The Themes of Deception and Self-Deceit in William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
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The comical play, Twelfth night, which was written by Shakespeare, is
a classic example of seventeenth century humour, wit, deception and
self-deceit. In the play we see how twin Viola and Sebastian are
separated, and they both think that one another is dead;
"My brother, he is in Elysium" (Act I i line 1)
but are reunited in disguise, in a land of madness and delirium,
called Illyria. This essay will be covering the themes of deception
and self-deceit. Self-deceit means when a character is lying to his or
herself, and deception means something that is intended to trick
someone into believing something that isn't true. Two examples of
these are, when Viola dresses up as a man and starts to believe that
she really is a man, and when Maria makes everyone believe that
Malvolio is really mad and is possessed by the devil.
In this act we see a lot of self-deceit, for example, as Viola arrives
onshore, she dresses as a man, making herself think that she is a man.
This is the first case of self-deceit we see in the play. She dresses
as a man to get close to Orsino because he doesn't want to see any
"I have heard my father name him. He was a bachelor then." (Act 1 ii
but she starts to belive that she really is a man.
The audience sees this as a harmless act of disguise, for the moment,
although deceiving shouldn't hurt people. We also see displays of
deception as well for when Viola walks into Illyria, and meets Orsino,
and later Olivia, they believe that she is a man. Orsino and Olivia
are deceived in this act, which will affect their relationships
towards her in the end of the play. The audience know this is so she
can get close to him.
In act two we meet Viola's identical twin brother, Sebastian, who
thinks Viola is dead, and Malvolio persuses Cesario with Olivia's
ring. This is when Viola realises that Olivia likes Cesario. The three
conspirators play a trick on Malvolio, to make him think that Olivia
likes him, which affects his behaviour towards her.
All these acts of deception are all deceiving someone or another.
First Cesario deceives Malvolio and Olivia in making him think that he
is Cesario, and second is when Malvolio is deceived by the three
conspirators (Maria, Fabian and Sir Toby). The effect of these deeds
are that people think that Viola is a man and, soon Malvolio will
approach Olivia dressed differently and Olivia will think that
Malvolio is mad. The audience see this as a point that all the main
plots start to take form. The audience also think that the deceiving
characters are creul and manipulative to toy with other characters