Free Essay On Twelfth Night: A Fabulous Fiesta
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Twelfth Night or What You Will is certainly the most charming, symphonic and proficient of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies. It has an existing ambience of ecstasy and delight. The title has great significance as the twelfth night, in the Christian calendar, is the twelfth day from the Christmas, which falls on the sixth of January when the festival of Epiphany is celebrated with great mirth and festivity. The play was composed to be staged in Court of Queen Elizabeth on the twelfth night after Christmas and therefore the play has been named as Twelfth Night. The chief characteristics of Twelfth Night are love and marriage, music and poetry, satire on puritanism, humour and romance.
The central theme of Twelfth Night is love and marriage. All the characters in the play, except the Clown, fall in love. The Duke loves Olivia; Olivia adores Cesario (Viola in disguise); Viola fancies the Duke; Sir Andrew worships Olivia; Sir Toby loves maria; even Malvolio cares for Olivia. The Duke’s love is emotional, fake and also inexplicable as the Clown clearly suggests the use of taffeta or short silk for the Duke. Olivia’s love, similar to Duke is sentimental, artificial and freakish as she takes a vow of mourning for seven years for the sake of her deceased brother and she decides to marry Sebastian after having a wild fancy for Cesario(Viola). The Duke also suddenly transfers his love from Olivia to Viola simply on the plea that Cesario is actually a woman in disguise and that Olivia is betrothed to Sebastian. Sir Andrews love for Olivia is purely materialistic as he desires to have a great fortune by marrying Olivia. Maria loves Sir Toby out of her vaulting ambition to be ranked with Olivia and not as one of her personal attendants. Sir Toby does not love Maria and he loves only drinking, but he marries Maria as he has been thrilled by the spectacular plot against Malvolio which Maria has devised and successfully accomplished. But Viola’s love is flawlessly normal, chaste, intense, unwavering and genuine. Malvolio’s love for Olivia is out of the belief that Olivia loves him and therefore he ought to love her chiefly as he suffers from superiority complex and self- conceited and wants to raise his status before the whole world, the status of a Steward.
Twelfth Night is full of music and poetry. The play opens with music. The Duke madly loves music and frequently asks Cesario, Curio, Feste and others to sing songs and play music. Apart from the Duke, the Clown, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria, Fabian and other characters adore music. The enchantment of music is clear from the following lines:
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that surfeiting.
O, it came o’er my ear like a sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour (Act I Scene I, 1-6)
There are excellent scenes of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew turn Olivia’s house into an ale house by singing, dancing and drinking. But Malvolio hates music because he is a Puritan and a Puritan avoids singing, dancing, playing on music and rejects any kind of pleasure, joy, laughter or merry making. There are four songs scattered through the play, all of them introduced and sung by Feste, the Clown. The first song is philosophic; The second song is a parody of the Duke’s love and yet it is acutely pathetic; the third song which is sung to Malvolio is a fine example of sweet rhyme, while the fourth or the last song is again philosophic like the first song as it points out the merits and demerits of various stages of human life.
Another striking feature of the play is the humour and romance. The dramatist infuses humour in the words and behaviour of characters as well as in the situations and incidents. Malvolio appears to be the most humorous character as he poses to be most serious when there is no occasion for any seriousness. Sir Andrew produces mirth in the audience with his stupid words and stupid acts. It is well known that wit appeals to the intellect while humour appeals to emotion. Almost all the characters in Twelfth Night indulge in humorous words and deeds rather than in witty remarks. The humour of the play is not satirical although the main sub- plot of the play is a satire on Puritanism. Even the Malvolio- episode produces a good- humoured laughter although it produces some feelings of pathos or pity for the poor victim of the conspiracy. That is why, most of the critics have remarked about Twelfth Night that it has little satire, and no spleen, that it makes us laugh at the follies of mankind in general but not despise the particular persons who indulge in such follies.
The next prominent feature of the play is the satire on Puritanism. Malvolio is represented as a Puritan and a great moralist. He hates singing, dancing, and merry- making of any sort and as a result he threatens Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria, Fabian and the Clown so bluntly in their very face and invites their wrath and revenge upon his head as a result of which he is ridiculed, disgraced, tortured and branded as a lunatic. The next feature of the play is romance that includes freedom from the classical rules of art as well as freedom of imagination and an undue exuberance or enthusiasm for life. Shakespeare’s aim in a romantic comedy is to amuse and entertain his audience.
The characters in Shakespearean comedies arouse no hatred, contempt or scorn but they produce good- humoured laughter in the audience. The disguise of Viola, the mistaken identity which the disguise produces in all the spectators and which leads to many interesting situations in the play is indeed an element of romance. Had there been no disguise or mistaken identity, the play would have lost half of its flavour or relish, and it would have been brought to the level of a burlesque. Walter N. King points out:
Twelfth Night is the climax of Shakespeare’s achievement in comedy. The effects and values of the earlier comedies are here subtly embodied in the most complex structure with Shakespeare had yet created. But the play also looks forward: the pressure to dissolve the comedy, to realize and finally abandon the burden of laughter, is an intrinsic part of its “perfection” (22).
King, Walter N. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Twelfth Night: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night; Or, What You Will. [Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale UP, 1954. Print.
White, R. S. Twelfth Night. New York: St. Martin's, 1996. Print.
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