Free Essay On Twelfth Night Themes
The play “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare involves the love that the Duke of Illyria, Orsino, has for the fair Olivia which brings several ramifications. Viola arrives in Illyria with a captain after a shipwreck. She decides to wear a man’s clothes and seeks work at the duke’s house as a boy (Shakespeare n.p.). Olivia does not love Orsino back, so he sends his new errand boy Cesario (Viola disguised as a boy) to woo Olivia for him. Olivia on the other hand falls in love with Cesario without knowing that she is a woman. Later on Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother, thought to have died at sea arrives at Olivia’s house. Olivia marries him thinking that he is Cesario (YouTube, n.p.). Near the end of the play, Sebastian arrives before Olivia’s house when Cesario is there. All are amazed by the resemblance between the twins (YouTube, n.p.). It is after both reveal their identity to each other that all realize Cesario is a woman. The Duke realizes that like he is attracted to Cesario (Viola) and vows to marry her (Shakespeare n.p.). There are other parts of the play left out but may be highlighted later on in this paper. Love is the major theme in this play but other themes such as confusion, grief, change, absurdity, and appearance and reality can be identified.
The theme of love in this play is shown on many occasions and in different ways. First, there is an aspect of love at first sight as shown by Olivia when she first sees Cesario (Shakespeare n.p.). She also loves Sebastian at first sight, though thinking it is Cesario. Love is shown to sometimes cause emotional pain as can be shown by Orsino after his feelings for Olivia are not returned. Every time he sends Cesario to Olivia to tell her how much he loves her, he gets a negative response. As can be seen from seen Act 5 Scene 1, Orsino is hurt by the fact that the woman he loves has given her heart to another “man” – Cesario. Orsino is disappointed when he thinks that Cesario has betrayed him by marrying Olivia and making her reject him. He even vows to take revenge on him. The actual truth is that Cesario’s (in reality Viola) twin brother Sebastian is the one who married Olivia but they cannot realize this since both are too identical. Olivia also experiences her share of disappointments in love. In Act 5 Scene 1 when Cesario is confronted by Orsino, “he” claims to love him more than his life and more than his wife (Shakespeare n.p.). Olivia is shocked by this and even calls the priest who united them to confirm their marriage. This perplexes Cesario too because “he” cannot remember marrying Olivia. This is still because Sebastian, and not Cesario married Olivia but all are not aware of this leading to confusion and conflict. This brings out the theme of confusion since Olivia, Orsino and Cesario do not understand what is going on.
The theme of appearance and reality influences this play in a major way. As aforementioned, the characters in this play except the captain do not know that Cesario is actually a woman and not a man. Olivia falls in love with Cesario thinking that she is falling in love with a man. This is because she disguises herself into a man by wearing a man’s clothes. This brings out the aspect that there is a difference between appearance and reality. This concept is furthered by the fact that when Sebastian first appears in Act IV: Scene 1, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby mistake him for Cesario with whom they had a conflict earlier (YouTube, n.p.). They engage Sebastian in a fight thinking that he is Cesario showing theme of mistaken identity. Olivia later comes and mistakes the identity of Sebastian and asks him to marry her thinking that he is Cesario.
The theme of change is presented by Malvolio. He is tricked with a letter written by Maria who forges Olivia’s handwriting that she loves him, and he believes it. By following the false instructions in the letter, he changes from being a puritan steward and starts behaving like a lunatic thinking that he is pleasing Olivia. In Act III: Scene 4, he is seen smiling foolishly, has stopped wearing modest dark clothes, is wears yellow stockings, and has mismatching cross-garters (Shakespeare n.p.). He in short looks like a madman. Malvolio also brings out the theme of absurdity since it is near impossible for a highborn gentlewoman like Olivia to stoop low and love a steward like him. The same case may apply for Andrew who is even willing to enter into a duel for her.
Lastly, the theme of grief is portrayed in this play. Grief also brings out a theme of death. This is shown by the fact that we are told that Olivia will mourn her dead brother for seven years. The theme of death is also brought up in Act I: Scene 2, where the captain and Viola have just survived a shipwreck and are talking about the possibility of Sebastian having survived the ship wreck. The captain states there it is possible that only he, Viola, and few sailors may have survived. The captain however states that there might be a very small possibility of Sebastian having survived. They also mention of the death of Olivia’s father and brother which gives her so much sorrow that she does not want to have a lover.
In conclusion, the play “Twelfth Night” has many themes communicated by the playwright. These include: love, disguise, change, absurdity and confusion, which the characters bring out very clearly. However, their list is longer than tackled in this essay, which leaves a challenge for further understanding of the play in order to identify more of them.
Film Link 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6i3J17Jp0ag
Film Link 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuwgQ9Qof88
Shakespeare, William. 'Twelfth Night: List Of Scenes'. Shakespeare.mit.edu. N.p., 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
YouTube,. 'Twelfth Night (1969)'. N.p., 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
YouTube,. 'Twelfth Night (Shakespeare) - Directed By Kenneth Branagh'. N.p., 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.