Why is the play set in Illyria?

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Twelfth Night

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Although all of the characters speak English and there are noteworthy resemblances between Olivia's lifestyle and those of an Elizabethan gentlewoman, Shakespeare elects to specify "Illyria" as the setting of Twelfth Night. Illyria was known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries as an actual region off the coast of the Adriatic Sea in what is today Albania. As such, it was a distant land with which English had very little contact, and therefore a generically exotic setting for a play replete with romance and intrigue, as well as one that offered the preconditions for a shipwreck. But more particularly, Illyria was associated in the Elizabethan mind with piracy. As Antonio, Sebastian's sea captain friend puts it, "these parts often prove rough and inhospitable" and there is an intimation that Antonio himself was a privateer." Moreover, Illyria's reputation in England as a haven for pirates finds reference in both Henry IV: Part 2 and Measure for Measure. The play contains swordplay and subterfuge. Moreover, it presents us with the piratical Uncle Toby, as inebriated opportunist who shows no qualms in trying to pry treasure from Sir Andrew Aguecheek.

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