Twelfth Night

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Themes and Colors
Desire and Love Theme Icon
Melancholy Theme Icon
Madness Theme Icon
Deception, Disguise, and Performance Theme Icon
Gender and Sexual Identity Theme Icon
Class, Masters, and Servants Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Twelfth Night, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Madness Theme Icon

The theme of madness in Twelfth Night often overlaps the themes of desire and love. Orsino talks about the faculty of love producing multiple changing images of the beloved, similar to hallucinations. Olivia remarks at certain points that desire for Cesario is making her mad. These examples of madness are mostly metaphorical: madness becomes a way for characters to express the intensity of their romantic feelings.

But the play also has multiple characters that seem to go literally mad. As part of the prank that Maria, Sir Toby, and Fabian play on Malvolio, they convince everyone that he is crazy. The confusion that results from characters' mixing up Viola/Cesario and Sebastian, after Sebastian's arrival in Illyria, also leads many of them to think that they have lost their minds. The general comedy and chaos that creates (and results from) this confusion also references the ritualized chaos of the Twelfth Night holiday in Renaissance England.

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Madness Quotes in Twelfth Night

Below you will find the important quotes in Twelfth Night related to the theme of Madness.
Act 3, scene 4 Quotes
Why, this is very midsummer madness.
Related Characters: Olivia (speaker), Malvolio
Page Number: 3.4.61
Explanation and Analysis:

Malvolio is love stricken with Olivia, and thinks that she has written him a love letter with instructions for how he should dress and comport himself (the letter was actually written by Maria). Here Malvolio enters, wearing yellow cross-gartered stockings and grinning from ear to ear (as the letter told him to do). Olivia, confused, asks Malvolio to stop, but he won't. Convinced her steward has gone mad, she then says this line. During Shakespeare's time the summer moon was thought to be a major influence on madness and insanity. Thus, having a "midsummer madness" was considered a kind of temporary insanity. Here Shakespeare shows us how easy it is to confuse love and desire with lunacy, as well as how easy it is for an individual to become a fool in the name of love. 


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Go hang yourselves all! You are idle shallow things; I am not of your element.
Related Characters: Malvolio (speaker), Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Feste, Fabian
Page Number: 3.4.132-133
Explanation and Analysis:

Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian have entered the scene, all pretending to be concerned about Malvolio's state of mind (although they all know that he has in fact become the subject of a cruel joke). They express their concerns and Malvolio responds with this quote, telling them that they don't understand what he is going through. This shows that Malvolio is still as rude and arrogant as he was at the beginning of the play, and now even more so because of his sense of confidence in Olivia's love, and the letter's instructions to look down upon and criticize the other servants. The word "element" denotes social class, and as it is used here, Malvolio suggests that the other staff members are shallow and lazy, and that he is above them in both social and intellectual rank. The irony is that while he is behaving this way, he has also succumbed to Maria's trick and is currently dressed outrageously in his yellow stockings. He looks like a fool, and yet lectures the other servants on their own foolishness.