Places: Twelfth Night

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1623

First produced: c. 1600-1602

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: Sixteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Illyria

*Illyria. Twelfth NightRegion on the east shore of the Adriatic Sea, between Italy and Greece. Its history is marked by waves of conquering invaders, from early Slavs to Ottoman Turks. In William Shakespeare’s time, Illyria–still part of the Ottoman Empire–was a group of city-states controlled by Venice. In the play, Illyria is distinctly Italianate, making for an atmosphere that is congenial to romance, with the seacoast providing an apt setting for plot conveniences of shipwreck, separated twins (Viola and Sebastian), and exotic adventures. At Illyria, fantasies and dreams are realized, and lessons are learned. There Viola is transformed from a woman to a man to “Orsino’s mistress,” and there she is finally able to live in an earthly Elysium.

Duke’s palace

Duke’s palace. Site of romantic sentimentality. The duke revels in wordplay and music, which feed his passion. The palace is also a site of ambiguous sexual identity, as shown by Viola’s disguise as Cesario.

House of Olivia

House of Olivia. House modeled on the English system of servants and retainers with prescribed duties. On one hand, there is the mourning figure of Olivia, and the humorless, austere, proud figure of her steward, Malvolio, the epitome of all puritans. On the other, there are Fabian and Maria, Olivia’s servants, and the faithful old retainer, Feste–a well-educated clown. Olivia attempts to live a cloistered life, but Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the two rowdy rioters, are unaffected by Olivia’s sadness over her dead brother.

In a room within this house, Malvolio is confined indarkness and cruelly mocked and tormented by a disguised Feste, at the instigation of Sir Toby and Maria.

Olivia’s orchard

Olivia’s orchard. Scene of Malvolio’s gulling by Maria’s faked letter. One of the comic highlights of the play comes from Malvolio’s strange cross-gartering and absurd posturings as Olivia’s would-be lover. However, the real point of the comedy is character revelation.

BibliographyBerry, Ralph. Shakespeare’s Comedies: Explorations in Form. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972. A discussion of Shakespeare’s comedies in which each chapter is devoted to a specific play. In the chapter “The Messages of Twelfth Night,” Barry discusses the deceits and illusions in the play and concludes that it calls the very nature of reality into question.Levin, Richard A. Love and Society in Shakespearean Comedy. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985. A critical study of three of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies. Two chapters deal with Twelfth Night: “Household Politics in Illyria” discusses the acceptance of the various characters into society, while “Feste and the Antiromantic Twelfth Night” focuses on the discordant elements of the play.Lloyd Evans, Gareth. The Upstart Crow: An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Plays. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982. Focuses mainly on critical reviews of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as discussing sources and historical context and background.Muir, Kenneth, ed. Shakespeare–The Comedies: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965. An anthology of essays that discuss Shakespeare’s comedies from various points of view. Harold Jenkins compares Twelfth Night with earlier plays by Shakespeare and others and concludes that it is the greatest of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies.Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. Edited by J. M. Lothian and T. W. Craik. London: Methuen, 1975. Includes more than eighty pages of introductory material and critical analysis, as well as the text of the play itself.
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