‘Twelfth Night’ or ‘What You Will’ is a Shakespearean play that includes many comedic conventions like disguise, trickery and love interests. It is these conventions that make modern audiences enjoy and laugh at ‘Twelfth Night’, contrary to Sir Richard Eyre’s comment, ‘It’s true that a lot of Shakespeare’s jokes aren’t very good, because they’re topical, you know. Comedy dates very, very quickly.”, on the Telegraph UK. Though Sir Richard Eyre was the former head of the Royal National Theatre and one of Britain’s most celebrated Shakespearean directors, his words are to be contradicted as we explore the comedic convention of disguise in ‘Twelfth Night’ and its examples like Viola dressing as Cesario and Feste dressing as Sir Topas.
First, the protagonist, Viola, disguises as Cesario, which brings much commotion and comedy as everyone thinks she is a man but really, she is a woman. One example of this can be how Olivia kisses and subsequently marries Sebastian, thinking it is Viola. Sebastian is the twin brother of Viola and this tells us that they look similar. This is very hilarious when in Act 5 Scene 1, Olivia calls Viola ‘husband’, “Whither, my lord? Cesario, husband, stay,” when actually it was Sebastian who was the ‘husband’. This all because of dramatic irony, as Olivia sent love to the wrong person. Another example Viola’s disguise as Cesario can be when Sir Toby Belch (Olivia’s uncle) encourages Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Sir Toby’s friend) to defeat Viola [Cesario] in a sword fight as Sir Toby wants to wed Olivia with Sir Andrew in Act 4 Scene 1. However, since Viola is dressed as a man, Sebastian he is fought. Since, Sebastian is much stronger than the feeble old men, he injures them. This makes for a hilarious scene because of the use of dramatic irony after Sir Andrew and Sir Toby accidently fight the wrong person. This comedy is especially evident when Sir Andrew accuses Viola of seriously hurting and Viola [Cesario] has no clue of what was going on, “Why do you speak to me? I never hurt you: you drew your sword upon me without cause; but I bespoke you fair and hurt you not.” Overall, Viola’s masquerade as a Cesario Is what causes so many problems that are portrayed in a humorous way that does attract a modern audience like myself.
Another broad example of disguise is when Feste dresses as Sir Topas, providing another layer of humor to the already hysterical human. Feste disguises as Sir Topas, a parson, in the quote, “put on this gown and this beard; make him believe thou art Sir Topas.” But it is his conversation in Act 4 Scene 2 that is hilarious. From the start, Malvolio is pleading Sir Topas to go to Olivia and tell about how he has been wronged, abused and put in a dark hole, “Sir Topas, never was a man thus wronged: good Sir.
Topas, do not think I am mad: they have laid me here in hideous darkness.” Also, it is very ironic that Malvolio is always acting as if he is everyone’s superior, however, now he is literally begging to the people he was once arrogant towards. The irony and pleading combine to produce a comical disguise against a character who is designed to hate.
In conclusion, the ‘Twelfth Night’ is an entertaining play from Shakespeare that embodies comedic conventions such as disguise and trickery, with disguise predominating. Disguise does bring a comedic effect to the play because of the use of dramatic irony. Examples of disguise are Viola as Cesario and Feste as Sir Topas. These examples are undoubtedly funny, opposing Sir Richard Eyre’s claims that Shakespeare’s jokes in ‘Twelfth Night’ are not funny and rather topical. The jokes simply cannot be topical because it still reflects timeless themes such as the positive and negative of love and deceptions and misunderstandings.