Twelfth Night

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will: Saturnalia, or Just Sad?

Topic: One theatre critic has said of Twelfth Night: "...the key question seems to me how much one regards it as a festive piece of saturnalia, written for a very specific occasion, and how much as a dark comedy about impermanence and pain." What is your response to this question?

George S. Kaufman duly notes that, "The trouble with Shakespeare is that you never get to sit down unless you're a king" (Epstein, 2). Similarly, one can also feel exhausted after attempting to discern whether Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night, or What You Will is more a festive piece of saturnalia, or more a dark comedy about impermanence and pain. It can of course be argued that this play is a romantic comedy written for a specific occasion. However, a closer examination of the role of the songs, the absurd ending, and the character of Malvolio leads one to see the darker elements of this "comedy," and conclude that Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is actually intended to be more tragic, and not simply comedic.

The songs play a vital role in creating a somber effect throughout the play. A melancholy tone is created immediately at the onset of the play as Orsino is listening to music. He aptly describes his state of...

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