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Dramatic Irony in Twelfth Night

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ketanikya
Words 1330
Pages 6
Kela Yard
L6A1
English of Literatures – Drama
Mr. King
The Dramatic Irony in Twelfth Night
Dramatic irony is a very important element of literature. The proper use of dramatic irony allows an audience to have a furthered understanding of characters, by allowing the audience to know things that the characters in the literature do not know. When used properly, this knowledge is used to create feelings of humour and suspense for an audience. Dramatic irony is therefore a very common literary element, and many famous authors and playwrights have used it to dramatize their works. Shakespeare for example, was known to use dramatic irony in many of his plays. The play “Twelfth Night” also known as what “What You Will” contains elements of dramatic irony which are used to create a very engaging and funny experience for the audience. He uses elements such as mistaken identity, separated twins, and gender crossing disguise. The afore mentioned elements therefore have a great impact on the amount of dramatic irony presented in the play. This dramatic irony contributes to the comedic effect of the play. The first example of dramatic irony disguise of Viola, who is saved after being shipwrecked by a captain who puts in to shore on Illyria. After learning that the captain knows the Duke of Illyria, Viola asks him to disguise her as a eunuch so that she may work for the Duke. In this disguise, that only the audience is aware of Viola is better able to perceive the true nature of the characters as they confide in Cesario, her male disguise. While working for the Duke, she is sent as a messenger to express Orsino’s love for Olivia. However, Viola who is actually in love with the Duke, says in an aside after telling the Duke;
“I’ll do my best to woo your lady,
Yet a barful strife!
Whoe'er I woo, myself would be his wife. “(1.5.41-42)
The original love connection of the Duke has been skewered by the end of this scene since there are two twists to the plot: Viola states her attraction to the Duke Orsino; Olivia reveals a liking for Cesario. The effect of this dramatic irony is to demonstrate the subjectivity of love to the audience. When a person sees the person that they fell in love with, this love is felt in the person who does the loving of another, and a person cannot be forced to feel love simply by the attraction of the other for him/her. Another example of dramatic irony in the play is seen when Viola believes that her brother Sebastien is dead, and Sebastien believes that Viola is dead. The audience however, knows that both of them are alive. This situation becomes even funnier, when Viola decides to take on the image of her twin brother, by disguising herself as Cesario. It is proven by this in the play, that the characters are capable of getting themselves in sticky situations without noticing or understanding it. This is seen in Act IV when Olivia meets Sebastien for the first time. Olivia, has already fallen in love with Viola, who is in the disguise of Cesario, who is identical to Sebastien. In Olivia’s mind, she has already expressed her love to Sebastien, who she thinks is Cesario, when the audience is fully aware that they have never met. She therefore proclaims her love for Sebastian. Sebastian, who is confused by her declaration of love, seems to enjoy the sentiment, and takes part in the illusion;
“What relish is in this?
Or I am mad, or else this is a dream.
Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep;
If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!” (4.1.60-3-63)
This allows for their first meeting to now only be suspenseful, but also hilarious for the audience. It also enlightens the audience to the fact that some lovers delight in the illusions of love and often are satisfied with someone else being in love with them. The final example of dramatic irony is not seen amongst the major characters, but amongst the minor characters, who also play an important role in the play, by having dramatic irony mixed into their side story, which makes the play all the more interesting. Malvolio, who Is the head servant of Olivia, has the meanest of pranks played on him, and the prank is made even funnier due the presence of dramatic irony. The dramatic irony is created when Malvolio receives a note written in handwriting that appears to be Olivia’s. The audience, however, knows that the note was instead written by Olivia’s servant, but Malvolio believes it to be written by Olivia herself. The note gives Malvolio specific instructions to earn Olivia’s love, and is full of things that are out of character for Malvolio. He wears ridiculous clothes and acts like someone that he isn’t, all in the hopes that Olivia will fall in love with him. His actions instead have the opposite effect, because she is concerned by his actions and has him treated like he’s insane instead. The audience knows what’s up, and every one of Malvolio’s missteps is funnier than the last, therefore also adding to the comedic element of the play.
The use of dramatic irony therefore helps to create one of the major central themes of the play, the foolishness of mortals. Dramatic irony is essential in the creation of this theme, because it allows an audience to experience what it’s like to be omnipotent. This theme is backed by happenings in the play. Every character makes decisions and judgments without all of the knowledge necessary to make said judgment. Malvolio is one example. Had he took the time to figure out who had written that letter, he would have acted a lot differently.
Another central theme that is reinforced by the use of dramatic irony is that visual proof is not always enough. Shakespeare tests the old saying that you can believe what you see, by finding a situation in which what you see is false. The Viola / Sebastian situation is the perfect example of this. The characters in the play frequently trust their eyes, and are frequently proven to be foolish because of this. This repeated ‘what you see isn’t what you get’ states that what you see isn’t always the truth. The characters see Cesario, therefore Cesario is who it is, even though who they’re actually seeing is Sebastian himself. The dramatic irony allows the audience to recognize this fact, intensifies the effect it has on them. The audience can understand that just because something appears to be true, it may not be true. The dramatic irony also helps to identify some of the many motifs present in the play. One of the most important motifs in the play is that of mistaken identity. Repeatedly Viola and Sebastian are mistaken for one another. The repeated cases of mistaken identity help to advance the storyline in a funny and suspenseful way, as the web that’s being woven continues to become more entangled and complicated. The further the story gets, the more the audience can’t wait for the finale, which is the time when twins will be reunited and everything will become resolved and the desire to see the revelation of the characters builds a ton of suspense. Mistaken identity is closely linked to another major motif in the play: disguises. Many of the major characters in the play assume disguises during the play. Viola uses a disguise to convince everyone that she’s a man. Malvolio uses a disguise to try to earn Olivia’s love.
In conclusion, it is evident that Shakespeare intended for dramatic irony to play a major role in the play “Twelfth Night.” Without the presence of dramatic irony, the plot of this theme would not have been as funny and suspenseful, and the major themes would have been much harder to recognize.

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