Irony in Twelfth Night

Irony Examples in Twelfth Night:

"were I a woman,..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

This is an instance of dramatic irony. The audience knows that Viola is a woman and that the story she tells Orsino is about her own love for him. This is a comedic moment because Orsino does not realize she is talking about herself.

"some are born great, some(130) achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em...."   (Act II - Scene V)

This statement is meant to be comically ironic. In the Elizabethan era, one was born into their social class and never advanced beyond it. The idea that one can “achieve greatness” plays into Malvolio’s fantasies but would have been heard by the audience as ridiculous. Indeed, Maria includes these lines to bring out Malvolio’s ambitions in order to play a trick on him.

"Here's an overweening rogue..."   (Act II - Scene V)

The audience might hear a bit of irony in the reaction that these characters have to Malvolio’s belief in his romantic appeal. In the previous scene, Orisino’s emphatic insistence that he is the ultimate lover is a much more arrogant assertion than Malvolio’s speculation that Olivia might love him.

"A murderous guilt shows not itself more soon Than love that would seem hid: love's night is noon..."   (Act III - Scene I)

This line is ironic for two reasons. First, Olivia cannot see that she too is missing a big piece of the story because she is so in love; much like a “guilt of the murderer,” Viola’s disguise is better hid than Olivia’s feelings. Second, Viola’s love for Orsino is not “noon” or very easy to see. The irony in this line is that Olivia is quite right about her own love but misses all of the deeper meanings in her statement.

"Nothing that is so is so...."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Feste responds sarcastically to Sebastian’s claim that he does not know him. However, this is a moment of comedic dramatic irony because the audience knows that this is not Cesario but Sebastian: he does not actually know Feste and is not who he appears to be.

"no way approve his opinion..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Ironically, Malvolio’s reasoning here is what makes him seem insane. He says that he cannot believe Pythagoras’s theory of the transmigration of souls because there is no proof of it. Feste uses this need for rational thought against Malvolio taking it as a sign of lacking faith.