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The Role of Marriage in the Role Reversal of Twelfth Night

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    The Role of Marriage in the Role Reversal of Twelfth Night Wouldn’t it be great to somehow wake up one morning in a beautiful house? How about owning an expensive new car? It is safe to say that practically everyone in the world is hoping that someday somehow they will become very successful and rise into a status of power and respect. This concept can be applied to the characters in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Just as Jesse Goldberg stated, Twelfth Night focuses on the desires of characters and “certain characters are allowed to actualize their fantastic desires and others are forbidden by forces within the play” (StudentPulse).

    For those who do, the connection between each status change is the institution of marriage. Marriage in this play can be seen as both a blessing for some, and a grave deterrent for others. While some characters are married into higher rank, others are forced to keep their original roles but are even worse off than how they began in the play. I aim to prove that in Twelfth Night fortune, in the form of marriage, can be seen as the deciding force that ends the play and determines each character’s fate.

    Throughout Twelfth Night, readers receive a strong sense that most of the characters want more out of their lives. As Jesse Goldberg states, “It is hard to miss the indulgent behaviors of the characters of Twelfth Night” (StudentPulse). While numerous characters-such as Viola, Olivia, Orsino and Sebastian-desire the love of another, the desire for power is also seen quite clearly in the character Malvolio. Other characters such as Sir Toby and Maria want nothing more than a hearty supply of alcohol and a good prank to make them laugh and keep their spirits high.

    In the final chapter, marriage can be seen as the force that gives the characters what they desire, and at the same time, withholds other characters’ desires just the same. “This is evident in the play’s treatment of Malvolio’s desire for wish-fulfillment, for indulgence in an inflated sense of self” (Goldberg). Throughout the play it is Malvolio’s deepest wish to become more than what he is and ascend to a rank of power among the other characters of the play. When Maria and Sir Toby play their prank on Malvolio and convince him that Lady Olivia is in love with him, he believes that his fortunes have changed nd he will acquire what he desires. Nothing would make him happier than to “baffle Sir Toby” (II. v. 153) and become a force of authority around Lady Olivia’s estate. However, by the end of the play he realizes that he has been the butt of a cruel joke and is sorely embarrassed. He vows his revenge against those who got the better of him and we neither see nor hear of Malvolio again. The reason behind his misfortune did not lie with “Jove” or his “stars” (II. v. 162) but with the marriage that he did not experience. This leads to Lady Olivia.

    Malvolio was counting on being married to Olivia. However this was not Olivia’s desire. For the entirety of the play, Olivia was set on winning the love of Cesario, “Cesario…I love thee so that maugre all thy pride, /Nor wit nor reason can my passion hide” (III. i. 146-150) and her desire is fulfilled but not in the way she suspected. Imagine Olivia’s surprise when she believes she has finally gotten through to Cesario and he has agreed to marry her, yet it turned out to be a very confused Sebastian who only agreed because he had never seen a more beautiful woman in his life.

    When Olivia discovers that Sebastian is not who she believes him to be, the audience sees that she is not totally horrified like someone would be to find out that their husband is not who they think he is. In fact, Olivia pays almost no mind to the fact that Sebastian is an entirely different person than Cesario and only shares similarities in appearance. Marriage grants Olivia her wish, but not to the right man. With the marriage of Olivia and Sebastian, Antonio’s desire is stolen away from him. From the first that we meet Antonio, he has nothing but undying love for his new friend Sebastian.

    Having spent three months nursing Sebastian back to help after he experienced a shipwreck, all Antonio wants is to be with Sebastian and even follows him to Orsino’s court in Illyria despite being a wanted man in that country, as he discussed in Act 2 Scene 1: I have many enemies in Orsino’s Court, Else I would very shortly see thee there, But come what may, I do adore thee so That danger shall seem sport, and I will go (40-44). Antonio’s misfortune may be the worst out of the entire cast of characters, because while in Illyria, after being arrested for fighting on behalf of Cesario who he believed to be Sebastian, Antonio is arrested by Orsino’s men (III. iv. 301-361).

    By the end of the play Antonio is left with no money, in the custody of Duke Orsino, and possibly worst of all, he has lost his friend whom he dearly loves to a woman that neither of them knows. Through Antonio, we can see marriage portrayed as the largest villain in the play yet. Highly contrasting with Antonio, Viola is the only character that got exactly what she wanted in the Twelfth Night. Though she posed as a man and courted Olivia in Orsino’s place, Viola had always loved Orsino. In the final scene, she declares her love for him “…him I love / More than I love these eyes, more than my life, /More by all means than e’er I shall love wife” (V. i. 30-133), and after Sebastian and Viola are identified to be brother and sister, Orsino accepts her love: Your master quits you, and for your service done him So much against the mettle of your sex, So far beneath your soft and tender breeding, And since you called me master for so long, Here is my hand, you shall from this time be Your master’s mistress. (V. i. 12-317) Through their marriage, Viola gets exactly what she wants, which is in stark contrast from almost everyone else in the play because while some characters do get what they want, what they get is not exactly what they thought it would be such as Olivia’s marriage to Sebastian. Jesse Goldberg stated that a theme of ideology was present within the story, and I would agree. Much like other Shakespeare plays, supernatural forces, such as fate, affect the characters and the actions and events of the play. Malvolio wholeheartedly believes that there is a higher power at work that will “keep the characters of lower status in their places in Twelfth Night” (Goldberg) and fortune was “working to help certain characters, most notably Viola and Sebastian who are saved from the shipwreck” (Goldberg).

    While Goldberg argues that it was the characters themselves, not supernatural forces, which propelled the events through the play, I would argue that fortune does play a major role in the play, especially in the final act. Fortune, in the form of marriage, dictated how and where each character would end up. It was fortune that brought Viola and Sebastian to their higher seats in society and fortune that left Antonio and Malvolio humiliated and penniless. Works Cited Goldberg, Jesse A. (2011). “Power and Transgression in Twelfth Night andMeasure forMeasure: Artifice and Ideology as Tools of the Elite. ” Student Pulse, 3(10). Retrievedfrom: <http://www. studentpulse. com/a? id=581> Shakespeare, William, Roger Warren, and Stanley W. Wells. The Oxford Shakespeare: Twelfth night, or what you will. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

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