Twelfth Night Themes

  • Created by: Megan96
  • Created on: 04-11-13 21:13

Art and Culture

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare explores the workings of the theater and other related forms of artistic performance – licensed "Fooling," music, and singing, which also happen to be forms of revelry associated with the Twelfth Night festivities for which the play is named. The play also meditates on the relationship between performance art and other forms of entertainment like bear-baiting, a popular Elizabethan blood-sport that was often lumped into the same "low-brow" category as the theater. It's important to note that Twelfth Night's self-referential (or "meta-theatrical") portrayals of the transvestite stage (all actors were male in Elizabethan theater) allow Shakespeare to address (and mostly mock) concerns raised by Puritan theater critics. As in all of Shakespeare's work, Twelfth Night's interest in performance allows him to critique traditional notions of gender, sexuality, class identity, and morality.


"Love" is a term that characters in Twelfth Night like to bandy about, and the play takes them to task for it as it exposes and explores the folly of misdirected desire. Characters that claim to be in the throes of passion are often exposed as self-absorbed, foolish, and/or misguided, as they fall victim to the trappings found in bad love poetry. Twelfth Night, of course, is famous for its consideration of the relationship between ****** desire and gender, as both male and female characters find themselves drawn to the androgynous "Cesario." Even as it steadily works its way toward an ending of sanctioned heterosexual couplings and marriage, the play also examines more overt same-sex desire in the Sebastian/Antonio sub-plot.


Gender is a biggie in Twelfth Night, and the play brilliantly demonstrates how gender, a socially constructed identity, can be "performed" and impersonated with the use of voice, costume, and mannerisms. The theme is largely explored in relation to Shakespeare's profession as an actor and writer for a transvestite stage (in Elizabethan times, all-male acting companies performed the roles of women). The relationship between gender and performance is particularly complex in Twelfth Night because the part of Viola is played by a boy actor, who is cross-dressed as a female character, who disguises herself as a young man. Of course, the text also meditates on the relationship between gender and desire as it explores the ******s of androgyny.


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