Study Guide

Twelfth Night

by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night Essay - Critical Essays

Sample Essay Outlines

The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the play as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help you get started.

Topic #1
It is obvious that the play’s tapestry contains more than a single plot. Write an essay analyzing the way in which the comic plot involving Malvolio becomes a perverse reflection of the love plot involving Orsino and Olivia. Discuss Cesario’s role as go-between for the Duke.

Outline
I. Thesis Statement: The comic plot involving Malvolio becomes a perverse reflection of the romantic plot involving Olivia and the Duke.

II. Explain the romantic plot.
A. An aristocratic man falls in love with a countess.
1. The Duke has seen Olivia and desires union with her.
2. He initially expresses the depth of his feeling in poetic lines.
B. Cesario acts as a go-between for the Duke.
1. Cesario forms a practical complement to the Duke’s romantic behavior.
2. Cesario woos Olivia on the Duke’s behalf.
C. Olivia rejects the Duke’s love.
1. Olivia says that she cannot love the Duke while she mourns her brother’s death.
2. Olivia, rather, falls in love with Cesario.

III. Explain the comic plot.
A. Maria plots to gull Malvolio.
1. There is no genuine source for Malvolio’s love; it’s the result of a scheme.
2. The letter left by Maria is falsified.
B. Malvolio picks up and reads a falsified letter.
1. The letter seems to be in Olivia’s hand.
2. It commands him to adopt peculiar behaviors.
C. Malvolio proceeds under the influence of a devious trick.
1. Malvolio thinks Olivia is in love with him.
2. Malvolio approaches Olivia in yellow stockings and cross-gartered.

IV. Malvolio’s love is a perversion of the Duke’s and Olivia’s.
A. Malvolio’s love is an artificial fantasy—put stress on the “artificial.”
1. Malvolio loves on the basis of a letter and a readiness in his own mind.
2. Malvolio’s love has no possibility of being realized because Olivia has no intention of loving him.
B. Orsino, by contrast, is truly in love with Olivia.
1. Orsino’s feelings have a genuine source.
2. Orsino is truly involved in an effort to court a woman.
3. Ideally, he could possibly achieve Olivia.
C. Malvolio winds up humiliated.
1. Malvolio isolates himself with a sense of being abused.
2. Rather than being an accepted lover, Malvolio winds up wronged and humiliated.

V. Conclusion: To the extent that the schemers are cruel, Malvolio’s love for Olivia is perverse. Love cannot thrive in an atmosphere of ill will.

Topic # 2
Many playwrights have dealt with the theme of love. It’s a theme that carries so much interest because of the power it wields in peoples’ lives. Write an essay that explores Shakespeare’s treatment of the theme of love in Twelfth Night.

...

(The entire section is 1257 words.)