The Play “Twelfth Night” Essay
The Play “Twelfth Night”
The plotline in many of Shakespeare’s comedies are often considered complicated and confusing. The plots of these plays usually follow a general structure where a comedy contains five acts and where the climax of the play is found in the third. This is where where a big event in the play is carried out to mark this event. This confusion is usually resolved in the last act, followed by the ending of the play. The play ‘Twelfth Night’ (TN) is no exception, as during the third act an elaborate plot unravels, where a fight scene between many of the characters plays out, which is only properly resolved in the last act. Not only do the characters acknowledge the ‘chaos’ and ‘confusion’, they also gain pleasure and pain from it.
The play’s elaborate plot line that ‘delights in chaos and confusion’ bewilders the audience which engages them in the play more to make the experience and plot more interesting. However, one may also argue that there are other aspects of comedy one can focus on instead of the “chaos” and “confusion”, whereby the focus is less on the confusion, and more on the more straightforward plot aspects and the jokes that come with a comedy. However, this does not necessarily mean that the “chaos” and “confusion” are not clearly evident within the play.
The characters in TN acknowledge this chaos, and we can see this when the characters themselves point out how improbable the overly-complicated plot is. For example, in Act III scene IV, Fabian states: “If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction”. Aside from the irony as Fabian is a character himself, he states this to point out how chaotic the plot can be, calling the events carried out as an “improbable fiction” (which the play in-fact is). Olivia also implies this point, stating that the strange actions of the confused Malvolio is like “midsummer madness”. From these two quotes, one can see how confusing the plot really is, and how even the characters believe the events carried out are out of the norm, showing how it ‘delights in chaos and confusion’.
The characters can be seen to seek delight out of this chaos and confusion. For example, the scene where Maria’s scheme to trick Malvolio into thinking that Lady Olivia is in-love with him portrays Malvolio’s confusion when confronting Lady Olivia, followed by Maria’s delight. In Act III Scene II, Maria states to Sir Toby, Andrew and Fabian: “If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourselves into stitches, follow me.” This shows Maria’s excitement for the situation that is about to inevitably unfold.
Delight in confusion can also be found earlier on in the play when Sir Toby convinces Sir Andrew that he has a chance with Lady Olivia, because she is not interested in the Duke: “She’ll (Olivia) none o’th’ count. She’ll not match above her degree… I have swear’t.” Sir Toby convinces Sir Andrew to woo Olivia, to try and get her hand in marriage. Although Toby knows that Sir Andrew will clearly never have a chance with Lady Olivia, he decides to convince him otherwise, much to his amusement, and also to convince him to stay in Illyria. From this, we can see how even characters seek delight in the chaos and confusion of the play.
Some may say that the ‘delight’ of the play is not from the characters, rather by the audience. The characters themselves do not find delight and instead chaos, leading to conflicts that are evident throughout the play. During and throughout Act III, problems with Viola’s identity arise (being dressed as her alter ego Cesario) as she is mistaken for Sebastian, and chaos ensues. This is seen from Viola’s line in Act III Scene IV: “Prove true, imagination, O prove true, That I, dear brother, have been ta’en for you!”.
In this scene, Antonio seems to have mistaken Viola for her brother Sebastian as she is dressed as a man. Viola’s crossdressing creates other types of confusion, as seen in early scenes of the play where Lady Olivia has fallen in love with Cesario. The audience know this as Lady Olivia starts to speak in Iambic Pentametre, and states that she “cannot love him (Orsino)… unless perchance you (Viola) come to me again”. This quote shows how although Viola is a woman dressed as a man, Olivia has still managed to fall in love with her, much to the disadvantage of Viola, creating a chaotic plotline that has taken a new twist already in the first act of the play. This shows how chaos can arise creating a difficulty for the character, much to the amusement of the audience.
Although there is an abundance of confusion in TN, a lot of the plot can be argued as being relatively simple. The idea of “unrequited love”, as seen by Orsino in the very first lines is often a recurring plot theme for many Shakespearean plays. Orsino states his unrequited love by declaring his love to Lady Olivia, representing her as a “hind” he must “hunt”, saying the lines “O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first…And my desires, like fell cruel hounds, E’r since persue me”. This is part of the play where Orsino declares love for a woman he cannot have, and is an obvious example of the idea of unrequited love, which in perspective is not a hard idea to follow, even if the idea is only in first scene of the play where plot ideas are usually kept simple.
However, there are scenes later on that show rather simple ideas that do not involve the confusion of a character. Another example of a plot idea like this is towards the end of the play, where Olivia declares her love to Cesario by calling him her “husband” in front of the Duke, who is so hurt he never wants to see Cesario again. This idea is not too hard to follow, and is a very important part of the play, as it is part of one of the main plots with the repeated idea of the Duke’s “unrequited love” towards Lady Olivia, (although he marries Viola later on instead). These quotes show how even fundamental parts of the plot can actually be simple to follow, and not the whole play “delights in chaos and confusion”.
Yet, the play does not necessarily have to focus on the confusing plots to delight in chaos and confusion. We can also see chaos in the character design, where characters have been designed with many great flaws which in itself leads to the chaos and confusion that ensues throughout the play. For example Sir Toby is a very flawed character, who claims he will drink as long as he has a throat: “I’ll drink to her as long as there is passage in my throat and drink in Illyria”. Feste’s character can also be seen as flawed in a different way, as although his job is to act foolish, he often does the complete opposite by saying the wisest things in the whole play, and even Viola admits to this: “This fellow is wise enough to play the fool, and to do that well craves a kind of wit.”
This shows us that even without the plot we see chaos, and it does not necessarily just thrive within the storyline; it can be seen within character’s traits and also within the ambiguity of a situation itself, and not just within the plot. For example, Maria marks her fake letter to Malvolio with the initials “M.O.A.I”, which could stand for anything, and has confused not only Malvolio, but the audience as well, as they are never told what “M.O.A.I” stands for. This shows that confusion can be found in specific parts of the play as well as within the general plot.
In conclusion, TN does indeed delight in chaos and confusion. The characters in TN acknowledge the chaos that thrives within the play, whether the chaos and confusion is within the play itself or within the character’s traits. The characters can find delight from confusion themselves, or they can suffer from it as did Antonio when mistaking Viola for her brother. Although not all aspects of plot are confusing, such as Orsino’s clear declaration of love towards Lady Olivia, confusion can be found within other aspects of the play, such as within the situations the characters are put in, or within the attributes of the characters themselves which prove to sometimes contradict their status within the play, as we see with Feste. Therefore, it can be easily agreed to the farthest extents that ‘Twelfth Night delights in Chaos and Confusion”.
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