Study Guide

Twelfth Night

by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night Essay - Twelfth Night (Vol. 62)

Twelfth Night (Vol. 62)

Introduction

Twelfth Night

See also Twelfth Night Criticism (Volume 26), and Volumes 85, 34.

Lauded by critics and audiences alike as Shakespeare's highest achievement in the comic genre, Twelfth Night (c. 1600-01) is an intricate inquiry into the nature of love, gender roles, and the intertwining of life's tragic and comic experiences. A number of critics remain particularly fascinated with the complexity of the play's exploration of gender identity, as there are numerous layers to the characters' gender roles, as well as to their sexual attractions. Referred to as a subplot, the story of Malvolio and those who seek to punish him for his puritanical ways threatens to steal the show, as some critics have pointed out. The relationship between the main plot and this subordinate plot is therefore the focus of much critical examination. Additionally, the play's ending—in which so much confusion is undone in so short a time—also attracts a great deal of scholarly attention, particularly since Viola remains dressed as a male right up to the play's end, becoming Shakespeare's only cross-dressed heroine to do so.

The sexual relationships and gender roles in Twelfth Night are multi-layered. For example, Viola, a female character (who was played by a male in the Elizabethan theater), is dressed as a male, Cesario, throughout most of the play. As a male, Viola woos Olivia for Orsino, resulting in Olivia falling in love with Viola-as-Cesario. At the same time, Viola, though dressed as a man, falls in love with Orsino. Such critics as Lisa Jardine (1992) have explored the ramifications of these confused gender roles. Jardine focuses in particular on how the relationship between economic dependency and sexual availability in Elizabethan England informs the play's attitudes towards cross-dressing. Both Viola and Sebastian, observes Jardine, are forced to seek dependent positions in households outside the circle of family relations, making Viola/Cesario sexually available to Orsino, and Sebastian sexually available to Olivia. In his analysis of gender issues in Twelfth Night, Michael Shapiro (1996) emphasizes the Elizabethan theatrical practice of men playing women's parts. Shapiro studies the psychological “anxiety” resulting from the theatrical portrayal of both sexual and emotional intimacy, examining in particular the relationship between Viola and Olivia, in which the audience witnesses the intensity of the exchanges between two women, played by two men, and the relationship between Orsino and Viola, in which Orsino is drawn to the feminine qualities of Viola's Cesario. Like Shapiro, Casey Charles (see Further Reading) maintains that the relationship between Viola and Olivia is a significant one, more central to the play than many critics have acknowledged. The relationship between the two women, along with the attractions between Antonio and Sebastian and Orsino and Cesario, emphasize that homoerotic desire is a primary concern in the play. Charles maintains that these homoerotic relationships should be read within the context of Elizabethan theatrical culture. The critic continues with a discussion of the way the dramatization of homoerotic attractions criticizes the social ideal of “imperative heterosexuality” by underscoring the way sexuality is socially constructed through gender identity.

The subplot, centering on the punishment of Malvolio, highlights some of the darker aspects of Twelfth Night. Many critics have noted the severity of Malvolio's punishment—he is humiliated, imprisoned in a dark chamber, and made to feel as if he has lost his sanity. This is perhaps more than he deserves, some audiences and critics feel. Harry Levin (1976) examines Malvolio's role in the play, commenting that the character is not present in Shakespeare's sources, yet his role becomes a “stellar” one. Arguing that Shakespeare's primary concern was to highlight the triumphant comic spirit, Levin suggests that the darkness integrated into Malvolio's story, much like the tragedy and death that inform the circumstances of the lovers in the main plot, serves the purpose of intensifying the victory of the comic spirit. Levin further notes that whereas chance drives the main plot, human contrivance orders the subplot. Jane K. Brown (1990) also explores the differences between the main plot and subplot. The critic finds that the two plots correspond to the two worlds depicted in the play—one ruled by Orsino and one governed by Olivia. Brown goes on to discuss the way Shakespeare represented the two realms differently, through the use of allegorical language in Olivia's world, and metaphorical discourse in Orsino's. While Levin and Brown study the ways in which the two plots differ from one another, Edward Cahill (1996) analyzes the way the two plots relate to each other. Cahill contends that both explore similar issues, such as identity and desire, both use disguise and performance, and both feature the pursuit of marriage. The critic also observes that the failure of the subplot to resolve itself injects a bit of tragedy into the play's otherwise comic ending.

