Shakespeare employs the word “madness” numerous times in the play


Twelfth Night. This results in the reasonable presumption ofthe interest in depicting the theme of madness when writing the play.The play presents the meaning of the word madness as it applies allthrough the different scenes. By madness, Shakespeare regards tosomething similar to a state of mind where characters have adistorted view of reality. This essay analyzes the use of the word“madness” in the play and links the word to the theme of madness.

Twelfth Night Analysis

The word madness pervades the play. Almost all the main characters inthe play surrender to madness, or appear as mad. However, thedepiction of madness by Shakespeare shifts from traditional concepts,permitting for a hilarious ending to a devastating plot. In TwelfthNight, madness is a condition of the mind where the charactermakes a serious confusion between reality as is seen by audiences andwhat characters refer to as madness. The characters in the playperfectly illustrate Shakespeare’s view of madness. This is becausethey have their unique method of viewing things. Things that appearsnormal to the viewer, like drinking are presented as madness by thecharacters. In place of accepting the reality of a situation, thecharacters opt to view things as they desire. Thus, the play does notdepict madness as a psychological disorder, rather an intentionalalternative to deceive oneself, refuting the truth of reality.

When Viola makes the attempt to woo Olivia on behalf of Orsino,Olivia is informed of her visitor that is held at the gat by SirToby. Olivia responds by instructing Sir Toby “fetch him off, Ipray you he speaks nothing but madman” (Shakespeare and Neil1.5.87). The proclamation is astonishing, for generally the audiencedoes not perceive Sir Toby as leading a fantasy world. What Oliviaappears to be thinking is the often drunk status of Sir Toby, and sheis correct in supposing that he is drunk during the incidence withOrsina, for his entry in the scene demonstrates he is drunk. In thiscase, the play uses the word madness to refer to an individual thatis drunk resulting in impaired decision-making. This brings out thetheme of madness in the play. Olivia refers to Sir Toby as “halfdrunk” (Shakespeare and Neil 1.5.96). Sir Toby is mad when halfdrunk, and the use of the word madness aims at demonstrating thatwhen half drunk an individual sees things in a rather fantasticmanner. Shakespeare mentions that a normal individual views the worldnormally. Contrary, the alertness of a mad individual is alienatedfrom the perception of normalness. The differentiation amid normaland mad people is apparent all through the play.

Shakespeare uses the word madness to demonstrate the misconceptionsthat people may have concerning other people to the extent ofreferring to them as mad. In the play, Sir Toby’s madness is realdue to his drunkenness. This is not the case for all charactersreferred to as mad in the play. An illustration is Orsino presumingthat Antonio is speaking madness (Shakespeare and Neil 5.1.87). Thepresumption derives from the fact that Orsino lacks a lot of knowhowabout Antonio. Antonio has provided a rather precise reportconcerning his relations with Sebastian and Viola as she acts asCesario, whereas the Duke presumes Antonio has been communicatingabout Cesario alone. This is not an indication of madness by Antonio,if like other characters he mistakes Sebastian for Viola due to herdisguise. Shakespeare makes it possible for viewers to observe morethan the characters, which makes it possible to have an understandingof the theme madness, what characterizes madness.

Malvolio’s dream of marrying Olivia and heading the household arepredominant to the theme of madness. Shakespeare uses the workmadness to refer to Olivia’s fantasy. This is because Malvoliorefuses to accept reality and progresses to view the possibility ofmarrying Olivia. The situation of Malvolio is exceptional. In mostinstances, the play uses the word madness as arising from delusion.Sir Toby’s encounters with being accused of being mad are ratherdifferent from that of Malvolio. The letter scene presents Sir Tobyas a coherent character, who hovers on the point of madness. ForToby, madness is not an outcome of unreal fantasies like is the casefor Malvolio. Instead, Sir Toby’s fascination with alcohol resultsin madness. It is ironic that Malvolio realizes the madness. Afterfinding Sir Toby taking alcohol together with Sir Andrew, Malvoliostates, “My masters, are you mad? What are you? Have ye no wit,manners or honesty?” (Shakespeare and Neil 3.3). Malvolio notesthat alcohol encourages Sir Toby to engage in mad conduct in thesimilar manner that self-delusion is the cause of madness byMalvolio.

The capability of alcohol at inciting madness is apparent in Feste aswell. Together with Olivia, Feste makes an analysis of Sir Toby’smad conducted, and Feste informs Olivia, “Like a drowned man, afool and a madman: one draught above heat makes him a fool thesecond mads him and a third drowns him” (Shakespeare and Neil1.5). In regard to Feste, consuming alcohol results on drowning inmadness, which is something Sir Toby is about to experience. WhereasSir Toby is a representation of the theme of madness in the play,Sebastian as well as Duke Orsino presents madness in a differentlight other than that of self-delusion by alcohol. The characters areself-deluded by affection, which is loosely linked to madness inTwelfth Night. During the initial encounter between Sebastianand Olivia, she supposes that he is Cesario. At first, he issurprised by the unexpected affection by Olivia towards him. Hereacts through exclaiming, “What relish is in this? How runs thestream? Or I am mad, or else this is a dream” (Shakespeare and Neil4.1). Sebastian creates an ultimatum for himself, regarding to thedisposition. He is either to accept the probability of his madness ordisregard Olivia’s love as a mere fantasy. In the end, Sebastiansupposes that Olivia’s infatuation towards him is just an outcomeof his personal madness.


The play Twelfth Night is filled with the use of the wordmadness. The characters in the play are engaged in actions thatresult to their reference as persons that are mad. This involvesdrinking too much alcohol and the infatuation with love. The madnessthat Shakespeare presents is that deriving from self-delusion, whichdiffers from normal madness. The repetitive use of the word madnessbrings out the theme of madness. When the characters actions areregarded as madness, it becomes possible to comprehend actions thatresult in madness, which in a thematic analysis of the word in theplay.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William, and NeilKing.&nbspTwelfthNight. Cheltenham:Stanley Thornes, 1998. Print.