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Identity in Twelfth Night


Shakespeare has found pleasure in using the device of misguided identity. This convention has been more skillfully used in Twelfth Night than in any other literature work. As presented by Shakespeare, sexual orientation plays a significant role in forming an individual’s identity in the contemporary society. Generally speaking on identity, people are not who they say they really are in Twelfth Night, although in the end everyone is content with it, and they all live happily ever after (Pennington 11-23). Twelfth Night is a standard comedy with a lot of misguided identities, a lot of love triangles coupled with a lot of misunderstandings. Thus, this essay seeks to highlight areas of literary criticism on identity as presented by Shakespeare which actually is a true reflection of our modern societies.

In the Twelfth Night, there are many scenarios of mistaken identities seen through characters in the play.  Many love triangles have characterized the entire play. For instance, Olivia, Orsino, Sebastian and Viola are caught up in a love triangle. There are a lot of misunderstandings that emerge through the play presented through mixed feelings on love matters. Love is widely used all through the play. it can be taken to be the most significant theme in  the play “Twelfth Night”. All the characters in “Twelfth Night” play deal with some kind of love. Although play “Twelfth Night” ironically has a happy ending, some of the sections of the play, love characterized with mistaken identity has caused a lot of suffering and pain.

There are three different types of love that has been used by the author in the play. These include friendship, true love and self love. In the play “Twelfth Night”, there are a number of relationships that are taking place all through the play. Some relationships that are found in the play are a false representation; a mistaken identity. They present the actual real happening in our contemporary societies. Shakespeare is able to reveal people’s hidden identities which determine how they are treated in the social grouping of humanity. For instance, the love relationship between Cesario and Olivia, it is unbelievable how Olivia loves Viola/Cesario, although she is blinded through love since Cesario is indeed a girl who has been concealed as a boy. Another instance could be when Maria, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby cheat on Malvolio who is convinced that Olivia loves him while this is just a trick being played on him.

There are indeed relationships that occur in the play which are a representation of true love. The love that exists between Duke Orsino and Viola is one that can be regarded as true love. In the play, there is mistaken identity found with Viola who pretends to be a man and falls in love with the Duke. As Viola and the Duke discuss love, there is a feeling that Viola is actually in love with Orsino in Act 1 scene 4 (Shakespeare Act 1 Sc. 4). Well, Viola/Cesario and Olivia also show true love in “Twelfth Night”.  When Viola/Cesario is asked to woo Olivia’s love for Orsino, it happens that she falls in love with Olivia accidentally. In real sense, Olivia loves Viola/Cesario indeed although Viola/Cesario is not able to reciprocate the same love to Olivia. Viola/Cesario is now muddled up in a confusing condition (Hodgdon 186).

Another kind of love is an instance where there is friends’ love. The intimate friendship showed in the play is between Viola and the Duke. It is barely few days during the service of the duke where Viola acquires friendship and trust of the Duke. The Duke would tell Viola the greatest secrets and enquire some advice on the problems he is facing. Sebastian and Antonio are also a true reflection of friendship. The moment Sebastian plans to go to Illyria and see the Duke, Antonio is ready to accompany him although he is taken as a criminal in there. This shows great friendship because if he would be found there, he would definitely be jailed. He saves Viola/Cesario in a fight between Viola and Sir Andrew. He is convinced that Cesario/Viola is Sebastian.

It is very evident that the friendship between Sebastian and Antonio is too strong. Shakespeare comes up with another friendship between Sir Andrew and Sir Toby in the play.  While the relationship between Sir Andrew and Sir Toby is quite strange, they are bale to move along in it. Sir Toby constantly urges Sir Andrew to work on things he is not in a position to do. This is for instance when he is asked to get Olivia’s love. Another kind of love is shown in the play can be described as self love. The most evident character that shows self love is Malvolio. He has assumes that Olivia loves him. In Act 2 at the fifth scene, Malvolio is indeed in love with his self; when he gets into the garden, he started to imagine himself as “count Malvolio” which meant that he thought Olivia is irrevocably in love with him. Malvolio starts getting his identity through sexual orientation. Olivia on the other hand also shows another self love. Even before she loved Cesario/Viola, she has the feeling that no men in the universe would be in a position to be appropriate husband (Pennington 11-23).

Love is a very crucial theme in “Twelfth Night”. Almost all characters as seen in the play have experienced some nature of love. Love can take three forms as seen through the play: self love; friendship and true love. There is a lot of significance of the play in education as well as literary criticism as highlighted by Shakespeare. Love has been used by Shakespeare to bring meaning to the play which is useful to the audience. Despite a number of misunderstandings and lies, Viola remained loyal to Orsino. Through such ups and downs they have in the end found themselves out and now can live happily ever after. This is proof enough that she was a loyal and good pal before any other thing. Contrary to other characters in the “Twelfth Night”, Orsino and Viola had a non-sexual affiliation initially before ending up to marriage. Being friends is an indication that they can match well since they can have a very close intimate affiliation whilst also in a mutual relationship.

Love and sexual orientation have played a significant role in helping all the character find out themselves and their identities.  This is because they have been able to go through all the turmoil and have ultimately come to live happily. In most of the plays written by Shakespeare, it is a usual and fast thing to see a couple loves each other and get into matrimony among other things. On the contrary, Orsino and Viola knew each other for about three months prior to getting in love. Even though in contemporary times, it appears like a short time, it was indeed a very long time in the 1500’s. In modern day society, it would be alright to love a man if he turns out to be a woman unlike in the past.  Varying from culturally usual roles of gender would be commonly accepted in modern times that would have been in the past (Hodgdon 186). Going against her personal will and making attempts to set up Orsino and Olivia, she proved that her love towards him was unconditional (Shakespeare v.i.93-94). Towards the end of the play, Orsino shows respect to the truth that Viola has taken care of him in a long time period while he finally declares his love for her.


Plays written by Shakespeare are presented in a manner which suits their performance to an audience from various classes in the society and of different intellectual levels. Therefore, they take into account down-to-earth actors who appeal to the working group, along with the plot complexities which would meet the appetites of the nobles amidst the audience.  This modern status is a very different one. Plays by Shakespeare have become an education and culture symbol which has been used largely as a subject for both literary criticism and academic study.  Twelfth Night shows manipulation of structure, form and language to bring about identity in sexual orientations amongst the characters. Individual identities as learnt through Twelfth Night need to be established by the individual by way of learning. Identity can easily be destroyed if the proper action is not taken following the emergence of life issues in a person’s life. Finding out ourselves in each circumstance is what defines us. We are captives of our identities.

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