Masks in Twelfth Night

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“Women are central to the comedy in Twelfth Night.” Explore how Shakespeare uses the characters of Viola, Olivia and Maria to create comedy in the play.

In the play ‘Twelfth Night’ all of the women are given power, either over each other, over men, or over their servants. The women in the play are used to add a comic effect by having some of the comedy caused by them and some directed at them. Shakespeare uses a combination of comic techniques such as misunderstandings, dramatic irony and physical elements to create a comical effect, all of these are centred on and around the women in the play.

Olivia is the most powerful woman in the play as she has servants who work for her. The extent of her power is evident in Act 1 Scene 5 when Olivia pretends that Cesario has left a ring as a present from Orsino. She says; “Run after that peevish messenger, the County’s Man.” When Cesario delivers a message from the Duke, Olivia suddenly shows early signs of becoming obsessed with Cesario. In Act 1 Scene 5 she says; “Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions and spirit, Do give thee five-fold blazon”

Olivia seems to think that everything about Cesario is attractive. Cesario, is attractive to Olivia because “he” is both masculine and feminine looking. ‘thy tongue’ indicates Olivia likes ‘Cesario’s’ way with words, and ‘actions and spirit’, suggests she likes ‘his’ friendly nature and she believes he has no imperfections. She also says; “Even so quickly may one catch the plague? Methinks I feel this youth’s Perfections with an invisible and subtle stealth to creep in at mine eyes.” She has fallen for Cesario quite quickly, therefore, comparing it to a disease as diseases are caught quickly. She also explains that she has fallen for him from the mere sight of him, and has caught love for him through her eyes like you would catch an illness from breathing it into your lungs.

The second female character who is in possession of a lot of power, gains it in a different...
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