For all the resolutions between some characters, the ending of the play leaves too many characters unhappy and alone. How far do you think Twelfth Night succeeds as a comedy in the light of this statement?

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For all the resolutions between some characters, the ending of the play leaves too many characters unhappy and alone. How far do you think Twelfth Night succeeds as a comedy in the light of this statement?

When one considers the convention of the Elizabethan romantic comedy, a light-hearted tale of love in which obstacles are overcome- often to resolve with a marriage, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night certainly challenges the convention. Although the resolution of the joining of three couples: Orsino and Viola; Olivia and Sebastian and Sir Toby and Maria satisfies the criteria for a romantic comedy in some way, the bizarre nature in which some of these relationships come about makes the audience question the likelihood of their successes. In addition, Shakespeare leaves an open dénouement in that the amorous outcomes some characters (Malvolio, Antonio and Sir Andrew) are negative- being left alone or unresolved.

The melodramatic manner in which Orsino muses over Olivia at the very start of Act 1 seems to suggest that the unrequitedness of love is more for comedic value rather than a valid representation of true love and thus cannot be taken seriously. Orsino’s hyperbolic soliloquy of his love, “give me excess of it, so that it may sicken and so die” and later the pun of “was I turned into a hart, and my desires, like fell and cruel hounds, e'er since pursue me” support this as this painful love is unbelievably developed seeing as he hardly knows Olivia and one could say he is in love with the chase of Olivia- the challenge. To me, this behaviour is reminiscent of the young Romeo’s fanciful love for Rosaline when he soliloquises with confused oxymoronic language, and, as in Romeo and Juliet, it could be interpreted that Shakespeare uses Orsino to make a satirical comment on the shallowness of courtly love. The contrived speech Orsino gives to Cesario to recite to Olivia, a common occurrence in Elizabethan times, includes “most radiant, exquisite and unmatchable beauty.” There is a lack of conviction in these disingenuous words- only used to fulfil the romantic expectation. This disingenuousness is further comedically lampooned by Shakespeare by the way in which Cesario explains that this speech “took great pains to study” and how she “can say little more than [she has] studied.” This foreshadows the fact that lack of love or happiness will be present at the ending. However, when one compares this relationship to that between Orsino and the revealed Viola at the climax, it seems as though it was inevitable, as Orsino seems attracted to Cesario’s feminine features from the start, as he states that “Diana's lip is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe is as the maiden's organ, shrill and sound, and all is semblative a woman's part,” which provokes comical dramatic irony to the audience. In addition, the iambic pentameter which the two share in act 2 scene 4, “Viola: I should your Lordship. Orsino: And what's her history? Viola: Sir, shall I to this lady? Orsino: Ay, that's the theme” has become synonymous with the inevitability of a couple’s destiny to be together, highlighting the balance the couple share with each other and is used frequently in Romeo and Juliet for this reason. However, it could also be said that the success of this relationship is unlikely due to the fact that Orsino goes as far as to wish death upon Cesario, although I believe that Shakespeare uses this purely to express Orsino’s frustration for having sexual feelings towards a boy, and feelings which seem more genuine than his courtly, more suitable love for Olivia, although Cesario does continue to call Viola “Cesario” and “boy,” which could mean that Orsino’s dramatic purpose is to prove that one can be attracted to both the masculine and feminine features of a person, as Shakespeare seemed to have experienced himself as mentioned in the “two loves” of sonnet 144.

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Shakespeare portrays a more blatant presentation of homosexual attraction through Antonio. To me, Antonio’s love for Sebastian seems the truest of all, with him revealing the extent of which as he says “I do adore thee so, that danger shall seem sport and I will go”, and he does keep to his word as he is willing to enter Orsino’s court, going as far as risking his life, yet Shakespeare leaves him “unhappy and alone.” Shakespeare uses this love to make a serious point rather than a comedic one about how the most passionate loves can be found in circumstances ...

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