The ending of the play has also been a focus of criticism. The fact that Viola remains dressed as Cesario at the play's end has been noted by a number of critics, who suggest that Shakespeare allowed this in order to heighten the effect of the denouement, or to make a statement about gender identity. Jörg Hasler (1974) studies the influence of Shakespeare's earlier comedies on the ending of Twelfth Night, examining the dramatic form of Viola's ordeal at the play's end and comparing it to the endings of Much Ado about Nothing, and Measure for Measure. Hasler finds that all three plays end similarly, with the heroines standing in the center of the chaos. The critic also examines the endings of other Shakespearean plays for cases of mistaken identity, shipwreck stories, and similar patterns found in Twelfth Night. Yu Jin Ko (see Further Reading) begins an analysis of the play's ending by noting the similarity between Viola's rejection of Sebastian's embrace and Jesus's resisting Mary Magdalene's embrace after his resurrection. Ko demonstrates that this Biblical allusion serves to heighten the sense of longing, and argues that this intensified yearning is exploited throughout the play, largely in sexual terms. Ko explores how Viola's cross-dressing prolongs the sexual yearnings of both Olivia and Orsino, and examines the “curiously absorbing” nature of longing as it is dramatized in Twelfth Night.

Criticism: Overviews And General Studies

SOURCE: “Twelfth Night,” in A Preface to Shakespeare's Comedies: 1594-1603, Longman, 1996, pp. 229-55.

[In the following essay, Mangan focuses on Shakespeare's extensive reworking of themes, characters, and situations used in Twelfth Night, noting that Shakespeare revised his previous attitudes toward many of the ideas explored in the play.]

‘GIVE ME EXCESS OF IT’

Twelfth Night is a play characterized by excess. In the first few lines Orsino calls for an excess of music, and from that moment on the play stages a variety of excesses. On the most mundane level there are the literal excesses of Sir Toby and his drinking partners and their revelries. There are the excessive and obsessive emotional states of Orsino and Olivia; the one overwhelmed by his unrequited love for the other, who is herself trapped in mourning for her dead brother and sworn to wear a veil for seven years. People act and react excessively, too: the trick which Maria and Sir Toby play against Malvolio is funny to begin with, but eventually turns sour. Audiences frequently find the ‘mad-house’ scene, in which Feste torments the imprisoned steward, uncomfortable, and even Sir Toby thinks that things have been taken too far and says that he ‘would we were well rid of this knavery’. The play encompasses an extraordinary range of tones and moods, from melancholy to revelry. There is even an excess of characters in the play: Fabian seems to appear from nowhere and for no apparent reason in Act II Scene v, and then takes over the part which Feste seemed about to play in the early stages of the plot against Malvolio.

As for the plot, Shakespearean comedy is typically complicated in its narrative structure: even so, Twelfth Night is unusually ambitious in the number of narratives which it sets going simultaneously, and the complexity with which they need to interrelate. It attempts simultaneously to create both the accelerating fugue-like structure of a good farce, and also a series of characters who are allowed their own space to develop emotionally complex or subtle relationships with each other and with the audience. There are so many narratives going on at the same time that it is easy for an audience to lose track of everything that is happening. Plots of disguise and cross-dressing become interwoven with stories of mistaken identities, separated twins and (again) lost brothers; tricks are played on several characters simultaneously; and there is not one love-story but many.

