One Distinction Between Comic and Tragic Drama Is That Comedies End Happily, While Tragedies Do Not. to What Extent Is the Ending of Twelfth Night a Happy One?

Topics: Comedy, Tragedy, Drama Pages: 7 (1273 words) Published: February 22, 2013
One distinction between comic and tragic drama is that comedies end happily, while tragedies do not. To what extent is the ending of Twelfth Night a happy one?

Twelfth Night Or What You Will is renowned for being one of Shakespeare’s

finest achievements in comedy. The basis of a comedy lies in its characters

and plot, both of which merge together in a formula to produce an end

resolution that can be interpreted as happy, and also, specifically in the case

of Twelfth Night, festive. The construction of a comedy usually entails conflict

at the opening of the plot, a twist that enables the protagonist to triumph, and

a resolution in which they achieves their desires and end happy in the


Although Twelfth Night’s structure mirrors that of a comedy, it does contain

elements of dark distain, with tragic undertones, which force the play away

from the stereotype of ‘traditional comedy’ and into its own, unofficial genre of

tragic comedy.

Another play written by Shakespeare, which contains very similar

structure and ambiguity regarding genre, is The Merchant of Venice, which

was believed to be written between 1956 and 1958, just years before

Shakespeare begun Twelfth Night. Both plays contain a comedic plot

structure, typical comedic themes, and provide for music, comic relief, and a

somewhat satisfying conclusion. Nevertheless, both plays push the limits of

these characterisations of comedy and bring forth the concept of death, which

complicates the definition of Elizabethan comedy. Both plays end in festivities

but with an ambiguous darkness and a foreboding shadow in which

Shakespeare seems to go to the very edge of comedy and

tragedy. These two comedies, unlike earlier ones, leave the audience

discontent and questioning the moral and statement of the work, leading to a

much more deep effect than a simplified and superficial satisfaction.

Shakespeare makes subtle implications towards the ambiguity at the

closing of Twelfth Night, even before the play has commenced. ‘Or What You

Will’ alludes that the play’s events, structure and characters

will be an obscure version of tradition. With this understanding in

mind, it is easier to digest the potential fact that Twelfth Night will not fall

under the stereotypical interpretation of ‘the twelfth night of Christmas’, and

furthermore will stray away from traditionally happily ended comedies.

Malvolio is the fundamentally pivotal character that causes the ending

of Twelfth Night to be one that is considered to have tragic undertones,

underlying sadness and deny full chances of a typical comic ending. It was

Malvolio’s own disposition that ultimately lead to his less than

tragic ending, however it is not until that final act, where the audience fully

establish the extent of the tragedy and conclude on Twelfth Night’s

ambitiously juxtaposed version of a comedy.

Act Five; Scene One marks the tragically intended moment where both

Malvolio and the audience foresee his inability of success and full restoration

of ordered normality. When brought out of the dark room, and back on stage,

the first mention of Malvolio’s presence, is conducted by Orsino where he

queries ‘Is this the madman?’ The Stewart, unaware that the reason Orsino is

referring to him as ‘madman’ is due to a previous conversation had between

Olivia and various mischief making characters, in his presence, discussing

the confusion about Malvolio’s mistaken state of disarray. However, to Malvolio this seems like yet another attempt to dishonor his name. A further

affront of his title comes with the alliterative use of ‘geck and gull’. This

heightens the disrespect that has already blemished Malvolio’s puritanical

name even further, adding increased desensitisation amongst the population

who despised the...
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