Comedies treat usually the joyful aspects of human life. Shakespeare’s comic works deal with love’s lighter side and often marriages. Twelfth Night is a very unlikely comedy written by Shakespeare because many of its characters seem out of place and the comedy seems to be coming out of this very fact itself.
While focusing upon a serious issue like the construction of gender roles, the play is outrightly a festive and romantic comedy.
Twelfth Night’s title reminds us of the Christian festival which in earlier times was celebrated for twelve days with great merrymaking. The play doesn’t make any literal use of its title but the festivity and romance are two major aspects of its comedy.
The play becomes a festive comedy through its comic subplot which depends upon the comic behavior of characters which are less elevated. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew have self-mocking behaviors. They make fun of seriousness.
They along with Maria and Feste make a fool out of self-deceiving Malvolio. Every time they fight between themselves, in the end, one of them says that let’s have a drink. Their attitude towards life is of a careless celebration.
They take revenge against Malvolio because he restricts their festive mode with his pretentious seriousness. Sir Toby, to mock his seriousness says that “dost thou think because of thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” It finally states the nature of comedy as festive.
Twelfth Night begins with Orsino commenting about falling in love. The whole play revolves around its result in such a way that it also tells us about the conventions of Elizabethan age and its comic pretention which Shakespeare has captured.
The courts of Elizabethan age separated sex and love further and the tradition of courtly love developed. This play reveals the foolish pretention of such courtly love which makes it a romantic comedy.
Orsino from the very beginning foolishly idealizes Olivia. He does it more out of the convention and less out of real devotion. Even though Orsino and Olivia are characters not meant to be taken seriously, yet the play ends happily when Orsino takes Viola and Olivia goes with Sebastian.
That’s why it is a romantic comedy. Everyone who claims in the play of love is a light character. Viola doesn’t even know the Duke when she believes that she has fallen in love with him.
She says instantly that “whoever I woo, myself would be his wife.” It’s comic the way they fall in love. Olivia kept saying that she can’t enjoy love while she is mourning her brother’s death but the moment she sees Cesario, unable to know that it is not even a man but a woman, she says that “even so quickly may one catch the plague?”.
Yet she falls in love. Twelfth Night as a romantic comedy shows us the foolishness of falling in love for the sake of love.