This essay is about the character of Viola, her situation in Illyria, her importance in ‘Twelfth Night’, Shakespeare’s use of language, the themes of love, loyalty and revenge in ‘Twelfth Night’, and about the play as a whole.
Shakespeare and his language
There is a Chinese saying; ‘There is nothing new under the sun’. This is certainly true with Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night’, as it is merely a plagiarism of another play. Perhaps the only part of the play that Shakespeare can take credit for is the Sir Toby, Maria and Malvolio sub-plot, although it has not been proven that he actually wrote this himself, he may also have plagiarised this from a less well known play. There has been speculation that he may not have written any plays, and that he either plagiarised them all or had a ‘ghost writer’. However, the themes within the play are as relevant today as they were during his era.
A general rule in Shakespeare’s plays is that high status characters speak verse, and low-status characters speak prose. However, this rule is often broken in ‘Twelfth Night’ as Viola frequently switches between verse and prose. Therefore, a more accurate rule for ‘Twelfth Night’ is that prose is the style for comic scenes and characters, and verse is the style for lovers and ‘serious’ moments. Although, it is widely known that Shakespeare never stuck rigidly to any rule!
Shakespeare used dramatic irony as a source of great amusement in ‘Twelfth Night’. One example of this is when Viola is speaking to Olivia and she says ‘I am not what I am’ (Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene 1, Line 26). Olivia is unaware of the full significance of Viola’s words, whereas Viola and the audience realise that she is hinting at her disguise.
Shakespeare also uses personification, similes and metaphors in ‘Twelfth Night’. A good example for this is a conversation with Duke Orsino where all three are used.