Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in Twelfth Night
Updated: 3/7/2018
Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in Twelfth Night
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Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Lesson Plans by Kristy Littlehale

Twelfth Night is a lighter piece by William Shakespeare, and a good break from the usual tragedies and histories he is most well-known for. The play challenges the traditional gender roles of the time by putting a woman (Viola) into a very convincing man’s disguise. She is so convincing that Olivia falls in love with her and Orsino never notices. The play also follows a subplot which finds Malvolio questioning his sanity in a dark room while wearing yellow stockings. Students are likely to laugh at this play, be intrigued by the themes of deceit, disorder, madness, the triviality of love, and wonder at the implausibility of such a case of mistaken identity ever happening today!

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Storyboard Description

Twelfth Night Themes | 12th Night Themes Symbols Motifs

Storyboard Text

  • My Dearest Malvolio,
  • ?
  • Olivia, after meeting Cesario, sends him a ring which she insists Cesario brought to her; however, when Malvolio delivers the ring to “Cesario”, Viola realizes that there is meaning hidden behind it. Instead of Olivia falling for the Duke’s lines about love, Olivia has fallen for Cesario. The love triangle begins with this ring.
  • There are three letters that are written in the play: some are love letters, and some are letters of desperation. The letters begin the love triangle, cause chaos, and resolve misunderstandings.
  • When Malvolio is thrown into the dark room, he's confused at first. Feste even tells him that the room is not actually dark, it’s filled with light, but Malvolio cannot see it. Malviolio doesn’t believe he is mad, but the chaos caused by deception makes him question what is happening to him.
  • The costumes and clothing (especially disguises) of the characters in the play keep the disorder and deception going. At the end of the play, even though the Duke hasn’t yet seen Viola dressed as a woman and they are waiting for her clothes to be delivered to her, he still agrees to marry her, challenging the strictness of gender roles even further.
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