Shakespeare/Twelfth Night Comedy term paper 12655

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“Twelfth Night is a comedy of light and shade. Its characters are not

unreservedly happy and the events are not unreservedly humorous.” Discuss. As

a comedy, Twelfth Night is obviously intending to not only entertain its

audience but also point out problems in society. It is imperative to entire

merit of the play not to be realistic but to allow for empathy. Therefor to have

a comedy of complete lightheartedness there would be no balance and hence no

avenue for audience interaction. Without light we would have no darkness and for

this reason Shakespeare has had to incorporate tragedy in order for the comedy

to have it’s desired effect. The two in juxtaposition accentuate each other.

The characters of Twelfth Night are neither bluntly humorous nor artlessly

tragic. Twelfth Night like all Shakespearean comedies is largely about social

concerns. The social messages in Twelfth Night are largely about, the need for a

balance in life, that you should not judge on appearance as they can be

deceptive and the importance of self awareness or the humor in lack of. Neither

is artlessly or bluntly humorous, as this would detract from the greater issues

he in attempting to convey. Humor instead is used in contrast to some pain to

antithesis the comedy and accentuate the themes. The plot of Twelfth Night is

comic it explores many social issues in it’s comedy yet is also not

unrestrained in it’s humor. As a comedy Twelfth Night follows, many

conventions as far as structure, the setting is in a far away “romantic”

land, situation, and events somewhat steer the plot however this is certainly

not without art or subtleties. Shakespeare has carefully intertwined comedy and

pain in both the main and the sub plots to highlight the comedy and explore the

social themes. The audience is forced to suspend disbelief that such a

coincidence could occur. The audience is transported from their ordinary mundane

existence and is transported into a world of chance, non-existent penalties for

practical jokes and the unmistakable harmony of events. It is this incongruity

compared to everyday life that is humorous. However, this summer, frivolris

setting is not completely free from conflict. There is however, some

predominately “lighter” characters that serve as comic relief from the more

serious main plot and represent a certain “type” of people in society. Sir

Toby and Sir Andrew would have been marvelously enjoyed by Shakespearean

audiences as they are today. Not a scene goes by involving these to where we can

laugh and the slow wit of Sir Andrew and the awkward puns of Sir Toby. However,

we find the names and foolish antics of these two rather amusing. It is with a

certain hesitance that we laugh at the gullibility of Sir Toby, his

disillusioned love for Olivia is rather somber and balances our opinion of him.

This balances is representative of all the characters in Twelfth Night, they may

be predominately comic yet they are never completely comic or completely

serious. This has the effect on Twelfth Night as making it more true to life and

therefor we as the audience can relate and understand the themes. Malvolio and

Feste are typical examples of characters that are seen as comic, yet when

looking beyond these superficialities we see a far more important role of their

character in the play. Feste, his name and title as a “fool” is careful

balance of light and shade. He is arguably the most intelligent character in the

play and it is evident at the end of the play that he is the most powerful,

because he concludes the play. Feste is certainly a vital link between not only

the main and sub plots but also as a conveyer of the action to the audience. It

is ironic that such wit and wisdom are found in the “fool.” Cesario refers

to Feste as, “This fellow’s wise enough to play the fool: / And to do that

well craves wit.” The obvious key to understanding the themes Shakespeare is

conveying we must closely examine the characters, with which he communicates.

Feste is not a character of low, blunt comedy, his merriment is truthful not

scornful or artless. Act 1 scene 5, “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your

brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool…” Feste is clever well

balanced and has a keen understanding of himself and others. This combination of

intellect, humor and subtlety effectively conveys the themes of Twelfth Night,

rather than a cruel, crude, unreservedly humorous character that would be not

nearly as potent. Malvolio is a prime example of the need for a balanced,

self-aware person. Malvolio’s name suggests his character, Mal meaning bad,

and volio will. This wicked disposition is his self-deception and lack of

balance and it is this that we find comic not however bluntly humorous. Conflict

between characters is an aspect of the plot that makes it certainly more than

unreservedly humors. However, there are also different levels of conflict in

Twelfth Night. As far as the conventional structure of a comedy goes all

conflict is minor and usually created merely through the suspense. In Twelfth

Night there is conflict concerning who will win the hand of Oliva. Malvolio

through his vanity is easily fooled into thinking it is he who she loves

although she is most otherwise, “O, you are sick of self love, Malvolio, and

taste with a distemper’d appetite.” Another social theme that is not

"unreservedly humorous" dealt with in Twelfth Night is the idea of

self-awareness. Self-awareness is based around being well balanced rather than

excessive, therefor to convey this idea neither the characters nor the plot can

be completely, inadvertently “happy.” Self-awareness is developed by both

Olivia and Orsino; they were both creatures of lavishness. Orsino plunged deeply

into his unrequited almost courtly love for Olivia his verbose, dramatic

language demonstrates this, “If music be the food of love, play on; / Give me

excess of it, that, surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken and die.” This

passionate plea and later exchanges demonstrate Orsino’s developing character.

