Themes, Motifs and Symbols for the Twelfth Night

1858 Words Jun 28th, 2013 8 Pages
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Themes

Love as a Cause of Suffering
Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy, and romantic love is the play’s main focus. Despite the fact that the play offers a happy ending, in which the various lovers find one another and achieve wedded bliss, Shakespeare shows that love can cause pain. Many of the characters seem to view love as a kind of curse, a feeling that attacks its victims suddenly and disruptively. Various characters claim to suffer painfully from being in love, or, rather, from the pangs of unrequited love. At one point, Orsino depicts love dolefully as an “appetite” that he wants to satisfy and cannot, at another point; he calls his desires “fell and cruel hounds”. Olivia more bluntly describes love as a
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In the class system of Shakespeare’s time, a noblewoman would generally not sully her reputation by marrying a man of lower social status. Yet the atmosphere of the play may render Malvolio’s aspirations less unreasonable than they initially seem. The feast of Twelfth Night, from which the play takes its name, was a time when social hierarchies were turned upside down. That same spirit is alive in Illyria: indeed, Malvolio’s antagonist, Maria, is able to increase her social standing by marrying Sir Toby. But it seems that Maria’s success may be due to her willingness to accept and promote the anarchy that Sir Toby and the others embrace. This Twelfth Night spirit, then, seems to pass by Malvolio, who doesn’t wholeheartedly embrace the upending of order and decorum but rather wants to blur class lines for himself alone.

Motifs

Letters, Messages, and Tokens
Twelfth Night features a great variety of messages sent from one character to another—sometimes as letters and other times in the form of tokens. Such messages are used both for purposes of communication and miscommunication—sometimes deliberate and sometimes accidental. Maria’s letter to Malvolio, which purports to be from Olivia, is a deliberate (and successful) attempt to trick the steward. Sir Andrew’s letter demanding a duel with Cesario, meanwhile, is meant
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