“Twelfth Night” and “Hamlet”

"Twelfth Night" and "Hamlet" are both written by Shakespeare, although they are diametrically opposed. The fundamental reason for this is that one has a comedy theme while the other has a tragedy theme. Nonetheless, there are some theme similarities as well as some thematic variances between the two plays. This article will explain how the themes that make these two separate works comparable are brought to life in both plays and how the similarity is thus established.

In Shakespeare's play "Hamlet," disguise is a major motif that the playwright employs to build the plot. This is seen in the first three scenes whereby various characters deliberately deceive others with their own selfish interests. For instance, in Act1 Scene 5 Hamlet deliberately hides some information from Horatio. It was only the audience or the reader that could understand that whatever Hamlet was doing was conspicuous. In the play ‘Twelfth Night’, Shakespeare’s Decision to depict Viola as a man develops some sense of confusion among the audience who are already excited about Olivia, Viola, and Orsino’s love triangle. Another instance is whereby Viola disguises herself as a eunuch so as to gain the trust of the Duke. Through this achieved confusion, Shakespeare is able to develop a Dionysian interpretation of life. Moreover, this confusion also develops the theme of comedy.

Similarly, in the play “Hamlet” through the themes of deceit and disguise the audience or the reader is led into the realization of Hamlet’s vendetta. This was when he decides to pretend to be mad in order to source for a confession from his uncle regarding the death of his father. However, he does not reveal his intention and plan until the scene mentioned above; Act 1 Scene 5. Horatio did not have a clue that Hamlet was planning to put on an antic disposition. Keen audiences could establish that there was something fishy about Hamlet’s deceptive behavior.

Even though the disguise and deception is a major theme in both plays, in the long run the theme does not have any upsetting effects on the general story. Instead it plays a major role in the development of the story. Viola, Cesario, and Olivia’s relationship was based on a trick. Other characters such as Malvolio and Feste also contribute to the story through disguise. Some scholars believe that the disguise theme was actually was more effective as a theme of appearance versus reality. For instance, this can be seen in “Hamlet” whereby the characters exhibit disguise not through their appearance but through their disguised inner or underlying personalities and characteristics (Kietzman 247-289).

Romantic Comedy

Another common theme in both plays is romantic comedy. In both plays, love is seen as the source of pain and suffering. First off, in the play ‘Twelfth Night’ various characters talk about their experiences about love and the pain they had suffered through that experience especially the characters that loved and did not receive love back. It is not all the characters that suffer because of love, some of them rejoice in their love. In the ‘Hamlet,’ Hamlet is the unlucky victim of love. He is suffering because of the love between his uncle and his mother had gone south. This love had cost him his family because the family had split. Moreover Hamlet believes that the reason he was suffering was because he had been turned down by Ophelia and the beginning of the play. Ophelia at the other hand had rejected him because her father had wished so. As payback Hamlets threats Ophelia with a lot of disrespect and constantly compares her with his incestuous mother.

Marriage as a feature of the theme of romance is considered a vice in both plays. In “Twelfth Night” a character named Feste is discourages and detests marriage as he believes that that it is foolish to engage in one. Instead, he states that people need to avoid focusing on long term relationships and plans for the future and instead live life in the moment. In “Hamlet,” marriage is also seen as a vice given that most of the characters broke their commitments along with their promises. This can be seen through the character of Gertrude who is the mother to Hamlet. She remarried Hamlet’s uncle after of the mysterious date of her husband. Another character who is a victim of these failed relationships is Ophelia who is used sexually by Hamlet. Hamlet manages to trick Ophelia and once he had he begins disrespecting her and ridiculing. He even tells her that he could have married her if she had never given in. The effect of this relationship was a depressed Ophelia who begun to feel worthless, non virtuous, and that she no longer felt attractive to other men.


In these two plays there are two major factors that generate the major themes, these are reality and appearance. These two are referred to as the perennial themes. Shakespeare is an artistic play righter and finds a way of varying these themes to develop the story. Deception and disguise is the foundation of major story lines, for instance, Hamlet himself is a master of disguise and deception. His trickery his varied between reality and appearance.

These two themes also bring about the entertainment as they break the monotony of the story. The audience are misled and distracted and before they know it there is something interesting that has or is about to happen. For instance, when Hamlet disguises himself as a madman and goes to Ophelia’s bedchamber his intention is not really known. The audience I left wondering if Hamlet is really made and if not what was his quest. Shakespeare does not let the audience in on Hamlets story, some of his actions make it seem like his madness is genuine but then some other points make it seem that he is rational. This how appearance and reality meets and affects the synopsis of the story.

In “Twelfth Night” the themes if appearance and reality is brought about through the character of Malvolio. He is the most respectable and most sober character in the story by he is accused of being mad and is locked up by a man named Sir Toby Belch. This man was doing this because he claimed that Malvolio was trying to court his mistress. Other charters are also depicted to be really foolish or mad with their grasp on reality significantly varied. For instance, in Act 3 scene 1 Viola shrewdly establishes that Feste was actually really foolish.

Appearance and reality are themes made possible through disguise and deception. The characters of the play are in a constant strive to deal with their life issues such as love and romance. Propagators f lies such as Hamlet manage to disrupt the social norms of the people of the story especially Ophelia. Given that what you see is what you believe or in this case what you read, Shakespeare manages to assimilate two stories with different story lines (Coursen 25-50).


As mentioned above, both plays contain various themes and among them is the theme of appearances and reality. Shakespeare uses the disguise and deception to bring about the theme of appearance and reality. He develops various characters to propagate the theme and bring about some sense of suspense hence making the story more interesting. These two characters have taken on psychological disguises to mask their actual reality. Some other characters take on physical disguises just to masquerade others. Shakespeare is among the few writers who were cleaver enough to use disguise as a stylistic device in the play. If not introduced appropriately the play becomes unreal and outright baseless. The readers and audiences are aware of this but through the play they can understand that the disguise is just a cover similar to that which most people put on in order to deal with life issues.

Works Cited

Kietzman, Mary Jo. "Will personified: Viola as actor-author in Twelfth Night." Criticism 54.2 (2012): 257-289.

Coursen, Herbert R., and John Ed Greenwood. Teaching Shakespeare with film and television. IAP, 2009.

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