Shakespeare/Twelfth Night term paper 12656

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In Irène, Voltaire wrote, “Shakespeare is a savage with sparks of genius

which shine in dreadful darkness of night.” One of Shakespeare’s sparks of

genius was in his use of masks. These masks put characters in a sort of

“darkness of night,” allowing them to become someone else. They are used for

imagery, so one can discover who a person is—the inside of the mask. Masks are

used throughout Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to reveal character’s true

emotions, to carry the story and explain things to the reader, and to express

the power of raw beauty. Shakespeare uses this imagery of a mask in many of his

characters in the play, but mostly in two: Viola and Feste. Throughout the play

the masks help the plot along. At the end, all masks are discarded for a great

finale. The perfect example of the use of masking imagery can be seen in Feste

the jester. In the play, Feste shows his many personalities in the disguise of

masks. Acting as a wise man contrary to his role of the fool, Feste develops one

mask. He tries to “conceal [himself] for what [he] is” (I.ii.52) because he

knows that if the people realize his intelligence, he will not be called upon to

work. These songs Feste sings serve as symbols of a well-formed conscience.

People would stop coming to him for this sound advice he gives. Feste

demonstrates a strong example of masking imagery because he shows what the play

might be without masks. Later, the “devil man” (IV.ii.122) in him surfaces

when talking to Malvolio. This is a mask because not only is Feste intelligent,

not only is he a fool, he is also conniving. These masks appear all over the

play, developing from scene to scene. Feste plays the role of a chameleon;

changing masks to become what the necessary character for the given situation.

Feste acts as “an ass” (V.i.16) for his acquaintances. This pleases the

people and allows Shakespeare to say outrageous but true things that no other

character would say. Although characters wear masks, their true identities are

always revealed. Feste says, “Eyes show [the] days”(II.iii.94). He

demonstrates that one can remove a mask just as easily as one can put a mask on.

Shakespeare develops all these different masks. Some are used only once or

twice; others are used for nearly the duration of the play. Near the opening of

the play, when Viola adopts her male identity, she creates another self, like

two masks. She may decide to wear one or the other while swinging between the

two identities in emotion and in character. She decides to take on this identity

because she has more freedom in society in her Cesario mask, which is evident

when Orsino accepts her, whereas, in her female identity she would not be. The

mask of Cesario develops throughout the play. Viola’s mask pulls the comedy

together. First, Viola’s mask serves her in getting a job to get back on her

feet after nearly drowning. This mask helps other people too. The mask gets

Olivia back on her feet. She escapes the mourning of her dead brother. Olivia

realizes she has something to live for after seeing Cesario’s mask. Falling in

love with the male version of Viola works out well. The mask turns out to be a

replica of something that does exist. Sebastian is there, married to Olivia,

when all masks are removed. The mask, growing on Viola, shows importance all

over the play. It continues to develop, and this leaves the reader an even more

omniscient point of view. While Olivia, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew are clueless as

to what is going on, we know about the masks. Shakespeare wanted his readers to

stand by and laugh. Viola plays the right person at every point in the story to

make a happy ending. She removes her mask at the perfect moment. Being both a

“maid” (V.i.267) and a “gentleman” (V.i.269) makes this plot what it is.

She carries out the functions of both genders, and she is judged from both. The

masks deceive. Thinking that Viola is a man, even her brother Sebastian is

confused about Viola’s true identity. She makes her brother think he doesn’t

“know [her] by voice or any other feature.”(III.IV.325) This shows that she

can fool even the closest of kin thorough the mask. At the end of the play, when

all tricks and treacheries are revealed and all masks are lifted, Orsino falls

in love with Viola. He first forgives her of her duty to him then says that she

shall be her master’s mistress as soon as she completely reverts to her female

form. The imagery of masks in this play proves to be very well developed in both

Feste and Viola. Developing the imagery created by the mask helps to make the

whole play more understandable to the reader. Each mask is well developed and

has a definite meaning to the reader. Masks are used to conform to one’s own

needs or to the needs of others, just as in real life. In the book, masks are

used to hide something. Everyone eventually came out from that hiding. With

masks removed, quality of life improved in the end and everyone became happy.

Masks added a lot to Twelfth Night, but Shakespeare was trying to show his

readers how much better the world could be if people took off masks.


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