Perspectives on Shakespeare-MCALT3020                                                           Assignment 1- Critical Analysis of Twelfth Night, Act 1 Scene V

Twelfth Night (1601) exposes Shakespeare’s satirical attitude toward the societal norms of the Elizabethan era. The Carnivalesque title brings about notions of both the inversion of stereotypical roles as well as the excess of the Christmas period. Feste upholds the carnival spirit while Malvolio is diametrically opposed, historically at this point there was a shift from the feudal household which is more like Olivia’s with the likes of Sir Andrew and Sir Toby to the commercialised private world, much more like count Orsino’s. “Throughout the play a contrast is maintained between the taut, restless, elegant court where people speak a nervous verse and the free-wheeling household of Olivia, where accept for the intense moments in Olivia’s amorous interviews with Cesario, people live in easy going prose” [1] However the festive spirit is destructed by the excess of Malvolio’s punishment giving an anti-carnivalesque ending, re-establishing the importance of the social hierarchy.

Appearance and reality proves problematic for an ontological reading, a natural perspective that is and is not “nothing that is is so” [2]  Feste questions the notion of reality  and appearance as he is the only character to see through the others masks, while Viola is the only character true to herself, and aware of her own disguise even telling Olivia that her appearance is not reality “I am not that I play” 112, 176, which brings forth a metatheatrical element. “The honourable lady of the house, which is she?”[3] enquires Viola as Cesario, not wanting to “cast away her speech” [4] that “was excellently well penned”[5] on someone of no significance. In doing so she draws attention to the fallacy of her conventional compliments in addition offending Olivia by not recognising her, or pretending not to recognise her, who in turn refuses to confirm that she is the lady, furthermore proceeding to complain about Cesario, “being saucy at my gate.” [6] “What is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve” states Viola as the lady did indeed usurp herself, and now revealed, should not be allowed to keep the gift of herself to herself, she should distribute her affections to Orsino and requite his love. Olivia’s refusal to listen to the praise Viola recites discloses her disinterest and insistence on hurrying up the youth. “Come to what is important in’t. I forgive you the praise.”[7]

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Presently Viola disguised as Cesario and Olivia disguised by her veil both have preconceptions about the others behaviour however Viola’s persistence in identifying the Lady through disguise, warrants Olivia’s interest as Viola asks “Good madam, let me see your face.” [8] Olivia reveals herself literally, breaking an oath she claimed she never would, “we will draw the curtain and show you the picture” [9] Shakespeare often uses wit to imply a potential relationship, as Olivia sharply replies “Tis in grain sir, ‘twill endure wind and weather”[10] this leads to the mockery of reducing Olivia’s beauty to an itemised list “item, two ...

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