Twelfth Night: How does Act one, scene 1-3, serve as an effective opening to the play?

Category: Acts, Love, Twelfth Night
Last Updated: 10 Jan 2022
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1. How does Act one, scene 1-3, serve as an effective opening to the play? Comment especially on the way in which Shakespeare establishes the overall atmosphere, main characters, important relationships and key elements of the main plot and subplot.

In Act 1, scenes 1-3, there are many ways to which these scenes provide an effective opening to the play. Individually, these scenes each serve a different aspect, which contributes to an effective opening. In Act 1, scene 1, Orsino is introduced into the picture, with his whining and pining towards this love for Olivia, with much exaggeration, due to the excessive use of imagery, and gives us one of the central theme of the play - transient and complex love. Act 1, scene 2 displays Viola and the Captain, and how Viola appears na�ve, but is actually a strategist, and plans to disguise herself to get protection and also get closer to Orsino - causing a confusion in gender, identity, and intention. Scene 3, however, gives us another side of the play, where minor characters are introduced, vulgarism used, coarse jokes cracked, simply having this crude addition to the play. Henceforth, we can see that these 3 scenes at the beginning of the play serve as an effective opening to Twelfth Night.

Scene 1 is set in Duke Orsino's room, who is the Duke of Illyria, a fictional place. This creates a fairy-tale like impression, with an anticipation that the ending would be like in fairy tales - happily ever after. This brings forth an exotic, unknown feeling towards the play, a fairy-tale like atmosphere. In scene 1, the scene starts with Orsino's cries of how love is torturing him, using a series of imagery, such as extended metaphors, personifications, and similes, characterising this play by rich language, and immersing us into the romantic mood of love, and the central theme of fickle love in this play.

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The speeches he delivers are in verses, and the ending speech ends off effectively with a rhyming couplet. The poetry and music, the use of rich, sensuous imagery of beauty and nature, set a romantic tone of the play. This can be seen evidently from how he begins with 'If music be the food of love, play on'. This line creates a mood that is suitable for what he is talking about - love. In addition, scene 1 is the introduction scene, in which we can gather many first impressions, be it for the characters, or the theme of the play. Hence, from scene 1, our first impression is formed that the main theme of this play is love that is uncertain, ever changing, unpredictable, fickle, inconstant and transient. This impression is formed from how Orsino is dependent on the mood and feels that the right atmosphere is integral to love. Henceforth, we get an implication that he is more in love with being in love than in love with Olivia, the real, true person, showing that love can change in the twinkle of an eye, an important point in respect to the theme of this play.

In scene 1, we are also given an idea of the character traits of both Olivia and Orsino. This serves as an effective opening to the play as, the mood of the play is exaggerated and unrealistic. Hence, as both Olivia and Orsino are exaggerated people who indulge in their own feelings rather than genuine feelings for others and Orsino is one who is exaggerated in his use of language, with similes, puns, metaphors and personification, they set the mood straight and prepare us for the type of play we are going into - a comedy that is amusing and unrealistic. Olivia is seen as exaggerated and highly emotional as she announces that she is going to mourn for 7 years, due to the unfortunate death of her dear brother. This public display of mourning gives a sense of the fact that she is wallowing in self-pity and at the same time, enjoying the attention. This contributes to the theme of exaggeration and gives a superficial view to the play.

Furthermore, Orsino's cry of despair is filled with emotion, desire and dejection, and allows us to pity him, yet be ridiculed by how he is in love with being in love. This adds to the humour and light-hearted, comic tone of the play, as Orsino is an exaggerated character, and sets us to indulge in this mood of romance, from the ending rhyming couplet Shakespeare uses to add a tone of romance, and show that love is not dependable, and is always changing, inconstant. This is shown in the rhyming couplet, 'Away before me to sweet beds of flowers! Love thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers.' This romantic couplet shows how Orsino is dependant on the external environment, thus bringing forth the theme of transient love.

