Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The use of Dramatic Irony in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

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The use of Dramatic Irony in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night


In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, he makes extensive use of Dramatic Irony to induce laughter from the audience. According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary, Dramatic, or Tragic, Irony is when a characters words convey a certain meaning to the audience, of which the character is unaware.


For example, in Scene two, lines sixty two and sixty three, the captain tells Viola that he will help her to deceive the Duke into believing that she is an Eunuch, and says that if he tells anyone, he may go blind. There is the Dramatic Irony of her disguise, as she fools everyone in Illyria into believing that she is a man. In Scene three, from about line five to line seven, Maria tells sir Toby that Olivia takes great exception to his being out so late, which basically means that she doesn’t like it. However. Sir Toby puns on the word “Excepted”, saying that she should leave him alone, and that she has taken enough exception to his actions. Then Maria says that he must confine himself to some limits, but then sir Toby puns on the words “confine” and “fine”, stating that he is well dressed, but the audience really knows that he is unwilling to discipline his appetite for physical pleasures.


In line thirty six of Scene three, when Sir Andrew enters, sir Toby exclaims “Sweet Sir Andrew!” as if he likes him as a friend, but the audience really knows that sir Toby is only after Sir Andrew’s money, because we know he earns three thousand ducats a year. Now in Scene four, from line five to line fifteen, Viola enters as Cesario, her alias, because she has taken the disguise of an Eunuch, and neither Valentine nor the Duke know she is a woman in reality. The Duke, even though he has known Cesario for only three days, has taken him into his confidence, and has told him all of his secrets. But, Viola actually wants to marry him, and now he sends her to go speak with Olivia, and to try and convince her to marry him. In line twenty five of Scene four to about line forty, even though he does not know she is a woman, the Duke states that Cesario is yet so young that his lips are redder than Diana’s, the Roman goddess of Chastity, and that his voice and figure both resemble a woman, but he doesn’t know that he actually is a woman. The Duke thinks that Olivia would rather listen to a youthful messenger, like Cesario, than an older one like Valentine.


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In Scene five, from line fifty to line sixty, Olivia scolds Feste for being away for a few days and refusing to tell her where he has been. She says that he must be taken away, but he asks her to give him a chance to prove that she is a fool instead, and she agrees. He then states that she still mourns for her brother, even though she thinks he is in Heaven, and that she is a fool for doing so. But we really know that she only went into this mourning period to avoid marrying the Duke, because if she had not done it, he could have forced her to marry him. After this, in line seventy, Olivia is impressed by Feste’s alertness, and asks Malvolio what he thinks. Malvolio then replies scaldingly, insulting Feste, and she is surprised by his reaction. But we know that Malvolio is very egocentric and hates Feste, and that Feste hates him as well. Then, in line one hundred and twenty five, Viola (disguised as Cesario) enters and speaks with Olivia, but Olivia doesn’t know that Cesario is a woman. In line one hundred and forty two, Viola actually says that she is not all that she seems.


In line two hundred and twenty five of Scene four, Olivia says to Cesario that the Duke must not send any more messengers, but that Cesario is welcome at any time. Olivia has actually fallen in love with Cesario, but she still doesn’t know that he is a woman. Then, in line two hundred and forty five, after Viola leaves, Olivia tells Malvolio to run after him and to give his ring back which she says he forgot there. But what Malvolio doesn’t know, is that the ring belongs to Olivia, and that she only sends it to Cesario so he can bring it back the next day so that she can see him again.


So as you can see, Shakespeare used Dramatic Irony in this play to transform what otherwise would have been a drama into a comedy play. He used this very effectively, and there is no doubt in my mind that he was indeed one of the greatest writers of our time.





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