Twelfth Night Motifs

Music Music is used to portray the mood of characters. It often reveals their inner feelings. Music is also predominant in the character Feste who often uses music to sings songs about love in order to entertain others.
Colors Colors Represent the moods of the scene or characters – The darkness of malvolio’s prison – darkness becomes a symbol of his insanity, as they tell him that the room is filled with light and his inability to see is a sign of madness.
The Oceans/Islands Water represents uncertainty, death, and danger. – Viola and Sebastian experience a shipwreck and arrive in Illyria separate.- The captain talks about Sebastian and how, when their ship was wrecked and Viola + the other survivors were clinging on to their life boat, he saw Sebastian tie himself to something in the sea. He say him stay afloat as if he were on a dolphin’s back for as long as he could see.
Letters, Tokens, & Rings Messages are sent from one character to another (some as letters, some as tokens/rings). They are used for purposes of communication but often lead to missed communication (sometimes deliberate, sometimes accidental). Messages can convey important information but they also create the potential for miscommunication and confusion. – Maria’s letter to Malvolio which is “from” Olivia (successful trick) – Sir Andrew’s letter demanding a duel with Cesario but Sir Toby doesn’t actually deliver it because it’s stupid. – Malvolio’s letter sent by way of Feste from the dark room he has been imprisoned in. It ultimately works to undo the confusion caused by Maria’s forged letter and to free Malvolio. – Objects can function as messages too – Ex: When Olivia sends Malvolio after Cesario with a ring to tell him that she loves him.
Disguises/Clothing – Viola puts on Male attire and makes everyone else believe that she is a man. By dressing the protagonist in male garments, Shakespeare creates an endless sexual confusion with the Olivia-Viola-Orsino love triangle. – Malvolio puts on crossed garters and yellow stockings with the hopes of winning over Olivia.- Feste dressed up like a priest, Sir Topaz, when he speaks to Malvolio after he has been locked in a dark room. – ^ He does this even though Malvolio can’t see him, suggesting that the importance of clothing is not just in the eye of the beholder. The disguise completes the assumption of a new identity – in order to be Sir Topaz he must dress like Sir Topaz. – Olivia wears a veil for 7 years while she is mourning her brother’s death.
Class Mobility – The play is very much concerned with social ambition, especially as it relates to marrying above or below one’s class. – Malvolio has many social-climbing fantasies which he believes could be fulfilled if he married Olivia. – While drunken fools like Sir Toby Belch eat, drink, and spend their way through life, the brilliant performer and “licensed fool,” Feste, works for spare change and is often treated like a common servant.