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The ways in which Shakespeare uses structure and language to dramatise the comparisons in Twelfth Night

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Examine the ways in which Shakespeare uses structure and language to dramatise the comparisons between different kinds of love in Twelfth Night focusing on Act 5, Scene 1 and one or two other scenes of your choice.  Twelfth Night is thought to have been written in 1601, near the middle of Shakespeare’s career. The play looks at deception, disguise, illusion and probably most significantly the amazing things that love can cause us to do. Shakespeare does this successfully through clever use of language and structure.

Act 1, Scene 1 of the comedy begins with a nobleman named Orsino, pining away for the love of Lady Olivia, a noble Illyrian lady. Shakespeare uses imagery to represent love:

“If music be the food of love, play on;

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting

The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

Orsino’s language contains images which recur throughout the play such as music, death, love and food while expressing his love.

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Orsino doesn’t mention Lady Olivia until his discussion with Curio soon after, this leads us to suggest that Orsino is in love with the idea of being in love itself, therefore being selfish. Consequently the reference to food can be perceived as Orsino’s hunger for love. This hunger we are told leads to sickness and pain, again the imagery of sickness symbolises Orsino’s extreme feelings towards love. The idiom ‘If music be the food of love, play on’ has become part of British language and has become a frequently used expression.

However, Olivia does not desire to be with Orsino and refuses to entertain any proposals of marriage. On the return of a message from Olivia’s household, Orsino is told that Olivia has vowed to mourn for her brother for seven years. Orsino accepts this refusal contentedly and is proud of Olivia for paying the ‘debt of love’ to her brother. This love towards a sibling is the third love to be found in the scene and indeed Twelfth Night, however despite this seemingly kind act of respect it can also be seen as selfish to shut herself from others especially with the high status and position she has in Illyrian society. The first type of love identified was unrequited love, established and maintained through selfishness and the second type being melancholy love as seen by Orsino’s sadness and misery. Despite the differences in the kinds of love Orsino’s language remains the same using imagery with the semantic field of flowers, life and death:

“Hath killed the flock…

That live in her; when liver, brain and heart…

Away before me to sweet beds of flowers”

Throughout the scene there has been little change in structure, Orsino has spoken verse throughout, while acting the conventional romantic hero, and through the three kinds of love identified there has still been the use of caesura which is generally used to give a dramatic effect. However, whilst Orsino was thinking of his own love at the beginning there was much more caesura used. Shakespeare would have done this to exaggerate Orsino’s melancholy love further and also to convey his mood and emotions much more easily. There is also a difference in rhyme. The beginning speech contains two rhyming couplets: ‘more’ and ‘before’ and ‘there’ and ‘soe’er’. While the final speech only contains one: ‘flowers and bowers’. The varying use of structure between the two references to love highlights the difference between a falsified, sentimental, dramatised love and a more relaxed and genuine love towards a sibling.

The second scene of Act 1, also establishes the love between siblings as Viola, a young lady of Messaline assumes that her twin brother, Sebastian has died in the ship wreck while she was brought safely to shore. Rather than being glad and rejoicing her own deliverance Viola began to lament her brother’s loss:

“My brother he is in Elysium.

Perchance he is not drown’d: what think you, sailors?”

Again the use of caesura conveys the emotion and panic felt by selfless Viola, particularly by the way the colon hurries on her thoughts to the question directed at the sailors. Viola decides that she must survive in Illyria asking the captain for help. She can not work for Olivia as she in mourning so instead she asked the captain to disguise her as a male using the feigned name Cesario in order for her to work as a page for Duke Orsino. Subsequently, Viola’s appearance and disguise as a young male in Illyria causes complication and confusion between both Orsino’s and Olivia’s household and Viola becomes the main protagonist. Consequentially a complicated love pattern emerges which seems to revolve entirely around Olivia. This identifies an obvious link between the two characters who’s names bear quite a resemblance, while both are grieving for their lost brothers they are also both lead the main plot to continue, Olivia continuing the theme of love and the many forms it can take, while Viola upholds the theme of concealed feelings and identity.

Duke Orsino takes favourably to his new page, unburdening his heart to Cesario telling him about his love towards Lady Olivia. Act 2, Scene 4 sees the Duke neglecting the company of his probable associates and lords who he would have almost certainly been associated with due to his high position. However, instead he listens to soft, romantic music, as in the first scene:

“Give me some music. Now, good morrow, friends…

That old and antique song we heard last night:

Me thought it did relieve my passion much,”

Orsino blindly leads himself into a lifestyle of wallowing in his own misery and self pity, while once again using images of music and illness. This is significant since this language technique is only noticeably used throughout the comedy when Orsino’s melancholy love is present. Viola, a selfless lover also begins feeling sorrowful as she is also suffering for the love of Orsino, who she has a deep genuine admiration for even though she is unable display her affection since her entrapment in male guise. She does however, gently hint:

“Say that some lady, as perhaps there is,

Hath for your love a great a pang of heart

As you have for Olivia: you cannot love her,

You tell her so; must she not then be answer’d?”

