How Does Shakespeare Use Clothing In Twelfth Night

Decent Essays
isguises and changes of clothing are central to the plot of Twelfth Night. Which characters in the play spend time in disguise, and how is this thematically important?
Many people in Twelfth Night assume a disguise of one kind or another. The most obvious example is Viola, who puts on the clothing of a man and makes everyone believe that she is a male. This disguise causes great sexual confusion, as a bizarre love triangle results in which Viola is in love with Orsino, who loves Olivia—who loves Cesario, the male identity that Viola assumes. Thus, by dressing his protagonist in male garments, Shakespeare shows how malleable and self-delusional human romantic attraction can be.
Another character in disguise is Malvolio, who dresses oddly (in
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Both of them tend to be melodramatic and self-centered, and both seem more interested in being in love than in any particular love interest. This egotism is apparent in how readily the two switch the objects of their affection near the play’s close: Orsino loses Olivia but happily takes up with Viola, while Olivia gladly exchanges a pretend man, Cesario, for a real one in Sebastian. The ease with which these supposedly lovesick characters jump from one love interest to another suggests that love may be more of a game than anything else—and that, like everything else in Twelfth Night, it should not be taken too seriously.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Discuss the role of mistaken identity in Twelfth Night. Who is mistaken for whom, and what do these mix-ups signify?

2. Discuss the role of the explicitly comic characters—Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Feste, and Maria. What function do they serve? How is each one different from the others? How is Feste, in particular, different from Sir Toby and Sir Andrew?

3. What role does Malvolio serve in the play? Does his fate seem unjust? Is it out of place in a romantic comedy? If so, why might Shakespeare have included it?

4. Paying particular attention to the fate of Malvolio and Antonio, discuss how Shakespeare brings some ambiguous touches to the happy
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