Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

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Twelfth Night “Twelfth Night is a comedy of light and shade. Its characters
are not unreservedly happy and the events are not unreservedly humorous.”
Discuss. As a comedy, Twelfth Night is obviously intending to not only
entertain its audience but also point out problems in society. It is imperative to
entire merit of the play not to be realistic but to allow for empathy. Therefor
to have a comedy of complete lightheartedness there would be no balance
and hence no avenue for audience interaction. Without light we would have
no darkness and for this reason Shakespeare has had to incorporate tragedy
in order for the comedy to have it’s desired effect. The two in juxtaposition
accentuate each other. The characters of Twelfth Night are neither bluntly
humorous nor artlessly tragic. Twelfth Night like all Shakespearean comedies
is largely about social concerns. The social messages in Twelfth Night are
largely about, the need for a balance in life, that you should not judge on
appearance as they can be deceptive and the importance of self awareness or
the humor in lack of. Neither is artlessly or bluntly humorous, as this would
detract from the greater issues he in attempting to convey. Humor instead is
used in contrast to some pain to antithesis the comedy and accentuate the
themes. The plot of Twelfth Night is comic it explores many social issues in
it’s comedy yet is also not unrestrained in it’s humor. As a comedy Twelfth
Night follows, many conventions as far as structure, the setting is in a far
away “romantic” land, situation, and events somewhat steer the plot however
this is certainly not without art or subtleties. Shakespeare has carefully
intertwined comedy and pain in both the main and the sub plots to highlight
the comedy and explore the social themes. The audience is forced to suspend
disbelief that such a coincidence could occur. The audience is transported
from their ordinary mundane existence and is transported into a world of
chance, non-existent penalties for practical jokes and the unmistakable
harmony of events. It is this incongruity compared to everyday life that is
humorous. However, this summer, frivolris setting is not completely free from
conflict. There is however, some predominately “lighter” characters that serve
as comic relief from the more serious main plot and represent a certain “type”
of people in society. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew would have been marvelously
enjoyed by Shakespearean audiences as they are today. Not a scene goes by
involving these to where we can laugh and the slow wit of Sir Andrew and
the awkward puns of Sir Toby.

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However, we find the names and foolish
antics of these two rather amusing. It is with a certain hesitance that we laugh
at the gullibility of Sir Toby, his disillusioned love for Olivia is rather somber
and balances our opinion of him. This balances is representative of all the
characters in Twelfth Night, they may be predominately comic yet they are
never completely comic or completely serious. This has the effect on Twelfth
Night as making it more true to life and therefor we as the audience can relate
and understand the themes. Malvolio and Feste are typical examples of
characters that are seen as comic, yet when looking beyond these
superficialities we see a far more important role of their character in the play.
Feste, his name and title as a “fool” is careful balance of light and shade. He
is arguably the most intelligent character in the play and it is evident at the end
of the play that he is the most powerful, because he concludes the play. Feste
is certainly a vital link between not only the main and sub plots but also as a
conveyer of the action to the audience. It is ironic that such wit and wisdom
are found in the “fool.” Cesario refers to Feste as, “This fellow’s wise enough
to play the fool: / And to do that well craves wit.” The obvious key to
understanding the themes Shakespeare is conveying we must closely examine
the characters, with which he communicates. Feste is not a character of low,
blunt comedy, his merriment is truthful not scornful or artless. Act 1 scene 5,
“The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven.
Take away the fool…” Feste is clever well balanced and has a keen
understanding of himself and others. This combination of intellect, humor and
subtlety effectively conveys the themes of Twelfth Night, rather than a cruel,
crude, unreservedly humorous character that would be not nearly as potent.
Malvolio is a prime example of the need for a balanced, self-aware person.
Malvolio’s name suggests his character, Mal meaning bad, and volio will.
This wicked disposition is his self-deception and lack of balance and it is this
that we find comic not however bluntly humorous. Conflict between
characters is an aspect of the plot that makes it certainly more than
unreservedly humors. However, there are also different levels of conflict in
Twelfth Night. As far as the conventional structure of a comedy goes all
conflict is minor and usually created merely through the suspense. In Twelfth
Night there is conflict concerning who will win the hand of Oliva. Malvolio
through his vanity is easily fooled into thinking it is he who she loves although
she is most otherwise, “O, you are sick of self love, Malvolio, and taste with
a distemper’d appetite.” Another social theme that is not "unreservedly
humorous" dealt with in Twelfth Night is the idea of self-awareness.
