Analyzing Literary Devices in Twelfth Night: Unveiling the Artistry

Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" is not only a captivating tale of love and mistaken identity but also a masterpiece woven with intricate literary devices that enrich its texture. Let's embark on a journey to dissect and appreciate the creative use of these devices in the play.

1. Alliteration: A Harmonious Dance of Sounds

Alliteration, a symphony of consonant sounds, graces the verses of "Twelfth Night." In lines like:

"No man must know." What follows? The numbers altered.
"No man must know."
If this should be thee, Malvolio?

(Act-II, Scene-V, Lines 91-93)

The repetition of consonant sounds (/m/ in man, must; /s/ in scoundrels, substractors, say, so; /w/ in what, wing) creates a musical undertone, enhancing the auditory delight of the play.

2. Allegory: Beneath the Surface

"Twelfth Night" unfurls as a fantastical allegory, encapsulating societal complexities through its characters' actions. The shipwreck, disguises, loves, and unloves symbolize real-life dilemmas. This allegorical underpinning paints a canvas where human experiences transcend the narrative boundaries.

3. Assonance: Melodic Resonance

Assonance, a melodic device, graces the play's lines:

Forgive the dry fool drink, then is the fool not dry.
Bid the dishonest man mend himself – if he mend, he is no
longer dishonest.

(Act-I, Scene-V, Lines 38-40)

The repeated vowel sounds (/i/ in forgive, dry, dishonest; /o/ in longer, dishonest) add a harmonious quality, infusing each verse with a poetic melody.

4. Antagonist: A Palette of Perspectives

Malvolio, with his vain and pompous demeanor, often stands as a candidate for the antagonist role. However, some critics suggest that Olivia, inadvertently thwarting Viola's desires, also serves as a subtle antagonist. The play's multi-faceted characters allow varied perspectives on the role of antagonism.

5. Allusion: Echoes of Other Worlds

Allusions pepper the play, connecting it to earlier myths and works:

How will she love, when the rich golden shaft
Hath killed the flock.
(Act-I, Scene-I, Lines 34-35)

I would play Lord Pandarus of Phrygia sir, to bring a
Cressida to this Troilus.
(Act-III, Scene-I, Lines 47-48)

References to Cupid, Troilus and Criseyde, and Belzebub infuse layers of depth, allowing the audience to explore connections beyond the play's confines.

6. Anaphora: Echoes of Emphasis

The repetition of phrases creates emphasis:

No man must know.
"No man must know." What follows? The numbers altered!
"No man must know." If this should be thee, Malvolio?

(Act-II, Scene-V, Lines 93-95)

Anaphora magnifies the impact of the repeated phrase, highlighting its significance and prompting reflection.

7. Conflict: Dual Faces of Struggle

The play thrives on two types of conflict: external, involving lovers entangled in their emotions; and internal, experienced by Viola and Sebastian as they navigate separation and mistaken identities.

8. Consonance: Harmonic Soundscapes

The play resonates with consonance:

By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s.
It is, in contempt of question, her hand.
(Act-II, Scene-V, Line 76-79)

The repetition of consonant sounds (/d/ in lady's, hand; /s/ in this, is, lady's; /n/ in hand, /l/ in contempt, hand) crafts a harmonious auditory tapestry.

9. Dramatic Irony: A Web of Unseen Truths

Dramatic irony weaves through the play:

Olivia remains oblivious to Viola's true identity, while Viola remains ignorant of her brother's survival. This hidden knowledge tugs at the audience's heartstrings, creating layers of tension and revelation.

10. Foreshadowing: Hints of the Future

Foreshadowing imparts depth:

"So full of shapes is fancy / that it alone is high fantastical."
(Act-I, Scene-I, Lines 14-15)

"I can sing and speak to him in many sorts of music."
(Act-I, Scene-II, Line 59)

These lines drop hints about Orsino 's and Viola's future experiences, tantalizing the audience with glimpses of what's to come.

11. Imagery: Vivid Portraits of Senses

Imagery engages the senses:

Have you not set mine honor at the stake
And baited it with all the unmuzzled thoughts?
(Act-III, Scene-I, Lines 113-114)

By invoking senses like honor as a stake and unmuzzled thoughts as bait, Shakespeare paints vivid scenes that resonate with the audience.

12. Metaphor: Unveiling Shared Traits

The play is adorned with metaphors:

O, she that hath a heart of that fine frame
To pay this debt of love but to a brother.
(Act-I, Scene-I, Lines 32-33)

Comparing Olivia's heart to a fine frame unveils the shared trait of indebtedness, enriching character portrayals.

13. Mood: Shifting Emotional Landscapes

The play's mood transitions:

From tempestuous chaos of a shipwreck to cheerful interactions of mistaken identities and love, the play encompasses a range of emotions, painting an ever-changing emotional canvas.

14. Protagonist: The Heart of the Tale

Viola, as Cesario, takes center stage:

Her journey, her disguises, and her unwavering support of Orsino make her the primary driving force of the narrative.

15. Pun: Playful Wordplay

Witty puns enliven the play:

"I shall never begin if I hold my peace."
(Act-II, Scene-III, Line 66)

"Ay, but you must confine yourself within the modest limits of order."
(Act-I, Scene-III, Lines 7-8)

The wordplay in these lines adds a layer of humor and intellect, showcasing Shakespeare's linguistic dexterity.

16. Paradox: Embracing Contradictions

Paradoxes deepen the dialogue:

'Tis thought among the prudent he would quickly have the gift of a grave.
(Act-I, Scene-III, Line 15)

Paradoxes like this infuse the play with intellectual curiosity, highlighting the intricacies of human nature.

17. Rhetorical Questions: A Quest for Reflection

Rhetorical questions provoke thought:

What is "pourquoi"? Do or not do? I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues.
(Act-I, Scene-III, Lines 81-82)

These questions engage the audience in introspection, subtly inviting them to explore the underlying themes.

18. Simile: Bridging Connections

Similes create vivid comparisons:

You will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard.
(Act-III, Scene-II, Line 28)

By likening hanging to an icicle on a beard, the play forges imaginative links that resonate with the audience.

19. Soliloquy: A Glimpse Within

Soliloquies reveal inner thoughts:

"What is your parentage?"
"Above my fortunes, yet my state is well.
I am a gentleman."
I'll be sworn thou art;
Thy tongue, thy face, thy limbs, actions, and spirit,
Do give thee fivefold blazon. Not too fast! Soft, soft!
Unless the master were the man. How now?
Even so quickly may one catch the plague?
Methinks I feel this youth's perfections
With an invisible and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes. Well, let it be.—
What ho, Malvolio!"
(Act-I, Scene-V, Lines 271-281)

Olivia's soliloquy provides insight into her mind, while Viola's soliloquy highlights her internal conflict, unveiling their complex personalities.

20. Verbal Irony: A Twist of Words

Verbal irony adds depth:

Cesario telling Olivia she is in love, while Cesario herself is in love, showcases the multi-layered communication and emotions woven throughout the play.

In Conclusion

"Twelfth Night" stands as a testament to Shakespeare's mastery, artfully employing an array of literary devices to craft a tapestry of love, humor, and complexity. Through alliteration, allegory, assonance, and beyond, the play invites us to unravel its rich layers, uncovering the brilliance that has captivated audiences for centuries.

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