Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" with Milton's "Paradise Lost"
Comparison of the two works:
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Milton's Paradise Lost are two examples of great works that seemingly have little in common. The differences in subject, approach, language and style contrast greatly but these works also share many common themes. Although Twelfth Night is a romantic comedic work and Paradise Lost is an epic poem that deals with a much heavier subject matter, both present the reader with stories of the consequences when there is a disruption in world order and balance while incorporating elements of disguise and character consequences.
Shakespeare's work is consistent with the witty, bright comedies popular during its time. According to Warren and Wells, these comedies typically included a mixture of dialogue, singing, stage fights, and suspense and the nature of the lighthearted language used was commonplace during the early 1600's (1994). Additionally, critic Ben Johnson said that Shakespeare's work and specifically the work of Twelfth Night was a worth "not of age, but for all time" (Notkoff, p. 12).
In the tradition of classic epics such as Homer's Iliad, and the Odyssey, Milton's Paradise Lost is considered to be the greatest of the genre. Generally considered to be the climax of the epic poems, Milton's work was so great that it discouraged other writers from attempting to come close to matching its greatness. According to criticism by Voltaire, "Paradise Lost is the only poem wherein are to be found in a perfect degree, that uniformity which satisfies the mind, and that variety which pleases the imagination -- all its episodes being necessary lines which aim at the center of a perfect circle" (Voltaire, 1727, in Elledge, 1993, p. 478).
What makes both of these works deserving of such praise is the manner in which the authors construct a story, through the effective use of various creative tools. Through carefully crafted humor as in the case of the Twelfth Night and as poetic lines in Paradise Lost, both pieces have distinguished themselves to be works that are timeless and relevant in any society.
Element of disguise:
Shakespeare uses the element of illusion and reality through the means of mistaken identities, disguises and deception. The characters create a false "reality" by disguising the truth about themselves. Examples of this are demonstrated with Malvolio as a man obsessed with the illusion of power; Maria as the author of "Olivia's" love letter to Malvolio; Olivia as the mourning daughter and sister and who cannot love because of grief; Orsino as the lovesick nobleman who inhabits a fantasy world of music and solitude. It is Viola however who sets things in motion by disguising herself as Cesario.
In understanding the extent to which the theme of disguise is used, Shakespeare employs a character, in most cases a fool, whose sole purpose is to cleverly point out the illusions planted and lived by the other characters. It is argued that Feste, being a central character in Twelfth Night, is more that just the "king of misrule," but is the one character who recognizes the reality of the disguises incorporated in the play. He is the only character who can reveal the truth about all the other characters. As Dower points out, it is very common for the fools in Shakespeare's works to be the wisest of all the characters and in this case, Feste is no exception. Dower argues that Feste is
"more deeply involved in the play than simply the commentator ... The Fool is as conventional in Shakespeare's comedy as the intriguing slave or parasite in [the plays] Plautus or Moliere. But, while Fest shares some of the characteristics of [such characters] he does not, like them, dazzle our eyes by juggling the elements of the plot into a complex pattern which only he can sort out for the necessary fortunate conclusion.
Until the last act of the play, he does little but jest or sin. But for all his failure to take a positive part in the intrigue -- emphasized perhaps when he drops out of the baiting of Malvolio -- for all that he is not, that is to say, a protagonist, he nonetheless propounds the theme which gives Twelfth Night its unity and makes a single work of art out of what might have been a gorgeous patchwork (Notkoff, 2001, p. 95).
According to Dower, often throughout the play, Feste's insight leads to exposure of the many disguises. For example, in Act 1, when he is conversing with Olivia about her decision to stay in mourning for seven years, he exposes her true nature in one short passage:
FESTE: Good Madonna, why mournest thou?
OLIVIA: Goof fool, for my brother's death.
FESTE: I think his soul is in hell, Madonna.
OLIVIA: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
FESTE: The more fool, Madonna, to mourne for your brother's soul, being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen (1, 5, 72-78).
This passage serves as an example of how the fool carefully reveals the true nature of the characters and the serves as a piece of evidence into the depth of Shakespeare's use of disguise.
Viola represents the most obvious use of disguise in the play because she masquerades as someone she is not, Cesario. As representing herself as Cesario, many characters are deceived, including Olivia and Orsino. In Olivia's case, she is deceived by Cesario into thinking she is a man and subsequently Olivia falls in love with him/her.
In another instance, Cesario fools Orsino into believing that she is a man and while serving as his page falls in love with him. Although deceived, Orsino comes to know and care very deeply for Viola and when finally revealed for who she is, the two get married.
Malvolio plays an important role in the plot and also often appears to be something he is not. His relationship to the other characters is crucial to linking the common theme of disguise. According to Warren et al., "by representing Malvolio as an extravagant wooer of Olivia, the play provides a perspective on the Orsino/Olivia/Viola story and binds the main plot and the sub-plot tightly together, with Olivia at the center of both, wooed by Orsino, Viola/Cesario, Sir Andrew, and Malvolio" (Warren, et al., 1994, p.42).
Milton also utilizes the element of reality in "Paradise Lost." Here we see that images of reality can be replaced by false appearances, with the result that value systems are turned upside down and order is thrown out of balance. Satan replaces true service with God for tyranny over hell. In Book II, we learn of his plan and the journey he plan to embark upon;
I give not Heav'n for lost, From this descent
Celestial Virtues rising, will appear
More glorious and more dread than from no fall,
And trust themselves to fear no second fate ... (II, 13-16).
In other words, Satan is telling us that it is better to rein in hell than serve in heaven." In Book II, Satan's temptations appeal to what seems to be but is not, the self-interest of others.
Perhaps the most significant and most obvious use of disguise occurs when Satan appears to Eve as the serpent and convinces her to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Satan appears in a disguised form and through the use of human weakness, convinces Eve to eat the fruit. Milton describes this exchange in great detail:
Satan having compassed the earth, with mediated guild returns as a mist by night into Paradise, enters into the serpent sleeping. Adam and Even in the morning go forth to their labours, which Eve proposes to divide in several places, each labouring apart ... Adam at last yields: the serpent finds her alone; his subtle approach, first gazing, then speaking, with much flattery extolling Eve above all creatures (Milton, IX, pp. 187),
Adam and Eve are present a kind of irony. It is clear from the text that the picture of the Garden of Eden is a symbolic representation of Milton's vision of perfection, but what is interesting it that is presented to the reader when Satan goes into the garden, so that the innocence and happiness are seen only under the shadow of evil...thus creating a cloud of disguise.
Although they were warned by God's angels, Eve is overcome by an appeal to her vanity and ambition, and Adam allows his love for Eve and holds it as more important that his love for God. Both, far from attaining godlike knowledge succumb to asking for God's grace and yet when grace and penitence begin to work in them, they have a strength beyond the reach of Satan. The grace of God is thus hidden in Satan's evil agenda.
Adam refuses to give up Eve, because she as made from his rib and as a result represents a part of him. What appears to lead up actually leads down. After the Fall however, the reverse is true. For…