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Themes

Twelfth Night goes to great lengths to expose the folly of human behavior. It takes shots at love-sickness, mourning, social ambition, and even moral propriety. Throughout the play, foolish behavior is often confused with "madness" or "lunacy." Yet, it would be a mistake to call the mostly light-hearted play mean spirited, perhaps because it makes fun of its own status as a "foolish" play. Because it reveals how theatrical performance can both expose and participate in foolery, the theme is closely related to "Art and Culture." Of course, "Foolishness and Folly" is a major part of the play's festive and subversive spirit, so be sure to think about the theme's relationship to "Rules and Order" as well.

Questions About Foolishness and Folly

  1. Why does Feste say Duke Orsino's mind is very "opal"? Does the description seem accurate? Why or why not?
  2. What is Feste's job in Twelfth Night? What do the other characters think of him?
  3. Toby and Aguecheek are often called "fools" for their excessive drinking and partying. Is this the only kind of foolish behavior we see in the play? What are some other forms of foolery?
  4. Why does Olivia refer to Malvolio as a "poor fool" when she learns about the prank?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

While Feste's antics are often associated with "foolishness," the play suggests that he is in fact the wisest character in the play.

Twelfth Night playfully exposes the foolishness and folly of turning common human behaviors (like eating, drinking, loving, and mourning) into excessive and over-indulgent habits.

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