Twelfth Night Book Review


Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Published: 1601

Genre: Comedy Play, Classic Drama


Set in a topsy-turvy world like a holiday revel, this comedy devises a romantic plot around separated twins, misplaced passions, and mistaken identity. Juxtaposed to it is the satirical story of a self-deluded steward who dreams of becoming “Count Malvolio” only to receive his comeuppance at the hands of the merrymakers he wishes to suppress. The two plots combine to create a farce touched with melancholy, mixed throughout with seductively beautiful explorations on the themes of love and time, and the play ends, not with laughter, but with a clown’s sad song.

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“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

This will be another analysis type of review with the help from SparkNotes. Twelfth Night was definitely a funny one not as funny as Midsummer but still so funny. This story follows the path of several people and goes a little like this: Duke wants Olivia who wants Cesario who is really Viola pretending to be a man who wants Duke and then Sebastian who is Viola’s twin comes out of nowhere and things go berserk, oh and a guy named Malvolio gets called crazy and fool a lot.

“In my stars I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness
some are born great, some achieve greatness, and
some have greatness thrust upon ‘them.”

Viola is an incredibly likable and funny character. She is the character whose love seems the purest and not fickle like the others. Her only real problem is identity because she has to be herself and Cesario. Orsino and Olivia have similar personalities. Both both are self-indulgent individuals who enjoy melodrama and self-involvement more than anything. They prefer to lock themselves up with their sorrows and mope around their homes. They are fickle about emotion because they quickly switch their love from one person to another and by marrying Viola and Sebastian, respectively, they pretty much are marrying female and male versions of the same person. The comic relief from all the melodrama is poor Malvolio. “Malvolio’s misfortune is a cautionary tale of ambition overcoming good sense.”

“How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly,
And I (poor monster!) fond as much on him;
And she (mistaken) seems to dote on me:
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master’s love;
As I am woman – now alas the day! –”

The theme of love as a cause of suffering Shakespeare shows that love can cause pain. A lot of the characters view love as a curse and claim to suffer painfully from being in love or unrequited love. The theme of gender uncertainty creates a clear homoerotic subtext. Olivia falls for Cesario but he is a woman, Orsino remarks on Ceasior’s beauty a few times, Antonio is in love with Sebastian, and when all was revealed Orsino still called Viola by her boy name.

“He is but mad yet, Madonna and the fool shall look to
the madman.”

Twelfth Night relies heavily on messages sent from one character to another. The messages are used both for purposes of communication and miscommunication which can be accidental or deliberately. No one is truly insane in this play lol but a few characters are accused of being mad.

“I say this house is as dark as ignorance, though ignorance
we as dark as hell; and I say there was never
man thus abused. I am no more mad than you are:
make the trial of it in any constant question.”

Olivia’s gifts symbolize her romantic attachment to a man who is really a woman. The darkness of Malvolio’s prison symbolizes his supposed insanity. The changes of clothing symbolize changes in gender as well as class distinctions.

“Methinks sometimes I have no more wit
than a Christian or an ordinary man has: but I am a
great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.”

This is a play that I would have died to see acted out in its time period. Men had to act as the women so I can just a imagine a man having to play viola a woman who dresses like a man but is really a woman but is actually a male actor. This was funny and witty and if you love Shakespeare then you must get this.


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Kathryn Calderon | 24 | Artist of many trades | Villains are my soul

One thought on “Twelfth Night Book Review

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