In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare explores the workings of the theater and other related forms of artistic performance – licensed "Fooling," music, and singing, which also happen to be forms of revelry associated with the Twelfth Night festivities for which the play is named. The play also meditates on the relationship between performance art and other forms of entertainment like bear-baiting, a popular Elizabethan blood-sport that was often lumped into the same "low-brow" category as the theater. It's important to note that Twelfth Night's self-referential (or "meta-theatrical") portrayals of the transvestite stage (all actors were male in Elizabethan theater) allow Shakespeare to address (and mostly mock) concerns raised by Puritan theater critics. As in all of Shakespeare's work, Twelfth Night's interest in performance allows him to critique traditional notions of gender, sexuality, class identity, and morality.
Twelfth Night's self-conscious references to artistic performance forces audiences to think about the workings of the theater and the controversies surrounding "low-brow" entertainment.
On the one hand, Twelfth Night's inside jokes about the bubonic plague being spread at theater houses acknowledges the dangers of play-going. Yet, Feste's delightful and "heal[ing]" humor points to the stage as a very necessary and therapeutic space.