As in As You Like It, all sorts of variations are played upon the theme of love and desire. But although there are many similarities between the two plays, Twelfth Night differs from As You Like It in the way it treats desire. In As You Like It a single kind of love-relationship, romantic love, was parodied in a variety of ways up and down the social classes. But the triangle of desire in which Viola is caught does not involve low-life shepherdesses like Phoebe, patently minor characters who can be relegated at the end of the play to their proper station in the sub-plot: she is adored by the Lady Olivia. Moreover, in Twelfth Night love takes on a greater variety of forms. Apart from Orsino's and Olivia's obsessive states there is also Viola's unspoken longing for Orsino; Olivia's impossible desire for Cesario (finally translated into possibility by the appearance of Sebastian); Orsino's fondness for ‘Cesario’ (which changes quite peremptorily into a willingness to marry Viola); Malvolio's self-interested pursuit of his mistress, which leads to its own kind of excess as he dresses in his ridiculous costume; Sir Andrew's hopes of marriage with Olivia; Antonio's adoration of Sebastian; the fictional sister invented by Viola and her male counterpart, the flamboyant and imaginary lover in the ‘willow cabin’ at the gate; Sir Toby's marriage to his partner-in-crime Maria; and not least the filial love of Sebastian and Viola, which is as intense as any relationship in the play. Twelfth Night is clearly concerned to show how many faces love and desire can have.

Perhaps, too, how many faces comedy can have. It seems at times that there is more material here than can be accommodated in a single play—and this is not entirely surprising, for into Twelfth Night Shakespeare crams a whole series of themes, characters, scenes and situations which he has already used in several previous plays.

Twelfth Night re-works, for example, the cross-dressing plot from As You Like It, with Viola following Rosalind's lead in donning male attire as protection, and then having to deal with the contradictions which arise from that disguise once people start falling in love with each other. Like another cross-dressed Shakespearean heroine, Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Viola becomes page to the man she loves, and then finds herself in the uncomfortable position of having to plead his cause to another woman. The cross-dressing plot is then interwoven with the ‘identical twins’ plot which was the central narrative of The Comedy of Errors. As in that earlier play, twins are separated by storm and shipwreck; one of them arrives in a strange city to find an unknown woman who lays claim to his love; people are confined in lunatic asylums; misunderstandings arise about ransoms and gifts of gold; and old enmities between cities put at risk the lives of men who are seeking the person they love. From Much Ado About Nothing comes the scene in which someone is tricked into believing that someone else is in love with them, while the tricksters look on. From As You Like It again comes the slightly dissonant ending: just as Jaques in the earlier play refused to join in the celebrations and return to court with the rest of the company, so Malvolio here, much more harshly, rejects the apologies and attempts at reconciliation, storming off-stage with threats of revenge.

Characters reappear, too. The figure of the jester, of course, has been used before, and Feste bears more than a slight resemblance to Touchstone, as Shakespeare and Robert Armin continue to develop the specialized clown rôle as a trademark of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Several other stock characters, too, probably bear witness to the particular skills or comic routines of other actors: the inept lover Master Slender from The Merry Wives of Windsor, for example, reappears as Sir Andrew Aguecheek; the witty female servant Maria has antecedents in Hero's waiting women, Margaret and Ursula in Much Ado About Nothing, and Viola, as we have seen, replays Rosalind's breeches part. It has often been pointed out that Sir Toby is an Illyrian equivalent of Falstaff: like the fat knight of the Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor, he is a descendant of the figures of misrule from seasonal entertainments. Like Falstaff, Sir Toby has gathered round him a group of like-minded revellers, with the result that Malvolio accuses him of trying to turn Olivia's house into an ‘ale-house’—as if Falstaff's Eastcheap haunts were to be imported into Illyria. Even Hamlet finds echoes in Twelfth Night, although this is perhaps less surprising than it might seem at first, since the comedy and the tragedy were written very close together in and around 1600-1. At any rate, both of them start with a figure displaying all the signs of mourning: Hamlet's ‘inky cloak’ is worn in mourning for his father, Olivia's veil is in memory of her brother. In this respect Olivia may also remind readers and audiences of Portia in the early phases of The Merchant of Venice, as both are potentially prevented from loving by the influence of a dead relative.

The list could go on. Nor is there anything unusual in itself about the fact that this play contains reworkings of old stories, characters and situations. Throughout his career Shakespeare continually re-uses material, adapting not only other writers' works for the stage (as was common enough in Elizabethan playwriting practice), but reworking his own ideas and narratives, giving new meanings to the stories he tells.1 What makes Twelfth Night special is the relentlessness of these reworkings, the (again) excessiveness of them. It is true that shipwrecks, lost relatives, mistaken identities and love-triangles are standard fare in romantic comedy, but in Twelfth Night Shakespeare seems to be attempting—almost desperately—to cram everything in. Twelfth Night is a compendium of Shakespearean comedy, and in it it is possible to see Shakespeare taking further, revising and rethinking his attitudes to some of the ideas which comedy had already been a vehicle for expressing.

