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Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Twelfth Night, or What You Will


by William Shakespeare

Twelfth Night, or What You Will Theme of Rules and Order

Twelfth Night takes its name from the Carnival-like festivities surrounding the Christian feast of the Epiphany. (Go to "What's Up with the Title?" for more on this.) Like the Mardi Gras festival, Twelfth Night is a religious holiday and an opportunity to invert social order while indulging in unruly and riotous behavior. The play is also chock-full of drinking, carousing, eating, over-indulging, and other spirited activity. Yet, the rebellious spirit of Twelfth Night is not limited to overt "partying." Gender-bending, misguided pursuits of love, clowning, and the humiliation of the play's resident "Puritan" figure also embody the spirit of festival in the play.

Questions About Rules and Order

  1. Is the title of Twelfth Night, or What You Will an appropriate name for the play? Why or, why not?
  2. How does Sir Toby Belch spend his time in the play? Why do other characters object to his behavior?
  3. Aside from the obvious depictions of drinking, eating, and over-indulging, what other kinds of social unruliness does Twelfth Night portray?
  4. We know that Twelfth Night refers to the Christian feast of the Epiphany. ("Epiphany" literally means "appearance" or "manifestation.") Does the concept of revelation ever appear in the play? If so, what is it that is revealed?

Chew on This

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

Twelfth Night is a play that celebrates the unruly spirit of festivity and carnival-like activities.

In addition to the rowdy partying associated with Twelfth Night festivities, the play's rebellious spirit is also apparent in its portrayal of a gender-bending, cross-dressing woman who breaks the laws of social decorum.

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