The Function of Disguise in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

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The Function of Disguise in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night is based around disguise and deception, both mental and physical. The deception leads to a lot of misunderstanding and subsequently, a lot of humour.

The tale begins in Illyria with the Duke Orsino, who is suffering due to his unrequited love for the Lady Olivia. The Lady is also suffering from the recent loss of her brother and father, and currently wants nothing to do with the equally mournful Duke.

A disguise is used for safety when a young character named Viola becomes shipwrecked in Illyria. She has been warned of the dangers of being alone in Illyria and so disguises herself as
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Another factor that would have had great comical effect if the play were being acted on stage, would be the fact that the actor playing Viola would have been a man. In Shakespeare time women were not allowed to act on stage and so a man, or more probably a teenager who's voice had not yet broken, would be pretending to be a women, who was pretending to be a man. This would have cause great hilarity among the audience.


I believe that Shakespeare was aware of the comic effect this would cause and used it to its full advantage. If you were to see a production of Twelfth Night at a theatre, you will see that they have retained this use of all-male actors, which adds a whole new dimension to the play.

Let us now look at another character, Marvolio, who puts on a mental disguise to become someone he's not. He then goes on to wear a physical one that gets him into trouble because of an illusion that was created for him by some of the other characters. Here Marvolio uses clothes to become someone he is not. The eventual outcome is tragic for Marvolio but hilarious for the audience.


Marvolio is Olivia's Steward. A dignified person who thinks highly of himself but is considered a fool and killjoy by other members
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