Twelfth Night Lit Analysis Essay

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination” – Albert Einstein. This cannot be more true in the case of William Shakespeare. In regards to his play Twelfth Night his creative genius is seen in his ability to create sharp and clever characters through perfectly crafted plots and themes. His aptitude to generate characters that goes against the dictate of society such as Viola and Maria marks him as one of the greatest playwrights of his age. However, his facilities as a writer are made known through his ability to twist and manipulate words and language to his own benefit. Shakespeare’s play on words and witty language serves to entertain his audience in the most complete sense possible.

He does this throughout the entire play, but when discussing his use of language the character of Feste must be considered, especially since he may be regarded as Shakespeare’s mouth piece. As it will be discussed Shakespeare’s intellect is not shown in his ability to create carefully crafted plots and his magnetic writing style but his innovation in creating a world of words and enigmatic characters. Viola maybe considered the main character of the play, her character is sly and cunning. Shakespeare’s treatment of her is nothing short of utter brilliance.

Viola’s ability to adapt to her surroundings and produce sharp comments in little space of time shows her as one of the most clever characters. She comes up with this almost impractical idea to masquerade as man and the fact that she gets the sea captain to agree with it shows her persuasiveness and boldness. Not only that but her plan panned out for a full three months- as stated by Duke Orsino “Three months this youth hath tended upon me” ( act 5, scene 1)- without no one being none the wiser. It is in her disguise that we see her true intelligence and witty disposition. Also her language and her delivery of it shows her impudent nature.


I prithee, tell me what thou thinkest of me.


That you do think you are not what you are.


If I think so, I think the same of you.


Then think you right: I am not what I am

This conversation shows her ability to make quick retorts and while she does this she hints at her deception with the truthfulness of the last line, without Olivia letting on. In doing so it is revealed just how crafty she is. Her character truly does mirror Shakespeare’s ingenious mind. Similarly the brazen character of Maria demonstrates Shakespeare’s aptitude to create clever characters. Like Viola who comes up with an idea for her own benefit although somewhat necessary, Maria concocts this scheme against Malvolio to let him think Olivia confesses her love for him in the form of a letter. She uses his own ambition against him and makes him out to be a madman that at one point even he is tempted to believe, even though he maintains he is quite sane. Even though it was said to be in jest, some might look upon it as a cruel act as Malvolio was not deserving of this type of treatment. Nevertheless she is a witty character that Shakespeare uses to highlight the brilliance and strong character of women. In addition Shakespeare produces a masterpiece out of his work Twelfth Night through his hilarious playful language.

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The character that Shakespeare uses most to do this is Feste and Shakespeare does this because the character or role of Feste allows him to get away comments and retorts that others might not have. An instance of this is his conversation with Olivia wherein he calls her a fool for mourning her brother for seven years and all the more fool for mourning if she believes his soul is in heaven. “The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s soul being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen” this line not only serves to give immense joy and laughter for the audience but highlights the privileges given to an Elizabethan jester for saying such things without recompense. This humorous language is also seen with Feste’s play with words; “No such matter, sir. I do live by the church for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church” Feste plays with words and relates them with so much zeal that the audience cannot help but be amused.

It is also seen with the lines “why sir her name is a word, and to dally with that word might make my sister wanton. But indeed, words are very rascals, since bonds disgraced them” It is because of this that he calls himself “corrupter of words” and in this we see the instability of language. It is not only Feste that gets the audience to laugh because of humorous language. Sir Andrew also does this, although his misrepresentation of words is unintentional. His incompetence with language and misuse of words provide comic relief for the audience.

“What is pourquoi? Do or do not do? I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in fencing, dancing and bear-baiting: O, had I but followed the arts!” the silliness of it all functions to heighten the dramatic appeal of the play and increase audience’s pleasure. The humorous and playful language of the play lets our imagination roam free and that alone shows Shakespeare’s astounding creativity. In conclusion it can be said that William Shakespeare is truly a mastermind with his wild imagination in creating witty and crafty characters and his ingenious use of language torments the audience with laughter and amusement. Fabian’s line ” If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction” shows that Shakespeare is aware of the plays’ unlikely disparities but nevertheless his skill makes it truly a work of art.


Literatures in English

Unit 1:

Module: 1

Christina Thompson


November 19, 2012


‘Shakespeare’s creative genius is demonstrated by his witty characterization and humorous language’ Discuss the extent to which this is a fair assessment of the comedy Twelfth Night.


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