Also, Orsino begins his exclamations with the word, 'O'. This brings about a sense of dreaminess, and reinforces the unrealistic and comic theme of this play. In addition, both Orsino and Olivia's names start with the letter 'O'. This gives a re-emphasis on the dreaminess of this play. Orsino's speech in scene 1 proves to be an effective contribution to the opening, firstly, to bring forth the themes of this play, and secondly, to display Orsino's personality, and reinforce the themes of this play, to prepare us for a play that is full of humour and unexpected happenings. Through this scene, Olivia is compared to Orsino, and evidently, they are similar in that they are both exaggerated and emotional, adding to the touch and theme of this play. Inclusive in this play is the start of love in the plot. In this scene, we are told that Orsino is in love, or rather, infatuated with Olivia. Hence, we are informed that the overall atmosphere of this play is that of romance, and uncertain love, love that seems to change at the snap of a finger.

In the following scene, Viola is introduced into the scene. An effective opening it is, as in this scene, Viola's personality wins over one's heart, for she is straightforward, and witty, and though manipulative, yet gives us an impression that she is a person of action, and intelligence, and is rational and practical, in a huge contrast to Orsino, who is irrational and emotional. This scene contributes in developing the character, Viola, who is the protagonist of the story, as this scene gives us a clear perspective as to what kind of a person Viola is. Disguise and deceit is also entered in this particular scene. In addition, act 1, scene 2, is set in the outdoors, near the sea. This creates a mood of activeness, and perhaps adds to the theme that love is ever changing, full of action. This could also display the dramatic, stark change, full of impact, adding to the fast and active pace of the play, hence giving a light-hearted, lively, almost 'bouncy' mood of the play. Thereafter, it emphasizes on how the events and happenings of the play are unpredictable and full of variety, and not monotonous, slow-moving ones.

This also sets a contrast between scene 1 and 2. Also, scene 2 is in a rather heavy tone, in comparison to scene 1, as there is a sense of uncertainty here. Viola does not know whether Sebastian, her twin brother is alive. She shows optimism, and this serves as a contribution to the effectiveness of the opening of the play, to allow us to show interest and look forward to what's happening next in the play, and anticipate it.

In addition, in scene 2, Viola introduces one of another central theme of the play - disguise and identity confusion. This adds to the opening as a good introduction to the play, as we are immediately set with the main themes of this play, in scene 1, of uncertain, ever changing love, and in scene 2, disguise. Disguise is an important aspect of the play, and plays an important part in adding suspense, tension, and climax. It generates several interesting situations to advance the plot, and adds to the comic aspect of this play. Furthermore, it creates confusion and adds to the plot to create and contribute to the overall uncertain and unrealistic theme of the play, and causes one to wonder about the rest of the play, and continue reading it, due to interest in the plot.

Also, at the end of scene 2, Viola is going to be disguised as a eunuch. This is a symbol of gender uncertainty, and shows forth another aspect of the play - confusion over gender. This gender uncertainty is another part that adds to the development of an interesting plot. Moreover, in scene 2, a good testimony of Olivia is described in the speech between the captain and Viola. In this manner, Shakespeare builds credibility for his characters, and displays the fact that main characters must be essentially good to fit in to the light-hearted tone of a comic play. This is an important contribution to the opening of the play, as we do not have a bad impression of the main characters for long, but actually grow to like them due to certain characteristics they display. A meaningful part is within scene 2, which is how the nature of human greed is displayed in the speech exchange between Viola and the captain, as the captain is overwhelmed by flattery and agrees to help Viola.

Overall in scene 2, we are given an idea that Viola is interested in Duke Orsino, and tries to get closer to him, creating this love triangle, which moves the plot forward. This impression is formed from "For such disguise that shall become/The form of my intent". The intent here refers to how she wants to cover up her true identity and gender, and at the same time, cover up the other hidden intention of getting closer to Orsino. All these emphasize on the main theme, and give us a better perspective of disguise in the play, contributing both to the plot and effectiveness of the play, with a sense of excitement and gives variety to the plot of the play.