‘AT OUR FEAST WE HAD A PLAY’

It may seem that this spotting of sources and intertextual relationships is a rather academic exercise: relevant to the classroom, perhaps, but not to the stage. Would Shakespeare have expected his audience to pick up references like these? Would they have noticed, or bothered about, the similarities between one play and another? As it happens we can answer this question with a qualified ‘yes’. While we have no way of knowing how Elizabethan audiences in general reacted to the play, or what sort of expectations or understandings they had of it, we do have evidence of the response of one spectator at a performance of Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night, like most of Shakespeare's plays, was written with various possible audiences in mind. It was to be performed at the still-new Globe Theatre, of course, but the Lord Chamberlain's Men would also have hoped, like Bottom and his friends, to be commissioned for performances at court on the occasion of various festivities and celebrations. There is even a tradition that the play was first performed before the Queen on 6 January 1601, on Twelfth Night itself, although there is little or no evidence for such a performance (indeed there is no record of a performance of this play at the court of either Elizabeth or James until 6 April 1618, two years after Shakespeare's death). There was, however, a performance at another prestigious, and possibly better-paying, venue in 1602. A student of law at the Middle Temple, John Manningham, kept a commonplace book in which he noted all sorts of details about his life. This book is known as ‘Manningham's Diary’, and the first entry for February 1602 reads:

At our feast we had a play called [‘mid’ crossed out] Twelve Night or What You Will, much like the Comedy of Errors or Menaechmi in Plautus, but most like and near to that in Italian called Inganni. A good practice in it to make the steward believe his Lady widow was in love with him by counterfeiting a letter, as from his Lady in general terms, telling him what she liked best in him and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparel etc. And then when he came to practice making him believe they took him to be mad.2

This diary entry suggests something of the nature of the audience for which Shakespeare was writing, by showing us something of the mind of one Elizabethan play-goer: not a statistically relevant sample, of course, but useful nonetheless. It is a mind which is extremely well-stocked: Manningham, clearly, is well-read in both contemporary English, recent Italian and classical Latin drama. He not only picks up the resemblance to the Comedy of Errors, but is also able to trace both Shakespearean plays back to their common source in Plautus's Menaechmi. In addition there is the interesting slip of the pen in Manningham's first line: the word ‘mid’ is crossed out—as if he might have been about to write ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream’, briefly confusing one Shakespearean play with another (which also has a title referring to one specific night of the year). It is unlikely to have been pure coincidence that led Manningham to make the link with the earlier Shakespeare comedies. It would seem that Shakespeare as a writer had made enough of a name for himself by 1602 for an informed play-goer like Manningham to be able to discern an oeuvre. Manningham, it seems, was aware not merely of watching a play but of watching a play by a particular writer, William Shakespeare.

Manningham is judicious in his spotting of sources. Having recognized the twins' plot from The Comedy of Errors and Menaechmi, he goes on to consider the cross-dressing plot, which he correctly traces back to Italian comic traditions. Here, in fact, he may be conflating memories of two plays: the play which he names, Gl'Inganni (The Deceptions), tells the story of a woman who cross-dresses and takes the masculine name of Cesare, just as Viola in Twelfth Night becomes Cesario. It is also possible, however, that Manningham is actually thinking of another play, the anonymous Gl'Ingannati (The Deceived), which resembles Twelfth Night even more closely. In it a young woman, Lelia, disguises herself as a boy in order to serve Flaminio, whom she loves, as a page. Flaminio employs her as a messenger to Isabella, the woman he loves unrequitedly, and Isabella then falls in love with Lelia. Like Viola, Lelia is saved from these complications by the appearance of her long-lost brother Fabrizio, who falls in love with Isabella, leaving Flaminio and Lelia free to marry each other.

