William Shakespeare is known widely for his plays that dabble in comedy, tragedy, and most importantly, romance. Many of his plays incorporate more than one of these motifs. Throughout Shakespeare's plays, the characters and their dialogue give way to a cynical perspective on societal standards and views about love. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare derides the societal conceptions of love and chastises the ideals and yearnings of the members of the society. Shakespeare uses irony, metaphors, and plot dynamics to display the immense confusion of mistaken identity which emphasizes the theme love can exist only if society values it.
Throughout different time periods, many civilizations have altered their perception and value of love. Within the past few centuries, societies have shown a trend of decreasing their value of genuine love, and an increase in idealized concept of love, which has resulted in real love almost vanishing, being replaced by lust and infatuation. This brings to light the theme that love can only exist if society values it. This is because if the society craves infatuation, the society can use this feeling as a placeholder for love, without realizing that the feeling they are experiencing is not actually the feeling of love. In Britain, Shakespeare wrote the Twelfth Night; this society is one of the many societies that have fallen victim to their own ignorance and are under the mislead belief that petty infatuation and lust is in fact love.
The Twelfth Night was written to humor the audience with comedic situations, but it's purpose is to simultaneously mock the values of society-the very society laughing at the foolishness of the plot. According to Garner, "The Twelfth Night is a comedy whose background is entirely social". This is true; The Twelfth Night can be classified as a romantic comedy, and it certainly deals with social aspects. But while the Twelfth Night may disguise itself as a comedy, Shakespeare uses the comedic nature of the play to convey a thinly veiled disgust for the unrealistic perspectives of love that the society holds. The characters have qualities derived from the society and its desire for love, which Shakespeare exploits. Shakespeare covers up these underlying qualities with comedic humor so the audience does not realize how blatantly Shakespeare is mocking them.
The characters in Twelfth Night are in love with the idea of being in love, just as the members of the society are. The characters are members of a society that does not value genuine love and as a result the characters mistake their petty infatuation and lust for the feeling of being in love. Olivia pledges to never love a man again but shortly after she meets Cesario, whom she perceives to be a handsome gentleman, she immediately desires his affections and believes she is in love with him. She does not know anything about Cesario except his name and appearance yet she foolishly mistakes her infatuation for love.