The Delta


In Shakespeare's canon, Twelfth Night is considered one of his great comedies. According to formalist critic Milton Crane, "The great comedies such as Twelfth Night show ... Shakespeare working effectively within the tradition of classical comedy and enlarging it to encompass a rich and harmonious development of fundamentally comic matter" (Crane 8). However, Crane's conclusion is problematic in that it does not reconcile individual's romantic fulfillment with an overarching resolution for the play. Antonio, Malvolio, and Feste are three prominent characters in this comedy who are not comic. Antonio's love for Sebastian leads him into danger, and the audience never knows his final fate. The trick played on Malvolio is initially amusing, but quickly it becomes unsavory mistreatment. Feste, the clown of the play, is rarely funny in a traditional sense, instead performing a melancholic truth-telling role. It is not only these characters who contribute to the problematic ending: the three marriages are also inherently unstable. The cases of mistaken and hidden identities create romantic pairings based on a troubling foundation of deception. Despite its comedic elements, the ambiguous ending of Twelfth Night is not decisive or satisfying due to a lack of resolution in the case of characters such as Antonio, Malvolio, and Feste, and due to underlying problems in the three marriages.