Literary Analysis of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

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Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a play with themes that parallel the folly of the festival it is named after. The main storyline of the plot plays on this a lot by mixing up the stereotypes around gender that were very present at the time. However, a sub-plot involving secondary characters defines this theme even more. It takes the idea even further by relating servants’ attempts to blur the lines between social classes. Twelfth Night’s Maria and Malvolio both have great aspirations to rise above their social class. However, Maria succeeds where Malvolio fails because of her capability to make use of the satiric ambiance of her mistress’s household to achieve her goals.

To begin this essay, I will provide a brief analysis of the atmosphere of the play. I will also establish the mood created by Shakespeare to give a comedic tone to his story which would otherwise have been a maudlin story revolving around romance. The play, which actually has the full title Twelfth Night, or What You Will, was written specifically to be performed for the twelfth night of Christmas. In Elizabethan England, this was a day where people are handed out slices of a cake cooked with a pea and a bean. The two people that eat the special slices are appointed King and Queen of the evening’s festivities. As Shakespeare purposefully tried to emulate, the themes of the festivals revolve around servants according themselves more privileges than they were usually given by their masters. Like it is demonstrated by Shakespeare in the play, sometimes people dressed up in the opposite gender or even as wealthy nobles. Centering his play’s plot around this is what took his play from being only romance-oriented to being more comedic and thus more appropria...

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...ictably fails to achieve his goals.

To conclude, though Twelfth Night’s main plot revolves around melancholic romance, what truly makes it a comedy is the erratic mood set by sub-plots to recall that of the festival with the same name. In the play, both Maria and Malvolio, servants to Olivia, show great aspirations to rise high above their social classes. However, Maria, being much more in-synch with the offbeat mood of the household, succeeds easily in marrying a nobleman, while Malvolio, stiff and pompous, just fails miserably. The conclusion to the play, which is contrary to what viewers would ever hope to happen in their real lives, succeeds in bringing enjoyment to all the lower-class people who watched it. Although the play includes many clever paradoxes, it is first and foremost a play created to entertain servants on their fun-filled rare day off.
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