Viola questions the Duke enquiring whether he could love someone who felt as strongly about he as he does for Olivia, whether he would return the love and if not what he would tell her. Orsino denied that it was possible to love as much as he did:

“There is no women’s sides

Can bide the beating of so strong a passion

As love doth give my heart…”

To an audience this would be ironic as they would know of Viola’s love for the Duke and her true identity while he wouldn’t be aware of the real situation or circumstances. Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony provides wit and humour while the character is still talking truthfully. The emphasis on disguise in Twelfth Night means that the comedy is full of dramatic irony. The image of passion violently beating someone is evoked by the metaphor ‘can bide the beating of so strong a passion’ this is not a true description but works by making us imagine the painfully strong feelings Orsino believes he has for Olivia.

The Duke sends Cesario to deliver Olivia a message however, Olivia is instantly attracted to Cesario which leaves Viola once again in a difficult situation as she is entrapped in her disguise. This completes the love triangle as Viola loves Orsino, Orsino loves Olivia and Olivia loves Cesario/Viola.

The sub plot of Twelfth Night or What You Will contains more humorous and comical scenes involving characters whose status is less than the likes of Olivia and Orsino and also two knights who seem to act foolishly despite their positions. For the play to be a good comedy it has to show human weaknesses, Shakespeare has done this particularly in the sub plot by varying the level of compassion and self control in each character leaving their weaknesses easily identifiable.

Firstly, we meet Maria, a chambermaid of Olivia, Sir Toby Belch, Olivia’s uncle and his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, two rowdy drunkards. Sir Andrew hopelessly attempts to court Lady Olivia but to no avail, again we see representations of unrequited love and also courtly love. The conversation between Maria and Sir Toby is playful and dim-witted, despite its purpose to instruct and lecture Sir Toby, for the sake of Olivia. Sir Toby replies:

“Why let her except, before excepted.”

The light-hearted wordplay can be seen as flirtatious as Sir Toby uses his wit to entertain and charm Maria, although not explicitly told, through Toby’s tone and language usage he can be clearly seen to have feelings for her. However, puzzlingly he advises Sir Andrew Aguecheek to accost Maria. Andrew is left puzzled at the meaning of accost, the focus on wooing and courtly love is another apparent type of love. As Sir Andrew plays with the words of Maria the friendly, humorous conversation begins to include sexual references, as Maria says ‘It’s dry’ she gains the answer:

“…I can keep my hand dry.”

Bawdy, sexual references would have been gladly accepted by the audience in Elizabethan theatres particularly by the men, as in today’s society. The use of a metaphor leaves the context in which this is meant to be decided by the audience. The flexibility of perception is also true of the relationship between the characters involved in the sub plot as they are able to communicate in different tones and about different subjects without actually announcing any true feelings they may have about one another. Maria and Sir Toby can openly flirt with each other and Sir Toby can insult Sir Andrew Aguecheek as he did when we were first introduced calling him ‘Agueface’, Sir Toby in fact only wants to use Sir Andrew. This suggests how fragile and false relationships and friendship can be.

Malvolio is a character who seems to be unloved throughout the play he is neither loved as a friend or lover and the other characters show no compassion in evilly tricking him. His love for Olivia, is kept only as a fantasy. Malvolio is seen as a vain and pompous character whose only true love lies with himself. This self-love is seen by Olivia:

“O you are sick of self love, Malvolio”

This accusation sums up the view felt by the audience as he regularly spoils the fun of the other members of the households in order to satisfy himself. A letter forged by Maria, supposedly from Olivia soon leads to more deceit in the play as Malvolio tries to earn her favour by following the suggestions of dressing in yellow stockings and crossed garters, acting arrogantly, smiling constantly and refusing to explain himself to anyone, it is his own self-conceit that causes him to easily fall into the trap.

The sub-plot eventually intertwines with the main plot as a result of the appearance of Antonio and Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, who is still alive but believes that his twin, Viola is dead. Sebastian’s friend Antonio seems to care deeply about Sebastian, possibly passionately and sexually, leading us to believe that he may well be homosexual as he follows his friend to Illyria, despite being enemies with Orsino. Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, seeing Olivia’s increased attraction to Cesario decide to challenge Cesario to a duel. However, they mistakenly duel with Sebastian. The entrance of Olivia during the confusion causes further bewilderment as Olivia proposes to Sebastian, thinking that he is Cesario, Sebastian is baffled since he has never even met Lady Olivia before. However, he accepts.

