Twelfth Night Analysis

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Department of Literature and Languages


NUC #: 20103674



ASSIGNMENT: Discuss the role and effect of disguise and mistaken identity in Twelfth Night. How does Shakespeare use these to advance his plot?

DUE DATE: 17 JUNE 2011

Before explicating how Shakespeare utilised disguise and mistaken identity in Twelfth Night to develop his plot, it is important to understand the meaning of Twelfth Night. In the eastern most part of Canada is a province called Newfoundland and Labrador, a long forgotten English tradition- mummering has been renewed. This tradition occurs in the course of the 12 days of Christmas, normally on the night of 5 January, the eve of Epiphany which is normally referred to as the Old Twelfth, or Twelfth Night. Grownups either disguise themselves with masks or dress up in clothes of the opposite gender. Afterwards, the tradition is characterised by visitations to friends in the neighbourhood where short songs and dance are staged out, all the time ensuring that they are not recognised. They are rewarded with cakes and wine among other things. (Encarta 2009). Shakespeare in this renowned romantic comedy cultivates the aspect that both male and female sexes are arbitrary. In an art of mastery, he portrayed Viola, the protagonist as a transvestite. Viola, after a shipwreck off the coast of Irwin lost her twin brother. In an apparent pursuit to search for him, she disguised herself as a male, adopting the name Cesario to heighten irony, develop theme and enhance a comic innuendo as cited below: Shakespeare,

creates a plot that revolves around mistaken identity and deception. Mistaken identity, along with disguises, rules the play and affects the lives of several of the characters. Shakespeare's techniques involve mistaken identity to bring humor, mystery, and complication to the play. Many characters in Twelfth Night assume disguises, beginning with Viola who is disguised as a eunuch, Maria who writes a letter to Malvolio as Olivia, and then the mix-up between Sebastian and Viola are revealed.

The instances of mistaken identity are related to many disguises in the play. Viola, who puts on male attire, begins to have everyone believe that she is a man. By dressing up in male garments, she wants to be taken as a eunuch. Viola assumes the name Cesario. (

In another twist of disguise and mistaken identity, Orsino, the duke that Cesario is working for as a page, acts as the courier to the messages of love that the duke sends to the lovely Countess Olivia who on the other hand gets infatuated with Cesario mistaking him to be male. Meanwhile, Viola has already fallen in love with the Duke of Illyria, Orsino. “Orsino sends his new page Cesario (Viola in disguise) to woo Olivia on his behalf. Viola goes unwillingly as she has already fallen in love at first sight with the duke. Olivia is attracted by the 'boy' and she sends her pompous steward, Malvolio, after him with a ring.” Shakespeare introduces an interesting love circle involving Sir Toby Belch, a drunken uncle to Olivia who is fond of Maria, a lady in waiting in Olivia’s household, who also happens to be fond of Sir Belch. Meanwhile, Sir Belch is accompanied by another character, Sir Andrew Aquecheek who pursues Olivia’s love. One night Sirs Belch and Aquecheek whilst having a boisterous time in the house attracted the attention of Malvolio who in turn admonished Maria for failing to quieten the two intoxicated men. In retaliation, Maria connived with the two sirs, hoodwinked Malvolio into believing that Olivia had written him a love letter. He was requested to wear cross gartered yellow stockings, must always smile at her and be antagonistic to the others. Foolishly, Malvolio follows...
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