Nothing that is so, is so, says Feste. He says so ironically, talking to Sebastian, who he is convinced is actually Cesario. This is said for a specific situation, but it might actually be relevant for the whole play: Indeed, this apparently absurd quotation raises the question of illusion, which takes a big place in Twelfth Night. It highlights the paradox between appearance and reality. It can also be seen as the echo of another quotation by Feste, which is that, that is, is. But Feste has not become crazy, he may even be wittier than we could expect because the answer to the question of illusion of theatre is probably between these two sentences. But to what extent? To what extent does illusion masters theatre? There is illusion at the level of the characters themselves (I) but also to the level of the audience (II), but it is probably not enough for the whole play to be summed up by illusion: illusion is only possible because the roots are real (III).
[...] Even the feelings of these characters are not real: Orsino's self-love, Olivia's sorrow, Malvolio's desire of revenge, Viola's love for Orsino are not spontaneous, they are not even genuine, they are only roles, only an illusion of feelings: since the characters are not real, their feelings cannot be real either, and if the audience laugh when Malvolio shows his yellow stockings, when Sir Toby makes puns or when Orsino makes hyperboles, if the audience feel pity for Malvolio on being tricked or for Antonio being left alone at the end of the play, this is only due to illusion, to the appearance of reality that theatre tries to present; but it needs the connivance of the audience itself: for a while, the spectators believe as if what they saw was real, they accept what are actually not very plausible things, thanks to conventions, sometimes so usual that they are not even aware of them: it has become normal for the audience to see everything take place on a stage, on the very same stage whereas the action is supposed to take place at different places: At Olivia's, at Orsino's, on a shore; the scenery may change but the stage itself does not; in the same way, spectators are used to seeing women played by men, whereas they would probably not accept that lack of verisimilitude if they were not in a theatrical context. [...]
[...] This is irony, due to a mistake of identity, more precisely the mistake of identity created by Viola: she pretends she is a boy, so everyone in the play sees her in her boy's clothes, and only the audience is aware of Viola's real gender: the other characters have the illusion that Viola is a boy, Feste has the illusion that Sebastian and Cesario are the same person. In the same way, the audience attends to Malvolio's misunderstanding and illusion, but this time at another level, because some characters are also aware of the illusion: When Maria writes the letter and puts it on Malvolio's way to make him believe that Olivia loves him, she knows that he is going to be a victim of appearances, she is even going to be the actress of this illusion, by writing a letter full of allusions to him, flattering his ego: she is going to lie in a way, to create and maintains this illusion. [...]
[...] And after all, this trick is much like a child's game, there is the same cruelty and the same innocence mixed; some cruelty when there is a plot against Malvolio and when he is put in a dark room and told it is full of light, just to have fun: the conspirators do not really know when they should stop, the limits are not well-defined for them, just like it would be for children; when Sir Toby says they should stop, it is because he realizes that they have gone too far, that it is too late. [...]
[...] At least, it is aware in general, but it still accepts the conventions, gets into the story and forgets a little about the unreality of the characters, and simulates them to real ones. This is possible thanks to verisimilitude: the characters are not real, but they could be: they have a name, even if it is not their real one, they have a social status, a story, feelings; they have what a real person could have, and the absence of truth is erased by the possibility of truth. [...]
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