Twelfth Night Essay Questions

Act I, Scene 1
1. Does the Duke’s opening speech show praise for Olivia in particular or for the experience of love in general? Explain your answer by citing specific lines.

2. What kind of judgment would you make about the Duke’s character based on his speech and behavior in the first scene? Discuss why you get this impression. Discuss either several specific qualities or one generalized personality trait.

Act I, Scene 2
1. Viola comments on the deceptiveness of appearances. People aren’t always what they seem to be. Why do you think this theme would be significant in a play that deals with love? Cite evidence from the play to support your answer.

2. Why does the love object have to come down from the altar of the lover’s worship? Why, that is, can’t the Duke keep praising Olivia forever? How does Viola make it clear that there’s more to being in love than just poetry? Make sure you present your topic sentences clearly in the essay.

Act I, Scene 3
1. Sir Andrew may not be a good suitor for Olivia. Defend this thesis statement referring to specific examples from the dialogue.

2. Analyze the dance imagery found in lines 116–138. Why do you think Shakespeare included it in the dialogue? With what aspect of the play does it tie in? What does it emphasize?

Act I, Scene 4
1. Think of your efforts to win a sweetheart when you’ve fallen in love, or what you might do to win one. In what ways would those efforts be similar or different from Cesario’s endeavors to woo Olivia for the Duke?

2. Consider once again the definition of “Romantic comedy” stated earlier. Why do you think the society of a given era would desire a happy ending? Would you like to see Twelfth Night end in another way than it does?

Act I, Scene 5
1. How does the Clown prove that Olivia is a fool? Is he correct or incorrect in his assessment? Explain your answer with evidence found in the text.

2. How many love strands does the first act contain? Who is involved in them? Where do the relationships stand by the end of Act I in relation to how they will eventually develop?

Act II, Scene 1
1. Name one characteristic of poetic language and one of prose. After you state those, select one speech in the play that contains poetry and another from Act II, Scene i that contains prose, and explain the differences you notice between the two. Allow your imagination to explore the significance of the two different styles.

2. An important issue to be aware of when discussing characters’ motivations and fates is that of “free will” versus “determinism or fate.” Define these two concepts. And then, consider lines 3–8, spoken by Sebastian, in the light of that issue. Does Sebastian feel that he is in full control of things?

Act II, Scene 2
1. An important issue to be aware of when discussing characters’ motivations and fates is that of “free will” versus “determinism or fate.” Define these two concepts. And then, consider lines 3–8, spoken by Sebastian, in the light of that issue. Does Sebastian feel that he is in full control of things?

Act II, Scene 3
1. Describe the fun and festive atmosphere that makes up most of this scene. What role does Feste the Clown play in it? Cite specific lines to strengthen your description. Do you enjoy the playfulness? Why or why not?

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A List of Original and Outstanding Twelfth Night Essay Topics

Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night; or, What You Will" is a romantic comedy believed to have been written between 1601 and 1602 for the close of the Christmas season as celebrated for the entertainment and festivities in February. The play was published in 1623 in what is known as the First Folio. The play focuses around the twins Sebastian and Viola who have been separated by shipwreck, and their love affairs involving Countess Olivia. The countess falls in love with Viola, who has disguised herself, while Sebastian falls in love with Olivia. The play uses what is now commonly referred to as "Love Triangle" a extremely popular trope of Elizabethan drama. Writing papers about it is quite enjoyable as there are endless topics to explore. Here are some original and outstanding essay topics for you to choose from:

  1. Discuss the use of disguises and how it affects the way we perceive characters. How did this change, or not change, the way we take costume into consideration of character personalization?
  2. What role does mistaken identity play in the Twelfth Night? Who gets mistaken for whom and what do these instances of mistaken identity signify?
  3. How does the play depict romantic love? What do you believe Shakespeare is trying to make a point with in his use of romance?
  4. What role does Malvolio have in the Twelfth Night? Is his fate fair or unfair? Does it fit the romantic theme of the rest? If not, why would Shakespeare have included it?
  5. What function do the comic roles of Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, Feste, and Maria play? How are each different from the rest?
  6. How does Shakespeare use the fate of Antonio and Malvolio to bring some ambiguous touches to an otherwise happy ending?
  7. Does the play explore themes of sexual disconnect in any way? And can we pick up on those themes in dialogue more so than setting?
  8. Make a comparison between Orsino and Olivia. How do their attitudes about strong emotions differ from one another? How are they the same?
  9. The Twelfth Night, as many don't recall, is a festival that has an extremely appreciated as things get turned upside down. Reverse roles have been appreciated in many theatre arenas. What can be learned?
  10. What function does ambiguous gender role play in the Twelfth Night? How does it lead to confusing love lives?

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