Twelfth Night
“The epitome of Shakespearean comedy”

Shakespeare is well known for dealing with human nature and human conditions in all of his plays. He develops the plot using specific methods, which recur over and over again. In his “golden comedy” of “Twelfth Night”, he uses almost all of the comedic strategies in his repertoire. In all Shakespearean comedy, you can find high and low comedy. There is always a muddle or mix-up which ends up being resolved in marriage. “Twelfth Night” is no exception to this rule. Also in this play, Shakespeare uses the devices of mistaken identity and androgyny. “Twelfth Night” encompasses most of the playwright’s comedic devices, which makes this play the epitome of Shakespearean comedy.
Low comedy is very apparent in this play, especially among Sir Toby Belch, Maria, Andrew and Feste. In the scenes where Sir Toby is talking drunkenly to Sir Andrew Aguecheek, there are major sexual undertones in the humor. In Act One, scene three, when Andrew is first introduced, Sir Toby feels inclined to say of Andrew’s hair, that “it hangs like flax on a distaff; and I hope to see a huswife take thee between her legs and spin it off.” (lines 99-101) There are many of these sort of lines, especially said by Toby, the biggest drunk of them all (In many ways!).
This type of humor is common throughout all Shakespeare, including tragedies. In “Romeo and Juliet”, throughout the opening scene with Sampson and Gregory, with talk of maidenheads and thrusting women to the wall, this scene starts out light and humorous due to the quick and clever puns. In the opening of “Julius Caesar”, the cobbler plays with the word “sole”, thus making the humor light and witty. In “Twelfth Night”, ironically, the opening scene is of Duke Orsino, pining for Countess Olivia’s love. I think it is ironic, because it strikes me that in these two tragedies, the opening scene is humorous, but in the comedy “Twelfth Night”, the opening scene displays the longing of a man for a woman, and the grief that comes when one’s immeasurable love is not returned.
All of the puns and sexual innuendoes are examples of Shakespeare’s verbal wit. Physical humor is another characteristic found in Shakespeare’s comedies. In “Twelfth Night”, when Malvolio turns up cross-gartered and yellow stocked, the impact is purely visual, and not verbal. Similarly, in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when the “rude mechanicals” perform “Pyramus and Thisbe”, it is done in a broad slapstick style.
Another one of Shakespeare’s comical trademarks is mistaken identity. Taken to the extreme in ”A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, most of the play revolves around the fact that Puck mistook Lysander for Demetrius when placing the magical flower over the eyes of the man wearing the “Athenian garments”. In “Twelfth Night”, the whole muddle is a triangle of love that is not returned. Because Viola disguises herself as Cesario, the Duke’s page boy, the Duke Orsino is not able to fall in love with Viola. But at the end, when she is once again shown as Viola and not Cesario, the Duke immediately loves her, and Olivia stays in love with the “masculine form” of Viola, her twin brother Sebastian.
The play ends with Feste, the fool, singing a song about the rain. In “Twelfth Night”, the fool is the only clear-headed one of the bunch, because he is sober, and not “infected” with love. It is almost paradoxical that the fool is the wisest of all the characters, because one would think that the fool is the most humorous, but in fact this fool is very smart to not get involved in the whole muddle of deceptions. He sees the situation the way it really is, not the way that love distorts it to be, or the way that ale perverts it.
Shakespeare uses several mechanisms in his plays that make for comic scenes. Not only is there physical and visual humor, but also there are mistaken identity, paradoxes, and low comedy. The characters Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek not only provide a visual laugh, but also their actual characters, drunk and looking for trouble with Malvolio, provide the audience with delight. “Twelfth Night” is the epitome of Shakespearean comedy because it displays almost all of the playwright’s talent for humor.