Going on to scene 3, we have been introduced to the main characters of this play - Orsino, Olivia and Viola. Finally, we are introduced to some of the minor characters of this play - Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria. A change from speaking in verses and poetry, to thus in prose, sets us right away to the fact that, these characters we are going to be introduced to next would be minor characters, those of a lower class or position, more unimportant. This is an effective part in the opening, to prepare us well for the play, and inform us that, since these are characters of a lower position, some of their jokes could be more coarse and vulgar, and prepares us for it. This can be seen in many areas, for instance, "What a plague", a slang, and "accost is, front her, board her, woo her, assail her", in this case, a sexual word play, directing towards Maria and Sir Andrew. Sir Toby does this publicly, in front of Maria, showing his uncultured and unrefined nature. This is all expected, as they are of a lower class, and less refined, and more barbaric in a way.

This scene is also a much more light-hearted toned scene compared to many other scenes in this whole play. There is a smart exchange of puns and word play between Maria and Sir Toby, as they add to the humour of this play, quarrelling and giving their different opinions toward Sir Andrew. This brings forward the subplot, giving us an idea that Maria and Sir Toby are witty characters, though unimportant, being the minor characters, and more unrefined, uneducated, yet they are clever, and are able to change a word, to their own benefits. For instance, Sir Toby, when being insulted by Maria, says "Why, let her except, before excepted". He plays with the word except, and puns. The word 'except' being seen in two ways, in the first manner, 'let her disagree, before giving me an exception' and next, except and accept, sounding the same. This could mean, 'let her disagree, before accepting me'. This is an interesting and witty part in the play, and particularly in this scene, we can tell that humour is being brought forth, and adding to the comical purpose of this play, an important setting of mood in the beginning, to tell us that the play we are about to go deeper into, is light-hearted, and comical.

Besides these points, scene 3 introduces Sir Andrew, a gullible, stupid, dim-witted man, who foolishly thinks that he is a suitable suitor for Olivia. He creates a comical scene, and brings the play closer to our hearts, as we laugh heartily at how Sir Toby and Maria poke fun of Sir Andrew, and insult him, making use of his stupidity and denseness. This is an attractive contribution to the opening of the play, as we are immersed in the light-hearted scene of the play, and immediately get a feel of the whole play's atmosphere. We are humoured by the comic display of the three minor characters, Maria, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, and this brings forth the importance of the minor characters in the subplot of the play, and gives us an idea of both the subplot and how it gradually develops in telling us a theme, and sets as a good opening to the play, to prepare us for the play ahead.

They give us a good start in bringing out one of the central themes of the play, breaking apart conventional definitions of identity and status, where Sir Toby actually publicly makes fun of both Maria and Sir Andrew, at their expense, and Maria is able to quarrel with Sir Toby, though she is a lowly maid.

All in all, the initial three scenes of Act I are very useful in serving as a good and effective opening to the play, and truly prepares us for Twelfth Night - an irrational, improbable plot and play, focusing more on the essence of comedy which have elements of philosophical depth and melancholy, and the themes of love and disguise, full of twists, changes and confusion. With each scene complementing each other, we are welcomed into the play, with an outstanding opening.

8. As an audience, how does Scene 1-3 serve to arouse our interest and expectations?

Throughout Scene 1-3 of Act 1, there are many ways as to which they serve to arouse our interest and expectations, and lead us deep into the play, and keeping us there, to look forward to the following scene, and on, keeping us fired up, and interested to go on. This is made possible, due to the building up of tension, and the plot, inclusive of the subplot, which arouses our interest, and allows us to await the next scene, with much anticipation as to what is going to happen next. The characters described also serve to arouse our interest and expectations by having special personalities, which we do not see day by day. Also, their character traits are special, and somehow, cause us to like and admire them, and at the same time, quite dislike them. This is an interesting and complex idea in the play, and attracts our attention, and causes us to wonder how these characters would end up, and what would happen to them, and their lives.

