In William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, Or What You Will many relationships are forged or sabotaged for and by the protagonists, and as a result these relationships are made comical. The use of disguise causes deception and misunderstanding which leads to love where it is not meant to be. Foolery leads the characters into inescapable traps, which causes chaos with their emotions, and finally pure physical attraction and not true love lead some characters into falsely believing that they were in love. Therefore relationships were twisted and contorted so often that comedy was bound to result.
Throughout Twelfth Night deception caused confusion between many characters, but the one character who remain in the center of this confusion was Viola. The deception was caused because of her outward appearance. She was disguised as a man in order to get closer to Orsino. The confusion begins when Viola is sent to woo Orsino's love Olivia. She in turn falls in love with Viola's counterpart Cesario. Olivia's love is revealed when she sends her servant Malvolio to return a ring which Viola never gave to her. She says, Run after that same peevish messenger, The County's man. He left this ring behind him… I do I know not what, and fear to find Mine eye to great a flatterer for my mind. Fate show thy force. (actI,sc.v,310-315) This shows her love for Cesario and how she secretly lets her know. When Viola realizes what has happened she immediately realizes the love triangle which has occurred. This is apparent when she says Fortune forbid my outside have not charmed her!…What thriftless sighs poor Olivia breathe! O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is to hard a not for me t' untie. (act II, sc.iii, 20-40) Another instance when viola's disguise is believed and therefore causes a confusion is when she is mistaken for her brother Sebastian. Antonio who is looking after Sebastian, and when Viola got into a fight with Andrew and Toby, Antonio came to the rescue. He is arrested and begs Viola to explain to the officers that he has been protecting him all along. When Viola claims that she has never seen him. He says Will you deny me now?…Do not tempt my misery, Lest that it make me so unsound a man As to upbraid you with those kindnesses That I have done for you. (actIII, sc.iv, ln.365) Viola's disguise is so believable that a man who has spent an extended period of time with her brother mistakes her for him. Immense confusion and severe consequences result from this deception. Therefore the use of disguise is a main factor in the creation of comedy. The time period in which Twelfth Night was set, foolery was commonly used for multiple tasks. Some used foolery for pleasure and entertainment, while others used it as a tool to get what they wanted. The use of foolery occurred throughout the play, many times manipulating another person. When Maria becomes angered at Malvolio she decides to use foolery as a tactic to get even. She writes a false letter from her lady Olivia confessing her love to Malvolio. The letter suggests preposterous things for him to do to win her love. Her foolery is so believable that he believes every word of it, as seen in this quote I do not now fool myself, to let imagination jade me; for every reason excites to this, that my lady loves me… Jove, I thank thee! I will smile. I will do everything that thou wilt have me. (actII,sc.iv,168-180) As a result of this letter Malvolio is tricked into doing silly and wild things which causes Olivia to think that he is mad. Therefore foolery proved to be successful, in the sense that she got her revenge. Malvolio is involved in another case of foolery, but this time it is with the fool. After Malvolio is imprisoned for his insane acts, he begs to see the light of day. Toby belch and the Fool scheme a plan for Malvolio. In this methodical plan the Fool is to dress up as a priest and talk to Malvolio. Throughout their entire conversation Malvolio tries to convince the Fool that he is not mad, but his cries of innocence are continually shot down. (actIV,sc.ii,15-50) This shows how foolery can change relationships and hurt one's emotions.
We tend to read twelfth night as a play about love because we have all grown up being told that this is what comedies are about. But comedies are at least as much about the possibility that lives can take unexpected turns - precisely the opposite message that Shakespeare presents us with in his tragedies. In a work like Othello, the characters are so rigidly tied to the ways in which society perceives them that they have no power to redeem themselves. The world of the playwright's comedies suggests that it is precisely the absence of a rigid sense of socially imposed identity (whether along the lines of gender, race or class) that allows for happiness both for the individual and for society as a whole.