Twelfth Night is a comedy of light and shade. Its characters are not unreservedly happy and the events are not unreservedly humorous. Discuss.
As a comedy, Twelfth Night is obviously intending to not only entertain its audience but also point out problems in society. It is imperative to entire merit of the play not to be realistic but to allow for empathy. Therefor to have a comedy of complete lightheartedness there would be no balance and hence no avenue for audience interaction. Without light we would have no darkness and for this reason Shakespeare has had to incorporate tragedy in order for the comedy to have its desired effect. The two in juxtaposition accentuate each other. The characters of Twelfth Night are neither bluntly humorous nor artlessly tragic. Twelfth Night like all Shakespearean comedies is largely about social concerns. The social messages in Twelfth Night are largely about, the need for a balance in life, that you should not judge on appearance as they can be deceptive and the importance of self awareness or the humor in lack of. Neither is artlessly or bluntly humorous, as this would detract from the greater issues he in attempting to convey. Humor instead is used in contrast to some pain to antithesis the comedy and accentuate the themes.
The plot of Twelfth Night is comic it explores many social issues in its comedy yet is also not unrestrained in its humor. As a comedy Twelfth Night follows, many conventions as far as structure, the setting is in a far away romantic land, situation, and events somewhat steer the plot however this is certainly not without art or subtleties. Shakespeare has carefully intertwined comedy and pain in both the main and the sub plots to highlight the comedy and explore the social themes. The audience is forced to suspend disbelief that such a coincidence could occur. The audience is transported from their ordinary mundane existence and is transported into a world of chance, non-existent penalties for practical jokes and the unmistakable harmony of events. It is this incongruity compared to everyday life that is humorous. However, this summer, frivolris setting is not completely free from conflict. There is however, some predominately lighter characters that serve as comic relief from the more serious main plot and represent a certain type of people in society. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew would have been marvelously enjoyed by Shakespearean audiences as they are today. Not a scene goes by involving these to where we can laugh and the slow wit of Sir Andrew and the awkward puns of Sir Toby. However, we find the names and foolish antics of these two rather amusing. It is with a certain hesitance that we laugh at the gullibility of Sir Toby, his disillusioned love for Olivia is rather somber and balances our opinion of him. This balances is representative of all the characters in Twelfth Night, they may be predominately comic yet they are never completely comic or completely serious. This has the effect on Twelfth Night as making it more true to life and therefor we as the audience can relate and understand the themes.
Malvolio and Feste are typical examples of characters that are seen as comic, yet when looking beyond these superficialities we see a far more important role of their character in the play. Feste, his name and title as a fool is careful balance of light and shade. He is arguably the most intelligent character in the play and it is evident at the end of the play that he is the most powerful, because he concludes the play. Feste is certainly a vital link between not only the main and sub plots but also as a conveyer of the action to the audience. It is ironic that such wit and wisdom are found in the fool. Cesario refers to Feste as, This fellows wise enough to play the fool: / And to do that well craves wit. The obvious key to understanding the themes Shakespeare is conveying we must closely examine the characters, with which he communicates. Feste is not a character of low, blunt comedy, his merriment is truthful not scornful or artless. Act 1 scene 5, The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brothers soul being in heaven. Take away the fool Feste is clever well balanced and has a keen understanding of himself and others. This combination of intellect, humor and subtlety effectively conveys the themes of Twelfth Night, rather than a cruel, crude, unreservedly humorous character that would be not nearly as potent.
Malvolio is a prime example of the need for a balanced, self-aware person. Malvolios name suggests his character, Mal meaning bad, and volio will. This wicked disposition is his self-deception and lack of balance and it is this that we find comic not however bluntly humorous.
Conflict between characters is an aspect of the plot that makes it certainly more than unreservedly humors. However, there are also different levels of conflict in Twelfth Night. As far as the conventional structure of a comedy goes all conflict is minor and usually created merely through the suspense. In Twelfth Night there is conflict concerning who will win the hand of Oliva. Malvolio through his vanity is easily fooled into thinking it is he who she loves although she is most otherwise, O, you are sick of self love, Malvolio, and taste with a distemperd appetite.
