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Points to Ponder

Shakespeare is often considered a great author of the popular theater - and he was that - but he also owed much of his success to performances of his plays staged privately for the nobility. Twelfth Night was likely written not for the famous Globe theater but as entertainment for an aristocratic party. The analogous figure within the play is Feste, who will entertain his masters endlessly, provided that they pay him well; some readers have argued that Feste is a satire of Shakespeare's own heavily economic relationship to the nobility. Is Feste a joke about this relationship, and, if so, at whose expense? More broadly, should we take the economic background of a play like Twelfth Night - who paid for it, and why - into account when reading it?

Perhaps the most famous type scene in Greek tragedy is the "recognition scene" when one person suddenly recognizes another. This sort of scene is implicitly satired when Sebastian and Viola recognize each other in Act Five: their recollection that their father had a mole is a parody of Greek recognition scenes, which often involved the recollection of a distinctive bodily mark. More broadly, Twelfth Night is a play rife with recognition, and more frequently of misrecognition: of handwriting, of family, of gender. What are the dramatic purposes and effects of recognition and misrecognition in this play?

The "twelfth night" is, in part, a time when class distinctions break down (see "Historical Context" above) - when honesty or romance is not quite so powerfully impeded by the barriers of rank or wealth. This aspect of the festival is taken up broadly in Twelfth Night: Malvolio imagines what it would be like to marry a noblewoman, Olivia chooses Cesario, who she thinks is only a servant, over Orsino, a noble duke, and, at the end of the play, we find out that Sir Toby, a nobleman, has married Maria, a servant. What do you think is the significance of these cross-class romances in Twelfth Night, both within the play and in relation to the culture in which it was produced?

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Scenes 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3
Scenes 1.4 and 1.5
Scenes 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3
Scenes 2.4 and 2.5
Scenes 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3
Scene 3.4
Scenes 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3
Scene 5.1


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