Literary Devices in Twelfth Night

Literary Devices Examples in Twelfth Night:

Act I - Scene V 1

"Methinks I feel this youth's perfections With an invisible and subtle stealth..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Notice that Olivia claims her attraction to the youth comes from his “invisible” stealth and mystery. This could be read as a comment on disguise or costuming. Because Cesario wears a costume and does not speak about his past, his “perfections” come from Olivia’s perception. She can read any of her own expectations into his appearance and background and therefore invent the perfect man.

"Journeys end in lovers meeting, Every wise man's son doth know...."   (Act II - Scene III)

Feste sings these lines to Olivia for entertainment. However, like most clowns, Feste's words underscore the main action of the play. For all the comedic and hyperbolic elements of this play, Feste assures Olivia, and the audience, that the play will end in a happily ever after meeting of lovers. These lines are both directed at the other characters on stage and at the "wise men's sons" in the audience.

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Sir Toby uses biting sarcasm here to mock Malvolio's indignant demand that he and his friends stop partying while Olivia mourns. "Cakes and ale" becomes a symbol that Toby uses to indicate a good life and demonstrates Toby's value in the importance of corporeal pleasure. The disdainful way in which he treats "virtue" also flips the importance of the two things: bodily pleasure becomes more important than virtue in this play.

"Lucrece..."   (Act II - Scene V)

Malvolio recognizes the wax seal of Lucrece, a woman who was raped in Rome after her husband boasted of her chastity. Lucrece committed suicide after the rape in order to prevent other unchaste women from using her story as an excuse for their bad behavior. Because Lucrece is a symbol of chastity and feminine repression of desire, Malvolio perpetrates a type of violation in breaking this seal.

"for our pleasure and his penance, till our(130) very pastime,..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

This speech could be a self-referential moment in which Shakespeare comments on the theater. Just as Toby and Fabian trick Malvolio into acting like a fool for their “pleasure,” theater-goers watch unfortunate characters live out unfortunate fates to pass the time. Our pleasure is their penance and the audience is no better than the manipulative characters on stage.

"If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn(120) it as an improbable fiction...."   (Act III - Scene IV)

With these lines, Fabian draws attention to the reality that he exists within a play: Malvolio too quickly bought into the trick being played on him. Theater in Shakespeare's time followed Aristotelian guidelines. Aristotle claimed that in order to create a good comedy, the audience had to believe that the action occurring on stage could occur in real life. The joke played on Malvolio, and Malvolio's unrealistic gullibility, make it so that Shakespeare's fiction defies Aristotelian rules for drama. However, in drawing attention to this "improbable fiction," Shakespeare demonstrates to the audience that the "bad drama" is intentional, therefore making it comedic rather than erroneous.