Self-awareness is based around being well balanced rather than excessive,
therefor to convey this idea neither the characters nor the plot can be
completely, inadvertently “happy.” Self-awareness is developed by both
Olivia and Orsino; they were both creatures of lavishness. Orsino plunged
deeply into his unrequited almost courtly love for Olivia his verbose, dramatic
language demonstrates this, “If music be the food of love, play on; / Give me
excess of it, that, surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken and die.” This
passionate plea and later exchanges demonstrate Orsino’s developing
character. Initially he is more “in love” with the idea of love. We as the
audience and survey of this activity may find his self-absorption laughable but
as he develops into a well-rounded character, it is evident why Shakespeare
portrayed him in this way. It is vital the believability and credit to the play and
it’s issues that we can emphasize with the characters. To understand why
Orsino can love and marry Viola soon after discovering her identity,
Shakespeare has portrayed him as a man capable of great passion but little
sense. Cesario provides this rational, logical way of thinking and so hence,
Orsino becomes more self-aware. Initially his lack of perception is comic but
it is not without art or intention and so hence not “unreservedly humorous.”
Olivia is also a creature of excess and fraudulent behavior; the mourning of
her brother’s death appears more so for her sake rather than in actual despair
of a loss. Shakespeare has done this by comparing her reaction to Viola’s, a
person of far greater self-awareness. Her character is constantly compared to
Viola; Olvia’s self-absorptive, obstinate character again develops through
contact with Cesario. Particularly noticeable In scenes where feelings are
intense, such as Olivia declaration of love for Cesario, Shakespeare balances
this seriousness and lightens the atmosphere with rhyming couplets. Act 3
scene 1, “I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, / Nor wit nor reason can
my passion hide.” The ironic high comedy is balanced by the pain Olivia is
obviously feeling. This balance of pain and humor to highlight the themes is
common throughout the play. For any character to be completely comic or
totally dark would detract from the greater intentions of the play. Each
character comes to a certain self-realization, however the discovery is not
always a happy one. Malvolio’s self-discovery is not a pleasant journey nor is
the ending happy. This ending that is propitious for some and not for others is
another representation of light and shade in Twelfth Night. If the play was
unrestrained in its humor there would be no art in the play. Without art and
wit, Twelfth Night would be not only boring in its low comedy but also
lacking in any substantial themes or social issues. The fact that the ending is
not favorable for everyone, Malvolio is devastated that the women he was
sure loved him does not. Sir Andrew realizes he has been also duped by Sir
Andrew and Feste does not appear totally self satisfied. Without these
sufferings, the Twelfth Night would be superfluous as a comedy attempting to
point out human foibles. Song and music are devices that are particularly
imperative to a comedy. In Twelfth Night music emphasizes the mood or
balances they scene, controlling and manipulating light, and shade for desired
effect. When considering Twelfth Night as a miniature mirror of society rather
than a satire, music becomes an integral part of conveying themes. Moments
of comedy are sometimes juxtaposed with serious, somber music. Such as
when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are in high drunken spirits, they call for a
song from Feste, Toby : “Lets have a song.” Clown : “… a love song, or a
song of good life?” Toby : “A love song, a love song.” Andrew : “ Ay, ay, I
care not for good life.” The irony of the situation is humorous and through
music, we see Sir Toby and Sir Andrew’s serious side. It may well be seen
as humorous that these two lonesome drunks care for love rather than the
good life they have chosen. The comedy of the situation is tainted by the slight
but penetrating sadness we can see in the two. Music is found in almost all
aspects of the play, from the beginning where music reveals the humor in
Orsino’s “depressing” situation. Through to the final speech in the play where
Feste uses song to speak truthfully about the meanings of the play. “But that’s
all one, our play is done, / And we’ll strive to please you everyday.” The
language of Twelfth Night, its structure and purpose are area where it is
obvious that Shakespeare intended the play, it’s characters and the plot to be
an overlapping indefinite line between light and shade. Maximum suspense is
created by the constant balance, though we as the audience know that as a
comedy all will end well Shakespeare combats this as much as possible. The
structure of the play where two thirds of the play is written in prose, therefore
allowing for punning and word play, it is lively and dynamic which holds
audience attention. Moments of importance are made as obvious to the
audience with rhyming couplets and blank verse. Letters, such as the letter to
Malvolio rhyme to highlight the humor of the situation, “I may command
where I adore; /…/With bloodless stroke of my heart doth gore. “ The
language of the play is manipulated in such a way, it is humorous, but it is
balanced and constrained. Twelfth Night is a comedy, it has humorous
aspects, and the plot is often laughable. However, it is contained through the
cunning clever artistic ability of Shakespeare. Moments of great pain and
sorrow are capitalized for effect. Accentuating the social themes and issues
dealt with throughout the play. Every aspect of Twelfth Night is artistic and
controlled; every scene has deliberate intentions to convey messages to the
audience. The play in its entirety is effective through the careful balance of
humor and pain. Twelfth night succeeds as a comedy because of this careful
balance, entertaining its audience as well as allowing people to examine their
own failings. The carefully crafted characters such as Malvolio help convey
and accentuate the themes. Comic characters are also somber and vice
versa. To do this Shakespeare employs many dramatic techniques, such as
humor of situation and character, the true skill of Shakespeare’s writing is
demonstrated when examining his complete control of comedy within the
characters and plot.
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