M. C Escher said, “Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling? ” This quote is saying that what you see and what is actually there can be two different things. Appearances versus reality is a recurring theme in William Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night . Appearances hide an important reality and sometimes can get in the way of a character from developing or attaining his or her goal. The problems that happen involve disguises and deceit of one form or another and create tension amongst the characters.
The reason Shakespeare has this recurring theme is because of the comedy that comes with it. It is funny for the reader to see the situational irony that occurs and is what makes the play. Viola/ Cesario is a good first example of disguises and deceiving. Viola’s decision to conceal her identity is the first act of how appearances overcome the reality of the situation. The gender confusion helps Viola early and is easy for her to go around through a city she is unfamiliar with. Viola/Cesario’s appearance establishes the reality for the other characters and how they perceive her/him throughout the play.
As she works for Orsino the love for him grows and she finds herself wishing for the reality but knows she can’t turn back what she has already done. Viola gets flustered at one point saying,“ O time, thou must untangle this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me to untie. ” Again she wants to reveal her identity but at this point cant. When Viola/Cesario realizes that Olivia loves him/her the dream of Olivia is the appearance while the reality can not happen because of it. Malvolio thinks he his better than everyone else which generally makes him a character that is not likeable.
The reality of Malvolio is that he serves Olivia and will never be above the servant class. He wants to replace the reality for the appearance of him being in a higher position than Olivia because his ego allows him to think he should be the one to wield the power that comes with being a count. His ego is described by Maria when she is talking to Sir Andrew about Malvolio and saying, “the best persuaded of himself, so crammed, as he thinks, with excellencies, that it is his grounds of faith that all that look on him love him. Malvolio tries to be something he isn’t when he tries to discipline others like Sir Toby which shows what he wants to do but by the others he is acting arrogant which they don’t like it. Malvolio is mislead at one point of the play by Maria and Sir Toby. They write him a fake letter that is supposedly from Olivia saying how much she loves him. He only believes the letter because he loves her so much and will believe and do whatever it takes to be with her. This is his down fall with what appears to be a good situation for him, but is actually people playing tricks on him.
He acts how he really feels in front of Olivia to only turn her off, and because of his own pride causes him to act foolish. Love itself is an appearance that beats reality when its taken to lightly and overcomes the reality so all you can see is the appearance of love. Count Orsino believes he is in love with Lady Olivia, however he is in love with the idea of being in love. He claims to love Olivia but really he is growing very fond of Viola/Cesario, this appears to be him loving these two women but is actually like stated previously him being in love with the idea of being in love.
With Olivia mourning the death of her brother it is a viable excuse not to see men at the moment. However in itself is an excuse not to marry anyone she doesn’t like. When Olivia meets Viola/Cesario she falls in love with him/her which throws the whole not wanting anyone while she is grieving for her brother out the window. Since Olivia is being hypocritical it shows that love will blind a person and will make them go back on the goals set for themselves just to achieve it. Shakespeare wants the reader to consider that when there is something of truth in front of them, that appearances will surround the truth to effect the view of it.
With all of the incidents that happen throughout the play sometimes the appearances don’t really mean anything and what we get out of it is the lessons to be learned from said incidents. If the characters were more in touch with reality than focusing solely on appearances then the play wouldn’t be as funny. The purpose of Twelfth Night was to be a comedy and make the reader laugh, so appearances were made to seem as funny as possible. Appearances can be easily mistaken for reality, but with those appearances can make a very funny situation.