Twelfth Night Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Why did Shakespeare title his play Twelfth Night?

The phrase "Twelfth Night" refers to the twelfth night of Christmas, also known as the Eve of Epiphany, which was a celebrated holiday in Elizabethan England. The celebrations associated with the Eve of Epiphany often resulted in the overturning of convention and a lack of traditional order, which is something that happens all throughout Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

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While one can never be completely sure why Shakespeare titled his plays as he did, it can be assumed that Twelfth Night refers to the Eve of Epiphany. This was a holiday celebrated twelve days after Christmas to commemorate the Magi’s arrival to visit the baby Jesus.

Unlike most celebrations within the Church of England, the Eve of Epiphany was celebrated with much merriment, suspension of rules, and even the allowance of servants to mix with their masters. Some traditions would elect a Lord and Lady of Misrule, who would lead the drinking and the partying. These parties would also include disguises, so no one’s social class was truly known. By being Lord or Lady of Misrule, or due to a good disguise, low-class citizens would obtain somewhat of a higher rank for the duration of the celebration regardless of their actual social class.

This night of lawlessness makes for an excellent reference to the madness of the play. Servants attempt to court their masters, masters fall in love with...

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