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A close, critical analysis of Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' with regard to relating a particular extract to the play as a whole through the play's key themes

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Shakespeare: 'Twelfth Night' Write a close critical analysis of your chosen fragment of text, exploring its importance within the play as a whole. In your answer, you should: * Analyse the language and dramatic impact of your fragment * Relate the fragment to the play as a whole * Suggest how the play reflects the world in which it was first performed. This fellow is wise enough to play the fool; And to do that well craves a kind of wit: He must observe their mood on whom he jests, The quality of persons, and the time, Not, like the haggard, check at every feather That comes before his eye. This is a practise As full of labour as a wise man's art For folly that he wisely shows is fit; But wise men, folly-fall'n, quite taint their wit. These lines - and indeed Act Three Scene One itself - is taken from almost exactly the middle of the play. Many of the characters' secrets are beginning to come out - or are at least suspected. Viola is troubled by her love for Orsino, and it is possible that this is something that Feste explores earlier in the scene. Orsino however is still stuck deeply in the throes of his romantic love, but below the surface there are hints that he is confused by Viola and his feelings for her. Viola also inspires confusion - or at least infatuation - in the mind of Olivia, who has fallen deeply in love with Orsino's young servant. Sebastian has not yet arrived, and the play's subplot is really coming into being - with Malvolio having just received the letter dropped for him by Mariah, much to the amusement of Sirs Andrew and Toby. ...read more.


for Orsino's lack of interest in her - although this seems really quite unreasonable and unlikely as she knows well of Olivia's misguided infatuation with Viola herself. Another way to link Actaeon and Orsino is that they both could be seen to objectify women. A feminist might view Actaeon's watching of Diana bathing as an act of voyeurism. He just sees 'the woman' purely as an object to enjoy, and as a result he is torn to pieces by his own animalistic - hence hounds - desires. Orsino's enjoyment of his own, self-proclaimed love for Olivia could be seen to amount to much the same thing - and so ultimately ending with his destruction. This is something that the pragmatic Viola fears. An even more relevant tale from Ovid's Metamorphoses is, in my opinion, that of Narcissus himself. 'Narcissistic' is often a very obvious and appropriate way to describe Orsino's actions. Interestingly, Ovid's version of the story, Narcissus was a famously attractive, but proud, boy punished by the Gods for having spurned all his male suitors. The fact that Narcissus in this version was a homosexual - or at least loved by other men, with no actual feelings of his own for anyone except himself - makes the moral story even more appropriate when read with regard to Orsino. A common interpretation of his character is that he is actually homosexually inclined, not at all interested in women - except as a far off object with which to entertain himself through his own apparent passion, and the practice of what he believes should be a romantic ideal - the idea of 'Courtly Love'. Indeed, he never really ventures near Olivia until the end of the play and even then argues with her almost instantly, obviously finding her difficult to get on with. ...read more.


through music, mirth and marriage. Each of these three mediums is both important and relevant to the play, which contains resonances of all. Mirth, for example, is used by Shakespeare in many of his plays - both to end them satisfactorily, through the conventions of a Comedy and simply to provide his audience with amusement. In Twelfth Night both of these are evident. The sub-plot involving the entrapment and public humiliation of Malvolio is made up of inherently amusing characters, and is full of puns and other amusing lines - often deliberately sexual. Presumably this was meant to appeal particularly to the lower classes, whilst the comparatively more highbrow drama was assumed to be to the tastes of the noblemen. However, in my opinion the sub-plot probably provided much light relief and enjoyment, complete with its bawdy jokes, to all. Moreover, the sub-plot also provides us with the rather cruel, but supposedly comic, ending involving Malvolio's departure - ending the play with 'mirth'. (Incidentally, this also functions as an attack on Puritanism. Puritans consistently tried to close the theatres, as they were 'immoral,' and as such were a popular target for ridicule in plays. Malvolio is described as a 'kind of Puritan' and as such ends the play in disgrace - shamed, and leaving the house.) Finally, in the actual production of the play, the audience would almost certainly have found the cross-dressing amusing, something Shakespeare must have intended as all actors at that time were male. So, the actor playing the character of Viola would have been a man, dressed up as a woman, dressed up as a man - a very confusing circumstance that almost anyone should find funny! It would also have fit very nicely with the original role-changing traditions of the festival of Twelfth Night. ...read more.

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