The imagery used also amazes us and cause us to read deeper into the play, and understand more about it. The relationship formed between characters creates many different twists to the plot, for instance, the love triangle between Olivia, Viola and Orsino. The confusion of the relationships and plot adds to the plot and keeps us interested. Also, we are not yet told as to whether Viola's brother, Sebastian is actually alive, from, "O my poor brother! and so perchance may he be", she is more hopeful than sure. This gives us a sort of anticipation, and we try to guess whether or not Sebastian is alive, in fact, hope sincerely that Sebastian is alive, as we can feel the hurt of someone losing a loved one.

Initially, when Orsino, one of the protagonists of the play is introduced, we get an impression that he is emotional, and wallows in his own emotions, being egoistic and superficial. He is more in love with himself, and the idea of being in love, much more that being truly in love with the person Olivia. This can be seen from how he is very much dependant on the external environment of the surroundings to get into the mood of love, and feels that the right mood is essential for love. This is seen from, "If music be the food of love, play on" and "Away before me to sweet beds of flowers/Love thoughts lie rich when canopied with bowers". From thus, we are curious as to how, Orsino, such a person who likes to whine, and fickle, guided by emotions, could be one of the main characters of the play, henceforth, we go on to grow in interest towards the play.

We are also amazed at his level of intellectual abilities, and how he is cultured, using descriptive imagery, to express his indulgence in love. His use of flowery language emphasizes on a tone of exaggeration, towards the play, and enacts his nature of being exaggerated, which we later realize in the same scene (scene 1), is similar to Olivia. From this, we can see that Shakespeare arouses our interest by giving us an opportunity to have our own stab at analyzing and comparing the main characters. We are drawn into the play by this, and go deeper into the play, to find out more about these interesting characters.

Furthermore, in scene 1, we are introduced and immersed into the atmosphere of love, and romance. This is set in by Orsino's speech, always revolving around love, and his rich use of imagery, his exaggeration in his speech. All these provide comical devices, for instance, the exaggeration in language. Orsino exaggerates what he says, and "These sovereign thrones, are all supplied, and fill'd/Her sweet perfections with one self king!" sends forth this impression that Orsino is egoistic, and exaggerative. This sets the tone of amusement, of the unbelievable, the unrealistic. The imagery also adds to the mood of sentimentality and romance, atmosphere of love and emotions. Thus, we are attracted by the use of language, the exaggeration of it, and drawn by the character Orsino, his infatuation toward Olivia, and we start to wonder, whether this unrequited 'love', or infatuation, would get any results, or end up to be anything good.

Also, the similarities between Orsino and Olivia stirs up our interest and curiosity towards them, and we have an urge to know more about them, and learn more about how the plot slowly develops. From initially, we know that Orsino loves Olivia, but Olivia does not wish to show any affections for men at this moment, as she has lost both her father, and her brother, males who were her most loved ones. This is a development of the plot, and we slowly comprehend how the relationships between characters are, and their nature surfaces, and we grow to admire or dislike or like them. In scene 1, the conflict and struggle within Orsino himself is evident, as he feels strangled, tortured by this love, and wants the love to die so it would no longer torment him.

We, however, pity him, as he believes himself to be really and totally in love with Olivia, when actually, he is more in love with himself and the idea of love. We sympathise with him, but at the same moment, cannot seem to convince ourselves, that Orsino is a gullible and blind lover. This is shown from how can clearly say that "O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou", yet not be able to realize that his own love for Olivia is merely an infatuation, and at any point of time, could just die, and disappear, within the snap of a finger. From this, we are further indulged in Twelfth Night, as our interest towards the plot and characters grow.

The use of word play in scene 1, "hart" and "heart", adds to the wit and comical display of the play and arouses our interest. Besides this, the many references to nature in his speech, with "beds of flowers", and "music", we are reminded of images of true nature and beauty, overwhelming, and sets an underlying tone, of optimism, and allows us to be light-hearted, and look forward to the rest of the play. Also, the play is set in the land of Illyria, which is a fictional place, hence giving room for our imaginations to run wild, and imagine this place to be similar to that of fairy tales, and allows us to float in our dreams of a perfect place, where such situations seem to happen very often, and love and romance surrounds the land. This brings us back fond memories of fairy tales, and our hopes are rekindled, as we enter into an unrealistic play, where things that happen are more improbable, and certainly, very unlikely to happen to us in everyday lives. Valentine, one of Orsino's servants, as we can tell from his name, is a contribution to the romantic tone and atmosphere of the play.

