Some structure in twelfth night
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Some Structure in Twelfth Night. A look at key structural devices with heavy emphasis on that shining star of thinking and writing, CONTRAST! . repetition. Virtually always worth discussing a whole body paragraph can be written on repetition, if warranted Look for a repetition of ideas

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Some Structure in Twelfth Night

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Some structure in twelfth night

Some Structure in Twelfth Night

  • A look at key structural devices with heavy emphasis on that shining star of thinking and writing, CONTRAST!



  • Virtually always worth discussing

  • a whole body paragraph can be written on repetition, if warranted

    Look for a repetition of

  • ideas

  • motifs

  • lines

  • character types

Parallel events

Parallel events

  • Look for same actions and different characters

  • ex. Love at first sight (also a convention)

Vs recurring events

Vs. recurring events

  • Here, look for the same actions AND the same character

  • Ex: Viola’s treks to and from Olivia’s on Orsino’s behalf



  • Parody may be defined as “incongruous imitation.” A parody “imitates the serious manner and characteristic feature [of the original], but deflates the original by applying the imitation to a lowly or comically inappropriate subject.”

    M.H. Abrams

Look at the representations of love

Look at the representations of love

  • Think about Viola and Orsino

  • Orsino’s love for Olivia

  • Olivia’s love for Cesario

  • Malvolio’s love for Olivia

  • (N.B. In some instances the word love could be put into quotation marks.)

Contrast your new best friend

Contrast: your new best friend

  • Contrasts are always useful!

  • I recommend that when you are doing a close-reading, make a list(in the margin) of all of the contrasts you see.

  • Incorporate the best ones into your analysis of your examples.

Contrasts plays and novels

Contrasts: plays and novels

  • Contrasts are equally vital here for writing expository essays -- timed or untimed -- about these genres. As you think about contrasts, try to group them for a more useful and useable presentation.

  • In Twelfth Night, for instance,...

Think about contrasts in terms of

characters’ names

characters’ classes

characters’ natures

characters’ uses of language




Think about contrasts in terms of

Characters names

Characters’ Names

  • Feste -- his name means fete -- feaster in spirit. See 2.3.27 - 71.

  • Malvolio -- his name means bad appetite. See 2.3.87 - 93.

Characters classes

Characters’ Classes

  • The high-born characters: Viola, Sebastian, Orsino, Olivia

  • The lowborn (or base-acting) characters: Malvolio, Maria, Fabian, Sir Toby

Characters natures

Characters’ Natures

  • Malvolio, the precise, self-loving, longing-for-a social-climb steward (and puritan)

  • vs.

  • Sir Toby Belch “the caterwauling kinsman” 2.3.114 - 123.

  • This represents the Puritan/Cavalier issues, so divisive during Shakespeare’s time; at issue during the civil war in England

Some structure in twelfth night


  • Viola’s understandable cowardice about dueling (She’s had no training!She’s not a he!) 3.4.281 - 283 and 3.4.314 - 316.

  • VS.

  • Sir Andrew’s cowardice. (He’s a knight!)

    3.4.243 - 249.

Some structure in twelfth night


  • Look at Viola’s plan to deceive Orsino so she can gain employment 1.2.50 -64.

  • VS.

  • Her “patience on a monument” speech 2.4.122 - 130.

And speaking of viola

And speaking of Viola,

  • She looks like a man (albeit a feminine man) and acts like a man, and accidentally wins the love of Olivia. 1.5.297 - 301

  • VS.

  • Sebastian, who looks, acts, and is a man and gets the hand of Olivia (fortunately). 4.3

And while we re thinking of viola

And while we’re thinking of Viola...

  • She knows what love is. She has real love for Orsino. See her discourse about her “sister.” 2.4.116 - 134

  • VS.

  • Orsino, who likes the notion of love. See 1.1.1 - 15.

And speaking of love

And speaking of love...

  • Malvolio loves himself more than anyone else. His employer, Olivia, comments, “O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite.” 1.5.89 - 90. Then see him with the “love letter.” in 2.5.143 - 183. VS.

  • Viola’s humble comment to Orsino: “And I, most jocund, apt willingly,/To do you rest a thousand deaths would die.” 5.1.135 - 136.

Characters language

Characters’ Language

  • As we discussed before, think of blank verse vs. prose --

  • “Go hang yourselves all! You are idle, shallow things. I am not of your element.” 3.4.132 - 134. VS.

  • “Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there,/ Of what validity, and pitch soe’er” 1.1.11 - 12.

Think too about the end act 5

Think, too, about the end -- Act 5

  • Malvolio: “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” 5.1.401.

  • To which gentle Olivia responds, (in Malvolio’s absence), “He hath been most notoriously abused.” 5.1.402.

Examine these please

Examine these, please.

“Make me a willow cabin at your gate

And call upon my soul within the house,

Write loyal cantons of contemnèd love

And sing them loud even in the dead of night,

Hallow your name to the reverberate hills

And make the babbling gossip of the air

Cry out ‘Olivia!’… 1.5.271 - 277. And...

Some structure in twelfth night

“[I go] After him I love

More than I love these eyes, more than my life,

More by all mores than e’er I shall love wife.

If I do feign, you witnesses above,

Punish my life for tainting of my love.” 5.1.138 -142.

Some structure in twelfth night


  • Main plot/ comic sub-plot

  • above stairs characters/ below stairs characters

  • finding one’s self and one’s true love/ examining humans in their folly

  • Look at Act 3: scene 1 = main plot; 2 = subplot; 3 = main plot (Sebastian and Antonio arrive); 4 = subplot (Mal. = cross-gartered)



  • The shipwreck and danger prior to the opening of the play -- the force and danger of the sea are mentioned several times, specifically by the rescued twins

  • the idyllic world of Illyria, where most people are gentle, kind, and helpful



  • Viola’s search for her true identity vs. Malvolio’s self-indulgence, self-satisfaction, delusions, and meanness.

  • Remember that final line, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!” 5.1.401.

Some structure in twelfth night

  • Also note what Antonio says to Sebastian, “The gentleness of all the gods go with thee!…/But come what may, I do adore thee so/ That danger shall seem sport, and I will go.” 2.2.43 - 47.

Some structure in twelfth night

Whereas when Malvolio speaks to the revelers, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, the fool, and Maria, he declares, “My masters, are you mad? Or what are you? Have you no wit, manners, honesty but to gabble like tinkers at this time of night?…Is there no respect of place, persons, nor time in you?”

2.3.87 - 92.



  • All of the times where true love is contrasted with idealized love, misguided love, love that cannot be requited, parodies of true love.

  • Shakespeare is advocating the power of love when it is genuine.

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