The Factors of Mistaken Identities in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

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Mistaken identity, dramatic irony and disguise serve a large role in making this play, Twelfth Night comedic. Malvolio is convinced Olivia is in love with him because of Maria’s letter. Sir Andrew is completely oblivious to the fact that Sir Toby Belch is befriending him to use him for his wealth. As Viola decides to disguise herself as a young man to keep safe, the potential for mistaken identity arises between her and her twin brother Sebastian. Meaning to embarrass and fool Malvolio, Maria, with the help of Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew, writes a mysterious love letter to Malvolio. “I will drop in his way some obscure epistles of live, wherein by the color of his beard, the shape of his leg, the manner of his gait, the expressure of his eye, forehead, and complexion, he shall find himself most feelingly personated. I can write very like my lady your niece: on a forgotten matter we can hardly make distinction of our hands.” (II, iii, 137-142) Maria explains the plan of the letters to Sir Toby and Sir Andrew and discusses how much Malvolio will look like an idiot during the aftermath of him reading the letter. What they are planning will be sure to make people laugh. It shows dramatic irony because not only do Maria, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew know about these letters and so does the audience, which adds to the comedy, readers crave the concept of knowing something that another character does not know because it make them feel powerful. Now that Malvolio has read the letters and is convinced that Olivia is in love with him, Maria gathers Sir Toby and Sir Andrew for a good chuckle “Most villainously, like a pedant that keeps a school i’ the church. I have dogged him like him, like his murderer. He does obey every point of the letter that I dropped to betray him. He does smile his face into more lines than is in the new map with the augmentation of the Indies.
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