Explore the Ways That Shakespeare Links Madness with Love to Create Comedy in Twelfth Night

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Explore the ways that Shakespeare links madness with love to create comedy in Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night or What You Will, which was first performed in 1602, includes words such as “mad”, “madman” and “madness” more than any other Shakespearean play. It is a reasonable assumption that Shakespeare was interested in the connections between madness and love and desired to explore it in Twelfth Night, which is undoubtedly one of his greatest comedies. The general comedy and chaos that results from madness and confusion, references the ritualised chaos of the twelfth night holiday (the Christian feast of the Epiphany) in Renaissance England.

Madness and love are two key themes of Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night. The characters in the play, who are inspired by comedia stock characters, are the true source of the madness and love in Illyria; for example, Malvolio would be one of the funniest characters to the audience, however this humour is rooted in the madness of Malvolio’s misfortune.

A sense of dark humour is portrayed when Malvolio is tricked into thinking that Olivia loves him and is then imprisoned. The heightening sense of dark humour is portrayed when Malvolio miserably questions why he had to suffer and be “imprisoned, kept in a dark house, visited by the priest, and made the most notorious geck and gull
 that e’er invention played on?” (Act 5, Scene 1). The semantic field of internal pain, consisting of “imprisoned…dark…geck” may have different effects on various audiences from different eras, for example, an Elizabethan audience may find this more humorous than a modern day audience due to different cultural views; Elizabethan audiences commonly watched hangings of people or bear fights for entertainment. This is evident when Maria says they need to “set the trap” when describing the plot against Malvolio. The word “trap” has the connotation of animals, which therefore links to the idea of Malvolio being treated like an animal, which somehow creates humour. An alternative viewpoint could be that a modern day audience would use the quote to sympathize with Malvolio as the love he felt for Olivia was used for a joke. Due to this quote being at the end of the play, it illustrates their doomed love as all the characters finds their lover except Antonio and Malvolio. This may cause sympathy for the audience towards Malvolio or, more likely, humour, as Malvolio could be seen as deserving the trick against him. This could be, because of the way he treated others due to him being power hungry or because of him being a puritan. From this, it is evident that one way Shakespeare links madness with love to create humour is through misfortune.

The audience also sees that love makes you do mad things, especially through Malvolio. Upon receiving the fake letter that is supposedly from Olivia, Malvolio’s nature suddenly changes because “for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me” (Act 2, Scene 5) which consequently results in Malvolio going entirely against his nature by being “strange, stout, in yellow stockings.” This creates humour for the audience as they see Malvolio going against his nature by smiling and wearing yellow stockings, as he is a puritan. An alternative viewpoint could be that a modern day audience may find this to not be mad but more romantic as Malvolio is so deeply in love and is willing to change completely for Olivia. Another alternative interpretation could be that Malvolio desperately wants to be loved, which would most probably make an audience sympathize for Malvolio. This can be seen through the use of “my lady loves me.”

In addition, we see through Malvolio’s misfortune, that some of the acts of madness are connected to social status being broken, such as servants manipulating and controlling their masters. For example, Maria plans her trick on Malvolio and orders Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian to carry out the plan. Furthermore, Olivia falls in love with...
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