We should not assume that the sophisticated awareness of intertextuality which Manningham shows was typical of play-goers in Shakespeare's London. Clearly, though, Shakespeare was writing for an audience which included a proportion of very well-informed aficionados of the theatre, spectators whose experience of one play could be immediately related to memories of others. He might well have been able to expect that the self-referential and intertextual elements of Twelfth Night would not have been altogether lost on his audience.

Other things about Manningham's diary entry deserve comment. There is his evidence, for example, that Twelfth Night was performed at a feast. This particular play is especially suited to such an occasion: Sir Toby and his fellow-revellers in particular enact a story-line which is in itself ‘festive’, and the play bears the title of a feast. It would have been nice if Manningham's diary had provided evidence of the play being performed at some Twelfth Night celebrations; however, the feast at which Twelfth Night was presented to the Middle Temple seems, from the date of Manningham's diary entry, to have been to celebrate Candlemas rather than Twelfth Night.

The diary entry also gives a sense of what Manningham remembered most vividly from the performance. The romantic plot is mentioned only as it relates to sources, but what seems to have stuck in Manningham's mind is the trick played on Malvolio by Maria, Sir Toby and Feste. What Manningham carries away from the play is precisely the opposite of what the editors of the Arden edition of the play, J. M. Lothian and T. W. Craik, speaking for twentieth-century scholarship, say the modern reader is likely to experience:

It is probably true to say that a twentieth-century reader, suddenly invited to recall Twelfth Night, will think first of Viola's scene with Olivia and Orsino (I. iv and II. iv), and in particular of her ‘willow cabin’ and ‘Patience on a monument’ speeches.3

They compare this with a typically nineteenth-century perspective on the play, represented by the words of the Victorian scholar F. J. Furnivall, writing in 1877, who saw the below-stairs plot as a rather irritating distraction, behind which the beauties of the romantic plot might be glimpsed:

The self-conceited Malvolio is brought to the front, the drunkards and the Clown come next; none of these touches any heart; and it's not till we look past them, that we feel the beauty of the characters who stand in half-light behind.4

Manningham's memories are different again from this. He is not particularly interested in the shadowy half-light of romantic beauty; for him the ‘self-conceited’ Malvolio's smiling, his yellow cross-gartered stockings and the tricks played upon him by Sir Toby and his companions are what make the greatest impression:

A good practice in it to make the steward believe his Lady widow was in love with him by counterfeiting a letter, as from his Lady in general terms, telling him what she liked best in him and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparel etc. And then when he came to practice making him believe they took him to be mad.5

These varying responses provide some useful information about the diversity of ways in which different ages have related to the ‘same’ play. The changing structures of feeling over the centuries, and the changing expectations both of art and life which people have brought to the text in various ages has meant that different generations have privileged different parts of the story. In addition, though, it is worth noting how the Arden editors resolutely talk about ‘the reader’ rather than ‘the spectator’ or ‘the audience’. Manningham's response, on the other hand, is to a performance rather than to a text. It may be that the differences in perspective which exist between Manningham and the Arden edition owe something to the difference between reading Twelfth Night and watching it.

A play is a paradoxical kind of literary hybrid, one whose ‘success’ is in part measured by the number of times the text gets staged and re-staged. In the course of this process, of course, the play gets altered from its original appearance. Twelfth Night's history on the English stage between the 1600s and the mid-twentieth century includes such radical transformations as a version played at James I's court in 1623 entitled merely Malvolio; a Restoration adaptation by William D'Avenant; an incorporation of sections of it in Charles Burnaby's Love Betray'd: or the Agreeable Disappointment; an 1820s musical version by Frederick Reynolds containing ‘Songs, Glees and Choruses’ from other Shakespeare plays.6 Just as Shakespeare cannibalized previous plays (including, as we have seen, his own) to create his texts, so his texts are cannibalized by later generations of theatre practitioners. But it is not only a matter of rewritings and adaptations. For each new staging, each new stage, each change of cast or venue means a different experience for the audience. Manningham's diary entry tells us about an early staging of Twelfth Night, and reflects accurately an important theatrical dimension of the play which is not always obvious to the reader: the way in which the apparent main plot, the romance involving Viola, Orsino and Olivia, frequently has trouble holding its own in competition with the ‘sub-plot’, and the below-stairs activities of puritanical stewards and drunken knights threaten continually to take centre stage. As with that 1623 performance at court, Twelfth Night can easily metamorphose into Malvolio.

