Twelfth Night: Shakespeare’s Typical “Happy Ending”

The ending of this play, in particular, really harps on the dichotomy between tragedy and comedy. Twelfth Night, of course, is a comedy, but its only characteristic is not that it amuses the audience and creates a drama-filled plot; but it also, in suspense, becomes a tragedy as the laws of gender are bent and the presentation of identity is skewed, and women are almost marrying other women disguised as men (gasp!).

Of course, to keep it happy and without controversy, all is set right again in the end–Viola and Sebastian realize they are twins; Malvolio realizes he has been wronged and that he is not actually insane; Viola reveals that she embodied Cesario in order to assume a role as a male and gain more employment and respect.

This is the one thing that bothers me about Shakespeare the most, but it also speaks to his time. Of course, in Europe at this time, there were rules and regulations associated with homosocialization, homosexuality, and gender roles and identity, that were very blatantly binary oriented. While it speaks to the times, I don’t think it means at all that Shakespeare, in writing really strong women characters (who we would today consider to be feminists,) and bending gender rules and perhaps envoking modern conversation of queer theory, can be considered a progressive or forward-thinking writer, because he sets it all backwards and diverts back to the norms in an effort to please everyone, especially in a Christian-centric geographical location and era.


One thought on “Twelfth Night: Shakespeare’s Typical “Happy Ending”

  1. Danielle

    I really like how you explore the idea of comedy and tragedy in this blog. We have said that comedy and tragedy are almost interchangeable where comedy ends in marriage and tragedy ends in death. Twelfth Night’s ending is very questionable for a comedy because it is left so open ended. While all the aristocracy is happy and about to be married the lower classes are left to imagination. Malvolio’s last line declares his desire and intentions for revenge which the aristocracy just seems to dismiss. Feste’s song is a sort of melancholy end to the play saying that it “raineth everyday.” In the end of Twelfth Night we are not left with a wholly happy ending something strange to the comedic form.


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