The humor in Twelfth Night is dependent upon the use of dramatic, situational, and verbal irony. How is each one used in act 1 to create conflict?

In act I of Twelfth Night, dramatic irony occurs because the audience knows "Cesario" is a woman, which the characters in the play do not. This creates situational irony, as Viola/Cesario must do the opposite of what she wants. She wishes to marry the duke but must try to persuade Olivia to marry him. Verbal irony occurs when Sir Toby says Sir Andrew's hair looks "excellent" when he really means it looks terrible.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Dramatic irony occurs when audiences know what characters in a book or play do not. In act I, we as an audience know that the "male" "Cesario" is actually Viola, a woman, something that everyone in the play but Viola is unaware of. We also know another fact that the characters do not, which is that Viola/Cesario is in love with Duke Orsino.

This dramatic irony creates situational irony, which occurs when a situation is the opposite of what it seems to be. Viola seems to be a man wooing Olivia for the duke. In reality, she is a woman who wishes she could marry the duke. Ironically, she is trapped in the situation of trying to succeed in a task—getting Olivia to marry Orsino—that she hopes with all her heart will fail. As Viola/Cesario puts it:

Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife.

Verbal irony is when words means the opposite of they appear on the surface to mean. An example of verbal irony occurs in act I, scene 3, when Sir Andrew asks Sir Toby about his hair, saying:

Tt becomes me well enough, does ’t not?

When Sir Toby replies that Sir Andrew's hair is "excellent," he is being ironic. In fact, he thinks it looks like so bad he hopes someone will give Sir Andrew syphilis so that he goes bald.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Illustration of a paper plane soaring out of a book

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial