Regarded as one of William Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, Twelfth Night or What You Will brilliantly unsettles many common notions regarding gender, class, and social order prevalent during Shakespeare’s time.
The play takes place in Illyria, a mystic island characterized by stagnation and a rigid system of behavior for its citizens. However, all is turned upside down upon the arrival of Viola, a mysterious young woman who has been separated from her beloved twin brother, Sebastian, after a shipwreck.
Realizing the dangers of being a single female in a foreign, predominately male dominated world, Viola decides to disguise herself as a young man named Cesario, and sets off to work for the famous Duke Orsino of Illyria. Her distant hope is that she will eventually be reunited with her twin Sebastian, whom she doesn’t know has been rescued by a sailor named Antonio.
Viola (“Cesario”) becomes Orsino’s right hand man, inevitably falling in love with him. However, Orsino has his eyes set for the Countess Olivia, who is still grieving the loss of her brother and father. Although Orsino sends Cesario, as his messenger, to woo Olivia, it is Olivia who becomes enthralled with Cesario. This helplessly chaotic love triangle serves as the main plot in Twelfth Night.
The never ending chaos and topsy-turvy “Twelfth Night” spirit engulfs every inch of the once calm Illyrian society–including the members of both Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia’s households, such as Malvolio. Criticized as a “Puritan” and “stickler,” Malvolio remains proper and loyal to Olivia as her steward. Yet, other members of Olivia’s household concoct a wicked prank which completely and tragically shatters Malvolio’s perfect world.
All comes to a climactic standstill when Viola and Sebastian are finally reunited, to the shock of everyone. All the couples are matched up happily ever after, and the topsy turvy world is put to rest as all is returns to order again.