‘I SMELL A DEVICE’

Let us focus, then, on the below-stairs plot. Act II Scene iii sees the ‘low-life’ characters of the play, Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Feste and (after a little persuasion) Maria holding a late-night party. They drink, they sing—and they disturb Malvolio, who bursts into the scene full of righteous indignation:

Malvolio My masters, are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night? Do ye make an alehouse of my lady's house, that ye squeak out your coziers' catches without any mitigation or remorse of voice? Is there no respect of place, persons nor time with you?

(II, iii, ll. 33-9)

His diatribe has little effect on the revellers. Despite Malvolio's attempt to quieten them, they continue with their drinking and singing. Sir Toby retorts, ‘Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ (II, iii, ll. 109-11).

In this below-stairs plot of Twelfth Night Shakespeare stages once again the battle between Carnival and Lent. The confrontation between Sir Toby and Malvolio is emblematic: on the one side Malvolio's ‘virtuous’ mean-spiritedness, on the other Sir Toby, the representative of revelry, with a surname which speaks for itself, and a first name which is pointedly and familiarly English in this alien world of Illyria. As in the famous painting by Bruegel, the personifications of Carnival and Lent confront each other directly.

The title of the play itself draws attention to this confrontation. In Elizabeth's court, as elsewhere in Europe, the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January, Twelfth Night, was the occasion of the final phase of Christmas-time celebrations, and

… one of the most brilliant and joyful court occasions. Before stepping down, the Lord of Misrule would announce his desire to round off with a kind of apotheosis and a whole succession of spectacular displays of music, dancing and feasting bursting like fireworks one after the other … Twelfth Night provided a fine occasion to hand out these titles of king and queen, which appear to have been very popular amongst the rites and traditions of folklore. It was a mimetic ritual of royalty that was probably a survival from the old Saturnalia, giving the king of the evening a chance to masquerade as the monarch, derisively aping his authority … Masquerades and fancy-dress mummings are another feature of the lavish amusements of Twelfth Night … Twelfth Night was the festival which brought to an end the long, eventful period of ‘Yuletide’ revels …7

The ambiguous nature of these Twelfth Night celebrations is significant. It was a time of revelry, a carnival time at which the world might be turned upside-down, a celebration presided over by the Lord of Misrule and the ‘King of the Bean’ (a mock king elected by means of a dried bean hidden in the festive cake: whoever found it in his portion was elected ‘king’). Yet it also marked the end of revelling: the Christmas holiday was almost over and a return to work and the realities of midwinter imminent. We retain a memory of this in present-day Christmas customs: Twelfth Night is the night the decorations come down. The confrontation between the riotous world of Sir Toby and the sober world of Malvolio could hardly take place in a more fitting context than that of Twelfth Night.

Sir Toby and his drinking companions comprise an carnivalesque underworld, an alternative society to the ‘official’ world of Olivia and Orsino. This world has all the essential characteristics of Bakhtin's definitions of carnival. The pleasures of the body are paramount; language—especially in Feste's hands—runs riot; and traditional hierarchies and class boundaries have become virtually irrelevant. Knights carouse with servants, fools and other unspecified members of the household. Sir Toby breaks all the rules of Elizabethan decorum by marrying his sister's ‘waiting-gentlewoman’, thus honouring at one remove Falstaff's promise of marriage to Mistress Quickly. The analogy with Falstaff works theatrically as well as socially. While the social details of the fictional settings are different, the dramatic functions of the two figures are so similar that it is difficult to imagine that the part of Sir Toby was not played by the same actor who created Falstaff.

