Describe the different forms of disguise and deception that feature in the Twelfth Night

Category: Deception
Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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Disguise and deception play significant roles in Shakespeare's romantic comedy Twelfth Night. Shakespeare places emphasis on these somewhat "wickedness" (A2 S2 L26) traits to somehow create a traditional romantic comedy; where despite the negative ideas of disguise and deceit play a prominent role, love blossoms and a happy ending prevails.

The tireless use of these ideas in different forms and guises, which endure throughout the whole play highlights the themes of love, madness and appearance versus reality; where disguise and deceit both take credit for possessing a major responsibility in providing twists, turns and humor in the main and sub-plots. Orsino is the first character introduced to the play. He is the Duke of Illyria and therefore the most powerful character implemented into Shakespeare's play. Upon his arrival to the story, he immediately disguises his ignorance of love by speaking in poetics form to deceive the audience and the characters around him. If music be the food of love, play on" (A1 S1 L1) is promptly contrasted in line 7 "Enough, no more; 'Tis not so sweet as it was before". This contradiction implicates his ignorance of what love is really about. His vocabulary and figurative language, both influenced by poetic speech does well to fool everyone that he is not what he seems. People would see Orsino as a likeable character that carries the aura that he can achieve anything; he is a self-absorbed man who thinks very highly of himself.

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But this is obviously not the case as Orsino has been shown to be just like everyone else, even with his power in Illyria, Orsino has his flaws too. Feste also uses his language to disguise aspects of his character. However, contrasting the stance of Orsino, Feste shows his wit and intelligent by smugly playing on words and with the medium of music. An example of Feste's clever play on words was during the conversation he had with Viola who was at the time disguised as Cesario; "... send thee a beard" (A3 S1 L45).

Although everyone had been fooled by Viola in convincing them that the Cesario character is real, Feste (who is the fool) hints that he may know Cesario's true identity. Feste himself does not describe himself as Olivia's fool "but her corruptor of words" (A3 S1 L37). Indeed it can be viewed that he is only paid to be the fool, to act like a madman with wit; and in actual fact he is the most sane character and intelligent in the play. He shows his intelligent by irrelevantly expressing his words in another language, "cucus, non facit monachum:" (A1 S5 L53).

Feste is the only character wrapped up in all the plots yet keeps an outside perspective of each by showing no emotion in his speech or actions. But in light of this, his emotions are brought to the surface when he entertains people with his music. The realization that Feste is has the most knowledge of love, or what real love is, begin to seep through as he sings. "What is love? 'Tis not hereafter, Present mirth hath present laughter:" (A2 S3 L48). Unlike Orsino who believes that everything will work out okay when you fall in love, Feste believes that the future is always uncertain "What's to come is still unsure" (A2 S3 L50).

He also concretes his perspective that love should not wait as we will not be young forever; "Youth's a stuff will not endure" (A2 S3 L53). Although his character does not show emotions whilst playing his role in each plot; his music, which varies from melancholy ballads to contemplative, express that there is much more to Feste than meets the eye. Feste's past is shrouded in mystery, and elements of his past still live in his music. "And we'll strive to please you everyday" (A5 S1 L 407) ends the play. Regardless of his past that he disguises through music, Feste feels that his duty now is to make people laugh.

He expresses with this idea that our duty in life is to be happy and to make others happy, something he harassed Olivia about in Act1 as she mourned her brother's death. Despite many features of Feste's character that show his has much more depth than what we are led to believe; he also uses disguise and deceit to concrete his role as a fool, a clown who provides humor and entertainment for the audience. "Sir Topas the curate, who comes to visit Malvolio the lunatic" (A4 S2 L22). Upon learning of Sir Toby and Maria's gulling of Malvolio, Feste decides to join in the fun.

He does this by pretending to be someone else when visiting Malvolio, to further his torture and suffering. Malvolio and Feste's turbulent past had been briefly documented when in Act 1 Malvolio says "I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal" (A1 S5 L81). It's interesting to take into account that Feste is supposed to be the fool of the play, but he doesn't setup the humorous gulling of Malvolio and fails to provide the entertainment and humor Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek bring to the play.