Since separating from Sebastion, Antonio is arrested for an old crime he committed, he begs Cesario who he thinks is Sebastian for his purse that he had gave him. However, Cesario is confused at this and denies knowing Antonio, which is true. Antonio cries out that Sebastian had betrayed him giving Viola new hope that her brother may be alive. These scenes are laden with dramatic irony, obviously because the audience are the only people who understand that both of the twins are alive, and by the apparent confusion that the other characters are suffering, that no one can tell them apart. This perplexity causes the comedy to be as bewildering as it is, possibly projecting the moral that nothing is as it seems. This can also be interpreted by the alternative title ‘or What You Will’

To have five acts in a play was conventional of Elizabethan playwrights, Shakespeare has followed this convention in the play as we see the fifth and final act of Twelfth Night which reveals true feelings and identity, resolving each problematic situation.

Feste’s behaviour at the beginning of Act5, Scene 1 indicates that he has still not forgiven Orsino for dismissing him and replacing him for Fabian, a less witty and clever entertainer. His cheeky exclamation when being addressed as a friend by Orsino is evident of this:

“the better for my foes and the worse for my friends”

This expression signifies that reality can be different from what is expected; again one of the key morals of the play, a further example of this is Feste’s sharp wit in contrast with Orsino who is more placid and plain despite his aristocratic status.

The entrance of Antonio escorted by Orsino’s officers sees an almost different Orsino to the previously sombre character. As the Duke recollects the sea-battle, this reveals Orsino to be a more fierce and influential individual, he recognises Antonio:

“besmeared as black as Vulcan in the smoke of war”

this simile makes Antonio sound wicked since black is an evil colour and also the metaphoric link to Vulcan, a vulgar, vicious God presents Antonio as a vicious immoral creature like Vulcan. Orsino now speaks with more thought than his inattentive and egocentric speeches seen throughout the comedy. When Olivia admits her love for Cesario, Orsino becomes angry accusing his page of betrayal and surrenders Cesario despite loving him:

“I’ll sacrifice the lamb I love”

Again the issue of homosexuality rises as Orsino professes his love to a person he believes to be a man before the issue of sexuality can be dwelled upon the play quickly advances. There is a great deal of dramatic irony in this final scene which adds tension to the reunion of the twins. The audience is aware that both twins are alive, yet, there is still anticipation present from the audience to discover whether the truth that Viola is female will finally be known to the characters of the play. Also, Olivia has married Sebastian, which the audience also know, however, Olivia is claiming that she has married Cesario, which Viola genuinely knows nothing about, this situation is humorous and ironic. Shakespeare had mixed the elements of a tragedy and comedy. Shakespeare also used this situation, in order to illustrate the powerful feelings felt by the characters.

Inevitably, the twins are reunited this resolves the theme of concealed identity. Viola regains her name as she discards her disguise, and is no longer trapped. This enables her to take action on her love for the Duke.

Malvolio vengefully reappears, and is soon to be made angrier by the clown who mocks him. Malvolio remains the same throughout the play unloved except by himself. The trick played upon him had failed in punishing him for his vanity and arrogance. Antonio also does not gain anything at the end, although he may be forgiven for his past crimes. We are never told whether Sir Andrew and Sir Toby regained their friendship after Sir Toby quit Sir Andrew’s company.

Whereas, the Orsino and Viola had maintained their love for one another as had Olivia and Sebastian. The resolution for the two couples held true, romantic love for each of them. Orsino confirms with an optimistic statement:

“Golden time…

But when in other habits you are seen

Orsino’s mistress and his fancy’s queen”

This rhyming couplet shows the real happiness that Orsino has found in contrast to the selfish, melancholy lover, Orsino, until the final scene. It was usual of Shakespeare to make the formal, traditional characters speak in rhyming couplets, until now Orsino’s high status had been shadowed by his sadness. Now he fills the role of the stereotypical character we would have first expected we can see his language adapts to the role.

Conversely, the clown’s final song suggests that the future may not be as happy as is hoped or assumed:

“for the rain it raineth every day”

The reference to rain suggests that the future may be stormy and not as sunny as expected. Shakespeare would have intentionally ended the play with music, the same way as the play had started. Almost certainly as an ironic message of hopeful happiness in light of Orsino’s beginning expression ‘if music be the food of love, play on’.

Conclusively, we can see that Shakespeare used language techniques such as metaphors, similes and rhyming couplets to express different types of love. Generally those characters relating to love spoke in verse while comical characters such as Feste and the two foolish knights spoke in prose.

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The ways in which Shakespeare uses structure and language to dramatise the comparisons in Twelfth Night. (2017, Aug 27). Retrieved August 23, 2019, from https://phdessay.com/ways-shakespeare-uses-structure-language-dramatise-comparisons-twelfth-night/.