There are important differences, it is true. Whereas in the history plays Falstaff had to carry the main weight of the plays' foolery, with Pistol, Bardolph, Nym and Mistress Quickly very definitely supporting rôles, Twelfth Night spreads the comic burden more evenly. There is a fully-developed fool rôle in the character of Feste, and another excellent comic part in Sir Andrew Aguecheek; Maria, too, is a more interesting and better-established part than Mistress Quickly—indeed she has inherited some of the attributes not only of the witty servant, but also of Shakespeare's witty heroines such as Rosalind and Beatrice. Another important distinction between Twelfth Night and the Henry IV plays is geographical: in the history plays the world of Bankside was physically as well as socially distant from the court, whereas in Illyria Sir Toby's alternative world exists within the same household as the official one. In Twelfth Night the confrontation between the forces of authority and those of licence is played out on a domestic scale. It is not a class conflict, nor is it strictly to do with law and order. There is no opposition between the so-called ‘respectable’ world and a criminal ‘class’. Sir Toby is Olivia's kinsman and the revellers are of her household.

The significance of these similarities and differences between Falstaff and Sir Toby Belch can be seen if we view the confrontation between Sir Toby and Malvolio as a reworking of the confrontation between Falstaff and the Lord Chief Justice in Henry IV Part 2. In that play, which was first acted a year or two before Twelfth Night, the main narrative concerned the way in which Prince Hal, re-fashioning himself in heroic mode in order to become the warrior-hero Henry V, distanced himself from Falstaff's subversive carnival influence, and aligned himself with the forces of authority, sobriety, law and order, represented in their most extreme form by the Lord Chief Justice. In an early scene in the play the Lord Chief Justice encounters Falstaff and reprimands him, just as Malvolio reprimands Sir Toby. But whereas Malvolio is routed, the Lord Chief Justice is not: Falstaff attempts to answer him, but cannot get the better of him. Eventually, in Henry IV Part 2 the forces of authority triumph over those of revelry, and Falstaff is banished and imprisoned. Twelfth Night replays the same contest but with a different result: here it is the forces of revelry which prevail, and Malvolio who is imprisoned, ridiculed and tormented.

In production it is tempting to represent Malvolio as a stereotyped Puritan figure while Sir Toby becomes the Cavalier of popular imagination: aristocratic and rather dissolute. Such a staging has some historical justification. One of the main social and economic tensions of early-seventeenth-century England involved the shift of real power away from the established but by now fading nobility, whose influence was based on land and tradition, towards the rising middle classes. They were much influenced by Puritan thought, and they were the sector of society which would, on the whole, profit most from the emerging capitalist economy. Thus the confrontation between Carnival and Lent might also be seen as a confrontation between the old order and the new, with Sir Toby representing the traditional values of an already-sentimentalized ‘Merrie England’ which is being challenged by the likes of the socially ambitious Malvolio. Since, historically, this was...

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Criticism: The Ending

SOURCE: “The Dramaturgy of the Ending of Twelfth Night,” in Twelfth Night: Critical Essays, edited by Stanley Wells, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1986, pp. 279-302.

[In the essay below, originally published in 1974, Hasler analyzes the influence of Shakespeare's earlier comedies on the last scene of Twelfth Night.]

The final resolution of Twelfth Night evolves from a process which engages the whole of the play's last scene. Furthermore, there is no lack of consistent theatrical notation in this scene. Employed with remarkable singleness of purpose, it is instrumental in shaping the build-up towards the strong impact of Viola's revelation. Apart...

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Criticism: Gender Issues

Lisa Jardine (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: “Twins and Travesties: Gender, Dependency and Sexual Availability in Twelfth Night,” in Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance Stage, edited by Susan Zimmerman, Routledge, 1992, pp. 27-38.

[In the following essay, Jardine examines the treatment of crossdressing in Twelfth Night, as well as the relationship between economic dependency and sexual availability in early modern England.]

Viola: He nam'd Sebastian. I my brother know
Yet living in my glass; even such and so
In favour was my brother, and he went
Still in this fashion, colour, ornament,
For him I imitate.

(3.4.389-93)2

[Ingling Pyander]...

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Michael Shapiro (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: “Anxieties of Intimacy: Twelfth Night,” in Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages, University of Michigan Press, 1996, pp. 143-72.

[In the following essay, Shapiro investigates Twelfth Night's exploration of sexual identity within the context of Elizabethan theatrical portrayals of sexual and emotional intimacy between men and between women.]

Now dated around 1601,1Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's fourth play with a cross-dressed heroine, continues his variations on this motif. Indeed, after Two Gentlemen each play of this type seems to be a deliberate variation on its predecessor(s)....

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