Word Count: 696The Use of Deception in
William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
Deception is a key theme William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The characters must use deception to obtain good things, escape bad situations, or to play cruel hilarious ticks on other people. One example of deception is when Viola clothes herself in men’s clothing in order to obtain a job under the Duke of Illyria, Orsino. During another scene Sir Andrew, Fabian, Maria, and Sir Toby Belch trick Malvolio into making a fool of himself. A third example of deception is when Feste the jester disguises himself as Sir Topas and taunts Malvolio. Each of these scenes and characters helps depict the different uses of deception.
The first example of deception is Viola’s decision to dress as a man. She must do this in order to survive. Viola is a young woman who narrowly escaped a shipwreck along with her twin brother, Sebastian. Unfortunately, the twins where separated during the shipwreck and each believes the other perished. Viola has no way of survival other than to dress as a man and serve Orsino. Viola says: “For such disguise as haply shall become the form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke…for I can sing…That will help allow me very worthy his service”. (Shakespeare, 54-59)
While serving as a messenger between the Orsino and his love Olivia, Olivia happens to fall in love with Viola instead of the Duke. Later a captain finds Viola’s brother, Sebastian, on the shore of Illyria. They both go into town and Olivia sees Sebastian. Sebastian and Viola happen to be wearing the exact same clothes, thus making it difficult to tell the two apart. Olivia mistakenly proposes to Sebastian. Despite the fact that Sebastian has never met Olivia, he accepts the marriage. After the Duke discovers Viola’s gender, he falls in love with her and they wed.
A second example of deception is the cruel trick that Sir Andrew, Fabian, Maria, and Sir Toby Belch play on Malvolio. Maria, Olivia’s “lady-in-waiting”, writes a note in her mistress’s handwriting saying that Olivia falls for men who wear high yellow stockings and smile all the time. Sir Toby says:
“He shall think by the letter that thou wilt drop that they come from my niece, and that she’s in love with him.” (Shakespeare, 157)
The conspirators then place the note in Maria’s garden, a place where Malvolio surely will find it.
They do this to Malvolio because he had ruined their rambunctious fun the night before. Malvolio finds the letter and reads it:
“…cast thy humble slough, and appear fresh. Be opposite with kinsman, surly with servants…Remember who commended thy yellow stockings, and wished to see thee ever cross-gartered “. (Shakespeare, 139-145)
Later, Malvolio confronts Olivia and she thinks he is insane. Malvolio gets put in a cage and becomes isolated for his behavior.
Far a third and final example of deception, Feste disguises himself as Sir Topas to further annoy Malvolio. Maria asks Feste to dress up in a gown and hat and put on a long beard, to disguise himself as Sir Topas. She asks him to do this because she wants to see Malvolio further tormented. Feste, while disguised, asks Malvolio what he thinks of Pythagoras. When Malvolio responds, from his prison, that he disagrees with the beliefs of Pythagoras, Feste says that he will remain caged forever. Malvolio then desperetly begs Feste to free him and tries to convince him that he is sane. Malvolio says: “…there was never man so notoriously abused! I am well in my wits, fool, as though art.” (Shakespeare, 87-88). Feste eventually has pity for the
mistreated servant and sets him free.
Deception pervades William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. One example involves Viola dressing up as a man. A second example involves the conspiracy of Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian to make a fool of Olivia’s servant Malvolio. The third example involves tormenting Malvolio purely for enjoyment. Deception is used in the play to work into good situations, avoid difficult situations, and to play abusive yet humorous jokes on other characters in the play.
Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. New York: Harcourt, Brace ; World, Inc., 1968.