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Twelfth Night
William Shakespeare
Setting: in Illyria, an ancient city along the Adriatic Coast of Italy
Shakespearean Romantic Comedy:
The main action is
about love.
The would-be lovers
must overcome
obstacles and
before being united in
harmonious union.
The ending often
includes weddings
and a festive mood or
Shakespearean Romantic Comedy:
Frequently, contains
elements of the
improbable scenes of
recognition/lack of
recognition, disregard
of the social order
(nobles marrying
commoners, beggars
changed to lords).
Shakespearean Romantic Comedy:
The happy ending is brought about
through supernatural or divine intervention
or improbable turns of events.
Shakespearean Romantic Comedy:
Twelfth Night moves from a potentially tragic situation
(shipwreck and loss) into the realm of romantic comedy
(unions and reunions). The movement from conflict, sterility
and death (two women who mourn supposedly dead
brothers) to fertility, harmony and life (three couples happily
celebrate marriages that may lead to future births) is typical of
Shakespeare's comedies.
Shakespearean Romantic Comedy:
• In the best comedies,
there is a philosophical
aspect involving
weightier issues and
themes: personal
identity; the importance
of love in human
existence; the
disjunction between
appearance and reality.
Twelfth Night Celebration
• Twelfth Night was first written for the
festivities of the feast of the Epiphany
(the "twelfth night" of Christmas, 1/6)
Twelfth Night Celebration
In Shakespeare's time, the Advent season was
penitential, and the Christmas celebrating only began
on December 25th. "Twelfth Night" is January 5-6, the
twelfth night after Christmas.
It marked the end of the festive season with the arrival of
the wise men.
It was a time for partying and gift-giving.
Twelfth Night Celebration
• Celebrated by breaking
society's conventions:
masters waiting on
servants, and people
being allowed to play
whatever roles they
wanted ("what you
o This "world upside-down"
theme is reflected in the
mismatched (potential)
couples in the play and
the themes of folly,
madness and foolishness.
Twelfth Night Celebration
• In the UK, people used to have parties on
Twelfth Night and it was traditional to play
practical jokes on your friends and
– These included tricks such as hiding live birds
in an empty pie case, so that they flew away
when your startled guests cut open the crusts.
Twelfth Night Celebration
The subtitle is "What You Will",
perhaps an invitation to invent
your own title or even
a reminder of the theme that happiness can
be your own choice.
• In the era of kings, the court
jester had one special privilege:
to speak plainly to the king and
tell him the blunt truth.
• In "Twelfth Night", behind all the
humor, both the jester and the
play tell a truth that is happy
and sad:
Life is full of sadness.
The best years of life are
short. Events are cruel.
And other people are
cruel. In such a world, it
is your DUTY to find and
cherish whatever real
happiness you can.
• Feste is a fool who seems to know more
than most of the people around him. He is
multi-dimensional, sometimes portrayed
as a bit of a seer. He is a slightly tragic,
sad character.
– “Youth’s the stuff will not endure.”
– "The rain it raineth every day."
Puritanism The haunting fear that someone, somewhere,
may be happy.
-- H.L. Mencken
• In "Twelfth Night"
Malvolio gets called a
– Tied to the play's major
theme -- the search for
• In Shakespeare's time,
England's Puritans were
members of the English
national church who
emphasized the
authority of the Bible.
Puritanism The haunting fear that someone, somewhere,
may be happy.
-- H.L. Mencken
• Bible readers who applied the guidelines of scripture
to their private and public lives
• Refrained from pleasures that others considered
– Burned colorful church furnishings and smashed stainedglass windows as political expressions
Puritanism The haunting fear that someone, somewhere,
may be happy.
-- H.L. Mencken
• Wore drab clothing, stayed cold-sober,
made holidays solemn instead of festive,
and refused to do anything fun on Sunday
• People disliked the Puritans for their
"holier-than-thou" mentality and their
agenda to force their conservative lifestyle
on everyone
Dramatic Literary Terms
• One person speaking on stage. There may be
other characters on stage too.
– the Prince of Verona commanding the
Capulets and Montagues to cease feuding
81 Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
82 Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel—
83 Will they not hear? What, ho! you men, you beasts
84 That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
85 With purple fountains issuing from your veins,
86 On pain of torture, from those bloody hands
87 Throw your mistemper'd weapons to the ground,
88 And hear the sentence of your moved prince.
89 Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word,
90 By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
91 Have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets,
92 And made Verona's ancient citizens
93 Cast by their grave beseeming ornaments,
94 To wield old partisans, in hands as old,
95 Canker'd with peace, to part your canker'd hate;
96 If ever you disturb our streets again,
97 Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.
98 For this time, all the rest depart away:
99 You Capulet; shall go along with me:
100 And, Montague, come you this afternoon,
101 To know our further pleasure in this case,
102 To old Free-town, our common judgment-place.
103 Once more, on pain of death, all men depart.
• A type of monologue
in which a character
directly addresses the
audience or speaks
thoughts aloud while
alone on stage or
while the other actors
remain silent
• In R & J, Romeo gives a
soliloquy after the servant has
fled and Paris has died.
• Words spoken, usually in an undertone not
intended to be heard by all characters
Literary Terms
• An allusion is a reference to a well known
work of art, music, literature, or history.
“At lovers’ perjuries, they say Jove laughs.” (Act II, Sc. 2)
– Jove is another name for Jupiter, the Roman King of
the Gods.
A form of wit (not necessarily funny) based on words with
several meanings, or words that sound alike but have
different meanings; in plays this can help deliver dramatic
irony because the audience gets the double meaning while
the characters do not
Mercutio – “Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.”
Romeo – “Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes / With nimble
soles; I have a soul of lead…”
Dramatic Irony
• A contradiction between what a character
thinks and what the reader/audience
knows to be true
– Lord Capulet’s servant invites Romeo to the
party. He doesn’t know that Romeo is a
Montague, but we do.
Verbal Irony
• Words used to suggest the opposite of
what is meant
Juliet - “Farewell, God knows when we shall meet
again.” (Act 4, scene 3)
Juliet says goodbye to her mother and nurse knowing
that she will never see them again.
Situational Irony
An event occurs that directly
contradicts the expectations of the
characters, the reader, or the
In Shakespeare's play young lovers, the do end up
spending eternity together, but not in the way the
audience had hoped.
On to Act I
The End
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