Olivia, another protagonist of the play, is introduced into the play, through Valentino, and we are given an idea that she is also a highly emotional and sentimental person, rather superficial, trying to earn attention and pity in her mourning towards her dead brother, as she is said to be "In her cloistress, she will walk veiled" and "eye-offending brine...all this to season a brother's dead love...keep fresh in her sad remembrance". From here, we are told that she wants to always remember the feeling of losing her brother, which shows her superficial understanding towards true love, and feels that the external mourning, would provide a true sense of sincerity and genuine love, which as we can tell. This is a contribution towards the main plot of the story, as another main character of the play is introduced to us, and we are given an idea of the protagonist, and we start to desire to know more about these characters.

In scene 2, Viola, the main character of the play is clearly introduced into the play of Twelfth Night, set in the coast, contrasting between the settings of the previous scene - Orsino's room. There is a change in speed, from one of slow moving, to one that is active, and not passive. This is a vast change, and hence, we are pushed forward towards the fast pace of eh play, and we are drawn towards the unpredictability and variety of events.

We, as the audience are affected by this change, and are excited, and are interested towards the play, and the plot. Also, in this scene, the theme of disguise and uncertainty in gender, identity and intentions is entered. We are quickly accustomed towards this theme, as Viola decides and plans to disguise herself as a eunuch, a symbol of uncertainty towards gender. All these draws us towards the play as we learn more about the characters, and in fact, go deeper into the play, and start to appreciate the use of words, the way they speak, and the themes they bring out.

There is also a contrast between scene 1 and 2, as scene 2 is set in a more heavy tone, more serious. Viola begins the scene by asking about the foreign land she is in, before asking the captain about her brother, to find out whether he is alive. We are thrown into a fit of guessing within ourselves, and wondering whether Sebastian, Viola's twin brother is alive. Also, we are given an idea that Viola is interested in Duke Orsino, from, "Orsino!...He was a bachelor then", as she mentions nothing else, but the fact that he was single and available then, suggests her previous interest in Orsino. Hence, she tries to get closer to him, by disguising herself, and creating this love triangle, which moves the plot forward. We are henceforth attracted to these building up of the plot, and stay interested in the play.

Scene 3 follows to provide us with an idea as to who the minor characters of the play, the people of the subplot are, and how they are like. Sir Toby, Maria and Sir Andrew are thus introduced into the scene, with Sir Toby and Maria with differing opinions towards Sir Andrew. They play with each others' words, and we are attracted by their witty nature, and grow to like them, although Sir Toby is a rather rough person, less cultured, and more vulgar, and rough, from how he uses slang like, "What the plague". We are also, prepared for the roughness of language, for they are speaking in prose, and hence we can tell they are of a lower position and class.

The jokes Sir Toby cracks are coarse, and at the expense of others, and some, sexual puns, catering to audience of less educated families, and people, who are less cultured. In addition, Sir Andrew, a dim-witted man, is the laughing stock of the scene, as he is dense, and slow to understand the puns and word play Sir Toby and Maria wittily speak. He is poked fun at, and still, does not know what is going on. We are ridiculed at his stupidity, but at the same time, can't help laughing and enjoying his existence in the play, to create the comical effect of the play. Another theme of the play, the overturning of positions, of how Sir Toby can overturn Olivia's quiet home, to that of a place of uncivilized behaviour.

Therefore, the 3 initial scenes each have their own ways of arousing the attention of the audience, and keep us glued to the play, and not lose interest in just a moment, due to the comical effect of the play, and the different interesting and amusing characters of the play, and the gradually developing plot and subplot of the play.

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Twelfth Night: How does Act one, scene 1-3, serve as an effective opening to the play?. (2017, Aug 27). Retrieved from

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