Twelfth Night: Which is more engaging – the main plot or the sub-plot?
Shakespeare’s comedy “Twelfth Night,” is considered the last of the true comedies, his final light-hearted play before the venture into the darker, more sombre tragedies. As with many of his comedies, the basis of the story is the two intertwined love plots, which are sometimes separate, and occasionally come together and directly affect each other. This considered, questions have been raised as to whether it should be classed as a comedy at all. Unlike some of the playwright’s more whimsical scripts, the main plot is fairly serious until the final act; whilst the sub-plot has a merry, happy feel until it takes a brutal twist and the end of Act III.
Watching both plots unfold makes exciting viewing for the theatre-goers, therefore Shakespeare continues them throughout the entire play, bringing them together whenever it suits the occasion, such as in the events of Act III Scene Two; during the set-up of the Malvolio ‘prank,’ before finally combining them in the chaotic conclusion that is Act V. Despite this, the two plots are generally separate, the main plot consisting of the love triangle that is Olivia, Orsino, and Viola; the sub-plot being the revelry and adventures of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria.
To make the double plot system work, Shakespeare employs the use of two characters that flit between the two storylines, linking them and furthering the plots. One of these in Malvolio, the other is Feste, who work well as they are enemies, shown by the cutting remark from Malvolio, “unless you laugh and minister occasion to him, he is gagg’d.” Another way in which the two characters are utilised is that as the play progresses they are either integrated more into a certain part, or are detached. As Malvolio estranges and insults more people, he begins to be featured increasingly in the sub-plot as the subject of a cruel practical joke by the three main characters of the sub-plot, the...
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