What effect does an emphasis on 'dark' representations/critiques of Twelfth Night have upon audiences/readers? (ie. emphasis on conflicts and dissonances)

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's comedies with traditional comic and romantic elements. There is mistaken identity and the quest for true love together with all the contradictory and ironic components that go with romantic comedy but there is also an endless joke played on Malvolio and a clown whose words leave room for contemplation and interpretation. Even their names - Malvolio, translated from Italian, meaning "ill-will" and Feste, implying festivities or celebration- belie the real personalities and qualities of these characters.

The play remains entertaining, fickle and fanciful and the audience must indulge the obvious licence in creating situations but the undertones are real. Feste fulfills his role of making life's trials bearable but at the same time exposing the presence of unjust actions, unrequited love and so on. A jester who discusses the unpleasant side of life makes it apparently easier to tolerate. In Act iv, scene ii, Feste will try to convince Malvolio that "there is no darkness but ignorance" (42) as Malvolio tries to convince "Sir Topas," the curate whom Feste is impersonating, of his sanity. This reveals how Malvolio's refusal to change indicates that he has really learnt nothing and his self-absorption is entrenched. The audience feels pity and even indignation at this continued treatment - despite Malvolio's failings.

The play ends with Feste's humorous and catchy tune which has tones of regret and wistfulness. He notes how nothing changes - "The rain it raineth every day" (V.i.378)- and, despite lessons learned "toss-pots" or drunks still pervade the day and even the reality of life itself has the capacity to have an adverse effect- even on a jester. He is revealed as being wiser than he may otherwise seem. This has the cumulative effect of sending audiences away satisfied and with closure but perhaps feeling anxious at their own shortcomings.  

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