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Themes In Twelfth Night By William Shakespeare

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     1)   Confused Gender Identity
'Twelfth Night' raises questions about the nature of gender and sexual identity. That Viola has disguised herself as a man, and that her disguise fools Olivia into falling in love with her is genuinely funny. On a more serious note, however, Viola's transformation into Cesario, and Olivia's impossible love for him/her, also, imply that maybe; distinctions between male/female and heterosexual/homosexual are not as absolutely firm as you might think.
The play stresses the potential ambiguity of gender: there are many instances in which characters refer to Cesario as an effeminate man. Even more radically than this, however, it also suggests that gender is something you can influence, based on how you act, rather than something that you are, based on the sexual organs you were born with. Twelfth Night also shows how gender-switches make the characters' sexual identities unstable. For instance, at times, Olivia seems to be attracted to Cesario because "he" is such a womanly-looking man, while Orsino at the end of the play seems as attracted to Cesario as he is to Viola.     
2)  Love
 If music be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
That appetite may sicken and die (I. I.)
Duke Orsino’s soliloquy forms the first lines spoken in the play. The speech introduces the importance that love will play in the plot. Orsino, as we soon learn, is in love with Lady Olivia. But Lady Olivia is not moved by the Duke’s advances, leaving Orsino in a rather uncomfortable position. He is burdened by lovesickness and wants relief. If music is the nourishment of love, he thinks, then perhaps by glutting himself on music, he can also become sick of love and so his desires might conveniently go away. In a sense, he’s eager to move on with his life. This soliloquy establishes one of the central themes of Twelfth Night:
 love as a powerful force with a will of its own.
What is love? ’Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure;
In delay, there lies no plenty
These lines are sung by Feste in Olivia’s house at the bequest of Sir Toby. The song emphasizes the limited shelf life of romantic love. Love is something that ought to be seized quickly. The song also strongly reflects the recent developments in Olivia’s storyline. After resolving to mourn her brother for seven years without showing her face in public, she has suddenly fallen head over heels for Cesario, aka Viola. Now Olivia seems to appreciate that “in delay there lays no plenty.” In order to follow her heart, she must seize the moment.
3)        Madness
Malvolio’s character exudes the sense of madness in love and is a sub-plot in the play. Later Sir Toby and Maria see Malvolio’s suffering from madness and prank him. Fest in the final scene also shows some of the features of madness in the play. It is interesting to note it from this observation that madness is actually intertwined with the sanity of the characters. It is also similar to chaos.

4)        Deception
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare is a comedy in which many of the humorous effects are a result of deceptions. Generally, the audience is aware of the truth while many of the characters are not.
The central deception of the play is Viola disguising herself as Cesario, a young man after she has been shipwrecked. Viola/Cesario takes a position serving the Duke. The Duke is in love with Olivia and employs Caesario to help him woo Olivia. Olivia falls in love with Cesario.
Olivia meets Viola's twin brother Sebastian and marries him under the impression that Sebastian is Viola. This deception works out perfectly because it leads to Viola revealing her identity and marrying the Duke, with whom she is in love, and, of course, Olivia ending up happily married to a man rather than a woman in disguise.
5       Grief
There are two types of grieves; serious one as well as trivial. For example, Olivia loses her brother and father; hence she is going through serious grief. She, however, trivializes the mourning occasion. She declares to mourn for seven years and refuses to accept Orsino’s proposal. Orsino suffers from grief as well due to unrequited love. Viola and Sebastian grieve for each other’s death until they meet. In other words, the play has various forms of grief different from character to character.
1)   Melancholy
During the Renaissance, melancholy was believed to be a sickness rather like modern depression, resulting from an imbalance in the fluids making up the human body. Melancholy was thought to arise from love: primarily narcissistic self-love or unrequited romantic love. Several characters in Twelfth Night suffer from some version of love-melancholy. Orsino exhibits many symptoms of the disease (including lethargy, inactivity, and interest in music and poetry). Dressed up as Cesario, Viola describes herself as dying of melancholy, because she is unable to act on her love for Orsino. Olivia also describes Malvolio as melancholy and blames it on his narcissism.

Through its emphasis on melancholy, Twelfth Night reveals the painfulness of love. At the same time, just as the play satirizes the way in which its more excessive characters act in proclaiming their love, it also satirizes some instances of melancholy and mourning that are exaggerated or insincere. For instance, while Viola seems to experience profound pain at her inability to be with Orsino, Orsino is cured of the intense lovesickness he experienced for Olivia as soon as he learns that Viola is available.

2)  Death
Olivia’s father and brother are about a year dead and her mourning for them is genuine, events seem to prove that she is about ready to cast off her weeds and return to normal life, whether she wants to admit it or not.

Sebastian and Viola each presume the other dead in the shipwreck – and both are wrong.  Most of the others on the ship seem to have died indeed, but we don’t hear about them.


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