Instead Feste takes part of the humor only with revenge on his mind and not to provide humor, and relies only on quick plays on words to supply humor. This could be Feste disguising that he is not comfortable with his role in life as the fool. Viola's role in the play is purely based on the ideas of disguise and deceit. She initially deceives everyone by disguising herself as a man, Cesario, in order to serve Orsino, "For such disguise as haply shall become: The form of my intent" (A1 S3 L54).

In doing so she deceives everyone else in the play, with the exception of Feste, and as a result causes confusion among and between the characters and mayhem in the overall play. As a result of her disguise, Olivia and her brother Seabastian, get married as she thought that Sebastian was Cesario, "would thou'dst be rul'd by me! " (A4 S2 L63). That's an example of confusion resulting from Viola's disguise. Mayhem is caused when the jealous Sir Andrew Aguecheek attacks the tough and skilled Sebastian, assuming he was the soft and timid Cesario.

As a result of this attack, Sebastian beats down Sir Andrew Aguecheek and causes mayhem and tension between characters like Olivia and Sir Toby Belch, "Where manners ne'er were preach'd! Out of my sight! " (A4 S1 48). These are just two examples of confusion and mayhem instigated by Viola's disguise. Other examples include the conversation between Sebastian and Feste, when the latter thought Sebastian was Cesario, "... ungrid thy strangeness" (A4 S1 L15); and when Antonio thought he was backstabbed by Sebastian, but was in reality talking to a clues Viola, "Thou hast, Sebastian, done good feature shame" (A3 S4 L375).

The many outcomes of Viola's disguise bring entertainment and humor to the audience to add comedy to the romance. In disguising herself as Cesario, Viola falls in love with Orsino to bring the romance aspect to the play, "Whoo'er I woo, myself would be his wife" (A1 S5 L42). This deceit also intertwines humor and romance, with Olivia falling in love with Cesario causing the humor, and the unspoken love from Viola to Orsino bringing out the romance. Viola is like Feste in the sense that they both play on words; both doing so as a way of showing that there is more to them than what meets the eye.

She almost cries out to Orsino by telling giving hints as to her true identity, "I am all the daughters of my father's house,: And all the brothers too" (A2 S5 L121), often speaking in riddle. She also has an encounter with Feste where she counters his play on words that he may know her identity by saying, "I am sick for once, [Aside] thought I would not have it grow on my chin" (A3 S1 L47). In countering in a war of wits, she riddles to Feste that she is in fact a woman. Viola's brother Sebastian also manages to have a role in the deceit over his short period of time in the play.

His only relationship that occurs throughout the play is with Antonio, the man who saved his life. There are suggestions that Antonio has repressed homosexual feelings for Sebastian that he disguises by pretending to only be his close friend, "If you will not murder me for your love, let me be your servant" (A2 S1 L34). Sebastian himself lives part of the play in deceit by pretending to know what is going on when he enters the plot when he has no idea. He asks "Are all the people mad? " (A4 S1 L26).

Nevertheless, even though he believes everyone to be mad, he plays along with Olivia who believes he is Cesario, and living in this dream, Sabastian marries her. This serves of the purpose of enhancing the romantic conclusion to the play. Olivia herself is in self-deceit. The mourning over her brother's death is very dramatic, but she just lives the idea of mourning as she feels that this would do the death of her brother justice. However, this mourning does not last long. Feste manages to entertain a mourning Olivia, much to Malvolio's chagrin, "I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal" (A1 S5 L81).

She attempts to disguise all this under a veil, but to no avail as her real personality shone through. Olivia as part of her mourning, promised that no man would see her face "till seven years' heat" (A1 S1 L26). But regardless of this, falls in love with Cesario, "Unless, perchance, you come to me again,:To tell me how he takes it" (A1 S5 L285). Olivia is disguising her flirtatious movements towards Cesario by pretending that she only wants her to come back to bear news of Orsino's reaction to her rejection.

To further disguise her feelings, and deceive her promise and herself even more, she tells a blatant lie to Malvolio, ": he left this ring behind him," (A1 S5 L305). Her deceit shows that an esteemed "virtuous maid" like herself also has flaws. It also provides a lot of humor for the audience, as a woman falling in love with another woman dressed as a man provides entertainment for the audience. "I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal" (A1 S5 L81). This quote has a lot of deceit attached to it. Malvolio is jealous that Feste can entertain Olivia even when she is mourning.

