Cruelty in "Twelfth Night" - an examination of Shakespeare's comedy's darker side.
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Cruelty in "Twelfth Night"-an examination of Shakespeare's comedy's darker side "Twelfth Night" is also subtitled as "What you Will" which shows that this should be a happy, festive comedy, its title is from the twelve-day cycle of celebration enjoyed by medieval revellers each December. As this is a comedy it means that there are multiple marriages in the final scene and happy endings for most, except maybe one person who is seen as a fool throughout the play in this instance, Sir Andrew or Malvolio or some may even think, Orsino if they have seen the Trevor Nunn film of this play, in my opinion Feste will not be an object of humour throughout the play as in the Nunn film he is quite a serious character. There are not any deaths in the play that occur directly as this is a comedy. In this essay I am going to write about how Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" has an underlying cruelty. I am going to look, in particular at Sir Toby's exploitation of Sir Andrew, the way in which Sir Toby uses Sir Andrew as a wallet to buy drinks. I shall also concentrate my essay on the cruelty towards Viola in the love triangle and also briefly at the cruelty towards Antonio. I could also look at cruelty towards Malvolio but I do not think I will be able to have enough time to do so. In the cartoon version, the BBC film and the Nunn film production Andrew is portrayed as a silly, thin, feeble fool with blonde hair and a pale, pasty complexion, the way in which the directors have chosen to portray Aguecheek, in all versions, is promoted by the other characters in "Twelfth Night" describing him like this. Act I, scene iii, is the first scene in which you meet Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Before Sir Andrew enters Maria and Sir Toby are discussing Sir Andrew and his follies.
From this self-regarding emotion he employs Cesario who will be a messenger who will carry out his wooing for him. But Orsino cannot really be blamed for his cruelty towards Viola, as he would never realise that she loves him as she is dressed as Cesario. Orsino's love for Olivia is egotistical and self regarding. In Act I, scene iv, and Act II, scene iv, there is a lot cruelty in the way in which the play is written as opposed to the characters being cruel to each other consciously. Shakespeare allows Orsino talk about his love for Olivia openly to Viola when Viola loves him. In the Trevor Nunn film, he teases and fights with her "man to man", she reacts violently to this by knocking him back, she does this because she is afraid he is about to touch her breasts. Voila reacts in this way a few times when she is Orsino's presence. There is another scene in the Nunn film where Orsino is in the bath and Viola has to scrub his back, this is also cruel to her as it would not have mattered if she was a manservant (which they think she is) but she is not and is a girl who loves this man, which makes it especially cruel to her in my opinion. When Virginia Furness played Cesario when we did scenes from "Twelfth Night" in class she portrayed the transitions between when Viola is happily daydreaming of her love of Orsino and when she snaps out of it to reply to something that he has said. Orsino instructs Viola in the nature of love and in an oblique manner Viola declares her love for Orsino in saying that the person she loves is of the same age as him and such things like this in response to his enquiries of her. Orsino of course does not notice this, or the way in which she looks at him with puppy dog eyes or in adoration, because of his self-obsession.
and so it is not surprising that, that and her beauty are so attractive to so many men in the love triangle and in the play. Although the play is classified as a comedy, its themes are essentially serious. Shakespeare uses his theme of sibling love between the twins, and partnership love between Maria and Toby for example, to examine different aspects of human love. To express his ideas he exploits to the full, as a play for Christmas festivity is expected to, "from hilarious farce to sophisticated word-play", York notes. As Shakespeare set out to write the play it was commissioned as a comedy, and is his last comedy, so he knew it must end happily. But he obviously came across something along the way, which led him to cruelty. This play could have easily fallen into a tragedy if Shakespeare had, had a few people die at the end instead of the multiple marriages. Or he may have felt that as all comedies have a dark side, he wanted to make his Christmas comedy have an emphasis on the dark side of it. Most probably a close friend or family member of Shakespeare's died at this time or Shakespeare himself experienced a tragedy, which may have led him into this darkness. I have discovered from a book I am reading that Shakespeare had epilepsy; this book is not a reliable source as an epileptic wrote it, but I think it casts for me some new light over some of Shakespeare's darker, crueller plays and ideas. Maybe he had an especially depressing aura (pre-seizure state) when he wrote some of the darker parts of the play or had a particularly bad seizure as it is common with epileptics that they write during there auras as a release of their creativity and that they do not need to revise what they have written in this state so there are many possibilities as to why Shakespeare made this comedy a cruel play. Lilleth Booth 1
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