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Twelfth Night Mistaken Identity Essay Papers

Write about the significance of disguise and mistaken identity in Twelfth Night

Shakespeare’s use of disguise and mistaken identity is significant to the plot of Twelfth Night as it is the thread that runs through the entire fabric of the play; and is instrumental in providing confusion, misunderstanding, and ultimately – love.   Almost all of the characters in this play either carry out some sort of identity deception, or are deceived by someone else doing much the same thing.

Primarily we have the play’s protagonist, Viola, who resorts to gender deception in order to get a job in what is essentially a male dominated society.   It is noteworthy to mention that in Shakespeare’s time, female roles were played by males, and the idea of a male playing a female who disguises herself as a male is doubly ironic, creating an even greater comic element, and in effect would have been hilarious to the theatre goer.   We also have Malvolio, who dresses in what is effectively a disguise to impress Olivia, and Feste who acts like a fool when he clearly is not, and disguises himself as a pastor in order to trick Malvolio.   In addition, although not disguising himself in a physical sense, Sir Toby Belch hides his true nature in order to befriend the very affluent Sir Andrew Aguecheek who has “three thousand ducats a year”.   We could even say that Olivia also disguises herself to some extent, hiding behind her mourning veil in order to avoid Orsino’s advances.   All of these characters combine to contribute a number of amusing yet sometimes poignant moments in the play.

The dramatic backdrop of a shipwreck, and the apparent death of Viola’s twin, Sebastian, sets the scene for Act I scene 1 perfectly, introducing a grief-stricken Viola who is lost without her brother. “And what shall I do in Illyria?   My brother he is in Elysium”.   She is alone in the world and has no choice but to enlist the Captain’s help in disguising herself “conceal me what I am” in order to gain...

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Mistaken Identity for Twelfth Night

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Mistaken Identity William Shakespeare, in his well-known comedy Twelfth Night, creates a plot that revolves around mistaken identity and deception. Mistaken identity, along with disguises, rules the play and affects the lives of several of the characters. Shakespeare’s techniques involve mistaken identity to bring humor, mystery, and complication to the play. Many characters in Twelfth Night assume disguises, beginning with Viola who is disguised as a eunuch, Maria who writes a letter to Malvolio as Olivia, and then the mix-up between Sebastian and Viola are revealed.

The instances of mistaken identity are related to many disguises in the play. Viola, who puts on male attire, begins to have everyone believe that she is a man. By dressing up in male garments, she wants to be taken as a eunuch. Viola assumes the name Cesario. While talking with the captain, Viola begins to realize that Olivia also lost her brother and is grieving just as Viola is for her brother. Viola decides to go to Duke Orsino’s palace to be able to reach Olivia, the Duke’s love.

Viola is going to use the Duke to try to speak with Olivia about their devastating events with their brothers’ deaths. Viola is going to try to be a servant for Duke Orsino which is the reason for disguising herself as a eunuch. In talking with the captain, he says to her, “Be you his eunuch, and your mute I’ll be. When my tongue blabs, then let mine eyes not see” (Shakespeare 13). Through Viola’s change in identity, this situation creates a conflict through the characters. Viola falls in love with Orsino but cannot tell him because he thinks she is a man.

While the love of Orsion, Olivia, falls madly in love with Viola. Olivia is now in love with a woman, and Orsino often remarks on Cesario’s beauty, suggesting that he is attracted to Viola even before her male disguise is removed. Olivia’s head servant Malvolio, a narcisstic character thinks that Olivia is in love with him. His self obsession leads him to these conclusions along with the misleading from Maria and other servants. The conspirators know of Malvolio and his self love and are not fond of him because of their past experiences.

Maria and the conspirators decide to mislead Malvolio into thinking that Olivia is in love with him. Maria decides to lead him on by writing a letter, but means to be from Olivia. This love letter is meant to instruct Malvolio to do actions that Olivia despises. Maria is able to mislead Malvolio because she has the same print and seal as Olivia. Shakespeare is able to trick the characters and create many portrayals of them. The mistaken identity in this play is related to the prevalence of disguises in the play as Viola’s male clothing leads to her being mistaken for her brother Sebastian.

Sebastian is mistaken for Viola (or rather, Cesario) by Sir Andrew and Sir Toby, and then by Olivia, who quickly marries him. Meanwhile, Antonio mistakes Viola for Sebastian and thinks that his friend has betrayed him when Viola claims not to know him. While Viola is in a sword fight against Sir Andrew, Antonio is trying to be a loyal friend by taking the place of Viola, who he thinks is Sebastian. Antonio is not liked by Orsino’s court, so he is then arrested and taken away. While this is happening, Antonio asks Viola for his purse back, which he gives to Sebastian.

Viola becomes extremely confused and claimed not having his purse and being a close friend of his. Antonio takes this as deception and thinks that Sebastian, who is really Viola, is a coward. These cases of mistaken identity, common in Shakespeare’s comedies, create the tangled situation that can be resolved only when Viola and Sebastian appear together, helping everyone to understand what has happened. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare uses mistaken identity by disguising Viola as a eunuch, having Malvolio think Olivia wrote the letter, and Viola and Sebastian being each other.

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These cases of mistaken identity, common in Shakespeare’s comedies, create many tangled situations that can be resolved in the end of the play with Sebastian and Viola being revealed and Fabian putting in place all the confusion. Shakespeare’s writing uses mystery, confusion and humor. All these mistaken identities are all for the humor of the play. His creativity is shown through the several disguises and portrayals of the characters. This play shows that if you are true to yourself and others, you will live an easier, more truthful life. “No mask like open truth to cover lies, as to go naked is the best disguise” (Congreve 291).

Author: Brandon Johnson

in Twelfth Night

Mistaken Identity for Twelfth Night

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