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Themes

The theme of deception is an important component of Twelfth Night. Physical disguises, forged documents, and blatant lies allow the play to think about the relationship between appearances and reality. In the case of physical disguises, costume, voice, and demeanor all forge one's social identity, but don't necessarily reveal one's inner nature. Words (both spoken and written) are also associated with deception, and leave characters vulnerable to trickery, especially when gullible figures already suffer from self-delusion.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. Who dons physical disguises in the play? Why do they do it? What are other characters' responses to their costume changes?
  2. Aside from physical disguises, are there other forms of deception in Twelfth Night? If so, what are they?
  3. Malvolio is easily tricked by Maria's letter. Why do you think that is? Is there something about him that makes Malvolio susceptible to the prank? If so, what's your evidence?
  4. At one point, Viola says her disguise is "wicked." What is the play's overall attitude toward Viola's deceptive clothes?

Chew on This

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

Twelfth Night is concerned with the possibility that outside appearances do not always match or align with inner character.

In Twelfth Night, outward identity is not the only thing that can be disguised – written letters and professions of love can also be concealed and associated with deception.

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