What is the significance of Shakespeare's title Twelfth Night, and how did the title come into use?

The significance of Shakespeare's title Twelfth Night is that it reflects the occasion for which the play is believed to have been written, the Twelfth Night celebration of Queen Elizabeth I in 1602. The subtitle What You Will is reflective of the festivities and upheaval of social norms that characterized Twelfth Night, or Epiphany, celebrations, as well as upheavals of social norms in the play itself and Shakespeare's boldness in satirizing members of the court.

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Shakespeare scholars believe that Twelfth Night, or What You Will was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I as part of the Twelfth Night celebration held at Whitehall Palace on January 6, 1602. The occasion of the celebration was the end of the diplomatic service to Elizabeth's court of Don Virginio Orsino, Duke of Bracciano.

Perhaps Shakespeare hoped to honor or flatter the Duke by naming the character of Orsino after him. Hopefully, the real Duke Orsino had a good sense of humor about being portrayed as the impulsive, lovelorn Orsino in Shakespeare's play.

The title of the play might have been inspired by the occasion for which it was written, that of Twelfth Night, which might have inspired Shakespeare to write a play that reflected the title of the play as well as the occasion.

Aside from the Twelfth-Night traditions of women dressing as men, role-playing, and the general upsetting of societal norms, there's no reference in the play to Twelfth Night, Epiphany, or anything related to...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 845 words.)

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Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on March 31, 2020