As You Like It

Love and Deceit in Twelfth Night

According to Patrick Swinden in An Introduction to Shakespeare's Comedies, a comedy does not demand the 'the degree of concentration and belief' required by tragedy. As a result, an audience of a play 'is amusedly aware that it's all a play, a game that they are sharing with the actors'. FN1 In Twelfth Night, it is the characters, almost without exception, who, in varying degrees, are involved in deception. Swinden says, 'Whether we look in the plot that Shakespeare took (indirectly) from the Italian, or the plot he made up to put beside it, we shall discover deceit piled on deceit'. FN2 Cesario/Viola deceives Olivia, Orsino, Sir Andrew, and Sir Toby, while Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste deceive Malvolio.

In an intricate pattern of 'concealment' and 'reveal-ment' the play spins dizzily toward its happy resolution with all the deceptions that had, and had been, concealed revealed. Is the end of the play really a happy ending? What dynamic in the process of deception could cause Sir Andrew to disappear or force Malvolio to declare, 'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!' (5.1.380)? Are the characters bettered or changed by their experiences when they arrive...

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