This is because he has feelings for Olivia which is later exposed in the play, "'Tis but fortune, all is fortune" (A2 S5 L23), this being his initial belief that Olivia loves him, even before reading the letter from Maria. Malvolio disguises his true colours by being the unlikable Puritan character in the play. In fact, Malvolio's true colours show him to be an arrogant, hypocrite who is even more unlikable than his initial Puritan personality. His arrogance provides humor for the audience as he thinks, "that all that look on him love him" (A2 S3 L151) and makes him looks stupid.

He deceives everyone to believing that he is a Puritan character and deceives Olivia into thinking he is a nice person. However in actuality, Feste is the fool who in reality is the most intelligent and sane character of the play, after mocking Feste, we learn that Malvolio is the opposite. He acts as if he is the most intelligent and sane character of the play when he's really the fool of the play, the character who provides the most humor. He believes Olivia is playing along with his game, when he speaks to her at her level and with added sexual connotations, "To bed? Ay, sweetheart, and I'll come to thee" (A3 S4 L31).

This provides the most humor, as he believes that they are disguising their love and deceiving all the other character when in reality, he is the only person being deceived. He looks like the fool, and the gulling of Malvolio in particular gives the audience added satisfaction because he is such an unlikable character. The mastermind behind the gulling of Malvolio has also disguised aspects of her personality. The others see Maria as jus the maid of Olivia, but as the play moves on we as an audience, and the characters of the play learn that Maria is cunning and more intelligent than what she lets everyone believe.

She deceives everyone by masterminding the gulling of Malvolio. She also has self-deceit along with Sir Toby Belch as both have hidden feelings for each other, which they refuse to acknowledge. We know of this because by the end of the play, the two get married. Looking at their relationship throughout the play, Maria is the mother figure who takes care and guides Sir Toby Belch, "Ay, but you must confine yourself with the modest limits of order" (A1 S3 L8). But we gain knowledge that she is not fulfilling the mother role, but more the role of a wife.

Sir Toby Belch is also a scheming character within the play as he deceives Sir Andrew Aguecheek into challenging Cesario to a fight for his own personal entertainment, as both Aguecheek and Cesario are seen as cowards; thus Sir Tovy creating his own sub-plot. Sir Andrew Aguecheek is as a clumsy coward of a knight. However Aguecheek's past is a mystery to the audience, and we have a sense that there is much more depth to Aguecheek than what meets the eye when he says, "Someone loved me once too".

This shows that Aguecheek has disguised himself to be a clumsy and immature man when in reality he has feelings too, and has a more sensitive side to his character. He also disguises himself to be a brave knight by challenging Cesario to a fight as he feels this would win Olivia's heart. However, as seen through his letter, Aguecheek is a coward who couldn't hurt anyone. "and God have mercy on one of our souls! He may have mercy on mine," (A3 S4 L167), Aguecheek provides humor by his supposedly threatening letter. The fact he ends this letter by calling Cesario "Thu friend" (A3 S4 L 169), shows him to be a nice but gullible man.

He is gullible to Sir Toby's instructions and the direction Sir Toby leads him into. The play as a whole is one big disguise. "An improbable fiction" (A3 S4 L127) is what Fabien describes the play to be. He acts as if the real life situation is like a play, and in essence makes it all a play within a play. The characters share dialogue that expresses what they are trying to say but also has a double meaning, which tells the audience that the play is not real life and is essentially just a play. "You are now out of your text: but we will draw the curtain and show you the picture" (A1 S5 L235).

This is an example of subtly letting the audience realize that they should not be fully wrapped up in the play as it is just a play. This idea coincides with what Olivia is saying in the context of the play as she is letting Viola see her face. The play contains a number of little subtexts to regularly remind the audience that the play is fictional. All these subtexts are disguised within the context in which the character is talking about. There is obviously an inextricable link between both the ideas of deceit and disguise, as when one of the ideas is created, the other promptly follows; as is seen in throughout the play.

Twelfth Night is situated in the genre of "romantic comedy", and both of which have been built upon from the foundations disguise and deceit have created. The two roles define what the play is all about; because of the "wickedness" (A2 S2 L26) behind disguise and deceit, the outcome is both the themes of romance and comedy, which is what the play effectively revolves around. Shakespeare uses both ideas as the foundation to create the whole of the story, emphasizing both the drama and comedy involved.

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Describe the different forms of disguise and deception that feature in the Twelfth Night. (2017, Aug 27). Retrieved from

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