Twelfth Night Themes Essay Example
Twelfth Night is a complex story that carefully uses trickery, disguise, and love to form the relationships between the characters, creating a love triangle that makes the story comical and engaging. Shakespeare crafts his characters and forms the storyline to reveal to the reader how societal roles create labels that are not always representative of the status one deserves.
In the time which Shakespeare set the play Twelfth Night, a society existed in which a form feudalism was the structure of the masses. On the top of the food chain was the king, followed by the noble, then the knights, and last the servants. Ones place in society was most commonly assigned by parentage. Most often, a person would stay in that class their entire life. Shakespeare develops 3 of the classes. In Twelfth Night. These are the Nobel, Knights, and the Servants.
The Servants are arguably the hardest working social class in Twelfth Night. They perform all of the physical labor, tedious tasks, as well as attend to the mental health of the Nobility. Often times the Servants are more deserving of the positions of Nobility and Knighthood, than the actual Nobles and Knights. We can see this through the character Malvolio. Malvolio is the head servant of for Lady Olivia. He wishes for nothing more than to be part of the nobility.
He constantly dreams and fantasizes about himself as a duke or in a position of similar power. Malvolio works tirelessly to keep the household prim and proper. He arguably has one of the most traditionally Nobel mindsets and his work ethic is deserving of nothing less than nobility, however his parentage deemed him to be a servant and a servant he has stayed.
The Nobel and the Knights were the power holders in society. They, in Twelfth Night, didn't have anyone giving them constant orders as the servants did. They were mostly free to do as they wished and were in control of their own lives. Just as the servants, these figures were typically given their roles based on their parentage. Sir Andrew was a Knight in the story. One might think that as a knight he would have been a hero, had dauntless traits, had accomplished mastery at swordplay, or achieved something in his life that would show the casual observer he was deserving of the title “Knight".
Sir Andrew, however, displayed none of what one would expect. He was foolish, a terrible swordsman, did not show any sort of bravery, etc. His position in society was for the most part determined by his lineage. He, although seemingly undeserving of his title “Knight”, had more authority than many of the more deserving servants below him. The Nobel often are also the most foolish in society. They have the least knowledge of what the truth is, who is involved, etc.
We can see this very clearly in Twelfth Night. Viola or Cesario is disguised as a male assistant to Duke Orsino. Duke Orsino loves Olivia so he sends Viola to her to win her over for him. Olivia Is attracted to Viola and eventually Viola is attracted to Orsino. This creates a complex love triangle that leaves each of the characters within it spinning with confusion. Matters only become worse with the introduction of the character Sebastian, Viola's brother who she believes to be dead.
One might expect the Nobel to be the smartest characters who are able to figure out the truth behind the disguise. However, they end up the most foolish out of all the characters. The character Feste, who is the “fool” in the play Twelfth Night, ends up being the character who knows exactly what is going on and demonstrates ability much more than the Knights and the Noble.
Shakespeare intentionally placed these themes within his play. Throughout the story we learn that the foolish are the most knowledgeable, the servants are the most deserving, and the Noble are the fools who live cozy lives because of the hard work that the servants carry out for them. Shakespeare purposely created his characters to support these ideas.
Malvolio represents those in society who are tireless workers, who have big dreams, and strive for them, however are held back because they are a lowly worker stuck in the lower class. Sir Andrew represents the wealthy who have done nothing to deserve their wealth. Those who are simply pampered because they were born into or inherited wealth from their parents. Each of these roles are placed upon the respective individual, regardless of their merit. Some deserve much more than they have, while others don't deserve but a fraction.
Within this romantic comedy a larger social lesson is being shown. Shakespeare used the characters to portray the labels that society creates and places upon individuals, regardless of if they deserve it, and formed the storyline to show the injustices within the class system.