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How does Shakespeare present the theme of deception in the first two acts of Twelfth night?

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How does Shakespeare present the theme of deception in the first two acts of Twelfth night? Shakespeare's Twelfth night, focuses mainly on the theme of deception in both main plot and the sub-plot. Not only do the characters deceive each other, but many of them are also self-deceived and we, as the audience, begin to realise ourselves that we are sometimes deceived. This creates great opportunities for Shakespeare to create humour and dramatic irony, which a Shakespearian audience would understand. Deception also links in with the other key themes of love and disguise. When Shakespeare first introduces Viola, we realise from the main plot that she is the main part of deception. We learn that she is a strong and resourceful character in her situation. We learn that she has lost her brother in a shipwreck and doesn't no if he is dead or alive. A woman would be very vulnerable, at the time the play was written in strange foreign country all alone, so for protection she decides to dress up as a man. We find out that she will call herself Cesario and try to find work, with the duke Orsino. When she states this intention we know that confusion and humour will be involved in the plot of the play. Viola will be deceiving everyone into thinking she's a man but unlike all of the other characters she is not self-deceived. ...read more.


Shakespeare shows another act of deception here. Olivia is deceiving Cesario so he doesn't know who 'the lady of the house is'. This shows a wicked sense of humour in Olivia and hints at the lively character hidden under the sad, serious exterior. In the film version this gives the directors and actors a chance to add more humour and fully show the confusion of Cesario. As Cesario repeats to Olivia the very 'poetical' speech from Orsino in praise of Olivia we see another form of deception, which is emphasised by the acting imagery Viola uses, 'I have taken great pains to con it' and 'it is excellently well penned'. We can furthermore tell that Cesario is playing a part when he says 'that is out of my part' and 'I am not that I play'. We now learn that Orsino's love for Olivia is possibly only surface deep and only infatuation, when Olivia states that Orsino's 'poetical' speech 'is more like to be feigned'. This is our first hint that Orsino may not really be in love with Olivia. Cesario tells Olivia what he would do if he were in love with her 'make me a willow cabin at your gate... make the babbling gossip of the air cry out Olivia!' Olivia seems to admire what Cesario is saying very much. We the audience, realise maybe that if Orsino had come to see Olivia herself and told her of his lover for her instead of sending others to do so, that possibly she would off fallen in love with him. ...read more.


It is unusual for a steward to talk to people of a higher rank in this way. The others mock Malvolio and carry on singing. Sir Toby reminds Malvolio that he is only a steward, but is presuming to order them around. Malvolio is a strict puritan, so Sir Toby angrily challenges Malvolio for his puritanical attitude. Malvolio is shown as a hypocrite and not a true puritan. Maria hints that her plan to deceive him will work precisely because he thinks to highly of himself. The socio-historical context shows that Puritans in 'Shakespeare's' time were a particular sect of protestants who had their own narrow-minded views and wanted to close all theatres. Shakespeare would have therefore disliked puritans and would have mocked them as being hypocrites. When Maria says of Malvolio that 'sometimes he is a kind of puritan', but that, in reality he is a 'time pleaser', she means that he behaves like a puritan when its suit him, but that he does not genuinely subscribe to Puritanism as a faith. In act 2 scene 5 there are examples to confirm that Malvolio is not a true puritan. Before he finds Maria's letter he thinks of being married to Olivia and of wearing 'rich jewels' and a velvet gown and thinks of sexual thoughts about Olivia; these are all non-puritan acts. Deception is used frequently in the first two acts of twelfth night in many different ways in both the main-plot and the sub-plot. Deception has provided humour in both plots but has also raised some serious issues, including the need to have self-knowledge. ...read more.

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