Twelfth Night In Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, it is obvious that the oscillation of attitude, in the dual role played by the character of Viola/Cesario, gives her a better understanding of both sexes. It allows her to encompass a better discernment of the sentiments of the Duke, Orsino. Near the onset of the play, when Viola is assuming her male identity, she fashions an alternate self, giving her two masks. She takes on the “Cesario” identity in order to achieve more freedom in society. This is evident when, as Cesario, Orsino readily accepts her; while, as Viola, he may not have. Thus, the customary societal outlook on gender is portrayed.
She now has the difficult task of deciding which mask to wear as she alternates between her two identities, both in emotion and in character. Orsino sees Cesario much like himself as a youth. For that reason, he has a tendency to be more willing to share his troubles and sorrows with him/her. To Orsino, Cesario is somewhat of a companion with whom to share and to teach. Thus, Viola grows in her male disguise to gain a better understanding of Orsino’s inner self, not the self that he shows to the public, but rather his undisclosed self, shared only with an intimate cohort.
In the course, however, she grows to love him, while he seems to be in love with “love itself.” His entire world is overflowing with love, but he foresees a potential turning point; apparent when he says, “If music be the food of love, play on; give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.” From this quote, the reader perceives Orsino’s realization that he is caught up in “love”, as well as his desire for this hunger of love to somehow diminish. A variety of “fools” enhance the comical appeal of this play. Maria, Olivia’s companion, is one such “fool.” She is enthusiastic in playing pranks on others. She employs Feste, Sir Andrew, and Sir Toby to carry out her tomfoolery, while she remains quiet and unsuspected. Much of the humor in this play revolves around Maria’s pranks.
They are bleak and vindictive, using love and power (status of Olivia) to seize Malvolio, who is “… sick of self Love.” In this particular prank, Maria forges Olivias handwriting in a letter convincing Malvolio that Olivia is in love with him. This scheme works entirely. Malvolio’s greed for power is the actual basis for his being locked up and accused of being a “madman.” Maria and her collaborators recognize his desire for power, and consequently act upon it. Sir Toby Belch, Olivias uncle as well as another “fool” in this play, is always ready and willing to assist in any game of make-believe.
He constantly attempts to convince Sir Andrew Aguecheek that he has a chance of winning the love of Olivia. He, at one point, sets up an altercation between Cesario and Sir Andrew, convincing both parties that the other desires this. He, as well as his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, seems to take to drinking a bit too much for their own good. Their evening of joyous drunken singing can actually be blamed for the fake-letter proposal. Malvolio, quite rudely, attempts to end their joyous celebration stating, “My masters, are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, nor honesty, but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night?” This killjoy speech induces its recipients to swear revenge upon him.
Feste, the clown, plays the role of the “comic truth speaker.” Although he makes no real philosophical remarks in the play, he seems to be wisest among the bunch. Viola interprets this by saying, “This fellow’s wise enough to play the fool.” Since this somehow licenses him to be a fool, Feste takes to speaking the truth on all matters. Much humor lies in his truthfulness. An example of this is when he proves Olivia to be a true “fool” by asking her what she was mourning about. The point Feste makes is that Olivia is a “fool” to mourn for a person whose soul is in heaven.
Adding to the wit of this play, Feste dresses up as Sir Topaz, the curate, and pays a visit to the imprisoned Malvolio. There, he uses his wit to exploit Malvolio, calling him a “lunatic” and “satan.” All the while, Malvolio is completely unaware of who he is actually talking to. Comical is the fact that Olivia, unknowingly, falls in love with another woman. There is such a mix-up of identities in this play, that the reader is never bored or desirous of excitement. Olivia is in love with Viola, while Viola declares her love for Orsino time and again.
When Orsino first sends Cesario (Viola) to act as a messenger of his love for Olivia, Viola says, ” Ill do my best to woo your lady; [aside] yet, a barful strife! Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife.” Near the end of the play, when all tricks and treacheries are exposed and masks removed, Orsino transfers his copious love to Viola. He first relieves her from duty to him, and then declares that she shall now be her”master’s mistress.” Olivia, analogously, winds up inadvertently marrying Violas twin brother Sebastian. In short, the “fools” control the comedy and humor in this play. They lend a hand in the make believe games, and fool around with the characters who dodge reality, or rather apprehend a fantasy world. The roles of Feste, Maria, and Sir Toby are those of “fools,” and they make the comedy work in many aspects. They create confusion through humor, and it all works out in the end, making William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night a genuinely humorous play.