Masks in Twelfth Night

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Greg Clement

Shakespeare was a man that established his name in history books as a great writer. One of Shakespeare’s many sparks of innovative genius which laminated these pages was his use of masks. Masks are used throughout Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” as a character would choose to wear their selected mask to fit in to the particular situation. Shakespeare uses this imagery of a mask in many of the characters in his play, but mostly in two: Viola and Feste. These masks are used throughout the play, but are eventually discarded at the end for the finale. This masking imagery is perfectly displayed by Feste, the jester. Realizing that his role in society is an acting jester, Feste is careful to conceal acting as a wise man and develops a mask to hide this character development. He successfully attempts to “conceal (himself) for what (he) is” because he knows that if the people realize his true intelligence, he will not be called upon for anymore work. The very songs that Feste sings throughout the comedy display signs of a well-formed conscience. Later, the “devil man” in him surfaces when talking to Malvolio. This is a mask because not only is Feste intelligent, not only is he a fool, he is also conniving. These masks appear all over the play, developing from scene to scene. Feste plays the role of a chameleon; changing masks to become what the necessary character for the given situation. Feste acts as “an ass” (1.5-16) for his acquaintances. This pleases the audience and allows Shakespeare to say outrageous but true things that no other character would say. Although characters wear masks, their true identities are always revealed. Some are used only once or twice; others are used for nearly the duration of the play.

Near the opening of the play, when Viola adopts her male identity, she creates another self, like two masks. She decides to take on this identity because she has more freedom in society in her...
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