in the shape of the fraudulent letter left for Malvolio and his adoption of a “disguise” to “woo” Olivia. He is changed into this false appearance which contradicts his true nature, because ambition distorts his judgment and makes him vulnerable to exploitation. Sir Toby’s false reports of Olivia’s feelings to Sir Andrew are similarly effective as they play on Andrew’s desire. This desire makes him ready to sacrifice reality for appearance.
For some characters, the illusion which overtakes them is ultimately benevolent and for others it is not, however all characters are ultimately stripped of illusion to various degrees, achieving a state where appearance more closely matches reality. Orsino and Olivia create illusory worlds of romance and mourning respectively, which are ultimately changed by the strength of genuine emotion. The means used to make reality clear for particular characters affects the audience’s appreciation of the play as a comedy. Malvolio’s treatment is an example of this. Overcoming illusion and bringing appearance and reality into greater harmony allows for the satisfactory resolution to this play
Order vs. Disorder
In this comedy, the restoration of order is essential despite the tolerance of some funny behavior. Sir Toby’s conduct can be considered as disorderly, despite his physical punishment at the end of the play. On the other hand, Malvolio represents the forces of order and decorum. His treatment in the play, however, indicates a kind of criticism of an order that has become oppressive.
Other characters provide varying perspectives on order and disorder, in some cases simultaneously violating and maintaining traditional codes of order. Sebastian and Viola’s Love for Olivia and Orsino is a breach of decorum, in terms of rank and sexual ambiguity which characterized the courtship of the relationships. Yet we have a sympathy for them as their desires as finally consummated in socially sanctioned marriages . Similarly, feste makes a living subverting order and yet is employed by the establishment.
The Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is a play that is full of underlying themes. Two of those themes were picked out and discussed in this paper. There are also a number of other topics tat can be studied such as characterization and the time vs. decay theme. This play is a good story to write about because of the wide variety of topics that are available for study.