Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy which is created through a complex circle of love designed by deception, disguise and practical jokes. The characters use of deception within the play create many unintentional and undesirable outcomes. Through the art of deception, Shakespeare explores the ideas of deceit and self-deception which in turn creates comedic situations within the play. Many of the characters go through extremes in order to get what they want, which is the love that they desire, by deceiving everyone and at times, even deceiving themselves.
The use of deception by the characters illustrate just how much of a burden love could be due to the fact that it’s the source of their pain and suffering throughout the play. The element of love within the play also reveals some homosexual-like ideas through character interaction and reaction to certain events which occur. The motif of love as a burden is depicted through how the character’s react to love, as if it’s more of a curse than a blessing; a feeling which attacks its victims suddenly and disruptively-yet at the same time they are willing to do anything for their love. Throughout the play various characters do the ridiculous in an attempt to woo their love, or in order to catch their loves attention. Shakespeare utilizes disguise and deception as the primary sources for examining the patterns of love and courtship as well as gender and sexualtiy.
There are numerous altercations due to the characters utilization of disguises to deceive one another; through the interchanging role of gender, disguise and the deception of characters, Shakespeare explores gender and sexuality which ultimately result in conflict, confusion and cases of mistaken identity. This is evident by the numerous complications caused by Viola's physical disguise, as well as Orsino and Malvolio's self-deception. One of the initial and most obvious culprit who uses deception and disguise is the character Viola. When she is stranded in Illyria Viola employs the use of deception in order to become Cesario in order to work for the Duke, Orsino.
Conceal me what I am, and be my aid
For such disguise as haply shall become
The form of my intent. I’ll serve this duke.
Thou shalt present me as an eunuch to him.
It may be worth thy pains, for I can sing
And speak to him in many sorts of music
That will allow me very worth his service.
It could be said that the use of disguise by Viola was not done with a malicious intent, however due to her deception the complex romantic plot between Orsino, Olivia and Cesario is constructed. This complex web is driven by self-deception and occurrences of mistaken or confused identity.
In a horrible case of mistaken identity, there is, as one could call a sub-plot, introducing the most notable example of a self-deceiver, Malvolio, who “is sick with self love” (1.5.85). He sees himself surrounded by “idle, shallow things,” not of his “element” (3.4.122-123) which...