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What part does deception of one kind or another play in Twelfth Night?

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What part does deception of one kind or another play in one of the core texts? Deception is present in Twelfth Night on a number of levels. To examine the role of deception in Twelfth Night in relation to the plot, we must consider what may have occurred if in fact there was no deception in the piece. Deception sets the whole story in motion, and is pivotal in creating the irony and comedy that abounds in Twelfth Night. It is through deceit and deception that the topsy-turvy web of comedy and confusion that entangles the characters of Twelfth Night is spun. The deception exhibited in the play can be divided into two groups. Firstly, let us consider cases of self-deception. Orsino is a classic sufferer, and continually pines away for his darling Olivia. The self absorbed Orsino believes himself to be in love with the Countess Olivia; however, it would appear that Orsino is more in love with the notion of being in love than anything else. In his opening lines he talks of his love, but it is not until seventeen lines later that he first mentions Olivia. He does not talk to Olivia, and is content to mope around his house in self-involved sorrow while he sends courtiers to woo her on his behalf. Ironically, Olivia is in a similar situation. ...read more.


Was it not for Viola's deceptive disguise, she would not have become a member of Orsino's court. She would not have been sent to Olivia, nor would the mislead Olivia fall in love with Cesario, and later Sebastian. It was Olivia's love for Cesario that saved her from becoming a recluse, and this would have been her fate were it not for Cesario's arrival. Cesario would remain unknown to Orsino, and Orsino and Viola's marriage would not occur. The Duke would almost certainly have continued to wallow in his sorrows as he languished over Olivia. Viola soon becomes anxious at the massive effects of her deception: Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness Wherein the pregnant enemy does much. The major events concerning the main characters would not take place, if Viola had not deceitfully donned the disguise of Cesario. Her deceit has drastic consequences, and huge meaning for all. Even Sir Andrew would have been saved from his embarrassing duel, it Viola was not disguised. Viola's deception provides the extra dimension of dramatic irony that is present throughout the piece. The troubles created by her deception in regard to gender, and mismatched love provide many ironically comedic moments. Olivia falls head over heels in love with none other than a woman in disguise, who is in turn in love with a man, who ironically believes her to also be a man. ...read more.


Despite the immense deception of the play, Shakespeare ensures the right people still end up together; and although deception affects their journey, their destination remains unchanged. The celebrations of Twelfth Night must come to an end, as does the play, and the happiness of some of its characters. Feste's melancholy final song does nothing to assure us of even the handful of happy characters' continued happiness. Feste's song tells a story of growing up and growing old, recounting a story of the discovery of the unkindness and harshness life. Shakespeare's ending for Malvolio and Feste, who are at opposite ends of the spectrum of deception, serve as reminders to the uncertainty of life. Both the comic plot and the romantic plot are constructed in deception. The confusion, trickery, comedy and chaos of Twelfth Night is present only because of the characters' deception of themselves and one another. Deception makes Twelfth Night what it is. It is the cause of the story, and without it Twelfth Night would be a very straight-forward, linear bore without any twists or turns. It is through deception that Shakespeare shows us the triumph of fate and the uncertainty of life, and the play gives an insight into what awaits those who gamble with deception and false judgement. Deception plays a huge part in Twelfth Night and is essential in making it the topsy-turvy, ironic, chaotic comedy that it is. Twelfth Night Page 1 of 5 ...read more.

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