Twelfth Night Comedy “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.” T …