Continuing a tradition that has stood for centuries, William Shakespeare is in this day and age considered one of the greatest authors of all time. With works ranging from romantic comedies to tragedies, Shakespeare uses hidden meanings along with the whimsical setting of the Renaissance to enthrall his readers in his works. Drawing its title from one of the most delightful Renaissance holidays, the Twelfth Night is another name for the last day of Christmas celebration. For one single day all social roles are overturned, even those of the nobles, in order to relieve stress safely. (Shakespeare's Characters, 461) Much in light of the topsy-turvy holiday from which this play draws its name, Twelfth Night demonstrates exactly how Shakespeare uses a variety of traits in his characters to make themes more prominent throughout the entire play.
Although it falls under the classification of a romantic comedy, little humor is present when the plot begins to unfold. The reader first comes upon the character of Duke Orsino, who is pining for the love of a woman named Olivia. Orsino's courtly love is typical of the Renaissance, as the object of his affections does not return his love. (Shakespeare's Characters, 470) As Shakespeare introduces other characters the reader finds that Olivia herself will not accept the love of Duke Orsino because she is grieving over the loss of her brother. As these two main characters begin to further develop, Shakespeare introduces more characters into the storyline. Twins Viola and Sebastian wash up on the shore of Illyria, each thinking the other has perished. Viola decides immediately to make her own way, and works in disguise as a page for Duke Orsino. Viola's decision to work in costume relates directly to the role-reversing Twelfth Night theme; she is a female acting as a male, and nobility acting as a steward. It also implies that the setting is the Renaissance because of the presented social order.