Twelfth Night Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What was Shakespeare's intention when writing Twelfth Night? What's the mysterious important point he wanted to demonstrate, and what's the background of the story in general?

Expert Answers info

Margaret Mccarney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2013

write339 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

The question, as asked, contains a few unstated assumptions that may not be supportable, yet it falls within the types of intriguing explorations Shakespeare's plays tempt, making them endless puzzles. To address them, we might want to contextualize the parts of this question to reach an understanding of what it means to ask the question.

First, when we ask what was a writer's intention, we can run into what is called the intentional fallacy. This is one of the literary, as opposed to logical, fallacies. Introduced in the 1950s, the intentional fallacy suggests that we can know what was in the mind of an author at the time of write and that this leads us to a correct interpretation of the work. While sometimes valid, this often proves reductive. It also forces the critic to play the part of the historical detective or psychologist, when neither approach can be verifiable. In works with little authorial commentary, it often proves especially unreliable, and thus it is with Shakespeare,...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 1,455 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

acrosby42 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write18 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Research Starters

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

iambic5 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write77 answers

starTop subject is Literature

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write5,917 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Business



check Approved by eNotes Editorial


katlocke13 | Student

One thing to note is why the play is called "Twelfth Night". The play was named after the feast that follows after the "twelfth" night of Christmas. During this holiday, societal roles playfully switched, allowing men to act as women and masters to act as servants. This Christmas chaos allowed men and women to switch roles through costumes and play.

This feast allowed society's rules to be flexible and broken for one day. This idea can been seen throughout "Twelfth Night" as the play often deals with themes of sexual and gender identity. The readers also the theme of disguise and deception play out, which is a nod to men and women who dressed up during the original festival.

Furthermore, just a like a festival, everyone ends up tired, full of laughter, and with someone that they might not have ended up with if it wasn't for the magic of Shakespeare and ale.