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Why is cypress wood mentioned in Twelfth Night?The professor probably mentioned the...

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haaggus | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:24 AM via web

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Why is cypress wood mentioned in Twelfth Night?

The professor probably mentioned the significance in a class that I skipped, so any ideas about what he might be looking for in a short answer to this question?  It is a college course on folklore.  Any ideas about why Shakespeare specifically mentions cypress wood in the work will help.  The professor is an Anglophile, and loves folklore and what people believed in, for instance why do amazonian tribes say you can cure a toothache by spitting in a frogs mouth? That kind of thing. So Cypress Wood, why is it in Twelfth Night? Thank you.

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 19, 2012 at 6:48 AM (Answer #1)

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The cypress tree represents death in Greek mythology.  It is the recognized symbol of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, because its roots grow deep underground.  The cypress tree also occurs in a legend about a young man who mistakenly kills Apollo’s pet deer and repentantly weeps for the deer.  Apollo turns the youth into a cypress tree, suggesting that the cypress should be at every funeral.

The cypress has Christian significance as well, representing death.  The tree is popularly used at grave yards.  The evergreen leaves represent life and resurrection. 

The cypress in Twelfth Night represents Olivia's grief in the lines:

Enough is shown: a cypress, not a bosom,
Hides my heart so let me hear you speak.  (Act 3, Scene 1, line 122)

Olivia uses the cypress as a symbol for her own personal feelings of loss.


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