. Revisit a commonly accepted critical interpretation of this play out there in existing scholarly conversation,
and make an argument in which you attempt to prove it wrong with counter-evidence.
2. Choose one character in this play, and look at how they use language. What is the significance of the
character’s name? What kind of metaphors do they use and why? What function does the character play in
the larger structure and meaning of the play?
3. Do you think the treatment of Malvolio is justified? If yes what aspects of Malvolio’s character lead him to
deserve this punishment? If no, what’s going on and why does the scheme against him take place? Why do
you think Shakespeare leaves Malvolio as the only unhappy character at the end of the play?
4. Why does Viola go out of her way to disguise herself as a “eunuch” at the beginning of the play? Why does she
continue the disguise of Cesario long after it seems apparent that she could reveal her true identity? Why does
Shakespeare keep the character’s name as “Viola” in the script, yet leaves her dressed as Cesario at the end?
5. This play has been described as a sad or melancholy comedy. What gives it that overall feeling? How do the
genres of romance and comedy interact?
6. Shakespeare does interesting things with gender and desire in this play in the unrequited love triangle
between Viola/Cesario, Olivia, and Orsino. Does it seem more convincing to read these moments of desire as
lesbian/gay, or as transgender/heterosexual? What prevents Viola/Cesario from being “really” a man in the
relationship with both Olivia and Orsino, or from being “really” a woman in the relationship with both Olivia
7. Explore possible reasons for the prominent role of music in the play. Why do several characters have the
names of viols? What does the language referencing music mean? What is the significance of Feste’s songs?
8. How does the play utilize contemporary Renaissance/Early Modern ideas about medicine, and sex/gender,
particularly theories of melancholy? What role does melancholy play in the relationships between characters
(Viola’s mourning for her brother, Orsino’s love for Olivia, Viola’s love for Orsino, etc)?
9. Disguises and mistaken identities in the play sometimes allow characters to “trick” each other, but they also
allow characters to say their real feelings without fear of negative consequences. Choose a relationship
between two characters in which things are being said which could not otherwise be said openly without the
disguise or misunderstanding, or in which positive actions occur which could not otherwise happen without
the disguise or misunderstanding.
10. What is the play’s view of romantic love? Several characters spend the entire play pining over particular
people, but then at the end they switch their objects of affection in a seemingly instantaneous way. How is
this possible? What does it say about the relationship between romantic love and heterosexuality?
11. What is the significance of the play’s title to the events that unfold within it? Twelfth Night has been
associated with Candlemas and with a topsy-turvy festival in which the poor pretend to be rich and people
dress as the opposite gender. How are the implications of this festival named in the title related to the plot
and meanings of the play, especially how the play combines comedy and romance?
12. What is the significance of the play being set in Illyria, and what is the relationship of this setting to events that
13. You may also propose an alternate topic of your choice