Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. Disguises and changes of clothing are central to the plot of Twelfth Night. Which characters in the play spend time in disguise, and how is this thematically important?
2. Twelfth Night, the holiday after which the play is named, was celebrated as a festival in which everything was turned topsy-turvy, with traditional social roles and behavior temporarily suspended. Are things similarly turned upside down in Illyria?
3. How is romantic love depicted in the play? What points does Shakespeare seem to be making about romance?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Discuss the role of mistaken identity in Twelfth Night. Who is mistaken for whom, and what do these mix-ups signify?
2. Discuss the role of the explicitly comic characters—Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Feste, and Maria. What function do they serve? How is each one different from the others? How is Feste, in particular, different from Sir Toby and Sir Andrew?
3. What role does Malvolio serve in the play? Does his fate seem unjust? Is it out of place in a romantic comedy? If so, why might Shakespeare have included it?
4. Paying particular attention to the fate of Malvolio and Antonio, discuss how Shakespeare brings some ambiguous touches to the happy ending.
5. Compare Orsino and Olivia, and discuss how their attitudes about strong emotions are similar or different. What does Shakespeare suggest about the nature of love and other powerful feelings in his portrayal of these two characters?
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