The Brilliant Comedy of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night Essay

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School House Rock teaches that “three is a magic number.” We see threes all over the place: id, ego, superego; mother, father, child; father, son, holy ghost; reading, writing, ‘rithmatic. One place where the magic of three does not fit is in romance. Sex (conventionally and biologically) only has room for twos: sperm and egg; man and wife; big spoon and little spoon. Groups of three in the world of love create tension for the characters and audience, and the discomfort with the situation and sense of powerlessness leads to comedy. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night has central love triangle between Cesario/Viola, Orsino, and Olivia; the excesses and complications within the triangle causes disorder for the characters and audience, and…show more content…
Instead of processing this much information, Viola resigns herself to the conclusion, “It is too hard a knot for me to untie” (2.2.39). Her plight is an unsolvable riddle, and Viola relies on time and fate to solve her problem. Since she is not in control of the situation, she is powerless to do anything but observe. Since we cannot jump onstage and de-mask Viola, we, as audience members, are also powerless observers. The lack of control strikes us as funny because all we can do is enjoy the clever ride the play is taking us on. Furthermore, when such plot complications arise, the audience finds several layers of humor. Together, we laugh with Viola at the comedy of Olivia falling in love with someone who is incapable of loving her back. Viola explains, “My master loves her dearly,/ And I, poor monster, fond as much on him,/ And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me” (2.2.31-33). Viola acknowledges the absurdity, of the triangle, and we are all on one page. Then, she goes on to say, “As I am a woman now, alas the day,/What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!” (2.2.36-37). We not only laugh at Olivia’s stupidity of “falling” (both in love and for the disguise) for Cesario/Viola, but now find humor in the pain of Viola’s conundrum. She feels she is a “monster,” a freak of nature, which is incapable of finding happiness. She feels bad for herself, as
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