English Literature A-Level – Twelfth Night

Orsino He is melancholic because of his unrequited love from Olivia. His behaviour differs from what is expected of men around that time, as he was supposed to be strong and be more forward. ????Whereas, in Act 1 Scene one, the audience immediately sees this weak portrayal of him. This subverts gender roles as in contrast with act 1 screen 2, viola who is portrayed to be more analytical and someone of intelligence and strength. ????Courtly love is evident, as orsino doesn’t know what love is this is clear in his description of love being “high fantastical”. The duke is in love with love and the idea of it itself. He sees it as something “so full of shapes”. He does very little to try and losses the object if his affections. ????It is foreshadowed in Act 1 that orsino’s love for Olivia may sour and his “appetite may sicken, and so die”. It is also foreshadowed that he may change his affections because he evokes the metaphor of the sea, which he likens to love. As the sea is vast and always changeable as well as unstable, so is his love for Olivia changeable.????The final scene, he seems to be attracted to Viola as Cesario.
Viola Viola shows to be very intelligent and resourceful as she analyses her situation and realises that she is alone and knew no one. Also the fact that she is a woman in strange surroundings it’s would be both dangerous and difficult to secure her safety. ▫️She exhibits strength of character and quick wit, and Although her disguise puts her in an impossible position, she maintains self-control and a quiet dignity that contrast with the over-the-top emotional performances of love and mourning by the other main characters, Orsino and Olivia. ▫️The disguise is the catalyst of the beginning of complicated series of disguise that will run throughout the play. By viola having a double identity this foreshadows that other characters in the play would also take on disguises “Doth oft close in pollution”.
Olivia In mourning for her recently deceased brother, she has vowed not to receive any man, or to go outside, for seven years. However, when she meets Cesario, she falls in love and forgets these oaths.Olivia’s mourning for her brother therefore resembles Orsino’s love-melancholy: it seems more like a performance than a real, deeply felt emotion. Like Orsino, she seems to enjoy indulging in misery, and also has no problem shifting the object of love from one person to the next.
Sebastian The constant powerful love he shows while grieving and when reunited with Viola contrasts Orsino’s and Olivia’s relatively frivolous emotions. He is also the only major character in the play who never engages in deception. He can be pragmatic, though: when the beautiful, wealthy Olivia proposes to him, he accepts despite the fact that he has never met her before.
Maria She is Olivia’s clever, feisty lady-in-waiting who holds her own in battles of wit with the other servants and devises the prank on Malvolio. It is clear her wit wins the affection of Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby, whom she marries.
Sir Andrew He is a friend of Sir Toby, he hopes to marry Olivia, despite the fact that he is obviously hopeless. Sir Andrew provides a comic foil for the higher characters, who are much more serious about their wooing.Sir Andrew is a foolish fellow who is easily gulled and who does not realize that he has been cheated. He is a coward, and a good deal of the humor surrounding him comes from how he is tricked into fighting with Cesario, and then later, what happens when he encounters Sebastian. Sir Toby sums up this comical knight with the comment: he is “an ass-head, and a coxcomb, and a knave; a thin-faced knave, a gull.”
Sir Toby This is Olivia’s vulgar uncle, a drunkard, lives at and leeches off of her house. Sir Toby’s crass double entendres and sex jokes offer an earthy contrast to Orsino’s flowery love-poetry, and his antics help to overthrow Malvolio’s efforts to impose order. Sir Toby eventually marries Olivia’s lady-in-waiting, Maria.Sir Toby is actually a sharp, witty person who, even when he is drunk, is capable of making a good pun or of creating an ingenious and humorous plot complication. For example, he appreciates Maria not for her looks or for romantic matters, but because she is capable of contriving such a good joke against Malvolio. We are not surprised, at the end of the play, when he marries her. Their marriage dies seem to be more of a matter of whim than an expression of deep and abiding passion.The only reason he keeps Sir Andrew around is to gull him out of his money. The fact that he can tease and play jokes on Sir Andrew is secondary to his primary purpose of using Sir Andrew’s money to continue drinking. He is indeed guilty of misusing his niece’s house This is seen as he showcases happy and calm emotions in contrasts to the serious issue at hand of his nephews death. He carries on with his jovial nature and continues to drink and Enjoy himself whilst Olivia mourns.
