Twelfth Night or What You Will by William Shakespeare: Assessment

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My internal assessment is a review of the sixteenth century comedy, “Twelfth Night or What You Will” by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. His early plays were mainly comedies and histories, genres he raised to the peak of sophistication and artistry by the end of the 16th century. In his last phase, he wrote tragicomedies, also known as romances. The title, “Twelfth Night”, refers to the celebration of Epiphany, the twelfth night after Christmas characterized by an atmosphere of fun and festivity. With the sub-title, "What you Will", Shakespeare indulges the audience in this festival mood, allowing the freedom for an open interpretation of his play. Indeed critic, John Nelson, remarks that Shakespearean comedies always involve multiple plot lines, cleverly intertwined to keep the audience guessing but are resolved in a happy ending. “Twelfth Night” is one of Shakespeare’s most complex and intriguing comedies embracing several provocative themes. These themes include gender ambiguity, love, friendship, mistaken identity and appearance versus reality. Shakespeare illuminates these varied themes through a range of dramatic techniques such as contrast, characterization, verse and prose, word-play, imagery, dramatic irony, literary devices, stage directions and props. In his play, Shakespeare contrasts his female protagonists to the typical Elizabethan women. Women in the Elizabethan era were expected to be submissive to men who possessed authority and domination. Despite the fact that the ideal of women’s chastity, silence, and obedience was proclaimed in early modern England, the women of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” are strong and outspoken, yielding to male power, but firm and cunning enough to outwit the opposite sex in the most critical situations. In the play, Viola’s cross-dressing as a man enables her to speak and act freely as she firmly defends women when Orsino declares man’s love greater than that of women’s, “In faith they are as true of heart as we (men)”. Unlike Viola, Olivia steps forth undisguised and unchallenged, firm against the tide of the misogynistic elements of the Elizabethan era. Content in wooing Cesario, she takes on the role of the hunter where she would normally be the hunted, “I love thee so, that, maugre thy pride, nor wit, nor reason can my passion hide”. These two characters function as contrasts to the typical stereotype of the submissive Elizabethan woman. Shakespeare cleverly uses the themes of disguise, appearance versus reality and mistaken identity to evoke “Twelfth Night’s” main and sub-plots. Viola’s disguise as a man (Cesario) is the main plot of the play. Viola finds herself falling in love with Orsino—a difficult love to pursue, as Orsino believes her to be a man. When Orsino sends Cesario to deliver love messages to the disdainful Olivia, Olivia herself falls in love with Cesario, also believing her to be a man, completing the love triangle and creating the play’s main plot which evokes numerous complications in “Twelfth Night”. The theme of mistaken identity is also integrated in the plot when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew mistake Sebastian (Viola’s twin brother) for Cesario and challenge him to a duel, creating the climax of this meandering plot. The story of Malvolio and those who seek to punish him for his puritanical ways is the subplot. The climax occurs when Malvolio, in yellow cross-gartered socks, confronts Olivia about a letter he perceived to be in her hand but was, in fact Maria’s, “Remember who commended my yellow stockings…and wished to see thee cross-gartered”. Indeed, the deception and cruel outcomes that were bestowed on Malvolio is one of “Twelfth Night’s” serious undertones. However, love and its multifarious complications typify “Twelfth Night” as a romantic comedy. One of Shakespeare’s key dramatic techniques is his skilful use of characterization. Shakespeare...
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