Appearance vs. Reality: Disguise and deception in Merchant Of Venice, Twelfth Night and Keeping Up Appearances A recurrent theme in Shakespeare's plays is the idea that things are not always what they seem. This is one of the major themes of literature, a serious theme even in comedies. Twelfth Night and Merchant Of Venice show good examples of this theme. In these plays we find many discrepancies between what seems to be and what is. This theme is used in all sorts of comedies to cause confusion and misunderstanding. Disguise causes confusion and confusion leads to comedy.
In Shakespeare's comedies physical disguises are used to help the heroine achieve her goal. Further more deception is used in comedies to bring about humorous situations. Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice, Twelfth Night, and the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances all use disguise and deception to add a comedic element to the plot. The British television sitcom Keeping Up Appearances is based on a woman Hyacinth who was born into a poor family yet tries to show herself as being someone of a high social class. She goes to great length to disguise herself though her plans never end up the way she expected them to.
These disguises cause confusion and misunderstanding especially on the part of her husband Richard. All this leads to a very humorous outcome. In Twelfth Night Maria devises a plan to stop Malvolio's constant prying into her affairs. She devises a note that seems to be from Olivia, in which she confessed her secret love for the steward and asked him to wear yellow stockings and to smile continually in her presence. (Shakespeare Twelfth II..
155-161). Malvolio does not realize that he was being deceived, rather he was convinced that Olivia wrote the letter, so he followed the instructions exactly. When Olivia saw the unusual way he was acting she had him locked up and accused of insanity. (Shakespeare Twelfth. iv. 62-66). Similarly Bassanio from The Merchant Of Venice is tricked by his wife Portia, disguised in a lawyer's suit, to give up his ring as a reward for her legal services.
(Shakespeare Merchant IV. i. 421-425). Bassanio hesitates but gives it up. This deception and Bassanio's confusion add humor to the play. In Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice the heroine Portia disguises herself as a young lawyer to undertake the defense of Antonio in court. In Act 4, Scene 1 Portia enters the courtroom dressed as a male barrister, carrying a law book.
This disguise fools everyone including her husband Bassanio. She not only defends Antonio but she also punishes Shylock. In Twelfth Night after the shipwreck in Act 1, Scene 2 Viola discovers that she is on Illyria. She finds out about Duke Orsino and decides to disguise herself as a male page and work for him to gain his love. Her disguise is successful and in the end her plans work out and she marries Orsino. Thus concluding that in Shakespeare's comedies the heroine's disguises work and they are able to achieve her goal.
Characters in comedies often try to deceive others by pretending to be something they are not. A humorous situation is created when the deceiver is the one being deceived. Sir Andrew from Twelfth Night became jealous of Cesa rio / Viola and was insisted on challenging him to a duel. Through a mix up Sir Andrew ends up fighting Sebastian. (Shakespeare Twelfth IV. i.
24-70). Sir Andrew is deceived when he gives the impression that he is a fearsome swordsman challenging a coward, when in reality he is a coward and he has challenged a brave young man. This is a comedic situation because Sir Andrew's weaknesses are clearly evident. Hyacinth from Keeping Up Appearances devises a plan to get her husband, Richard, a job. She tries to deceive the president of a company to believe that Richard is a brave man. Hyacinth gets her oversized brother in-law to act like a hooligan on the golf course.
The plan is to get Richard to throw him out as proof of his bravery. However the deception comes when two bikers show up and Richard is unable to stand up to them. This is humorous because Richard is exposed as a fake just as Sir Andrew was. Merchant Of Venice, Twelfth Night, and the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances all use disguise and deception to add a comedic element to the plot.
The disguises the characters put on lead to confusion, which lead to comedy. Shakespeare's Heroines uses disguises to achieve their goals. Also it is humorous when characters who tried to deceive others became deceived them selves. This exposed their true identity. The theme of appearance vs. reality is important in comedy because it provides a source of confusion and misunderstanding, but also a clear insight into the character. Without some form of deception a comedy wouldn t be quit as effective.