Malvolio He is the steward in charge of the servants at Olivia’s house. A stuck-up killjoy, Malvolio annoys the other members of the household by constantly condescending to and scolding them. In revenge, Maria, Sir Toby, and others play a prank on Malvolio that adds comic relief to Twelfth Night, but also reveals Malvolio’s ambition, arrogance, and self-love. The play provides a happy ending for all of the characters except Malvolio, reminding the audience that not all love is fulfilled.He is easily the play’s most interesting character as he is a self-important, serious-minded person with high ideals who cannot bear the thought of others being happy. As Sir Toby puts it to him, “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” Nevertheless, Malvolio is an intrusion into the otherwise idyllic world of the play. He cannot celebrate because he is too pious and self-involved so nothing is left for him but to take the brunt of Maria, Sir Toby and Sir Andrews schemes. When he finds the forged letter from Olivia (actually penned by Maria) that seems to offer hope to his ambitions of become “Count Malvolio”. He undergoes his first transformation—from a stiff and wooden embodiment of propriety into an personification of the power of self-delusion. He is ridiculous in these scenes, as he capers around in the yellow stockings and crossed garters that he thinks will please Olivia, but he also becomes pitiable. He may deserve this act of revenge but there is an uncomfortable element to his experience. Malvolio’s misfortune is a cautionary tale of ambition overcoming good sense, and the audience winces at the way he adapts every event—including Olivia’s confused assumption that he must be mad—to fit his rosy picture of his glorious future as a nobleman. Our pity for Malvolio only increases when the vindictive Maria and Toby confine him to a dark room in Act IV. As he desperately protests that he is not mad, Malvolio begins to seem more of a victim than a victimizer. It is as if the unfortunate steward, as the embodiment of order and sobriety, must be sacrificed so that the rest of the characters can indulge in the hearty spirit that suffuses Twelfth Night. Towards the end of the play, he is brought out of the darkness into a celebration in which he has no part, and where no one seems willing to offer him a real apology. “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you,” he snarls before walking out if the festivities. His exit strikes a jarring note in an otherwise joyful comedy. Malvolio has no real place in the anarchic world of Twelfth Night, except to suggest that, even in the best of worlds, someone must suffer while everyone else is happy
Feste Feste is a licensed fool, who pokes fun at the higher characters. In this role, he turns upside down the conventional social order, just as occurred during the Twelfth Night holiday.Although he makes jokes in the play, it is clear that is the wisest character as he foreshadows events in his songs and is more insightful that we think. I.e the repetition of Sir whilst talking to viola, showed he knew Viola was a woman
Antonio Antonio is a local from Illyria who rescues Sebastian from the shipwreck. Antonio’s feelings for Sebastian push the boundary line between devoted male friendship and love.
Theme IdentityMost of the characters in Twelfth Night are in a state of identity confusion. Thematically, Shakespeare sets up the plays to actions to reinforce that identity will always be fragmentary and incomplete until one is able to love, regardless of whether one is loved in return.Mistaken Gender IdentityOne level of identity confusion in Twelfth Night is gender identity. Viola embodies this confusion when she assumes the identity of a boy, Cesario. Of course, in Shakespeare’s time, all female roles were played by boys, so in this case a boy actor plays a woman character (Viola) who dissembles herself as a boy (Cesario). In a patriarchal culture, sexual difference is held to be an immutable law; traditional gender role behavior was based on a natural biological fact rather than social convention. Love and the SelfShakespeare, especially through Olivia, gets to the heart of the relationship between self and love. When we fall in love, we almost necessarily lose our self-composure, cease to be able to see our actions with our own eyes. Yet even though Olivia fears that her attraction to Viola will come to naught, she is willing to risk it, because love, or at least intense attraction, allows her to leave her “mind” behind and give herself up to fate.
Themes/ Motifs DeathAlthough no actual deaths occur in Twelfth Night, death haunts this play throughout. At the beginning, Olivia is mourning a dead brother. Sebastian and Viola have just survived a shipwreck, and each spends the majority of the play thinking the other is dead.Later in the play, when the plot entanglements heart up, we learn of the other near-brushes with death. Antonio, captured by Orsino’s men, is threatened with death. Pranks orchestrated by Sir Toby and Sir Andrew lead them perilously close to being killed by Sebastian. Most significantly, Orsino threatens to kill Cesario, and s/he is most “willing apt” to let him. Even though all these threats come to nought, they serve as a reminder of how eros (love), in Shakespeare, can so quickly slide over into thanatos (death).Identity and Mistaken IdentityOne of the central motifs of this play is identity and mistaken identity. Identity (like so many words in this play) has a double sense. On the one hand, identity differentiates one thing from another by noting the individuality of each. On the other hand, identity also implies likeness or resemblance. When we say two things are identical, we usually mean they are exactly the same, like identical twins. And this tension between likeness and difference generates much of the action in the comic and romantic plots.Shakespeare’s ability to reveal the unstable nature of identity itself, however, is profoundly disturbing. All the characters in this play are either taken in by another character’s disguise or perpetrate a deception regarding their own identity.
Essay Questions 1. Twelfth Night is based on a series of mistaken identities and disguises of one sort or another. Identify as many of the disguises as you can, and explain how each of them functions in the plot development.2. Describe the nature and type of love to which Duke Orsino is an easy prey.3. Why does Duke Orsino use Cesario (Viola) to woo Olivia? Why doesn’t he court her himself? Is it significant that Orsino and Olivia meet only once in the play and that this meeting is at the very end of the comedy? If so, why?4. What qualities does Duke Orsino possess that allow Viola to fall in love with him?5. Discuss Viola’s use of her disguise.6. Discuss the various changes that Lady Olivia undergoes during the course of the play. How can these changes be accounted for?7. Relate the comic subplots dealing with Sir Andrew’s and Malvolio’s love for Lady Olivia to the main romantic plots.8. How many separate plots are there? How can each be related to the other?9. How does music function in this comedy?10. How is Feste the Clown related to both the comic and the romantic plots?