Analysis of Shakespearian Play Twelfth Night

Prompt 1:  Although he was quite the prescient fellow, Shakespeare never predicted that students would be studying his plays in literature classes centuries after he wrote them. In fact, he didn’t think of his plays as anything but performative—they were written for the stage, to be performed by real actors in front of an audience. Consider this, then, when picking one scene and juxtaposing its literary value and performative potential. What does this particular scene gain by being read on the page? How might this particular scene differ in its interpretation by being acted out in front of an audience, rather than being read? It might be helpful here to consider yourself as both writer and director, reader and audience.

Prompt 2: The main theme in Twelfth Night is love, yet Shakespeare complicates the theme of love so that we do not recognize it in its stereotypical pure, simplistic form. The characters of Viola, Orsino, Malvolio, and Olivia embody different forms of love. You may choose one or all of these characters to analyze. Why does each character’s particular brand of love fit so well with their personality, nature, and values? How does that type of love fit in Twelfth Night, and what might Shakespeare be saying about the different types of love?

Prompt 3: That Twelfth Night was “in some sense the last of the great festive comedies” (Greenblatt 446) is, ironically, due to its own success. During the early 17th century, Puritanism was gaining popularity and power and had successfully shut down all of the British playhouses by the mid-17th century (fret not: they were reopened 18 years later under Charles II). Plays like Twelfth Night called attention to music, desire, and the pagan festivities that Puritans condemned. During these rituals, revelers donned costumes and entered into a “disorderly realm of belly laughter and belly cheer” (446). However, at the end of the celebration, order was restored, costumes were put away, and the social structure was once again honored. With this historical context in mind, then, consider how Shakespeare treats Puritans, festivals, and the social norms of gender, love, marriage, rank, and the genre of comedy (hint: each of these themes is represented in the play, yet none of them are simple—they each have complicated story lines that mirror social context). Synthesize one of more of these themes with the social and historical context of the time in which this play was written. Explain how Shakespeare incorporates one or more of these themes into his play, and analyze the implications of this inclusion. What is Shakespeare saying about life? About 17th century British society? About drama?

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