Initially he is more “in love” with the idea of love. We as the audience and

survey of this activity may find his self-absorption laughable but as he

develops into a well-rounded character, it is evident why Shakespeare portrayed

him in this way. It is vital the believability and credit to the play and it’s

issues that we can emphasize with the characters. To understand why Orsino can

love and marry Viola soon after discovering her identity, Shakespeare has

portrayed him as a man capable of great passion but little sense. Cesario

provides this rational, logical way of thinking and so hence, Orsino becomes

more self-aware. Initially his lack of perception is comic but it is not without

art or intention and so hence not “unreservedly humorous.” Olivia is also a

creature of excess and fraudulent behavior; the mourning of her brother’s

death appears more so for her sake rather than in actual despair of a loss.

Shakespeare has done this by comparing her reaction to Viola’s, a person of

far greater self-awareness. Her character is constantly compared to Viola;

Olvia’s self-absorptive, obstinate character again develops through

with Cesario. Particularly noticeable In scenes where feelings are intense, such

as Olivia declaration of love for Cesario, Shakespeare balances this seriousness

and lightens the atmosphere with rhyming couplets. Act 3 scene 1, “I love thee

so, that, maugre all thy pride, / Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide.” The

ironic high comedy is balanced by the pain Olivia is obviously feeling. This

balance of pain and humor to highlight the themes is common throughout the play.

For any character to be completely comic or totally dark would detract from the

greater intentions of the play. Each character comes to a certain

self-realization, however the discovery is not always a happy one. Malvolio’s

self-discovery is not a pleasant journey nor is the ending happy. This ending

that is propitious for some and not for others is another representation of

light and shade in Twelfth Night. If the play was unrestrained in its humor

there would be no art in the play. Without art and wit, Twelfth Night would be

not only boring in its low comedy but also lacking in any substantial themes or

social issues. The fact that the ending is not favorable for everyone, Malvolio

is devastated that the women he was sure loved him does not. Sir Andrew realizes

he has been also duped by Sir Andrew and Feste does not appear totally self

satisfied. Without these sufferings, the Twelfth Night would be superfluous as a

comedy attempting to point out human foibles. Song and music are devices that

are particularly imperative to a comedy. In Twelfth Night music emphasizes the

mood or balances they scene, controlling and manipulating light, and shade for

desired effect. When considering Twelfth Night as a miniature mirror of society

rather than a satire, music becomes an integral part of conveying themes.

Moments of comedy are sometimes juxtaposed with serious, somber music. Such as

when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are in high drunken spirits, they call for a song

from Feste, Toby : “Lets have a song.” Clown : “… a love song, or a song

of good life?” Toby : “A love song, a love song.” Andrew : “ Ay, ay, I

care not for good life.” The irony of the situation is humorous and through

music, we see Sir Toby and Sir Andrew’s serious side. It may well be seen as

humorous that these two lonesome drunks care for love rather than the good life

they have chosen. The comedy of the situation is tainted by the slight but

penetrating sadness we can see in the two. Music is found in almost all aspects

of the play, from the beginning where music reveals the humor in Orsino’s

“depressing” situation. Through to the final speech in the play where Feste

uses song to speak truthfully about the meanings of the play. “But that’s

all one, our play is done, / And we’ll strive to please you everyday.” The

language of Twelfth Night, its structure and purpose are area where it is

obvious that Shakespeare intended the play, it’s characters and the plot to be

an overlapping indefinite line between light and shade. Maximum suspense is

created by the constant balance, though we as the audience know that as a comedy

all will end well Shakespeare combats this as much as possible. The structure of

the play where two thirds of the play is written in prose, therefore allowing

for punning and word play, it is lively and dynamic which holds audience

attention. Moments of importance are made as obvious to the audience with

rhyming couplets and blank verse. Letters, such as the letter to Malvolio rhyme

to highlight the humor of the situation, “I may command where I adore;

/…/With bloodless stroke of my heart doth gore. “ The language of the play

is manipulated in such a way, it is humorous, but it is balanced and

constrained. Twelfth Night is a comedy, it has humorous aspects, and the plot is

often laughable. However, it is contained through the cunning clever artistic

ability of Shakespeare. Moments of great pain and sorrow are capitalized for

effect. Accentuating the social themes and issues dealt with throughout the

play. Every aspect of Twelfth Night is artistic and controlled; every scene has

deliberate intentions to convey messages to the audience. The play in its

entirety is effective through the careful balance of humor and pain. Twelfth

night succeeds as a comedy because of this careful balance, entertaining its

audience as well as allowing people to examine their own failings. The carefully

crafted characters such as Malvolio help convey and accentuate the themes. Comic

characters are also somber and vice versa. To do this Shakespeare employs many

dramatic techniques, such as humor of situation and character, the true skill of

Shakespeare’s writing is demonstrated when examining his complete control of

comedy within the characters and plot.


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