‘Twelfth Night’, William Shakespeare

Significance of Title In Elizabethan England, the ‘twelfth night’ denoted the culmination of a period of major celebration and revelry that begun on All Hallows Eve – more commonly known as Halloween in our modern culture. During this festival, there was an inversion of social order: a peasant adopted the title of ‘Lord of Misrule’ and reigned over both the monarch’s court and the festivities with his compeers. Midnight of the twelfth night signalled the end of the ‘Lord of Misrule’s’ sovereignty and social order was restored.The second title of Twelfth Night, What You Will, intimates further the extent to which social and moral order is subverted during the course of the play: the colloquialism connotes an uninhibited attitude towards life, which might lead one to surpass social or moral boundaries.
Falsely assuming a Social Rank VIOLA: O that I served that ladyAnd might not be delivered to the world,Till I had made mine own occasion mellow,What my estate is!This passage reminds us that it’s not just her gender that Viola hides when she cross-dresses as “Cesario.” She also disguises her “estate” (meaning her “general condition” and also her “social rank”). Viola’s assumed identity as “Cesario,” then, suggests that both gender and class are not stable identities. Rather, they can be performed, disguised, and impersonated by just about anyone.
Marriage between equals SIR ANDREWShe’ll none o’ the count: she’ll not match aboveher degree, neither in estate, years, nor wit; Ihave heard her swear’t. Tut, there’s life in’t,man. These comments echo a common Elizabethan idea that nuptials among “equals” made for happier marriages. In 1568 Edward Tilney, one of Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers, wrote a famous book called The Flower of Friendship: “equality is principally to be considered in […] matrimonial amity [friendship], as well as years, as are the gifts of nature, and fortune. For equalness herein, makes friendliness.”
Lack of Societal Order MARIA Ay, but you must confine yourself within the modestlimits of order.SIR TOBY BELCH Confine! I’ll confine myself no finer than I am:these clothes are good enough to drink in; and so bethese boots too: an they be not, let them hangthemselves in their own straps.Toby’s rebellious behavior and refusal to obey “the limits of order” renders him a kind of “Lord of Misrule” C. L. Barber:Holiday for the Elizabethan sensibility implied a contrast with ‘everyday’ . . . the release of that one day was understood to be a temporary licence, a misrule which implied rule.
Challenging authority MARIA Marry, sir, sometimes he is a kind of puritan.SIR ANDREW O, if I thought that I’d beat him like a dog!Here, Maria sums up why Malvolio is so disliked by Toby and company – he acts like a “kind of puritan,” a member of a religious sect in 16th-century England that was opposed to the raucous festivities of Twelfth Night and other winter festivals. Humiliating Malvolio becomes important not merely as a petty act of revenge, but also as a larger way to challenge moral authority.SIR TOBY BELCHOut o’ tune, sir: ye lie. Art any more than asteward? Dost thou think, because thou artvirtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?Here, Toby upbraids Malvolio for having the audacity to criticize his social betters. Malvolio, after all, is Olivia’s “steward,” not a member of the upper class. Toby refers to “cakes and ale,” popular treats served during Twelfth Night festivities.MALVOLIOI’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you.

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