Point/Counterpoint in Twelfth Night

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Point-CounterPoint in Twelfth Night

Shakespeare's romantic comedy Twelfth Night employs the literary device known as counterpoint to accent the dramatic tension in the plot. Counterpoint is a technique of contrasting two distinctly different items against one another, creating conflicts between opposing sides. However, this conflict does not imply a clashing, destructive dissonance; instead, counterpoint leads to a ‘harmonic resonation' between characters, as the interactions between two opposing personalities lead to plot and character development. An analogy in this case may be made to a structured, academic debate: one side takes a position, the other takes the counter-position. In the end, the knowledge of each participant is increased as he is forced to adapt his ideas to that of his opponent. Twelfth Night employs counterpoint in three primary ways: the contrast between the themes of happiness and misfortune , the dichotomy of high comedy versus low comedy, and the creation of character foils.

The literary term ‘foil' refers to a character who's personality, motivations, and actions emphasize another character in comparison. Twelfth Night employs several of these character pairs; most notably for the purpose of this discussion, Toby vs. Agucheek, and Feste vs. Olivia. Toby and Agucheek serve as a comedic ‘team' in Twelfth Night, and nearly everything from their physical characteristic to their intelligence reinforces this idea. Toby is short and fat, while Aguecheek is tall and skinny. At first glance, Aguecheek appears to be the much superior of the two; Toby is nothing more than an old drunkard while Aguecheek, according to Toby,

"plays o' th' viol-de-gamboys, and speaks three or four languages without book, and hath all the good gifts of nature (Page 15 Lines 25-28)." However, Andrew's character is soon changed as we learn more about him -- he's a fake. "What is pourquoi?" (Page 19, Line 91) shows his nearly complete ignorance concerning...
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