How would one write a letter from Sir Andrew to Cesario challenging him to a duel using Shakespearean terms, as seen in Shakespeare'sTwelfth Night?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When doing any kind of writing that involves using Shakespearean terminology, a good approach is to consult a Shakespearean glossary (Shakespeare Words Glossary). But first, it's best to simply start putting down words in modern English. It will be easy to rewrite your draft using Shakespearean language from there. To start writing a letter from Sir Andrew to Cesario challenging Cesario to a duel, you'll first want to become very familiar with Sir Andrew's character by conducting a character analysis.

A character analysis explores exactly how an author presents a character as a person. To analyze characterization, we look at things like what the character does and says and especially other characters' reactions to the character in question. Looking at other characters' reactions is especially important because we can learn a lot about a character just by the other characters' opinions of the character in question. One thing we learn very early on in the play is that the other characters acknowledge Sir Andrew to be a complete idiot and a fool. Maria particularly calls him a "very fool, and a prodigal," meaning a monetarily wasteful person (I.iii.21-22). We even see further proof of Sir Andrew's ridiculousness in the letter he wrote that Sir Toby reads in Act 3, Scene 4. If you look at it carefully, you'll see that many of Sir Andrew's statements are nonsensical because they are contradictory. For example, he opens the letter with, "Youth, whatsoever thou art, thou art but a scurvy fellow," meaning "whatever you are, you are a despicable person" (III.iv.140-41). The issue here is that if Sir Andrew is going to call Cesario despicable, then he should not also open with a statement allowing for the prospect of Cesario being anything other than a despicable person. In other words, if someone with more sense and education had written the opening line, that person would have merely written, "Youth, thou art a scurvy fellow." Hence paying attention to the ridiculousness of Sir Andrew's words will certainly help you in creating your own version of the letter. It's also important to note that Sir Andrew never actually makes an accusation in his letter nor does he actually challenge Cesario. Instead, he states he is making no claim to base his challenge on and gives Cesario the chance to kill him when Cesario is heading back to Orsino's.

Hence, if you were rewriting Sir Andrew's letter, you would again be as vague as possible as to the reason of the challenge plus fail to make it an apparent challenge, and even be as contradictory as possible in your writing, just as any idiot like Sir Andrew would be. One possible idea for starting would be:

  • Youth, while thou art a gentleman, thou art a blackguard. I'll tell thee not how thou hast offended me.

In this first sentence, Sir Andrew would be calling Cesario both a gentleman and a blackguard, meaning contemptible person, which are contradictory terms. He is again also failing to state the nature of Cesario's offence, which defeats the purpose of a letter of challenge.

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Twelfth Night

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