Suggested Essay Ideas

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on September 15, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1439

Act I, Scene 1 1. Does the Duke’s opening speech show praise for Olivia in particular or for the experience of love in general? Explain your answer by citing specific lines.

2. What kind of judgment would you make about the Duke’s character based on his speech and behavior in the first scene? Discuss why you get this impression. Discuss either several specific qualities or one generalized personality trait.

Act I, Scene 2 1. Viola comments on the deceptiveness of appearances. People aren’t always what they seem to be. Why do you think this theme would be significant in a play that deals with love? Cite evidence from the play to support your answer.

2. Why does the love object have to come down from the altar of the lover’s worship? Why, that is, can’t the Duke keep praising Olivia forever? How does Viola make it clear that there’s more to being in love than just poetry? Make sure you present your topic sentences clearly in the essay.

Act I, Scene 3 1. Sir Andrew may not be a good suitor for Olivia. Defend this thesis statement referring to specific examples from the dialogue.

2. Analyze the dance imagery found in lines 116–138. Why do you think Shakespeare included it in the dialogue? With what aspect of the play does it tie in? What does it emphasize?

Act I, Scene 4 1. Think of your efforts to win a sweetheart when you’ve fallen in love, or what you might do to win one. In what ways would those efforts be similar or different from Cesario’s endeavors to woo Olivia for the Duke?

2. Consider once again the definition of “Romantic comedy” stated earlier. Why do you think the society of a given era would desire a happy ending? Would you like to see Twelfth Night end in another way than it does?

Act I, Scene 5 1. How does the Clown prove that Olivia is a fool? Is he correct or incorrect in his assessment? Explain your answer with evidence found in the text.

2. How many love strands does the first act contain? Who is involved in them? Where do the relationships stand by the end of Act I in relation to how they will eventually develop?

Act II, Scene 1 1. Name one characteristic of poetic language and one of prose. After you state those, select one speech in the play that contains poetry and another from Act II, Scene i that contains prose, and explain the differences you notice between the two. Allow your imagination to explore the significance of the two different styles.

2. An important issue to be aware of when discussing characters’ motivations and fates is that of “free will” versus “determinism or fate.” Define these two concepts. And then, consider lines 3–8, spoken by Sebastian, in the light of that issue. Does Sebastian feel that he is in full control of things?

Act II, Scene 2 1. An important issue to be aware of when discussing characters’ motivations and fates is that of “free will” versus “determinism or fate.” Define these two concepts. And then, consider lines 3–8, spoken by Sebastian, in the light of that issue. Does Sebastian feel that he is in full control of things?

Act II, Scene 3 1. Describe the fun and festive atmosphere that makes up most of this scene. What role does Feste the Clown play in it? Cite specific lines to strengthen your description. Do you enjoy the playfulness? Why or why not?

2. Analyze Maria’s speeches in this scene. Explain carefully her motive to...

(This entire section contains 1439 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

entrap Malvolio. Do you believe that she is justified in doing it?

Act II, Scene 4 1. Analyze the song in this scene. Who and what is involved in it? Which Twelfth Night character does it relate to? Explain your answer.

2. Why does the Duke believe that the man should be older than the woman in a relationship? Consider lines 29–39. Do you agree with his opinion? Why or why not?

Act II, Scene 5 1. Make the argument that Sir Toby, Andrew, Maria, and Fabian are behaving cruelly toward Malvolio. Is their cruelty justified in the light of the whole play? Do you personally accept the gulling of Malvolio?

2. Write an essay on “the love letter.” First of all, define what you think it is. Does Maria’s dropped letter fit your definition? What do you think of the requests made in the letter? How would you compose your own real love letter.

Act III, Scene 1 1. Describe the way in which the Clown carries out his role as “fool.” What functions does he see himself as performing? Does he fulfill them as he thinks he should? Make a judgment at the end of your essay as to whether he is a necessary or superfluous character in the play.

2. As Olivia is in the process of revealing her feelings for Cesario, she makes use of metaphors drawn from the animal kingdom—lines 120–122 and lines 130–131. State what these animal metaphors are, and then explain their significance. How do they illuminate the depth of Olivia’s feelings at the moment?

Act III, Scene 2 1. Articulate Fabian and Sir Toby’s assumption about the strength of a man’s valor in inciting love. Then write an opinion essay on whether you think valor, “machoness,” manliness, etc. are all that are necessary to win a woman’s love. Are they sound bases to build a love on? Explain your thesis.

2. Summarize briefly all the love connections up to this point. Even sound like a gossip. Tell who loves who and who has hopes of who. Then, in the remainder of the essay, explain who you think deserves to be together with whom. In other words, you be the matchmaker. (You don’t have to agree with Shakespeare’s resolution of the complications.)

Act III, Scene 3 1. Why doesn’t Antonio find love in this play? Is it because a play can only have so many major and minor characters? Does he deserve to be matched up with Olivia, Viola, or some other woman in Illyria?

2. How does Shakespeare render the relationship between Antonio and Sebastian? Compare their relationship to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew’s. Discuss the importance of friendship in a play like Twelfth Night.

Act III, Scene 4 1. Some critics have argued that Malvolio is presumptuous and arrogant. Discuss the extent to which those characteristics are responsible for his gulling and eventual madness. Support your case with evidence from the text.

2. Analyze this play in terms of its credibility and realism. To what extent is the action credible? To what extent is it fantasy and romance? Define the concepts you work with in your essay.

Act IV, Scene 1 1. In what way do Viola–Sebastian constitute a “poetic symbol,” as one critic has said. In other words, if they are one spirit in two bodies, how does that technique help us to understand Shakespeare’s vision of love in the play? Be careful to explain the symbolism before you construct your argument.

2. Discuss Olivia’s attitude toward the brawl she comes upon. Find other places in the play where Sir Toby’s foolery is criticized and list them. Why do you think characters express disapproval for the festive behavior? How would the play stand without Sir Toby’s merriment?

Act IV, Scene 2 1. Why does the Clown insist that Malvolio is mad? Whom do you believe, Malvolio or Sir Topas/Clown? If Malvolio is not mad, in your opinion, what does the Clown’s insistence suggest about his role in the play? If Malvolio is mad, explain why you don’t accept his contentions.

2. Analyze the song with which the Clown closes the scene. Is the allusion to the Devil in harmony with the preceding allusions in the scene? How does the song pass judgment on Malvolio?

Act IV, Scene 3 1. What is an “arranged marriage”? Do you know of anyone who was part of an arrangement? What motives may be involved? Compare an arranged marriage to the manner in which Sebastian and Olivia are brought together.

2. Consider the influence of “accident and flood of fortune” on Sebastian’s success with Olivia. Is the marriage just good luck and is Sebastian taking advantage of an opportunity to marry up? Discuss Sebastian’s attitude to Olivia in your essay.

Act V, Scene 1 1. Explain Antonio’s function in the play. Is he a minor or major character? Does he clarify or interpret what is going on with the twins? Does he oppose or support the twins?

2. Isolate the methods that Shakespeare uses to establish and reveal character. It would probably be best to do a character study of one particular character. Are the actions of the characters properly motivated and consistent?


Sample Essay Outlines


On Not Being Deceived: Rhetoric and the Body in Twelfth Night