Twelfth Night: elements of comedy and irony

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Trevor Nunn's adaptation of "Twelfth Night" is a masterpiece of insight and nuance. Instead of simply playing this gender-bending comedy of mistaken identity, the director highlights the dark undertones of the plot which show surprising depth. There are some alterations from the original text, but those who are less familiar with Shakespeare among the audience can appreciate the story being more easy to follow. For example, when Duke Orsino utters the famous opening line of the play, "If music be the food of love, play on," ten minutes have already elapsed. But what takes place in those ten minutes sets up the plot and brings the characters to life.

Twelfth Night opens with a scene alluded to, but never presented in the original text., The twin siblings, Viola and Sebastian, are aboard a ship that is wrecked off the coast of the imaginary country of Illyria. Explaining the context of the play, it is a mute ouverture which helps the viewer in understanding much of the otherwise complicated situation.

The unique design of the film allows the story to leave the stage. The locations in Cornwall allow for some marvelous, liberating exteriors, and the late 18th century settings and costumes allow the film to balance on the border between period piece and contemporary romance. The veteran stage director has attempted to modernize the play without changing its meaning. The era has been shifted from the 1600s to the 1800s, giving the film a fresher context.

As a comedy, Twelfth Night is obviously intending to not only entertain its audience but also point out problems in society. It is imperative to entire merit of the play not to be realistic but to allow for empathy. Therefore to have a comedy of complete lightheartedness there would be no balance and hence no avenue for audience interaction. Without light we would have no darkness and for this reason Shakespeare has had to incorporate tragedy in order for the comedy to have its desired effect. The two in juxtaposition accentuate each other.

The characters of Twelfth Night are neither bluntly humorous nor artlessly tragic. Twelfth Night, like all Shakespearean comedies is largely about social concerns. The social messages in Twelfth Night are largely about the need for a balance in life, that one should not judge on appearance as they can be deceptive and the importance of self awareness or the humor in lack of. Neither is artlessly or bluntly humorous, as this would detract from the greater issues he is attempting to convey. Humor instead is used in contrast to some pain to antithesis the comedy and accentuate the themes.

The plot of Twelfth Night is comic, it explores many social issues in its comedy, yet is also not unrestrained in its humor. As a comedy Twelfth Night follows, many conventions as far as structure, the setting is in a far away "romantic" land, situation, and events somewhat steer the plot, however this is certainly not without art or subtleties. Shakespeare has carefully intertwined comedy and pain in both the main and the sub plots to highlight the comedy and explore the social themes, and in the film, this light and shadow is retained as well.

This setting is not completely free from conflict. There are some predominately "lighter" characters that serve as comic relief from the more serious main plot and represent a certain "type" of people in society. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew would have been marvelously enjoyed by Shakespearean audiences as they are today. Not a scene goes by involving these to where we can laugh and the slow wit of Sir Andrew and the awkward puns of Sir Toby. However, we find the names and foolish antics of these two rather amusing. It is with a certain hesitance that we laugh at the gullibility of Sir Toby, his disillusioned love for Olivia is rather somber and balances our opinion of him. This balances is representative of all the characters in Twelfth Night, they may be predominately comic yet they are never completely...
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