Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare


Twelfth Night, also known as  What You Will, by William Shakespeare was written sometime between 1601 and 1602. It was written as a Twelfth Night’s entertainment for the close of the Christmas season.

Viola and her twin brother Sebastian are shipwrecked off the coast of Illyria. Believing her brother to be dead, Viola disguises herself as a young boy. Now going by the name Cesario, she becomes the page of Duke Orsino. Duke Orsino is in love with Lady Olivia who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. Matters get complicated when Lady Olivia falls for Cesario (who is actually Viola in disguise) and Viola secretly loves the Duke, who believes that she is a ‘man’.

Like many of Shakespeare’s other plays the main theme of Twelfth Night is ‘mistaken identities’. Plays like The Comedy of Errors  and to a certain extent A Midsummer Night’s Dream employs the same plot devise.

Viola’s cross-dressing reminds me of Portia’s exploits in  The Merchant of Venice. Portia, though, was much more assertive than Viola. Female’s disguising themselves as males is another common theme in Shakespeare’s plays. Their disguises give both Viola and Portia freedom normally not granted to women. They can voice their opinions without the fear of repercussions and take part in the proceedings of the play much more actively than ordinarily possible. I find this implicit hint of female emancipation to be quite remarkable.

Sir Toby Belch, Maria, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Feste the fool are involved in a separate childish plot against Lady Olivia’s steward Malvolio. This sub-plot is a bit sillier than the rest of the story. Surprisingly, this part of the narrative takes up more space than the central story.

Overall, I enjoyed Twelfth Night. Seems like Shakespeare’s comedies are the thing for me!

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