Romance, Love and Comedy in Twelfth Night by Shakespeare

Twelfth Night is a delightful romantic comedy, often hailed as one of Shakespeare’s purest and most joyous works. While it incorporates elements of romance, it remains predominantly a comedy, with a perfect blend of wit, satire, and a satisfying happy ending. Unlike other comedies that focus on satirizing human follies and the pursuit of happiness and success, Shakespeare’s mature comedies, including Twelfth Night, strike a delicate balance between humor and the gentle spirit of gaiety.

One of the defining characteristics of Twelfth Night is its infusion of romance, particularly the romantic theme of love. Love, especially in its romantic form, possesses a certain enchantment that transports it beyond the realm of ordinary life. The play’s main plot revolves around characters who exist in a world imbued with a rainbow-like quality of idyllic love. In this realm, the realities of life fade away, giving way to a realm of whimsicality and idealized romance. It is a place where love takes center stage, and characters become captivated by the innocence and fervor of their affections.

The romantic atmosphere of Twelfth Night reverberates with poetic fervor and the fiery passions of youthful hearts. It is a world of sighs, love songs, courtship, wooing, and playful exchanges of affection. This ethereal setting itself, known as Illyria, exists as a fantastical realm detached from reality. Although the name “Illyria” may not correspond to any geographical location in our tangible world, it is an appropriate backdrop for the fantastical nature of the play. Similarly, the period in which the events occur remains intentionally vague and indefinite, further heightening the play’s romantic aura.

Shakespeare possesses a unique ability to infuse romanticism into everyday events, while also imbuing the most imaginative and improbable characters and situations with a sense of realism. It is true that Shakespeare occasionally stretches the bounds of probability. However, we must remember that his primary aim was to entertain his audience, an audience steeped in the age of romance who did not scrutinize the balance of probabilities or the meticulous relationship between cause and effect. As Coleridge suggests, the pleasure derived from theatrical performances lies in their unreality and fictitious nature. The dramatist’s task is to imitate life, not replicate it like a photograph. For example, the disguise of Viola, a rich source of comedy, remains unquestionably probable within the fairyland atmosphere of Illyria.

In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s main objective was to explore various aspects and forms of romantic love and its impact on characters in different situations. Even Viola’s genuine love carries a touch of romanticism. Hindered by her disguise and loyalty to her lord, she finds herself unable to express her true feelings openly. This situation brims with romanticism, although it may not align entirely with reality. Blinded by her profound and sincere love for the Duke, she fails to see his inherent vanity, insincerity, and lack of constancy, even as she serves him as a valet. Such is the nature of blind love. Olivia’s love for Cesario is similarly steeped in romanticism and blindness. She becomes infatuated with the Duke’s charming page and cannot discern his true identity, despite her keen intuition. Her swift descent into love, abandoning her self-imposed seclusion in the name of a dead brother’s love, can only occur within the context of a romantic love affair.

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The Duke himself personifies an unusual form of love. His nature is ever-changing, and he perceives himself as desperately in love with Olivia. However, in reality, he is infatuated with the concept of love itself, rather than Olivia as an individual. He cherishes music as the essence of love but remains detached from the actual object of his affections, Olivia. It almost seems as if the Duke prefers to court Olivia through intermediaries to avoid genuine commitment. Similarly, Malvolio’s love exhibits a fantastical and romantic nature, much like the Duke’s.

Shakespeare skillfully strikes a harmonious balance between the seriousness of love, a powerful and passionate human emotion, and the lightheartedness of comedy, whose purpose is to entertain. In this romantic comedy, both the lovers and the comedians coexist harmoniously, as good neighbors, with the understanding that neither shall overshadow or compete with the other. The gravity of love finds relief in the generosity of laughter, and the carefree laughter finds grounding in the earnestness of love. This principle of romantic comedy is exemplified in Twelfth Night through its masterful alternation between the two, orchestrated flawlessly by Shakespeare.

Undoubtedly, Shakespeare’s ability to strike this compromise between love and comedy stands as a testament to his genius. He successfully renders ordinary life with a touch of romance, while making even the most imaginative and improbable characters and events feel grounded in reality. As an audience, we are captivated by his skillful interplay of emotions, allowing us to revel in the charms of romantic love and the comedic joys of life.

In conclusion, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night stands as a remarkable example of his ability to intertwine romance and comedy, offering a nuanced exploration of love in its various forms. The play navigates the realms of idealized love, infatuation, and comedic folly, painting a vivid picture of the joys and pitfalls inherent in human relationships.

Twelfth Night serves as a testament to Shakespeare’s ability to capture the full range of human emotions and to transcend the boundaries of time and place. Its enduring appeal lies in its timeless themes, relatable characters, and expertly crafted blend of romance and humor. As we watch the characters navigate the tumultuous terrain of love, we are reminded of the universal nature of human desires, flaws, and aspirations.

Ultimately, Twelfth Night invites us to reflect on the complexities of love and the transformative power it holds over individuals. It reminds us that love, though often unpredictable and riddled with contradictions, remains an essential part of the human experience. Shakespeare’s masterful portrayal of love in all its facets leaves a lasting impression, captivating audiences and ensuring that Twelfth Night continues to be celebrated as a work of enduring beauty and profound insight.



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