Another social theme that is not “unreservedly humorous” dealt with in Twelfth Night is the idea of self-awareness. Self-awareness is based around being well balanced rather than excessive, therefor to convey this idea neither the characters nor the plot can be completely, inadvertently happy. Self-awareness is developed by both Olivia and Orsino; they were both creatures of lavishness. Orsino plunged deeply into his unrequited almost courtly love for Olivia his verbose, dramatic language demonstrates this, If music be the food of love, play on; / Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken and die. This passionate plea and later exchanges demonstrate Orsinos developing character. Initially he is more in love with the idea of love. We as the audience and survey of this activity may find his self-absorption laughable but as he develops into a well-rounded character, it is evident why Shakespeare portrayed him in this way. It is vital the believability and credit to the play and its issues that we can emphasize with the characters. To understand why Orsino can love and marry Viola soon after discovering her identity, Shakespeare has portrayed him as a man capable of great passion but little sense. Cesario provides this rational, logical way of thinking and so hence, Orsino becomes more self-aware. Initially his lack of perception is comic but it is not without art or intention and so hence not unreservedly humorous.
Olivia is also a creature of excess and fraudulent behavior; the mourning of her brothers death appears more so for her sake rather than in actual despair of a loss. Shakespeare has done this by comparing her reaction to Violas, a person of far greater self-awareness. Her character is constantly compared to Viola; Olvias self-absorptive, obstinate character again develops through contact with Cesario. Particularly noticeable
In scenes where feelings are intense, such as Olivia declaration of love for Cesario, Shakespeare balances this seriousness and lightens the atmosphere with rhyming couplets. Act 3 scene 1, I love thee so, that, maugre all thy pride, / Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide. The ironic high comedy is balanced by the pain Olivia is obviously feeling. This balance of pain and humor to highlight the themes is common throughout the play. For any character to be completely comic or totally dark would detract from the greater intentions of the play. Each character comes to a certain self-realization, however the discovery is not always a happy one. Malvolios self-discovery is not a pleasant journey nor is the ending happy.
This ending that is propitious for some and not for others is another representation of light and shade in Twelfth Night. If the play was unrestrained in its humor there would be no art in the play. Without art and wit, Twelfth Night would be not only boring in its low comedy but also lacking in any substantial themes or social issues. The fact that the ending is not favorable for everyone, Malvolio is devastated that the women he was sure loved him does not. Sir Andrew realizes he has been also duped by Sir Andrew and Feste does not appear totally self satisfied. Without these sufferings, the Twelfth Night would be superfluous as a comedy attempting to point out human foibles.
Song and music are devices that are particularly imperative to a comedy. In Twelfth Night music emphasizes the mood or balances they scene, controlling and manipulating light, and shade for desired effect. When considering Twelfth Night as a miniature mirror of society rather than a satire, music becomes an integral part of conveying themes. Moments of comedy are sometimes juxtaposed with serious, somber music. Such as when Sir Toby and Sir Andrew are in high drunken spirits, they call for a song from Feste,
Clown : a love song, or a song of good life?
Andrew : Ay, ay, I care not for good life.
The irony of the situation is humorous and through music, we see Sir Toby and Sir Andrews serious side. It may well be seen as humorous that these two lonesome drunks care for love rather than the good life they have chosen. The comedy of the situation is tainted by the slight but penetrating sadness we can see in the two. Music is found in almost all aspects of the play, from the beginning where music reveals the humor in Orsinos depressing situation. Through to the final speech in the play where Feste uses song to speak truthfully about the meanings of the play. But thats all one, our play is done, / And well strive to please you everyday.
The language of Twelfth Night, its structure and purpose are area where it is obvious that Shakespeare intended the play, its characters and the plot to be an overlapping indefinite line between light and shade. Maximum suspense is created by the constant balance, though we as the audience know that as a comedy all will end well Shakespeare combats this as much as possible. The structure of the play where two thirds of the play is written in prose, therefore allowing for punning and word play, it is lively and dynamic which holds audience attention. Moments of importance are made as obvious to the audience with rhyming couplets and blank verse. Letters, such as the letter to Malvolio rhyme to highlight the humor of the situation, I may command where I adore; //With bloodless stroke of my heart doth gore. The language of the play is manipulated in such a way, it is humorous, but it is balanced and constrained.
Twelfth Night is a comedy, it has humorous aspects, and the plot is often laughable. However, it is contained through the cunning clever artistic ability of Shakespeare. Moments of great pain and sorrow are capitalized for effect. Accentuating the social themes and issues dealt with throughout the play. Every aspect of Twelfth Night is artistic and controlled; every scene has deliberate intentions to convey messages to the audience. The play in its entirety is effective through the careful balance of humor and pain. Twelfth night succeeds as a comedy because of this careful balance, entertaining its audience as well as allowing people to examine their own failings. The carefully crafted characters such as Malvolio help convey and accentuate the themes. Comic characters are also somber and vice versa. To do this Shakespeare employs many dramatic techniques, such as humor of situation and character, the true skill of Shakespeares writing is demonstrated when examining his complete control of comedy within the characters and plot.