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A Level English Literature Guide to Twelfth Night

Steph Atkinson | Monday November 11, 2019

Categories: KS4, Archived Resources, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level, AQA A Level Pre-2015 Resources, AQA A Level English Literature B, LITB2, Drama, Twelfth Night, Hot Entries, Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Plays

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Twelfth Night can currently be taught as an option on many A Level English Literature syllabuses, as well as being studied as a GCSE controlled assessment / coursework text and as part of an introduction to Shakespeare at KS3.

With a particular focus on Twelfth Night as a comedy this teaching guide aims to provide plenty of exemplification, through the close textual analysis of the text, looking at aspects of language, form and structure as well as context, genre and comparison.

The following teaching guide assumes that you have studied a plot summary and given your pupils a secure context for the detailed study of language, structure and form in these scenes.

Shakespearean comedies usually contain the following aspects (amongst others) which will be integrated into this guide:

  • a happy ending, usually involving marriage
  • a conflict between reason and emotion, order and disorder (Apollonian and Dionysian values)
  • the ridicule of ridiculous characters
  • different types of humour, e.g. puns, practical jokes
  • multiple plots
  • (attempts at) a reversal of the social hierarchy
  • mistaken identity

Analysis – Act One

Act 1 Scene 1

Areas to Consider:

  • The introduction of Orsino’s character

Act 1 scene 1 opens in the rich setting of Duke Orsino’s palace where the self-indulgent central character wallows in his ‘excess’ of love for Olivia. He employs the image of music as the ‘food of love’ and expresses the ludicrous desire to be overfed with it so that he becomes sick of it. It is almost as if Orsino enjoys his self-indulgence.

When Curio invites him to hunt ‘the hart’ [deer], Orsino grasps the opportunity to make a pun and, employing a reference to the myth of Diana and Actaeon (which ended much more unhappily than this love affair, though Orsino would most likely enjoy the extremity of the comparison), portrays himself as a deer pursued by his ‘desires’.

This scene introduces the possibility of love...


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