Class Act

Twelfth Night

Written By: William Shakespeare

Reviewed By Justine Manzano


            Yes, I am in a Shakespeare class, which means loads of fun reviews of William Shakespeare’s most appealing work.  I have recently read Twelfth Night for the second time (the first time by myself, the second time thanks to a class) and have had that joy that comes with the second time you read something and you discover new little things that you never noticed before.  This is a play that unfortunately lacks coverage in the lower Shakespeare reading grades, but now that I am in college, I am very happy to get the chance to analyze this work as an adult.

            Twelfth Night begins in the story of Orsino, a count in the country of Illyria, who has fallen in love with a lady by the name of Olivia, from afar.  Viola is shipwrecked on the very same island on which Orsino lives.  Alone and without the aid of her brother Sebastian, who she doesn’t know has been rescued and is on his way to the very same island, Viola attempts to get a job with Olivia.  But Olivia is in mourning for the recent loss of her brother and wants no new people in her life—so Viola does what she must to support herself.  She dubs herself Cesario, dresses herself up as a man and gets a job in Duke Orsino’s court.  The comedy begins when Viola is recruited to court Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, sending her Orsino’s messages of love from afar, even as Viola herself is falling for the Duke!  And all the while, Sebastian will be there at any moment to find his place in this gender-bending love triangle

            Shakespeare manages to uphold an offbeat love story complete with outer characters who manage to muck up the quadrangle.  There is plenty of gender bending, plenty of comedy and plenty of deception.  Shakespeare finds his own way to judge the idea of true love at the time, courtly love, in which a man admired a lady from afar and chased after her, never actually knowing her.  Shakespeare scoffs at this, reminding us that the only way to truly love someone is to know them, inside and out.  Shakespeare also touches on the possibility of homosexuality in some of the characters—an idea that was blatantly controversial at the time. 

            There is a lot of wackiness in Twelfth Night.  Unlike The Merchant of Venice, which I read in the very same class, this is a true comedy.  Often times, I found myself laughing out loud.  Funny in the more traditional sense, Twelfth Night takes the world of Shakespeare and turns it on its ear.  This is definitely one of those classics that must be read.  If you’re looking for a comedy, and you enjoy Elizabethan theater, this is the play for you! 


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