Social Order Paradox In Twelfth Night

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Elizabethan and Jacobean England was an exceptionally hierarchical society, where social order and class remained stringent and impermeable. King Lear and Twelfth Night are examples of how William Shakespeare dramatically engaged with these stratified boundaries by focusing on the characters who attempted to transgress and subvert them. However, as one investigates these social shackles, a ‘social order paradox’ can be found according to Whitney Graham. Graham defines this as, ‘the way in which he effectively critiques and challenges the claim that social hierarchies are inherently rigid, while he, at the same time, simultaneously reinforces and supports these very notions contextually. Thus, though Shakespeare creates worlds in which characters…show more content…
As mentioned, the Marxist approach deals with heterodoxy or a desire for possessions which in this case, is Olivia. The ‘social order paradox’ is evident also, as Malvolio, Olivia’s administrator, attempts to transgress the boundaries of order through ‘love’. Even though Malvolio features as a secondary character, his presence is very much important in the ‘social order paradox’. A trick is played on Malvolio, where a number of the other characters inform him that Olivia has asked him to wear bizarre things. The importance of this prank refers to the issue of class mobility that audiences of the time would have identified with. Malvolio’s delusional dream of Olivia falling in love with him is not a romantic one but a beneficial one. Malvolio sees Olivia as a vehicle to carry him towards power and privilege and thus move up the social ladder. He yearns to transcend and transgress through the boundaries that are in place. Malvolio, in turn, collides with the social limits, ‘from his transgression of sumptuary codes to class intermarriage’ (Selden, 1989, 168). Shakespeare is evidently elaborating what could happen if one tried to transgress in society. The audience can establish a connection to Malvolio and his aspirations as they see how the social order paradox works. Shakespeare echoes the asperity of attempting to break the…show more content…
Viola’s aspirations are not to go against the social order as she is not a real servant but the play allows her to transgress and glide through the class mobility. She epitomizes social fluidity, transgressing the boundaries of specific roles in society. However her flexibility is asserted on her higher social status with which she begins the play. This once again proves that although the boundaries can be broken, only the elite bourgeoisie can truly permeate them completely. Malvolio remains ‘mad’ for admitting his love while Viola moves upwards to gain marriage. This is of course a reflection of the time, and seeing as Shakespeare performed these plays, it was important to show the audience the result of any attempt to
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